February 25th: Courtly Love and the Early Modern Lyric

Our textbook claims, “The influence of Petrarch’s sonnet sequence, about his unfulfilled love for Laura, was immense, and provided European love poets with a way to shape the erotic experience in terms of frustration, self-scrutiny, self-division, praise, and longing and to express this through elaborate metaphor, paradox, and an intense focus on detail.” How do the tradition of courtly love and the influences of Petrarch present themselves within the early sonnets of Wyatt, Surrey, Daniel, and Drayton? In other words, how do these poets portray love and the idea of courtship? How are their portrayals similar to or different from Petrarch’s?

7 thoughts on “February 25th: Courtly Love and the Early Modern Lyric

  1. Surrey is the most obviously influenced by Petrarch, as he has translated a copy of the sonnet “Love, that Doth Reign and Live within My Thoughts.” In Surrey’s other sonnets, he claims true devotion to his love no matter the consequences, stating “Sick or in health, in ill fame or in good/Yours will I be” (11-12). This is similar to Petrarch’s loyalty to Laura and his grievance when he feels that his love is unrequited and is the only thing that could heal him. Wyatt, on the other hand, has more significant differences to Petrarch. He harbors more resentment and bitterness toward love, stating “Blame but thyself, that has misdone/And well deserved to have blame” (29-30). Unlike Petrarch, who dramatically laments his frustration with Laura’s tortuous love, Wyatt is more frank with blaming and scorning the woman whose love he described as “rotten.” Daniel presents himself as a more forgiving lover, but feels dejected after his lover’s rejection of him. While Petrarch would never criticize Laura, Daniel does not shy away from referring to his love as “not fair, and thus unkind” (13). This bluntness makes him more similar to Wyatt than to Petrarch. Finally, Drayton has many similarities to Petrarch’s ideas of courtship. He states that his love will “survive in my immortal song,” thus rendering her a glorious model to the rest of womankind. His idolization of his love, and the fact that she holds significant influence over him even after their parting, show that he is similarly tied to her as Petrarch is to Laura.

  2. The traditional element of courtly love that involves a man’s suffering and torment when his beloved lady does not return his affections is very clearly at play in these 16th century poems. Daniel, however, speaks openly of the cruelty of women: “Fair is my love, and cruel as she’s fair” (1, sonnet 6). He suggests women even find pleasure in his pain, “contented” (13, sonnet 28) to see him suffer, which is a little different than a woman’s role in courtly love. Drayton follows the more traditional aspect of devoting himself completely to a woman: “My heart for hostage that it shall remain” (6, sonnet 63). Petrarch touches on these themes, but in contrast he expresses the desire to end his suffering from love by dying. His poems are filled with pain and sorrow when it comes to the concept of love, and he writes, “Sweet is the death that taketh end by love” (14, sonnet 140). While these poet’s touch on various thoughts and feelings on love, the common courtly love themes of suffering, devotion, and pain ring true in each of these sonnets.

    • Courtly love is certainly expressed through these poems that have been heavily influenced by Petrarch. All of the poems involve love, suffering, and some degree of devotion. Daniel does indeed have a far more bitter attitude towards the tradition of men suffering in love at the hands of women, but he is not alone in this deviation from the tradition. Though his poems are not as straightforwardly angry, Drayton is not as completely devoted to his courtly lady as Davies or Wyatt are to theirs. He seems less likely to, as Petrarch would, die for his love, or waste away endlessly in search of it: “I am glad, yea glad with all my heart, / That thus so cleanly I myself can free” (3-4, sonnet 61). In this sonnet, Drayton talks about he and his love parting, and he seems to hint at the end that another love may be possible after the wounds of this one heal. This is different from the idea that courtly love is worth death and that there is nothing that comes after it, an idea perpetuated by Petrarch.

  3. The poets of the 16th century certainly carried over the medieval era’s penchant for melodrama. “For to my mouth the first (kiss) my heart did suck; The next shall clean out of my breast it pluck” (7-8 Epigrams 38). The idea of love causing suffering is prevalent throughout nearly every reading. The concept of women having to play hard to get (for lack of a better term) is also evident. “Alas, madam, for stealing of a kiss / Have I so much your mind there offended?” (1-2 Epigrams 38). One of the trademarks of courtly romance is the protecting of a woman’s honor, which was evidently a casual pastime of gentlemen of the era.

  4. Just looking at Sir Thomas Wyatt’s sonnets, one can see the influence of courtly love. In “10”, Wyatt speaks of “long love that in my thought doth harbor”, showing how long his affection lasted (line 1). This correlates with the long-term love that happened in court-stories, where a man pined for a woman for a while until he could prove his love for her. He speaks of the woman he desires as teaching him to “love and suffer”, which is what happened in stories of courtly love like “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, where the wife of the host toys with Gawain but also tricks him with the green belt (line 10).

    • I totally agree with what you’re saying about Sir Wyatt’s sonnets but I think it also goes with the other poets and their sonnets as well. I also think these sonnets were a way of letting out feelings other than the wonders of love. In Surrey’s “Love, that Doth Reign and Live within My Thought,” I feel as if the act of waiting and being courtly is almost like torture “And coward Love, then, to the heart apace/ Taketh his flight, where he doth lurk and plain,/ For from my lord’s guilt thus faultless bide I pain.” I feel like the times are changing from the medieval courtly love to a more desire filled yearn for a woman. I think the act of courtly love still exists but in these sonnets, I feel as if the poets want more and this wanting is a long and drawn out process that seems painful and forever.

  5. Sixteenth century poetry dealing with courtly love, a holdover from the medieval period, was shaped most prominently by Petrarch, who pined for Laura from afar. He was steadfastly loyal to her, just as chivalrous knights were faithful to their ladies. However, he also emphasized the pain and grief caused by unrequited love, such as in Rime Sparse stanza 134, when he says “my delight is causer of this strife” (line 14). Other poets followed this trend, namely Wyatt and Davies. However, their open expressions of suffering at the hands of love contrast with earlier depictions of courtly love, in which the lover was supposed to bear his torment quietly.

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