The Knight and the Cart Essay

This essay has a total of 1478 words and 6 pages.

The Knight and the Cart

The Knight of the Cart
By the end of eleventh century, Western Europe had experienced a powerful cultural
revival. The flourish of New towns provided a place for exchange of commerce and flow of
knowledge and ideas. Universities, which replaced monasteries as centers of learning,
poured urbanized knowledge into society. New technological advances and economics
transformations provided the means for building magnificent architectures. These
developments were representative of the mental and behavioral transformations that the
medieval world underwent and the new relationships that were brought about between men,
women and society in the twelfth century. As in technology, science, and scholasticism,
Literature was also reborn with a new theme.3

Very different from traditional writings of the past was the new flourish of troubadour
poetry. Troubadour poetry, derived of courtly romances, focused on the idea of unrequited
love. "A young man of the knightly class loved a lady", most often, "the lady was married
to the young man's lord". The courtly lover would compose highly lyrical and erotic poems
in honor of his lady, and the troubadour was filled with rapture even at the slightest
kindness that the lady might offer him.3 This new literary artifice provides us clues to
the cultural changes that took place in medieval Europe during this time.

Of the many writers of courtly romance, the most distinguished literature can be found in
the work of Chretien de Troyes. Troyes was a native of Eastern Champagne and most of his
career was spent the court of Marie de Champagne. He was the inventor of Arthurian
literature and the first to speak of Camelot, and write adventures of the Grail.

He may even have been the first to sing the tragic love of Tristan and Isolde. One of
Chretein de Troyes' works, Chevalier de la Charette (The Knight of the Cart) expresses the
doctrines of courtly love in its most developed form. The plot of this story is believed
to have been given to him by Marie of Champagne and has been called "the perfect romance"
for its portrayal of Queen Guinevere's affair with Lancelot of the Lake.1

The elements of courtly love operate at several levels simultaneously in The Knight of the
Cart; they are expressed by the behaviors of Lancelot, Queen Guinevere, Meleagant and
other characters in the story. Two vividly deployed elements are the concepts of loyalty
and honor. Lancelot is shown to be infinitely honorable and loyal in his love to
Guinevere, a true and unflinching love. He is tested at various stages in his voyage, such
as by the damsel who requires him to sleep with her if he wants hospitality. Lancelot
agrees only after pleading with her not to make him sleep with her. He did this not
because the girl was unattractive for he states, "Many men would have thanked her five
hundred times for such an offer." He agrees to this act only because he believes that he
needs the lodging to rest himself so he can dutifully continue his quest for Guinevere.
Yet, Lancelot does not even look at her when she is naked; his lack of interest causes the
damsel to relinquish him from his promise. He stays perfectly loyal and faithful to his
queen.

Obedience is another factor that constitutes courtly behavior in the story. Lancelot
battles arduous combats and suffers severe wounds for the love of Guinevere. However, once
throughout his voyage he falters in his obedience to her love, when he comes across a
dwarf, driver of a cart, the dwarf tells Lancelot to ride in the cart in exchange for
information on Guinevere's whereabouts; Lancelot hesitates momentarily before leaping into
the cart. Lancelot regrets this moment of hesitation and scolds himself, he argues
"…Reason, who does not follow love's command, told him to beware of getting in and
admonished him…Love ordered and wished [he would ride in the cart]…; since love ruled
his action, the disgrace should not have mattered." 2 Lancelot is deeply ashamed and never
falters again. His obedience to his love is tested and displayed at the Knights
tournament. At the request of Guinevere, he deliberately embarrasses himself in every
event to prove his undying obedience. Lancelot purposely looses his battles and is made a
fool.

From Lancelot's behaviors, we can see the change that has taken place in medieval society.
Lancelot, a vassal in King Arthur's court, should be unremittingly loyal, honorable and
obedient to the King. Nevertheless, his love for Queen Guinevere has challenged this
relationship. Lancelot's quest to rescue Guinevere should be for his lord, the King, yet
Lancelot's mission is for his own love and lust of Guinevere. Lancelot may be considered
to be Guinevere's knight, rather than King Arthur's. The climax of this change and the
final defeat of lord-vassal relationship occurs when Guinevere and Lancelot consummate
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