How can I compare the medieval heroes depicted in Yvain with the Renaissance courtiers depicted in The Book of the Courtier? In what ways did the heroes embody the values of the Middle Ages and in...
In Chretien de Troyes' Yvain, the author introduces the reader to the concept of chivalric discourse. In these types of stories, we see the characters realize the principles and rules of courtship through both conversation and the completion of knightly deeds. This is an essential feature of twelfth-century romance, in which a certain "code of ethics" was alluded to. This code of ethics was followed by knights and ladies, and its purpose was essentially to help the nobles adhere to certain social norms which were an important step in reconciling their own desires for romance with their responsibilities as highborn nobility.
Above all, these values are what help maintain the balance between the life of a husband and the life of a knight. If one neglects his knightly duties to spend time with his lover, as in the case of the character Sir Erec, then he is failing to adhere to his duties. Likewise, it is bad for a husband at court to spend so much time serving his knightly duties that he neglects to spend time with his lover, as is the case with Yvain. He is rejected by her when he fails to keep a promise, which is one of the most basic tests of maturity and good behavior.
Because of this, Yvain must rediscover himself and win back the favor of his wife. It is significant that he embarks on a quest to complete heroic deeds to win back her favor, as this was a popular trope in romances of this time period, and a requirement of courtly love in medieval times, which required a demonstration of the character of one's heart. Because Yvain proves his bravery and the goodness of his heart, both to himself and to everyone else, this is enough to win back the love and respect of his wife.
In contrast to the lofty adventures of the medieval knights in Yvain, The Book of the Courtiers gives us an image of how the ideal courtier would look, act, and think. The fictional conversations which occur in the book demonstrate a Renaissance courtier that has a calm mind, a voice that is elegant and which speaks courageously, and who uses proper gestures and form when conducting himself. These conversations reveal what nobles considered valuable in a person during the Renaissance time period. For example, although he must be cool and collected, a courtier must also be a great athlete and have the spirit of a great warrior. Not only that, but he must be knowledgeable in the arts and humanities. He must be humorous, well-versed in the ways of women, and able to understand the subtleties of love.
In many ways, heavier expectations were placed upon the Renaissance courtier. In order to be respected in such a cultured world, one must have a deep understanding of both heroic pursuits and academic pursuits. These expectations were not just about cultivating an understanding of one's own upright behavior and physical ability, but an understanding of the potential of one's own mind and creativity. One must have, for example, "a certain nonchalance" and a "careful negligence." In this world, every single action, no matter how small, must be done with precision and purpose. According to the book, the ideal courtier is a person who “conceals art, and presents what is done and said as if it was done without effort and virtually without thought.” (31). In short, one must be a well-rounded individual capable of holding the attention of highly-esteemed nobles at all times.
By holding such high expectations on its members, a court could be ensured of its own greatness. The Renaissance was indeed a time in which the subtle beauties and pleasures of the world were to be engaged in and admired. During the Medieval times, however, it was not so much how something was said, but what was said that mattered. Many clues to the differences between the two time periods are housed in that period's attitude toward language as a tool to measure character. According to the count in The Book of the Courtiers, it is not the language used that matters, but rather the authority, style, and grace with which it is delivered. It was confidence, not content, that the courtiers of the Renaissance prized, but the same is not true for the courtiers of the Medieval times, who tended to prize actions and deeds over words and style.