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Tennyson's sublunary grail.

   Apologue, Fable, Poesy, and Parable,
   Are false, but may be rendered also true,
   By those who sow them in a land that's arable:
   'T is wonderful what Fable will not dot
   'T is said it makes Reality more bearable....

(Lord Byron, Don Juan 15:89)

The conceptually divergent commentary occasioned by Tennyson's Idylls of the King suggests the magnitude of the challenge posed by post-Romantic narratives featuring characters who assert that transcendence has been accessible to them through visionary experiences. (1) Such works typically embody "the Romantic ideology of analytic dismantlement of the superstructure of western culture," (2) and, as a result, require that readers participate in an effort "to dissolve the regnant constructs ... of the past [and] far more important the ideologies which those constructs exemplified." (3) The ideology that dominates Camelot, of course, is Christianity. And in order to accomplish its dissolution, readers must exercise extreme skepticism toward the seductive teleological closure offered by various fervid characters who use traditionally sacrosanct iconography and rhetoric while attempting to reify their own beatification. This task is particularly amplified in "The Holy Grail," the most technically complex of the Idylls and one of the most difficult of nineteenth-century poems.

Tennyson's own remarks about his work provide a useful context. He insists "There is no single fact or incident in the Idylls, however seemingly mystical, which cannot be explained as without any mystery or allegory whatever." (4) Such a statement clearly indicates that Tennyson, whatever his personal faith may be, (5) is maintaining the intellectual posture of "demystification" which J. Hillis Miller identifies as a consequence of the recent and inclusive philosophical progression from an "assumption that society and the self are founded on some superhuman power outside them, to a putting in question of this assumption, to the discovery that society now appears to be self-creating and self-supporting." (6) Thus, Tennyson can be expected in "The Holy Grail" to critique visionary credulity in a manner continuous with earlier Romantic dissections of belief which suggest that "as soon as Christian doctrines ... are separated from their traditional symbolizations, the arbitrary nature of the belief and the symbol is revealed, and thus the arbitrary nature of the belief is uncovered ... as itself a symbol of something else." (7)

Life within the walls of Camelot requires residents painfully to suppress their awareness of recalcitrant ambiguity and consequent "confusion" (cf. GL 281, MV 305, LT 95, 124, G 218, PA 99, 144). (8) A useful referent, then, of the phrase "something else" is: vulnerability to the impostures that are necessary in the Idylls if civilization is to flourish. Significantly, such vulnerability is troped repeatedly as bodily damage. A familiar example occurs in "The Coming of Arthur," when Arthur first sees Guinevere and "Felt the light of her eyes into his life / Smite," whereupon "Then he drave / The heathen" (CA 56-58). The word "Then" denotes causality and suggests that Guinevere's perceptual impact upon Arthur is initially a source of his strength to wage successful war and, later, to consolidate his knights, "'all of one mind with him,'" so that they even seem to accept the physical form of their sire along with his vows, as "'From eye to eye thro' all their Order flash[ed] / A momentary likeness of the King'" (CA 254, 269-70). Tennyson uses the analogy of violent physical penetration to indicate intersubjective influence, as one character "into" another seems to "Smite," and he suggests thereby the violence of the perceptual distortions and "volitional violation" (9) that is necessary in order to make possible even a "'momentary'" cultural coherence (CA 270).

A markedly distorted presence dominates "The Holy Grail" in the form of the narrator, Percivale, who is a virtual embodiment of the etymology of "oxymoron," a term that merges the Greek words oxus ("keen") and moros ("foolish"). The name "Percivale" means "pure fool." In this poem it fittingly denotes a pietistic enthusiast who relies upon dualistic categories--e.g., "'Nay'" and "'Yea'" (HG 30, 45, 205, 280, 631)--and who describes the decision of his disruptively visionary sister to become a nun by means of the same analogical violence (the striking of a target by an arrow) that Arthur experiences when he encounters Guinevere: the nun's "'fervent flame of human love, / ... being rudely blunted, glanced and shot / Only to holy things'" (HG 74-76). (10) And similar rhetoric is employed by Percivale when he tells of his sister's psychological violation of Galahad, as "'She sent the deathless passion in her eyes / Thro' him'" and "'he believed in her belief'" (HG 163-65), an event that parallels rhetorically Arthur's initial sight of Guinevere even as it precipitates the negation of the Order which originally was made possible by the prior royal encounter. Moreover, another word for "arrow" is "bolt," and the significance of these synonyms is extreme. For when Arthur in "The Holy Grail" returns to his castle just in time to see it struck by lightning, he cries "'Pray Heaven, they be not smitten by the bolt'" (HG 221). Although neither Arthur nor Percivale realizes it, with crucial thematic import the same vocabulary denotes both the Nun's intersubjective imposition and a destructive assault upon Camelot.

The blinding complexity of a lightning bolt figures forth confounding origins--Excalibur, "'that true steel,'" was "'forged'" as "'lightnings played about it'" (GL 67)--and announces that moment when the effort whereby Camelot's citizens have sustained their telos detonates, and blades are broken or lost. Experiences of serpentine coruscations annul linear ways of seeing and speaking, and are figuratively and literally emasculating. Such are the "'lightnings'" that flash with "'sharp, quick thunder'" which seem to Percivale and Bors noumenally to confirm the Nun's influence. They are akin to the "bolt" that catalyzes Merlin's subjection to Vivien (MV 932), and the perhaps simultaneous "'bolt'" that perniciously "'smote along the hall,'" initiating the departure of Arthur's enterprise, even as the "'Smite'" of Guinevere's eyes years before helped to found it (HG 186, CA 56; cf. PA 380-82).

