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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: September 2013

6 - Falling in Love in the Middle Ages

  • Edited by Charlotte Brewer, Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University and a Fellow of Hertford College, Oxford, Barry Windeatt, Professor of English in the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge
  • Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
  • pp 88-110

‘I love you,’ he says, kissing her throat, stroking her breasts, tracing the curve of her hip.

‘No, you don't, Vic.’

‘I've been in love with you for weeks.’

‘There's no such thing,’ she says. ‘It's a rhetorical device. It's a bourgeois fallacy.’

‘Haven't you ever been in love, then?’

‘When I was younger,’ she says, ‘I allowed myself to be constructed by the discourse of romantic love for a while, yes.’

(David Lodge, Nice Work)

‘Years ago when I wrote about medieval love-poetry and described its strange, half make-believe, “religion of love”, I was blind enough to treat this as an almost purely literary phenomenon. I know better now.’

(C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves)

My title carries an implicit question: was falling in love in the Middle Ages different from falling in love today? The question reflects the still widespread belief that medieval lovers adhered to a systematized ‘code’ of ‘courtly love, a special, artificial variety of romantic love that obliged the lover to act in strange and exaggerated ways – to love without necessarily revealing his love to the lady concerned, to remain her devoted slave for years without seeking so much as a kiss by way of reward, to obey her every whim, however humiliating, to faint, to weep, to adore her as if she were a goddess rather than a woman.

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Traditions and Innovations in the Study of Medieval English Literature
  • Online ISBN: 9781782041177
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