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Will Hasty: Chivalry as an “Investment”, Essay Example

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Essay

Introduction

The concept of chivalry, and the chivalric code which was central to Arthurian legend, was a notion that evolved over time into a complex set of social, moral, and ethical guidelines and expectations for appropriate knightly behavior. This concept of chivalry is rooted in a militaristic and narrow set of precepts related to the preparedness of a horse-mounted soldier; over time, the concept of chivalry expanded and evolved to encompass a broad set of characteristics related to the embracing of Christianity, fealty to the Crown, honor, courtly love, and romantic selflessness. In the article entitled Bullish on Love and Adventure: Chivalry as Speculation in the German Arthurian Romances, author Will Hasty seeks to elucidate the concept of chivalry by casting it as something that is not just a set of defining characteristics of knighthood, but is as the motivation for the actions of knights. Hasty’s thesis, in brief, is that chivalry is “open-ended,” and functions as a means of “investment” on the part of the chivalrous: a knight “invests” his time, strength, and energy into his actions on the notion that this “investment” will pay dividends in the form of the love he expects to earn from his beloved (Hasty, 2010). This paper will examine the evidence and information Hasty amasses and will argue that Hasty’s thesis helps the reader better understand the concept of chivalry.

Background and Overview

In the preface to the book Arthurian Romances, Tales, and Lyric Poetry: The Complete Works of Hartmann Von Aue, editor and translator Frank Tobin offers some background and context for reading and understanding the works of Hartman, with a particular emphasis on the Arthurian-legend-based poem Erec. According to Tobin, the confluence of ideals that formed the basis of the chivalric code in its classic sense was present in Hartman’s work as a result of a number of influences. While the earliest inception of the concept of chivalry was rooted in Germanic lore, this fundamental form of chivalry was largely a militaristic code; the ideals of courtly love and romantic valor that rounded out the chivalric code with which many are familiar “entered the German-speaking world from its neighbor to the West (i.e.- France)” (Tobin, p.x, 1982). Tobin goes on to describe the works of Hartman Von Aue as being among the most significant examples of German-language literature where the modern conception of chivalry is concerned; moreover, writes Tobin, Hartman Von Aue made notable contributions to Arthurian legend, incorporating the influence of authors such as Chretien de Troyes and adapting it to extant German-language historical and literal traditions (Tobon, p.x, 1982). In his essay Bullish on Love and Adventure, author Will Hasty builds on and amplifies many of the same ideas put forth by Tobin, and offers a rich and detailed analysis of Hartman Von Aue’s work and its position in the pantheon of Arthurian legends.

Will Hasty’s “Bullish on Love and Adventure”

Hasty begins his essay by recounting the penultimate moments of Hartman von Aue’s poem “Erec.” The protagonist Erec, accompanied by his beloved wife Enrite, is about to embark on “his last and greatest challenge” (Hasty, 2010). As Hasty (2010) describes it, Erec’s “overly strong amorous and erotic attachment” to his wife Enrite caused him to “neglect (his) chivalric action.” In Erec’s final challenge, he must face the knight Mabonagrin; this knight has, in his own way, also neglected his chivalric duties because of his devotion to the woman he loves. Both knights, writes Hasty, suffer from “an excess off amorous desire (Hasty, 2010) which is costly both to their personal honor and to the society which has been deprived of their knightly services. Erec’s “chivalric companion Guivreiz” (Hasty, 2010) attempts to dissuade Erec from entering into combat with Mabonagrin, but Erec is driven by “the ideal game in which with one throw I can wager a little to win a lot” (from Hartman Von Aue’s Erec; translated by Hasty, 2010). This sense of adventure and the possible payoff that awaits Erec if he prevails is described by Hasty (2010) as “speculation,” and it is this essential sense of speculation which Hasty posits is at the core of the chivalric code.

Hasty continues by describing the ensuing sections of Erec, noting that the following thirty-seven verses are, essentially, an extended elaboration on the part of Erec in which he describes the nature of his quest as one that holds a potential windfall if he succeeds. This windfall is not one that is measured on fiduciary terms, but is rather a potential payoff that is spiritual and honorable in nature. As Hasty describes it, Erec’s intention to storm the castle Brandigan is a “once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunity” (Hasty, 2010) with Erec’s efforts to battle and defeat Mabonagrin functioning as his investment “capital” (Hasty, 2010). It is, according to Hasty, “chivalric status, or honor, that is the real ‘currency’ in question” (Hasty, 2010), and Erec can only hope to attain this currency if he is willing to speculate that he may prevail.

