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Courtly Love In Troilus And Criseyde

3885 words - 16 pages

Courtly Love in Troilus and Criseyde

     Courtly love was a popular theme in literary works and poetry in thirteenth century Europe.  Andreas Capellanus, chaplain to Marie de France and author of the classic The Art of Courtly Love defines courtly love as "...a certain inborn suffering derived from the sight of and excessive meditation upon the beauty of the opposite sex, which causes each one to wish above all things the embraces of the other and by common desire to carry out all of love's precepts in the other's embrace."   In reality, courtly love was no more than an explicit court of rules for committing adultery.  However, in literary works, the basis of chivalry became the presentation of lover's passion for one another and their consideration for others.  I will be examining Geoffrey Chaucer's literary masterpiece, Troilus and Criseyde in light of this courtly love tradition.


 The origins of courtly love are obscure.  It is claimed to have come from Moorish influence as the Arab poets brought lyrics of lady love to Europe, or to have been European in origin, influenced by the Celts, Cathars, and Neo-Platonists.   From this tradition, however, many popular ideals originated which are still common beliefs and practices.  For instance, ideals about sex and society such as love at first sight, fidelity, secrecy in love, the faultless woman, and the superiority of the lover all seem to have come from this courtly love tradition.   Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde is often considered to be a classic example of this courtly love tradition.


 It is a subject of controversy today as to whether or not courtly love actually existed in England in the Middle Ages.  Many critics believe that it did not actually occur, while others believe that the systemized adultery did take place. Of course, the Catholic Church, which was key in thirteenth century England, shunned adultery.  The reason why Troilus and Criseyde was able to remain so popular was perhaps the fact that the story is pagan, and the characters are not members of the Catholic Church committing these crimes.  The story really promotes Christianity in the fact that Troilus worships pagan god.  Chaucer believes that the ups and downs of one's life are only helped by faith in the Christian God.  Since Troilus is pagan, he does not have the option of invoking the help of the Christian God.  In this way, perhaps it was possible for this type of story to be accepted.


Capellanus's definition of courtly love works well with Troilus and Criseyde.  While Troilus's suffering is not inborn, it began the moment "at which the God of love gan loken rowe/ Right for despit, and shop for to ben wroken./ He kidde anon his bowe nas naught broken;/ For sodeynly he hitte hym atte fulle-- / And yet as proud a pekok kan he pulle."   This causes him to fall in love with the first woman he sees, who happens to be Criseyde.  This is love at first sight, which is a classic...

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