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7 - ‘This was a sodeyn love’: Ladies Fall in Love in Medieval Romance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 December 2023

A. S. G. Edwards
Affiliation:
University of Kent, University College, London, and King's College, London
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Summary

Men tend to fall in love swiftly in medieval romance. Yvain is the classic case: even in fear of his life and literally caught in a highly precarious situation, his first glimpse of Laudine is enough to awaken a powerful passion within him; Laudine herself, in contrast, needs to be reasoned into marriage with the man who has just killed her husband. Troilus’s falling in love is complicated by the direct intervention of Cupid, but here too the phenomenon of ‘love at first sight’ is introduced unquestioningly by Boccaccio and Chaucer. Across other medieval genres women are mainly depicted as responding only slowly to men’s initiatives in wooing them, accepting their professions of love after invoking the important and highly gendered performance of danger. As laid out in the allegorical love-vision model, pioneered in the Roman de la Rose and confirmed by such poems as Chaucer’s The Book of the Duchess, Gower’s Confessio Amantis, and Dunbar’s The Golden Targe, the components that elicit and constitute male desire and female behaviour are highly specified. In post-Roman de la Rose compositions, a woman’s love is granted only in return for convincing and well-expressed vows of fidelity and chivalric service. ‘One had to have the in-group knowledge and skills to perform and compose expressions of this love, but also fulfil ideo-affective conditions that were not absolutely confirmable in the external world’, notes Graham Williams; while emotional turmoil and physiological distress are the lot of the male lover, the social risks involved in negotiating interpersonal emotions of love are understood as mainly borne by the lady.

In earlier Middle English romances, among them versions of Anglo-Norman or French narratives, the catalyst to the young man’s love is differently presented. For Launfal, Horn and Partonope a woman’s appearance, words and behaviour awaken male sexual desire, and the lady’s immediate declaration of her love both reinforces that desire and draws a lasting commitment from the man. In each of these cases, the imbalance between man and woman in terms of apparent or real social status and wealth works to empower the woman to express her feelings openly.

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Medieval Romance, Arthurian Literature
Essays in Honour of Elizabeth Archibald
, pp. 93 - 110
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2021

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