Courtly Love. Fin’ amor. What comes to mind?
Knights on white horses. Damsels in towers. Romance. Intrigue. Purity. Chivalry.
One of the many literature classes I’m taking this semester is Gender, Lit, and Culture. The professor, Julie, is one of my absolute favorites (and happens to be my academic advisor). This year, she’s teaching the class from the angle of Courtly Love.
It’s only been one day and I’m already over the moon with excitement. Since today was the day for introductory material, we spent most of the time defining courtly love. Julie showed examples of different aspects of the concept from movies like The Princess Bride, Romeo & Juliet, Shakespeare in Love, and A Knight’s Tale. (Oh, Heath Ledger. You beautiful, beautiful man. May you rest in peace.)
The concept of courtly love is primarily literary, meaning it didn’t actually happen in real life. It involves a man possessing deep, ennobling love with a woman who is usually unattainable. (She could be married, far away, or even dead.) The lover takes on the role of a servant, humbling himself before his beloved. He gives her excessive praise and almost wastes away (symptoms: paleness of skin, sudden weight loss, sleeplessness) due to love. The lady is placed on a pedestal, becoming an icon of unnatural beauty and a borderline spiritual inspiration to the lover. Due to this position, the beloved is often seen as domineering, demanding proof of his loyalty and obedience before paying him attention.
In stories of courtly love, there is secrecy, adultery, and (of course) endless suffering on behalf of the lover. Love transcends mere emotion–it is a game, an art with rules and guidelines.
I find it all fascinating. It’s problematic, but also tugs at your romantic heartstrings. The idea that there is such a thing as true love sets a standard that can never be met. We know this, but still long for it anyway.
One of the things Julie talked about was that the traditions of courtly love continue to influence our culture today. We talked about several examples, but my favorite was from a movie that came out not too long ago… The song, of course, is satire. But the agony of the courtly lover is shown PERFECTLY. (Also, it’s the best scene in Into the Woods hands down. Attractive men ripping their shirts, writhing around on rocks, moaning about love. Absolute hilarity.)
Courtly love isn’t just in the movies. Julie, defending herself with the claim that it’s all her eleven year old daughter listens to, pointed out that Taylor Swift songs are littered with courtly love themes. After class ended, I visited some of her recent songs and discovered that is absolutely true. I mean, the ENTIRE music video to “Blank Space” is a big, overblown courtly love fest. It’s not a perfect example, but comes pretty dang close. Taylor takes the position of the beloved, holding complete and total control of the mansion and lover. She’s on the pedestal. She’s got the power. And, goodness, does she use it. The lyrics explain the thrill of the game and the agonies of love. “Boys only want love if it’s torture.”
Courtly love aside, the music video is absolutely hilarious. I’m kind of in love with it.
(Also, you can take a quiz on Buzzfeed to find out what part you are. I got the screaming fight part.)