Andreas Capellanus, in his work The Art of Courtly Love, specifies the rules required in courtly practice. One of the rules specifies the importance of an individual’s possession of ‘good character. ’ He states, “Good character is the one real requirement for worthiness of love” (Capellanus 115). Within Capellanus’ text, a manifestation of an individual’s possession of good character, specifically a male individual’s character, is his practice of chivalry.
The Knights Code of Chivalry was thereby a moral system which went beyond rules of combat and introduced the concept of Chivalrous conduct – qualities idealized by knighthood, such as bravery, courtesy, honor, and gallantry toward women. The ideals described in the Code of Chivalry were emphasized by the oaths and vows that were sworn in the Knighthood ceremonies of the Middle Ages. These sacred oaths of combat were combined with the ideals of chivalry and with strict rules of etiquette and conduct.
Chivalric practice thereby entails ‘the observation of elaborate precepts and formalities which serve to define aristocratic life in the heroism and probity of the past’ (Capellanus 116). An example of the workings of chivalric practice in the attainment of love is evident in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s account of King Arthur’s actions and decisions during his lifetime. Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his book The History of the Kings of Britain, describes Arthur to be an individual of “outstanding courage and generosity (whose) inborn goodness gave him such grace that he was loved by almost all the people” (212).
He states that King Arthur “developed such a code of courtliness in his household that…inspired peoples living far away to imitate him” (222). This code of courtliness which spread throughout the regions that reached Arthur’s conquests were based on the fundamentals of chivalry which required an individual’s display of strength, wealth and power. In the case of Arthur, the display of his strength was evident from his initial enthronement at Silchester where he was enthroned by ‘a vast multitude’ of individuals who admired and revered him for his courage (Geoffrey 212-213).
This was also evident when he fought and defeated “a numberless horde” as he conquered the kingdom of Ireland (Geoffrey 221-222). The display of his wealth and power, on the other hand, is evident as his counsel was sought by the different individuals from other kingdoms (Geoffrey 222-223). It is interesting to note that there are certain aspects of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s account which leads to the conception of King Arthur as a demi-god. An example of this can be seen in his description of King Arthur’s sole defeat of the ‘numberless horde’ of Irishmen.
It is important to note that the ideals of chivalry were initially relevant to society in the Middle Ages because these knights upheld a standard of living which elevated society. The influential role the knights held during the Middle Ages was not achieved by chance; but by education, faith, and by strictly following the rules of chivalry. In the later period of the Middle Ages, the depiction of chivalry as a noble characteristic became necessary however since the late Middle Ages was characterized by the nobility’s slow decline in their possession of political power in the state.
By creating and perceiving previous noble individuals in a chivalric manner, the members of aristocratic families thereby enabled the continuance of their power within the eyes of the commoners. The use of chivalric tales as well as chivalric practices in order to achieve the public’s awe is still prevalent in today’s society as can be seen in the portrayal of actors in chivalric ways. Consider for example the case of Tom Cruise who is portrayed as a chivalric hero in his movies. This image is continually applied to Cruise even in his ‘real’ life.
As a result of this, some individuals chose to act or imitate Cruise’s behaviors and style. The problem with the manifestations and the use of chivalry in today’s society is thereby evident if one considers that as opposed to maintaining political power during the Middle Ages, chivalry is now used in line with the commodification of an individual’s desires and actions. For example, if one wishes to act and look like Cruise, it is necessary to watch his movies as well as buy the different magazines which presents a detailed account of his life as well as the life of his family.
This conception of chivalry in today’s society merely shows how the market dictates and determines the lives of its consumers. Other manifestations of chivalry in today’s society are closely related to etiquette and how a man treats a woman. Refraining from foul language, opening the door for a lady, and even killing a spider can be considered chivalrous acts. As society changes it incorporate concepts such as chivalry into individual’s lives.
Chivalry still exists in today’s society however its manifestations have changed if one compares it to the practice of chivalry in the past which merely shows that although social development enables the continuance of social practices, it does so in such a way that these practices become a far-cry from its original practice in the past. Works Cited Capellanus, Andreas. The Art of Courtly Love. Trans. Jan Ziolkowski. Columbia: Columbia UP, 2007. Geoffrey of Monmouth. The History of the Kings of Britain. Trans. Lewis Thorpe. London: Penguin Classics, 1966.
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