Significantly, throughout the Idylls there exists a series of experiences that are identified with a recurring verbal motif denoting spectral arrival and departure. This motif is established in "The Coming of Arthur" in terms of the knights' reactions to their King, some being "'pale as at the passing of a ghost / ... and others dazed, as one ... / Half blinded at the coming of a light'" (CA 263-65), and is perpetuated in "Merlin and Vivien" in the apparitions of the anonymous King "Coming and going" in the mind of his charmed Queen, the mythical hart that "'like a silver shadow slipt away,'" and Vivien's flickering body that in the lightning "went and came" (MV 211, 421, 642, 958). The motif culminates in the spectre of the Grail, the "'phantom of a cup that comes and goes'" (HG 44). Characters like Bellicent and Percivale would prefer to believe that these visionary experiences result from the penetration of the sublunary world by noumenal power. But the verbal motif that in these passages denotes such experiences is in fact derived from the famous description in Paradise Lost of Eve's potentially lethal solipsism: as Eve becomes infatuated with her own reflected image, God intervenes, warning her that she contemplates only "thyself, / With thee it came and goes" (4.467-68; my italics). And by means of recurring rhetorical allusions to this passage Tennyson suggests that visionary enthusiasts are likewise probably victims of their own subjective extremes, not witnesses of various noumenally validated epiphanies. A similar device whereby clairvoyant claims are undercut both rhetorically and philosophically appears in "The Holy Grail" itself, where the Cup is primarily still another manifestation of the marginalized yet fecund "'fire ... / Whereby the blood beats and the blossom blows'" (HG 667-68). More precisely, both the sagacious pagans, amidst their androgynous "'circles, and the stones / They pitch up straight'" (HG, 661-62), and their adversary, Arthur, use in their derogatory remarks about the Grail-vision the very rhetoric employed by Milton's epic voice in Paradise Lost when it describes Satan leading "credulous" Eve to "woe." Satan appears as "a wand'ring fire" that "with delusive light / Misleads th' amazed night-wanderer from his way / To bogs and mires ... / There swallowed up and lost" (9.644-45, 634, 640-42). Tennyson employs this Miltonic allusion for primarily dysteleological purposes. Thus, the Holy Grail, celestial object of a "'high quest,'" is originally housed on "'an isle of marsh,'" owned by "'the heathen Prince, Arviragus,'" where Joseph of Arimathea "'built with wattles from the marsh / A little lonely church'" (HG 665, 61-64), and, later is designated skeptically a "'mocking fire'" and "'wandering fires / Lost in the quagmire'" (HG 667, 319-20).

Perhaps the most spectacular appeal to the senses is chromatic, and the verbal techniques employed by respective cultures to accomplish the encoding of colors have been identified by linguists like Hjelmslev as a particularly revelatory semantic signature. (11) It is therefore appropriate that Tennyson conspicuously includes colors during a crucial elucidation of the phrase "wandering fire," the pivotal term in "The Holy Grail" whereby clairvoyant zeal is demeaned. This elucidation is accomplished by means of a description of the perceptual dynamics that eventually derange the inexperienced, youthful enthusiast, Pelleas. Ignorant of all perfidy and infatuated with his own thoughts about joining the Round Table, Pelleas leaves his "Isles" and journeys toward Camelot, burdened by the assumption that he, like Arthur, must be allied with a woman "'pure as Guinevere'" (PE 16, 42). Wearied by the "Beat" of summer sun, "Almost to falling from his horse," he stops "at noon" (traditional hour of revelation) (12) and takes refuge within a "dim day" beneath a grove of trees, "At random looking" outward (see PE 19-31). Visually disoriented by "dimness" and "shadow," he invokes while "half-awake" love in the abstract, "since he loved all maidens, but no maid / In special," murmuring "'Where? / O, where? I love thee, tho' I know thee not' " (PE 36-41; cf. St. Augustine, Confessions 3.1: Nondum amabam, et amare amabam, quaerebam quid amarem, amans amare," significantly, the epigraph to "Alastor," a poem that anatomizes the perceptual dynamics of desire). In this needful state of mind, "dazzled" by the juxtaposition of the "greenglooming twilight" of his protective shade with the "living fire of emeralds" beyond, Pelleas is "Suddenly waken'd" to the sight he so desires redemptively to see:
   Strange as to some old prophet might have seem'd
   A vision hovering on a sea of fire,
   Damsels in diverse colors like the cloud
   Of sunset and sunrise, and all of them
   On horses, and the horses richly trapt....
   And all the damsels talk'd confusedly,
   And one was pointing this way and one that,
   Because the way was lost.

(PE 49-57)

Urgently desiring an ideal love, and convinced a priori that such an eidetic experience is possible, Pelleas "'woke from dreams'" to encounter an embodiment of his desire that he generates subjectively by sheer force of will, as he lends "All the young beauty of his own soul to hers" (PE 79), and, like Keats's Lycius, fatally "from one trance was wakening / Into another" ("Lamia" 296-97; cf. BB 492f.).

As writers like Spenser and Milton stress ethically, and as Tennyson surely knew, "wandering" is the English equivalent of the Latin word erratio, and is the fate of many conflicting mere subjects "Not understood" and in "Confusion" (Paradise Lost 12.58, 62). Thus, Ettarre's prideful, promiscuous band, jabbering "confusedly" while "lost" in the wilderness and sharing "tinsell trappings" with their beasts, consummately enacts in its arrogance and "'mockery'" a familiar trope signifying an ethically repugnant mentality (Faerie Queene 1.2.13, PE 319). And when such an enactment takes the form of "A vision hovering on a sea of fire," there occurs a literalization whereby the phrases "'wandering fires'" and "'mocking fire'" (HG 319, 667) are conclusively glossed. These phrases function prominently in "The Holy Grail" as figures that connote various characters' hostile critiques of visionary claims. But in the above passage such hostility toward eidetic solipsism is definitively projected by the narrative itself, as once again Vivien's "'blaze'" (BB 443) ignites a young zealot in the manner of an "old prophet," and intense physical sensation, the lovely "fire of emeralds," is etherialized by transformative compulsions. During a "vision," amidst totalizing adjectives ("all ... all"), time becomes synchronic while "sunset and sunrise" simultaneously irradiate the same "cloud," and contrary-to-fact grammatical structure is reified, as the "beauty of ... flesh" appears "As tho' it were the beauty of ... soul" (PE 50, 74-5). Indeed, such a perspective as this makes it plain why in "The Holy Grail" only errant, solipsistic questers and "'the dead'" go "'wandering'" (HG 49-50; cf. 319, 369, 598, 887, 904).


In the Idylls ebullient Christians typically employ a chromatic profile in their struggles to resolve the "'fiery flood'" (BB 448) ethically into a dualistic tension and disjoin thereby the phenomenal and noumenal domains. Thus, for instance, while telling his "Free tales," Limours "took the word and play'd upon it, / And made it of two colours" (GE 291-92). Understood naively, these domains are manifested within the context of human affairs primarily as a (ruddy) mutable carnality that opposes (colorless) eidetic permanence and moral stainlessness, (13) and judgmental chromatic tropes denoting this opposition are acknowledged both by certain characters while speaking, and by the narrative voice(s) of certain poems whereby readers gain access to the perceptions of various members of Arthur's court.

