Courtly Love, the Love of Courtliness, and the History of Sexuality.
In the introduction to Courtly Love, the Love of Courtliness, and the History of Sexuality, James A. Schultz points out that the phenomenon of courtly love has been conspicuously absent from studies of the history of sexuality. In this stimulating work, Schultz uses Foucault-inspired gender theory to analyze texts including Heinrich yon Veldeke's Eneasroman; Wolfram yon Eschenbach's Parzival, Willehalm, and Titurel; Hartmann von Aue's Eric and Iwein; and the Nibelungenlied.
The book is divided into four sections. The first, Causa materialis (What Sort of Bodies are Involved), deals with precisely what Schultz's informal and witty subheading predicts. Beginning with Wolfram von Eschenbach's description of Parzival's penis, Schultz examines the ways in which erotic significance was ascribed to the body, or any part thereof. Focusing on Parzival, Schultz points out that on its first appearance, at Parzival's birth, the penis is initially textually significant only to indicate gender. From this innocuous gender-marker, the penis of Parzival becomes the "penis of love," an indication that "Parzival is intrinsically courtly" even from his birth (p. 15). While the sexual implications of Parzival's penis are obvious, Schultz warns his readers that this is only part of the picture: a warning which his later chapters make clear.
The second section, Causa efficiens (What Gets them Going), deals with the social effects of the body. Reminding his readers that modern categories (specifically heterosexuality) are problematic when analyzing medieval texts, Schultz searches for textual clues about the motivations of courtly lovers. His findings draw the reader into a web of nobility, courtly culture, and "Aristophilia," or the love of courtliness itself.
Schultz explores the rules by which this courtly world operates in his third section, Causaformalis (How do they Manage it). In this section, Schultz begins to make his conclusions apparent. Using examples of "Single Singers," "Chivalric Couples," and "Secret Lovers," Schultz illustrates the network of social rules that operate in courtly society.
The results of courtly pursuit are explored in his fourth section, Causa finalis (What do they get out of it). Schultz begins chapter eleven with a quote from Foucault, which implies that the purpose of courtly love was to obtain sex, but also suggests that the process had many social implications. Rather than confining himself to the sexual goal, Schultz focuses on the implications of courtly culture for the social networks depicted in and affected by courtly literature. Schultz delineates the rewards obtained and provided by the lovers, knights, ladies, singers. In portraying the ways in which these rewards are obtained, Schultz illustrates the ways in which gender codes are formed and infringed upon. In doing so, Schultz has uncovered many possibilities for future dialogue.
The informality heralded by Schultz's subheadings is apparent in the tone throughout the volume. However, it must be emphasized that it is purely stylistic. In his research and documentation, Schultz is traditional and comprehensive. This book draws upon an impressive survey of primary material and incorporates major works that deal with the history of sexuality, all of which are meticulously referenced in his bibliography and endnotes. Though Schultz is aware of the literary debates on courtly texts, it is clear that this was not his primary interest.
Throughout this work Schultz maintains the necessity of questioning categories. Building upon Karma Lochrie's assertion that the "normative principal" of heterosexuality is a peculiarity of the modern age and Foucault's assertions about the problems of defining "regular sexuality" (p. xvii), Schultz proceeds to question both sexual categories themselves, and the ways in which they are formed. Rather than being abstract, Schultz's theoretical discussions continually return to the texts and, more importantly, the implications for the individual characters.
It is important to note that Schultz does not claim his observations are true for all of courtly literature. Instead, he frequently makes comparisons between the Middle High German texts that are his focus and,, for example, Arthurian courtly literature. While Schultz's observations are unique to a specific set of texts, Courtly Love has broader application. In each section, Schultz makes valuable methodological and theoretical observations.
Schultz's observations about the purpose of courtly love and the ways in which it both creates and subverts social paradigms make this work accessible and interesting to scholars whose area of interest lies outside Germanic vernacular literature. Although the texts dealt with here are fictional, as Schultz reminds us in his introduction, they encompassed historical, theological, medical, and philosophical realities of the time. They are "neither learned nor marginal." Unlike many medieval texts, they allow some insight into the medieval world. They reflect an idealized part, but such a stylized ideal that they still provide a surprisingly clear window into aspects of medieval society.
St. Bonaventure University
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|Publication:||Canadian Journal of History|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2008|
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