Monday, January 13, 2020

Chrétien De Troyes †Perceval Essay

Chretien De Troyes’ Arthurian Romances are one of the best and most brilliant works of medieval literature. Originally, in Old French, modern translations are widely available. In fact, even today, years later, they continue to be an invaluable asset to both literature and human history. Chretien De Troyes works include four complete poems – Erec et Enide, Cliges, Yvain and Lancelot, and the fifth, last, unfinished one called Perceval, le Conte du Graal (Perceval, the story of the Grail). Erec is the tale of one of Arthur’s knights, who after several trials finally understands his loved for his betrothed, Enide [3]. Several other Arthurian knights including Kay, Lancelot and Gawain too are mentioned in the text. â€Å"The court of Arthur is filled with magnificent things and people, led by the fabulous Arthur himself. The knights pursue games of chance and test of strength; when they’re not doing that, they’re wooing women [3]. † The next romance, Cliges too uses Arthur’s magnificent court as its backdrop [3]. † Both Cliges and Yvain have love triangles and adventure. Lancelot, though is almost all about a hero rescuing his lover, the beautiful Guinevere [3]. And lastly, Chretien’s unfinished piece: Perceval, and the Holy Grail. Before studying the text of the work, it is important to understand the time it was written in. Little is known about Troyes life, but most believe he lived somewhere in the 1100’s. It is also known that he was in close association with his patroness Countess Marie de Champagne. This time has a great influence on the subjects and stories of his work, and other works of Arthurian Literature. The eleventh and twelfth centuries were a time of ‘renaisance’ in Europe. Europe had been gripped in the Dark Ages for years, but this is when barbarism was slowly rooted out, to be replaced by missionaries and churches. Social activites too took a new turn. Several universities and centres were set up. In fact, towns were planned, with proper structure and organization. Culture also took a newe dimension altogether. This is when Arthurian literautre was born. With the concept of castles and romances, chivalry and battle, courtly love, stories were dramatized and preserved; written in the form of poems or essays. This is exactly why Arthurian literature deals with princes, knights, castles, adventure and battle. Similarly, Troyes work too reflects much of the world of the renaissance. Perceval is believed to be the first account of the Holy Grail; but Troyes died before completing the masterpiece. In quest for a complete poem, many attempted to write an ending to it. Of these, four versions are widely known, and accepted. The first continuation is called the Pseudo-Wauchier Continuation, the second is attributed to Wauchier de Danain, the third by Gerbert, and the fourth is Manessier’s continuation, the only one with a true ending. But despite the efforts to write continuations, the original incomplete version in itself has its own charm, aura, and mysteriousness. Perceval is the Grail knight or one of the Grail knights in numerous medieval and modern stories of the Grail quest [2]. † Perceval is a bright and spirited young man brought up in the woods, by his mother. His mother raises him in the forest of Wales, away from civilization to protect him from the horrors of war and battle. One day, Perceval sees some knights in the woods. It is here that his interest in chilvalry and knighthood is aroused. His mother objects vehemently, fearing to lose him like her other sons, but Perceval insists, and heads out for King Arthur’s court. The Holy Grail was the most sought after treasure. In fact, all of Arthur’s knights were in quest of it. At Arthur’s court, the king’s senschal (steward) Sir Kay mocks him. A jester at the castle prophecizes that Perceval will be a great knight. Perceval rides away, and comes across another castle, where he decides to stay. Here he is trained under Gornemant. Gournemant teaches Perceval all the tactics and strategies of combat, and later, advises him not to be impolite or ask too many questions anywhere. Now Perceval leaves, looking for his mother. On his journey, he comes across yet another castle, where he meets and falls in love with the beautiful Blancheflor. Blancheflor is Gornemant’s niece, and her followers are weakened by hunger and famine. She tells Perceval of the intentions of Anguingueron, the seneschal of the evil knight Clamadeu of the Isles. He intends to attack them. Perceval, touched, commits himself to Blacheflor, and promises to help her. Perceval defeats Anguingueron and his men the next day. Clamadeu waits, hoping that eventually starvation would kill Blanchflor and her men, but luckily, a ship full of food arrives. Eventually, Clamadeu is forced to battle against Perceval; he begs for mercy after Perceval defeats him. Perceval sends both Anguingueron and Clamadeu to Arthur’s court. At the court, Arthur and his wife learn of Perceval’s heroism and courage in battle. But Perceval has to continue on his journey. He has to find his mother. At a river, he comes across the Fisher King, who offers him lodging for a night. In the castle, Perceval sees the fisherman lying there already. Perceval witnesses a strange procession, in which odd and peculiar things are being carried from one chamber to another. A squire enters carrying a sword with engraved blade, another squire enters carrying a white lance on whose tip blood oozed and flowed down onto the squire’s hand. Perceval refrains from asking about this