Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Book by WUSTL English professor examines themes of medieval love poetry

This Valentine’s Day, flip through cable TV listings and you’ll see a bevy of romances. While those movies may feature modern actors and storylines, many of the common themes and conflicts can be traced back to medieval times.

What is considered “romantic” in contemporary Western society — love from afar, willingness to suffer, idealization of the love object — is partly a legacy of themes in medieval romantic poetry, says Jessica Rosenfeld, PhD, assistant professor of English in Arts and Sciences at Washington University in St.Louis and author of the book Ethics and Enjoyment in Late Medieval Poetry: Love after Aristotle (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

It was those medieval writers who first “defined love and made it the topic for literature,” Rosenfeld says. And movies.

Those medieval writers include Marie de France, Dante, Petrarch and Geoffrey Chaucer. “Chaucer is best known for the Canterbury Tales, but his Troilus and Criseyde is one of the great medieval romances,” Rosenfeld says.

Much medieval love poetry emphasizes suffering for love that can seem morbid or perverse, Rosenfeld says. “We still enjoy a story of love overcoming obstacles, but in medieval poetry, it can often seem as though the obstacles and the pain are in fact the goal,” she says. “One of the things I write about in my book is the way that certain authors found this odd and perverse themselves, and tried to depict the pursuit of love as the pursuit of happiness rather than suffering.”

Click here to read this article from Washington University in St.Louis