Courtly Love By: Wanju Yu, David Putvin, Avi Devan
History • Term Courtly love was coined by Gaston Paris in 1883 • The practice of courtly love developed around 1099 in the regions modern day France. • In the 13th century courtly love was condemned because it conflicted with established norms of church life • Courtly love vanished quickly under the impact of economic and cultural devastation brought by the Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229). But the songs did survive and travel, into the north by the trouveres, east into Germany, south to Italy.
Traditions of Courtly Love Courtly love motifs: • love for a married person • seemingly unattainable • exquisite behavior by all lovers • total self-sacrifice of wife Romance motifs: • adventures • travels • battles (Thompson)
Courtly Love as a Secret • Sometimes Courtly Love was kept as a secret between the lovers, a pact where the man could gain favor in the court of the Lord by providing a service to the lady. “And she repeated her petition and pleaded anew, And he granted it, and gladly she gave him the belt, And besought him for her sake to conceal it well, Lest the noble lord should know – and, the knight agrees That not a soul save themselves shall see it thenceforth with sight.” (pg. 200, Gawain with lady)
Traditions cont. • In feudalism the vassal is the "man" of his sovereign lord; in courtly love, the vassal is the "man" of his sovereign mistress (Delahoyde). Relates to the ideas of worshiping a woman compared to god/cross/church. • Courtly love was based on the idea that a knight would try to better his lifestyle by winning the heart of a noble lady of a higher rank than he. This parallels the concept of the American Dream. • When the husband (King or Lord) was away on a war or crusade, other knights of the region would attempt to court the Lady as she was head of political affairs at this time.
Traditions cont. • In the stories the sexual “conquest” of a woman was not the central goal. While her looks may have been given in detail, and supported her beauty, power and political gain were what the knights would seeks, along with this romanticized idea of “true love”. From Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: “The two eyes and the nose, the naked lips, And they unsightly to see, and sorrily bleared. A beldame, by God, she may well be deemed, of pride! She was short and thick of waist, Her buttocks round and wide; More toothsome, to his taste, Was the beauty by her side. (pg. 182)
Modern Love vs. Courtly Love Similarities: • Guy pursues girl • Guy impresses girls • Looks are emphasized • Girls are weaker; that they need a man/ rescued (ex: Disney Movies) • Romanticized idea of “love at first sight” (common among movies and stories)
Modern Love vs. Courtly Love Differences: • Marry for status, now marry for love; love is more emphasized now • Societal expectations are different now: women can pursue men (ex: pay for dates and such) • Status doesn't matter, more of winning for personal satisfaction (ex: playboy idea)
Transitions of Courtly Love • Shift from Middle Age emphasis of ideal man as a chivalrous knight, showing his prowess on the battlefield, to a more all around gentleman that must also be educated in the classics • Baldassare Castiglione’s Courtier defined the Italian nobility and eventually influenced the rest of Europe.
Transitions cont. • Male Courtier: • Qualities of a courtier include noble birth, profession of arms, stature and skills in arms, horsemanship, and other physical activities. A good “warrior spirit” • Described as having a cool mind, a good voice, proper bearing and gestures. • At the same time, he must have good knowledge of the humanities, classics, and how to draw and paint. Good “cultural accomplishments” • He does these all with a certain tact, a nonchalance or “sprezzatura”, or in other words, he must know when to use his characteristics
Transitions cont. • Female Courtier • Entire grace and stature lies in conjunction with male • Males are somewhat dependent (or expected) to be in pursuit of a worthy female, else he has no chivalry or mirth. • Arguably, women can “shape” men in this regard and choose a pursuer, but in reality its comes down to which male is “better” • Thus we still have an emphasis on impression through status as opposed to our modern day notions of love based on personality.
Criticism/Fantasy Elements • Has been described as a myth or “fantasy” among critics due to lack of real life examples of such occurrences, Courtly Love largely was “documented” in fictional stories.
Quote from Sir Gawain… “ ‘By heaven,’ said he, ‘you have answered well,’ But threats never throve among those of my land, Nor any gift not freely given, good though it be. I am yours to command, to kiss when you please; You may lay on as you like, and leave off at will.’” (pg. 193, Gawain to lady)
Criticism/Fantasy Elements cont. • Seen as anti-feminist – but not 100% true, while women were objectified to some level (placed on a pedestal of sorts for male desire) the man often admitted how powerless he was in situations relating to her and how he could not control himself. In true situations of Courtly Love the woman would be shown in higher positions of power, than say, Beowulf...where they merely are shown as servants of sorts or peace-weavers (Delahoyde).
Criticism/Fantasy Elements cont. Peace-Weavers • The term was used to describe a woman who married someone from an enemy tribe in order to establish peace between her family and his. The marriage was a political arrangement to hopefully end hostility between warring tribes. The term presumably originates in Beowulf, where Queen Wealtheow is described as a "peace-pledge between nations . . ." Not only is the queen married to an enemy of her people, but she and her daughters even take it upon themselves to carry drink between the members of her own tribe and the Geats (“The Wife”). • Another perspective is that it might have happened, in the Southern parts of France, where it was relatively isolated and “freer” from outside rule. And there may have been fewer women in the area, leading to more competition among men to win a “mate.”
Fantasy and Male Dominance While Courtly Love may not have the strongest concrete evidence to prove its historical existence, one could argue that these stories existed as a form of “media” to perpetuate ideas of male dominance, that is to say, he should go out and win the heart of a woman. And in addition, that woman should be accepting of this form of affection. This form of “media” then spread and men took it into their concept that they then had the privilege and right to pursue women, plus that men were thought to be more masculine and powerful then women at the time. Thus, the idea of courtly love could have developed into a fantastical idea of romantic love in which men believed that with winning the heart of women, they could assert their dominance and status as men. And even control surrounding with their newfound power.
Bibliography David, Alfred and James Simpson. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume A: The Middle Ages. Eighth Ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2006. Delahoyde, Michael. “Courtly Love.” Washington State University. 10 Oct 2008. <http://www.wsu.edu/~delahoyd/medieval/love.html>. “The Wife.” Utah Valley University. 10 Oct 2008. <http://research.uvsc.edu/mcdonald/Anglo-Saxon/wife'slament/wifepeacew.html>. Thompson, Diane. “World Literature I: Courtly Love Study Guide.” Nova. 10 Apr 2007. 10 Oct 2008. <http://novaonline.nvcc.edu/eli/eng251/amourstudy.htm>. NORTHROP, DOUGLAS A. "'The Ende Therfore of a Perfect Courtier' in Baldassare Castiglione's The Courtier." Philological Quarterly. 77.3 (Summer 1998): p295. Literature Resources from Gale. Gale. UNIV OF WASHINGTON LIBRARIES. 16 Oct. 2008<http://go.galegroup.com.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/ps/start.do?p=LitRG&u=wash_main>.