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LECTURE NOTES V

MIDDLE ENGLISH LITERATURE [2]


COURTLY LOVE AND MYSTICAL LOVE
Sources [Courtly Love]:
Primary sources:
Anonymous, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in The Oxford Anthology of English Literature,
ed. Kermode, F., J. Hollander et al., (Oxford: OUP, 1973), pp. 284-348
Anonymous, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, trans. M.Boroff (Norton, 1967)
Capellanus, Andreas, The Art of Courtly Love, trans. J. J. Parry (New York, Columbia UP, 1941),
at http://www.the-orb.net/textbooks/anthology/beidler/courtly.html]
Secondary sources:
Baugh, A.C., ed., A Literary History of England (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1948), pp.
165-199
Daiches, D., A Critical History of English Literature, vol.1 (London: Secker & Warburg, 1969),
pp. 31-88
Day, M.S., A History of English Literature to Sixteen Sixty (Doubleday, 1963), pp.46-53
Fletcher, R.H., A History of English Literature (Boston: Badger, 2007[1919]), pp. 66-74
Lewis, C.S., The Allegory of Love.A Study in the Medieval Tradition (Oxford: Clarendon, 1936),
pp.1-43.
Moody, W.V., Lovett, R. M., History of English Literature (New York: Scribner,1918), pp, 28-34

Sources [Mystical Love]:


Primary sources:
Anonymous, The Cloud of Unknowing, Walsh, J., Tugwell, S. (eds.), New York, Toronto: Paulist
Press, 1981)
Dionysius the Areopagite, The Works of Dionysius the Areopagite, vols.1,2, trans. J. Parker
(London: Parker, 1897)
Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, trans. G. Warrack, (1901)
Hilton, W., The Scale or Ladder of Perfection, Trans. J. B. Dalgairns (Westminster: Art and Book
Company, 1908)
Misyn, R., Rolle, R., The Fire of Love and Mending of Life or the Rule of Living, ed. Harvey, R.,
EETS, o.s.106 (1896)
Secondary sources:
Artz, F., The Mind of the Middle Ages. AD 200-1500. A Historical Survey (New York:Knopf,
1953) pp. 73-75
Baugh, A.C., ed., A Literary History of England (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1948), pp.
225-229
Day, M.S., A History of English Literature to Sixteen Sixty (Doubleday, 1963), pp.53-55
Fletcher, R.H., A History of English Literature (Boston: Badger, 2007 [1919]), pp. 53-66
Minnis, A., Scott, A.P., Medieval Literary Theory and Criticism (c.1100-c.1375) (Oxford: OUP,
1988) pp. 165-173
Moody, W.V., Lovett, R. M., History of English Literature (New York: Scribner, 1918), pp.34-35

A. The Medieval Conception of Courtly Love


1. Courtly love: general aspects
(a) Description:
- a phenomenon that emerged in the Middle Ages
- it was understood as a relation of vassalage of a man to a woman of a higher social rank
- it appealed to a form of idealized adultery that was meant to be a trial to test resistance to
temptation
- it had its own code of honour and courts of judgment
- in this context love became associated with ritual courtesy and obedience
(b) Origins and influences:
- a combination of several traditions:
(i) a classical tradition: Ovid's Ars amandi (Ars amatoria)
(ii) a Christian tradition which advocated a revised attitude towards woman
- this shifted the focus from sinful woman (Eve) to woman as contributor to salvation as
mother of Christ (Mary)
- this view was supported by e diffusion of the cult of Virgin Mary introduced by the
crusaders from Eastern Christianity
(iii) the influence of Soufi (Muslim) mysticism
- the soul was represented as appearing after death in the shape of a woman (senhal)
(c) Texts:
- treatise: Andreas Capellanus: De arte honeste amandi (On the art of courtly love)
- poetry: the troubadours (Provence)
- the romance cycles (France and England)
2. Courtly literature: the mediaeval romances
(a) Definition:
- a romance is a "story of adventure in verse or prose involving fictitious and frequently
marvelous or supernatural elements
- in Middle English romances, love is either a subordinated or incidental element
- insofar as it tends to have an element of adventure, it may come close to a form of heroic epic
- the hero conforms to a pattern of ideal knight with little individual variation
(b) Cycles:
- the matters (or cycles) were named and classified as such by Jean Bodel (12 th c.)
(i) The matter of France:
- centred on Charlemagne and the fight against the infidel
The Song of Roland: Roland: is in the reargard of the French army and dies valiantly with his men
fighting the Saracens rather than call the rest of the army to help him
(ii) The matter of Rome the Great:
- sources used, not Homer but 4th c. Latin writers: Dyctis Cretensis and Dares Phrygius
and other subsequent authors: Benoit de Sainte Maure: Le Roman de Troie (12th c) and
Guido delle Colonne: The Story of the Fall of Troy (Historia destructionis Troiae) (13thc)
- important elements of the ancient classical world were translated into and taken over by the
Middle Ages :
Main topics:
- the Fall of Troy

