The reign of Elizabeth I is considered to be the “Golden Age” of English history. During her reign, arts and literature flourished and became more diverse, which can clearly be seen in some of the greatest poets’ works, such as Sir Thomas Wyatt, Sir Philip Sydney, Edmund Spenser and William Shakespeare. Poetry in the Elizabethan age went through many changes and developments, in terms of form, imagery, subjects and themes. Most poets of this age tried to explore new genres and themes, however Queen Elizabeth I remained one of the poets’ main influences. In other words, with a few exceptions, chivalry was indeed the hallmark of Elizabethan poetry.
Chivalry and Courtly Love
Chivalry, according to Dr. Richard Abels, is defined as “an aristocratic ethos that prescribed what qualities and attributes a knight ought to possess, and which helped distinguish the military aristocracy of Western Europe in the twelfth through fifteenth centuries from rich commoners and identify them as a social elite.” This definition explains that chivalry initially described noblemen and aristocrats, differentiating them from the poor and unfortunate. Chivalry in poetry is also defined as “transforming the frigid and worthless compositions which had been painfully produced by the knight of chivalry into fluent and ready verses”, in Amy Cruse's opinion as she states in her book The Elizabethan Lyrists and Poetry. It is also perceived as “exaggerated flattery” as the poets portrayed their love to the Queen, according to Cruse. This portrays the image of chivalry as a powerful tool that poets used to accentuate their strength and “flattery” in the readers' minds.
A common misconception is that courtly love and chivalry are the same. On one hand, courtly love, as defined by Robert Gayre, “is the code of romantic love that enjoyed a vogue among the aristocracies of Western Europe, particularly from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries.” In simple terms, courtly love was all about being romantic and flattering the intended reader as the poet expresses his or her love to the lover. As Gayre explains, courtly love revolves around the poets feelings instead of his actions. On the other hand, according to Gayre, chivalry was associated with knights and “it combined military virtues with those of Christianity, as epitomized by the Arthurian legend in England,” explaining why most poets are courtiers or at the very least underwent “military” training. Chivalry as a whole was always associated with physical strength, circling around actions instead of feelings.
The word chivalry itself originated back to the French, chevalier, defined as a horseman or a knight. It was introduced to the English in the late Middle Ages, explaining the confusion between chivalry and courtly love, as they were both introduced around the same time. Keeping in mind that chivalry and courtly love do cross paths and a lot of poets do mix them together, simply because they have, more or less,...