Seduction, Abandonment, and Sorcery in Middle English Lyrics
Minnesota English Journal, Volume 44, Number 1 Fall (2008)
Introduction: “Amor vincit omnia” (love conquers all) is a well-known expression that was recited passionately in medieval culture with voice, with pen, and, as John Cherry posits, even with tools, as it was often inscribed on medieval brooches. In medieval literature, this expression was coupled with the euphoric image of medieval courtly love. However, the concept of courtly love, so popular in medieval literature, is not the sole basis of the Middle English lyrics. In fact, many of the lyrics portray love in a very different way. The lyrics that are the focus of this article are not about courtly love; instead, they are concerned with a single woman’s feelings of rejection, anger, fear of unfaithfulness, and fear of pregnancy. The women in these lyrics are seduced and then abandoned. Oftentimes, they react to this abandonment by using magic. Magic becomes a tool with which women respond to the expectations society placed upon them.
My purpose in writing this article is to expose a different view of romantic relationships that exist in medieval literature, a view that is in opposition to courtly love. My intention is to encourage high school English teachers to incorporate these lyrics into a lesson plan because studying them is an imaginative, entertaining approach to get students interested in medieval culture. The relationship issues these characters wrestle with are present in relationships today. Students will be able to relate to those problems and, thus, ﬁ nd themselves relating to songs that were written hundreds of years ago. Young adults will be drawn to the irrational behavior of the characters; these individuals blame others for their own mistakes, and they consider blame to be a logical and acceptable means of managing a difﬁ cult situation. These characters and the situations they ﬁ nd themselves in are entertaining, and the magic, secrecy, infatuation, and jealousy these poems contain are all timeless plot devices that have captivated the human mind through the ages.