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Perceval, the Tale of the Grail is an unfinished romance story written by Chrétien de Troyes, most likely in the 12th century, though the precise year is unknown. The novel, like other literary works published at the time, contains various incidents of superstition mixed with knight exploits and romance. Perceval and Gawain, the book's characters, are both knights who go on adventures and are well-liked by people. The primary goal of this essay is to examine the concept of romance as represented by the story's two main characters, Perceval and Gawain. The book begins by giving an account of a young naive boy (Perceval) who really admires knights and wants to become one, against his mother’s wishes. However, he follows his dreams and leaves his mother in the forest where he was brought up, and heads for King Arthur’s castle where he achieves his life goals. Throughout the story, he is portrayed as sacred man who vows never to kill a helpless opponent in battle and has the greatest respect for women. However, his adventures and poor decision-making result in the death of his mother and leaves the Fisher King wounded. The story also contains an account of an alternate hero, Gawain, who differs from Perceval in that he is more experienced as a knight and has killed several men, based on the accusation laid on him by other characters.
Romance, as used in literature, refers to the conceptions of virtue adopted by society such as loyalty, courage, honor, fidelity, and love. In the story of Perceval, he is pictured as a typical romance hero as he strives to become a respected knight by winning battles, maintaining chivalry among the ladies, and observing the rules of knighthood. The first time he comes to King Arthur’s castle, the king has confidence in him as he appears courageous and ambitious despite his low status. The King states that: “As for the young man, you may find, although he has a simple mind, he is of noble family still, and though he has been trained so ill by a rough master, yet he can become a valiant nobleman.” True to the King’s prediction, Perceval becomes one of his most trusted knights. He begins his adventure by killing a knight although he is a young boy, demonstrating qualities of courage and loyalty to the king. Further into the story, Perceval also wins numerous battles and since he made a vow not to kill a defenseless opponent, he sends them to King Arthur to become prisoners. Overall, he is portrayed as brave knight who is somewhat invincible in battle.
Gawain is also portrayed as a romantic hero in the story. In contrast to Perceval, Gawain is more experienced as a knight and is more stubborn. For instance, when confronted about his obligation to give up his horse as is the tradition when you kill a knight, he refuses and maintains that: “… it would cause me too much pain to give him up... I’d have to go on foot, you see.” Gawain is also a brave knight, who would risk his life despite the imminent dangers of the various quests he encounters. For instance, he is not afraid of sitting on the Wondrous Bed even after he is warned about the repercussions of such an action. He dismisses the claims and states that: “All the same, I think that you are saying it since it is or my benefit but I refuse to be gainsaid. I plan to sit upon the bed...” Such courage and valiance are directly related to romantic characters such as Gawain and Perceval.
Chrétien, and Ruth Harwood Cline. 1985. Perceval, or, The story of the grail. Athens: University of Georgia Press
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