lance, recalling Gornemant’s admonishment. More squires bring in candelabras. A maiden brings in a grail held in both hands [for Chretien, it is a serving dish], and the room becomes brightly illuminated [presumably because of the contents of the grail]. Another brings in a silver carving platter. The grail is made of gold and set with precious stones-it and the platter are carried to another chamber. Perceval fails to ask who is being served by the grail. They dine at an ivory table. The grail returns borne in the opposite direction. Later that night, the Fisher King excuses himself and has to be carried off to his bedroom, and Perceval again fails to ask what ails him. The next morning, Perceval discovers that the hall is deserted and everyone has left [1]. † Outside the castle, he comes across a maiden. She tells him that had he asked about the grail, or the platter, it would have brought the king great relief, and may even have cured him. She also informs him that his mother is dead. Later that day, Perceval is warned against the ‘haughty knight of the Heath. ’ But he challenges him, and defeats him. The haughty knight and his maiden set out for Arthur’s court. On their way, they come across King Arthur and his men, who are ironically looking for Perceval. But the king does not recognize Perceval by face. He releases the ‘haughty knight’ from imprisonment, and hands him over to his nephew Gawain. Later, Perceval too is wandering around Arthur’s camp. Arthur’s men find him asleep on a horse, but Perceval soon defeats them, including the arrogant Kay. The king asks Gawain to deal with the fiery Perceval, and not through combat. They soon become friends. But now Perceval is consumed by curiosity. He wants to know who was served by the grail and the silver platter, and why the lance bled. Here Chretien relates the tale of Gawain. Later, he continues with Perceval’s story. He has been wandering for years. He goes to see a hermit, and tells him of his wandering, and the grail. The hermit reminds him of how his mother died of sorrow, and that he was being made to repent her death. The hermit believes that the man served by the grail is Perceval’s uncle. Perceval agrees to repent for his sins. Gawain’s tale again picks up from hereon. Gawain’s story is in contrast to that of Perceval. Gawain is more professional, and less naive in battle. He also finds his long lost mother and grandmother, and his sister, about whom he had never known. The narrative breaks off shortly. Even though the story ends abruptly, one does arrive to the conclusion that Perceval is indeed, a good knight. Literally speaking, he has all the valous and heroism of a great warrior and an honorable knight. He is brilliant in battle, being able to defeat the best of warriors, fighting everyone and anyone who challenges him. But apart from the literal sense, Perceval continues to be one of the most famous and mysterious knights in medieval literature. The most important fact behind this is that many can, till today, relate to him. Throughout the text, we see him as confident and brave, but never evil. In a deeper, emtional sense, Perceval is not just a good knight. He is a good man. Many critics believe that Perceval, apart from being an Arthurian romance is also one of the earliest works on spirituality, and what we call ‘existentialism. ’ This is clearly evident from the ending of the original text. Perceval commits himself to spending a life similar to that of the hermit, in search of spirtual enlightenment and communion with God. Chretien’s writings and works are very popular. In fact, that can be estimated by looking at the number of languages his works have been translated into. In fact, it is not just the translations. Chretien’s works also provided inspiration and ideas to many fine works of literature. Chretien’s story was also the inspiration for one of the greatest romances of the Middle Ages, Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival (c. 1200-1210) [4]. † Chretien has also been called the creator of the modern novel, and is believed to have reinvented the lost genre of narrative romance. Many of his works seem theatrical, as if they are meant to be performed on stage, rather than being read on paper. Perceval, like other works of Arthurian romances has the strong element of romance, drama and tragedy. Arthurian romances though were heavily dependent on one common theme – of battle. No Arthurian romance was complete without battle or warfare. The spirit and art of war, honor, courage, manhood, combat and duels were all cardinal to the stories. The male protagonists were brave men of honor. Another important aspect was the romance. All these themes of blended together created one of the most cherished style of literature called ‘medieval literature. ’ Even though Arthurian romance and literature was famous with the works of Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Lais of Marie de France, but it was the work of Chretein De Troyes that brought the genre back into full swing. Medieval literature did suffer a setback, and was in the background for a considerable time, but was revived again especially after Lord Tennyson’s poem Idyll’s of the King. These adventurous stories have formed the basis of innumerable books and movies. The reason again, remains that even centuries later, they continue to arouse our interest. We can still relate to the heroic characters, their strengths, their weaknesses and the general human condition, which has remain unchanged through centuries.

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