Table of Contents
I. Throw Out Your Rulebooks!
In 1957 the Monotones came out with a hit song that began:
Oh, I Wonder Wonder Who, Who Who Who Who: Who Wrote the Book of Lo-o-ove?” The song on YouTube
The Book had a number of chapters in it, all of which were rules.
The next year Harvey and the Moonglows produced a similarly-themed song. It had the refrain:
Oh, how happ-py we will be, / If we / Keep the ten-n-n-n / Comman-n-n-m-m-ments of lo-o-ove” The song on YouTube
Now, the people of that time (of whom I was one), though they enjoyed the songs, did not really believe there was a rulebook of love. General principles, yes, such as that of fidelity: if you were going steady with one person, you didn’t have to do with another person on the side. But not a whole set of rules from which you could not deviate. Concepts of love, and practices of lovers, varied.
In the 12th century, in the south of what we now call France, there arose a notion of ideal love that nowadays we call “courtly love,” but that people back then referred to as fin’ amors. The word fine here meant: “refined – noble – authentic – true – good – right – superior.” It contrasted with love that was ordinary, common, crude, and so forth. Before long the concept and poetry of fin’ amors reached all over Europe.
But was there, in the Middle Ages, at any time, in any country, a “code of courtly love”? that is to say, a code that was widely accepted and adhered to, and such that, if you deviated from any of its precepts, you were no longer practicing fin’ amors?
The short answer is: No! – in spite of Andreas Capellanus, who wrote a treatise on the subject in the latter 12th century (De arte honeste amandi), and in spite of Guillaume de Lorris, who in his portion of the Romance of the Rose (c1230) states that it contains “the entire art of love,” and who has the god Amor present the Lover with, precisely, a set of rules.
Consider: if somebody came to you and described what shurree called “Ideal Love” or “The Best Possible Kind of Love,” and it was a type of love that you yourself did not find “ideal” or “the best possible,” would you not contest the use of those expressions with the would-be definer? Would you not take over the term and give it a different content?
II. Fin’ amors and Marriage?
Specifically, is it a “rule” of fin’ amors that it cannot exist between a husband and wife?
To be sure, the troubadours, by and large, do not seem to envisage it. The single great subject of their cansós is desire – unsatisfied desire, at least at the time of singing. The poet-lover may have experienced joy at some time in the past with his lady, and he hopes to experience it (again) in the future, but he is not enjoying it now except through, precisely, desire for it. Nor does he ever evoke a future in which circumstances will be any different. For as long as this love lasts, its consummation will be furtive, and sporadic.
Then there is Andreas Capellanus, who in his De arte honeste amandi famously records a “judgement” by the Countess of Champagne (Chrétien’s Marie):
| Dicimus enim et stabilito tenore firmamus amorem non posse suas inter duos iugales extendere vires. Nam amantes sibi invicem gratis omnia largiuntur nullius necessitatis ratione cogente. Iugales vero mutuis tenentur ex debito voluntatibus obedire et in nullo se ipsos sibi invicem denegare.  … Sed et alia istud ratione asserimus, quia praeceptum tradit amoris quod nulla etiam coniugata regis poterit amoris praemio coronari nisi extra coniugii foedera ipsius amoris militiae cernatur adiuncta.  Alia vero regula docet amoris neminem posse duorum sauciari amore. Merito ergo inter coniugatos sua non poterit amor iura cognoscere. Sed et alia quidem ratio eis obstare videtur, quia vera inter eos zelotypia inveniri non potest, sine qua verus amor esse non valet, ipsius amoris norma testante quae dicit: qui non zelat amare non potest.|| We say and affirm decisively that love cannot extend its power between two spouses. For lovers bestow all things on each other freely, without the compelling reason of any necessity. But spouses are bound to obey each other’s wishes out of duty and in nothing to deny themselves to each other.  … We assert this for another reason as well, since a precept of love dictates that no married woman can be crowned with King Love’s reward, unless she is discerned to serve in the same Love’s militia outside the bonds of marriage.  Another rule of love teaches that no woman can be smitten with love for two men (at the same time) 1 . Rightly therefore Love cannot acknowledge its laws to prevail between spouses. And still another reason seems to stand in their way, since true jealousy cannot be found between them, without which true love cannot exist, as the Standard of Love himself testifies: “Whoever is not jealous cannot love.”|
| Hoc igitur nostrum iudicium cum nimia moderatione prolatum et aliarum quam plurimarum dominarum consilio roboratum pro indubitabili vobis sit ac veritate constanti. 2|| Therefore let this our judgement, delivered with great moderation, and confirmed by the opinion of numerous other ladies, be held by you as indubitable and unchanging truth.|
But what are judgements for, if not to be overturned? This is, after all, a matter in which a great romance-writer (especially if the romance-writer is Chrétien) has as much authority as a countess (even a countess who is also a daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine).
