A Knight's Tale Honour Essay

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During the Medieval Period, knights and gentlemen were held to a specific standard and only able to act in a chivalrous manner. Their attitudes and actions were based on religion and centered around their belief to be deemed knights. While the Code of Chivalry remained the same, many medieval authors have used it to create many stories with a deeper meaning. The expectations ranged from staying faithful to God, never refusing a challenge, and fighting for the good of all. For example, in the General Prologue of the Canterbury Tales, the narrator speaks admirably about the knight on the pilgrimage. He notes four important topics: courage, truth, honor, and generosity. These four key points serve as an umbrella for all of the expectations a knight was to have and be commended for.

Knights were known for their substantial amounts of courage. In the Canterbury Tales, the narrator tells the reader of the intense battles the knight sustained during the Crusades. He says, “At mortal battles had he been fifteen And foughten for our faith at Tramissene, In listès thricè, and ay slain his foe. This ilkè worthy knight had been also, Sometimè with the lord of Palatie, Against another heathen in Turkey, And evermore he had a sovereign prize, And though that he was worthy he was wise And of his port as meek as is a maid.” (Chaucer 61-69) The narrator makes note of the bravery and selflessness the knight carried, all while seeming humble and kind. The narrator then describes how the knight is dressed. This is to portray that even with his impressive military career, he is not wearing anything that stands out. The narrator describes the knight’s attire by saying, “He was a very perfect gentle knight. But for to tellen you of his array: His horse was good; but was not gay. Of fustian he weaèrd a given, All smothered with his habergeon”. (Chaucer 72-76) The knight in the Canterbury Tales is representative to the reader of how knights were expected to act courageously while not standing out as flamboyant. While he had many dangerous accomplishments completed, he was expected to do those courageously and act unphased in the public eye. Chaucer writes in a way that makes the other characters seem to be unphased by the knight’s demeanor which is due to their expectancies that all knights were supposed to act like that.

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As for truth and honor, they typically went hand-in-hand. A knight was to always tell the truth, which in return, made him always honorable. In “Morte De Arthur”, Arthur took the oath as king to always remain truthful. The poem reads, “And there was he sworn unto his lords and the comyns for to be a true king, to stand with true justice fro thenceforth the days of this life. Also then he made all lords that held of the crane to come in and to do service as they ought to do.” (Mallory 11. 20-24) Arthur never broke his word and taught his knights to do the same. This shows that the importance of truth and honor was so strong that even the king valued it over everything. Arthur upholding to always remain truthful, made it easier for the knights to do the same. This is why Arthur served as the role model for almost every knight and was respected by knights. Even though “what they ought to do” may not be what a knight wants to do, the knights were held to the standard of doing the right thing by following King Arthur. In “The Franklin’s Tale”, Chaucer shows how a knight, Arveragus, considers the importance of truth and honor. Arveragus and his wife, Dorigen, decide that they will be equals in their marriage privately but in public Arveragus will seem to be dominant. Once he sets out on a quest, his wife promises herself to another man if only the man upholds a promise that she thought would be impossible to fulfill. When the man upholds the promise and Dorigen either has to follow through with the promise or commit suicide, Arveragus insists she keeps her promise to not break her word. In today’s age, many would view a husband insisting his wife commit adultery to be the opposite of truthful and honorable, yet in the Medieval ages, it was viewed to be the acts of a true knight. Arveragus says to Dorigen, “Truth is the highest thing that man may keep”. (Chaucer. 771) Through Arvergus, Chaucer shows the intense value of truth and honor that the knights upheld and the immense value it had in their everyday lives. Even though the knight in Chaucer’s story will become a cuckold, he insists his wife remains truthful and honorable. Truth and honor were valued so highly in medieval times to prevent treason and for the knights to remain trusted figures in society.

For a knight to be generous did not necessarily mean to give money, but was also thought to have a kind heart and be forgiving. This is best viewed in Morte D’Arthur. Once Arthur knows that Lancelot and Guinevere are lovers, he goes to attack Lancelot’s castle. Arthur is thrown off his horse and is at the mercy of Lancelot. Lancelot, a skilled swordsman, could have easily slain Arthur to be with Guinevere, but rather spares Arthur and says, “For I will never see that most noble king, that made me knight, neither slain nor shamed…My lord Arthur, for God's love stint this strife”. (Mallory 13. 22-25) The forgiveness of Lancelot and Arthur is a stark example of the generosity expected of knights. No matter the situation, they were expected to be generous with their emotions and ability to love. This differs from the modern age in which men are expected to be “manly” and rigid, but knights were expected and known to be loving and forgiving. A knight’s generosity could also lead to the giving of physical gifts alongside their generosity of compassion. In Lanval, a knight is described for his generosity and the jealousy many others had. Marie de France writes, “For being brave and generous, For his beauty and his prowess, He was envied by all the court”. (Marie de France. 21-23) These few lines show that even though knights had the expectancy to act a certain way, it was still difficult to be generous. Once Lanval acquires more wealth later in the poem, he continues to give. The writer says, “There's no poor knight in town, Who needs a place to lay his head down, But Lanval invites him to his hostel And has him served richly and well. Lanval was now the richest donor, Lanval ransomed all the prisoners, Lanval dressed jugglers and jongleurs, Lanval did all men every honor: To stranger and citizen, Lanval would gladly have given.” (Marie de France. 206-213) Lanval serves as the perfect example of how a knight was expected to generously give back to his community. Generosity ties back to the theme of truth and honor. It is seen as “what they ought to do” to remain a valued and esteemed figure in Medieval society.

Many of the values that knights were expected to have in the Medieval period are still expected of people in the modern age. Through time, the meanings of the values have changed. There are still expectancies of those in power positions similar to those of a knight, but the values are not held as high. The knights served as the model of what the everyday medieval citizen should strive for. Through the works of many poets, it is easy to see what the knights were expected to do and why the medieval period revolved around their importance.

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