The perception of the Arthurian legend during Medieval Times and today. The Holy Grail

Term Paper 2015 7 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. The Story of the Holy Grail

3. Monty Python and the Holy Grail




1. Introduction

The Arthurian legend is one of the widest known legends of the middle ages and the story about king Arthur can be dated back to the 9th century. Then his name was first mentioned in the Historia Brittonum, which is a Latin compilation of historical texts and events. In the Historia Brittonum he was described as a Roman British military leader unlike to his later image as the king of the Britons who fought against the Anglo Saxons. (Archibald 21) The first mention of Arthur as the king of Britons was then in the 12th century by the British author Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia Regum Britannie. This was also the time when the Arthurian literary circle became part of the Matter of Britain, a collective body of medieval literature and legendary material which is associated with Great Britain. Monmouth's Historia Regnum Britannie functioned as the base for Robert Wace's verse history Roman de Brut.(Waite 26 )In this text the renowned round table of king Arthur and his knights was first mentioned and also the name of the magical sword Excalibur first arose. Moreover, in the 12th century the French poet Chrétien de Troyes wrote his works based on the Arthurian legend. He added the stories about Parceval ,one of Arthur's knights, and the search for the holy grail.(Wood) This research report argues that the story about Arthur and his knights never lost its significance and its fascination over hundreds of years , even up until today. Not only by actors during the middle ages ,the story was used for their mystery plays, but also in the 20th century the Arthurian legend can be found in several texts and movies, one of which is Monthy Python and the Holy Grail.

2. The Story of the Holy Grail

The holy grail is an object , either a cup, platter which is said to have magical powers , it promises eternal youth and happiness to its owner.( Philip 81) Moreover, it is also a food providing object which is visible from time to time ,but which also disappeares. This relique can also take on the role of an oracle. It was used by Jesus Christ during the last supper and Joseph of Arimathea received Christ´s blood at the cross in this grail. During the middle ages then knights undertake quests in order to find it. (Weston 2-4)

"And there was all the hall fulfilled with good odours, and every knight had such meats and drinks as he best loved in this world"(Malory 100)

The story of the holy grail was added to the Arthurian legend, as stated above, by the French poet Chrétien de Troyes in his unfinished Old French verse romance Conte de Graal or Parceval, from the 12th century. In de Troyes romance the grail is first described as a grail and later as the grail. It is represented as an object of mystery which should arouse the audiences curiosity.

"The grail which had been borne ahead ,was made of purest, finest gold and set with gems; a manifold display of jewels of any kind." (de Troyes lines 255-258)

Later on this romance was translated and other writers as well used the image of the holy grail for their stories. Just to mention a few : Wolfgang von Eschenbach for example speaks in his novel Parzival from the " grâl "and "des grâles kraft." ( British library board)Another author who wrote about the holy grail is Robert de Boron. He on the other hand linked the grail specifically to the cup which Jesus used during his last supper. (Dover 8-9 ) And there is also the work by Thomas Malory Morte Darthur.Thomas Malory was strongly influenced by Geoffrey of Monmouth . His book about king Arthur consist of eight tales , in the sixth of which the story of the holy grail is told .

The King said(...) "And I will that ye wit that this same day shall the adventure of the Sangrail begin, that is called the holy vessel." (Malory 97)

"Then entered into the hall the Holy Greal, covered with white samite(...).(ibid 100)

In England the story about Arthur and the holy grail was highly popular. It was translated from French ,which was at that time the official language , to English which was known by almost every person. The aim of the translations to English was to reach also the people who were not fluent in French. What strikes as an important feature of the translations is that they were translated into verse ,which were the main medium for narrative fiction in England up until the 15th century. One anonymous author of an translation even stated in his introduction the reason for choosing English as the language of the narration: those who know French and Latin ,he says, have a cultural and religious advantage and therefore he will write in the language that is known to all whose who were born in England. (Dover 147-149)

3. Monty Python and the Holy Grail

In the Monty Python movie from 1975 the image of king Arthur and the middle ages are represented in an escapist way. The image of king Arthur is mocked and there is not only the medieval setting of the story but three intermingling realities are shown to the audience . Nearly all of the Monty Python creators have more or less a background which has something to do with the middle ages. Either it was part of their studies , or they were interested in the topic. This means that they know certain things about the middle ages and could have represented them more realistically .Nevertheless, they decided, due to the comedy genre they work in, to make fun of the romanticized historical figure of king Arthur and to deliberately mix the reality of the dark Ages with their own reality, Great Britain in the 1970´s . Already the second scene of the movie shows the misrepresentation of king Arthur and the clash of the different realities. This scene mocks the image of King Arthur ,who is normally depicted as a brave, fearless hero and with riches that cannot easily be found elsewhere, but in the scene he is shown as a king without sufficient financial means . For example , instead of riding on a horse his servant has to use coconuts to imitate the clapping of the hooves on the ground. This shows his lack of money, he cannot even afford a horse on his own. Another indicator for his bad financial situation is that he is only accompanied by one servant, unlike the common practice at that times for kings, to travel with a whole household of servants.(Larsen 54) The realistic representation of the middle ages is interrupted in this scene, when a guard starts to talk about the migration of coconuts from one place to the other:

GUARD #1: Found them? In Mercea? The coconut's tropical!

ARTHUR: What do you mean?

GUARD #1: Well, this is a temperate zone.

ARTHUR: The swallow may fly south with the sun or the house martin

or the plumber may seek warmer climes in winter yet these are not

strangers to our land.

GUARD #1: Are you suggesting coconuts migrate?

ARTHUR: Not at all, they could be carried.

GUARD #1: What -- a swallow carrying a coconut?

ARTHUR: It could grip it by the husk! (ibid 56 )

The first scene in which the holy grail is mentioned in the movie is scene seven, where king Arthur is send on a mission by god to find the vessel :

GOD: Right! Arthur, King of the Britons -- your Knights of the Round

Table shall have a task to make them an example in these dark times.

ARTHUR: Good idea, oh Lord!

GOD: 'Course it's a good idea! Behold! Arthur, this is the Holy

Grail. Look well, Arthur, for it is your sacred task to seek

this Grail. That is your purpose, Arthur -- the Quest for the

Holy Grail.

ARTHUR: A blessing!

LAUNCELOT: A blessing from the Lord!

GALAHAD: God be praised!



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Ruhr-University of Bochum – Englisches Seminar
Arthurian Ledgend Medieval English Holy Grail

Title: The perception of the Arthurian legend during Medieval Times and today. The Holy Grail