It is also a matter that takes on a very different aspect when we cross genres, that is, when we pass from lyric poetry to narrative, and this is the essential thing. When you have lovers in a story, you generally need to have an ending situation that is different from the beginning situation. Two main possibilities present themselves:
- The Tristan-and-Iseut solution. The lady marries, but the man she marries is not the man she loves. The two noble, but adulterous, lovers carry on their affair under the husband’s increasingly suspicious nose. The final outcome is death for one or more parties. (Presumably, Eleanor, Marie, and Andreas would approve: adultery and death before fin’ amors in marriage!)
- The Journeys-end-in-lovers-meeting solution. Neither lover is married at the outset. They experience what noble lovers are supposed to (the first vision, the total absorption, the successive pains and delights [but not yet the final delight]). The end of their story is (as in a fairy-tale): they get married, and live…
To be sure, a few other patterns or paths exist (they are explored, notably, by Marie de France in her Lays); but I would say that, for a story of any length or complexity, the above two possibilities are the main ones.
A notable case of the second solution occurs even before we get to Chrétien de Troyes, in the anonymously written Roman d’Enéas (Romance of Aeneas). Here, the author invents an entire love story involving Aeneas and his destined bride-to-be, Lavinia. They fall in love, they obsess, they pine, they communicate with difficulty, they pass through all kinds of difficulties (including, of course, civil war), until at last they can be joined together in marriage. The Roman d’Enéas was an important model for later romance-writers.
Chrétien himself follows this second path in all his romances, except for Lancelot. The love of Lancelot and Guinevere is in fact closely modeled on that of Tristan and Iseut (though Chrétien does not take the tale all the way to its logical end). In contrast, in his four other romances (with a little finessing in the case of Perceval) love of the fin’ amors variety most emphatically leads to marriage.
III. Chrétien de Troyes
A. Erec et Enide
Or at least ends up there. The path the story takes always leads to the consummation of noble love within marriage.
In Chrétien’s first romance, the lovers become affianced even before they are lovers, almost before they know each other. The hero, hosted by a hospitable vavasseur, takes a look at the man’s daughter and proposes marriage – to the woman’s father. The deal is concluded without either man’s asking the damsel what her wishes are, though we are given to understand that she is not displeased.
Subsequently, Erec’s eyes, gazing on his bride-to-be whom he is accompanying back to Arthur’s court, grow lovey-dovey… as do hers, gazing on him. Fin’ amors raises its lovely head!
The now-lovers get married under the approving eyes of King Arthur’s court. Shortly afterwards, alas, they experience what today is called a “period of adjustment,” which the bulk of the story is devoted to; but when all has been smoothed out, Chrétien describes their coming together again in the marriage/lovers’ bed in a way appropriate for fins amants (noble lovers):
|Or fu Erec et forz et sains,
Or fu gariz et respassez.
Or fu Enide liee assez,
Or ot totes ses volantez,
Or li revient sa granz biautez,
Car mout estoit et pale et tainte,
Si l’avoit ses granz diaus atainte.
Or fu acolee et beisiee,
Or fu de toz biens aeisiee,
Or ot sa joie et son delit;
Que nu a nu sont an un lit
Et li uns l’autre acole et beise;
N’est riens nule, qui tant lor pleise.
Tant ont eü mal et enui,
Il por li et ele por lui,
Qu’or ont feite lor penitance.
Li uns ancontre l’autre tance
Comant plus li puisse pleisir;
Del soreplus me doi teisir.
|Now was Erec strong and healthy,
Now he was healed and restored.
Now was Enide sufficiently happy,
Now she had all her wishes,
Now her great beauty comes back to her,
For she was very pale and colorless,
For her great suffering had thus affected her.
Now she was hugged and kissed,
Now she was comforted with all goods,
Now she had her joy and her delight;
They are naked together in one bed,
And each one hugs and kisses the other;
There is nothing that pleases them so much.
They have had so much evil and distress,
He for her and she for him,
That now they have done their penance.
The one struggles with the other to see
Who can give most pleasure;
Of the rest I must keep silent.
The last line, “Of the rest I must keep silent,” is similar to what Chrétien will say-not say about Lancelot and Guinevere’s first night together.
Chrétien’s second romance has two parts, the story of how Cligés’s parents got together, and the story of their son, his lady-friend, and their love.