Erec is “overjoyed” (Hasty, 2010) at the prospect of wagering his relatively meager fortune –as measured in terms of the valor and honor he has earned through acts of chivalry- on the prospect of defeating Mabonagrin. According to the tale told by Hartman Von Aue, Mabonagrin has amassed a greater amount of publicly-acknowledged chivalric honor and valor, and the opportunity presented to Erec in terms of challenging and defeating Mabonagrin is one that would mean Erec would, in essence, collect Mabonagrin’s chivalric “currency” as if it were the winnings of a gambler who has successfully wagered against another gambler. By entering into combat with each other, both knights are engaging I the sort of speculation described by Hasty, with the winner of the confrontation gaining the other’s honor and valor as if it were, in fact, a commodity that could be bought, sold, tradred, or lost.

While Hasty focuses primarily in the works of Hartman Von Aue in general, and Erec in particular, he uses these examples of Germanic Arthurian and chivalric lore to make a larger point; as he sees it, this form of speculation that he infers from Erec and the other texts is not the exclusive province of Hartman Von Aue’s storytelling, nor of Germanic Arthurian lore. It is, rather, the subtextual underpinning of all manner of Arthurian legend and lore, providing the basic conceptual framework for the very concept of chivalry itself. Hasty explains that tis same speculative nature is found not only in tales of knightly combat, but in tales of courtly love as well. Such stories are “basically speculative” and “largely open-ended” (Hasty, 2010); while those familiar with the normative structure of chivalric tales or Arthurian legend may be comfortable in their assurance that the heroes of the story will emerge victorious in the end, such assurances that are afforded to the reader are not meant to imply that the protagonists operate within the context of the stories under the influence of similar assurances.

In the internal universe in which these legends take place, it is the speculative nature of the chivalric code, posits Hasty, which drives nearly every action undertaken by the central characters. Whether the hero is on a quest to defeat a terrible foe or perform some valorous feat to win the courtly affection of a beloved lady, the hero never operates under a sense of assured success. Quite the opposite is true, actually; the possibility –or even the probability- of defeat looms large in nearly every such tale. This does not mean that the heroes of chivalric lore lack a sense of confidence or self-worth; most are, in fact, driven by the belief that God is on their side (or at least that they are on the side of God) and are further buoyed by a sense that their quest, whatever it happens to be, is one that is inherently valorous in nature. Despite such self-assurances and confidence, however, it is the very risks and potential for failure that make such quests worth undertaking; without risk, there can be no reward.

It is possible, argues Hasty, for a speculative figure in a chivalric tale to “invest” too much “capital” (2010) in one area to the detriment of another. To bolster this position, Hasty refers back to the opening section of his essay, wherein he describes how both Erec and Mabonagrin invested too heavily in their amorous and romantic attractions to the ladies they each loved; such heavy investment in this area cost each of the knights greatly in terms of their other chivalric duties. By shirking some aspects of their chivalric duties as they concentrated their energies on the women they loved, they each missed opportunities to prove themselves valorous in combat or other means of proving –or, ore to the point, earning- chivalric honor. Erec is clearly aware of this shortcoming on his part, and sees the challenge of fighting Mabonagrin as an opportunity to balance the scales and prove his bravery in battle as he has already proven his capacity for chivalric, courtly love.

Hasty’s assertions about the nature of chivalry as an inherently speculative concept are rooted not just in the specific actions of the hero Erec (or of any other particular character of chivalric lore) but are also placed in the larger context of the cultural and social frameworks of this body of literature and legend. As Hasty describes it, chivalry is a speculative concept because the entire framework in which it operates is built on a shared set of precepts. From the text:

Another important aspect of chivalric speculation is that it is connected to values (particularly honor) that have largely to do with shared perceptions. The value of something like honor, much as the value of goods and services, consists of a complex relationship between intrinsic worth and perceptions.- Hasty, 2010

Simply put, all of the actors within the context of chivalric lore operate with a shared understanding of the speculative nature of chivalry. Hasty likens this, in essence, to an economic marketplace system wherein speculators and investors pool their resources, as well as their shared acknowledgement of the value, or potential value, of their investments. Just as investors recognize the value of an investment made by another, the actors within the chivalric framework recognize the value of the investment made by the chivalric hero. Erec operates as he does because he hopes to earn the respect associated with honor and valor within the framework of the chivalric code. This potential payoff only has value to Erec because everyone operating within the framework of the story or stories shares the same understanding of such value. In other words, Erec’s possible earnings are only valuable because everyone within the context of the chivalric universe agrees on their value.

