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Lovers in the Middle Ages had a tendency to go mad. In fact, they were subject to a whole range of disorders which nowadays are considered symptoms of mental illness, from pining away to outright suicide, to raging and raving madness. Of course, then as now, these manifestations of inner turmoil were not mutually exclusive. Malory's Sir Lancelot goes raging mad at one stage of his career and starves himself to death at the end of it. There are also more or less pure examples of each type: of pining away, Malory's Elaine, the fair maid of Astalot; of suicide, Romeo and Juliet; and of raving madness, Ophelia. Though suicide still retains some of its old romantic associations, pining away and raging madness have lost their status as manifestations of love in otherwise healthy people. Thus, modem people tend to regard accounts of love-madness in Medieval and Renaissance literature as evidence that Medieval society naively overestimated the strength of erotic passion.


The version of record is available from Mythlore, which is published by the Mythopoeic Society at Mythlore is a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal that focuses on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and the genres of myth and fantasy. Copyright © 1990 the author. All rights reserved.