Courtly Love And Fabliaux

Courtly Love: Characteristics

A man loves a woman from afar. She is often his social superior, for example Sir Lancelot falls in love with Queen Guinevere or nerd Peter Parker falls in love with the popular Mary-Jane Watson. The lady is usually married or unavailable in some way.

The hero suffers for his love, either because he must love in secret and without hope of reciprocation or because he must prove his love to his lady through suffering. Sex is usually avoided because the man does not wish to ruin his lady’s reputation or the purity of his love. There is rarely a happy ending.

Example: Lancelot and Guinevere

Lancelot is the champion of King Arthur, who is married to Guinevere. Lancelot and Guinevere fall in love. In a series of dramatic rescues of Guinevere and attempts to impress her at jousting tournaments, Lancelot suffers pain and injury, thus proving his devotion.

Lancelot resists Guinevere’s advances and his own desire for many years. After one particularly dashing rescue they begin an affair. They are discovered and war breaks out between Lancelot and Arthur, fatally weakening Britain. Britain is conquered, Guinevere retires to a nunnery.

Fabliaux: Characteristics

Huge variety of tales but most involve sex and / or a taboo bodily function, such as urination or ‘passing wind’. Some or all of the characters will be of a low social class and thus vulgar (obviously). The emphasis is on comedy and there will be visual humour. Trickery, disguises and wit are used.

An rich, old and often impotent man marries a beautiful young woman. He becomes jealous and locks her away. A young man notices the woman and hatches a plot to get her out / himself in. She may contribute to the planning and there may be preliminary contact between the two lovers.

The old man is tricked, usually in a visually ludicrous way, into letting his wife out / her lover in. The consummation is swift, lively and humorously described. The old man becomes a laughing stock and the young lovers get away with it.

Example: Carter’s Puss in Boots

A young woman is married to an impotent old man. She is guarded by a ‘hag’ at all hours. A lively young man notices her and falls in love / lust. Letters are exchanged in secret and they plan a tryst.

Using disguises and trickery the young lovers meet and consummate their love. The visual description of this event is graphic but essentially humorous. The old man dies in an arranged ‘accident’. The wife inherits the old man’s fortune and the young lovers marry.


The ‘lady’ is married or in a relationship with another man. A love triangle forms with two men and one woman. There is a need for secrecy. The woman is often active, encouraging her lover.

Class of characters. Outcome for young lovers. Seriousness of love and sex. Courtly love – enduring delay and the quest for the unattainable. Fabliaux – attain as quickly as possible! Class / superiority of woman lusted after.


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