Love, especially romantic love, has always been and always will be, one of the most influential emotions on our lives. The arts reflect often on this, with English Literature no exception.
When we are looking at the earliest literature of love, we are really starting with the poetical work of Chaucer, not an easy task you may say, as he wrote in Middle English, which can be quite difficult for us to fathom nowadays. The solution is to get yourself a decent book that gives you the original Middle English text and a translation on the facing page, from your local library if possible. You should look first through some of the Canterbury Tales…
The Miller’s Tale is going to give you some ideas on unrequited love, false love, jealous love, and love which has been betrayed; you see what I meant in my last blog about buy one, get one free! The Wife of Bath’s Tale and the Franklin’s Tale will help you cover most of the other areas. Moving on to the rest of Chaucer’s poetry, the Book of the Duchess looks at idealised and unrequited courtly love whilst Troilus and Cressida deals with love at first sight and betrayal.
There is very little in the way of prose about love in medieval English literature. Probably the earliest you will find is ‘Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His sister’ by Aphra Benn, which is a very difficult read, so see if you can just dip in to it! There is also very little in the way of medieval drama concerning love, but you might want to look at one or two of the medieval Mystery Plays for some of their humorous depictions of married love. For example, Noah and his wife in the York or Chester cycle of Mystery Plays in the plays dealing with the flood.
Finally, for these and all of the texts you are going to look at in your wider reading, you need to make very short notes on what it tells you about an aspect of love, then jot down at least one short, apt quote to back it up.