- the story of Dido and Aeneas


- the story of Alexander
- the story of Theseus
(iii)The matter of Britain:
(a) The Arthurian cycle
- Influenced by previous literature and by Geoffrey of Monmouth: The History of the British
Kings (Historia regum brittonum) 12th c:
- it deals with the stories of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table
- ramifications:
- the stories of Merlin,
- the stories of the Knights of the Round Table [Gawain and the Green Knight, Lancelot of
the Lake, etc]
-

(b) The Holy Grail (Joseph of Arimathea; Sir Percival) 12th c


deals with the quest of the Holy Grail, the chalice which Christ used during the Last Supper
or the Chalice in which his blood was gathered after the Crucifixion and which was brought
to England by Joseph of Arimathea;
The Knights of the Round Table try to retrieve it. The knight has to have a pure heart and
blameless behaviour. Although several try Lancelot, then Galahad, then Percival
(c) Tristram [Tristan] and Isoude (Iseult) 13th c.
- An adulterous love story between Tristram and his uncles bride, Isolde, which ends
with their death
(d) The matter of England: King Horn, Haveloc the Dane [added to the cycles at a later
time]
- Stories dealing with Anglo-Saxon and Danish heroes (13th c):

B. The Medieval Tradition of Mystical Love


1.Mystical literature
- developed on the border between literature and theology
- tried to convey a direct experience of divinity in a style that was a combination of theological
and literary language
- developed around the idea that God made Himself manifest and perceptible to man in various
sensitive ways;
- inner sight and occasionally inner hearing were privileged spiritual senses because through
them had a vision of the divine, a theophany [Gr. Theos, God; phanes, vision]
2. The theological tradition of mystical love
(i) The influence of Pseudo Dionysius [Dionysius the Areopagite] [6th c.]
- several significant theological treatises like The Mystical Theology or On the Divine Names also
known as the corpus areopagiticum, in which Greek Neoplatonic philosophy was used to
understand and explain aspects of Christian revelation, faith, and dogmas, were attributed to him
- in his writings he develops a mystical theology which tries to explain the direct experience that
man may have of God in a mystical, ecstatic, union conditioned by love; this experience, which
involves a negative way of knowing God [negative because going beyond intellectual
knowledge] exercised a considerable influence on Western mystical writings

