Love, Marriage, and Happiness: Changing Systems of Desire in Fourteenth-Century England



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In this study of love in fourteenth-century England I examine a broad range of texts and genres in order to better understand the range of uses and interpretations of love in fourteenth-century Middle English literature. Building on the foundation of a summary of a few important texts on love that circulated in England in the twelfth century (Bernard of Clairvaux, Marie de France, and Aelred of Rievaulx), I proceed to the fourteenth-century texts. My examination of two Middle English romances, Sir Degrevant and King of Tars, explores the connections between love, marriage, class, and material wealth. Next I tackle Chaucer s Marriage Group (The Wife of Bath s Tale, The Clerk s Tale, The Merchant s Tale, and The Franklin s Tale) and explore how Chaucer criticizes the use of marriage and love for selfish means and emphasizes the necessity for negotiation and reciprocity in marriage. I examine several Middle English love lyrics that feature a rejection of premarital relations and thus of the courtly love paradigm, and show how the devotional lyrics demonstrate a transfer of the emotional conventions of courtly love from earthly women to Christ. An examination of the writings of two English mystics, Incedium Amoris by Richard Rolle and The Book of Margery Kempe, further develops the theme of passionate love directed towards God. In my conclusion I explain that the key to understanding love in fourteenth-century England is comprehending the distinctions between love, marriage, and happiness in the medieval concept of love.