But human experience as dramatized within the Idylls is inescapably paradoxical. Abstract concepts of transcendent stasis and moral purity can only be fabricated by ephemeral beings who are fundamentally carnal. That is, the white and the red can, at best, only excruciatingly intersect now and then, here and there, since angelic tinctures like "Celestial rosy red, love's proper hue" (Paradise Lost 8.619) are not accessible. The cruciform bower at Camelot, with its paths of lilies and roses, and Ettarre's arabesque garden, "Of roses white and red, and brambles mixt" (PE 413), are definitive. No matter how sundry characters may struggle to categorize existence judgmentally and reductively by means of binary oppositions, racking ambiguity prevails over efforts to accomplish resolvent intervention, for, as Lancelot laments (according to Percivale), "'the wholesome flower / And poisonous grew together ... / Not to be pluck'd asunder'" (HG 772-74).

The very structure of the bower at Camelot, a "walk of roses" by a "walk of lilies crost" (BB 237-38)--indeed, "'earthly passion crost'" (HG 29)--indicates that a consequence of reductive dualism is a figurative crucifixion. Throughout the Idylls, cruciate verbs, adjectives, and nouns are used to connote liminality and disenchantment. The following examples are definitive: a potentially redemptive primeval text is incomprehensible, "'Writ in a language ... long gone by,'" with "'every margin ... crost ... / With comment'" (MV 672, 675-76); an apparently indomitable linear weapon, Excalibur, "'cross-hilted'" (CA 285), bears an inscription that confirms merely cyclical time, and that consequently is proleptic finally of only a "broken cross" (PA 177); and the seemingly imperishable gate at Camelot is shaped "like the cross," with iconography suggesting "Time / Were nothing," but "worn with wind and storm" and textured "like an ever-fleeting wave" (see GL 210-23). Even brief survival amidst such cruxes requires an extreme of perceptual deformity. This is why the great statue of Arthur, "'made by Merlin'" and towering "'over all'" at the crucial ontic intersection figured forth by Camelot itself, is drastically deformed: "'eastward fronts the statue,'" but with "'wings pointed to the Northern Star'" (HG 240-41). Its contortion commemorates the psychic toil of Arthur and his minions, striving to acknowledge only ascension and cynosural permanence while denying "the gloom / That follows on the turning of the world" (PE 537-38). In contrast to stony, inert deformations, mere flesh can only achingly attempt such a denial contingently, by ignoring the south and west--like Lancelot, who "glanced aside" in Guinevere's cruciform garden to turn northward (BB 242), or like twisted questers, "'swerving east'" (HG 631; cf. 453, 832, BB 315, G 76-80).

Throughout the Idylls many characters reduce visual and ethical complexities metaphorically to simple configurations of red and white. (14) It is therefore not surprising that in "The Holy Grail" Arthur himself is portrayed by Percivale lauding his "'Knights that in twelve great battles splash'd and dyed / The strong White Horse in his own heathen blood'" (HG 310-11). And, as might be expected, the same repertoire of chromatic tropes that predominates among the inhabitants of Arthur's political jurisdiction also abounds inside Arthur's castle, where it is incorporated within a variety of empirical visual configurations that include admixtures of red and white hues. This is of great consequence, for these configurations, in turn, define a crucial temporal and perceptual priority within "The Holy Grail." That is, even before the communal vowing, there exist three facts at Arthur's castle which create an empirical context that contributes powerfully toward the demystification of the phantom cup.

(1) The very source of illumination of the great hall of Camelot bathes the residents continually and exclusively in a visual embodiment of this chromatic admixture, as Percivale unwittingly notes, describing "'our hall ... / Where twelve great windows blazon Arthur's wars, / And all the light that falls upon the board / Streams thro' the twelve great battles of our King'" (HG 246-50), the same battles against advocates of earthy sensuality during which the "'Knights ... dyed / The strong White Horse in ... blood'" (HG 311-12) and Arthur himself appeared, bearing on his shield "'a sun / of silver rays'" and "'Red ... with heathen blood'" (LE 294-95, 307). The windows depict a single resolvent battle with pagan adversaries that functions as a synecdoche for the telos of Arthurian civilization. The very light whereby the denizens of Camelot are able to see much of anything--indeed, "'all the light that falls upon the board'" (my italics)--must first pass through these windows, incorporating their shapes and hues, and this literal fact also summarizes figuratively the perceptual process itself. It is the political, ethical, and architectural dominance of both the subject matter and the chromatic scheme of these windows, not a noumenal presence, that dictates the terms of the visionary experience claimed by the erotically frustrated Nun, who, having "'glow'd / ... in her earlier maidenhood, / With ... a fervent flame of human love, / Which, being rudely blunted, glanced and shot / Only to holy things'" (HG 72-77), sights a "'silver beam, / And down [it] stole the Holy Grail, / Rose-red with beatings in it'" (HG 116-18).

(2) Thereafter, the Nun proceeds to reify the structure of her visionary obsession by fashioning from her own hair an incarnation of the Grail for Galahad to wear, a belt depicting the vessel "'with silver thread / And crimson'" (HG 153-54), which Galahad obediently dons. Still another decisive fact preceding (thus formatively inducing) a supposedly exclusively noumenal experience, this belt serves as a sign of Galahad's psychic subservience to the Nun, who with "'deathless passion in her eyes / ... laid her mind / On him, and he believed in her belief'" (HG 163-65). But it also makes Galahad's assertion "'Never yet / Hath what [Percivale's] sister taught me first to see, / This holy thing, fail'd from my side'" (HG 468-70) merely literally true and therefore metaphysically trivial and irrelevant. Moreover, Galahad's myopic ability to see no (female) hair, only Grail, even though the former provides both background and formative substance for the latter, is still another occasion whereby a single image reveals definitive ontological principles and perceptual dynamics. (15)

(3) Finally, "'early [the] same day'" of the communal vowing "'An outraged maiden sprang into the hall'" and "'all her shining hair was smear'd with earth, and either milky arm / Red-rent with hooks of bramble, and all she wore / Torn'" (HG 208-12; my italics). In this scene, fraught with the Percivalean desperation of adjectival absolutes, are mingled perceptions of earth, hair, bloody lacerations, and general rapine under the aegis of white-limbed, virginal femininity. And this captivating, yet conceptually disorienting, visual configuration of animated shapes and colors combines with the windows' morning light, the nun's shrill assertions, and Galahad's hirsute Grail, to drive the knights collectively to the brink of delirium. It takes only a subsequent bolt of lightning, flashing through the similar chromatic variegations of the panes in the great hall, to precipitate among the knights a compensatory quest for the Holy Grail, the resolvent, healing, visionary absolute which no one can in fact ever see.

