When the Divine Lady becomes a Genius: The Journey from Joi to Lack in Courtly Love Poetry

Jennifer Crone


The twelfth century songs of the troubadours are often understood as the starting point for the secularisation of love and sexuality, but Julia Kristeva suggests that the Joi that they express is a celebration of being very similar to the amorous Christian beatitude of the century’s most influential monk, Bernard of Clairvaux. Both forms of joy are founded on the certainty of possessing their beloved object. . Through an examination of the metaphor of ‘the hunt’ in courtly love poetry, this paper argues that the sonnet, which develops from the troubadour’s song form, enables a space in which the sonneteer’s love for the Divine Lady develops into a new kind of humanist self-love that flourishes as the renaissance ‘genius’. In this process, the Lady comes to represent the poet’s own ‘soul’; in other words, the Lady becomes a ‘genius’. However, the greatness of the ‘genius’ who internalizes the Lady comes at a cost. As the Lady loses her divinity, the medieval Joi of possessing the beloved gives way to the early modern poet’s anguished awareness of lack.

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