Women and Maturity in Eschenbach's Parzival
Through the course of Wolfram von Eschenbach's epic romance Parzival, it becomes abundantly clear that the main characters, Parzival and Gawan, must attain some level of maturity or growth before they will be able to persevere in their personal quests. While their paths to maturity involve a great deal of combat and contests of knightly skill, it is their encounters with noble women that truly redefine their characters.
Parzival is undeniably a romance. It contains all the typical components of an early romance: extravagant characters, remote and exotic places, highly exciting and heroic events, passionate love, and mysterious or supernatural experiences. As a romance alone, indeed, Parzival is quite unexceptional. The significance of the work, rather, is in its careful development of initially immature and struggling characters. The foolish Parzival and the brash Gawan clearly have a great deal of potential as knights, however, as honorable and constant men they are initially quite lacking. As with other Medieval authors, such as Hartmann von Aue in his epic Erec, Eschenbach carefully develops his character's to noble maturity through the course of his tale. Unlike Hartmann, however, who chose to develop young Erec through his encounters with other knights, Eschenbach creates a path towards maturity for Parzival and Gawan through the ladies they encounter along their journey. These encounters with noble ladies provide a forum for young knights to grow, and moreover, a method for demonstrating the growth they've achieved on their own.
Parzival, the main character and the man for whom the novel is named, experiences the most growth as an individual and as a knight. From the very first moment we're introduced to Parzival, his development is reflected through women. At the beginning of Parzival's tale it is his mother, Herzeloyde, who contributes to his development, or, in that case, his lack thereof. Herzeloyde, having lost her beloved husband Gahmuret to knightly combat, shelters Parzival in an attempt to prevent him from entering knighthood. This sheltering forms the core of Parzival's initial innocence. His mother's attempts to hide knighthood from him results in his also knowing little to nothing about society, proper social behavior, and the class structure he must conform to. Thus, while Parzival's decision to enter the knighthood after meeting with several knights would seem to be the key event in establishing the initial plot of the tale, his mother's sheltering is truly the underlying theme for the first step in Parzival's growth.
The next woman Parzival encounters in his quest is the Lady Jechute. Whereas Herzeloyde provided the forum for establishing Parzival's innocence, Jechute is clearly the forum for displaying his innocence. Prior and during their encounter Parzival's garb and speech are largely representative of his innocence: his poor clothing and plain language presents...