Course: The Invention of Love

HC 222H

Professor: Monique R. Balbuena

The theme of love is ubiquitous in literature. It is so common to speak of love in books, films, and magazines, that it appears to be a shared, universal feeling. And yet, if we engage in a historiography of love, it is soon clear that love has had many faces, and that the love of which we speak in the 21st century is not the same as the 17th-century love, which on its turn, differs greatly from the 12th-century love.

This course will look into many of the ways in which the idea of love has been construed and love expressed in literature. We will observe similarities and differences to the way we understand love today as we read from several time periods and linguistic/literary traditions. We will start with the biblical Song of Songs, proceed to medieval Tristan and Iseult, and arrive at classical French Le Cid, by Corneille. We will read some of Shakespeare’s sonnets, some lais and blasons by Italian and French poets (such as Petrarch and Marie de France, among others), a canto from Dante’s Inferno, poems by Michelangelo and Spanish mystics San Juan de la Cruz and Santa Teresa de Avila, as well as traditional Sephardic songs (Judeo-Spanish poems). We will also look at modern readings and rewritings of some of these older, foundational texts, and read poems by Israeli Yehuda Amichai, Argentine Juan Gelman and Hungarian Miklós Radnóti, among others.

Some of the questions guiding us are:

  • How is love culturally and historically specific?
  • How has the concept of courtly love developed?
  • How is the performance of love affected by the concept of honor in the 17th century?
  • How are gender, sexuality and desire portrayed?
  • How do the secular and the sacred converge in love poetry?
  • How is the mystical experience depicted in terms of sensual/sexual love?
  • How can love poetry be used to speak of exile and the nation?
  • How do love and death relate?