“The noble knight slays the dragon and rescues the fair maiden…and they live happily ever after.” This seemingly cliché finale encompasses all the ideals of courtly love, which began in the Medieval Period and still exists today. While these ideals were prevalent in medieval society, they still existed with much controversy. Geoffrey Chaucer, a poet of the period, comments on courtly love in his work The Canterbury Tales. Through the use of satiric elements and skilled mockery, Chaucer creates a work that not only brought courtly love to the forefront of medieval society but also introduced feministic ideals to the medieval society. At times, Chaucer even makes readers question his beliefs by presenting contrasting elements of principle in The Knight’s Tale and The Wife of Bath’s Tale, both tales told in his profound, multifaceted The Canterbury Tales.
Many tales of courtly love are also tales of chivalry. Chivalry began to develop in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and since then, chivalric literature has existed as one of the main sites of human rights and social criticism (Wollock 266). In chivalric theory, an honorable knight gives respect to others in all matters of action and of speech (267). Chaucer describes the knight in The Canterbury Tales by saying, “He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde / in al his lyf unto no maner wight. / He was verray, parfit gentil knyght” (Chaucer 70-72). While Chaucer’s knight is not a true example of courtly love, for Chaucer assigns the Squire that trait, he does possess the qualities of chivalry, which allow him to present a story of courtly love in his tale.
While courtly love may seem like a fixation of the ancient past, the model courtship, in which two young people fall in love and eventually get married after a series of personal trials and tribulations, still exists today (Wollock 213). While this idea of daring exploits and melodramatic ideals is intriguing, in reality, courtly love is more of a literary invention. Through works such as Chrétien de Troyes’s Lancelot, Guilaume de Lorris’s Roman de la Rose, and Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, courtly love has evolved from an adventurous race towards love into one of the most important literary influences in Western culture (“Courtly Love”). While the ideals of courtly love were highly accepted and almost idealized in medieval society, the origin of these ideals remains a mystery because the very definition of courtly love is debated among modern and ancient literary scholars (Wollock 32).
Since courtly love is not specifically defined, it exists in many spectrums. Gaston Paris, a French writer and scholar, suggests a worldly idea of courtly love with little attention given to morals. He defined courtly love by the lover’s worship of an idealized lady based on sexual attraction and desire. Being a controversial idea, an opposite idea of courtly love also exists. C.S. Lewis, a French theologian and literary critic, presents a conservative idea of...