Hamlet: Chivalry Essay

1785 words - 7 pages

Hamlet: Chivalry



        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

and scene.


        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...

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