Courtly Love

Courtly Love
Wanju Yu, David Putvin, Avi Devan
• Term Courtly love was coined by Gaston Paris in
• 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
• total self-sacrifice of wife
Romance motifs:
• adventures
• travels
• battles
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
That not a soul save
themselves shall see it
thenceforth with sight.”
(pg. 200, Gawain with
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
“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
Her buttocks round and wide;
More toothsome, to his taste,
Was the beauty by her side.
(pg. 182)
Modern Love vs. Courtly Love
• Guy pursues girl
• Guy impresses girls
• Looks are emphasized
• Girls are weaker; that
they need a man/
rescued (ex: Disney
• Romanticized idea of
“love at first sight”
(common among
movies and stories)
Modern Love vs. Courtly Love
• 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
– 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
But threats never throve among those of my
Nor any gift not freely given, good though it
I am yours to command, to kiss when you
You may lay on as you like, and leave off at
(pg. 193, Gawain to lady)
Criticism/Fantasy Elements
• 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
Criticism/Fantasy Elements
• 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.
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.
“The Wife.” Utah Valley University. 10 Oct 2008.
Thompson, Diane. “World Literature I: Courtly Love Study
Guide.” Nova. 10 Apr 2007. 10 Oct 2008.
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