Chaucer's Use of "Courtly Love"
Chaucer admired and made use of the medieval "courtly love" romance tradition, although he did not fully "buy into it." The "courtly love" code is based on the woman as the center of attention. The medieval knight suffers greatly for his love, who is often someone else's wife. He will do anything to protect and honor her, remaining faithful at all costs. Adultery and secrecy characterize these relationships. The knight views a woman and experiences true love. The knight fears that he will never be accepted by his love; therefore, she is worshiped at a distance.
Elements of courtly love can be seen in both "The Book of the Duchess" and "The Knight's Tale." In "The Book of the Duchess" the Black Knight represents the courtly love character, who falls hopelessly in love with Lady White. Following the courtly love tradition, Lady White becomes the most important thing in the Black Knight's life. He describes her as the one true love that struck his eye with utter beauty.
"Among these ladies fair and bright,
Truly one there struck my sight,
Unlike the others, I declare,
Because for certain I can swear
That, as the sun of summer bright
Is fairer, clearer, has more light
Than any other planet in heaven,
More than the Moon, or the starry seven,
Just so for all the world did she
Surpass those others utterly
In beauty, courtesy and grace,
In radiant modesty of face,
Fine bearing, virtue every way-
What more, thus briefly, can I say?" (lines 816-830)
The courtly love tradition brings a powerful romance to "The Book of the Duchess." The Black Knight has found his true love; however, she has died. Her death is his deepes...
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...urns disguised so that he can remain in contact with Emelye. Arcite has suffered and has expressed regret for his suffering.
"Allas, the wo! allas, the peynes stronge,
That I for yow have suffered, and so longe" (lines 1913,14).
This too is untypical of the courtly love romance. The self-centered passion of Palamon and Arcite distracts the reader from any true feelings of love. The knights' view love in a barbaric way. Chaucer strays from the courtly love pattern to show the reader how selfish love and lovers can be.
The courtly love romance tradition was widely used by Chaucer. However, Chaucer did not fully embrace this code. In "The Book of the Duchess" and "The Knight's Tale," Chaucer uses aspect of the courtly ideal. His absence of certain characteristics and elements of the code leaves the reader thinking, and interpreting on his/her own.
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