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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: February ::
Re: Courtly Love in Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0533  Friday, 22 February 2002

From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Friday, 22 Feb 2002 14:33:40 -0000
Subject: 13.0480 Re: Courtly Love in Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0480 Re: Courtly Love in Shakespeare

Mostly to pick up on some individual points, Tue.  I've snipped your
original post a bit, for (I hope) focus, rather than to misrepresent
you.

A&C and "courtly love"

>In early Ant&Cleo such markers are the use of the word
>"dotage", which I consider it safe to say associates to courtly love,

I really don't follow this, unless you're associating age with your
final, courtly love, stage.

>and the emphasis on Cleo's "tawny front", which, I am speculating,
>identifies her as a "dark lady" character along the lines of several
>others, from both the LLL Rosaline to the lady of the Sonnets.

I think this elides too many things.  There's, most obviously, a
tradition of challenge to the conventional idea that white=beautiful
(Gascoigne's sonnet "In Praise of a Brown Beauty", for instance), which
Shakespeare picks up in sonnet 127.  But there (as it will turn out) the
"challenge" is compromised, since the Dark Lady is both physically +and+
morally black.  Rosaline in LLL falls more within the standard pattern.
But "tawny" isn't black (or brown or whatever) but a much more specific
word, associated with Cleopatra's (metaphorical) gypsy attitude.

I think what I'm rather fuzzily trying to say is that here, and in
general, your approach tends to avoid the specifics of the texts and
impose a blanket interpretation the minute certain markers appear.

>Indeed. But by the Renaissance, those two conventions (courtly love and
>pastoral poetry) have more or less come together ...

Well, I'd quarrel with your description of courtly love and pastoral
poetry having "more or less come together".  There is a degree of
overlap, certainly.  But to take one specific point, the
bucolic/socially lower status of Corin and Phoebe in AYLI signal them as
pastoral, quite distinct from courtly love figures.

There are two distinct traditions at play here.  In its origins,
pastoral poetry way predates courtly love, going back to Theocritus.  If
you conflate the two, the contrast between the interactions of Corin and
Phoebe,  and Rosalind/Ganymede and Orlando (which +does+ have traces of
the courtly love tradition) is lost.

Even the very nature of the "pastoral" itself is contested in the play.
Who are the authentic pastoral inhabitants of the Garden of Arden?  Duke
Senior and his followers?  Corin, Silvius, and Phoebe?  William and
Audrey?  Ganymede and Aliena?  The deer (as Touchstone suggests)?  Each
of these couples or groups has a  different relation to the pastoral
tradition.  (And no, I don't imagine that Shakespeare expected his
audience necessarily to have a deep knowledge of the pastoral tradition
and its evolution -- in staging the play, it's perfectly simple to make
the dramatic point by distinguishing the groups in different modes of
speech, action, and costume.)

>with poets like Marlowe, Sidney and Raleigh co-opting the pastoral tradition
>for their courtier purposes.

Do you mean "courtier" as in Castiglione or "courtier" as in
servant-to-the-Queen?  Ralegh and Sidney wore both hats.

Sidney, for one, would be a demonstration that distinctions between the
pastoral and Petrarchist traditions aren't just some modern
hyper-scholarly overlay -- compare the (distinctly) pastoral _Arcadia_
with the (distinctly) Petrarchist _Astrophil and Stella_.

With Marlowe, the only text I can think of that would fit your statement
above would be "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love", which is almost
parodically pastoral.  Ralegh's riposte ("The Nymph's Reply to the
Shepherd") again locates itself in the pastoral mode -- indeed, the
whole +point+ of Ralegh's reply turns on the nature of the pastoral --
idealised (Marlowe) vs. realistic (Ralegh).

I suppose there is "The Ocean's Love to Cynthia", which might just
manage to embrace the two senses of "courtier", and a commingling of
elements from the pastoral and courtly love traditions.  OK, I'll give
you that -- Ralegh as Superman.

>In fact, in some cases one might even go so far as to
>suggest that bucolic poetry anticipates some aspects of the courtly love
>tradition, only in a quite different cultural context.

Well, yes, there are rivers in both.  It would be possible, for
instance, to mine out of Pausanius' speech in _The Symposium_ elements
to be found in courtly love, romantic love, contemporary teenage and
older behaviour -- that doesn't mean that they derive from there.  "A
quite different cultural context" begs a +lot+ of questions.

