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 (including Tales 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 gentlenesse, of nobility. I do not know if this is by design or by coincidence. 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 the Dragon Age games don’t, either.
This post originally ran on Fuck Yeah Aveline.