Courtly Love Courtly love is a "code of behavior that defined the relationship between aristocratic lovers in Western Europe during the Middle Ages [1200 A. D. to 1300 A. D. ]" (Microsoft Encarta 97). In most cases, courtly love involved "a lady and her lover," the lover usually being a knight or nobleman, and the lady being both married and from a family of equal wealth.
William Shakespeare took this form of love (which was still common practice in his generation) and developed Romeo and Juliet. Both Romeo and Juliet were from rather wealthy families, who were feuding with each other. As in many situations of courtly love, Romeo and Juliet pledged themselves to each other. They were deeply in love and inseparable.
However, Juliet was supposed to be married within a week when she met Romeo. This was an arranged marriage, so Romeo and Juliet proceeded to carry out a courtly love romance. However this relationship had to be carried out with complete secrecy because of the family feud. They carried out their relationship without the consent or knowledge of either of their warring families.
At the time in Europe, most upper-class marriages were "little more than business contracts." Courtly love was quite different; it was a relationship where love was the only product desired and received. While this was outside of a marriage, the "business contract" idea halted any attempt of classifying courtly love as true adultery. Many considered a relationship outside of marriage to be morally correct, as long as it was for love and only love. A courtly love situation kept a marriage healthy according to the standards of the day. When both partners did not like each other and were only married because their parents saw it as a profitable transaction, where was the love going to come from? This was answered when one or both of the partners found real love through courtly love. They would be happy to keep their marriage going because they were both upholding their family's name and honor, and making themselves happy through a extramarital lover (via courtly love).
In the plot of Romeo and Juliet, one can see how the definition of courtly love practically writes the first half of the play. First, the wealthy Romeo and Juliet find each other. They soon become attached by their overwhelming love for each other. Juliet was soon to be in an arranged marriage (thus making a her and Romeo a true case of courtly love) but their families were feuding with each other and would therefore never let the "star crossed lovers" be together. Everything about Romeo and Juliet fits the definition of courtly love, except the family feud, which prevented their courtly love from taking full affect.
Bibliography "Courtly Love." Microsoft Encarta 97. Microsoft. 1997. Ross, Maggie. "Renaissance. dm.
net." Life In Elizabethan England 17 Nov. 2003 web > Stoner, Kay. "The Enduring Popularity of Courtly Love." 18 Nov. 2003 web.