More concisely, in order to formulate an adequate response to Percivale's narrative, it is essential to understand that well before the knights swear to seek the Grail there immediately exist in their physical surroundings three perceptually captivating empirical phenomena that ambiguously mingle the colors red and white: the twelve windows illustrating scenes of sanguine battle, Galahad's belt of female hair wherein is depicted a Grail, and the gory, practically naked maiden. And these chromatically and conceptually complex visual phenomena are subsequently resolved morally by certain of the knights into the radically opposed categories of transcendence and carnality. Such resolution is accomplished by means of the imposition of a reductive, binary interpretational technique that valorizes a ruddy supernaturalism at the expense of blood, hair, and skin, as, in Arthur's absence, a flicker of lightning animates the twelve windows, dazzling the eager enthusiasts, whereupon, according to Percivale's retroactive affirmation, "'A crimson grail within a silver beam'" supposedly "'stole'" past (HG 155, 188), though in fact it was seen by no one, for when Arthur inquires "knight by knight, if any / Had seen it, all their answers were as one: / 'Nay, lord, and therefore have we sworn our vows'" (HG 283-85; my italics).

It is crucial to the enterprise of demystifying the Grail to understand the derivations of the linguistic repertoire that dominates Arthur's political domain in general and the visual configurations within the walls of Camelot in particular. A fundamental principle in the Idylls is that temporal priority defines ontological priority, as the very dynamics of the landscape reveal. For example, a primally authentic solar radiance "'kindle[s] all the plain and ... wold'" and makes the "'wayside blossoms open to the blaze'" (BB 435, 443), announcing the perpetual transformation of anachronistic potentiality into phenomenal presence. But this transformative process does not include the categorization of phenomenality according to any dualistic scheme, as the heathen "'wise men'" seem to know when they affirm there is no "'other fire'" except the one "'Whereby the blood beats and the blossom blows'" (HG 668). Moreover, as Vivien correctly understands, this "'fire'" shines above only in a physical sense, and thereby drains teleological significance from the words "'Heaven,'" "'lord,'" and "'good.'" Even though this "'fire of Heaven'" sustains merely an amoral cyclical vitality, making certain only that the "'new leaf ever pushes off the old,'" it is nevertheless not inimical, "'not the flame of Hell,'" but rather the "'lord of all things good,'" but only insofar as inclusive vitality itself deserves approbation (cf. Vivien's song, BB 434-53; indeed, it is fitting that such an insight is voiced by an errant woman whose very name means "alive"). Since Christian binary logic and ethics cannot incorporate this fiery enigma, its seductive, alogical warmth can only undo the "'yet-unbroken strength'" of Camelot, and, as Vivien accurately predicts, "'beat the cross to earth, and break the King / And all his table'" (HG 326, BB 452-53).


The ontological priority of erotic energy in the Idylls corresponds to a certain temporal priority that cannot be neglected during efforts to submit various characters' visionary claims to scrutiny. Vivien's assertion that "'Old monk and nun, ye scorn the world's desire, / Yet in your frosty cells ye feel the fire!'" (BB 438-39) at once answers the question that Ambrosius directs to Percivale concerning the knight's motive for departing Camelot, "'what drove thee from the Table Round, / My brother? was it earthly passion crost?'" (HG 28-29), explains the reason Ambrosius even needs to make this inquiry, and qualifies the vision claimed by Percivale's sister, who in excess of all others "'glow'd'" with "'a fervent flame of human love,'" and who became a nun only when this "'flame,'" being "'rudely blunted, glanced and shot / Only to holy things'" (HG 74-76). The entirety of the Grailapparition, a hollow, "'Rose-red'" shape that seems to enter the sublunary world by slipping downward along "'a cold and silver beam'" (HG 116-18), obviously constitutes still another erotically suggestive configuration of physical shapes as well as a medley of colors that catachretically mingles traditional chromatic icons denotative both of carnality and chastity. But only part of this enigma can be consciously valorized within the dualistic Christian philosophical perspective used by Arthur's knights.

Predictably, therefore, when descriptions of the apparition are repeated, details connoting masculine chastity are validated judgmentally, to the detriment of whatever suggests femininity and sublunary passion. Thus, Percivale employs an interpretational strategy that permits him egotistically to stress only his own blood relationship to the person who first claims a perception of the Grail, eventual object of an exclusively manly quest. And he myopically regards as irrelevant the gender of the primal visionary, her dubious motivation for becoming a monastic, and her odd manner of preparation for obtaining the vision, i.e., her efforts to compensate through "'prayer and praise / ... fast and alms'" for her urgent awareness of "'scandal'" and "'Sin,'" the "'sound of an adulterous race'" that "'Across the iron grating of her cell / Beat'" (HG 76-82).

These narrative distortions are a minor but revealing version of the strategy that allows Percivale, in an effort to eradicate fleshly femininity from his retrospective narrative, radically to reconstruct the details constitutive both of the day whereon some knights foolishly swear to seek the Grail and of the weeks prior to the conclusion of his own quest for the sacred cup. Indeed, this strategy requires him to go so far as even to fabricate an utterly invalid story about the disappearance of Merlin. According to Percivale, Merlin essentially dematerialized into the eternity of Grail-legends when the wizard presumed to occupy the Siege Perilous at Camelot (HG 172-76), yet Merlin's fate is quite different, indeed, and it is known in fact only to Vivien. Percivale's status as a narrator who is also the protagonist of his own narrative seems to exude unimpeachable authority. Thus, like Ambrosius, many readers fail to observe that when Percivale recounts the events that occurred on the day the lightning bolt struck Camelot, causing various members of the Order to vow to search for the Grail, he creates a discontinuity between "storytime" and "text-time," between the order of events as he once experienced them and his revisionary "linear ... disposition of linguistic segments in the continuum of the text." (16) That is, Percivale separates the events constitutive of "story-time" into two distinct narratives, and then inverts their original chronological order, attempting by means of such analepsis (17) to imply the impossibility of any relationship existing between them whatsoever. Percivale initially stresses the miraculous qualities of the Grail-apparition, which he breathlessly describes deceptively so as to suggest that he and the others shared a common perception of a supernatural event. Only late in his narrative does Percivale acknowledge other quite crucial details. Tangentially, in response to a pointed question from Ambrosius, he reluctantly admits that the collective hysteria took place when he and his fellows were unrestrained by the insightful presence of their King; that upon subsequent interrogation, "'knight by knight, if any / Had seen it, all their answers were as one: / Nay'" (HG 283-85, my italics); and, furthermore, that there was a memorably fleshy occurrence at Camelot before the lightning bolt and resultant sharing of flesh-denying vows, "'for early that same day'" an "'outraged maiden sprang into the hall / Crying on help,'" and "'all her shining hair / Was smear'd with earth, and either milky arm / Red-rent with hooks of bramble, and all she wore / Torn'" (HG 206-12).

