‘Furthermore, the majority of critics agree that courtly love was the product of a court environment, especially in its initial stages, it was far from being a collective or a uniform doctrine’35 This suggests that it is not a realistic indicator of feelings towards women at the time, and that the power given to them in the poetry is, in fact, an illusion, and would not have been adhered to in life. Boase also holds that ‘adultery was not tolerated, and that the social status of women in the Middle Ages was one of complete inferiority’36. Whilst the Sonnets I have mentioned are not of the Middle Ages, they are based on the courtly tradition of chivalry stemming from that time, suggesting that the position of the woman in poetry was much the same as it had been some centuries previously.
The courtly tradition has also been referred to as a ‘gamelike revolt against traditional morality’37, again suggesting that it was not the everyday manner of things. The poetry of the time was not so much an expression of reality as a game: Boase claims that ‘there is a strong case for analysing Courtly Love in terms of a theory of a play’38, making the position of women in the poems make-believe, a fantasy, which is further confirmed by the sense of the objectification of women gained through some of the pieces, as earlier mentioned. Just as in the later poetry, such as Marvell’s ‘To his Coy Mistress’, the sonnets are hiding their true intent behind a veil of something like feminism.
George Parfitt claims that men denigrate women through fear, indeed, if this is the case, then the masking of the true intentions of the poets could be seen as a mark of this fear, as they attempt to soften their words and feelings, to make them more acceptable, or, so it seems to a modern, feminist audience. Much male authored poetry is indeed ‘a projection of a very common male viewpoint’, however the generalisation of this quotation is unable to encompass all of male authored poetry.
It has been put forward that, as it is male authored poetry, the female has no place in it, as the man cannot truly comprehend the woman. The statement also does not apply to all male poets: Chaucer is often seen as something of a proto-feminist, or at least lacking in any leaning towards a male dominance: ‘Feminist criticism has made audiences aware that a male gender bias informs much (most?) Western fiction. The Canterbury Tales, however, has been viewed free of gender bias’39. There are exceptions to the rule, as in almost every case, but I would agree that, in general, George Parfitt’s statement fits male authored poetry
Boase, Roger, The Origin and Meaning of Courtly Love, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1977)
Braxton, Phyllis N., and Grudin, Michaela Paasche, ‘Closure in the Canterbury Tales’ in PMLA, vol.108, no.5 (Oct. 1993)1170-1171 http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0030-8129%28199310%29108%3A5%3C1170%3ACITCT%3E2.0.CO%3B2-3 p.1170(accessed 9th December 2007)
Daniel, Samuel, ‘Fair is my love, and cruel as she’s fair’ in The Norton Anthology of Poetry ed. Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter and Jon Stallworthy, 5th edition (New York: Norton, 2005) p231
Donne, John, ‘The Flea’ in The Norton Anthology of Poetry ed. Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter and Jon Stallworthy, 5th edition (New York: Norton, 2005) p310