Merriam-Webster's on-line dictionary defines chivalry as "the system, spirit, or customs of medieval knighthood." As Leon Gautier, author of Chivalry, defines this "system" and "spirit" of knighthood by identifying rules of chivalry, two of which are well illustrated in Lanval, "TheWife of Bath's Tale," and "The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnel:" "Thou shalt never lie, and shall remain faithful to thy pledged word," and "Thou shalt be generous, and give largess to everyone"(qtd. in Chivalry). All three stories seem to suggest the predominant theme of a knight living up to his word. This is shown by the fact that, in each story, the knight's oath is taken very seriously, is treated as a contract, and is trusted implicitly. The generosity of the knight is also portrayed in these works. It is not difficult to see, given the moral overtone of these rules, that the Church had a great deal to do with defining the values of knighthood.
"The Wife of Bath's Tale" and "The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell" both follow the story of a knight who makes a "rash promise" on which his life depends. Even under the most difficult of circumstances, these promises are kept. In the story of Dame Ragnell and Sir Gawain, King Arthur is described by the author as a knight who "bare away the honour, Where-so-evere he went"(9). Surely he must be held to any code of honor imposed on a knight! While on a hunting expedition, King Arthur is confronted by a fully armed knight, named Gromer Somer Joure. Arthur is alone, scarcely armed and unable to defend himself against Gromer, who is ready to take Arthur's life. In order to avoid instant death, Arthur is forced to swear to return, alone and "in this same arraye"(87...
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...h, defend the king, his land and his people, and be courteous to the ladies. They were honest, distinguished gentlemen. When they gave their word, it was trusted without doubt. They were the epitome of chivalry.
"Lanval." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Seventh Edition. Volume 1. New York: 2000. (127-140).
"Merriam-Webster Online: The Language Center." Online. Internet. 2000. Merriam-Webster Incorporated.
Price, Brian R. "On Knighthood." Online. Internet. 11/22/2000.
"Rules of Chivalry." Online. Internet. 11/11/2000.
"The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Seventh Edition. Volume 1. New York: 2000. (253-280).
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