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Parsifal
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Parsifal - 1865 Prose Draft - Act III


29 Aug 1865

At  Monsalvat there is grief and confusion. Anfortas can no longer be persuaded to preside over the office of the Grail. Tormented beyond his limits, he wishes to obtain death by defiance: no longer does he wish to look upon the Grail, which seems to have wrapped even its miraculous power in mourning; since Parzival's visit, its gleam has steadily faded. For long now, the sacred vessel has remained locked away in its shrine. All are starving and demoralised. The knights are obliged to seek profane food; their strength is waning; they are no longer sent out. Titurel, deprived of the sight of the life-giving relic, has died. Anfortas longs for his own death. The knights besiege his chamber, assail him, weeping and threatening. He obstinately refuses: he wants to die. -

Parsifal: a staging design for Act 3 scene 1. Alfred Roller, 1913. Above: a staging design for Parsifal Act 3 scene 1 by Alfred Roller, 1913. From the collection of the Theatermuseum Wien.

G urnemans, who under the circumstances has rapidly aged and become a childish old man, has retired to the sacred spring at the edge of the forest, there to die a hermit. Not long before, he had again discovered Kundry, lying as always in deathlike sleep: after waking her again, he notices a great change from previous awakenings: she is not amazed, does not curse, but on the contrary, is gently attentive to him. But no word can be obtained from her: she seems to have been struck completely dumb. -

Stassen drawing: Parsifal act 3 Left: one of Franz Stassen's illustrations for Act III of Parsifal.

One beautiful spring morning, Kundry is drawing water at the spring for Gurnemans, who is lying in prayer before his hut. In the distance, Parzival is seen, slowly approaching: he is in totally black armour: with head bowed and lance lowered, he approaches dreamily and sinks down on a grassy seat near the spring. His visor is closed. Gurnemans notices and addresses him. To all questions, Parziv. only shakes his head sadly. At last Gurnemans, put out, rebukes him for stopping here with helmet closed and armed with shield and spear. Doesn't he know what day it is? - "No" - Where does he come from, then? He can hardly have been living among Christians, without knowing that today is the most holy Good Friday? - Parz. is long silent. Then he opens his helmet, takes it off his head, drives the spear into the ground, hangs helmet, shield and sword on it, then kneels and gives himself up to silent prayer [Deleted by RW] lays shield and sword before it, sinks to his knees and fixing his eyes fervently on the bloodstained point of the spear, prays earnestly. -

G urnemans, gazing at him with emotion, believes he recognises him and calls Kundry as witness. She, with a quiet nod, affirms him to be the same who once appeared by the lake and killed the swan. Parzival is questioned. Now he recognises the old man and now tells how long he has wandered vainly searching for the Grail Castle, where he has to atone for a grave offence.

He had despaired of ever finding the way; by penances of every kind he had sought to be guided by grace: in vain: his works were not so powerful as the magic which condemned him to wander! Can the old man give him news? Gurnemans answers sadly that his answers will not comfort him, and reports all the wretched developments at Monsalvat. Parziv., tormented by remorse at not having alleviated this distress long before, chides his own blindness, his childish foolishness, and, overcome with grief, falls in a faint. Kundry leaps up: she fetches water in a large bowl. Gurnemans restrains her: there, by the spring itself, shall the pilgrim be bathed: he will, he suspects, have a high office to perform: to which he must be purified, and all the dust of his wanderings washed off him. Both gently escort the revived Parzival to the spring. Parzival asks whether the old man will escort him to Anfortas? Gurn: Certainly, we will go together to the Castle today: the funeral rites of Titurel, my dear master, are being celebrated. Anfortas has vowed to expose the Grail once more for the canonisation of his father, who has died through his fault.

Meanwhile Kundry has loosened his greaves and is now bathing his feet; he gazes at her in amazement and emotion, then asks Gurnemans to moisten his head also with the holy water: the latter consecrates him for his appointed task, sprinkling his head with water.


Parsifal Act 3, Bayreuth 1983Left: Parsifal Act 3 in the 1983 Bayreuth Festival production; Prod: Friedrich, Design: Reinhardt. ©Bayreuther Festspiele.

