the gai troubadour and courtly love

I studied medieval literature as part of my Bachelor of Arts degree. A puzzling body of literature was loosely grouped under the label “courtly love”. This was a phenomenon where the troubadour, the professional singer/entertainer sang songs of immeasureable longing because his lady love was unavailable. She had hardened her heart to his poetic appeals, she was otherwise committed, often married. The singer continued to pour out his heart’s complaint and longing. It seems quaintly like a middle ages form of the blues. Medieval culture was influenced by Graeco-Roman writings, none more so than Aristotle’s famous observation that there is nothing new under the sun, in this regard strangely apt.

The troubadour was an entertainer and in contemporary etymology “gai”, a tad disreputable. It reminds one of a line from Mart Crowley’s Boys In The Band, about someone’s family considered the theatre disreputable.

James Boswell’s book on Christianity and Homosexuality discusses this period eruditely, something I am not capable of. A group of 12th century French poets create debates between Venus and Ganymede, between straight and gay, where, unlike real life, gay often triumphs.

Chaucer had the summoner and the pardoner singing a duet: “come love hither to me”. A 1950′s sci fi writer’s short story described a plague about to be unleashed on society, callously, inebriatedly observed by aliens from the future who have just visited Chaucer’s time, with an earworm of the pardoner’s lyric.


About anton veenstra

tapestry weaver, fibre artist, gay/qr activist, multiculturalist
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