"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, September 16, 2022

The Sad Demise Of The Arthurian Legend–Knights, Chivalry, And Fair Maidens

It is almost impossible to imagine an Arthurian world.  There is no room today for knights and their coy young mistresses, for winning a lady’s hand, for passion in elegant dress.  Love was a balletic pas de deux, every step choreographed, formal, and anticipated.  Courtship was not simply a prelude, but its own unique drama.  Men wanted women but found them inaccessible, but without this reserve, there would be no time for reflection on their beauty and their sublimity.  The Age of Chivalry adored women, found their charms irresistible, and placed them on a pedestal.  The raw sexuality of D.H. Lawrence was many centuries to come, and Medieval love was happy in its romantic excess, its demurral, its delicate balance of impossibly male knights in shining armor and their demure, equally impossibly feminine maidens.

Image result for image chivalric knights medieval paintings

The poetry of Petrarch, considered the first to write of chivalric, romantic love, expresses these sentiments. 

Doth any maiden seek the glorious fame
Of chastity, of strength, of courtesy?
Gaze in the eyes of that sweet enemy
Whom all the world doth as my lady name!
How honour grows, and pure devotion's flame,
How truth is joined with graceful dignity,
There thou may'st learn, and what the path may be
To that high heaven which doth her spirit claim;
There learn soft speech, beyond all poet's skill,
And softer silence, and those holy ways
Unutterable, untold by human heart.
But the infinite beauty that all eyes doth fill,
This none can copy! since its lovely rays
Are given by God's pure grace, and not by art.

(Qual Donna Attende A Gloriosa Fama)

What woman could possibly persist in chastity, says the poet, desirous of his love, Laura? Yet the ineffability of feminine reserve, the complexity of sexual feeling tempered by restraint and courtly laws, is all the more alluring.

Andrew Marvel, many years later, wrote of the same courtly sentiment in his poem, To His Coy Mistress

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love’s day..

I would  love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast;
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart…

While chivalry may have been well gone and forgotten, female sexual reserve combined with an alluring coquettishness was never dismissed.  There was still many centuries later, an appreciation of women’s privileged position of remove and censorious judgment.  One does not have to read through many volumes of literature to find examples of men’s frustrated pursuit of women.  A woman’s ‘no’ was part of her allure, ‘playing hard to get’ was part of an elaborate pas de deux, a mating dance of sexual demurral, passion, and conquest. A woman’s currency was her honor and her chastity. Her marriage might be arranged and her final worth a matter of dowry, family name, and ancestry; but the ballet was still her way of testing the interest and resolve of her suitors, exciting them with her demure sexuality, and promising much more.

Shakespeare understood the drama, counterpoint, and even elegance of a romantic affair.  As in all his plays he created strong women who, although living in world of male dominance, learned how to navigate well within it.  He knew that sexual dynamics were permanent.  No social strictures or artificial constraints could neuter them; and the resulting theatre of sexual advances and responses was what interested him.

Image result for Images Rosalind as You Like It. Size: 206 x 206. Source: www.pinterest.fr

Not surprisingly Petrarch, Marvell, and the Age of Chivalry are roundly criticized as retrograde, misogynistic, and hopelessly foolish, disregarding women’s true worth, their equality, and their independence.  The Age of Chivalry was no more than a patriarchal parlor game, a faux romantic creation by men in power who treated women like chattels but who chose to dress them up in finery to amuse themselves.  Chivalry was opera while the real sexuality was one of male predation, dominance, and complete authority. 

Today’s feminists go even further – the supposedly liberating sexual expressions of D.H. Lawrence and Lady Chatterley are nothing of the sort.  While Connie Chatterley does indeed break with tradition to explore her own sexuality with a man of lower class, she returns quickly to her roots.  She has enjoyed being ‘used’ – Lawrence was unequivocal about the notion that while sexuality is indeed always about dominance and submission, it is never one sided; and sexual epiphany can only come with equilibrium – but even such liberation cannot hide the patriarchy of the society to which she is faithful.

Image result for images lady chatterley

Men will always be oppressors, feminists say, and women always victims.  There is no room in sexual behavior for either chivalric love or sexual epiphany, both derived from dynamic, conflicting sexual energy.  Sex between men and women can at best be only a compromise, a No Means No exercise in feminine control.

The drama, the opera, the marvelous orchestration of romantic love has no place in modern society.  It, like its chivalric antecedent is merely another tool of male deceit and sexual predation.

At the same time as feminists are expunging the last traces of retrograde chauvinism from today’s sexual ethos, turning sexual relations into a contractual affair with codicils and caveats guaranteeing female legal supremacy, algorithmic love is gaining traction.  If romantic love, courting, dating, foreplay are nothing but male constructs at worst, and a fanciful waste of time at best, then choosing a mate via big data is a sensible option. Let the computer make the best matches, provide an objective record for its decisions, and free the couple from the unnecessary fol-de-rol and silly posturing of dating.

It is the best of all possible post-modern worlds – one without sexual conflict or tension, a righting of the gender ship to give women equal say and equal influence, a software-generated pre-marital experience that takes the guesswork out of sexual choice, and a neutral playing field.  In other words without coyness, pursuit, or romance – a grey, flat, boring affair.  It is no wonder that women’s dime-store romantic novels are always best sellers.  Romantic fiction is always at the top of publishing categories because women want romance, male pursuit, intrigue, and a bit of chivalric glamour.

Sexual indifference – the only possible term for a sexual landscape devoid of any glimpse of Shakespeare, Petrarch, or Puccini – may be the ethos of the day, but it will not stand.  The feminist firewalls between men and women will come down, sexual pursuit in the name of Darwin and Marvell will return, the incontrovertible essential sexual natures of male and female will be restored to prominence, and life will be a much happier place.

Image result for images madame butterfly opera

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