Alexander, son of the Greek emperor, comes to prove his valor and courtesy at – where else? – the court of King Arthur. There he falls for one of Guinevere’s ladies-in-waiting, Soredamors (she is Gauvain’s sister). The two characters experience the pangs of nascent love, without daring to broach the subject to each other. Arthur’s queen – Guinevere, no less! – correctly diagnoses the problem and brings them together. Hear what she then advises them (after telling them to express their feelings freely):
|Or vos lo que ja ne querez
Forsen en volenté d’amor.
Par mariage et par enor
Vos antre aconpaigniez ansanble;
Ensi porra, si com moi sanble,
Vostre amors longuement durer. 3
|Now I advise you not to seek out
Madness in your desire for love.
Through honorable marriage
Join yourselves as companions together;
Thus may, as it seems to me,
Your love last a long time.
The trials of the second pair of lovers, Cligés and Fénice, last considerably longer. For political reasons Fénice, daughter of the Western Emperor, is betrothed to Alis, who is the uncle of Cligés and current Eastern Emperor (a title that rightfully belongs to Cligés). But alas, Cligés and Fénice have seen each other and fallen irretrievably in love. What is to happen now? Fénice is resolved not to follow Iseut’s example, as she informs her maid:
|…l’empereres me marie,
Don je sui iriee et dolante,
Por ce que cil qui m’atalante
Est niés celui que prendre doi.
Et se cil a joie de moi,
Donc ai ge la moie perdue,
Ne je n’i ai nule atandue.
Mialz voldroie estre desmanree
Que de nos deux fust remanbree
L’amor d’Ysolt et de Tristan,
Don mainte folie dit an,
Et honte en est a reconter.
Ja ne porroie acorder
A la vie qu’Isolz mena.
Amors en li trop vilena,
Que ces cuers fu a un entiers,
Et ses cors fu a deux rentiers.
Ensi tote sa vie usa
N’onques les deux ne refusa.
Ceste amors ne fu lpas resnable,
Mes la moie iert toz jorz estable,
Car de mon cors et de mon cuer
N’iert ja fet partie a nul fuer.
Ja mes cors n’iert voir garçoniers,
N’il n’i avra deux parçoniers.
Qui a le cuer, cil a le cors.
| …the emperor is marrying me,
For which I am aggrieved and sad,
On account of, the one that appeals to me
Is nephew to the one I must take.
And if the uncle has joy of me,
Then have I lost my own,
Nor do I have any expectation of it.
I’d rather be torn limb from limb
Than that through us people be reminded
Of the love of Iseut and Tristan,
Of which many a folly is said,
And it is a shame to relate.
I could never agree
To the life Iseut led.
In her love was greatly abased,
For her heart was wholly one’s,
While her body was shared by two.
Thus she spent her entire life,
Nor ever refused the two.
This love is not reasonable,
But mine will be ever stable,
For of my body and of my heart
A separation will never be made.
Never will my body be prostituted,
Nor will it be shared by two.
Whoever has the heart has the body as well.
Fortunately, Fénice’s maid, handy with drugs, has a solution, Fénice is able to love Cligés without committing adultery, and after many a turn the lovers are at last able to marry each other.
Yvain kills Esclados le Roux, falls head over heels in love with his widow, woos her in fin’ amors style, and weds her, all in the space of a couple of weeks. The suddenness of the love (and the choice of love object), and the speed with which a marriage is arranged, are funny, but there is no reason to suppose that Yvain does not suppose he is experiencing authentic fin’ amors. (For more on this romance, see my Nine Theses on Chrétien de Troyes.)
Lancelot is, of course, the exception that (possibly) proves the rule.
Does the eponymous hero marry Blanchefleur? Not before leaving her domain, which he has rescued from its attackers, to go check on his possibly ailing mother. And he has slept with Blanchefleur and (it is altogether likely) made love to her (after some initial uncertainty). But his closing words to the good people of Belrepeire show that this is no case of love ’em and leave ’em. On the contrary he makes it clear he intends to return to Belrepeire, with his mother (alive or dead), which is to say he intends settle down there permanently, as lord of the château and (consequently) as husband of its lady. Meanwhile, the longing he feels for his absent mistress (described in the episode of the “Three Drops of Blood”) is unquestionably of the fin’ amors kind.
- Alternatively: “no one can be smitten with love for two persons.”
- From Book I. The numbers are those of the online Latin text found at TheLatinLibrary.
- lines 2264-2268 in the Micha edition (CFMA 84). I use Gaston Paris’s emendation of line 2265.