Fittingly, Tennyson asserts that responses to "The Holy Grail" must be predicated upon a rigorous understanding of the framing perceptual distortions which constitute the "self' that dominates the poem, for "the key is to be found in a careful reading of Sir Percivale's vision...." (18) Certain analytic categories provided by recent narratological theory contribute to such an enterprise (although the terminology is unwieldy). "The Holy Grail" is presented by a third-person narrative voice which introduces the poem (HG 1-17), but which dwindles thereafter to become merely a series of sporadic phrases that passively identify Percivale and Ambrosius as the two exclusive sources of all the utterances in the poem (e.g., "said the knight," "said the monk"). Within this "extradiegetic" context Percivale is the dominant speaker, the "intradiegetic narrator," and he creates and sustains by means of his speeches alone practically all the other characters (a paramount fact that many readers ignore). In other words, "The Holy Grail" is unique among Tennyson's idylls because the narrator, Percivale, and the narratee, Ambrosius, are the only characters. With the exception of Ambrosius, all the proper names (e.g., Bors, Lancelot, Arthur) and generic nouns (e.g., the nun, the hermit, the wise men) to whom speech is attributed are merely Percivale's fabrications, and in the present essay such a disclaimer must be assumed whenever these names or nouns are cited. Moreover, Percivale exists within his own retrospective narrative as a major character who acts and talks, or, put differently, he is also a "homodiegetic" voice. As a result, he can be expected thoroughly to distort his tale, for, as Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan notes, "Intradiegetic narrators, especially when they are homodiegetic, are ... more fallible than extradiegetic ones...." (19)

Percivale's fallibility can be described as a compulsion to decompose ambiguous configurations of human experience into judgmentally opposed binary components, whereupon one is granted supernatural enhancement while the other is demeaned and suppressed. Whether or not conscious intent should be attributed to such a strategy perhaps cannot be decided, for the text fails to provide clues that might be used to impute an overtly mean-spirited motivation to the narrator. Instead, it seems that the personality of Percivale is an example of what Julia Kristeva calls "borderline subjects," characters whose "mystical" speech constitutes "a sublimating discourse" wherein certain "contents remain ... excluded, but in strange fashion: not radically enough to allow for a secure differentiation between subject and object, and yet clearly enough for a defensive position to be established...." (20) Such a position can be detected in its most extreme and sustained form when Percivale describes the series of events that transpired during the many weeks just before he supposedly obtained his own sight of the Grail. He likewise splits this series into two distinct narratives, and then inverts their original chronological order, striving to separate chastely masculine from carnally feminine components, while assigning metaphysical priority to the former and seeking to deny the latter.

For instance, in his initial description of the events that take place before the culmination of his quest, Percivale mentions only encounters that seem to confirm his desire to believe that earthy experiences have no transcendent authenticity. He tells of entry into a realm of extreme sensory deprivation, a "'land of sand and thorns'" (HG 376), which intermittently offers a tempting sustenance and companionship that Percivale rejects, since these offers are mortally tainted by sensuality. There are four such interludes.

(1) Percivale describes a bucolic retreat with a "'brook'" and "'deep lawns'" covered with apples that fell from an orchard just beyond the brook (HG 380). But while he slakes his thirst and satisfies his hunger he finds that these physical satisfactions turn to dust, and he returns to his original parched state, alone in a desert.

(2) Percivale claims to encounter a scene of domestic fulfillment, complete with a gracious and innocent woman willingly performing constructive household labor. But when this woman directly offers him the invitation to rest, rising and "'Opening her arms to meet me'" (HG 395), she, her pleasant dwelling, and the generative principles they connote, are suddenly nullified, becoming "'dust and nothing,'" a "'broken shed / And in it a dead babe'" (HG 397-99).

(3) Percivale describes a confrontation with a chivalric figure that his allegorically obsessed mind creates as a personification of solar vitality and Mammon, the "'sun ... rising,'" and therefore to Percivale merely a version of the "'low sun'" that Guinevere values (LE 134; cf. a traditional trope for Satan: Paradise Lost 1.594-96). Clad in "'golden armor'" and "'casque all of jewels,' " revered by "'plowman'" and "'milkmaid'" alike, this earthbound knight benevolently "'Open'd his arms to embrace me,'" but, like the woman in the previous vignette, the cordial "'Lord of all the world'" vanishes into dust even as he engages Percivale physically (cf. HG 404-20).

(4) Percivale tells of "'climbing'" to a "'city'" on a "'mighty hill,'" where "'a crowd'" welcomes him as "'mightiest and purest among men.'" But ultimately he finds "'at top / No man, nor any voice.'" As the city turns "'ruinous,'" the flattering crowd is reduced to a lone old man who, failing to recognize Percivale, demands "'what art thou?'" whereupon the entire scene "'Fell into dust and disappear'd'" (cf. HG 421-36). After this, Percivale describes melodramatically a meeting with Galahad and an eventual remote glimpse of the Grail from the virtuous (Latin vir, "man") prospect of an exclusively masculine "'hill that none but man could climb'" (HG 489).

Only after the dubious Ambrosius pointedly asks "'Came ye on none but phantoms in your quest, / No man, no woman?'" does Percivale reluctantly admit that he has failed to acknowledge a certain event, which he would prefer to regard as peripheral and inconsequential, but which is of great consequence indeed, in view of the principle that permeates the Idylls whereby temporal priority correlates positively with ontological priority. Prefacing his admission with the absolutist disclaimer that "'All men, to one so bound by such a vow, / And women were as phantoms,' " Percivale confesses with "'shame'" that he "'falter'd from my quest and vow'" and spent a most distracting, pudendal interlude with a "'Princess'" into whose territory he "'chanced'" some "'nights'" after he left Camelot. Indeed, the intensity of Percivale's need to denigrate fleshly experience is revealed during this confession by his use of rhetorical conventions such as those employed by Spenser's fiercely Christian epic voice in its description of Duessa, the witch, whose "neather parts [are] the shame of all her kind" (Faerie Queene 1.8.48; cf. Latin pudere, "be ashamed"). Percivale knows this lady well, for years ago he served as "'page about her father's hall,'" at which time he pursued a different quest, as "'all my heart / Went after her with longing.' " She is now a wealthy widow in possession of a "'goodly town,' " and "'all her longing and her will / Was toward me as of old.' " Moreover, Percivale suddenly realizes that during his entire life he experienced desire exclusively for her, since she is "'that one only, who had ever / Made my heart leap.'" One day, "'beside a stream that flash'd across her orchard,'" she "'Embraced me' " and "'gave herself and all her wealth to me,'" whereupon she and her people call him "'our greatest knight'" and invite him to "'be as Arthur in our land.'" But Percivale "'fled,'" though he "'hated [his] own self, / And ev'n the Holy Quest, and all but her,'" and eventually encounters Galahad, under whose influence he "'Cared not for her, nor anything upon earth'" (cf. HG 572-611).

