Tales of Piers and Perceval: Piers Plowman and the Grail Romances
This essay compares PPl with the thirteenth-century French Queste del Saint Graal and the Perlesvaus. It makes a case for the availability of both Old French texts in south-west England in the fourteenth century. It identifies in PPl B.17–18 a number of local iconographical parallels with the grail romances, but also argues that the grail romances provide analogies for several of the large narrative structures of L’s poem. In all three texts, theology is given a new urgency by being situated within the enigmatic narratives of aventure; the discovery of understanding is formulated in terms of questions and usually uncertain ‘news’, transmitted across a spiritual landscape; these texts contain many absent objects of desire, quests and seekers, and their often absent heroes (Galahad, Perceval, and Piers) are themselves objects of desire, sought by others. Finally, these texts are all preoccupied with failure, and in them multiple instances of failure contribute to the inculcation of desire, both for the protagonists and for the reader. The essay argues that if L had read these romances, he may have learned a number of things from them; however, his highly interventionist modes of composition mean that they are not so much sources as a rich body of materials with which he was in dialogue. The essay claims that, whether or not he had read them, the comparison casts light on a number of distinctive features of PPl. (NZ)
YLS, 22 (2008), 199–236.