Hasty is quick to note that some legends related to chivalry, Arthurian legend, and similar sets of stories are based on preordained outcomes. In such stories, the hero or heroes set out on a quest which God has ordained to be successful; the outcome for the heroes is assured. There are aspects to the story of Erec  that Hasty believes show some measure of predetermination or preordination, such as an instance wherein Erec appears to be mortally wounded. Erec’s wife Enrite becomes “enraged” (Hasty, 2010) with God for letting Erec die, and is about to turn Erec’s sword on herself when she is interrupted by a passing knight who dissuades her from committing suicide just long enough for her to witness Erec’s seemingly-miraculous recovery. According to Hasty, this passage shows that God does intervene in the lives and struggles of the characters, but Hasty also uses this passage to mark a contrast between the types of events wherein God intervenes and those wherein the outcomes of events are determined entirely by the actions (or inactions) of the characters (Hasty, 2010). By noting such a contrast, and drawing attention to instances where God does intervene,  Hasty reinforces the significance of those instances where God does not intervene, and asserts that it is those times where God remains uninvolved that exemplify the chivalric code in action.

Hasty goes on to assert that while “there are clearly some signs of a providential plan in Hartmann’s Erec” (Hasty, 2010), such signs are also notable for their lack of frequency. I the context of this body of literature, claims the author, a concerted effort was made to “graft a holy purpose onto military endeavors” (Hasty, 2010), but such efforts were not made by Hartmaan Von Aue to the exclusion of the secular motivations of Erec. This does not mean that Erec acted in ways that denied or even disrespected the divine impulses and motivations inherent in the context of chivalric lore, but for the most part his concerns were based on the goals of attaining more earthly rewards. This also highlights the complicated nature of the literature related to chivalry and Arthurian legend, as it offered acknowledgements both to the overarching power of God while also emphasizing the value of secular pursuits. As Hasty points out, this move towards some measure of secularism was notable because earlier literature had been based almost entirely on religious and theological constructs.

Hasty concludes his essay be restating his overarching themes about the nature of chivalry as speculation. At the core of these stories is the possibility of failure, which is what makes them both historically significant as well as compelling from a story-telling perspective. The fact that the outcome of the hero’s quest is not preordained is what gives value to the quest within the context of the story, and is also what gives the story value to the reader. The hero of chivalric lore is a hero precisely because he is willing to speculate on the possibility of failure and the potential for reward; by succeeding in his quest he reaps the rewards associated with valor and honor and also receives the respect and admiration of those for whom the story was written.

Analysis

Hasty’s essay about the nature of chivalry as an inherently speculative concept is valuable for the insight it affords readers seeking to understand what makes chivalric lore both artistically compelling and historically significant. Speaking from a purely literal perspective, the stories Hartman Von Aue tells about the hero Erec are compelling not just because Erec faces many challenges, but because these challenges are, within the context of the story’s universe, inherently risky. The outcome for Erec is never assured, and the possibility that he will fail in any particular endeavor is always present. From an historical standpoint, Erec’s stories, and the entirety of chivalric lore, are notable for the manner in which they bring together a confluence of themes, from romantic and courtly love to knightly militarism to divine inspiration and authority. What Hasty’s essay offers readers is a lens through which chivalric lore can be viewed to gain a sense of what motivated the characters, underpinned the actions, and ultimately gave the stories value.

The study of chivalric lore demonstrates that there were a complex set of social, cultural, and religious themes that intersected to influence and guide the pursuits of the characters. As has been noted by innumerable scholars and historians, such lore represents an artistic evolution of sorts, as chivalric legends encompass such a wide array of themes. For centuries, nearly all expressions of artistry had been defined and contained by the Church and religion; although chivalric tales did not abandon the notion of divinity as a driving force for the actions of characters or the circumstances in which they operated, it did allow for other, more secular impulses and motivations to play important roles.

Where Hasty contributes to the larger body of historical works that offer a means of understanding of chivalric lore is in the way he personalizes the motivations of the central character of Erec. While it is helpful to view Erec’s story, or any component of Arthurian legend, in a broad context, Hasty illuminates the motivations and drives of the main character not in the broad sense, but within the context of the universe in which the stories take place. While Hasrt recognizes and acknowledged the overarching context in which Arthurian legends developed, his essay helps readers put themselves into the story, and to understand not only what Erec was doing, but why he was doing it. By personalizing the story of Erec in this manner, Hasty helps to breathe life into the character, and to allow readers to see Erec –and, by extension, any character of Arthurian legend- not just as a distant character of historical literature, but as a figure that is drive by real human motives and desires. In so doing, Hasty contributes to the greater study of Arthurian legends by allowing readers to see themselves in the context of the story, and to understand both the historical context in which the characters function and the real, human motives that underpin this important body of literature.

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