18 April 2011
Chivalry is a term that escapes definition. It is a concept that was as ambiguous in the Middle Ages as it is today. The term “chivalry” often invokes the image of an armored knight, sword in hand, slaying any and all monsters and evil villains that stand in his way on his quest to rescue his distressed damsel. This image is not all together wrong. The Medieval concept of chivalry was centered on the knightly class and their place in the world. While it is nearly impossible to associate a fixed definition with chivalry, it is widely accepted that the medieval notion was informed by three categories: physical prowess both on the battlefield as well as off (which also communicates a loyalty to one’s superiors), religious piety, and social grace. We see evidence of this idea of chivalry and its intricacies in many of the romances in Ashmole 61, particularly in Lybeaus Desconus and The Erle of Tolous.
I will also be exploring the way in which our society defines chivalry and how it has changed from the 19th century to the 21st century. Today we see physical prowess in the form of military soldiers as well as athletes (model soldiers) who have become our modern day equivalent of the knight. But physical prowess, a characteristic that was so pivotal to the medieval notion of chivalry, is not usually associated with the modern view. While chivalry was dependant on the knight’s ability to perform in the physical arena in Medieval England, today it seems as if chivalry has lost two of its defining characteristics and become solely about a man’s ability to conduct himself in social situations, particularly when they involve women.
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