Much Ado About Nothing

Courtly Love

Courtly Love was practiced during the Middle Ages and originated in France, around the time of the First Crusade, in 1099. From there, Eleanor of Aquitaine (famous for first being Queen of France, and then, via a second marriage, Queen of England) was responsible for bringing the idea to England, where it was practised in English courts from the 1300s to the 1500s.

Marriage was considered successful if the match brought material advantage to oneself and one’s family. Since at the time marriage had little to do with love, courtly love was also a way for nobles to express the love not found in their marriage. One’s need for romance could be found outside marriage – as long as the rules relating to chastity and fidelity were strictly adhered to.

Courtly Love followed strict rules, combined with the Code of Chivalry, and allowed knights and ladies to show their admiration for another regardless of their marital state. It was not uncommon for a married lady to give a token to a knight of her choice to be worn during a medieval tournament. Whilst rules existed, often the parties, who started their relationship with such elements of courtly love, would become deeply involved. In the Legend of King Arthur, his own Queen (Guinevere) fell in love with Sir Lancelot.

The Rules of Courtly Love

The following rules and elements of Courtly Love during the Middle Ages were written by the 12th Century Frenchman, Andreas Capellanus, in De Arte Honeste Amandi (The Art of Courtly Love), which included the following 31 Rules of Courtly Love. The rules demonstrate how playing this ‘game’ could lead to all kinds of problems within the court circle.

  1. Marriage is no real excuse for not loving
  2. He who is not jealous cannot love
  3. No one can be bound by a double love
  4. It is well known that love is always increasing or decreasing
  5. That which a lover takes against the will of his beloved has no relish
  6. Boys do not love until they arrive at the age of maturity
  7. When one lover dies, a widowhood of two years is required of the survivor
  8. No one should be deprived of love without the very best of reasons
  9. No one can love unless he is impelled by the persuasion of love
  10. Love is always a stranger in the home of avarice
  11. It is not proper to love any woman whom one would be ashamed to seek to marry
  12. A true lover does not desire to embrace in love anyone except his beloved
  13. When made public love rarely endures
  14. The easy attainment of love makes it of little value; difficulty of attainment makes it prized
  15. Every lover regularly turns pale in the presence of his beloved
  16. When a lover suddenly catches sight of his beloved, his heart palpitates
  17. A new love puts to flight an old one
  18. Good character alone makes any man worthy of love
  19. If love diminishes, it quickly fails and rarely revives
  20. A man in love is always apprehensive
  21. Real jealousy always increases the feeling of love
  22. Jealousy, and therefore love, are increased when one suspects his beloved
  23. He whom the thought of love vexes eats and sleeps very little
  24. Every act of a lover ends in the thought of his beloved
  25. A true lover considers nothing good except what he thinks will please his beloved
  26. Love can deny nothing to love
  27. A lover can never have enough of the solaces of his beloved
  28. A slight presumption causes a lover to suspect his beloved
  29. A man who is vexed by too much passion usually does not love
  30. A true lover is constantly and without intermission possessed by the thought of his beloved
  31. Nothing forbids one woman being loved by two men or one man by two women

After reading the Rules of Courtly Love, answer the following questions:

  • Which rules do you agree or disagree with?
  • As a class read Act 1, scene 1 line 119 (“Benedick, didst thou note the daughter of Signor Leonato?”) to the end of the scene.
  • In pairs find evidence that Claudio is following the rules of courtly love.
  • Identify what rules of courtly love might still exist today, and, which are considered not appropriate today and why.
  • Write “The twelve modern rules of love.”
  • Share your new rules with your class, noting similarities or differences to one another’s lists. How do your lists differ from the original Courtly Love rules?

Related resources