Essay, Research Paper
Satire is a keen literary tool, one that Geoffrey Chaucer used liberally when he wrote his Canterbury Tales as well as Sir Walter Scott s Ivanhoe. Webster s New World Dictionary says that satire is “the use of ridicule, sarcasm, etc. to attack vices, follies, etc.” These two pieces of literature could be considered the greatest pieces of British Literature during the Middle Ages. They both exercise Satire, Ideals, Prejudices, and Stereotypes, which are used in today s writings and used commonly in the world today. Everyday people criticize and ridicule others for their faults and problems which is one topic that Chaucer and Scott wrote about. I will most of all be concentrating on Satire because it is one that that I see the most used whether it be in school, public, or in my own home.
The Knight s Tale in the Canterbury Tales satirizes the knight slightly. Chaucer satirizes knights and chivalry in two different ways: in the prologue and in the Knight s Tale. The first way in the prologue is with the pilgrim Knight’s character. Chaucer wanted to present a realistic knight, but he also wanted to give the Knight some very real, and obvious flaws, as a sort of social commentary on the way that knight s were perceived in the 14th century. To that end, he gave the Knight some qualities that could be termed as the antithesis of the qualities that a good and honorable knight should have. The second way I see Chaucer as satirizing chivalry is through the Knight’s Tale. The Knight s Tale presents the “ideal” knights. They follow the codes of chivalry. They follow the graces of courtly love. They have duels, battle honorably, and they also make fools of themselves on more than one occasion. Palamon and Arcite are so perfect that they become parodies of the perfect knights. And, in the end of the tale, everyone ends up somewhat unhappy, and there
is no clear winner. By writing this parody, Chaucer is trying to convey the idea that a lot of the ideals of chivalry are a bit silly. And, as all of the different tales reflect back on the characters of the pilgrims who tell them, the ideas in the Knight s Tale can be reflected back on the Knight.
Most critiques say that Chaucer intended his Knight to be the one true to life portrait of a knight of the 14th century, an every knight of sorts. Chaucer wanted to go against the normal chivalric ideal of a knight by presenting a knight as he really might have been a basically good person, but with imperfections (Spearing 67). I disagree with this theory about Chaucer’s intentions when characterizing the knight. I think that the reason I disagree has to do with the area of our examination. The critiques were mostly examining the Knight s clothing, with only references to the rest of the Knight s description in the prologue, and only briefly mentioning the Knight s Tale. I am looking at the Knight in a more general sense, and looking at clues in the entire description and the tale. One of the generalizations that they make is that Chaucer’s Knight is not romantically ideal. On this point, I do agree. There haven t been many changes in peoples conceptions of the “ideal knight” since the 14th century. The “ideal knight” is the one out of fairy tales and story books, with the gleaming armor on a pristine white horse, riding to save the princess, and slaying numerous foes simply because his heart is pure. Also, the perfect knight was always clean, courteous and honorable without fault. Chaucer’s Knight is definitely not the ideal. He may be courteous, but he isn’t clean, as evidenced by the dirtiness of his clothing. And, he certainly isn’t honorable without fault.
Honor is the main point that needs to be addressed when talking about the Knight. It was one of the most important values attributed to knights by the general public. . Honor is both inner goodness and social reputation; it is a passive state of virtue or blood and an active meriting of honor or honoring of others (Brewer 96). Honor is, of course, a very difficult quality to define. From what I have read from the medieval period, I think that for a medieval person, honor was a combination of being truthful, being polite and decorous, being righteous and having religious integrity. Having a dishonorable knight would be the antithesis of what a “good” knight should be, and I think that making the knight dishonorable is one of the ways that Chaucer satirizes him.
Sir Walter Scott wrote mostly about the same in his novel. His characters are corrupt except for an honest few. Even though Ivanhoe has someone he is involved with he shows his chivalry when he fights for Rebecca while she is being put to death. He risked his life for a damsel in distress. He follows the codes of chivalry and showed the same values that Chaucer s characters had in his tales. Others showed their chivalry; for example Robin Hood fought for Ivanhoe and for a good cause with his men as well as Kind Richard s return and his fighting for Ivanhoe. If it wasn t for both of them Ivanhoe would have lost the battle to take over the castle. There is a lot of criticism between the Normans and Saxons. They have this hatred for each other similar to the Jew-German or Black-white groups. King Richard s brother King John is corrupt and not honorable. He steals the thrown while his brother is out in the Crusades and takes advantage of the power. Making him dishonorable is a way that Sir Walter Scott satirizes him.
In conclusion, one of the most important ideals during the Middle Ages was chivalry. This flaw was often found in some characters. Those with the flaws were used as examples of satire and were not left short of being highly critiqued. They were used as subjects of enjoyment for reading because reading the imperfections of the past is enjoyed by many. These two exemplified a time in history where honest people where cherished and others were hated.