Percival (/ˈpɜːrsᵻvəl/) (also spelled Perceval, Percivale, and other variants)is one of the most prominent knights in Arthurian romances and the titular hero of Chrétien de Troyes’ romance Perceval and in Richard Wagner's opera Parsifal.
Percival also appears in two of Chrétien’s earlier works, Erec et Enide and Cligés, suggesting the character was already well-known before Chrétien made him subject of a romance. Some think the English romance Sir Percyvelle represents this earlier tradition.
Chrétien may have been the first to connect Percival with the Grail, but he did not finish his work and the conclusions of later authors or the versions of retellers do not well complete Chrétien’s work. Either Chrétien had in mind a unique conclusion or whatever version he was following was not well known.
The basic story (in most versions) is that Percival is of noble kin. But when Percival’s father dies performing knightly deeds, his mother flees with her infant son into the wilderness of Wales. There she brings up her son in ignorance of knighthood. Percival, on first seeing a knight, desires to become one. He leaves his mother despite her protests. In most versions she dies of grief at that point.
Despite his previous ignorance of knighthood, Percival proves to be an exceptionally capable knight but prone to foolish behavior. Coming, seemingly by chance, to the grail castle, he asks no questions about the grail procession or the lameness of the king. If he had asked, he would have learned that the king was his kinsman, would have learned how the king had been maimed, and would have learned the meaning of the grail and bleeding lance, and how he might set matters right.
Various authors wrote four continuations to Chrétien’s Perceval, each continuing where the other left off, until Manassier finally brought the tale to a conclusion in which Perceval avenges the Maimed King and the Maimed King’s dead brother on Partinal who had slain the brother and through whom the king had become maimed. Other authors provide other conclusions, none of which mentions Partinal.
French romances include the Didot-Perceval and the Perlesvaus. In Germany Wolfram von Eschenbach wrote his Parzival. The German Heinrich von dem Türlim includes a conclusion to Chrétien’s account in his Diu Krône in which Perceval is deemed to have failed in his quest and it is Gawain who brings the adventures of the Grail to an end. Welsh medieval literature provides the Peredur.