3. Great British mystics:


(a) Robert Grosseteste (1168-1253)
- bishop of Lincoln, founder of Oxford University, scholastic philosopher, and theologian
- is known for his theological, philosophical and scientific treatises, religious literature [The
Castle of Love], translations [Pseudo-Dionysius, The Celestial Hierarchy]
[ for more details see Annex]
Treatise on Light
- according to Grosseteste,
- (i) the universe proceeds from an emanation of light which, through its brightness generates
the higher spheres and the elements, the matter with its forms and dimensions
- this uncreated light anticipates the world and is the linking element between God and his
creatures
- this light descends into the human soul and through it man can reach a beatific vision of God
(ii) divine light, created by God, is a kind of fire
- it is a generating principle, active in all elements,
- it is at the same time inside and outside them, similarly to a diffuse centre, which forms and
re-forms all structures
- can be grasped in the purity of various precious stones of different colours
(b) Richard Rolle ((1300-1349):
- hermit, writes religious treatises and lyrics
The Fire of Love (Incendium amoris) describes
- the way in which love for God can be experienced as
- a kind of sweetnes [Lat. dulcor]
- a kind of heat or burning [Lat. calor]
- a song that is heard with the inner senses [Lat. canor]
- four degrees of loving God which lead to an ecstatic union with Him can be achieved:
(i) unsurpassable love (Lat. amor insuperabilis)
- in this first state love predominates, will not yield to another feeling;
- it is a state characterized by humility and restraint;
- it shows in the observing the ten commandments and keeping free of sin
(ii) inseparable love (Lat. amor inseparabilis)
- now love is a constant companion, always in ones memory
- it is a state described in affective terms in which man forsakes, the world, lives poverty
and isolation and turns to God
(iii) unquenchable love (Lat. amor insatiabilis)
- when desire for being one with God appears as impossible to be satisfied
(iv) singular love, "singular luf, (Lat. amor singularis)
- when man experiences ghostly gladness, an ecstatic feeling characteristic to the
mystical union with God
(c) Anonymous, The Cloud of Unknowing [14th c.]
- elaborated in the tradition of negative theology of Ps.Dionysius
- a manual of contemplative life which provides advice to a young man concerning the way to
know God, not through reasoning [the intellect] but through contemplation of the heart,
conditioned by love; the mystical experience of God involves abandoning of worldly concerns by
surrendering them to a cloud of forgetting, and focusing ones heart on God.

For He can well be loved, but he cannot be thought. By love he can be grasped and held, but by
thought, neither grasped nor held. And therefore, though it may be good at times to think
specifically of the kindness and excellence of God, and though this may be a light and a part of
contemplation, all the same, in the work of contemplation itself, it must be cast down and covered
with a cloud of forgetting. And you must step above it stoutly but deftly, with a devout and
delightful stirring of love, and struggle to pierce that darkness above you; and beat on that thick
cloud of unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love, and do not give up, whatever happens."
(d)Walter Hilton [1340/5-1396],
- a well educated, Augustinian monk
The Scale of Perfection consists of two parts:
- Book I distinguishes among three degrees of knowing God: through reason and learning,
through affections and through both intellect and love, which is the perfect way.
- Book II speaks of the recovery of the divine image in man by a reformation of man in faith, in
feeling and in faith and feeling, which is the ultimate degree by which man can attain union with
God.
(e) Dame Julian of Norwich [1342-1416]
- a nun living at Norwich, who, on one occasion when she was extremely ill, had a series of
visions
- she is influenced by Biblical and theological texts
- she claims her experiences can be only partially expressed and only by way of metaphors;
Revelations of Divine Love (May, 13th 1373)
- Julian asks for three graces :
to remember Christ's passion;
to have three wounds: contrition, compassion, longing for God;
to have bodily sickness;
- her visions of the Crucifixion are recorded with a special emphasis on physical realism;
- she claims that knowledge of the Trinity can be reached by beginning in knowledge of oneself;
- love is assimilated to the contemplative fervour of the mind: love is meaning
- God should be seen as is love and compassion rather than wrath
(f) Margery Kempe (1373-1438)
- she dictated her book when she was 60 years old
- she was a housewife who had led a conventional life until she had a first vision, which cured her
of a crisis; after a second vision, accompanied by heavenly music, she changed her life: although
married she lived in chastity and went on pilgrimages to Jerusalem and to Rome.
The Book of Margery Kempe
- in her "visions" of Christ she was completely overwhelmed by a wave of compassion for Him,
she sobbed and cried loud
- the text also describes her life, her pilgrimages, as well as events of her time and contains a
number of her prayers
Margery Kempe reminds in a way of a popular form of devotion common to the Middle Ages, the
saintly women, mulieres sanctae, who lived in lay communities but followed a monastic rule of
life.