>I am sure those distinctions are there and I will certainly look into
>them.  But my own definition of "courtly love" remains broad and general
>and inclusive of the Petrarchist elements.

I think this is a major problem -- it is, finally, +your+ definition,
not the generally-held one.  It might make things clearer if you chose
another (more neutral?) term for those aspects which you characterise,
in Shakespeare and elsewhere, as "courtly love".

>This is just to say, in defense of my own position, that I don't think
>WS sat and made sure to distinguish between the style of the dolce stil
>nouvo poets and the Petrarchist tradition.

Well, certainly not in those terms.  But I do think he's capable of
making distinctions, and uses these distinctions for dramatic purposes.
But mostly to this point, Sidney's _Astrophil and Stella_ was printed in
1591 and bump-started the Elizabethan sonnet-cycle movement.  This is a
+distinctly+ Petrarchist sequence (in contrast to Wyatt's translations
of individual *Petrarchan* poems some decades before).  It's still hot
when Shakespeare is writing, and it's this specific context that lies
behind LLL and R&J, +not+ some sort of diffused and overlaid mush of
traditions.

>Hm, I'm not convinced that this is more than a nitpicky difference... It
>does fit well with the anonymous and unattainable Dark Lady of the
>Sonnets, though, whom I believe to be an archetypal courtly love
>mistress.

Anonymous the Dark Lady may be, but unattainable she's not.  She breaks
her bed-vows with the Poet and then goes on to (to put it crudely) screw
the Young Man.  If that's "unattainable ...

>> {{And let's not even +start+ on the issue of The Inaccessible Muse.}}
>
>Aw, why not? :-) Educate me! You are not referring to the Muse of the WS
>Sonnets (which I also have a theory about)...?

Eventually.  The original classical muse was a goddess-figure, and thus
(unless you're Acteon) unattainable.  In the late middle
ages/Renaissance, the muse becomes  human.  She's still an undefined
female in the dolce stil nuovo (which was why I made the nit-picking
point about anonymity), but is named by Dante (Beatrice) and Petrarch
(Laura).

Laura is at once Petrarch's muse and subject, but inaccessible as she's
both married and religious.  (And part-way through the _Canzoniere_,
also dead -- see below.)

Sidney picks this up, but qualifies it -- Astrophil's Stella is married,
but perhaps (depending on how you read the later parts of the sequence)
not entirely inaccessible.

Shakespeare's muse -- the Young Man --  is inaccessible because he's the
wrong sex.

[When I was expounding this theory once, I was gifted with the
marvellous retort, "Then the ideal muse for a heterosexual female poet
would be a gay man?"]

The Inaccessible (in one sense) [Married] Muse carries on at least as
far as Lise/Chris in John Berryman's _Sonnets_.

Then -- oh how useful to poets! -- inaccessible through their mortality,
there are those Dead Wives, from Henry King's wife in "An Exequy",
touched on by Donne and Milton, reaching Emma in Thomas Hardy's 1912-13
poems, and beyond.  See, e.g., Peter Porter's _The Cost of Seriousness_
and Douglas Dunn's _Elegies_.

In the way that I'm using it, then, the Inaccessible Muse would be a
specific and particular human figure from whom the poet is cut off by
reason of marriage, religion, sex, or death.

>>>Although it may have arisen later than
>>>the first appearance of courtly love doesn't mean that the courtly love
>>>conventions, even today, have come to an end. What people consider
>>>romantic today is still part of the courtly love tradition, as you can
>>>read in C.S. Lewis' The Allegory of Love, first chapter (though the
>>>book is admittedly from 1936).
>>
>> Um ...
>
>Is that "Um" in reference to Lewis or to the age of the book, or...?

'Um ..' was with reference to the extension of courtly love traditions
into the present day.  Too many things, both literary and social, have
happened in the meantime for this to make (for me at least) any useful
sense.  One thing, for instance, absent in the courtly love tradition,
is the idea of mutuality (emerging in Renaissance England in
Shakespeare, Spenser, and Donne among other) -- central today (at least
as an ideal), but absent in courtly love.

>> For starters, what +is+ the original sense of Platonic love?
>
>What Plato wrote. In the Diotima speech indeed.
>
>> The modern sense (I presume) is non-sexual (often homosexual or
>> homeorotic) love.
>
>"Love without sex", in its briefest and quite vague vulgar sense.

I was going to go on [and on, and on] about _The Symposium_, but I think
I've already said more than enough.  (Do you want to take this up
backchannel, Tue?)

Robin Hamilton

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