Murderous Chalices: Moby-Dick as Grail Romance

Date

2023-08

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Abstract

In “Murderous Chalices: Moby-Dick as Grail Romance,” I argue that the mythic structures in Thomas Malory’s Grail romance, “The Tale of the Sankgreal,” can be recognized in Moby-Dick. Both texts depict a violent wasteland expanse, with the central action involving a wounded monarchical figure, an ineffable presence forming a locus of divine secrets, and heroic progress that involves violent action even as it strives to transcend and negate works of violence. This thesis posits that the symbolism Melville draws from “The Sankgreal” to structure Moby-Dick enhances the mythic range of the novel, particularly in its profound treatment of mystery. Sacraments and signs feature prominently in both texts, displaying the relation between the central mystery and those who pursue that mystery. While the sign serves as a meaningful emanation from the mystery that informs the progress of the quest, the sacrament constitutes a human response to the central mystery, involving ritual apprehension of the unknown. I argue that the comparable elements between the progress of the Pequod and the Grail knights toward their respective ends indicate the incompatibility between violence and restoration, demonstrating the character of the central mystery that lies behind the various emanations of the Grail and of Moby Dick.

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Keywords

Moby-Dick, Grail romance, American renaissance, Herman Melville, Sir Thomas Malory, sacrament

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