Poetry Courtly Love is governed by a unique set of Conventions
The Conventions of Poetry Courtly Love
According to a scholastic source, Denomy, in "The Heresy of Courtly Love" (1947),There are three unique aspects of Courtly Love:
1. the ennobling force of human love
2. the elevation of the beloved above the lover
3. love as ever unsatisfied, ever increasing desire
The Allegory of Love
Probably the best and certainly one of the more renown articles which tells us about the conventions of poetry courtly love, is that of the literary critic C.S. Lewis written in 1936, called "The Allegory of Love"
From this famous work, referring to the often ridiculous lengths to which a man may be driven for love, I will quote at length. C.S. Lewis wrote:-
"...What is interesting to note is that this attitude is exactly that which the medieval courtly lover adopted: leaping up to attend errands, trudging through heat or cold at the bidding of one's lady was an honorable thing. (note the tradition is not dead most men who have gone shopping with their lady or girlfriend uphold this tradition even our code of etiquette with its rule that women always have precedence owes its legacy to courtly love).
How courtly love actually came to be, however, is not clear. What is clear is the distinguishing marks of courtly love: humility, courtesy, adultery, and the religion of love.
1. Humility: Subjection may be the better adjective, for the lover subjected himself to the lady. This attitude is easily explained when we realize the feudal relationship between vassal and lord. If the lover's lady was also the feudal superior such subjection was even more natural.
2. Courtesy: As the social leader, the lady determined manners and it was naturally assumed that her lover would treat her with courtesy a word that implies not only good manners, but loyalty as well.
3. Adultery: The medieval attitude towards adultery arouse because of the two following attitudes towards marriage in feudal society.
· Marriage had nothing to do with love all marriages were matches of interest and convenience. When interests changed, the husband's object was to get rid of his wife as soon as possible. So marriage, far from being an institution of love, was but a dull background against which 'real' love stood out in vivid contrast.
· The medieval theory of marriage according to medieval view passionate love itself was wicked, and did not cease to be wicked if the object of it were your wife (note this attitude toward love is often accused of having arisen from the Puritans). The medieval church felt: 1) on the hand, the physical act itself was not sinful, but 2) on the other hand, there was some evil element present in every physical act since the Fall.
· Some writers held that "the act is innocent but the desire is morally evil." Others excused the act provided it was meant to produce offspring. Some went so far as to hold that "passionate love of a man's own wife [was] adultery." Whatever, the general impression left on the medieval mind was that all love at least passionate and exalted devotion was more or less wicked.
With such teaching hanging over their heads, it becomes easier to understand the preponderance of adultery. The courtly lover could rationalize: "If passionate love of my wife is sin, marriage cannot be the place to experience true love. I will seek love outside marriage. After all, what difference does it make, with whom I love if all love is sinful?"
4. Religion of love: The religion of love of the god Amor traces its inheritance to Ovid; in part this is due to that same law of transference which determined that all the emotion stored in the vassal's relation to his lord should attach itself to the new kind of love. Indeed, this erotic religion developed as a parody or rival of real religion (ie. Christianity) and emphasized the antagonism between religion and love.
It thus became possible for poems to arise that were quasireligious in one sense, and sensually provocative in the other. Good examples of this are Chaucer's poems "Merciless Beauty" and "To Rosamond".
The English notion of courtly love was strongly influenced by French poetry. Chretien de Troyes' Lancelot is the greatest representative. Troyes took the Arthurian stories of England, chose love as the central theme, and produced stories that stamped on men's minds the belief that Arthur's court was the home par excellence of true and noble love.
For instance, in Lancelot the hero allows himself to be humiliated at the request of and for the sake of Guinevere. During a jousting tournament in which Lancelot is unhorsing everyone, Guinevere commands him to do his poorest. Obediently, he allows himself to be unhorsed, and then even runs away frantically feigning fear. Everyone laughs and mocks him, but Guinevere is delighted; he has proven his love to her.
Lancelot's submission reveals his courtesy, his humility, and his 'religious' devotion to her love. He treats Guinevere with saintly, if not divine, honors. Later, when he enters her bedroom, he kneels at her bed and worships her beauty; when leaving, he pauses to genuflect as to a holy shrine. The religion of love is obvious."
Lewis's summarisation of the conventions of poetry courtly love have become celebrated. They have been considered magisterial, and became gospel to generations of undergraduate students since its publication.
There are quite a few examples illustrating how these so called conventions were employed by the poetry of the genre. I have included a selection:-
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