Love and its Critics: From the Song of Songs to Shakespeare and Milton’s Eden - cover image


Michael Bryson; Arpi Movsesian

Published On





  • English

Print Length

576 pages (x + 566)


Paperback156 x 30 x 234 mm(6.14" x 1.17" x 9.21")
Hardback156 x 32 x 234 mm(6.14" x 1.25" x 9.21")


Paperback1765g (62.26oz)
Hardback2164g (76.33oz)



OCLC Number





  • DSGS
  • DSC
  • DSA
  • DSBB
  • DSBD


  • LIT004190
  • LIT020000
  • LIT011000
  • LIT014000
  • LIT019000


  • PN56.L6


  • love
  • poetry
  • Western canon
  • hermeneutics
  • critical reception
  • troubadour poets
  • fin’amor
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Love and its Critics

From the Song of Songs to Shakespeare and Milton’s Eden

This book is a history of love and the challenge love offers to the laws and customs of its times and places, as told through poetry from the Song of Songs to John Milton’s Paradise Lost. It is also an account of the critical reception afforded to such literature, and the ways in which criticism has attempted to stifle this challenge.

Bryson and Movsesian argue that the poetry they explore celebrates and reinvents the love the troubadour poets of the eleventh and twelfth centuries called fin’amor: love as an end in itself, mutual and freely chosen even in the face of social, religious, or political retribution. Neither eros nor agape, neither exclusively of the body, nor solely of the spirit, this love is a middle path. Alongside this tradition has grown a critical movement that employs a 'hermeneutics of suspicion', in Paul Ricoeur’s phrase, to claim that passionate love poetry is not what it seems, and should be properly understood as worship of God, subordination to Empire, or an entanglement with the structures of language itself – in short, the very things it resists.
The book engages with some of the seminal literature of the Western canon, including the Bible, the poetry of Ovid, and works by English authors such as William Shakespeare and John Donne, and with criticism that stretches from the earliest readings of the Song of Songs to contemporary academic literature. Lively and enjoyable in its style, it attempts to restore a sense of pleasure to the reading of poetry, and to puncture critical insistence that literature must be outwitted.

It will be of value to professional, graduate, and advanced undergraduate scholars of literature, and to the educated general reader interested in treatments of love in poetry throughout history.

Table of Contents


A Note on Sources and Languages

1. Love and Authority: Love Poetry and its Critics

I. The Poetry of Love

II. Love’s Nemesis: Demands for Obedience

III. Love’s Critics: The Hermeneutics of Suspicion and the Authoritarian Approach to Criticism

IV. The Critics: Poetry Is About Poetry

V. The Critics: The Author Is Dead (or Merely Irrelevant)

2. Channeled, Reformulated, and Controlled: Love Poetry from the Song of Songs to Aeneas and Dido

I. Love Poetry and the Critics who Allegorize: The Song of Songs

II. Love Poetry and the Critics who Reduce: Ovid’s Amores and Ars Amatoria

III. Love or Obedience in Virgil: Aeneas and Dido

IV. Love or Obedience in Ovid: Aeneas, Dido, and the Critics who Dismiss

3. Love and its Absences in Late Latin and Greek Poetry

I. Love in the Poetry of Late Antiquity: Latin

II. Love in the Poetry of Late Antiquity: Greek

4. The Troubadours and Fin’amor: Love, Choice, and the Individual

I. Why "Courtly Love” Is Not Love

II. The Troubadours and Their Critics

III. The Troubadours and Love

5. Fin’amor Castrated: Abelard, Heloise, and the Critics who Deny

6. The Albigensian Crusade and the Death of Fin’amor in Medieval French and English Poetry

I. The Death of Fin’amor: The Albigensian Crusade and its Aftermath

II. Post-Fin’amor French Poetry: The Roman de la Rose

III. Post-Fin’amor English Romance: Love of God and Country in Havelok the Dane and King Horn

IV. Post-Fin’amor English Poetry: Mocking "Courtly Love” in Chaucer—the Knight and the Miller

V. Post-Fin’amor English Poetry: Mocking "Auctoritee” in Chaucer—the Wife of Bath

7. The Ladder of Love in Italian Poetry and Prose, and the Reactions of the Sixteenth-Century Sonneteers

I. The Platonic Ladder of Love

II. Post-Fin’amor Italian Poetry: The Sicilian School to Dante and Petrarch

III. Post-Fin’amor Italian Prose: Il Libro del Cortegiano (The Book of the Courtier)

IV. The Sixteenth-Century: Post-Fin’amor Transitions in Petrarchan-Influenced Poetry

8. Shakespeare: The Return of Fin’amor

I. The Value of the Individual in the Sonnets

II. Shakespeare’s Plays: Children as Property

III. Love as Resistance: Silvia and Hermia

IV. Love as Resistance: Juliet and the Critics who Disdain

9. Love and its Costs in Seventeenth-Century Literature

I. Carpe Diem in Life and Marriage: John Donne and the Critics who Distance

II. The Lyricist of Carpe Diem: Robert Herrick and the Critics who Distort

10. Paradise Lost: Love in Eden, and the Critics who Obey

Epilogue. Belonging to Poetry: A Reparative Reading