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Chivalry and Courtly Love (BLI-3)
Transcript of Chivalry and Courtly Love (BLI-3)
Chivalry and courtly love
Middle English Literature
Everything was just a game, a test – a simple test of courage, but a twisted one of loyalty and integrity, which, if failed, also makes the hero fail the first test.
English language was forced into a subservient position by the French-speaking elite. It gradually re-emerged as a tongue simplified in structure an with its spelling, vocabulary and literary expression strongly influenced by the impact of Norman French.
Lasting effects on English culture of the Norman Conquest
Established English institutions and customs are still respected
Geoffrey of Monmouth (c. 1100-1155): Historia Regum Britanniae
Arthurian legends: 12th Century
Sir Bors de Ganis
The King Arthur’s Round Table
The new elites = the new language
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Arthurian romance: adventures of a Knight of Arthur’s Round Table
Dates to 14th century
Survives in a single manuscript Cotton Nero A.x.
Author is unknown, usually designated as „Pearl Poet” or „Gawain Poet”
Written in North West Midland dialect
Located between Cheshire and Straffordshire
Depicts a "Beheading game", a plot appearing in Irish folklore and French romances
Middle English alliterative romance, belongs to Alliterative Revival style (typical in 14th century)
Alliterative lines are broken into groups which vary in length (stanzas),
Each stanza is ended by a „bob and wheel”:
rhyming section of 5 lines (a b a b a);
„bob” – a very short line (2, rarely 3 syllables)
followed by a „wheel” – longer 3-stress lines with internal rhyme
Source: Nennius (9th century); Geoffrey of Monmouth (12 century)
Britain founded by the great grandson of Aeneas, Troyan prince Brutus
Brutus fled from Troy, landing in Devon
Brutus fought and defeated giants (including Gogmagog)
Brutus founded Troynovant (future London)
Brutus is the root of ancestry of British kings
The legend of Britain as a new Troy
3 nights at the Castle of Bertilak;
3 blows of the Green Knight
The time frame
„Beheading Game”: a supernatural challenger offers to have his head cut off in an exchange for a return blow
Gawain has to undergo a series of tests to prove his worth
Gawain is caught between the codes of chivalric honor and courtly love
Entire adventure is a series of tests that not only prove Gawain’s worth, but also teach him and the other knights of true honor.
Son of Arthur’s sister, the preeminent knight of Arthur’s Table
The story takes place when Arthur’s Kingdom is still young – Gawain is to show the worth of Arthur’s Knights
Gawain’s emblem – a pentangle (5-pointed star) – a symbol of „truth” = loyalty, worth = ideals of chivalry, pure knighthood
Characters and codes
Described as larger-than life, but beautiful and well formed nonetheless
The Green Knight
Arthur’s half sister, who originates the intrigue
„fay” = magician
usually portrayed as evil in Arthurian romances, an antagonist to Arthur and Guinevere
Accompanies Lady Bertilak as a crone
Women in the poem
Knighthood as a formal dignity: a squire who has served his apprenticeship to a knight, could in his turn become a knight
Ritual of granting / accepting knighthood: a ritual bath, a night’s vigil, a sacramental confession, a ceremony of being dubbed by his liege-lord
Chivalric code of values
Open only to the noble (but nobility based on actions), ennobles both the lady and her lover
True love can have no place between husband and wife.
Marriage is no real excuse for not loving.
Boys do not love until they arrive at the age of maturity.
No one should be deprived of love without the very best of reasons.
When made public love rarely endures.
The easy attainment of love makes it of little value; difficulty of attainment makes it prized.
A man in love is always apprehensive.
A true lover is constantly and without intermission possessed by the thought of his beloved
De amore: code of courtly love
Admiration of the lady and submission to her wishes
Acceptance of the token that the lady graciously grants her loyal lover as a sign of his bondage
„it was geared with green silk and shapen with gold all embroidered with finger-work”
a seductress, attempting to make Gawain her lover (as it turns out at the instigation of Lord Bertilak)
provides Gawain with the magic green girdle that he keeps (therefore compromising his integrity)
Arthur’s sister, mother of Gawain
Morgan le Fay
Code of Honor
Conflict of chivalric code
Courage as the supreme value
Loyalty to the superior
Gawain does not return the admiration that the Lady expects
Gawain keeps the token, keeping code of courtly love but violating the code of honor
Gawain keeps his promise to Lord Bertilak by refusing to succumb to his Lady’s charms
Gawain proves his bravery and honor by making the journey to the Green Chapel and submitting to the Green Knight
Gawain proves his strength at the initial encounter with the Green Knight
Political, economic and geographical importance of London as the administrative center of kingdom helped to determine the future written and spoken forms of standard English.
Aristocratic taste for the forms, tropes and subjects of contemporary French literature shifted the English writing away from its old Germanic insularity towards a broader, shared Western European pattern.
A social and cultural gulf was fixed between a privileged ruling caste and the alienated mass of the population.
