Week 2: Tuesday
Treat Andreas Capellanus' The Art of Courtly Love with extreme caution. The text is composed of three sections, how love may be acquired, how love may be maintained, and why love should be avoided at all cost. Remember, Andreas is a "chaplain," a household priest, who is giving advice to the curious son of his master. Perhaps some in Andreas' culture practiced these behaviors, but certainly this could not have been the universal norm. Medieval nobles were far too protective of their heirs' legitimacy for them to tolerate their wives' and daughters' infidelity. Adultery prosecutions in both England and France are recorded often enough in legal documents to convince historians that people occasionally behaved that way, that people used the charge to smear opponents and to escape from inconvenient marriages, and that nobody involved in the prosecutions argued that "courtly love" should be excused as a sign of high-breeding and refined taste.
Think about unconventional behaviors in today's society which might also be described, to a curious adolescent, as rule-governed, attractive, difficult, and dangerous. In eras closer to our time, a modern Andreas might have been writing about drinking bathtub gin and dancing wildly at parties during the 1920s, dropping LSD and dancing wildly at parties during the 1960s, or piercing every visible portion of one's thoroughly tattooed body prior to crowd surfing at rock concerts. Were any of these wide-spread cultural norms, or were they norm-violations? Did they happen as frequently as they were represented in literature (or movies--not available to Andreas), or were they seized upon as exotic subjects for entertainment to be sold to people living more sedate lives?
Having made the case for skeptical reading of Andreas, we also must acknowledge that literature's subjects changed profoundly during the rough period from 900 to 1100, incorporating far more attention to internal states of mind, highly charged emotional experiences, and especially erotic love, portrayed often as a transforming and destructive force. The cultural fascination with secular, erotic love's power swept Europe and England, challenging the Church's emphasis on Divine love's power. The touch-stones for this literary phenomenon in the narrative genre known as "romance" (tales in the "Roman" tongue) were Tristan's love for Isolde, wife of his king and lord, Mark, and Lancelot's love for Guenivere, wife of his king and lord, Arthur. Troubadour lyrics in Provencal spread the lovers' speech conventions far and wide, including the lady's cautious refusal of the lover's pleas, the lover's suffering and service of his beloved, and the constant danger posed by those around them who could not know their secret.
Think about the mentality and social conventions implied by this literary phenomenon, which presumes the lovers are unmarried, quite possibly adulterous, bound by a code of complete secrecy, and surrounded by spies envious of their secret ("le jaloux" in Provencal). What kind of life is this? For a quaint but still well-constructed pop song capturing the spirit of this kind of relationship, listen to the 1980s band, the Go-Gos, performing "Our Lips Are Sealed." (Sorry about the advertisement but the band has to make some money.)
Some useful scholarly studies of Chaucer's short lyrics:
Boffey, Julia. "The Reputation and Circulation of Chaucer's Lyrics in the Fifteenth Century." Chaucer Review 28 (1993): 23-40. Finds evidence for Chaucer's lyrics having influenced other writers and suggestions that the short poems were available in MSS which have not survived.
Hanna, Ralph, III. "Authorial Versions, Rolling Revision, Scribal Error? Or, the Truth about Truth." Studies in the Age of Chaucer. 1988 (10): 23-40. Examines manuscripts of "Truth" for variation in words and lines, and considers the possibility Chaucer may have revised the poem in manuscript circulation.
Scattergood, John. "Social and Political Issues in Chaucer: An Approach to Lak of Steadfastnes." Chaucer Review, 1987 (21:4) 469-75. Discusses relations between Ricardian lyric poems and political events, political allusions, and their reflection of social consciousness in this era.
Stephens, John. "The Uses of Personae and the Art of Obliqueness in Some Chaucer Lyrics, I, II, III." Chaucer Review. 1987 (21:3) 360-73; 1987 (21:4) 459-68; and 1987 (22:1) 41-52. A three-part essay examining the ambiguity of the narrator's persona in lyrics.
Web Pages for Some Specific Lyrics