Chretein de Troyes, Arthurian Romances
From the Classical age through the medieval age, women were greatly disrespected. They did not have any say in anything and were not appreciated. In Classical texts such as The Odyssey, the women were treated as if they were animals. They did not have the respect of others and some were thought of as whores. In the stories of Erec and Enide, Lancelot, and Perceval, we see a dramatic change in this, due to the system of government that Arthur entails giving them the freedom and rights they deserved. The new man to woman relationship brought about in these stories is very different then the past stories we have read from the classical age. This system gave great honor and respect to women, which became part of the chivalric code that was followed by the knights and royalty of that time.The courtly relationship between man and woman is the theme created throughout the stories in the Arthurian Romances. The ideas of courtly love and chivalry are summarized in these stories. We see many instances where knights go out of their way to please their woman. Once a knight chooses his woman, she thought of as his chattel, or property. He can do what he pleases with her and she must listen to him or possibly be killed. He respects and loves her as long as she is loyal and faithful to him. If someone were to interfere in his or her relationship, they would fight ’til death or until someone begs for mercy. The knights fought for the most beautiful and did what they pleased with them. They fought for them if necessary to keep respect for themselves and for their maiden. This is what the chivalric ideology was based on and so the knights followed and respected it.In the story of Erec and Enide we see how some women affect the lifestyle and choices that the knights make due to their love. The woman was the prize possession to every man. They were won in various games that were played by the knights. Different ceremonies were held to award to the winner the most beautiful woman in the land. We can see here that women were so important that a knight had to prove he was the best at what he did to gain her hand. These types of games were normal in this time since the woman was respected so much more. Competition was also based on who was the most beautiful in the land. This is where Erec finds his love Enide. He wins the hand of the most beautiful lady on his way to defend his Queen who was disrespected by Ydor the Dwarf. It was Erec’s chivalric duty to defend her honor as a lady and the queen.While Erec was at the town he played in the Sparrow-hawk ceremony, which dealt with showing the most beautiful maiden in the kingdom. Whoever had enough gall to present his lady as the most beautiful and handed her the sparrow in front of the town wins. Erec presents Enide as the most beautiful and is approached by Ydor, who thinks his woman is the best. They battled and by defeating him and winning the game, he walked away with his love, Enide. He loved and cherished every move she made. He loved her so much that he gave up his knightly duties for her. He stopped going on quests and participating in all the ceremonies. ‘ But Erec was so in love with her that he cared no more for arms, nor did he go to tournaments. He no longer cared for tourneying; he wanted to enjoy his wife’s company, and he made her his lady and his mistress. He turned all his attention to kissing her; her persued no other delight.’; (pg.67 Erec and Enide)He was greatly shamed by all the knights and nobles for doing this. She refused to tell him about this in fear of his actions. These unknightly actions created problems with him and the other knights. Enide finally tells him the truth about what everyone else is thinking and is blamed for it. He brings her out on quests to test her love for him and in the end believes that she truly loves him and only him. They kiss and embrace each other and she was no longer dismayed and they lived together happily afterwards. In the story of Perceval we can see how courtly love and chivalry tie in with suffering and atonement. Perceval was not a trained knight at first. Everything he learned about being a knight, he learned from his mother. She also taught him about love and guilt. He was from a long line of knights that suffered from bad luck. His father and both brothers died as knights. Perceval wanted to become a knight after he saw how beautiful they were when they were fighting. He referred to them as Gods. He tells his mother that he wants to become a knight and leaves her there dead on the floor. He is not aware of the sense of guilt yet so he leaves her their face down on the ground. Perceval goes to King Arthur to request knighthood. On his way there he meets a lady. He has never been with a woman before so he does not know how to act. He forces himself on top of her, kisses her, eats her food, and steals her ring and leaves. She tells her lord and he yells and accuses her of liking it and says he will behead the man who did that to his property. This shows that the chivalric code is learned by knights and causes problems when it is not used correctly. When he arrives at the castle, Arthur and his court welcome him in. While he is there he falls for a maiden who is at the table with them. Kay smacks her for saying that Perceval would be the best and most handsome knight alive. Kay also makes him leave without helping the King. On Perceval’s departure from the castle, he slays the Red Knight that threatened King Arthur and takes his armor. This was his first time using weapons to slay another knight in battle. He meets up with the Vavasour and is taught the rest he needs to know about being a knight. After that everyone he battles with and defeats, he sends to King Arthur’s castle to serve the maiden he has fallen for. He sends them with messages of his love for her and that he will return to avenge her. He then travels back home to see his mom, only to find out that she had died when he left. This is where we begin to see that Perceval learns what guilt and sorrow are. He is shameful about what has happened and learns to confess his sins. He begins to confess all his sins and feels guilty about all he has done. He meets up with the lady he raped and her knight on a quest. He confesses all he has done to her along with his other sins and this infuriates the knight. They battle and Perceval defeats him and sends him to his maiden. All he defeats he send to his maiden as a gift to show her that he still loves her. Through his atonement and courtly love, Perceval returns back to normal and remains King Arthur’s faithful knight.
In conclusion I feel that the medieval period allowed the women to gain a powerful status in society. They gained honorable reputations and were respected by everyone. The chivalric attitudes that the knights obtained allowed for an uprising of the public status between the sexes. Their attitudes toward each other had a tremendous change from the classical era to the Medieval one. We can still see the medieval attitude today towards some women. Some men go out of their way to help the lady. Men open doors for ladies and keep them warm. Instead of them being called knights, they are called gentlemen. This can be an indication of the existence of medieval knights and the chivalric code they followed.