Monday, June 05, 2006

Module 3: Reading Assignment 2

Courtly Love and Marie de France

By definition, courtly love was a set of values, ideals, and attitudes during the Middle Ages based upon the forbidden relationships between ladies of nobility and knights ("Courtly Love"). Courtly love literature was written for a female audience, particularly noble women. Because the largely feminine audience, female characters became more important and played larger roles in the stories. The knight continues to have a vital role like they did during the Old English period. But the knight's motivation has changed. Instead of being motivated out of kinship and allegiance to their lord, the knights are now motivated by their love for a lady (Schwartz).

The idea of courtly love did not occur between married couples. Noble marriages were arranged to increase wealth or secure the future of a family. Marriages resembled business transactions instead of the celebration of relationships as we see them today. Love sometimes grew from these unions. But passion and all encompassing love was found outside the marriage ties (Schwartz and Simpson).

The ideals of courtly love impacted society in another way. The guidelines of courtly love kept young, unmarried men in line and from becoming a menace to society. By devoting their lives to serving and protecting another, young men lived a life of purpose (Schwartz).

Marie de France wrote according to the ideals of courtly love as seen in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. She explains her purpose for writing these tales in the Prologue. In the Prologue, she implores her readers to write if they have the ability. She also believes that people should make up their own minds about what they read instead of letting someone tell them what they should believe. She wanted to compose stories into French so that they could be accessible to a larger audience. With oral tradition, stories can be lost. She did not want this to happen so she vowed to write the stories down. Marie de France worked in honor of the kind. She pays homage to him in the Prologue by dedicating her works to his honor (de France, 181-184).

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is the perfect example of courtly love. Sir Gawain leaves Camelot to fulfill a promise he made the Green Knight the year before. Sir Gawain stays at a castle where the lord warmly welcomes him. The lady of the house pursues Sir Gawain but he does not yield to her advances and his own desire out of respect for the lord. A couple of stolen kisses occur between the forbidden pair but nothing more. The lady is difficult for Sir Gawain to resist but he persists and only accepts a brilliant, green girdle from her, which Sir Gawain hides from the lord. This gift comes back to haunt him. Inevitably in courtly love tales, some sort of catastrophe ensues. Sir Gawain’s catastrophe gets resolved but not without shame and guilt on his part (de France, 200-258).

“Courtly Love.” 2006. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 2 June 2006

de France, Marie. “Lais: Prologue.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed. David Damrosch and Kevin J.H. Dettmar. 3rd Edition. New York: Pearson Longman, 2006. 181-184.

de France, Marie. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed. David Damrosch and Kevin J.H. Dettmar. 3rd Edition. New York: Pearson Longman, 2006. 200-258.

Schwartz, Debora B. “Backgrounds to Romance: Courtly Love.” 2001. California Polytechnic
State University. 2 June 2006

Simpson, David L. “Courtly Love.” 1998. DePaul University. 2 June 2006


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