C. TEXT 1
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight [excerpt]
- the text is in Ms.Cotton Nero A.X. [the British Library], which is copy of an older ms.
- written in alliterative verse, with a short ending of each stanza [bob and wheel ending]
- describes the moral trial to which Sir Gawain, one of Arthurs knights, is submitted and his
failure to comply with chivalry standards.
- the excerpt illustrates the allegorical elements of his shield, part of the armour he puts on when
he leaves in search for his challenger, the Green Knight.
Part II
When he had on his arms, his harness was rich, 590
The least latchet or loop laden with gold;
So armored as he was, he heard a mass,
Honored God humbly at the high altar.
Then he comes to the king and his comrades-in-arms,
Takes his leave at last of lords and ladies, 595
And they clasped and kissed him, commending him to Christ.
By then Gringolet was girt with a great saddle
That was gaily agleam with fine gilt fringe,
New-furbished for the need with nail-heads bright;
The bridle and the bars bedecked all with gold; 600
The breast-plate, the saddlebow, the side-panels both,
The caparison and the crupper accorded in hue,
And all ranged on the red the resplendent studs
That glittered and glowed like the glorious sun.
His helm now he holds up and hastily kisses, 605
Well-closed with iron clinches, and cushioned within;
It was high on his head, with a hasp behind,
And a covering of cloth to encase the visor,
All bound and embroidered with the best gems
On broad bands of silk, and bordered with birds, 610
Parrots and popinjays preening their wings,
Lovebirds and love-knots as lavishly wrought
As many women had worked seven winters thereon,
entire.
The diadem costlier yet 615
That crowned that comely sire,
With diamonds richly set,
That flashed as if on fire.
Then they showed forth the shield, that shone all red,
With the pentangle portrayed in purest gold. 620
About his broad neck by the baldric he casts it,
That was meet for the man, and matched him well.
And why the pentangle is proper to that peerless prince
I intend now to tell, though detain me it must.
It is a sign by Solomon sagely devised 625
To be a token of truth, by its title of old,
For it is a figure formed of five points,
And each line is linked and locked with the next
For ever and ever, and hence it is called
In all England, as I hear, the endless knot. 630
And well may he wear it on his worthy arms,
For ever faithful five-fold in five-fold fashion
Was Gawain in good works, as gold unalloyed,

Devoid of all villainy, with virtues adorned


in sight. 635
On shield and coat in view
He bore that emblem bright,
As to his word most true
And in speech most courteous knight.
And first, he was faultless in his five senses, 640
Nor found ever to fail in his five fingers,
And all his fealty was fixed upon the five wounds
That Christ got on the cross, as the creed tells;
And wherever this man in melee took part,
His one thought was of this, past all things else, 645
That all his force was founded on the five joys
That the high Queen of heaven had in her child.
And therefore, as I find, he fittingly had
On the inner part of his shield her image portrayed,
That when his look on it lighted, he never lost heart. 650
The fifth of the five fives followed by this knight
Were beneficence boundless and brotherly love
And pure mind and manners, that none might impeach,
And compassion most preciousthese peerless five
Were forged and made fast in him, foremost of men. 655
Now all these five fives were confirmed in this knight,
And each linked in other, that end there was none,
And fixed to five points, whose force never failed,
Nor assembled all on a side, nor asunder either,
Nor anywhere at an end, but whole and entire 660
However the pattern proceeded or played out its course.
And so on his shining shield shaped was the knot
Royally in red gold against red gules,
That is the peerless pentangle, prized of old
in lore. 665
Now armed is Gawain gay,
And bears his lance before,
And soberly said good day,
He thought forevermore

[Source: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, trans. M.Boroff (Norton, 1967)]
D. ANNEX I
Andreas Capellanus, The Art of Courtly Love
- Of different kinds of love:
THE MAN SAYS: It is the pure love which binds together the hearts of two lovers with feelings
of delight. This kind consists in the contemplation of the mind and the affection of the heart; it
goes as far as the kiss and the embrace and the modest contact with the nude lover, omitting the
final solace. . . . But that is called mixed love which gets its effect from every delight of the flesh
and culminates in the final act of Venus. . . . This kind quickly fails, and one often regrets having
practiced it; by it one's neighbor is injured, the Heavenly King is offended, and from it come very
grave dangers. But I do not say this as though I meant to condemn mixed love, I merely wish to
show which of the two is preferable. But mixed love, too, is real love, and it is praiseworthy, and
we say that it is the source of all good things, although from it grave dangers threaten, too.
Therefore I approve of both pure love and mixed love, but I prefer to practice pure love. . . .
[Source: http://www.the-orb.net/textbooks/anthology/beidler/courtly.html]

