Various treatments of love in chosen literary works.

In Canterbury Tales, author Geoffrey Chaucer, expresses the theme of love in various hues. The tales that make up this book are distinct accounts of a group of pilgrims. Chaucer conceived and wrote his work a century after Boccaccio’s Decameron. Chaucer had obviously read Decameron and was impressed by it. This is evident in the incorporation of some stylistic and thematic elements from Decameron into his own work.

However, as opposed to the eroticism and sensuality of Decameron, what we have in Canterbury Tales is manifestation of other forms of love. The Knight’s tale, for example, begins by showcasing brotherly love between two Knights. But due to a common interest in a woman, their relationship soon sours and morphs into a ruthless feud. In the late medieval period of Chaucer’s literature, chivalry was taken seriously. This is especially true of the nobility and the knights. Moreover, chivalry is shown to be an integral part of romance. Men of honour were expected to win over the women they love through display of courage and sacrifice. This sentiment is at play in the Knight’s Tale. The fact that Chaucer himself participated in the Hundred Years’ War reveals his conviction in chivalry.

It should also be noted that some other tales in the Canterbury Tales bear the opposite sentiment. In Sir Topas and The Tale of Melibee, for example, chivalry is somewhat treated with scepticism. In one story Chaucer ridicules the overwrought formality of certain chivalrous acts. In another, he critiques the propensity for violence that chivalry entails. Hence in Canterbury Tales the treatment of love is sparse and largely in the context of chivalry and honour.
Niccolo Machiavelli’s Prince is essentially a political treatise. Yet, it espouses certain views on love as well. For instance, in the chapter titled Cruelty v Mercy, Machiavelli suggests something unusual. When deliberating on the choice between fear and love, Machiavelli prefers the former to the latter. He believes that since the two concepts are incompatible a strict choice will have to be made. And since being feared creates safety, it is preferable to be such. On the other hand, to love or to be loved is to make one vulnerable and weak.

There is an element of ruthlessness behind Machiavelli’s reasoning. Speaking on behalf of the Prince’s interests the logic makes sense. After all, the foremost quality that a Prince should possess is authority. Nothing more than fear lends this authority. Even for keeping his troops subservient and efficient, a fear of retribution is necessary. Love, on the other hand, might endear the Prince to his subjects and peers, but does not offer him security. Machiavelli goes on to qualify this position by stating that fear thus invoked should not be excessive. Being the political tract that it is, The Prince also concerns itself with the ‘love of liberty’. Though Machiavelli comes across as an oppressive apologist for imperial power, there is a veiled expression of the love of liberty in the work.

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