As described by Percivale, the Grail-quest is a retreat from the "'shame'" of mutable sensuality which both he and Galahad "'fled'" (HG 607, 504). And close examination of Percivale's narrative can reveal some of the ways whereby he strives metaphysically to legitimize such flight, for the details of this pudendal narrative clearly are the source of the four fantastic episodes which Percivale previously described to Ambrosius, and which consist of little more than selective exaggerations and chronological revisions of the earthly events that Percivale experienced while dallying with his "'Princess,'" the very existence of whom he would prefer to deny. The Lady's orchard and its stream, the setting wherein Percivale experienced a kiss and adoring surrender, become (1) the "'brook'" with "'apple-trees'" that "'Fell into dust'" in the first fantasy (i.e., forbidden Dead-Sea fruit). The Lady's offer of commitment, of "'herself and all her wealth'" as she "'Embraced'" Percivale, calling him "'greatest knight,'" are transformed retroactively by Percivale's censorious narrative strategy into the subsequent foredoomed fantasies (2) of a "'woman'" by a "'fair... house'" who "'rose / Opening her arms to meet me,'" (3) of the allegorical personification of Mammon, the "'sun ... rising,'" whose "'golden armour'" and "'crown of gold,'" revered by all, are vestigial memories of Arthur's face "like a rising sun," with "'crown / ... of gold'" and "'golden dragon'" (PA 385, HG 241-42, 263), and who "'Open'd his arms to embrace me,'" and (4) of a "'city'" with an adoring "'crowd' " who "'Cried'" invitingly "'Welcome, Percivale! /Thou mightiest and purest among men!'"

In order to authenticate only pious transcendence, Percivale narrates his quest for the Grail well before he acknowledges any sensuous dallying, and this linear sequence itself helps to explain why so many interpreters of "The Holy Grail" strive mightily, if confusedly, to defend Percivale's claims, for psychological tests indicate that information encountered early in a text radically influences the perceptual process, causing the remainder of the text to be understood almost exclusively in terms of the initial information. (21) When the original chronology of the events that constitute Percivale's narrative is restored, it becomes difficult not to perceive a causal relationship between a definitive primal carnality and subsequent individual eidetic visions. Although Percivale would prefer to remain ignorant of such a principle of causality, in fact it controls his perceptions throughout. Consider, for example, the manner in which his quest is concluded. Nearing despair, Percivale discovers a "'holy hermit in a hermitage' " with a "'chapel'" located in "'a lowly vale / ... where the vale / Was lowest'" (cf. Archimago's "lowly hermitage ... / Down in a dale" with its "chappell": Faerie Queene 1.1.34). This dubiously profound recluse diagnoses Percivale's problem as a lack of "'true humility,'" and, astonishingly, proceeds to elaborate upon this "'highest virtue'" by personifying it as a willing celestial nude who was initially manifested visually as the star announcing Christ's nativity after she disrobed for His sake:
   "'... when the Lord of all things made Himself
   Naked of glory for His mortal change,
   "Take thou my robe," she said, "for all is thine,"
   And all her form shone forth with sudden light
   So that the angels were amazed, and she
   Follow'd Him down, and like a flying star
   Led on the gray-hair'd wisdom of the east .... ' "

(HG 447-53)

Amidst the predictable visionary incantation "'all... all,'" potentially lurid details are moderated, as a final feminine subservience to male dominance is confirmed. Yet the remarkable fact remains that this smoldering hermit is unable even to describe the concept of humility and the contents of Luke 2:1-18 without gratuitously envisioning a heavenly strip-tease (see HG 440-53), another confirmation of the overall validity in the Idylls of Vivien's assertion, "'Old monk and nun, ye scorn the world's desire, / Yet in your frosty cells ye feel the fire!'" (BB 439-40) Once again, repressed sensuality precedes a vision of the Grail, and when Percivale thereafter finally gains the "'hill that none but man could climb'" (HG 498), he glimpses his eidolon, predictably, in the form of a "'star'" merging with Galahad, whose name, "found as Gilead in the Song of Songs, is one of the mystical designations of Christ," (22) and whose "'white armour' " now seems a "'silver star'" (HG 135, 517). Moreover, in spite of all the sanctimonious phantasmagoria, Percivale obviously has not learned humility. According to Thomas Aquinas, "Pride is ... love of one's own excellence, inasmuch as [this] love makes a man presume ... on his superiority over others...." (23) Percivale demonstrates an eagerness to affirm just such superiority by associating himself with others who have accomplished notoriety at Camelot. He brags to Ambrosius that the ecstatic nun is "'one no further off in blood from me / Than sister,'" and, furthermore, that "'it pleased the King to range me close / After Sir Galahad'" (HG 69-70, 307-08).

Much debate has been occasioned by Tennyson's remark that the following judgmental speech, articulated at the end of "The Holy Grail" supposedly by Arthur about his own visions "'of the night Or of the day,'" constitutes "the (spiritually) central lines of the Idylls": (24)
   "'... and many a time they come
   Until this earth he walks on seems not earth,
   This light that strikes his eyeball is not light,
   This air that smites his forehead is not air
   But vision--yea, his very hand and foot-In
   moments when he feels he cannot die,
   And knows himself no vision to himself,
   Nor the high God a vision, nor that One
   Who rose again .... '"

(HG 906-15)

