Prominence of masculinity in medieval times

Dennis Gosnell

Assignment Editor

In the eyes of society, romancing something that is awful and gruesome can create social acceptance and create a trend.

This was the topic of the first Great Lecture Series for the Fall/Spring 2012 – 2013 school year. This years lecture series topic is “Culture of Competition.”

Professor of English and Honors Program Coordinator, Kevin Caliendo is the first lecturer with “Masculinity on Display: The Knight’s Tale as Public Spectacle.”

Caliendo’s hour-long summation and analysis on “The Knight’s Tale” by Geoffrey Chaucer examined the relationship between literature and social trends and actions.

The main points of the lecture distinguished the import of the romanticization of the knight in medieval times and the structures of social status in which different persons of the time interacted. In modern times movies like “Rocky,” “Rambo,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Cinderella,” and many others exhibit the same type of romanticized view of warrior persona deemed to be perfect by society and is the same type of picture writers in the medieval times would use to depict what it meant to be a warrior or other status reflection.

Everyone has heard the saying “knight in shining armor.” According to Caliendo, this is when the idea of the “knight in shining armor” became prominent and romanticized.

“Before Arthurian times, people, if they had the money, would go buy armor and weapons, and call themselves knights. It was only when literature painted the knight as a being of honor, ethics, and captivating social grace did society become infatuated with the idea of a knight,” Caliendo said.

In many ways, literature captured the imaginations of the people so thoroughly that society modeled their culture after the literature trying to recreate the ideals of perfection in order to be perfect beings.

To characterize the importance of the influence of literature, Caliendo used Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Knights Tale” as means to show just how much influence the social ideals of knights were influenced.

A short summation of the story is:

Two men fall madly in love with a woman at first glance and must have her no matter the cost. Both men are knights, throughout the story neither tells the woman that they are after affections and heart. In doing so fail to live up to the standard of being a knight. So impassioned to have the woman that both men lose all sense of social obligation and attempt to determine amongst themselves, only who is most worthy to wed the woman. However, the king, his wife, and the woman who they are both fighting for ride through the woods and find the two men fighting.

So enraged is the king at the broach of protocol, that he wants the two men killed straightway.  The women however, object and convince the king to make the men fight like proper gentlemen and knights. The two knights must have their fight in a public setting so that the nobles, fellow knights, and peasants of the country can all view the fight.

This is the premise of the lecture. A knight must act in accordance with the rules set down by society so that they may be viewed as worthy of their honor and masculinity. The public display of it all helped in numerous ways. First it enabled the king to keep people from committing acts of murder. Two it helped promote a sense of pride and community with the country. Third it also helped to create economic growth within the country, as those in attendance of such tournaments would naturally spend money at the various vendors. And lastly, it gave the knights a reason to constantly work towards improving and refining their skills as warriors.

In modern times, books and movies often use and romanticize the small man making it big theme in an attempt to inspire people with the hope that perhaps life isn’t that bad and that they can really make it in life if they just work hard enough.  “The Pursuit of Happyness,” a 2006 film featuring Will Smith looked at the beginnings of a man’s rise to the top and his unwavering conviction to work harder and smarter than everyone else.

Whether it is Arthurian literature or modern films, one thing still remains true.  Cultures are always in constant competition. By finding ways in which to hold peaceful and challenging competitions, the different cultures have a way to show off their pride and skills.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: