The Contradiction of Chivalry and Courtly Love
Two conflicting disciplines are prevalent throughout Arthurian Legend; that of chivalry and that of courtly love. The ideal of each clash throughout the medieval tales, and it is impossible to interfuse the two models for society. Chivalry is a masculine code, an aggressive discipline, whereas courtly love is based upon women - their needs, wants, and desires. The consistent problem if Lancelot and Guinevere’s adulterous relationship in different tellings of the affair relates back to the differences presented in chivalric code and courtly love ideals.
The chivalric code speaks of "brave conquerors" waging war against the Seven deadly Sins(Schofield 5). The knight places all thought of others before himself, promising to serve and protect, swearing to honor all, and love a life of nobleness, selflessness, in subjection to the king. In Malory, the code of honor by which the knights live as dictated by the king is,
Never to outrage, or murder, always flee treason, also by no means to be cruel, but to give mercy unto him that asketh mercy; also to do to ladies, damsels, and gentle women succour upon pain of death – also, no man take no battles in a wrongful quarrel for no law for the world’s goods(Schofield 96).
This allegiance the men pledge to one another is a bond, similar to the vows taken when one weds. Anyone breaching this honor code is guilty of a treacherous act against not only the king, but his fellow knights as well. There is a constant struggle to stay within the confines of what is allowed through one’s actions, and to abide by the Golden Rule. "Knighthood is masculine, aggressive; a battle with rules and limits, in which courtesy is a matter of do as you would be done by(Barber 71).
On the one hand, the knights have this honor that they must abide by – treating others fairly, acting for the good of the country, and honestly submitting yourself to the king. On the other hand, though, there is the court conception that adulterous love is virtuous, despite the fact that engaging in such love, secrets become deceitful and deception a way of life. The deception of Lancelot to King Arthur by his affair with Guinevere is not viewed by Arthur to be adulterous. He does not get mad at Lancelot for the affair, rather the fact that he as a knight has broken the chivalric code; the code among knights that specifies actions to be honest, noble, and virtuous. Because Lancelot is a knight, his discipline is that of the knights – the chivalric code. Because of this, he commits an act of treason with his relationship with Guinevere.
Guinevere, being a lady of the court, abides to the dictates of...