The element of chivalry overshadows everything else in Alexandre Dumas’s historical romance, The Three Musketeers. The work was set against the background of King Louis VIII’s France. It was a time of intrigue, treachery and machinations in high places, an atmosphere in which you could hardly distinguish friend from foe. It was at this juncture that D’Artagnan, the principal character arrives in Paris.
When he sets out to seek his fortune in the famed city, as any young man did in those times and still does to some extent, he was armed with only the three things that were given to him by his aging father:
They were, a horse as aging as his progenitor, fifteen crowns and a letter of introduction to Monsieur de Treville, captain of the musketeers, the personal guards of the French king. And there follows a story so packed with events that it leaves the readers spellbound.
To many, the idea of chivalry seem frivolous, naïve and very much in vain. It is like taking romanticism to an illogical conclusion. You have only got to read Don Quixote to remind yourself of this fact. But one comes to the conclusion that there is a flip side to it after all, after reading the swashbuckling heroics of the protagonist and his bosom pals.
Although some of their exploits seem somewhat comic and incredulous, the way they were committed endears them to our hearts with the sheer buoyancy, exuberance and spontaneity of those acts. It takes one right back to childhood, when one indulged in the fantasies peculiar to the period, thereby filling us with nostalgia and even déjà vu.
Here, the protagonist also “Seeks great stature of character by holding to the virtues and duties of a knight, realizing that though the ideals cannot be reached, the quality of striving towards them ennobles the spirit, growing the character from dust towards the heavens.
Nobility also has the tendency to influence others, offering a compelling example of what can be done in the service of rightness.” (Price, Brian R. 1997).
So the aforementioned negative qualities of chivalry do not in any way detract from the story in the least as we find the protagonist move forward in his onward momentum, in the most chivalrous manner, “packed with events and exciting dramatic encounters.” (Dumas, Alexandre).
For this, indeed, is a story packed with events with the spirit of chivalry leading it ever forward. And watching D’Artagnan move from adventure to mayhem, one is filled with an overwhelming sense of admiration for the perpetrator of all those hair-raising episodes.
And before long one is convinced of the fact that the idea of chivalry is not so frivolous and foolish after all, as seemed at first. Although at times it sounds childishly romantic, it has its high points of idealism, even if it is romantic in nature and so not everybody’s cup of tea.
For D’Artagnan does follow the kind of chivalry in its original connotations. At every step, he is ‘guided by the ideals of chivalry, a moral code that has its origins in medieval knighthood.’ (Dumas, Alexandre).
And we sit glued to our seats as if are watching an action packed movie. He exhibits almost all the qualities considered necessary by a typical chivalrous person. First and foremost he is guided by the quality of prowess.
In every action ‘he seeks excellence in all endeavors he goes through, martial or otherwise. Like a true knight he does not use his strength for personal glory but uses to serve the cause of justice.’ (Price, Brian R. 1997).
He is also fiercely loyal to the cause and the people whom he seeks to serve. In the novel, he is loyal to his friends, his country and his amour Madame Bonacieux. And like a true knight he fights the forces of evil with all his strength. Thus he battles the villain Cardinal Richelieu and his guards. Yet he has the time to answer the calls of love from the beautiful and enigmatic Madame Bonacieux.
His cronies were Athos, Porthos and Aramis. They were with him in all his adventures and escapades throughout the narrative. Strangely enough, they became friends by fighting duels with D’Artagnan on the one hand and the others one after another, on the other.
These encounters came to an end when they were confronted by the arch villain Cardinal Richelieu’s guards who, at that juncture and then onwards, became their common enemy. And their common exploits under the leadership of D’Artagnan also became tinted with the codes of chivalry then prevalent throughout the length and breadth of Europe.
Another chivalric code of conduct is to fight for justice ‘unencumbered by bias or personal interest.’ ((Price, Brian R. 1997). Accordingly, the four friends wielded the sword in cause of justice while at the same time practicing the fine qualities of mercy and humanity. They fought against the evil Cardinal whose machinations had filled the French court with intrigue, treachery and violence.
The chivalric code of defense, demands that D’Artagnan and company also should defend their liege lord, in this case the king of France. But here there is a deviation and object the D’Artagnan’s fealty falls on the queen instead of the king by a quirk of circumstance. ‘The Musketeers join forces to protect the honor of the Queen, to help her conceal her affair with Buckingham, and to help her to arrange meetings with him.
This may seem like a relatively trivial matter to most modern readers when compared to the urgencies of the political situation of the time, but according to the code of chivalry and honor that the Musketeers believe in, fostering true love is of the highest importance.’
In this work the hero achieves his goals through pride honor and determination. A true gallant always defends his honor whatever be the cost of doing so. For this he is ready to die if necessary.
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