Chivalry and Courtly Love

Exploring the Arthurian codes of chivalry and courtly love as portrayed in art, modern films, books, and poetry


Key Staff

Primary Instructor

Key Skills

Developing Arts Literacies: Understanding Genres, Analyzing and Evaluating - Critique


In this lesson, students will explore the Arthurian codes of chivalry and courtly love as portrayed in art, modern films, books, and poetry. They will examine the way in which these ideals have influenced our modern concepts of love, friendship, and honorable behavior. The lesson will culminate in a group-based theatrical project, in which students synthesize their knowledge and understanding of these ideals of chivalry, honor, and courtly love, to write a script, create scenery, and act out a short thematic play.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Learn about the legend of King Arthur as an ever-evolving myth, depicted through the centuries in a variety of media and interpretations
  • Discuss the nature of myth; distinguish between and compare the stories of real people and myths that grew from those stories
  • Study the central themes of Arthurian legend through a modern lens
  • Examine whether the ideas of chivalry, honor, and courtly love have been internalized into contemporary art and culture
  • Discuss whether these ideas are relevant to today and to what extent they apply to modern life
  • Write and perform a short play incorporating these ideas

Teaching Approach

  • Arts Integration
  • Thematic

Teaching Methods

  • Discovery Learning
  • Discussion
  • Experiential Learning
  • Reflection
  • Research

Assessment Type



What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Small Group
  • DVD Player
  • Projector
Technology Notes

Internet access is needed.

Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Note to teacher: Before class, pre-screen video or DVD versions of King Arthur (2004; PG-13) and Camelot (1967; G). You may be able to find these movies at the library, your local video/DVD store, at some of the larger electronics store chains, or online. Look for one or two scenes in King Arthur and Camelot that show contrasting treatments of overall themes. For example, themes in one movie may adhere to a historic accounting, while the other movie may treat the same material in a romantic or sentimental fashion.

Prior Student Knowledge

Students may be familiar with the story of King Arthur, but this is not necessary.

Physical Space



Small Group Instruction

Accessibility Notes

Students with visual impairments or disabilities may need modified handouts or texts.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge


1. Before students enter the class, write the words honor, chivalry, and courtly love on the board. When the class arrives, tell them they will be learning about the King Arthur legend, and exploring the ideas of honor, chivalry, and courtly love contained within that story. Ask the class if they know what the words on the board mean. After students volunteer what they know, you may wish to write abbreviated definitions on the board for them to read.

  • Chivalry: very polite and helpful behavior, especially by a man toward a woman; a code of noble and polite behavior that was expected of a medieval knight
  • Courtly Love: an idealized form of love written about in medieval literature, where a knight devotes himself to a noblewoman
  • Honor: code of integrity and dignity (usually among men), in medieval society

2. Engage students in a discussion about how to behave honestly and fairly in friendships. To initiate a group conversation, have students read and answer the questions in the first part of the Movie Discussion worksheet located within the Resource Carousel, then discuss as a class. Explain that King Arthur was a medieval historical figure, whose life became a legend in subsequent centuries. Over time, the legend of King Arthur has come to be known for its tales of chivalry, honor, and courtly love.

3. Show the class the brief pre-selected scenes from the film King Arthur, which focuses on the history and politics of the time. Then, show brief pre-selected scenes from the film Camelot, based on the Broadway musical, which gives a more romantic perspective of the Camelot legend. (Note: If you cannot access either of these movies, refer to Movies About King Arthur info sheet located within the Resource Carousel, which contains two lists of movies: some more sentimental, some more realistic. Have the students watch at least one film from each list for homework. Tell them to be prepared to discuss the films in class.)

4. Have students look at the first handout again, then read and answer the questions in Part II. Have students discuss their answers as a class.

Build Knowledge

1. Tell students they will be doing a research and writing project that will allow them to consider how the life and deeds of the historic King Arthur evolved into a legend based on honor, chivalry, and courtly love. Reserve computer time at the computer lab and distribute the Who Was King Arthur? research guide, located within the Resource Carousel, to students. This handout provides students with a list of websites. (Note: If computers are not available, the handout also includes excerpts from the sites.) It concludes with questions about what students can infer about King Arthur and the chivalry ideal. Have students read these questions, then complete the following short essay on the back of the paper.

2. Ask students to consider the following: "Are honor, chivalry, and romantic love modern ideals or ancient ones? When did these ideals start to fade?" Explain that there are many versions of codes of honor and chivalry that have been handed down from medieval times. Distribute the Code of Chivalry worksheet located within the Resource Carousel. Students should answer the comprehension questions on the handout. Ask students what they think of these rules of honor. Do any of them seem strange? Which of these rules would still make sense in today's world?

