Middle Ages` Conception of Chivalry vs. Modern Conception of Chivalry I Introduction

Despite the perceived backwardness and ignorance of the Dark Ages, this era developed knowledge and ideologies that have been the building blocks of the modern world. One of the most celebrated achievements of the dark ages has to be knighthood and the Arthurian code of chivalry. The activities of the middle ages` knights have been replicated in various ways such as in the sport of jousting which has been replicated in some modern sports. Modern works of visual art, literature, poetry, folklore, films and video games have also borrowed heavily from the Dark ages. This paper seeks to show that the modern conception of romance, love and chivalry as depicted in the classic film “An officer and a gentleman” is based on the Dark Ages` conception of chivalry despite evolutional and cultural changes.
II Events that led to advancement
The Dark Ages or the early Middle Ages is the period thought to have begun around 476 AD with the fall of the Western Roman Empire with the disposition of emperor Romulus Augustulus. Other scholars have placed the period to be between 500 AD and 1500 AD. The term Dark Ages was first coined by Italian poet and scholar Francesco Petrarch owing to period`s the lack of cultural achievements (McIntyre 2006).
King Arthur a legendary British leader dominated the 5[th] and 6[th] century history with his leadership and knights. His existence has been refuted by many arguing that he was a fictional character. However, the influence this character had on the Dark Ages history is very significant. He formulated the King Arthur round table which he shared with his knights to show equality among his barons (Velasco, 2010). Festivals were also named after the round table also came up to emulate the King Arthur`s round table. The events involved dancing, feasting, jousting, and emulation of knights. The round table was emulated in later centuries as late as 19[th] century in Britain.
Knights were men served with the honorary title of knighthood by the king for service rendered to the monarchy especially in military capacity. In the reign of King Arthur, knights were expected to have not only the strength and skills needed for a combat man but were also expected to temper their aggressiveness with a chivalrous side to their nature especially in relating to the `fairer sex`. The Knights Code of Chivalry provided a moral system that outlined expected moral rules such as courtesy, honor, and gallantry toward women (Wollock, 2011).
The Dark Age was characterized by wars and combat between communities thus elevated the place of knights in such societies. Mills (2010) indicates that religion dominated all spheres of life and even war as illustrated by the knight code of ethics. The church was instrumental in preservation and expansion of literature which was thrown away or burnt by the previous Roman emperors. Many texts and writings on science, literature, engineering, and Mathematics were destroyed as a result. However, during the Dark Age, Christians made the writings and literature that they had been preserved available to be copied by other scholars and individuals.
Among the key rules of the Knights` code of chivalry were to respect the honor of women, never to refuse a challenge from an equal, to fear God and maintain His Church, to serve the liege lord in valor and faith, never to turn the back upon a foe, to protect the weak and defenseless, to live by honor and for glory, to obey those placed in authority, and at all times to speak the truth among others (Stevenson, 2006). These values created a unique brand of men that has been emulated in various ways in history and in the modern world.
III. Effects of Advancement
Chivalry has had profound impact in the way that men relate with women both in the middle ages and in modern times. As a result of the chivalry code of ethics, women were more favored in the society and were considered to be the fair sex in very many ways. For instance, women were not allowed in battle as they were viewed to be delicate creatures. They were also not allowed to engage in seemingly rough activities such as jousting. Furthermore, being fair to women was engraved in Christianity and hence respect to women was perceived as a way of adherence to Christian norms (Velasco, 2010). Christianity has predominantly depicted women as the fair sex in the bible.
This perception as women being the fair sex has been supported and opposed in equal measure. This notion has been blamed for the modern inequality between the sexes. By women being perceived as a `weaker sex`, they are denied opportunities in life that are perceived to be too challenging for women. Those who support this notion have been in support of affirmative action in the modern world (Mills, 2010). For those who oppose this notion, women have been perceived to be equal to men and thus have been afforded the same opportunities as men. Nonetheless, women have been more respectful of women and courtship, romance and love have taken another level with calls for women to be honored, respected and protected at all times. One popular 19[th] century painting by Sir Frank Dicksee named Chivalry ultimately depicts this.
`Chivalry` by Frank Dicksee
(Source: http://coxsoft.blogspot.com/2012/11/chivalry-for-sale.html)
The painting shows a man in combat uniform, presumably a knight, about to spear another man to rescue the women who seems to be tied to a tree. This whole image idealizes the role and demeanor of a knight, to protect women.