Whatever Tennyson may have meant when he wrote the phrase "spiritually (central)" remains unclear. But the tautological stutter of Arthur's speech as quoted by Percivale provides a provocative example of the dubious, halting mental process to which the adverb "spiritually" in any case refers, since little is accomplished during this pronouncement other than a revelation of the fatuous solipsism toward which spirituality may tend. Bounded by a rhetorical regression, Arthur is made to assert that the "visions" he experiences invalidate the phenomenal world ontologically, transforming the "earth" with its ambient "air" and "light," and even his own physical body, into a "vision." These "visions" also confer ontological authenticity upon verbal fabrications such as the perceiver "himself," his "God," and the "One / Who rose again" by permitting the speaker (who subtly alters "seems" to "is," and "feels" to "knows") to abolish the very concept of "vision," and thereby define transcendent actuality in terms of "no vision." Within a single sentence, that is, Arthur (according to Percivale) first uses the word "vision" to signify his own presumably valid clairvoyance, then within this context to use the same word to signify mere phenomenal illusion, which he proceeds to contrast with noumenal validity defined as the absence of vision, "no vision." Even as Arthur asserts that, during a vision, he knows transcendence is not merely an illusion, not just "a vision," the very definition of authenticity that he employs (the abolition of "vision") annuls his claim of having access to such a definition, for this access occurs only during a "vision." Indeed, Arthur "may himself be the most dangerous of illusions, the homme fatal of the Idylls." (25) And if the above lines are indeed "central," it is because they suggest that both Percivale and the King himself, although the latter "'may not wander'" (HG 904), are "spiritually" infatuated by the syntax of solipsistic extremes, wherein they hope to gain an exemption from time.

Fredric Jameson suggests that the genre of romance particularly discloses "world in the technical sense of the transcendent horizon of... experience" and makes it "visible as something like an innerworldly object in its own right, taking on the shape of world in the popular sense of nature, landscape, and so forth." (26) But there exists in the Idylls no "world" wherein verbal constructs are supported noumenally, wherein the "'rose-red sparkle'" that seems to embody transcendence might be distilled from the prior "'sparkle'" of "'earthly heats'" (HG 530, 33). In place of meditational or physical quests for redemptive clarity there exists only a directionless flicker of vignettes and interpolated narratives, intimations of the "'madness'" (HG 357, 646, 765, 784, 801, 838, 846, 859, 860, 873) with which such quests typically conclude in nineteenth-century literature. Indeed, Morse Peckham's insight that post-Romantic art is "marked by exemplifications for which there [is]no existent explanation" (27) seems to be specifically applicable to "The Holy Grail." Thus, Percivale can only confess to a final bewilderment concerning the meaning of Arthur's tautological judgment "'Ye have seen what ye have seen'" (HG 915), since in this most enigmatic poem both the King and the statement attributed to him are finally narratological symptoms only of Percivale's ethically pure foolishness.

Mississippi State University


(1) Since they tend to define an extreme version of the critical debates surrounding the Idylls, I will focus immediately upon responses to "The Holy Grail." Much of the published criticism of this poem seems to be a record of various readers' own Grail-quests, as the technical and philosophical complexities of the text are neglected and Percivale's visionary claims are treated with deference. For example, in Perception and Design in Tennyson's "Idylls of the King" (Ohio U. Press, 1969), John R. Reed largely ignores the presence of a fallible narrator and understands Percivale as an ethical exemplar who "has followed the usual pattern of Tennyson's moral design from pride, to doubt, to humility, and then to love" (p. 94). Similar limitations mar E. Warwick Slinn's "Deception and Artifice in Idylls of the King," Victorian Poetry II (1973): 1-13, in spite of its promising title, and Ronald S. Librach's "Myth and Romance in Idylls of the King," Dalhousie Review 55 (1975): 511-25. In his useful book Tennyson's Major Poems: The Comic and Ironic Patterns (Yale U. Press, 1975), James Kincaid suggests that in "The Holy Grail" Percivale "goes on to see the Grail. There is no doubt of this" (p. 195). But the foundation of Kincaid's reading is shaky, for he gets the facts of the chronology wrong, stating "after seeing the Grail, Percivale comes on a lady whom he had once loved" (p. 195). In a valuable article, "Tennyson's 'The Holy Grail': The Tragedy of Percivale," MLR 69 (1974): 745-56, David Staines exercises far more skepticism, but still makes the same mistake about the chronological order of Percivale's experiences (see pp. 751-52). More recently, in "'Parabolic Drift' As Narrative Method in Tennyson's Idylls: A New Reading of 'The Holy Grail,'" Journal of Narrative Technique 17 (1987): 296-308, Richard A. Sylvia attempts to respond with some sophistication to the poem's subtleties, but ultimately fails to provide an adequate reading, of the text due to his reductive treatment of narrative technique, suggesting that Tennyson tries to "diffuse the threat of an imperious narrative subjectivism" by means of the speaker, Percivale, who "remembers exactly what happened" (p. 299).

Better responses to "The Holy Grail" do exist, although they are rather general. Parts of Clyde Ryals's From the Great Deep." Essays on "Idylls of the King" (Ohio U. Press, 1967) and John D. Rosenberg's The Fall of Camelot: A Study of Tennyson's "Idylls of the King" (Harvard U. Press, 1973) are exceptional.

Ryals's assertion "At no time in 'The Holy Grail' are we really certain that the 'Cup is anything more than a mirage" (p. 166) is indicative of an interpretive approach that undertakes a demystification of the Grail, and that I judge to be appropriate. For the sake of brevity, the present essay focuses only upon Percivale's description of his own experiences. A similar demystification of the visions of Galahad, Lancelot, and Bors can be effected, however, since these visions, too, are but a figment of Percivale's first-person narrative strategies. But this is material for a subsequent study.

(2) Morse Peckham, Romanticism and Ideology (Greenwood, Florida: Penkevill, 1985), p. 363.

(3) Peckham, Romanticism and Ideology, p. 60.

(4) Hallam Tennyson, Alfred Lord Tennyson: A Memoir by His Son (London: Macmillan, 1897), 2:127 (hereafter cited as Memoir).

(5) In Victorian Revolutionaries: Speculations on Some Heroes of a Culture Crisis (New York: George Braziller, 1970) Peckham makes the following useful comments: "In Tennyson's poems, over and over again, it is the man of absolute and unquestioning faith who comes to grief.... Yet there is no question that Tennyson himself believed in God, the soul, and immortality. He said so, and he also said that without his faith in immortality he could not continue to exist.... He could simultaneously hold a position, understand what interests, indeed what characterological weaknesses, led him to hold it, and thus doubt and even deny its validity, while continuing to hold it" (p. 34).

(6) J. Hillis Miller, Poets of Reality (Harvard U. Press, 1965), p. 18, The Form of Victorian Fiction (U. Notre Dame Press, 1968), p. 30.

(7) Peckham, The Birth of Romanticism, 1790-1815 (Greenwood, Florida: Penkeville, 1986), p. 195.

