Medieval Concepts

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The phrase “Middle Ages,” is used to describe Europe between the fall of Rome in 476 CE and the beginning of the Renaissance in the 14th century. Many scholars, however, prefer to call this era the “medieval period”. Many concepts that were important in Medieval England such as the code of chivalry, and religion, are depicted in literature such as Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, and Everyman.

An old english poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, by Burton Raffel is a piece of literature defined by the codes of behavior. The main concept throughout the story is the chivalric values of a knight. Chivalry was a very important code to live by during the medieval period. The chivalry code contained highly valued qualities such as bravery, courtesy, honor and great gallantry toward women. This story begins with the arrival of the green knight at King Arthur’s feast one evening. The Green Knight challenges anyone in the room to step forward and strike him with his own axe under the condition that he meet him again one year later to receive a blow in return.

Just as Arthur was about to accept his challenge, Sir Gawain, Arthurs strongest and most loyal knight, steps up to meet the challenge instead. Sir Gawain’s chivalry is tested from the very moment he accepted the green knight’s challenge to return for a fair blow in the head. This challenged Sir Gawain because if he does not meet the green knight in a year as asked, then he is perceived as a dishonorable man who not only does not keep his word, but also values his life more than his knightly values. An important characteristic of a knight is bravery as seen in the chivalric code, therefore Sir Gawain must keep his word to prove his courage or else he is considered a useless knight.

One year later, Gawain sets out on his journey to meet the Green Knight for his behalf of the challenge like he agreed to. On his journey he stops by a castle where he is graciously offered to stay. During Gawain’s stay, the Lord of the castle creates a game in which he goes hunting while Gawain stays in the castle with his wife, and can borrow anything as long as he returns it back to the lord. The lord of the castle, secretly known as the green knight, has created this game in order to test the chivalrous values of Sir Gawain. The next moment chivalry is tested is between the encounters of Sir Gawain and the lords’ wife. As Bertilak is gone hunting one day, his wife comes in to Gawain’s chambers asking for her way with him. Over Gawain’s time spent in the castle, the wife kisses him on three separate occasions.

However, Gawain returns these kisses to the green knight during their exchange of winnings. On the final night of winnings, Bertilak’s wife gives Sir Gawain a green girdle with powers to protect him from the green knight. Gawain presents his kisses to the lord, but does not mention the green girdle his wife had given him. Part of the chivalrous code is to be loyal to your lord or noble woman. Therefore Gawain had displayed unchivalrous acts when betaking kisses from the lords wife, and not telling the green knight about the green girdle. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a poem that illustrates the chivalry knights were meant to follow and base their life upon. Gawain’s values of chivalry are tested throughout the story through the use of trickery and games. By the end of the story, Gawain loses his moral innocence as he falls to the temptress of greed for his life. Looking back on what he did, Gawain no longer views himself as the knight that exemplifies chivalric expectations.

Beowulf, an epic poem, is one of the most important works of Old English literature. This work of literature includes the major concepts of chivalry most important to the Anglo-Saxon culture. In Anglo-Saxon culture, chivalry is a code of a medieval warrior, based on a set of rules, and/ or traits that include honor, valor, courtesy, and the most important of all, loyalty. The story begins in Denmark, where King Hrothgar’s newly constructed mead mall, heorot, has been ravaged on for 12 years straight by an evil monster, Grendel, who hunts down Hrothgar’s warriors nightly and devours them. Unexpectedly, Beowulf, a young prince of the Geats, offers to cleanse the Heorot of the evil that seems to be attached to it. Beowulf offered to help Hrothgar because he feels a great sense of loyalty to him because of his father.

Hrothgar is amazed by this offer and gladly accepts. The following night, Beowulf, and his men sleep in the herot hoping to come in contact with Grendel. Grendel comes to the herot for a feast of men, but what he didn’t know was that Beowulf was expecting him, so when grendel was preparing to feast on Beowulf, Beowulf grabbed onto Grendel with a such a powerful grip in which Grendel cannot escape. Grendel filled with terror, wrenches himself out of Beowulf’s grip by tearing off his own arm, leaving him colossally wounded. The following day, everyone began rejoicing in the herot. But that very night, Grendel’s mother came to the herot seeking revenge for her son, killing yet another one of Hrothgar’s men.

