The Birth of Love
Dr Laura Ashe reveals how our ideas of romantic love were forged in the literature of the 12th century, which saw the birth of fiction and the idea of love as life's greatest aim.
Before the 12th century, love didn't figure much in English literature. Instead, the historical epics and myths of the distant past dealt with inscrutable heroes, high causes, and sacrifice - unknowable monsters and unfeeling Gods. Then, in the 12th century, there was a sudden shift to a new focus on the individual, on a psychologically realised self. This is reflected in writing which is not historical or mythic, but fictional - imaginative, emotional, creative, speculative.
And this new fiction brings with it an exploration of relationships - of love. This led to the new, strange idea - strangeness now obscured by its familiarity - that love is life's most profound purpose, an idea that is still at the centre of our culture today.
Laura explores the cultural legacy of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, at whose court the Romance was born. She visits battle sites and castles and talks to experts in medieval history and literature, and she considers how some of her favourite films reflect ideas of love born 800 years ago - ideas which still captivate our imaginations and emotions today.
Dr Laura Ashe is Associate Professor of English at Worcester College, Oxford.
Producer: Jane Greenwood
A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.