1. This poem is part of a longer epic of twelve books which recount the rise and fall of Arthur's ideal kingdom Camelot. At what point in the history of Camelot do you think this tale is set? Why might the Arthurian legend have appealed to Tennyson's Victorian readers?
  2. What are some of the poem's important patterns of imagery and symbols? Do these function as allegory?
  3. What is the poem's verse form? Is this a good choice for an epic narrative?
  4. Why do you think the narrative is told from the point of view of Percivale?
  5. What is added by the circumstances that we learn the story after his death in a monastery, and as it was told to Ambrosius? --vision now irretrievable; is transmitted through love
  6. What function in the tale is served by Ambrosius?
  7. What are we told of the origin and significance of the Grail?
  8. What is the significance of the sequence of visionaries and non-visionaries who seek the Grail? How are their visions all different? Their respective characters?-- the nun; Galahad; Percivale; Bors; Gawain; Launcelot; and Arthur himself (whose visions are not of the Grail but of his own immortality, of God and resurrection).
  9. Who sees the Grail first and under what circumstances? What does her vision of the Grail look like? (ll. 107-23; the nun's vision occurs during sleep whereas the others are awake; she hears music, sees various colors and palpitations which seem active beatings of its heart; transmits her faith to Galahad);
  10. What is the significance of the fact that Galahad receives his calling from the holy nun? On what occasion does he swear to follow the Grail? (like Arthur, Galahad has a mysterious birth and denies himself earthly pleasures, as Merlin remarks. In echoes of Biblical events he hears thunder and sees a cloud over the Grail, and the Grail remains with him, ll. 466-67. Later he sees the holy child in a vision at the altar, gains strength, and is then translated to the heavenly city, ll. 504-14, 520-31. He in turn transmits his faith to Percival.)
  11. Who else swears to seek the Grail, and what are their respective motives in so swearing?
  12. What had caused Arthur to be absent from the Table Round when his knights swore to seek the Grail? What do the statues in his hall reveal about the social ideals of his kingdom?
  13. What is Arthur's opinion of what has happened in his absence, and why? What point may the author be making through Arthur's criticisms of a mystical quest?
  14. What are Percivale's problems en route to the Grail vision, and what does the hermit tell him is their underlying cause? What final temptation must Percivale overcome?
  15. Who enables him to see the vision secondhand, and how is the Grail described on this occasion? (ll. 510-532) (Percival endures several temptations, feels guilt about his lapses, sees Galahad cross the bridge into the city, hears thunder, and sees from afar the vessel clothed in white samite or a luminous cloud, which is later seen without the veil as redder than a rose.) How do you interpret the symbolism of his vision?
  16. What circumstances precede Bors's Grail vision, and how is this vision described? (Bors seeks Launcelot, and as the most loyal of his relatives, he wishes Launcelot to see the Grail more than he wishes the vision for himself; he sees the Grail as it were covered by the fingers of a hand, that is, reddish, ll. 690ff., and hears a thunder peal. He is imprisoned for his quest.)
  17. What has happened to Camelot in Percivale's absence? How has Gawain fared on the quest? Gawain speaks after Launcelot in a rather silly fashion and is reproved by Arthur, ll. 741 ff.
  18. What tale does Lancelot tell of his efforts? Why do you think this story was reserved for last? (Laucelot, faithful to a false love, wandering and overheated, believes that he has seen the outline of the Grail veiled and covered in crimson samite, ll. 841 ff., and from disappointment and frustration he falls into temporary madness and is driven to undergo a long journey.)
  19. How does Arthur comfort Lancelot for his failure? What ironies underlie his generous allowances?
  20. What is added by Gawain's skeptical words and Arthur's rejoinder? What judgment does Arthur make on the quest? Under what circumstances does Arthur claim to experience visions? What effect is created by his speaking of himself in the third person?
  21. What point does the author seem to be making about the proper context for religious visions? As a Victorian of Protestant heritage but also a poet, might Tennyson have felt ambivalence about the notion of a quest for a sacred relic?
  22. Why does the poem end, "So spake the King. I knew not all he meant"? Are readers expected to understand more than Arthur's first readers?
  23. What are some features of Tennyson's language? Do you admire the way the poem was written? What in your opinion is the poem's ultimate meaning?