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Courtly love

Courtly love was a particular ideal and practice during the Middle Ages in Europe. In essence, it was a formalized system of admiration and courtship directed at a member of the opposite sex, usually toward a person married to someone other than the admirer. This is somewhat incongruous, given the taboo against adultery in these cultures; it has been suggested that the prevalence of arranged marriages required other outlets for the expression of more personal occurrences of romantic love.

Naturally courtly love was not considered to be a matter for the commoners, who were too busy trying to survive to take part in elaborate rituals. The wealthy upper classes were those with the leisure to ponder such ideals as 'true love'.

Particular standards of etiquette and custom were attached to courtly love, though these varied somewhat with region and time period. Sometimes the ideal love was chaste or Platonic admiration, with no intimation of actual affairs. In other case, at least the intention of consummation is expressed, if only to lament the impossibility of the act. Likewise, it was (sometimes hotly) debated whether jealousy had any place in the pageant of courtly love, with proponents of both sides of the issue. In most cases, however, having the object of admiration is seen as raising and ennobling the holder of the passion.

Courtly love was perhaps most commonly expressed in the compositions of the troubadors and poets (later reflected in such forms as the sonnet), though it found expression in such other customs as the crowning of a "Queen of Love and Beauty" at a tournament, or the formal though unofficial "Courts of Love" presided over by prominent nobles, usually women. During later phases of the Middle Ages the practice increasingly became the topic of satire; the Romance of the Rose is perhaps the best-known surviving example of parody on the subject.

More recent writers have postulated that courtly love may have involved elements of what would today be called fetishism and masochism.