Then Parziv. sees Kundry produce a golden phial from her bosom and from it pour precious ointment over his feet, anoint them and then dry them with her hair. "If you anoint my feet, so let Gurnemans anoint my head also: for I am to be King!" Gurnemans takes and anoints his head and pronounces a blessing. Softly unseen, Parzival scoops water from the spring in the bowl and moistens Kundry's head with it: "My first duty I discharge thus: be baptised and believe in the Redeemer." - Kundry lowers her head and begins to weep. -

With gentle delight, Parzival gazes at wood and meadow. How wonderful that all is in bloom and speaking to him in soft colours, sweet shapes and gentle fragrances: never before has he seen the meadow so beautiful. Gurne. "It is the magic of Good Friday, lord." Parz. "The day of greatest grief? Ought not all creation rather to be mourning?" - Gurnem. "You see it is not so: today all animal creation is glad to gaze up at the Redeemer. Not being able to see Him on the Cross, it gazes up at Man Redeemed: who, through God's loving sacrifice, has a feeling of holiness and purity; the meadow flowers notice that man does not trample them today, but, as God took pity on mankind, spares them: now all that is blooming and soon to die, gives thanks; it is Nature's Day of Innocence." Kundry, slowly raising her head, gazes up at Parzival earnestly and calmly beseeching. Parz. "Today is the great Day of Innocence: rise up and be blissful." - He kisses her on the forehead.

Decorative border: spring flowers

29 Aug. [1865]

Ending of Parsifal: Seymour Millais Stone

Ringing of bells, men's voices from afar. - Gurnemans: The hour is come: midday, as before. Follow me." Parzival, armed by them both, solemnly takes up the spear and, with Kundry, follows Gurnemans. - As the singing swells and the sound of the bells grows louder, the scene gradually changes as in Act 1. In the corridors - processions of knights dressed in mourning. Nearer at hand - lamentations for the dead. - A funeral procession. - Then, back in the Great Hall. Dirges sung by bass, tenor and soprano voices: in place of the table before the baldachin, the catafalque.

Enter a procession of knights: from the other side, Anfortas on his sick bed, behind Titurel's coffin: in front, the shrine containing the Grail. Dim twilight. With all in their places, the lid of the coffin is opened - a violent burst of lamentation: Anfortas raises himself from his sickbed under the baldachin. Such is his despair that he condemns the knights for wishing to force him to work the magic of the Grail, here, in the sight of the father he has killed! His wound, since the ending of reanimation by the Grail, has moved fatally close to his heart: another day, perhaps, and death will be certain. Why this fearful cruelty of forcing him to live? - Again he refuses. Attempts to compel him. Muttering and threats from the knights. Anfortas: "Madmen, with what will you threaten me, when death is my deliverer?" -

Poul Elming as Parsifal Poul Elming as Parsifal in the Royal Danish Opera production, directed by Harry Kupfer. ©Royal Danish Opera.

Then Parzival steps forward. "Live, Anfortas, live in repentance and atonement. Your wound I close thus:" He touches Anfortas' thigh with the spear. Parzival goes on to describe to him his suffering, his error, his inner agony: from all shall he now be delivered: the magic spell to which you succumbed is broken: strong is the magic of him who desires, but stronger it that of him who denies. "Thanks be to your suffering: it has made me a fellow-sufferer; I can perform the Office, and shall, so that you may be delivered!"-

Anfortas, suddenly healed, has taken and elevated the Grail from its shrine: the Grail now gleams in full brightness; a halo is spread all around; Titurel rises from his coffin and gives his blessing. Anfortas leads Parzival to his place beneath the baldachin: - Kundry embraces Parzival's feet and silently, sinks lifeless before him. A white dove descends from the dome and circles above Parzival. - Anfortas on his knees before him in homage. -

Richard Wagner, 30 August [1865]

Closing scene of Parsifal
Above: the closing scene of Parsifal as designed for the first staging by Paul von Joukowsky.