Academic journal article Arthuriana

The Communication of Culture: Speech and the 'Grail' Procession in Historia Peredur Vab Efrawc

Academic journal article Arthuriana

The Communication of Culture: Speech and the 'Grail' Procession in Historia Peredur Vab Efrawc

Article excerpt

This article focuses on the emphasis on speech in Peredur as integral to the tale's narrative structure and as pointing outside of the text to the socio-cultural climate of medieval Wales. Peredur must learn how to communicate culture-how to transfer Welsh culture through language-a lesson with significant implications for text's audience. (AJM)

Although there have been many analyses of the 'grail' procession in Historia Peredur vab Efrawc, not much has been said about the textual emphasis on speech (or, rather, suspicious deficiencies in the function of speech) throughout the tale as a whole in relation to the procession. Speaking and refusing to speak are significant themes in Peredur, providing the impetus for much of the narrative action: Peredur's mother refuses to tell her son about knighthood in an attempt to keep him safe, two dwarves speak for the first time since taking up residence in Arthur's court to compliment Peredur- prompting Cai to beat them and Peredur to refuse to return to court until he has repaid Cai in like fashion, Peredur vows not to utter a word to a Christian until he gains the love of Angharad Law Eurog, and, of course, Peredur remains silent and does not ask questions during the procession in the Castle of Wonders. Peredur is preoccupied with speech and the problems of the symbolic order, much more than its French counterpart, Chrétien de Troyes' Conte du Graal,1 which substitutes the dwarf episode with a laughing maiden and does not contain the story about attaining Angharad's love by remaining mute. This article seeks to explore the emphasis on speech in Peredur as integral to the tale's narrative structure and as pointing outside of the text to the socio-cultural climate of medieval Wales both at the first written composition of the tale (the earliest date is potentially c. 1150-1250) and when the tale was recorded in its multiple manuscript forms.

A dominant strand of scholarship on Peredur focuses on the Welsh text's narrative structure, an element of its literary history which goes hand in hand with the study of the extant manuscript versions. There are four early manuscript witnesses of Peredur.2 The White Book of Rhydderch (c. 1350) and the Red Book of Hergest (end of the fourteenth century) contain a longer version of Peredur,3 while the text in Peniarth 14 (c. 1325-50) is incomplete and the story in Peniarth 7 (beginning of the fourteenth century) lacks all of the events after Peredur settles down with the empress of Constantinople, but not because of a deficiency in the manuscript.4 Despite this lattermost version being found in the earliest manuscript witness, it is 'not possible to prove from such [manuscript] evidence either that what we have in Peniarth 7 is an earlier version than that in the White Book, or that a complete version like that found in both the White and Red Book did not exist at the time Peniarth 7 was written.'5 Though the longer text from the White and Red Books seems to have become the definitive version, Brynley Roberts argues that we must accept both versions as 'valid and complete' and read each on their own terms.6 As such, it may be misleading to discuss a 'complete' or 'incomplete' version of Peredur, or even, as has recently been argued, an 'early' or 'late' version since the two versions may have existed side-by-side at least a generation before the Peniarth 7 text.7 Nevertheless, the White Book Peredur is now commonly regarded as a progressive, coherent story, stemming from the work of Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan on the interrelationships and cross- referencing between episodes, and built upon by John Bollard's thematic analysis of the tale.8 Like Roberts, I will take the White Book Peredur as an autonomous story, reading the section not found in Peniarth 7 as an integral part of the tale, even (and perhaps especially) if the 'last redactor of the long version has attempted to help the reader by providing a concluding sequence of adventures, partly based on, perhaps, a genuine "Story of the Castle of Wonders," but also utilising Perceval. …

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