3. Distribute the Codes of Honor and Chivalry worksheet, located within the Resource Carousel, to students. This exercise will encourage them to develop their own ideas about forging and abiding by a code of behavior in life, and to consider what benefits and sacrifices might stem from using such a code.


1. Tell students that they will now examine the Arthurian ideals of "courtly love" from the woman's perspective. Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (a queen of France and then of England) and her daughter, Countess Marie of Champagne strongly influence the popularity of courtly love. Distribute the info sheet, The Rules of Courtly Love located within the Resource Carousel and explain to the class that the book The Art of Courtly Love was written at the request of Countess Marie. It is believed to describe Queen Eleanor's court from the years 1170 to 1174 but was probably written several years after that time.

2. Have students consider and discuss why influential women of that time might have promoted these ideals. When students are finished reading the text on the handout, you may wish to reserve time in the computer lab so they may visit some of the websites listed. Then, using the Rules of Courtly Love info sheet, ask students which rules they agree with and why.

3. Have students think of examples of contemporary TV shows or films that reflect notions of courtly love. In these stories, does unrequited love make people happy or sad? What happens when two friends love the same person? Does it end the friendship?

4. Tell students they will now begin work on their final project for this lesson. Divide the class into groups of four or five students each. Tell the class that each group will have to devise a dramatic scene to act out during the next class. The scene that they write can be based on any part of the versions of the Arthurian tales they have learned, and can use any set of the main characters from the story. It can also be based on something they've read about or seen in one of the movies from the lesson. There are some important rules that must be followed as students create the scene:

  • The Camelot characters must stay true to the way they would behave (i.e., you can't have Arthur be cowardly, have Guinevere and Lancelot dislike each other, etc.)
  • The scene has to have a problem or conflict that makes us think about the ideas of chivalry and courtly love (e.g., Lancelot loving Guinevere, but wanting to be loyal to Arthur)
  • The scene has to show how the characters decide to deal with that conflict

Tell students they should divide the work evenly. Encourage students to brainstorm and storyboard, share their ideas as a group, and write down all their ideas, before they start writing the scene. Remind students that in the final presentation, each person should have at least a small part to read, even if just a narrator.

5. When students have discussed their scene, they should begin the writing process. You may wish to have students type out their scenes and print out copies for the whole group. Walk around the class during the students' writing process to support their work, and answer any questions they might have. If students are having difficulty coming up with ideas, ask them questions such as: What do you think was the most interesting part of the Arthur story? Which of the characters did you like the best? What made you like them? How would you behave if you were in a particular character's position in life?

6. Make sure that each student leaves class with a copy of the script from his or her group's scene. If a computer and/or computer printer is not available, you should make copies before the end of class. Tell students at the end of class that they do not have to memorize their lines, but they should try to become as familiar with them as possible.


1. When students enter the class, tell them they have 10 minutes to look at their scripts and speak to the other people in their group about any last minute questions.

2. Have each group act out their scene. After each scene is finished, invite a discussion with the rest of the class about the scene. Ask students: What issue was explored? Did they agree with how the characters handled their conflicts? Did the characters behave honorably or dishonorably? Would they have behaved similarly or differently toward each character?

3. As a concluding activity, encourage a group discussion about what has been learned in the lesson overall. Students should reflect on whether any of their ideas about honorable behavior have been affected by this lesson. Then, ask each student to briefly write their definitions of the words honor, chivalry, and courtly love.


Use the Assessment Rubric located within the Resource Carousel to assess your student's works.

Show students one or two pre-selected scenes from the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), a hilarious satire of King Arthur (King of the Britons), and his knights, in quest for The Holy Grail.

Discuss with students this satirical view of Arthurian times. Ask them: "Does this film make us consider the ideas we have been studying in a way that the more serious films did not?" Ask students how the ideas of chivalry, honor, and courtly love hold up when seen through the lens of modern times.

Additional class questions:

  • Are there people in the world who still give their allegiance to a king or queen?
  • Do you think modern-day people who live in monarchies still feel the same way about kings and queens as people did in the Middle Ages? Why or why not?
  • Why were people loyal to kings and queens in those days?
  • Do people still honor the marriages of other people as they used to? Why or why not?
  • Do people think about their own set of values today as they did in the past?
  • Is it possible people were honorable and dishonorable in the same proportions as people of today, but we simply have no way to know it?


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The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

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Jen Westmoreland Bouchard

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