Courtly Love Donne

Courtly Love #

Originating with the troubadours of southern Europe, Courtly Love illustrates the pain of unrequited romantic love - an emotional dead end because marriages were arranged as social contracts to consolidate property.

Marriage for the upper classes was seen as a social contract to consolidate power through alliances. Monarchs sought the best unions to promote peace with rival states.

Romantic Love #

Mainly applied to the lower property less classes. The french expression coup de foudre refers to love at first sight. - a thunderbolt. It can be intense, hot and urgent, but often fades with time.

Whether Courtly Love was merely a literary phenomenon celebrated in verse or actual practice has scholars perplexed. It was likely both, with the literary protestations slightly exaggerated.

Essentially Courtly Love was a code of love making originating from the 12^(th) Century and reflected in European Literature. It was generally restricted to courtiers, the aristocracy who lived in the Court of the reigning monarch. With plenty of leisure time on their hands, they would devote it to the complaints of the unrequited lover.

Courtly Love as portrayed in the literature of the period from 1100 – about 1550 shared the following features:

  • Love of Knight for an unattainable lady – the situation is hopeless, impossible.
  • The lover pines for years for his unrequited love – some more than 20 years. - he is totally devoted, abject, loyal and long-suffering - He is hers to command
  • Clandestine – secret; lady may not even be aware of his love.
  • Illicit - either or both parties are married to another person for status or commercial reasons.
  • Lady was placed on a pedestal and worshipped as a goddess. - Lady was aloof, oblivious or deliberately coy.
  • Sexual tension is ever present; but spiritual platonic devotion more important
  • Conflict: Lust of the carnal VS Spirit of the Soul

Objective: #

  • Courtly love idealised women leading men to ultimate beauty, truth and God. Through the pursuit of beauty men would transcend or be exalted beyond the physical or temporal to a higher spiritual plain and aspire to Godliness. His pining draws the lover away from things which are base. Dante believed “the expression of sublimated and spiritualized love ends with a total absorption in the divine”.

  • Beauty = spirit in ascendancy over matter leading to goodness.

  • Ugliness = spirit in descendancy over matter leading to evil

Understanding Love

The bible, in Proverbs states that there are three mysteries in life;

  • The way of a bird in the air, the way of a ship on the sea and the way of a man with a maid.

It can be said that science has uncovered to some extent, the first two while the last one may defy us to eternity. What is the nature of true love?

We will look at poetry, plays and articles written throughout the ages to attempt to solve this mystery.

The early Greeks made a significant contribution to the distinction between various kinds of Love. They had four different abstract nouns for Love:.

  1. Storge (Hard G) Family love. The first love you experienced was the love of your parents, siblings, kinship, - “blood thicker than water” Affection for relatives.
  2. Philia (Latin - Amicitia) Pure friendship based on common interests. Similar interests in sport, hobbies, activities. Platonic Love.
  3. Agape (Latin – Caritas) The love that makes people to nurse lepers, or other disadvantaged. Pure ,disinterested, willing service to those in need, though they may be vile. It is the word the New Testament uses for the “love” between God and Mankind.
  4. Eros - Lust Love for another person of a sexual nature. Not mere carnal desire, but that plus concentration on this feeling on one particular individual.
  5. Ludus is playful, noncommittal love. Ludus covers things like flirting, seduction, and casual sex.
  6. Pragma is practical love. Pragma is love based on duty, obligation, or logic.
  7. Mania is obsessive love.
  8. Philautia is self-love - how you feel about their own body and mind. Self-worth or esteem. Adversely it can include vanity, hubris and egomania.

Marriage is a relationship that offers, (but does not guarantee) all four. It begins with Eros and can add or change to Philia and with the arrival of children, develop into Storge,. Agape enables one to do the distasteful and wearying services that are occasionally needed in any family.

Star-crossed Lovers

Dante and Beatrice #

Beatrice Portinari, was the woman Dante dedicated most of his poetry and almost all of his life, from his first sight of her at the age of nine (“from that time forward, Love quite governed my soul”) through his glorification of her in La divina commedia, completed 40 years later, to his death in 1321.

Beatrice was the daughter of Folco Portinari, a banker and one of the Priors of Florence in 1282. The Portinari, a family that originated from Fiesole, lived in Florence, near Dante’s House, located in the old town of Florence; in fact, it is currently on Via del Corso.

Folco Portinari had six daughters.

Beatrice was married to a certain Simone de Bardi, one of the most influential men in the city. She died three years after the marriage in 1290 at only twenty-four.

The first one to explicitly refer to the young woman was Boccaccio in his commentary on The Divine Comedy.

Specific documents on her life have always been scarce, leading some to doubt her actual existence. The only hard evidence is the will of Folco Portinari dated 1287, which says “..item d. Bici filie sue et uxoris d. Simonis del Bardis reliquite …, lib.50 ad floren”—essentially a bequest to his daughter, who was married to Simone dei Bardi.


