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courtly love

courtly love, philosophy of love and code of lovemaking that flourished in France and England during the Middle Ages. Although its origins are obscure, it probably derived from the works of Ovid, various Middle Eastern ideas popular at the time, and the songs of the troubadours. According to the code, a man falls passionately in love with a married woman of equal or higher rank. Before his love can be declared, he must suffer long months of silence; before it can be consummated, he must prove his devotion by noble service and daring exploits. The lovers eventually pledge themselves to secrecy and to remain faithful despite all obstacles. In reality, courtly love was little more than a set of rules for committing adultery. It was more important as a literary invention, expressed in such works as Chrétien de Troyes's Lancelot (12th cent.), Guillaume de Lorris's Roman de la Rose (13th cent.), and Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde (14th cent.). In these works it was the subjective presentation of the lovers' passion for each other and their consideration for other people that transformed the code of courtly love into one of the most important literary influences in Western culture. See chivalry.

See J. M. Ferrante and G. D. Economou, ed., In Pursuit of Perfection: Courtly Love in Medieval Literature (1975); N. B. Smith and J. T. Snow, ed., The Expansion and Transformation of Courtly Literature (1980).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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