Andreas Capellanus Criticism - Essay

Hermann J. Weigand (essay date 1956)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Andreas Capellanus,” in Three Chapters on Courtly Love in Arthurian France and Germany, The University of North Carolina Press, 1956, pp. 18-25.

[In the following excerpt, Weigand explains how, in De Amore, religious proscriptions against sex yield to the seductive ways of sensual love.]

The Latin treatise,1 composed at the end of the 12th century, is the work of Andreas, a cleric, who refers to himself as the French royal chaplain. Inner evidence shows that he set himself the task of systematizing the conception of Courtly Love championed by Countess Marie of Champagne and her mother, Queen Eleanor. The treatise—some 200 pages in length—takes the form of a letter to his friend Walter, at whose importunings Andreas, putting on a show of reluctance, proceeds to instruct him in all matters concerning love. He goes about his task systematically, beginning with a definition of love and following it up with some further preliminaries. Andreas clearly has a three-part scheme in mind: 1) How to acquire love. 2) How to retain love. 3) Why love should be rejected. But the book did not work out fully according to plan. It spends most of its creative impulse on the first topic, how to acquire love. On the second, how to retain love, Andreas has very little to say. He soon runs out of material and turns to other highly interesting matters which would have called for a major caption, had he not been under the compulsion of a set scheme. This second division really deals with the casuistry of love. It presents 18 specific cases of issues arising in lovers' relations. Here the judgment of experts on the rules of love is invoked—great ladies, such as Marie of Champagne and her mother. And it concludes with a story in which a knight of Britain, after many adventures concerning the quest of a sparrowhawk, obtains a parchment on which the laws of love are written—31 in number—as divulged by the mouth of the God of love in person for the guidance of all true lovers. The third division, why love should be rejected, represents a total, most surprising about-face on the chaplain's part: contradicting everything that has been said in the first five-sixths of his treatise about the excellence of love, he assembles all the arguments that have ever been urged against the cultivation of the passion—religious, social, utilitarian, hygienic. And he ends up with a diatribe on women which ascribes to them—to all of them, without exception—all the vices recorded in his catalog. This satire on women (already a theme of classical antiquity) is an early instance of a genre that was to become a very popular vehicle of literary expression in the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance.2 As regards Andreas, the very inferior quality of his satire would seem to show that he felt under obligation to pay some kind of lip service to the Christian code which as a cleric he was in duty bound to represent. His real interest lay in the exposition of the gallant passion in all its aspects. But as to his convictions, his set of values, the net effect of his book is to show an author who wears a mask, and we look in vain for a face behind it.

Disregarding the third part, we have in Andreas' book a manual of courtship and an exposition of the rules that govern the courtly lover's behavior. Love is extolled as the most ennobling of passions and the most exciting and hazardous of sports. The pursuit of love is an arduous service, a military service in a company of which the God of Love, Amor, is acknowledged supreme ruler. The whole conception of love is patterned on the Christian model, as its para-religious counterpart. For the realm of love has not only its God, but also its heaven, its purgatory and its hell in the afterworld. Their existence is vouched for by a detailed vision in which the constant are shown as dwelling in all manner of delight, the promiscuous as plagued by extremes of temperature and the mad press of confusion, and those who refused to enlist in the service of love as subject to cruelest torture in the life after death. (These unfortunates—beautiful women all of them—are seated on great rolls of thorns that are manipulated by savage attendants). Thus we see that the whole scheme is conceived in terms of the Christian set-up, as a parody of its scheme, but there is no overt humor to show it as a product of make-believe fancy.

The vision concerns the fate of women and is reported by a man. The whole book is written from the man's point of view and mentions the emotional experiences of women only incidentally—this quite in contrast to courtly romance, which delights in the infinite elaboration of the whole phenomenology of love, including all the symptoms of a nascent passion in both the sexes. Our author's chief concern is to instruct his reader, a man, in the ways of winning a woman on whom he has set his heart. There are three major, honest, ways by which a man can win the response of a virtuous woman—a fine physique, manly virtuous deportment, and fluency and elegance of speech. To the first and second of these our author pays homage, but it is the last which he sets out to teach. Given a bright young man, it should not be too difficult for him to learn the line of approach most likely to lead to the accomplishment of his desires. Medieval society being a class society, the approach must vary depending upon the social status of the solicitant and that of the lady. In both sexes three distinct classes are recognized as fit to concern themselves with the affairs of love: the middle class, the gentry, and the nobility. In the case of the male sex the cleric, because of his high office, ranks with the nobility.

