Analysis

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Last Reviewed on July 15, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 326

A central idea in The Quest of the Holy Grail is the power of possessing a magical object. The goblet that Joseph uses to catch the blood of Christ from the latter's wound becomes a miraculous item. Even before the crucifixion, the goblet itself was already significant in the story...

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A central idea in The Quest of the Holy Grail is the power of possessing a magical object. The goblet that Joseph uses to catch the blood of Christ from the latter's wound becomes a miraculous item. Even before the crucifixion, the goblet itself was already significant in the story of Jesus Christ: it was the goblet that Christ drank from during the Last Supper. Interestingly, the wine that filled the goblet during the Last Supper symbolized the blood of Christ, and later on, it became the vessel of Christ's actual blood.

Later on in the story, Merlin, the famed wizard, tells King Arthur of the Holy Grail and the significance of the goblet. King Arthur, too, possesses a magical object: Excalibur, the sword in the stone that was fated to be in the possession of the future king. Both kings—Christ and Arthur—are associated with miraculous objects. The symbolism of the blood in the goblet also hints at a royal bloodline, or connects the royalty of Christ to the kingdom of King Arthur. In this sense, King Arthur is depicted as a successor to Jesus Christ.

Another similarity between the two kings is the fact that they each have a group of loyal men—as well as one traitor—who make up their inner circle. Christ had the disciples and was betrayed by Judas, while King Arthur has the Knights of the Round Table and is betrayed by Sir Lancelot. The quest for the Holy Grail can be seen as a quest for a divine power and the ability to preserve that power. In the beginning, the young Arthur finds himself divinely destined to rise above the circumstances in which he is born, just as Christ did.

That was Arthur's original "quest" for power. The connection between the story of Christ and that of King Arthur also shows the early dynamic between British royalty and Christianity. This relationship became especially prominent during the Crusades.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 639

Camelot

Camelot. Castle home of the legendary English king Arthur and the base from which the knights of his Round Table ride out on adventures, including quests for the Holy Grail—the chalice that Christ used at the Last Supper. Camelot’s palace and chapel are separate buildings within the castle walls. There is a courtyard outside the palace, and the upper hall, where the Round Table may be found, is within the palace. A floating stone bearing Galahad’s sword is discovered on the bank of a river running below the castle’s outside wall. Below the castle hill is a town.

Logres

Logres. Wasteland where corn does not sprout, trees bear no fruit, and in whose waters fish do not swim. Logres represents a Briton whose sins can be healed only by water from the Holy Grail. On a lonely heath is a stone cross beside which is a block of marble stone. Nearby stands an ancient, abandoned chapel. In the porch is an iron grill through which Lancelot sees an altar covered with silk cloths, illuminated by a silver candlestick bearing six candles. It is from this chapel that Lancelot sees the Holy Grail emerge to heal a knight. Logres also contains the Perilous Forest, in which a spring seethes with giant bubbles.

Median River

Median River. Deep and dangerous stream that flows through the wasteland, dividing it in two, symbolically separating the earthly from the spiritual. When Lancelot reaches the river, he is hemmed in on both sides by steep cliffs.

Churches

Churches. Scattered throughout the landscape are hermitages, chapels, and abbeys, typically inhabited by hermits and recluses who interpret the adventures of the questing knights in spiritual terms. Most of these places have dwellings and chapels and are in remote places, such as deep forests and mountainsides. A woman recluse (anchoress) whom Lancelot encounters sees the world only through a small embrasure facing the altar of her church.

Abbeys, such as the one at which Percival stays, typically have guest houses, chapels, and stables within and encircling walls and deep moats without.

Abbeys, such as one near Castle Vagan, where Galahad finds his shield, are often close to the castles. Castle Tubele, at which Bors quarrels with Lionel, has a hermitage close by.

Castles

Castles. Strongholds of kings and knights that usually have stout outer walls and central palaces (keeps) that are often approached up hills. Their main halls are usually on upper floors, which contains guest rooms. Dungeons are also usually part of these strongholds. The castles have courtyards in front and stables nearby and always have chapels. They tend to be situated in valleys, surrounded by meadows on which tournaments are held when questers such as Lancelot arrive. Towers, such as the one at which Bors fights for the heiress of King Love, usually resemble the central structures of castles but lack nearby towns and surrounding walls.

Corbenic Castle

Corbenic Castle. King Pellés’s castle in Logres. Its rear wall has a gate opening seaward that is never shut; instead, it is guarded by two lions. A road leads up to its central fortress, and steps lead up to its great hall. Within its palace is the chamber in which Lancelot sees the Holy Grail, which is standing on a silver table and covered by a red silk cloth interwoven with gold. Galahad and his men remove the Grail to Sarras.

Percival’s Island

Percival’s Island. High crag surrounded by sea, out of sight of the shore, where Percival is tempted. It shows no signs of human habitation but is populated with such wild beasts as lions and bears.

Sarras

Sarras. Heavenly Jerusalem to which Galahad takes the Holy Grail. The road from the shore to the spiritual palace rises to the location where the throne of Josephus is situated.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 125

Nutt, Alfred. Studies on the Legend of the Holy Grail. New York: Cooper Square, 1965. Focuses on the Celtic origins of the tale. A good starting text for the serious student.

Waite, Arthur Edward. The Holy Grail: The Galahad Quest in the Arthurian Literature. New York: University Books, 1961. Approaches the mystical side of the tale, providing new insight.

Weston, Jessie L. The Quest of the Holy Grail. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1964. This classic on the subject of the Grail was first published in 1913, but remains one of the clearest descriptions of the Grail cycle.

Wilhelm, James J., ed. The Romance of Arthur: An Anthology of Medieval Texts in Translation. New York: Garland, 1994. Critical edition of some of the best translations of early Arthurian literature.

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