An Analyis of the Conventions of Courtly Love Within The Miller's Tale and Morte Darthur
While both “Morte Darthur” and “The Miller's Tale” display some characteristics of a satirical approach in which human vices are attacked in a whimsical manner through irony, comedy, and folly, they are actually quite different in their literary genre and style. “Morte Darthur”, an adventurous tale with an imaginary setting that perfectly idealizes the chivalrous knight-hero and his noble deeds done for the love of his lady, is a classic example of a tragic medieval romance. A fabliau, of which “The Miller's Tale” is an example, takes a comical approach with the typically large cast of colorful characters: the blissfully ignorant husband, the foolish Casanova, the insatiable young wife, and the avaricious clery members whose disingenuous interests lie in only satisfying themselves. Although both tales utilize the classical aspects of courtly love, the medieval romance glorifies the devotional characteristics, while “The Miller's Tale” focuses on subject matter that is overtly sexual in nature. This approach is typical of the fabliau-style that deals with the seedier elements of courtly love traditionally left out by writers of more elevated genres. John Edwin Wells, in his 1916 Manual of the Writings in Middle English, “concluded that the fabliaux's impropriety led to their rapid disappearance” (Furrow). From a modern perspective, it reads like a “grunge romance” that relies on puns and word manipulation to achieve it's desired “shock” effect. Although both Chaucer and Malory use satirical elements to demonstrate the absurdity of implementing the contradictory, idyllic, and impractical conventions expected within courtly love on an everyday basis, they do so in a very different manner. This paper will use specific aspects of courtly love to provide a comparison of each literary genre and illustrate how the use of traditional courtly love conventions used within these two works exemplifies the romantic mentality of the era.
Passion, long indoctrinated by the Church as sinful to 11th and 12th century citizens, was becoming acceptable and even expected within the noble circles during the Middle Ages. Knights returning home from the crusades brought new views of romance and relationships adopted from adversaries whom revered and adored their women. Secret rituals of romance developed in which women, traditionally suffering the deeply-rooted abuses of a patriarchal society whose moral double standard allowed men to philander as they wished while women pretended to be unaware, embraced a new relationship ideology wherein women had the upper hand. It became virtuous for a man, called a knight-hero, to be the “faithful champion of his lady” (McDonald), even dueling fellow knights for her honor when necessary. Upon his death, Malory's Sir Lancelot was lauded as “the courtiest knight that ever bore shield...the truest friend to thy lover that ever bestrode horse” (Malory 455). It was within this setting that the conventions of courtly love- the medieval practice of noble men chivalrously expressing love and admiration for usually older and more socially priveleged women- developed. These rules addressed commitment, personal characteristics of the hero-knights, and emotional involvement within the extramarital relationship. They set forth a code thought to be intended as a behavioral guide for lovers to follow. This concept of courtly love became embedded in the lives of the nobility of the time, and, in keeping with literary tradition, also became the subject of some of the most famous poems and stories to emerge from medieval times, including both” The Miller's Tale” and “Morte Darthur”. The moral undertones inherent in a work dealing with adulterous subject matter suggest that many literary works exploring courtly love are in response to the oppression advocated by the Church for so long, and this suddestion is evident in both “The...
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