I am a medievalist; the bulk of my study has been on Geoffrey Chaucer and his works. Chaucer, most well known for The Canterbury Tales, was intrigued by the concept of gentlenesse. At the very least, many of his works (includingTales like The Wife of Bath’s Tale and The Clerk’s Tale) deal with this issue.
Gentlenesse is about the qualities that make one gentle or genteel. What is nobility? Is it something one is born with? Or is it something one can aspire to be? Can a person born in poverty be noble, be gentle? This was an important topic in the Middle Ages as a new middle class emerged. Did wealth make one a noble? Lineage? Actions?
The Dragon Age world is also intrigued by this question of gentleness, of nobility. I do not know if this is by design or by consequence. Surely one member of the writing/creative design studied Chaucer. :)
Alistair is the best example of this conflict, and perhaps one of the most interesting ones. He is a noble because of his birth…yet he doesn’t actually know anything about kingship or politics, he knows very little about even basic leadership. Anora is technically from a lower class, yet she was raised to be part of the court, and has been ably ruling, if only from the sidelines, for years. Which one is more worthy of being called a noble? Which one possesses gentlenesse?
In most games, most narratives really, the emphasis is on the blood, on the “rightful heir” even if that heir is a farm boy or something. But here, that choice isn’t so clear. Alistair taking the throne could lead to stability, and he’s certainly smart enough to (at the very least) surround himself with smart advisors. But there are plenty of valid reasons not to put him on the throne. Either choice is acceptable, or more importantly, understandable.
This question of gentlenesse appears elsewhere. Hawke herself embodies it. Her mother was some kind of noble…does Hawke herself deserve the old estate? She does once she has enough money (though to be fair, she works really hard for that money). Hawke’s actions seem to point to her nobility, not just her birth: she journeys to the Deep Roads, she helps the Viscount, etc.
Orzammer examines the issue of gentlenesse writ large, as we learn about the rigid caste system and see its debilitating effects — and that it leads not to stability but to stagnation. Since this is a societal problem, it is more difficult to grasp (I think), than in the individual cases of Alistair, Hawke, or other characters. The few caste problems are somewhat easily solved, comparatively speaking.
Gentlenesse is still a part of our own society. Consider the issue of “famous for being famous” — why is Paris Hilton a celebrity? Because her family has a lot of money? Surely others are more deserving of fame? Or consider that many politicians come from wealthy families. A poor(er) man or woman may make the most excellent president or senator, but they might not have the capital to support a campaign, and thus never get the chance to run. Does that mean they are less deserving?
Chaucer did not shy away from the difficulties of this question. I love that theDragon Age games don’t, either.
An interesting and thoughtful post. The only Chaucer I read was in my poor little farm-town high school, so we certainly didn’t get into issues like this. I see your point about Anora, but the fact that she’s willing to sell out the Warden, bribe the Warden to achieve her ends, and so on—does that negate the gentlenesse that she’s “earned”?
Oohh, that is an excellent point! She might have, let’s say, career nobility/gentlenesse, but not personal gentlenesse. Is one better than the other? My answer is yes, only in that I always make her queen on my playthroughs, ha.
I think Chaucer would say no. Actually, no, I don’t know what he’d say. I think he’d probably hold men and women to different standards for gentlenesse. In The Clerk’s Tale, Griselda is perfect and good. She comes from absolute poverty, but she acts like nobility. Her husband is a noble, but treats her shamefully. She puts up with his abuse and is eventually “rewarded” with, well, keeping her life. Her husband is never punished at all. The question is about her nobility (she’s poor! How can she act a noble?!) but never his (he’s from noble blood, it doesn’t matter how he acts).
Following Chaucer’s logic, one could draw one of two conclusions: 1. Anora’s actions show she does not have gentlenesse. A true noble would not have sold out the Warden. 2. Anora’s actions show she does have gentlenesse. She is a noble, after all (just not born a princess), and she acted capably/reasonably.
Loghain is another interesting example, since he raised his family up, but then ended it all through treachery. Yet he did what he thought was right. Was he noble? Did he have gentlenesse? I think so, even if he was on the wrong side. Hmm.
That’s why Chaucer wrote so many stories, trying to puzzle this all out. And why the fandom enjoys taking these puzzles apart. I will be thinking about this more tonight.
As a side note, I do love Chaucer and other medieval works. There are many fine modern translations available, both online (http://www.canterburytales.org/canterbury_tales.html is a good place to start) and in book form. I really recommend seeking them out. Oh! Also, Flemeth’s story, as told by Morrigan and Leliana, is very similar to several lais by Marie de France — also excellent medieval tales worth reading.