April 20, 2011

{End of the Myth} Part Four: "The Beginning of Chivalry"

[excerpt from the upcoming book - The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: How Princess Diana Exposed the 'Princess Myth' for All Women]

Author and mythologist Joseph Campbell explained that the troubadours were considered pioneers of love. At first, the troubadours were the nobility of Provence; then as the movement spread, nobles from other areas of Europe joined in. These minstrels and poets “weren’t just telling mindless tales of romance and dalliance,” Scott Farrell, founder of the Chivalry Today Educational Program, explained. “They were spreading a radical, almost subversive concept: That men and women could pursue their own destinies, fall in love and relate to one another as equals under a groundbreaking concept known as ‘courtly love’.”

We are more familiar with this “revolution” through the retelling of stories and dramatizations of the lives of King Arthur and Queen Genevieve and the chivalrous court they created in Britain. One of the troubadours who joined them was Lancelot du Lac, creating the infamous “love triangle.”

The legendary Code of Chivalry—calling for the practice of temperance, courage, love, loyalty and courtesy—“helped break down the repressive gender roles that existed at the time,” a brutal time with no central law, yet women were not on the sidelines, nor were they helpless. The practice of chivalry gave women power and influence. “In the days of knights in shining armor, women weren’t put on pedestals to be admired from afar,” Farrell wrote. “Instead, women of medieval society were expected to play an active, intellectual role in the culture of chivalry that transformed the violent warriors of the Gothic tribes into the noble gentlemen of the High Middle Ages.”

How did these heroic, spiritual quests and times of empowered and beloved women of the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries become the skewed idealized “damsel in distress” fairy tales that have been handed down to us today? “This perception,” reported Farrell, “is largely due to the attitudes of the neo-Gothic revival of the 19th century.” Authors and painters “melded the stories and images of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table with a Victorian sense of gallantry, which delineated a passive role for women. But this role would have been quite alien to the audiences of the Middle Ages….”

Embedded in worldwide cultural attitudes, this inaccurate interpretation created popular fairy tales and an entertainment industry of  “once upon a time” novels, songs and cinema. Diana Spencer was certainly not the first little girl to become tangled in the superficial, sentimentalized versions of these poetic renderings. And since then, girls and boys grew up in societies that believed the female’s worth was “less than” and therefore she could not help herself and had to be “rescued.” ~

[Other excerpts from the "End of the Myth" chapter of The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride upcoming book can be found by clicking on End of the Myth in the Labels list.]

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