Arthurian Romance Term Paper

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Courtly love is usually defined solely in terms of the image of a noble knight pining for a woman he cannot have, because she is married or betrothed to another. Later writers such as Dante, Cervantes, and Milton often viewed this construct of courtly love as absurd or funny. Dante in particular saw courtly love as an inferior reflection of the love a man was supposed to feel for God. In the Italian poet's own affection for Beatrice, a woman he fell in love from afar, he felt that his love for this woman acts was a kind of conduit to higher spiritual truth and feelings for the divine. Likewise, courtly love's use of an earthly woman was the parallel for an mediating holy figure such as Mary who acted as an intermediary between God and humanity -- for Cervantes, it did not matter what the woman was 'really' like (Dulcinea is actually a barmaid in "Don Quixote") only that the knight felt love for something on earth to lead him to do noble deeds. One author described courtly love as "derived from the sight of and excessive meditation upon the beauty of the opposite sex, which causes
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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," but, because the love is forbidden, instead motivates the lovers to do good deeds. (Andreas 28).

However, courtly love in its original, Arthurian incarnation was not simply about a man's relationship with God, as seen through the form of a woman. Feeling love for a lord's lady also suggested a profound political conflict of loyalty between the knight's own interests and his lord's desires. The knight Tristan pines for Isolde, even though she is destined to become King Mark's queen. Loyalty, through arranged marriages and feudal alliances, pressures the knight and the woman to behave in a carefully contained manner. But in their hearts, because of their spiritual longings for one another, and simply their own self-interested desire for love, tear them in a different way, away from their obligations owed to Mark. Thus courtly love underlined an inherent contradiction between the material and the spiritual in medieval times, between society and individual, and the interests of institutions such as church and king with the…

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Works Cited

Andreas, le Chapelain. De Amore et Amoris Remedio. Translation by P.G.Walsh. London: Duckworth 1982.

de France, Marie. The Lais of Marie de France. With Introduction, Translation, and Notes by Robert Hanning and Joan Ferrante. Grand Rapids: Baker Books 1995.

"Tristan and Isolde." Arthurian Legends. 2005

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