Andreas casts his instructions in these matters in the form of a manual consisting of eight dialogues, in which men representing the three classes (and including the cleric) address themselves in each case to a woman of different social status. To exhaust all the possibilities of social degree there should have been nine, but the dialogue containing the line to be taken by a man of the gentry to a lady of the high nobility is omitted. These are schematic dialogues in which the conversation may take a different turn, depending on the age, physique, and affluence of the solicitant and the status of the lady as married, widowed, or virgin, and wealthy or indigent. In all cases, of course, the appeal of the lady resides in her beauty as well as in her virtue, and the man always represents himself as highly deserving of the requital of his passion on the ground of his virtue. Thus the dialogues, after the preliminary exchange of duly graded compliments, develop into a give and take of argument and persuasion. They are spirited rhetorical exercises that tax the aggressor's ingenuity, and they end with varying success for the male. For apart from the fact that women, too, develop a great deal of ingenuity in this sparring and do not always concede defeat in these debates, it would run counter to the courtly code for the male to win a complete and easy victory at the first assault. The fortress must be skillfully defended, and complete victory according to the code must be preceded by a long period of probation. There are four clearly marked stages in the attainment of a lady's favor: the granting of hope, the yielding of a kiss, the embrace or touch of each other's nude bodies, and complete possession. It is understood that the lady, after yielding the first three degrees of her favor, may always withdraw (for good reason) without conceding the most intimate enjoyment of her person.

Three things strike us as peculiar about the courtly code here unfolded: First, there is an axiomatic presupposition that love is a passion of supremely ennobling effect upon its devotee. The knight is propelled—impelled would be too weak a term—to all exhibitions of virtue by the glow infused by his lady. Feats of superhuman courage, acts of largess to solicitants, of generosity to the vanquished, are all owing to her inspiring grace. “Amor omnium fons et origo bonorum”—love is the fountainhead and source of all good things (68),3 this is the axiom, ever repeated and developed by variation, throughout Andreas' book. Courtly romance, of course, is founded on the same principle. And who would deny that it has entirely lost its efficacy today, inasmuch as we are still poised on the brink of that...

(The entire section is 3457 words.)

Donald K. Frank (essay date 1966)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Some Rational Considerations of Andreas Capellanus,” in Romance Notes, Vol. VIII, No. 1, Autumn, 1966, pp.121-27.

[In the following essay, Frank focuses on the central position of rationality among matters of love debated by Capellanus in De Amore.]

The De Amore of Andreas Capellanus, a middle or later twelfth century document, was probably written under the supervision of Countess Marie of Champagne and the influence of her mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, patroness of the troubadours.1 The De Amore is a primer on the whole of the courtly love relationship. It sets forth twelve and then thirty-one rules of chivalric love. It...

(The entire section is 3027 words.)

Richard A. Koenigsberg (essay date 1967)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Culture and Unconscious Fantasy: Observations on Courtly Love,” in The Psychoanalytic Review , Vol. 54, No. 1, Spring, 1967, pp.36-50.

[In the following essay, Koenigsberg analyzes Capellanus’s De Amore in psychological terms, attempting to uncover unconscious conflicts and their effects on the practice of courtly love.]


It is not uncommon nowadays for the literary critic, as he becomes aware that his role as cultural authority is being usurped by the psychiatrist, to embrace the conceptual language of psychoanalysis in his interpretations of literary and historical documents, attempting as it were to integrate the...

(The entire section is 5567 words.)

Thomas Jay Garbáty (essay date 1968)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Andreas Capellanus and the Gate in the Parlement of Foules,” in Romance Notes, Vol. IX, No. 2, Spring, 1968, pp.325-30.

[In the following essay, Garbáty explains how the meaning of a portion of Chaucer's poem Parlement of Foules can be clarified by examining analogous passages by Capellanus. ]

One of the few critical points, in Chaucer's Parlement of Foules, about which all scholars seem to agree is the fact that the poem deals with some aspect of the theme of love. Thereafter historians go one way, the critics another. The interpretation by Charles O. McDonald is among the most interesting and valid of the latter group. The conflict...

(The entire section is 2107 words.)

Dorothy Clotelle Clarke (essay date 1972)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Juan Ruiz and Andreas Capellanus,” in Hispanic Review, Vol. 40, No. 4, Autumn, 1972, pp.390-411.

[In the following essay, Clarke describes how Ruiz's Libro de buen amor satirizes De Amore.]

Two works important in early Romance literature and known by virtually identical titles that mask similar but opposite deceits are the Archpriest Juan Ruiz's Libro de buen amor1 of the early half of the fourteenth century, and Andreas Capellanus's breviary on courtly love now commonly referred to as De arte honeste amandi,2 of approximately a century-and-a-half earlier. Although Juan Ruiz selects his title professedly to...

(The entire section is 9250 words.)

Irving Singer (essay date 1973)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Andreas Capellanus: A Reading of the Tractatus,” in MLN, Vol 88, No. 6, December, 1973, pp.1288-1315.

[In the following essay, Singer contends that Capellanus's rejection of courtly love in the third book of De Amore is made reluctantly, after he has tried and failed to reconcile it with religious love.]

In the modern world many writers have been fascinated by the image of courtly love as a doctrine originating in 12th-century France. If one looks for major texts in that period, however, one finds that they are very few in number. The troubadours of Provence mainly wrote poetry; and though their verse is often philosophical, they made no...

(The entire section is 11773 words.)

Barbara Nelson Sargent (essay date 1973)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “A Medieval Commentary on Andreas Capellanus,” in Romania, Vol. 94, 1973, pp.528-41.

