Representation and Realities of Romance


Representation and Realities of Romance


Dainy Bernstein, Lehman College, CUNY


I asked students to think about the representation and realities of contemporary romance. The point was to demonstrate that what we read in medieval literature is not necessarily an accurate representation of medieval life. Even allowing for fantastic elements like fairies, students often think that medieval society followed the rules of love in literature, while that model of love is in fact a literary trope and an idealization which was not reflected in reality. The activity was effective for this purpose. It also allowed students to apply this idea to other aspects of literature, not only love. It deepened their ability to analyze literary tropes and tactics as separate from, though complementary to, historical details.

At the beginning of the class session:
A. Ten-minute writing exercise with two questions:
1. “Describe 'romantic love' according to medieval literature (using the text we’ve read so far, Lanval).”
2. “Describe 'romantic love' according to your own (contemporary) understanding.”

[Note: I passed out half-papers with one question on each side. I did not direct the students to one question first, rather letting them decide which to answer first. Some didn’t realize there were two questions until their classmates told them to turn the paper over. I am curious what effect the order of questions has on the way students answer. I don't think it would affect the outcome very much, though.]

Blog post assignment due before the following class
Hindsight on modern romance: After we’ve read and discussed Marie de France’s Lanval in the context of courtly love and chivalry, you know now that love as portrayed in medieval literature often does not resemble the realities of medieval love. Choose a contemporary genre of literature or film (romance, Young Adult, erotica, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, thriller), and think about how love and romance are portrayed in that genre. Imagine you’re a student of literature or film in the year 2500, studying the literature of the 21st century. What conclusions would you draw about love and romance based on the genre you’ve chosen to analyze? How does this match up with what you (the real you) know about love and romance in contemporary real life? (There’s no need to be personal, but you may use personal details.)
250-500 words.


Type of course: Lower Level; Literature Survey; In-Person
Time required: prep - none; in class - 10 minutes; assignment - approximately 30 minutes


Dainy Bernstein, Lehman College, CUNY, “Representation and Realities of Romance,” Teaching the Middle Ages in Higher Ed, accessed May 29, 2020,

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