To what extent does Wendy Cope, embody or defy the 'courtly love' tradition?

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Sarah Allen                08/05/2007

To what extent does Wendy Cope, embody or defy the ‘courtly love’ tradition?

The ‘courtly love’ tradition dates back to the seventeenth century, and is an idealistic idea based on the circumstance of a knight and his lady, a lover and a beloved. In this essay I will explore this tradition and how it is used in past and present literature.

The tradition of ‘courtly love’ is one of an idealistic nature, with a classic knight, and his beloved lady. The lady would generally be of a higher social status than the man, and we cans see this in poems by Chaucer and Shakespeare, who refer to their ladies as “Madame” and “Mistris[s]”. In an instance such as ‘courtly love’, the lovers love is generally unrequited, or his lady is unattainable. The fact that she is of a higher social status can be the cause of this. An anonymous poet describes how even though only sees his lady “passing by”, and she does not notice him, he will still “love her til” he “die[s]”. He also describes how he “touched her not, alas!” This also shows how she is out of his reach. In this, rejection is also something the poet Ben Jonson talks of. When he sent his beloved a flower wreath, she “sent’st it back” to him. The men, who fall in love with these unattainable women, are romantic and place their ladies upon a pedestal. He becomes a slave to her and to his love, and in these intricate poems, they speak the highest praise of them.  We see in a poem by Lord Byron, that he compares his lady to “water”, a substance clear and pure, and “sea” and “ocean”. Ladies are given divine metaphorical qualities and are subsequently referred to and praised as goddesses.

 The passionate lovers are romantic in their poems. They long for their chosen lady and they do not want to have to wait to have their love returned. Shakespeare describes this as “in delay there lies no plenty”, and “present mirth hath present laughter”. He feels no pleasure in prolonging his feelings.

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A final common aspect of courtly love poetry, is pleading, and how requests and pleas for love are shown. Shakespeare desires his lady to “come kiss” him “sweet and twenty”, longing for her many kisses. An anonymous poet also describes how as long as he “request[s]” her love, she will “deny it”. These are all typical aspects of the courtly love tradition and how poets express them.

The poem, “To his coy mistress”, by Andrew Marvell, is a love poem, which shows many aspects of the ‘courtly love’, tradition. However, Marvell’s poem was intended to be humorous and to make ...

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