Woman and love in medieval courtly literature: the real and the fictional
By Evren Birkan
MA Thesis, Dogus University, 2011
Abstract: The purpose of this study is to examine the formal and thematic interaction of the poetry of medieval Arabs with Western literature through the Troubadour poets in France. In the love poetry of Arabs, where divine love is the central theme, the poet’s muse is sometimes described as an unattainable divine being, sometimes as a very beautiful woman with earthly qualities.
This attitude to woman observed in the poems of Arab writers has had a significant influence, firstly on the Troubadour poets of Southern France, then through the French and the Italian writers on the English. In tracing this influence the present study also tries to draw attention on the paradoxes and dilemmas inherent in the presentation of courtly love and the image of the woman which arise from the unrealistic conditions of life in medieval Europe.
In medieval Christian societies “woman” was seen either as Eve, the temptress to be avoided by men or as Virgin Mary, the unreal, unattainable noble and virgin lady who could not be a wife and a beloved but a divinity to be adored. The present study argues that the courtly love poetry that had its sources in Arabic and Troubadour poems foregrounds the irreconcilability of fact and fiction concerning the medieval European man‟s approach to the concepts of love and the “woman”.
In building this argument the study will analyze first the love poetry of three early medieval Arab poets namely: Ibn Hazm, Ibn Quzman and Ibn Arabi, who are considered the leading figures of Arabic literature; and then The Knight’s Tale of Geoffrey Chaucer and Le Morte Darthur of Thomas Malory as the two most well-known chivalric love romances of British medieval literature.
Top Image: Troubadour playing a fiddle – image from BnF ms. 854 fol. 49