The allure of wanting to read a romantic novel with the theme of courtly love is appealing to many readers and exists even in today’s modern times as a popular genre. Was it truly a practice of some of the ladies and knights in the courts during the middle ages? or just a parody of it’s writers and their imagination. Whether or not Courtly love was a real practice or just a fantasy during the middle ages, is commonly debated among scholars for the past century.
The debate centres on whether it was a common practice of its time, or was it actually just the fantasy of riters of that period with relations between the text and reality of their day, a way to romanticize a darker, less understood time. In order to better understand some of the scholarly debates of the literary concept of ‘courtly love’ in the middle age, we must first understand that the debate begins with the origins of the word. Courtly love is believed by some to have started from Aquitaine in France in the twelfth century and spread to other European countries.
During this era, many marriages were arranged by consenting parents for their, uninvolved in the process, children. A practice still found in some cultures around the globe. Marriage was a financial arrangement between two fathers who saw their children as possessions and means to improve their estate no matter how meager. Family’s would benefit from these types of mariages, with the gain of social status, financial security and political arrangements all of which depended on their socioeconomic status before their children became liquid assets. As you can imagine, many of these marriages were not based on love.
A typical scenario of courtly love in most romantic literature, would be when a woman in ourt, is married to a man she does not love. While her husband may be away fighting in a crusade or some other far from home task, she would be left with a noble knight to watch over and protect her. The knights maybe setting out on adventures and were performing various services for ladies because of their “courtly love”. The term courtly love, was first familiarized and made popular through the work of the late nineteenth century French philologist Gaston Paris. The term and Paris’s definition were soon widely accepted and adopted.
In an article by John C. Moore called “Courtly Love”: A problem of terminology”, he mentions a list of the four distinctive traits of courtly love that Paris writes and that appears in most literary writings on the subject of Courtly love. He writes that “1) It is illegitimate and furtive; 2) The lover is inferior and insecure; the beloved is elevated, haughty, even disdainful; 3) The lover must earn the lady’s affection by undergoing many tests of his prowess, valor, and devotion; 4) The love is an art and a science, subject to many rules and regulations-like courtesy in general”. ( Moore.
John) An example of these distinctive traits can be found in the story of Lancelot and Guinevere, where Guinevere is married to King Arthur and she has an affair with her husband’s chief knight, Lancelot. Many critics debate the question on whether courtly love was a reality of its times. In an essay written by D. W. Robertson, JR, he suggest that the middle ages were quite simple and adds that, ” Our evidence concerning medieval people as it appears in court records, historical narratives, and other sources reveals them as being severely practical within the limits of their knowledge, and not at ll sentimental.
But what modern scholars have described as “courtly love,” a thing, I might add, that medieval scholars refrain from describing, is not only impractical but downright inconvenient. ” (Robertson. D. W) He talks about how impractical and inconvenient it would be for people during that era to be running around eliciting these types of romantic relationships. Many people in the medieval time would be very busy with trying to be apart of the community with work and responsibilities, that is sounds like an imaginary, and frankly, wishful thinking.
He also adds that, “Although medieval love oetry displays what is to us a certain lack of appreciation for the richness of the human personality, its variety is sufficiently great so that the label “courtly love” is hardly adequate to describe it. Indeed, there are times when the use of this label simply turns the poems upside-down, so that we have little chance of understanding them at all. ” (Robertson. D. W). He then goes on to share two examples of poetry from that time and explains the belief that their only hope of finding love is through God.
A much more religious take to the nature of love. As people believed very strongly in their religion, they would most ikely be living a virtuous lifestyle as opposed to the courtly love lifestyle of essentially adultery in the eyes of God. If the practice of courtly love is consider not the reality according to some scholarly debates, then we should in turn also ask historians the question of whether or not the introductions of the concept of courtly love inspired and reflected society?
In an online article from A Guide to the Study of Literature , a portion mentions the fact that literature does have an effect on the society norms as a whole. Its says, “Life sometimes has a way of mitating art, and there is little doubt that the aristocratic men and women of the Middle Ages began to act out in their own loves the pattern of courtly behavior they read about in the fictional romances and love lyrics of the period. The social effect was to accord women preeminence in the great, central, human activity of courtship and marriage.
Thus women became more than just beloved objects–haughty, demanding, mysterious; they became, in a very real sense, what they have remained ever since, the chief arbiters of the game of love and the impresarios of refined passion” (Medieval views on love). This ells us that perhaps the discovery of courtly love in the fine arts of literature, opened a way for people to mimic what they were reading. A new age of romance that was separate from the church was preaching.
The norm of marrying to please your family would slowly throughout the century turn into marrying for love. The controversy on whether courtly love was purely literary or was actually practiced in real life will remains a debate for scholars. Under the explanation of courtly love in the online search page of Wikipedia, it brings up the concluding fact that one was proceeded by the other and that evidence shows s that is does become a reality after all. “There are no historical records that offer evidence of its presence in reality.
Historian John Benton found no documentary evidence in law codes, court cases, chronicles or other historical documents.  However, the existence of the non-fiction genre of courtesy books is perhaps evidence for its practice” (wikipedia; courtly love) This tell us the practice of courtly love was perhaps a process of the ideologies of its time, that with the revelation of this type of non-fictional literature, it began to open up the popular idea of this conception of love.