In the short story of Equitan, courtly love is not depicted an immodest and lustful phenomenon but it is praised occasionally. It further shows certain other fine qualities of the contemporary culture. Equitan was not a usurper. Although being a king, he was able to keep his seneschal’s wife by force or decree but he took into account both the seneschal and his wife’s feelings over the issue. Following the tradition of courtly love, he disclosed his love for the lady and requested her hand. This clearly manifests that culture and value of time pertaining to courtly love strongly prohibited forced love.
Furthermore, it shows the individual integrity and honesty within the community. It was king’s integrity and honesty that did not let him deceive his seneschal and adopt a proper way to court the lady. When Equitans disclosed his feeling for her, she requested time to ponder over the matter. This indirectly depicts the rationality level of the people in general and nobility in particular. King was not swayed by the strong emotions and lady (seneschal’s wife) was not also seduced emotionally.
Loyalty and equality were other ingredients of the courtly love that portrays the values and traditions of the society as a whole. Seneschal wife says in this regard;
Love is not honourable, unless it is based on equality. A poor man, if he is loyal and possess wisdom and merit, is of greater worth and his love more joyful than that of a prince or king who lacks loyalty.
This further depicts that females were not considered an object of pleasure only. They have their own say in the amorous and domestic affairs. It was a two-way affair. All the short stories and primary sources clearly indicate that indulgence in courtly love was not considered a social evil but was sanctioned by the society. People used to admire knights and mistresses involved courtly affairs.
Although wealth and power was taken into account while making a courtly love to a man or woman but chiefly it was beauty and merits on the part of the woman and man that were considered as the pre-requisites for courtly love. For example the Lady Love in Letters of Abelard and Heloise describes ‘two special gifts whereby to win at once the hearts of any woman’ of her male lover. Those are his ‘gifts for composing verse and song’ and his ‘manhood’. This shows that contemporary community was not too materialistic in the affairs of love.
Letters of Abelard and Heloise clearly manifest that marriage was not the objective or outcome of courtly love. The objective was to involve in the fine and subtle passion and feel the delicacies of the excitement. Mistress was considered more adorable title than that of wife.
The "Renaissance" was usually the Age of Idealism the concept of love was also transformed and it was associated with spirituality. However we find juxtaposing view about the concept of love in the long period of Renaissance. For example in ‘The Merchants Tale’, Chaucer does juxtapose genre of courtly love and religion against each other and mocks both of them.
Different precepts of courtly love are satirized by characterization and are undermined to an extent by effective utilization of images, descriptions and tone that it seems comical and illogical. So a phenomenon, courtly love that was eulogized in the medieval period is mocked. This poem, as it were, holds a mirror to the life of Chaucer’s age and shows it manners and morals completely, so it is obvious that lovers were always disliked and condemned by their families and societies in the renaissance period.
Petrarch (1304-1374) is considered "the first writer of the Renaissance" takes into account the idealized form of love. Unlike medieval concept of courtly love, romantic love of renaissance literature was devoid of sexuality and eroticism. Petrarch shows the pangs of love and labels it as deadly disease or wound. He says in this regard;
Weeping I laugh, I feed on misery,
by death and life so equally dismayed:
for you, my lady, am I in this state.(Sonnet, 134, Translation)
Beloved is an exalted female figure that has nothing to do with materialistic world. But she was a more realistically conceived and presented figure than in the literature of courtly love. So above-mentioned arguments and evidence clearly show that concept of love was different in both periods. One was based on the desires of the flesh and feelings whereas other was based on its spiritual and transcendental nature.
Brewer, Derek. Chaucer and his world. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1978.
Lewis, C. S. The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964.
Petrarca, Francesco. Petrarch's Songbook = Rerum Vulgarium Fragmenta. Trans. James Wyatt Cook. Binghamton: MRTS, 1995.