- On the rules and aims of Courting


THE MAN SAYS: I ought to give God greater thanks than any other living man in the whole
world because it is now granted me to see with my eyes what my soul has desired above all else
to see. . . . And I now know in very truth that a human tongue is not able to tell the tale of your
beauty and your prudence. . . . And I wish ever to dedicate to your praise all the good deeds that I
do and to serve your reputation in every way. For whatever good I may do, you may know that it
is done with you in mind. . . .
THE WOMAN SAYS: I am bound to give you many thanks for lauding me with such
commendations and exalting me with such high praise . . . . I am therefore glad if I am to you a
cause and origin of good deeds, and so far as I am able I shall always and in all things give you
my approval when you do well. . . .
THE MAN SAYS: I have chosen you from among all women to be my mighty lady, to whose
services I wish ever to devote myself and to whose credit I wish to set down all my good deeds.
From the bottom of my heart I ask you mercy, that you may look upon me as your particular man,
just as I have devoted myself particularly to serve you, and that my deeds may obtain from you
the reward I desire. . . .
THE WOMAN SAYS: Your request that I should consider you as my particular man, just as you
are particularly devoted to my service, and that I should give you the reward you hope for, I do
not see how I can grant, since such partiality might be to the disadvantage of others who have as
much desire to serve me as you have, or perhaps even more. Besides I am not perfectly clear as to
what the reward is that you expect from me; you must explain yourself more clearly. . . .
THE MAN SAYS: The reward I ask you to promise to give me is one which it is unbearable
agony to be without, while to have it is to abound in all riches. It is that you should be pleasant to
me unless your desire is opposed to me. It is your love which I seek, in order to restore my health.
[. . .]
THE WOMAN SAYS: You seem to be wandering a long way from the straight path of love and to
be violating the best custom of lovers, because you are in such haste to ask for love. For the wise
and well-taught lover, when conversing for the first time with a lady whom he has not previously
known, should not ask in specific words for the gifts of love. We are separated by too wide and
too rough an expanse of country to be able to offer each other love's solaces or to find proper
opportunities for meeting. Lovers who live near together can cure each other of the torments that
come from love. . . . Therefore everybody should try to find a lover who lives near by.
[source: http://www.the-orb.net/textbooks/anthology/beidler/courtly.html]

D. ANNEX II
Ps. Dionysius:
The threefold perception (vision) of God according to Ps.Dionysius:
(a) the linear way: from observation of the exterior unreal world to the real, inner world of the
spirit
(b) the spiral way: in which the intellect grasps God through elaborate reasoning
(c) the circular way: turning away form all things, earthly and material and abandoning reason,
one surrenders oneself to the Absolute Being of God
Stylistic devices:
(a) reductive or anagogic imagery [Lat. reducere, to lead back; Gr. ana, up; agein, to lead]
- since human mind cannot think without images (phantasms), God manifests his goodness and
his condescension by making Himself visible in the scriptural symbolism so that
the biblical figurae reflect the invisible
(b) affirmative (apophatic) and negative (cataphatic) ways; like and unlike symbols

- God can be referred to by like or similar or unlike or dissimilar symbols:


God can be described in an affirmative way, as Light, Truth or Life, the highest, most benevolent,
infinitely good and merciful, but also in a negative way as in-finite, in-visible, in-definable, incomprehensible, etc.
(c) concealing yet manifesting veils (velamina)
- this underlines the dimension of the written culture
there is an ambivalence between the hidden and secret and the manifest and unconcealed
dimensions of things: similar to the scriptural signs, which are intelligible for the initiates but
unintelligible to the ignorant, as letters are to the literate and respectively to illiterate people.
[Source: Dionysius the Areopagite, The Works of Dionysius the Areopagite, vols.1,2, trans. J.
Parker (London: Parker, 1897); Artz, F., The Mind of the Middle Ages. AD 200-1500. A Historical
Survey (New York:Knopf, 1953) pp. 73-75; Minnis, A., Scott, A.P., Medieval Literary Theory and
Criticism (c.1100-c.1375) (Oxford: OUP, 1988) pp. 165-173]