Beatrice was Dante’s true love. In his Vita Nova, Dante reveals that he saw Beatrice for the first time when his father took him to the Portinari house for a May Day party. They were children: he was nine years old and she was eight.

Dante was instantly smitten and never forgot her after this meeting even though he married another woman, Gemma Donati, in 1285, with whom he had three sons and one daughter.

According to tradition, Dante and Beatrice were also neighbors outside the walls of Florence—near the hill of Fiesole, where the Portinari and Alighieri families had two neighboring summer villas. It is plausible that Dante and Beatrice met each other as children there.

He would meet her again nine years later in an unexpected fashion: Beatrice was walking along dressed in white and accompanied by two older women on Lungarno (one of the Florence streets along the Arno River).

She turned and greeted him. Dante remembered the episode well, but ran away without saying a word.

Her salutation filled him with such joy that he retreated to his room to think about her. In so doing he fell asleep and had a dream that would become the subject of the first sonnet in La Vita Nuova.

Afterward, there were only two other short meetings between the two: one in the church of Santa Margherita dei Cerchi (the church visited by Robert Langdon and Sienna Brooks in Dan Brown’s Inferno) and one at a wedding feast.

Beatrice was married Simone de’ Bardi and died at the age of 24 on June 8, 1290. When he sees her, in Purgatorio, he is as overwhelmed as he was at the age of nine, and he is dazzled by her presence throughout the journey, until she ascends again to her place in heaven.


Petrarch and Laura #

Laura, the beloved of the Italian poet Petrarch and the subject of his love lyrics, written over a period of about 20 years.

Laura has traditionally been identified as Laura de Noves of Avignon (now in France), a married woman and a mother. Petrarch was supposed to have seen Laura for the first time in St. Claire Church in Avignon on April 6, 1327. In his poetry she appears to give him little encouragement, but his love for her became a lifelong obsession, even after her death on April 6, 1348.

Abelard and Heloise #

Among the most famous lovers of Medieval times, Abelard and Heloise, celebrated their love making by experimenting with unconventional methods. Abelard detailed their irresistible passionate relationship:

Our desires left no stage of lovemaking untried, and if love could devise something new, we welcomed it. We entered on each joy the more because of our previous inexperience and were all the less easily sated”.

Because he was her tutor and twenty years her senior, her father, took exception when she became pregnant and sought revenge by having Abelard brutally beaten with castration. Humiliated by the loss of his manhood, the lovers take religious vows as monk and nun; are separated for twenty years, and when they meet again though the physical aspect of their relationship is no longer possible declare their eternal love and oneness.

Heloise writing 12 years after the separation admits: “Even in sleep I find no respite”. Though brief, the lovers found eternal true love

T.S. Eliot and Emily Hale #

Michelle Taylor posits the case that for years, Emily Hale was Eliot’s muse; the object of his longing and the source of his inspiration . Was the loss of their romance a boon for his poetry?

The prospect of the lovers’ togetherness, including the sexual fulfillment that is suggested by the woman’s “arms full of flowers,” tantalizes the speaker, but it also threatens him: such joyous connection is beyond the purview of his poetry, and all he can know is that gaining it would mean losing his art. Only pain, this poem asserts, can produce the “gesture and a pose” that turns life into literature.

Longing, then, is essential to the poet, and Eliot knew what he got from his longing for Hale.

“Unsatisfied desires can play a most important part in keeping the soul alive and urging one higher,” he wrote to her. For him, the alternative to “unsatisfied desires” was not satisfied ones but, rather, “just deadening feeling.”

He yearned for a world of “significance,” one that would do more than simply please the man, because it would “amaze” the poet.

Other great tragic love stories: #

Romeo and Juliet, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor

Helen Garner maintains our laws and strictures and conventions have no purchase on the dark regions of the soul into which we venture when we love.

But everyone knows that love is brutal. A thousand songs tell the story. Love tears right through to the centre of us, into our secret self, and lays it wide open. What people find really hard to bear is the suggestion that they themselves might contain their share of human darkness, hidden inside their souls.”Surely Sigmund Freud was right when he said, “We are never so defenceless against suffering as when we love.”

Classical English Literature deals with the changing trends in middle and upper class marriages.

In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, arranged marriages are contested: Marriage is important to individuals for companionship and support and for society to create stability. Women who were not provided for were especially vulnerable to penury.
Throughout the novel, the author describes the various types of marriages and reasons behind them. Not many of them appear to be happy or successful with the exception of the Gardiners.
Austen documents a change in the traditions of marriage. Courtship and true romantic love, rather than arranged marriages is increasingly becoming the acceptable mode. Lady Catherine de Bourgh claims that Darcy was promised to her daughter Ann, yet Elizabeth stands up to her almighty power.

Marriage out of economic compulsions can be seen in Charlotte’s marriage to Collins. Marriage due to sensual pleasure can be seen in Lydia’s marriage to Wickham. The marriage of Jane and Elizabeth are the outcome of true love between well-matched persons even though they are not on the same social levels.

In Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Jane is pressured to marry a minister, St. John, because he needs a supporting wife to take to India as a missionary. He demands that she sacrifice herself to serve him and God even though she is in love with another man. She stands up to him.

Sayings on Love #

“We all have the extraordinary coded within us…waiting to be released.” Jean Houston

“Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn. The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts. To experience love in ourselves and others, is the meaning of life. Meaning does not lie in things. Meaning lies in us.” Marianne Williamson

The pressure of individuals choosing their own spouses was being felt throughout Europe indicating that a transition from the arranged marriage was beginning.

Love marriages may be becoming an anachronism. “It was only in the 18^(th) century that the bourgeois notion of romantic marriage began to crystallise. Throughout the history of humanity till then the reasons for marriage were strictly dynastic, practical or procreational. To marry for love was a truly astonishing idea, and one – if we are honest- many of us are still wrestling with.” Alain de Botton

Language of Love – Famous romantic lines:

Leo’s “Promise me you’ll survive.” from The Titanic

Given that Kate Winslet recently revealed what we all know – that there was definitely room for Jack on the raft

“My heart is, and will always be, yours”, spoken by Edward Ferrars in the film of Sense and Sensibility

Dirty Dancing, and Baby’s “I’m scared of what I saw, I’m scared of what I did, of who I am, and most of all I’m scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I’m with you.”

Ultimately, it’s impossible to be objective about love. If any of these lines make us believe in a fictional passion, or leave us full of longing, or just make us weep for reasons we can’t quite explain, then they have succeeded, regardless of the beauty of the language or the true sense of the sentiment. However, I also reckon I could throw a rock into a library and hit a piece of prose that’s much more romantic than any of the lines that appeared on the survey. Here are some alternatives …

From The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

“It was like seeing somebody in the street who you think is a friend, you whistle and wave and run after him, and it is not only not the friend, but not even very like him. A few minutes later the real friend appears in view, and then you can’t imagine how you ever mistook that other person for him.”

From True Romance by Quentin Tarantino

“I kept asking Clarence why our world seemed to be collapsing and everything seemed so shitty. And he’d say, ‘That’s the way it goes, but don’t forget, it goes the other way too.’ That’s the way romance is.”

To love, you have to hope. You sign up for spells of wretchedness, but still believe there’s no dying ember that can’t be coaxed back to fiery life with warm and gentle breath. True Romance is a gory accidental heist movie, but it’s also about a man who would do anything for the woman he loves (including killing her pimp) because he knows that no matter how tough things get, “it goes the other way, too”.

From The Beautiful and Damned by F Scott Fitzgerald

“Don’t say ‘wife’. I’m your mistress. Wife’s such an ugly word. Your ‘permanent mistress’ is so much more tangible and desirable…”

This is about the vulnerability of love, and the sometimes suffocating need to be someone’s everything. Anti-heroine Gloria is appealing to her husband Anthony to keep looking at her anew, to combine the intimacy and tenderness of a long-term relationship with that sheer, shocked passion felt when two people are still exploring each other. For me, this line epitomises romantic love at its most selfish and impossible. We’ve all been there.

From Parks and Recreation by Greg Daniels

“I love you and I like you.”

This line, spoken by character Leslie Knope while making her wedding vows, is one of the most romantic things I have ever heard. It’s about the way love is strengthened by friendship and respect. A promise to love feels grand and eternal, but vowing to like someone is a small act that needs to be practised every day. I feel so strongly about this one that I used it in my own wedding speech.

From The Richard Burton Diaries by Richard Burton

“After seven or eight years, I still miss her if she goes to the bathroom.” Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor

‘Burton’s words conjure up all that we can hope for from romantic love.’

Burton and Taylor’s enduring, complex love is well documented, but I think Burton’s words conjure up all that we can hope for from romantic love. To never get used to someone. To be separated for seconds and still think, “Hurrah, it’s you!” when you see their face in a crowd, even when you’ve just lost track of them for a bit at the supermarket.

Most of us will hopefully never fully understand how it feels to watch our love fall from the edge of a life raft. But we know that our relationships are in great shape if we can still feel tender towards our partners even after they’ve just spent ages in the loo.

amative - disposed to love; amorous. Amative stems from the Latin verb amāre meaning “to love.” It entered English in the mid-1600s.

Dante’s muse, Beatrice was married to Simone de’ Bardi and died at the age of 24 on June 8, 1290.

At first sight of her, in Purgatorio, Dante is as overwhelmed as he was at the age of nine, and he is dazzled by her presence throughout the journey, until she ascends again to her place in heaven. This expression of sublimated and spiritualized love ends with Dante’s total absorption in the divine.

John Donne also acknowledged that true love was attracted to carnal desires.

John Donne wrote of:

“rank itchie lust, desire and love”

for a:

“plumpe muddy whore, or prostitute boy,”