Shakespearean Lovers: An Extinct Species?

Posted: August 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

So in my second year of university we’re studying Russian literature – Dostoyevsky, Turgenev and the likes (nothing short of amazing), and a lot of European poetry – 16th century poetry, from the era of ye ol Will S. (no, not Smith).

You know, here I was, thinking all that chivalry and those dramatic declarations of undying love you read in English poetry exists only in pure fiction, in Shakespearean plays — but apparently, in the Elizabethan Court, men in court would literally, according to historical records, write sonnets for the women they were after in that exact fashion. It was the real thing. Of course the women they wrote for were usually of a higher rank, so critics say most of these lovelorn sonneteers were just kissing ass to get extra privileges and money from them in Court. Nevertheless! You should read some of the stuff they’ve written for these women, pretty damn convincing.

In the Petrarchan love sonnet convention of the Court — the woman to whom the sonnet is being written is talked about by the poet as someone who is superior to him, morally, spiritually, intellectually, whose love he is unworthy of, and the woman typically never responds to his advances, ’cause she’s all like, whadeva I’m 2cool4u. The sonnets involve his musings about the woman’s qualities, without any base sexual references, focusing more on her ways and the spiritual high he feels. There’s a lot of wit involved, not just ‘omgz i luv u bby’ so that’s refreshing to read. But basically the guy is pining like an emo and keeps fluctuating between the extreme ups and downs of being in love. It’s all very Beverly Hills 90210. Someone in class piped up during this lesson and declared this man a dumbass, while I asked the lecturer if they smoked recreational drugs in Court back then.

But deep down I think it’s kind of adorable – a bit sad, but adorable – the whole devotional, lovelorn man thing. There is something commendable about a man who can completely disregard his male ego and go out on a limb for someone like that, especially with no expectations of getting laid. Do those types exist anymore? It’s some form of chivalry I think. Someone said chivalry is dead, ever since the feminist movement came along. Why is that? Women have equal rights, therefore opening the door for her or pulling the chair out for her is unnecessary? I still think chivalry in its minor forms shows consideration, is very cute and will definitely earn you brownie points with your ladyfriend.

People of 16th century Europe, however, were expected to behave in a certain way, so there’s an element of being forced. Men were expected to be macho, brave, well versed in several languages and literary skills, be master horsemen and swordsmen and so on, and women were expected to be ‘pure’, chaste, soft-spoken and despite all this superior-woman stuff in sonnets – submissive to the men in their families. Clear gender roles were expected in the Court and those who failed to fit them were shunned as madmen or whores. So maybe bygones are bygones for a reason.

Still, who writes sonnets for women anymore? Who expresses feelings through wit and impressive literary skills? I hang out with some guy friends today and for sure they’re going to be talking about some girl in terms of DAT ASS! and Damn she fiiiine. And it’s all so base and sexual. On the other hand, some girls I know go DAT ASS! and Damn he fiiine too. Is romanticism a primitive concept? You hear some of it on the radio, though, and in some stupid romcoms – both categories of which are fictitious again and consequently incredible, pretentious and kinda annoying. Do Shakespearean lovers fit into today’s world anymore? Perhaps the problem is that the educated and original romantic is extinct, it’s only the nauseating clichés that are left – the ones who get flowers and candy because they saw it in a movie, or Bruno Mars, who wants to catch a grenade for me. He just makes me want to throw a grenade at him and see if he’s bluffing.

  1. kataclysmichaos says:

    Affirmative. It is wholly commendable when a man a) disregards his male ego b) puts himself out on a limb for someone c) has no expectations of getting laid – although I would change that to ‘whose primary objective is not getting laid’.

  2. Azrael says:

    Who says romantic songs are dead, when we have people like Kanye writing songs to Kim K called “Perfect B****”

    Need I say more… 😀 😀

  3. Jack Point says:

    It was called “courtly love” because it was only restricted to a few in the royal courts and their associates who had the time for such luxuries. Not that it was a bad thing, it was something that only a small minority enjoyed.

    • makuluwo says:

      Fun fact: courtly poetry though born inside the Court, apparently set off a trend in love sonnets that even aspiring writers and poets outside the Court imitated at the time. (:

  4. Jack Point says:

    Interesting, fact Maks, must read a bit more on that.

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