Essay on Concepts of 'Chivalry' as Evident in Keats’s La Belle Dame Sans Merci and Chaucer’s the Knight’s Tale

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Chivalry. It is an ardently admired characteristic, which is scarcely seen, in its pure form in today’s society. Chivalry is thought of today as a mythical medieval practice, which goes hand in hand with dragons, tumultuous quests and fair maidens. Having a chivalric nature is to have the sum of the ideal qualifications of a knight, including courtesy, generosity, valor, and dexterity in arms. Chivalry has been admired and respected consistently throughout the ages and audiences have responded well to representations of chivalry consistently throughout time. This discourse will further discuss these ideas and address how the concept of chivalry has been represented in literature from the time of Chaucer to the present day with reference to the texts Keats’s La Belle Dame Sans Merci, Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and the painting, The Accolade by Edmund Blair Leighton.

Chivalry is bred into people. Although it was custom in medieval times to be born into the opportunity to become a knight, chivalry itself is acquired only through the hearts and minds of individuals, not by rites of birth. It is what we do and believe which defines us and chivalric literature often involves a quest, which the protagonist endures and through which he overcomes his fundamental flaw, which aids in his inclination to attain chivalry.

This is reflected in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings through the characters Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee. Tolkien constructs Frodo and Sam as simpleton hobbits that know nothing of swords and battles, however after they endure a horrific quest, they prove to be two of the greatest chivalric characters throughout literature.

They commenced their quest to destroy the ring with insecurity and reluctance, however with each step they took, the two hobbits grew in strength of character and nobility and frequently passed down the opportunity to give up in the hope of restoring peace and goodness in the world. This is displayed in the quote "I can't do this Sam."

"I know, we shouldn't even be here but we are, it's like in the great stories full of darkness and danger, [where] sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Those were the stories that meant something. But I know now, Mr. Frodo, folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.” "What are we holding on to Sam?”

"That there's some good in this world... and it's worth fighting for.”

Frodo and Sam support each other throughout their quest and consequently remain pure in heart after destroying the ring. Frodo overcomes his fatal flaw, which is his desire of the ring, when he casts it into the flaming fires of Mount Doom, which saves the world of Middle Earth from destruction. Because Frodo and Sam have overcome their flaws and displayed great nobility whilst succeeding in their quest, they attain great respect, admiration and most notably a distinct presence of chivalry. They each endure a metamorphosis that transforms them from naïve, insecure hobbits, to noble, virtuous and chivalric characters. As with many other literal representations of chivalry, the quest has exposed and extinguished the protagonists’ flaw and in addition, the quest has illuminated their chivalrousness.

A chivalric person is frequently represented throughout literature as a fierce warrior and a tender lover. This is not to say that chivalric characters are duplicitous but it is suggested that they are the epitome of a perfectly balanced, entirely noble individual.

The representation of chivalric characters as fierce warriors and tender lovers is strongly reflected in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Knights Tale, particularly through the character of ‘Duke Theseus’.

The Duke is described as being a great and powerful...
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