It would be obvious to say that society changes over the years.
Yet as the years grow farther apart we tend to forget how those before us
lived their lives. These historic ways of life are thankfully preserved in
literary works put down and documented centuries before us. The goal of
this paper is to examine the extinct life style of chivalry and show how it
relates to William Shakespeare's play Hamlet. Specifically The final act
As I began researching chivalry I found that there was a lot more
to it than draping my cape over a puddle for a lady. It actually began not
as a way to conduct ones life but rather as a social and economic class.
The word chivalry has its roots in the middle French word for horseman,
chevalier. Chivalry as defined in Webster's Ninth Collegiate Dictionary
means "mounted men-at-arms." Chevalier also gave birth to a word almost
identical to chivalry: cavalier. Webster's defines cavalier as "a
gentlemen trained in arms and horsemanship." These are also synonymous
with knight. An interesting contradiction though is that the English
etymology of the word knight is trusted servant. This comes form the
Anglo-Saxon word "cnyht" (De La Bere 35). The idea of a knight being a
servant does not fit most people's ideas of knighthood or chivalry, but in
essence that is what a knight is. A knight's duty is always to his king.
The duality of these roles is what makes chivalry unique. (Barber 9).
So where did chivalry get its start? Many believe it started with
the barbaric Huns or the Roman Empire. Both civilizations had soldiers who
can be called knights, but there is controversy over which really
influenced what we now consider chivalry. The Hun soldiers were
inseparable from their horses realizing the effectiveness of mounted attack.
A classical writer referred to them as "shaggy centaurs." The Romans had
a class of soldiers they called the "equites." These examples are related
to chivalry but different because of the way in which it began. Chivalry
actually begins with the end of the empire of Charlemagne during the mid
eighth century. A knight basically began as a horse mounted solider. No
elaborate armor or weapon system was developed at first. Soon, changes
were becoming evident. During this time most who fought in battle were
free men and were called to do so only because they owed service to their
leader. It was an obligation to duty, not a situation where they had to
participate if they really didn't want to. Military equipment was very
expensive during this time and forced men to pool their resources. Four
men may pool their resources and equip a fifth...