(8) References to Tennyson's poetry are taken from Christopher Ricks, ed., The Poems of Tennyson (London: Longmans, 1969), and hereafter are cited in the body of the present essay. If, when citing certain passages from "The Holy Grail," the many layers of narration were to be strictly acknowledged, an awkward series of quotation marks would result. Therefore, the following arbitrary limit has been set: only two levels of quotation at most will be indicated, regardless of how many intersecting layers of narration may in fact occur in the primary text.

(9) Ryals, p. 77.

(10) In Christian iconography the metaphor of archery commonly suggests teleological presuppositions and sometimes functions to denote God's practice of "aiming" His intelligent creatures at Himself: see, e.g., Dante, Purgatorio 25.70-75, Paradiso 1.119-26. In "The Holy Grail" modifications of this traditional metaphor become quite intricate.

(11) See Louis Hjelmslev, Prolegomena to a Theory of Language, trans. Francis J. Whitfield (U. Wisconsin Press, 1969), pp. 53f.

(12) See, e.g., Pliny, Natural History 10.2.5, Dante, Convivio 4.23.15-16. The tradition is widely invoked: e.g., in the Vita Nuova Beatrice appears to Dante at noon (39.1), the Paradiso begins at noon (1.44-45), Milton's Samson Agonistes is set at noon, Wordsworth encounters evidence of the "Imagination" after a "noon-tide meal" (Prelude 6.566-640), and in Shelley's Prometheus Unbound on the first day of the millenium "The sun will not rise until noon" (2.5.10). Re. the Idylls, cf. LT 460-61, PA 197. See also Josephine Miles, "From Good to Bright: A Note in Poetic History," PMLA 60 (1945): 766-74, Albert R. Cirillo, "Noon-Midnight and the Temporal Structure of Paradise Lost," ELH 29 (1962): 372-95, Jackson I. Cope, The Metaphoric Structure of "Paradise Lost" (Johns Hopkins U. Press, 1962) pp. 72-148.

(13) For examples of the rhetoric of crimson, see: GL 892, 1001, 1062, 1331; MV 844; PE 421; LT 193, 486, 695, 705. For examples of the rhetoric of achromatism, see: CA 284, 481; GL 276, 649; BB 259; MV 777, 797; LE 2, 91, 1217; LT 140-41, 146-47, 397. Cf. also E. D. H. Johnson, "The Lily and the Rose: Symbolic Meaning in Tennyson's Maud," PMLA 64 (1949): 122227, Richard Adicks, "The Lily Maid and the Scarlet Sleeve: White and Red in Tennyson's Idylls," The University Review 34 (1967): 65-71, Rosenberg, 25, and, more generally, Nancy Cott, "Passionlessness: An Interpretation Pf Victorian Sexual Ideology, 1790-1850," Signs 4 (1978): 219-36.

(14) Consider a few examples of configurations of red and white existing beyond the confines of "The Holy Grail" that establish a distinctly catachretic figurative mode: LE 2, 167, 307, 370-71, 1018-19; PE 68, 492-95; LT 19-21, 44, 47, 192-93, 411, 565, 685-86.

(15) Cf. Sherry Ortner, "Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture?" in Woman, Culture, and Society, ed. Michelle Zimbalist Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere (Stanford U. Press, 1974), Barbara Johnson, "Is Female to Male as Ground Is to Figure?" in Feminism and Psychoanalysis, ed. Richard Feldstein and Judith Roof (Cornell U. Press, 1989). Using a similar context, Linda Ray Pratt in "'The Holy Grail': Subversion and Revival of a Tradition in Tennyson and T. S. Eliot," VP 11:1973, 307-21, initiates a demystification of the Grail-visions, but, unfortunately, does not develop it.

(16) Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan, Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics (New York: Methuen, 1983), p. 44.

(17) The term is used by Gerard Genette, Narrative Discourse, trans. Jane E. Lewin (Cornell U. Press, 1980), pp. 40-67. This rhetorical device was known to the ancient Greeks as hysteron proteron, or "last first." It serves typically to indicate a causal function projected onto the narrative segment that appears latest. Percivale seems to resist just such causal implications by selectively distorting the chronology of his autobiographical tale. By ignoring narratological complexities for the moment and thus oversimplifying, the controlling principle of ontological priority as temporal priority might be illustrated very briefly as follows:

Prior Sensuality

(1) The nun, who took the veil due to frustrated eroticism, obsessively broods on the sins that near her cell "'beat.'"

(2) The knights, idling at Camelot, are visited by a near-naked, "'outraged maiden,'" body "'red-rent,'" crying out for aid.

(3) Percival sets off, only to meet and dally with the one woman he ever loved.


(1) The nun obtains a vision of her predictably throbbing, "'rose-red'" cup with "'beatings in it.'"

(2) The knights, responding to the flash of a lightning bolt, eagerly vow to seek another vision of the Grail, though when interrogated by Arthur, none claims to have seen the cup.

(3) Percivale admits only thereafter did he obtain his sight of a "'rosered'" vessel.

(18) Memoir 2:63.

(19) Rimmon-Kenan, p. 103.

(20) Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (Columbia U. Press, 1982), p. 7. In Moses and Monotheism, trans. Katherine Jones (New York: Vintage, 1955) Freud makes possibly the most direct statement of the principles that must govern any adequate reading of "The Holy Grail": "in so many textual distortions we may count on finding the suppressed and abnegated material hidden away somewhere, though in an altered shape and torn out of its original connection" (p. 52).

(21) See Menakhem Perry, "Literary Dynamics: How the Order of a Text Creates Its Meanings," Poetics Today 1 (1979): 35-64, 311-61.

(22) See The Quest of the Holy Grail, intro, and trans. P. M. Matarasso (London: Penguin, 1969), p. 17.

(23) Summa Theologica 2:q. 162, a. 3, ad. 4.

(24) Memoir 2:90. Here Tennyson also states that the "end, when the king speaks of his work and of his visions, is intended to be the summing up of all in the highest note by the highest of human men." But it remains unclear whether such intentions are to be attributed to Tennyson, Percivale, Arthur, or all of these personae, and, in any case, the passage is incoherent as Percivale quotes it. For a different reading of this passage, see W. David Shaw, Tennyson's Style (Cornell U. Press, 1976), pp. 205-07.

(25) Rosenberg, p. 10.

(26) Jameson, "Magical Narratives: Romance As Genre," NLH 7 (1975): 142.

(27) Peckham, Romanticism and Ideology, p. 254.
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Author:Bonney, William
Publication:Philological Quarterly
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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