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|Title:||Chaucer and the Nature of Chivalric Ideas|
|Authors:||Palmer, David Andrew|
|Abstract:||<p> Chivalry was the dominant secular ideal of Chaucer's time and the nature of his interest in it has naturally been the subject of conjecture. Most judgments, however, have been based on an insufficient understanding of the historical background. In fact both historical and literary approaches to the topic of chivalry generally have tended to oversimplify the complex of ideas and practices associated with the term. This dissertation therefore re-examines the scope of chivalric theory and practice as a necessary preliminary to a scrutiny of Chaucer's concern with the concept. </p> The study concludes that chivalric ideas always had an importance disproportionate to the comparatively modest practical significance of actual knights and knighthood. The centrality of these ideas cannot therefore be judged by their relation to historical actualities. Their purpose was not restricted to providing a pattern of conduct for knights, nor were they in any way autonomous of medieval thought generally. The figure of the mounted warrior, thrust into prominence by early medieval military and social developments, became the focus for an accumulation of ideas and myths, and especially for theories about the use of force and of temporal power and secular life generally. </p> <p> Since Chaucer's knights are frequently lovers, special attention is paid within this broad hypothesis to the role of love in chivalric ideas. While fighting for love appears to have been of negligible importance as a factor in practical knightly motivation, writiers of discursive or specifically chivalric treatises either condemned it outright or approved of it only if it was morally irreproachable and led to the cultivation of chilaric virtues for their own sake. Fighting to gain a woman's love provides a common plot structure in the romances, but these romances usually cited as justifying a definition of chivalry in amatory terms in fact do no such thing. On the basis of analyses of several important roamnces, especially Gottfried's Tristan, Chretien's Lancelot, the Prose Lancelot, Wolfram's Parzival, the Morte Darthur of Malory, and Gawain and the Green Knight, this dissertation concludes that there was a central chivaric tradition which viewed the pursuit of love as an inversion of the knight's responsibilities to God and society. </p> <p> Chaucer's knights do not reflect contemporary social realities but rather this broader symbolic potential. A study of significance of the crusade in the late Middle Ages reveals that even the Knight of the General Prologue is mainly an emblem of right spiritual orientation rather than an endorsement of a specifically knightly duty or of contemporary crusade projects. The traditional polarity between love-service and true Christian knighthood underlies the portrait of the Knight and the Squire. As an embodiment of the duty of spiritual warfare the Knight is not just the specialised figure he appears to be. Moreover in his tale he presents in Theseus a knight who maintains the structure of society as faithfully as he himself has defended the Church, while Arcite and Palamon, like the Squire, represent a subversion of proper knightly functions. The "Knight's Tale" sets all secular power, of which kngihthood is the emblem, in a transcendental perspective. </p> <p> In other of the Canterbury Tales chivalric references are important, though not because of any interplay between knightly and non-knightly social classes. Characters such as the Wife of Bath, the Merchant and the Franklin are to be judged partly by the inadequcy of their notions of chivalry in relation to the symbolism established by the contrast between Knight and Squire. The conflict of love and knighthood also furthers our understanding of Troilus, in which the hero is shown to choose an inappropriate kind of chivalry; in addition the theme is prominent in some of the minor poems, especially the "Complaint of Mars".|
|Appears in Collections:||Open Access Dissertations and Theses|
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