The Holy Grail Part Three
With Wagner, Amfortas took the blame for everything as his failure to serve the Grail was his own fault and this failure led directly to calamities even, the death of his own father. Here we have an almost perfect work with not too many loop holes. The prayers of the brotherhood, combined with that of Amfortas led to a promise of a helper. This helper would be sent by God to help deliver Amfortas from his pains. Wagner’s works also suffers from this problem of always burdening Parsifal with some kind of guilt. Parsifal’s own guilt however (that of abandoning his mother) did not prevent him from asking the relevant questions as he asked the old knight Gurnemanz what the Grail was. The question however, was not important as it was not relevant to the king’s well being.
The king’s well-being depended on his being able to serve the Grail unblemished free from pain, from his wounds. Where Parsifal contributed to the death of Titurel and the development of the waste land was in his getting lost and not finding his way to the castle early enough. But he was not to blame for that as this was due to the curse of Kundry on him. Therefore, looked at critically Parsifal, even in Wagner’s play had no guilt as he was not really responsible for the death of Titurel. He lost his way not of his own accord but as a result of some measure of fate. He still had a burden of guilt on him however, as Wagner insinuated that he had left home against the will of his mother thereby continuing in the vein of Chrétien and Wolfram.
It could be assumed that Wagner still introduced this theme to make way for the scene between him and Kundry where she would attempt to use this against him in an attempt to break down his defences. But as mentioned above, Parsifal could not have been guilty of leaving against his mother’s will as he was given leave by her and even got some good advice from her. In Wagner’s work we see the direct effect of the Grail itself. In earlier works it had been indirect and depended on the healing powers it would have if the right questions were asked about it. Here the Grail itself was the central symbol with its hero Parsifal.
Its proper service had led to blessings undreamed-of but when its first guardian failed as a result of his own guilt we also saw the consequences of its direct neglect. The failure to uncover the Grail had disastrous consequences. These consequences has nothing to do with Parsifal as he had not caused the Grail not to be uncovered even though Wagner still tried to imply this in the delay Parsifal suffered when he lost his way although due to no fault of his. The healing of Amfortas depended not on questions about the Grail but according to Wagner through pity, through knowing. The healing of Amfortas and consequently the service of the Grail depended on the personal involvement of Parsifal.
It is difficult to understand what Wagner meant by those words just by reading or hearing them but as the play unfolded one was forced to conclude that Parsifal would have through his own experiences come to know what the problem with Amfortas was. He had to follow the same road as Amfortas did, he had to be exposed to the same temptations and through his own experiences realise what exactly had befallen the Grail kingdom. On kissing Kundry he shouted “Amfortas! The wound! The wound!” revealing that he had received the knowledge and as such the solution to all the problems. The Grail would never fail to release its blessings as long as there was somebody qualified to uncover it. Amfortas, in blind pain had at last defied everybody and refused utterly to serve the Grail because as long as he continued to look into the Grail he would never die thereby making his pain eternal. He therefore, by this refusal wished for death. He was ready to take everybody with him as the consequences of this refusal to uncover the Grail is a slow death for everybody as happened with his father.
Having won the holy spear back in a grievous battle with Kundry and Klingsor, Parsifal now set to look for Amfortas. The Grail, in Wagner’s work received one of the most beautiful treatments and was certainly a vessel of the greatest spiritual significance. The power that emanated from it led to the greatest reverence and worship as could be seen from the attitude of the knights. It was an independently radiating vessel whose light outshone the surrounding lights, a characteristic also mentioned in Chrétien’s work.