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Essay/Term paper: Chivalry

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We live in an age where the brutality and the vigilante justice of the knight
errant is no longer acceptable for people with positions of stature in society.
While courage and honor are still praised by society, one rarely finds a man
true to his word regardless of cost. Chivalry towards ladies is sometimes
mistakenly decried by those supporting equality for women. And Courtly love, in
it's modern form, is frowned upon. Those who might have a keen sense of justice
often have only indirect methods of fighting for the right -- legislation just
can never be as satisfying as clouting a knave over the head with the flat of a
blade. It seems that justice in American society is often tempered by compromise,
rather than a blacksmith. Skill at arms is more often attained as an exercise,
rather than a useful tool, and strength of body, while glamorized, is degraded
by large numbers of "men of the mind." Chivalry is a lot like ethics; it is a
governing principle concerning fair play as far as medieval combat among your
peers was concerned. Do not attack an unarmed knight - allow him to arm himself
first, if you unhorse your opponent and your opponent is still able to fight,
get off your horse to fight, etc. - fair play with honor and respect. At the end,
there still was a winner, and the winner ended up with more respect and
admiration from those concerned that had he fought without chivalry. What am I
getting at? Capitalism can be much the same way. American businesses have taken
advantage of this system though, a system that one can cheat in and get away
with, instead of being honorable and respectable institutions that children
could look up to. So many things are like this that I just shake my head and
sigh when I think about them - is American just a scam? Where did all the honor
and respect go? In "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," Gawain made a promise to
the huntsman to give him whatever gifts he received that day in exchange for
whatever gifts the huntsman received that day. On the third and final day of
Sir Gawain's visit, he received a green girdle from the huntsman's wife, who was
his secret lover. The only reason that he accepted it was because he, like
Lancelot, had fear in his heart; only Gawain's fear was dying. The huntsman's
wife told Gawain that the girdle had magic powers and would protect him from his
fate, for the next day Gawain was going to fulfill a promise that he had made to
the Green Knight and get his head chopped off. At the end of the day, when
Gawain met the huntsman to exchange gifts, he did not give the huntsman the
girdle, and broke his promise so that he would fulfill his promise to the Green
Knight. He, like Lancelot, betrayed the code of chivalry for their own purposes.
The most prominent example of Arthur's "great" honor is depicted in the story
"Day of Destiny." In the story King Arthur and his knights have one the arduous
battle against his half son Mordred's army. The only one's left standing on the
field is King Arthur and two of his knights Sir Lucan and Sir Bedivere. Lucan
says to Arthur "sir, let him be,"… "for he brings misfortune. And if ye pass
this unfortunate day ye shall be right well revenged. And, good lord, remember
ye of your night's dream and what the spirit of Sir Gawain told you last night,
and God of His great goodness hath preserved you hitherto. And for God's sake,
my lord, leave this battle field, for yet be here three alive, and with Sir
Mordred is not one alive. And therefore if ye leave now, this wicked day of
destiny is past!" Arthur's response to Sir Lucan's speech is "Now come death,
come life,". What this proves is that Arthur shows his honesty and loyalty to
his promise; the purpose of the killing was to kill Sir Mordred and that
exactly is what transpired in the end. In the movie "Excalibur" that we had
viewed in class, Lancelot attempts to be honest by refusing the love and
attention of Guenevere. Nevertheless he becomes enchanted by the beauty and
charm of the lady and he falls for her. Although obviously disobeying the
Knights code of honor he continues his affair with Guinevere. Although people
always endeavour to be as honest and just, a honourable knight cannot afford to
deceive anyone, because consequences could have an adverse affect on them later.
Honor is not a virtue. It is the essential quality that accrues to a man when
other people view them as being virtuous-i.e. they honor them. The drive for
honor earns a knight or man-at-arms renown, his fame, his good name. It is
always a very strong motivator for some soldiers. Honor in a personal sense is
often confused with such 'public' honor, but I say rather that this is not honor
but integrity. Chivalry is a romantic ethic, doomed to failure; Arthur fails
because he had too much pride in himself although his heart was in the right
place his mind never was. But I come away from good events with a heart full of
courtesy and generosity, with a strengthened sense of my own honor, and with a
little more courage and persistence in the face of a less than ideal world. That
is the reason that during the Middle Ages warriors and rulers at their leisure
turned to dreams. That is the reason we today are drawn to these virtues of
chivalry. We may never live out a romantic ethic, but it is a food as nourishing
as any at the table, and a wealth as dear as any coin of the time.


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