Courtship and courtliness : studies in Elizabethan courtly language and literature
In its current sense, courting means 'wooing'; but its original meaning was 'residing at court'. The amorous sense of the word developed from a purely social sense in most major European languages around the turn of the sixteenth century, a time when, according to some historians, Western states were gradually moving toward the genesis of absolutism and the establishment of courts as symbols and agents of centralised monarchical power. This study examines the shift in meaning of the words courtship and to court, seeking the origins of courtship in court society, with particular reference to the court and literature of the Elizabethan period. Chapter 1 charts the traditional association between courts and love, first in the historiography of 'courtly love', and then in historical and sociological accounts of court society. Recent studies have questioned the quasi- Marxist notion that the amorous practices of the court and the 'bourgeois' ideals of harmonious, fruitful marriage were antithetical, and this thesis examines whether the development of 'romantic love' has a courtly as well as a bourgeois provenance. Chapter 2 conducts a lexical study of the semantic change of the verb to court in French, Italian, and English, with an extended synchronic analysis of the word in Elizabethan literature. Chapter 3 goes on to diversify the functional classification required by semantic analysis and considers the implications of courtship as a social, literary and rhetorical act in the works of Lyly and Sidney. It considers the 'humanist' dilemma of a language that was aimed primarily at seduction, and suggests that, in the largely discursive mode of the courtly questione d'amore, courtship could be condoned as a verbalisation of love, and a postponement of the satisfaction of desire. Chapter 4 then moves away from the distinction between humanist and courtly concerns, to examine the practice of courtship at the court of Elizabeth I. It focuses on allegorical representations of Desire in courtly pageants, and suggests that the ambiguities inherent in the 'legitimised' Desire of Elizabethan shows exemplify the situation of poets and courtiers who found themselves at the court of a female sovereign. In chapter 5 discussions of the equivocation inveterate to courtly texts leads to a study of The Faerie Queene, and specifically to Spenser's presentation of courtship and courtly society in the imperialist themes of Book II and their apparent subversion in Book VI. The study concludes with a brief appraisal of Spenser's Amoretti as a model for the kind of courtship that has been under review.