English 65B/165B: Arturian Literature
Week 9.2 Malory's Sangrail

The Holy Grail

I. Grail legend and appropriation of Christian discourse:
A. As we've seen, the Celtic Grail fertility emblem was already transformed into a Christian symbol in Chretien's Perceval. Then Robert de Boron gave it a more specific function as the vessel of the Last Supper used by Joseph of Arimathea to catch Christ's blood after the Deposition from the Cross; it was honored in a quasi-liturgical cult on an altar-like table. Joseph's family allegedly transported the vessel to Britain.
B. Cistercian ("white monks") co-opt the Grail legend in Queste del Saint Graal , which uses Gospel and apocryphal Gospel texts to Christianize the Grail myth within the Arthurian realm and elevate it to a mystical sacred text. The Grail Quest becomes the spiritual search of the soul for divine union, which demands chastity, virtue, and prayer.

II. Malory's Sangrail adapts the Christian mysticism of the Queste del Saint Graal.
Malory's chivalric imitation of biblical imitation recasts the Queste's meaning, valorizing secular and social virtues over mystical holiness. Malory modifies the tale so that Lancelot dominates even though forbidden to gain the Grail, which his sinless son and surrogate, Galahad, accomplishes.

A. Grail quest is an allegorical exegesis of Matt. 22.1-14, "Many are called, few are chosen": 150 knights set out, three attain the quest; parable of guest ejected from the wedding feast instantiated in Ector of Maris, Lancelot's brother, who lacks the wedding garment (i.e., virtue). However, Malory doesn't make connection as explicit as it is in the Queste; otherwise his sinner-hero Lancelot would be condemned to everlasting fire.
B. Pentecostal elements depend on account in Acts of the Apostles, ch. 2
C. Individual quests emulate the Fates of the Apostles, and the Brotherhood of Round Table is modeled upon the brotherhood of the Apostles.
D. Galahad is the typological descendant of Solomon through Joseph of Arimathea. Lancelot is equivalent to David, the warrior-sinner.
E. Malory omits most of the of the criticism of Lancelot found in the French Queste. Lancelot's one imperfection is instability. He is fallen humanity, who has a social dimension, shared with Mordred and his followers and Englishmen of Malory's own day (including Malory himself). In Malory:
1. Lancelot is recognized as a Grail Knight. In the beginning of the Tale, book XIII, Lancelot dubs his son Galahad knight. The knights ride off in search of the Grail, Galahad leads. Lancelot is abased, confesses his sins, ch. 19.
2. In XV, chs. 3 and 4, Lancelot has a vision, in which he joins the black (sinful) knights against white (pure) king.
3. In XVII.1, Gawain, ever the foil of Lancelot, is wounded in a joust with Galahad. Lancelot, associated with Galahad, partly succeeds in the quest, where Gawain even though repentant and reconciled, fails.
4. In XVII.18, Galahad acts as a Savior (for King Mordrains, p. 395, the Maimed King, p. 399, the cripple, p. 399); he attains spiritual union with the Grail and becomes king of Sarras. He sends a message to his father to remain constant, then dies and ascends to heaven (p. 401).
5. At the end of the Grail story, Malory departs from his source by having Lancelot recount the Grail quest to the court at Camelot even as Bors brings the warning message to Lancelot to remain constant (p. 402).