Clerics and Courtly Love in Andreas Capellanus’ The Art of Courtly Love and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales
Williams, Andrew (Université de Montréal)
Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses, núm. 3 (1999)
In both The Canterbury Tales and The Art of Courtly Love Geoffrey Chaucer and Andreas Capellanus deal with various aspects of courtly love. In particular, both of them focus to some degree on the question of clerical celibacy. The use of tale telling and imaginary dialogues result in a contemporary overview of the role of the cleric in courtly love, the church rules on the subject, and the opinions of the people on a subject that is ripe for exploration. My aim is to point out some of the similarities that result when the question of «responsible celibacy» is considered.
Introduction: Much of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is concerned with various aspects of love, courtly or otherwise. Of particular interest is Chaucer’s treatment of clerics and courtly love. What is their position in the army of love? A work that deals with this topic, and may well have been at Chaucer’s disposal was Andreas Capellanus’ The Art of Courtly Love. What is known of Andreas tells us that he was the court chaplin to Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. Using the form of an address to a young acolyte, Andreas defines love and gives instructions on gaining, keeping, and getting rid of love. As a contemporary of writers such as Chrétien de Troyes, Andreas was aware of the popularity of courtly writing — Dante’s «sweet new style.» In his book Capellanus codifies the rules of the courtly love genre. These rules are central to the Canterbury Tales, many of whose tales are composed in the courtly and mock courtly genre. The Art of Courtly Love was translated from the Latin into French in the latter half of the twelfth century, and into Germán and Italian in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It is unreasonable to believe that such a well read, travelled, and educated man as Chaucer would have been ignorant of such a popular work.