chapter  7
10 Pages

THE SECOND DEFEAT OF CHIVALRY

The renaissance of chivalric romanticism, with the new blaze of enthusiasm for the heroic life and the new vogue of the novels of chivalry, a phenomenon which first appears in Italy and Flanders towards the end of the fifteenth century and which reaches its climax in France and Spain in the next century, is essentially a symptom of the incipient predominance of authoritarian forms of government, of the degeneration of middle-class democracy and the gradual assimilation of Western culture to the standards of the courts. Chivalrous ideals and conceptions of virtue are the sublimated form in which the new aristocracy, rising from the lower classes, and the princes, tending towards absolutism, disguise their ideology. The Emperor Maximilian is regarded as the ‘last knight’, but he has many successors who still lay claim to this title, and even Ignatius Loyola calls himself the ‘knight of Christ’ and organizes his order according to the principles of the moral code of chivalrythough, at the same time, also in the spirit of the new philosophy of political realism. The ideals of knighthood themselves are no longer capable of supporting the new social structure; their incompatibility with the rationalistic pattern of economic and social reality, their out-of-dateness in the world of ‘windmills’, is all too obvious. After a century of enthusiasm for the knight-errant and of luxuriating in the adventures of the novels of chivalry, chivalry suffers its second defeat. The great poets and dramatists of the century, Shakespeare and Cervantes, are the mouthpiece of their age-they merely proclaim what is everywhere apparent, that chivalry has outlived its day and that its creative force has become a fiction.