Love. In all its facets and colors, love is understood and accepted as a concept by even the most primitive cultures. But what is love? Many writers have debated this subject. Many works have been produced detailing the understanding individuals had of the concept of love.
The more accepted conception of love is usually found in Romeo & Juliet. Many people refer to it as love at first sight, in French, “le coup de foudre”, as if you had just been struck by a lightning bolt. This interpretation dates back to the courtly love tradition which manifested during the late Middle Ages, first through chivalry and then more openly among the nobility. In fact, many references to the courtly love tradition are found in the play, for example, Juliet's famous line: “I'll prove more true than those that have more cunning to be strange.” Here, Juliet is obviously talking about the other women, those who know to be coy.
The courtly love tradition is, however, best expressed in all the works I have chosen by “The Miller's Tale”, Chaucer's recalling of tales supposedly told in his time period. In this story, we witness the amorous liaison between Alyson, the carpenter John's wife, and Nicholas, a student of astronomy and courtly love. The lovers engineer a stratagem which will allow them to consume their passion without fear of retribution, but only after much insistence on the part of Nicholas.
“Then Nicholas began to plead his cause
And spoke so fair in proffering what he could
That in the end she promised him she would.”
It seems strange that, in both stories, there seems to be some resistance to the tradition of courtly love. Both stories were written during the Middle Ages, two hundred years apart. We can qualify the ending in Chaucer's tale as poetic justice, every character getting what he deserved (save for the character of the wife, Alyson).
“That's how the carpenter's young wife was plumbed
For all the tricks his jealousy could try
And Absalon has kissed her nether eye
And Nicholas is branded on the bum.”
Somehow, Chaucer is mocking the behaviours of the characters in this story, he does not condone their actions, in fact, he punishes them for behaving in such a fashion. One can wonder if Chaucer is expressing the idea of a majority of people from his time, or if his voice was singled out among his countrymen.
Now, a similar conclusion can be reached upon analysing Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliette. The most convincing argument is the ending of the story itself. While it is true that Romeo and Juliette do not comply with the courtly love tradition in all its particularities, the lovers do fall under the “love at first sight” category. Romeo's words upon seeing Juliette seem to corroborate my assumption.
“Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight!
For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night.”
Only Juliette's lack of experience in matters of love and her confession...