Beowulf exclaimed he will stop at nothing to put an end this evil even if it meant his death. The next morning, Beowulf set out on a journey to the bottom of a musty lake to find Grendel and his mothers cave. Once he reaches Grendel’s mother he kills her with an ancient sword made by the giants, and then cuts the head off of Grendel’s corpse. The herots then rejoice once more as Beowulf returns with the news that he has ended this madness. On Beowulf’s last night with the Swedes, Hrothgar makes a farewell speech about Beowulf, the true hero of the swedes, and presents him with many gifts to take back to his homeland.

The gifts given to Beowulf from hrothgar include an embroidered banner, breast-mail, an embossed helmet, and a sword. Lastly, Hrothgar gives Beowulf eight horses with gold bridles, one of which has a fancy saddle designed for a king going to battle. When Beowulf returns home, he formally presents all the treasures he had received from Hrothgar to his king, Hygelac, and gave the king? wife, Hygd, a necklace and three horses. By the end of the story, Beowulf is presented as a true hero who exhibits all the qualities defined by the chivalric code.

The Canterbury Tales, written by Geoffrey Chaucer, is a story that follows a group of pilgrims on a long journey from London to Canterbury Cathedral. Chaucer focused on introducing reforms in the church, and reflects the religious conditions of his time through his characters in the story. In the time period Chaucer wrote of, is a time where the church became a place of corruption. At this time instead of people living a holy life and devoting their time to their higher being, they turned to a life of depravity. They were more interested in materialistic comfort and ease.

For example, a monk is introduced as a character that joins the pilgrimage. A monk is a person who is a part of a religious community of men and lives under a set of vows that include poverty, chacity, and obedience. Monks were also expected to refrain from the pleasures of the world such as hunting, festivity, comfort, and luxury. During Chaucer’s time, however, the monks had forgotten the rules of monastic life. Such as the monk on the pilgrimage cared only for hunting and good cheer. He was more interested in hunting than in the performance of his religious duties. He also enjoyed fur clothing, gold pins, and many other luxurious objects.

Next the Pardoner and the Summoner were introduced. The pardoner(a person licensed to sell papal pardons or indulgences) was an experienced cheat who played on the gullibility of the common people. He was a seller of “pardons”. The proceeds from the sale of the pardons are meant to go to a religious institution, but instead this pardoner found a way to “feather his own nest”. Like the Pardoner, the Summoner was just as good at trickery.

The summoner would frighten fools and quiet men, blackmail young folk in the church jurisdiction, and lastly in return for a quart of wine, he would tolerate the keeping of a mistress by a fellow for twelve months. Chaucer also draws a picture of the Parson on their journey. The parson was a polite Shepard who protected his flock of sheep from the wolfs. The parson is an exact contrast of the other characters in the story. The portrait of the parson is to show that there are still people with the same values as Chaucer who follow the footsteps of Christ.

In the play, Everyman, allegorical characters are used to examine the question of christian salvation and what man must do to attain it. The ideology of the play was intended to help strengthen the importance of God and religion in people’s life during the medieval period. In the play, God represents salvation, but it is religion that provides the means necessary to achieve salvation. During this time, the people greatly believed in the mortality of death, heaven, hell, and an afterlife. In Everyman, there are three main characters.

These characters are Everyman, Good Deeds, and Knowledge. At the beginning of the play, God is angered by Everyman’s sins and sends Death to seek Everyman. Once Death had approached Everyman, he asked him if he had forgotten of his “maker”. He then tells him that he must go on a journey to death and bring with him a book containing all the good and bad deeds he has done throughout his life.

On the journey to the end of his life, Everyman tries to convince his friends to accompany him, but no could come with him on his voyage except for Good Deeds, and he is the only one that could stand by him in the presence of God. Since Knowledge could only lead Everyman to Good Deeds, he could not come with him on his journey to God. Symbolically, Everyman is a representation of every man/ women living on earth. The other characters such as Knowledge and Good Deeds are an example of what everyone should obtain in his/her life. The main purpose of this play is to show the audience that whether they live a good or evil life, they will only be judged on based on their deeds, and that materialistic things in life is not what grants you salvation in the afterlife.

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