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Courtly Love, the Love of Courtliness, and the History of Sexuality

One of the great achievements of the Middle Ages, Europe’s courtly culture gave the world the tournament, the festival, the knighting ceremony, and also courtly love. But courtly love has strangely been ignored by historians of sexuality. With Courtly Love, the Love of Courtliness, and the History of Sexuality, James Schultz corrects this oversight with careful analysis of key courtly texts of the medieval German literary tradition.
Courtly love, Schultz finds, was provoked not by the biological and intrinsic factors that play such a large role in our contemporary thinking about sexuality—sex difference or desire—but by extrinsic signs of class: bodies that were visibly noble and behaviors that represented exemplary courtliness. Individuals became “subjects” of courtly love only to the extent that their love took the shape of certain courtly roles such as singer, lady, or knight. They hoped not only for physical union but also for the social distinction that comes from realizing these roles to perfection. To an extraordinary extent, courtly love represented the love of courtliness—the eroticization of noble status and the courtly culture that celebrated noble power and refinement

224 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2006

Folklore and Mythology

Gender and Sexuality

History: European History, History of Ideas

Literature and Literary Criticism: Germanic Languages

Medieval Studies

Religion: Religion and Literature


“This is the most important study of courtly love to appear in the last twenty years. Drawing on the rich medieval German literary tradition, this book argues that what moderns think of as sex is, in fact, a historical construct. Showing in detail how the great medieval German texts understood the category of sex, James Schultz adds a considerable chapter to the history of sex, the history of gender, and medieval studies.”--Ann Marie Rasmussen, Duke University

Ann Marie Rasmussen

"Schultz’s theory explaining the connection between historical phenomena and the rise of courtly literature is the most convincing explanation for the innovation of courtly love that I have read. By far the most notable aspect of the book is Schultz’s breaking down of courtly love into the love of courtliness. . . . [This idea] will certainly change the way courtly love is conceptualized. Anyone interested in medieval women, the history of sexuality, or courtly literature will benefit from Schultz’s ideas."

Ruthemma Joy Ellison | Comitatus

"This book is full of fascinating, provocative theses regarding gender issues, questions addressing homo- and heterosexuality, the erotic function of the human body, the gaze, and other aspects of courtly love in its sexual context. . . . A short review cannot do it justice, but this observation might already be its highest praise. James Schultz offers a wide range of critical reflections that open numerous windows on central questions concerning the fundamental values and framework of medieval courtly society."

Albrecht Classen | German Studies Review

"The author’s style is extremely readable and easy to follow. The wealth of examples chosen from the German corpus illustrates his arguments admirably."

Christine McWebb | Seminar

"Schultz has written a brilliant book on German minne-culture, outdoing recent gender and queer studies not by rejecting their questions but by laying bare some hidden implications of their answers. He opens an appropriate access to the history of courtly love. Future scholarship will have to proceed from his observations."

Jan-Dirk Mueller | Journal of English & Germanic Philology

"Schultz adds an important chapter both to queer theory and to the study of courtly love in the Middle Ages. Moreover, he provides an example of what an elegant, carefully nuanced, and historicized reading of Middle High German texts can achieve."

Margaret Schleissner | Speculum

Table of Contents


            Citations, References, and Names

            Introduction: Courtly Sexuality and the History of Love

Causa materialis: What Sort of Bodies Are Involved?

            1. Parzival’s Penis: A Brief History

            2. The Sexual Identity of Courtly Lovers

            3. The Aphrodisiac Body on Display    

Causa efficiens: What Gets Them Going?

            4. The Danger of Heterosexuality

            5. Love without Desire

            6. Aristophilia  

Causa formalis: How Do They Manage It?

            7. Single Singers: Suffering Alone in Public       

            8. Chivalric Couples: Knights, Ladies, and Marriage     

            9. Secret Lovers: Tristan, Isold, and the Watchman at Dawn    

Causa finalis: What Do They Get Out of It?

            10. Four Degrees of Intimacy   

            11. Taking Courtly Love at Its Word

            12. Masculine Anxiety and the Consolations of Fiction




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