Supplanting of the English-speaking upper class by a French-speaking one
Redisposition of landed property to Norman, French and Flemish supporters of William
No alteration of the existing social structure of kingdom
Norman names of newly built castles and abbeys
Accelerated introduction of a new clerical elite into England (Archbishop of Canterbury)
retaining the traditions
After the conquest, the alliterative verse continued to exist in oral forms, as well as in the recorded texts, though were less popular than the French verse (the end rhyme).
A renewed flowering of alliterative poetry, especially in the north and west of Britain:
"If you will list to this lay but a little while,
I’ll tell it straight, as I in town heard it,
as it was said and spoken
in story staunch and strong,
with linked letters loaded,
as in this land so long."
The alliterative forms were for a long time considered more appropriate to the English language: the end-rhyme convention is more easily followed in French.
The Alliterative Morte Arthure
first settlement by Brutus, a descendant of the Trojan hero Aeneas,
Julius Caesar's invasions of Britain
tales of two kings, Leir and Cymbeline,
one of the earliest developed narratives of King Arthur.
ends with to the death of Cadwallader in the 7th century
Laghamon / Layamon: Brut or The Chronicle of Britain
„Perl Poet”: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Wace (c. 1110 - 1174): Roman de Brut, a verse history of Britain
first to mention King Arthur's Round Table
written in the alliterative verse also sporadically using the end rhyme
A young King Arthur, long before the adultery of Guinevere
French Arthurian romances:
Sir Thomas Malory: Le Morte d'Arthur ( 1450s-1470)
concentrating on Arthur / Lancelot / Guinevere affair
compilation and interpretation of the existing French and English tales of the Knight of the Round Table, with new stories added by Malory
Therefore with fearless face
he stands straight and tall;
full lively at that New Year
much mirth he makes with all.”
Cyclical sense of time and history (the story takes up an exact year, a full cycle)
Importance of dates:
the challenge takes place on New Years Day,
Gawain’s journey to the Chapel Green begins on the All Saints’ Day (season of dying)
the return blow is to be taken in „a year and a day” - New Years Day
Importance of numbers:
Even though his head is cut off, the Knight does not perish
(the ability of Nature to return to life?)
The contest between Gawain and the Green Knight might symbolize the struggle between Christian faith and primeval forces of Nature (which put to the test the nobility of the knights)
Significance of the contest
Dark forces, devilry
The color suggests ???
The Knight’s oath
To be loyal to his lord
To protect the weak (women)
To right wrongs
To defend the Christian faith (especially against the Muslims)
The Lady (addressed as midons) – usually the wife of her lover’s employer or lord, a lady of higher status, usually the rich and powerful female head of the castle.
The lover accepts the independence of his mistress and exalts her
Who is the mistress?
Love not based on sexual possession, but on emotional and spiritual communion, often seen as perpetual state of aspiration and longing, not leading to consummation – „love for love’s sake”
Definition of love
Duties of the lover
The lover attempts to make himself worthy of her by accomplishing deeds of courage that she requires of him, though without any real hope of a reward
The accepted lover (acknowledged by the lady) may wear the colors of his mistress
First the lady offers the ring, and when the knight refuses it, the girdle – „love-lace” both are symbolic of love bondage.
The knight may wear the colors of his lady, but each color has its own symbolism:
Blue / black – faithfulness
Green – unfaithfulness
The resolution leaves the reader with questions rather than answers:
Did his keeping of the girdle compromise his bravery, proving that he feared death?
Did Gawain prove his courage and keep his word in the beheading game?
Did he prove his honesty and loyalty to Lord Bertilak?
Full text of the poem in contemporary translation: http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/English/GawainAndTheGreenKnight.htm#_Toc178583491
Some of the original material: http://www.luminarium.org/medlit/gawaintx.htm
Information on Arthurian legends: http://www.kingarthursknights.com/
Andreas Capellanus, 1186 - 1190
The City of London
in "Sir Gawain" the poet pretends that his tale belongs to the oral forms:
Alliterative Morte Arthure (c.1400)
The adventure proving the true worth of the Arthur's Knights
Yet, courtly love is not purely platonic: it is somewhere between the spiritual adoration and erotic longing
This love may never be consummated, though lovers may even go as far as embracing in the nude...
"And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins"
the lady begs the knight to hide the lace from her lord and the knight makes the promise and keeps it making a choice of loyalties.
the knight refuses the ring and at first the girdle, not wishing to take the tokens of bondage, but accepts the girdle when he realizes that it may save him from death.
Gawain refuses both girdle and ring when offered as love tokens, clearly refusing to bound himself to the lady.
Though this may appear discourteous, he is within his rights.
Thus, once Gawain gives in to the lady's wishes, he compromises himself manifold:
by breaking a promise to the Lord Bertilak
by taking a token of love from the lady whose feelings he does not return
betraying his fear by seeking a supernatural protection
The Magic Girdle?
So the mistress is always remote, always unapproachable...
is it because Gawain accepts it for the wrong reasons?
A documentary about the poem: