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Knighthood and Courtly Love in the Time of King Arthur

Essay by   •  November 17, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  1,848 Words (8 Pages)  •  2,450 Views

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Chivalry was considered to be the code of behavior expected of a knight. It was the conduct, ideas, and ideals of the knightly class of the Middle Ages. It became standardized and referred to as chivalry, a term derived from the French word chevalier, meaning knight. The code urged the knight to be brave, courageous, honorable, true to his word, and loyal to his feudal overlord, and to defend his Church. A knight was truthful, honest, capable, educated, physically fit, noble, sincere, and subservient to the king. A serious violation of these vows could result in a knight being classed as an undignified knight, which was the ultimate insult because of all the hard work that was put into becoming a knight. It made it seem as if all of work was done for nothing.

The knights of the middle ages were known for their dedication and devotion in carrying out their duties. Once a knight was given a task of some sort, they were known for unwillingness to quit until the job was done. Most knights were willing to devote their entire lives to the job at hand. Most all knights had a quest in life, and they showed an obsession to accomplish their quest. The quest may be self thought of, or obtained from someone else, but either way the knight took honor and pride in being able to accomplish the quest.

In "Arthurian Romances," by Chrйtien de Troyes, all knights had a duty to protect their country. When a knight approached a situation, he did not attack the other party until he had warned them. His place in the feudalist system involved other workers, known as vassals, to do his bidding. They suited him up in his armor and readied his horse and weapons. Knighthood was only developed for the man because women are only seen as maidservants. Authority felt that a woman could not possess all the qualities of a knight, so they were put to work as maids. The only women who had high ranks in the feudalist system were those who were married to the noble ranks

In "The Story of the Grail," de Troyes looks at knighthood from the naive perspective of a young boy, Perceval, who had a dream of becoming a knight. In his own way, he became one. He learned the techniques and attitudes of a knight that greatly influenced his performance. Perceval wanted to obtain all the qualities of a good knight, also known as chivalry. Growing up he was unaware that his father was a knight, in fact, his mother tried to protect her son so that she did not lose him as she had lost both his father and his brothers. Perceval remains a very impressionable young boy and his mother teaches him loyalty. For that, Perceval loves him mother dearly. Perceval may not have been the most sophisticated man around, however, when he did know how to do something he did it exceedingly well. He could not forget his love for his God though. God was a huge factor for knights and their beliefs. "Perceval, the story relates, had lost his memory so totally that he no longer remembered God." (Story of the Grail, 457) Once Perceval found his way back to God, he was seen as the better knight because of his love for Him. Ultimately, Perceval is the one who is graced with being able to see the grail because he was such a simple, hardworking fellow. He did not abuse his strengths or downplay his weaknesses.

The other side of this story revolves around Gawain, a knight and a stickler for the rules. He was a very knowledgeable knight; he knew much about courtly love and was the complete opposite of young Perceval. Gawain was a big, strong knight who was very loyal to King Arthur and served as one of his advisors. Even though Gawain was commendable, his lacked the spirituality that Perceval possessed. This made a big difference in who saw the grail and who didn't. One had to be loyal to the king, the queen and God. Because Gawain wasn't loyal to God and too caught up in the rules of being a knight, he wasn't able to see the grail. Gawain was the complete polar opposite of Perceval. This story is different due to the fact that it is a spliced narrative covering both Gawain and Perceval. It compares and contrasts the two men thoroughly. Even though Gawain was a great knight and an advisor for King Arthur, his slack of spirituality was ultimately his downfall.

In Marie de France's "Guigemar," a different kind of love is shown to the readers. This was the courtly love that many knights had for woman. Guigemar, a knight, falls in love with a married queen, which is seen quite often in tales about King Arthur as well. The queen ended up falling in love with Guigemar, even though she was married to the king of the land. The two had an illicit affair for a little over a year before someone catches them and Guigemar flees from the castle on the same ship that he had stolen that carried him to the land where he found his love. The two realize that there is no one else that they want in their life. Before his departure he and the queen made puzzles to ensure their love. She knotted his shirt in such a way that if any woman were to unknot it, the queen would gladly allow her love to marry that woman. Guigemar took his belt and wrapped it along the queen's waist, if a man could unhook the belt without cutting it, then the queen has Guigemar permission to marry that man.

After setting sail in the boat and returning to his homeland, Guigemar was very disheartened and saddened by the fact that his love could not return with him. Many women tried to unknot his shirt, although none could untangle the knot without wanting assistance to help part the knotted mess. Guigemar knew that no one but his true love could untangle the knot. Back in the queen's land, she had been imprisoned by her husband and for two years lived in a tower where she cried and grieved over Guigemar. After she found that the door had been left unlocked on night, the queen dashed off for the harbor to kill herself because she could not bear the thought of living

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