[In the following essay, Sargent explores contemporaneous reaction to De Amore, particularly that of Drouart la Vache.]

Modern discussions of the intent and significance of the De amore of Andreas Capellanus are plentiful, as are the interpretations advanced1. Appeals to the testimony of other medieval texts, and to the Church's attitude toward love in general and fin'amors in particular, are not lacking. One cannot, however, read much of this critical literature without noticing that the same works, and indeed the same passages, of the...

(The entire section is 5398 words.)

Michael D. Cherniss (essay date 1975)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Literary Comedy of Andreas Capellanus,” in Modern Philology, Vol. 72, No. 3, February, 1975, pp.223-37.

[In the following essay, Cherniss explains why De Amore can be interpreted as an ironic response to traditional literary treatments of love and women.]

The earliest recorded information about Andreas Capellanus's De amore indicates that only a century after its composition it elicited widely divergent responses from its readers, and to this day, criticism has failed to produce a harmonious climate of opinion about the work.1 In the thirteenth century, Bishop Stephan Tempier formally condemned it,2 while Drouart la...

(The entire section is 8705 words.)

E. Michael Gerli (essay date 1978)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Boccaccio and Capellanus: Tradition and Innovation in Arcipreste de Talavera,” in Revista de Estudios Hispánicos, Vol. 12, No. 2, May, 1978, pp.255-74.

[In the following essay, Gerli outlines the indebtedness of Alfonso Martínez de Toledo's Arcipreste de Talavera to Capellanus's De Amore. ]

The principal sources of Arcipreste de Talavera have been identified through the diligence of Erich Von Richthofen.1 However, the importance of the Corbacho, lies not in its literary and folkloric antecedents, but almost exclusively in the original tone, style, and artistry of Alfonso Martínez de Toledo. For over thirty...

(The entire section is 5602 words.)

Don A. Monson (essay date 1988)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Andreas Capellanus and the Problem of Irony,” in Speculum, Vol. 63, No. 3, July, 1988, pp.539-72.

[In the following essay, Monson critiques assorted ironic interpretations of De Amore and concludes that none of them satisfactorily deals with the work in all of its aspects.]

Among the various controversies surrounding the treatise on love attributed to Andreas Capellanus, none is more vexed than the question of the work's tone. Is the De amore to be taken as a serious, straightforward treatment of its subject, or should it be interpreted, in whole or in part, as humorous or ironic? This question is of crucial importance to our understanding of...

(The entire section is 18966 words.)

Charles Dahlberg (essay date 1988)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Love as Unlikeness: Andreas Capellanus, Chrétien de Troyes,” in The Literature of Unlikeness , University Press of New England, 1988, pp.73–97.

[In the following excerpt, Dahlberg analyzes the structure of parodic scenes in Capellanus's work, contrasting them with those by twelfth-century French poet Chrétien de Troyes.]

The twelfth century brought not only widespread interest in Dionysian thought and the topic of the land of unlikeness, but also, among many of the same people—particularly the Cistercians and Victorines—a remarkable growth of interest in the subject of love. We find this interest not only among the theologians but also in the...

(The entire section is 9119 words.)

Gordon Poole (essay date 1991)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Andreas Capellanus's De Amore,,” in The Explicator, Vol.49, No. 4, Summer, 1991, p.198.

[In the following essay, Poole briefly explains why he finds a variant reading of a passage from De Amore more fitting than the traditional reading of that passage.]

In Trojel's variorum edition of Andreas,1 followed by Battaglia2 and Ruffini,3 the eighth of the twelve precepts of love reads: “In amoris praestando et recipiendo solatia omnis debet verecundiae pudor adesse” (Trojel I, VI, D*, p. 106) [Modest bashfulness must be present when love's solaces are given and received]. According to this reading, lovers...

(The entire section is 453 words.)

Michael Calabrese (essay date 1997)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Ovid and the Female Voice in the De Amore and the Letters of Abelard and Heloise,” in Modern Philology, Vol. 95, No. 1, August, 1997, pp..1-17.

[In the following essay, Calabrese comments on the female characters in Ovid's works, in Capellanus's De Amore , and in the letters of the lovers Abelard and Heloise, arguing that a true expression of the female voice is absent in De Amore.]

Two twelfth-century Latin works about love, the De Amore of Andreas Capellanus and the Letters of Abelard and Heloise, seem on the surface incomparable. The De Amore offers a parodic, scholastic attack on love, driven by stylized...

(The entire section is 6950 words.)

Catherine Brown (essay date 1998)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Sophisticated Teaching: The Double-Talk of Andreas Capellanus,” in Contrary Things: Exegesis, Dialectic, and the Poetics of Didacticism., Stanford University Press, 1998, pp.91–115.

[In the following excerpt, Brown contends that the self-contradictory theme found in De Amore is deliberately used by Capellanus to facilitate the lessons he wishes to teach.]

Safety in numbers!—Fight on, add up the sum of my precepts; 
          Pile up the numerous grains, mountains of counsel arise.
But since the ways we react seem to differ as much as our features, 
          Do not trust me too far.

—Ovid, Remedia amoris


(The entire section is 14483 words.)