The common understanding in the modern world has seen men being required to be aggressive with fellow men and peers but at the same time be gentle towards women. Men are required to fight for supremacy and in some cases fight or compete for spouses. This has been reenacted in a number of movies where men have use aggressiveness against superior forces to protect women or win their love, honor, and respect. The classic film “An officer and a gentleman” is one of the many examples. This film narrates the story of a US Navy aviation officer candidate, Zack Mayo, training to become a navy pilot at the Navy Aviation Officer Candidate School. At the school, he is despised by the training officer and is exposed to numerous unwarranted challenges just to make him quit. During this time, he defies the advice of the training officer and falls in love with a local girl. This irks the training officer who even continues to punish him even more, but Zack does not give up (Elfland, Stewart & Hackford, 1982). He is hell bent in balancing his navy life and romance life.
The manner in which Zack relates with his fellow candidates and the instructors is characterized by honor and a strict code of ethics for the Navy. The relations are also aggressive as depicted in a martial arts clash between the training officer, Foley, and Zack midway in the film. Though the fight is won by Foley, Zack is determined to show that his relation with a woman does not make him any soft. Such aggression is strongly contrasted to the way Zack relates with his girlfriend, Paula, who he is ready to passionately hold and kiss in front of his peers. Another issue that comes up is the concept of women and men in uniform. In the film, Foley warns the trainees that the local girls have an eye for the men navy men, or men in uniform (Elfland, Stewart & Hackford, 1982). This outrightly relates to the adoration of knights who happened to wear uniforms, by women in the dark ages. This is captured by the phrase `knight in shining armor`. In essence, the knight in shining armor from the middle ages has evolved to be a man in military uniform in the film.
The name of the film is also a direct borrowing from the demeanor of Dark Age`s knights. The knights were expected to be both combat men and be gentle men. The knights engaged in rough games and training that prepared them for combat but at the same time related in a gentle manner with women. They were supposed to treat them fairly, respect, honor, and love them. The jousting tournaments are some of the `men`s` game that combat men in middle ages were exposed to toughen them up. They used the games to sharpen their skills other than the formal training.
IV. Evolution if the Advancement
Chivalry among knights was initially a moral code that bound them into defending religious and Christian virtues and defending the weak innocent people including women. The ideal image of a knight was therefore, an equestrian ready to lay down his life in defending the faith, women, and children. However, Zemser (1961) argues that the initial idea of chivalry was to defend the king and the faith. The inclusion of defending the weak was included in the later stage of the Middle ages as chivalry evolved. Abels (n.d.) notes that in the 10[th] and 11[th] centuries, chivalry was associated with combat men in horseback protecting the people. By the 12[th] century, this had evolved to include nobility and by the 13[th] century had evolved again to include military and financial obligations to the King. Knighthood and associated chivalry was a social rank that had little to do with demeanor. By the 14[th] century, knights were rarely involved in battle and thus the code of chivalry which was largely influenced by `military ethics` was diluted.
Chivalry has continued to evolve over time as further evidenced by its conception before the dark ages and in today`s standards. In the medieval ages, romance and love among men was viewed as a sign of weakness. In fact, it was viewed with so much suspicion that bordered on mental instability requiring remedy. Men often times used hostility towards women to express their domination (Zemser, 1961). While men treated women as inferior in ability in the dark ages, women in the modern world are perceived to be the fair sex but equal in ability to men. This is also replicated in the video game “Chivalry: medieval warfare”, which is based in medieval times. However, the classic film, an officer and a gentleman` captures the modern conception of chivalry where women are the fair sex but men treat them with a lot of respect and are proud to express their love when called upon (Frantzen, 2004). However, this varies from one culture to another.
Chivalry seems to have evolved to the term gentleman. While a chivalry in medieval Ireland symbolized service (loyalty and honor), war, and defending the weak (women and children), today it has transformed to mean love, loyalty, courtesy, honor, glory, and courage more so in love and romance (Mills, 2010). Chivalry has taken a financial aspect in that care for women is perceived as being able to meet financial needs of a woman. In the modern world, an ideal chivalrous man is portrayed as a man who is strong, can protect a woman from adversaries, and at the same time shows romance on top of respecting and honoring her and capable of meeting her financial needs. At the same time, some women have the capacity to fulfill their financial needs and at sometimes even that of their men which overturns the equation and thereby undermining chivalry (Dowd, 2006).
The discussion of knighthood and chivalry from the dark ages to the modern times reveals an interesting path. The modern conception of romance, love, and chivalry as depicted in the classic film “An officer and a gentleman”, though based on the Dark Ages` conception of chivalry has undergone evolutional and cultural changes. For instance, money was never an issue during the middle ages. Today, being a gentleman or a chivalrous man embodies a host of obligations that are largely viewed as idealistic and not realistic. No wonder the common phrase among women that `Chivalry is dead` (Sigh, 2011). Nonetheless, whatever the situation, the Dark ages has contributed immensely to the modern world in terms of conception of love and romance. Chivalry has advancement humanity and the place of women in society is being more appreciated in various ways.
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