Courtly Literature

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Courtly Literature


the courtly chivalrous school in European literature during the 12th through 14th centuries, centered in Provence, northern France, and Germany and later in England, Spain, and Italy.

The themes of courtly literature are the ideals of class honor and valor but not in the name of family or country as in the heroic epos, rather for personal glory and moral perfection. The courtly lyrics of the troubadors, French trouvères, and German minnesingers enriched poetry with new themes, genre forms, verse measures, and rhyme. The chivalrous novel and narrative poem (lay) treated classical and Byzantine subjects, the Arthurian legends, and the love story of Tristan and Yseult. In contrast to the collective and anonymous epic, the author’s persona stands out in chivalrous lyrics and novels, accompanied by a glorification of individual virtues, greater depth of psychological description, subtler appreciation of nature, concentration on the reader’s interest, adventurism, and individualistic manner.

Courtly literature brought such major writers into prominence as the Provençal troubadors Jaufré Rudel, Bernard de Ventadour, Bertran de Born; the French trouvères Conon de Béthune, Bérulle, Thomas, Chrétien de Troyes, Marie de France, and P. de Beaumanoir; and the German minnesingers Walther von der Vogelweide, Hartmann von Aue, and Wolfram von Eschenbach. Courtly literature exerted an influence on the heroic epic and on secular and religious literature.

In the Middle East, courtly literature became widespread but had a different character, closer to the epic and to urban literature (as in the “romantic epics” of Nizami Giandzhevi and Gurgani). A unique example of the courtly novel in the Far East is Genji Monogatari.


Shishmarev, V. Lirika i liriki pozdnego srednevekov’ia. Paris, 1911.
Aubry, P. Trubadury i truvery. Moscow, 1932. (Translated from French.)
Daix, P. Sem’ vekov romana. Moscow, 1962. (Translated from French.)
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Peters is concerned less with interpreting courtly literature in the light of family history in general than with points of contact between specific, historically real noble families and vernacular literature, that is to say with historical noble families as subjects and sponsors of this literature.
While literary (or sociological) critics continue to produce ephemeral speculations about courtly literature, historians on a parallel track produce the facts from which the theorists respin their gossamer webs.
The final section on truth, history, and memory proposes contemporary scepticism about the fabulously popular Geoffrey of Monmouth in its political context, remarks on the increasing prominence of historians in their own narratives, and examines the production of festival books as political propaganda in Renaissance Italy, and the confusion of historical and fictional characters in sixteenth-century courtly literature. The section concludes with Erasmus's ideas on truth, history, and time.
There are three dimensions of heroes in Middle High German narratives: the hero of the epic, the "holy" hero of the hagiographies, and the hero of courtly literature who corresponds to the Arthurian knight.
The author argues that appropriation of classical forms and ideas was inevitably seen through the lens of contemporary Italian experience, itself often elaborated by other cultural influences, such as the courtly literature of late medieval France.
Yet they also show that the romanz Psalter maintained a very close and active engagement with secular and courtly literature. Ruth Dean counts no fewer than twelve complete extant copies of the Oxford Psalter that predate 1300, all of English provenance; seven of these date from the twelfth century, and to this list we must add dozens of partial or fragmentary texts from the same period.
The many love stories in The Arabian Nights are situated at court as well, but that does not mean that we can speak of them as courtly literature.
The application of modern theoretical approaches to courtly literature is less novel than he suggests; for example, he overlooks Sarah Kay's Courtly Contradictions: The Emergence of the Literary Object in the Twelfth Century (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2001), with its extensive discussion of Lacanian psychoanalysis.
Love and Death in Medieval French and Occitan Courtly Literature: Martyrs to Love.
Selfish Gifts: The Politics of Exchange and English Courtly Literature, 1580-1628.
The result is the courtly literature that has given birth to many of our legendary characters as a mirror of human spiritual aspiration.