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You are here: Home Courses Middlebury-CMRS Course List LITS 0160 Courtly Love

LITS 0160 Courtly Love

This course delves into the Medieval European convention of courtly love, or amour courtois, as it was first labelled by Gaston Paris in the nineteenth century. Courtly love describes a literary convention of the feudal devotion and complete submission of a knight to his love, herself idealised as an embodiment of perfection. Courtly love is mostly portrayed between noble lovers and often in secret, rarely between husband and wife! In these narratives, the act of loving devotion itself is portrayed as admirable and ennobling. The dedication, loyalty and acts of self-sacrifice it inspired spoke to knightly ideals of refined human nature, whether or not his Lady returned his professed affection. In its essence, courtly love combines erotic obsession with spiritual aspiration, challenging the view of medieval religious attitudes as devoid of human sexuality. It is in this convention, which has its roots in the troubadour oral poetry of the princely courts of twelfth-century Aquitaine, that we can find traces of present day concepts of romantic chivalry. 

You will cover a wide and diverse group of literature that has been associated with the European courtly love tradition, from the twelfth to fourteenth centuries, with space to extend your study both to Classical and post-medieval texts. The genres and forms in which courtly love found expression, such as lyrics, romances and allegories, will be the backbone of your study. Texts are studied in translation from Latin, Middle English, Old French, Middle High German, and Italian. There is a possibility for discussion of music and sung lyric in this course, such as sixteenth-century setting of Petrarchan poetry as madrigals.

Sample Syllabus:

  • Andreas Capellanus, On Love
  • The Romance of the Rose
  • Geoffrey Chaucer, dream visions:  Book of the Duchess; Parliament of Fowls
  • Giovanni Boccaccio, Il Filostrato (translated approximately as "laid prostrate by love”).
  • Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde
  • Christine de Pizan, The Letter of the God of Love.
  • Chrétien de Troyes, Yvain, the Knight of the Lion; Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart.
  • Gottfried von Strassburg, Tristan and Isolt
  • Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca), Il Canzoniere (The Song Book)
  • Modern construction of medieval Courtly Love tropes: C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love

Introductory Reading

  • Cooney, Helen, ed., Writings on Love in the English Middle Ages. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2006
  • Donaldson, E. Talbot. “The Myth of Courtly Love.” Speaking of Chaucer. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1970.
  • Lewis, C.S., The Allegory of Love. Oxford: Oxford University Press, new edn, 1977.
  • Newman, Francis X., ed. The Meaning of Courtly Love. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1968.
  • O’Donoghue, B., The Courtly Love Tradition. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1983.
  • Schultz, James A., Courtly Love, the Love of Courtliness, and the History of Sexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.
The City of Dreaming Spires
Waking up surrounded by Gothic architecture Studying in the Radcliffe Camera­ Strutting in high heels across cobblestones Shopping at the Covered Mar...
Veronica Popp, Spring Semester 2009, Elmhurst College