Romantic Love

Romantic love is not courtly love. Primarily, it emphasizes feeling far more than courtly love did. This does not mean that earlier people did not feel, but rather that love was not located in the feeling, but in something else. It enabled two people to rise to their highest level, to be the best of what they could be as humans. And, that meant to be as rational as possible.

Romantic love does not hold to that linear rise to Beauty that courtly love imagined. There is, however, something transcendent about the Romantics' version of love. The beloved becomes the world, in all its complexity. And, romantic love tends to further link everything with everything. Not only is the beloved the world, but the whole world is connected, at least in terms of meaning. It all makes sense, because of the focussing lens of the beloved.

Love is a desire of the whole being to be united to some thing, or some being, felt necessary to its completeness, by the most perfect means that nature permits, and reason dictates.


Romantic love has this sense of merging, or being united, at its core. There are extremes to this: on the one hand there is possession, and on the other hand, self-abandonment. So, romantic love is not always a pleasant thing. It can elicit a shriek of terror, as when Catherine reveals her love in Wuthering Heights:

I am Heathcliff -- he's always, always in my mind -- not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself -- but as my own being.

Emily Bronte,
Wuthering Heights

For the Romantics, love is not love of perfection. Or, it is not the recognition of perfection in Beauty, which draws us close. In fact, it is closer to say that it is the search for an alluring but inherently imperfect object, which becomes less imperfect the closer we get.

Having said this, Romanticism renews aspects of courtly love. One could see that each of the five characteristics of courtly love are also true of romantic love, but there isn't the same kind of hierarchy or the same basically Christian assumptions about the world. Social rigidity of earlier years became loosened.