The Song of Songs describes a woman and man who sometimes passionately connect but also have long periods apart. She is guarded by her brothers. He comes to her from over the mountains, and either arrives in the morning or leaves then. She suffers the watchmen's punishment looking for him in the city. It is a similar framework to Romeo and Juliet, and hence has the spiritual aspects as well. That is, a communion with a God in a special, private way that has to be hidden. It could be something that secret Protestants under Catholic regimes, or secret Catholics under Protestant regimes, could readily identify with.
Here are some specific passages.The following is spoken by the woman:
My beloved is mine, and I am his;Feeding on the lilies means enjoying her favors--or worshiping her. What follows is rather ambiguous. Before the day breaks, he turns. is this turning toward her, so that he can be like a roe upon her "mountains"?. Or is she merely requesting that he return to her from over the mountains, so they can resume their lovemaking. The Vulgate had had "revertere," meaning "return." But the King James is more ambiguous.
he feedeth upon the lilies;
until the day break, and the shadows flee away,
turn, my beloved, and be like thou a roe
or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether. (2:16-17)
Then later the man says:
Thy two breasts are like two young roesIt is the same ambiguity. Is he enjoying her "mountain of myrrh and hill of frankincense" until the day breaks? If so, we have the makings of a dawn song like that of Romeo and Juliet or the troubadours.
that are twins, which feed among the lilies.
Until the day break , and the shadows flee,
I will get me to the mountain of myrrh
And to the hill of frankincense. (4:5-6.)
The Song also has its equivalent of the troubadour's gilos:
My brothers were angry with me;They also say:
they made me the keeper of the vineyards;
but mine own vineyard have I not kept. (1:6)
We have a little sister, and she has no breasts:The problem, for them, is the "little foxes":
what shall we do for our sister
in the day when she shall be spoken for?
If she be a wall, we will build upon her a palace of silver:
and if she be a door, we will inclose her with boards of cedar. (8:8)
Take us the little foxes,For Bernard of Clairvaux and others of orthodoxy, the "little foxes" are the heretics, the false prophets. Modern interpreters, such as Bloch and Bloch (1995), simply say the lines are spoken by the woman's brothers. Young and unmarried, she must be protected from those would take advantage of her innocence. But how can her true love then get to her?
the little foxes, that spoil the vine;
for our vines have tender grapes. (2:15)
In another place, it is night and the man has left from her bed. She searches for him in the city:
The watchmen that went about the cityTo take away a woman's veil is to keep her confined to the home, in a society which requires women to wear veils when they are outside. These watchmen are again agents of the gilos, the jealous one.
Found me, they smote me, they wounded me;
The keepers of the walls took away my veil from me. (5:7)
The woman of the Song is the feminine aspect, conceived in ordinary in human terms, of the inner divine, who as lover yearns for unity with her masculine aspect. The male beloved is the masculine aspect of the same inner divine, seeking communion in turn. It is Christ and his Church, as the notation at the top of the King James Version says, but Church in its highest sense. And also Solomon and his Wisdom.
This communion is only possible when the different aspects are purified of the ego’s fears and prejudices, coming from the day world of conventional faith What must be left behind is just the reliance on convention; what is to be feared is just that which seeks to prevent the stepping out of conventional paths, by the ego in the world.
Gnosticism gives some grounds for this fear. The Gospel of Philip warns that "forms of evil spirits"--demons, or what Jungians would call complexes--want to “defile" human men and women. In the Song what corresponds is the brothers, who think they are protecting the young vine by keeping spirit away from it. Against such a danger, the text says that the remedy is marriage: if these spirits see "the man and his wife sitting beside one another," then "the female cannot come into the man"; the same is true "if the image and the angel are united" (Robinson 1988, 148-149), which is what occurs in the Gnostic bridal chamber.
Put psychologically, the point is that other people, a spouse, a therapist, or someone else in touch with the spirit, can help one to identify one's complexes and disentangle from them. In that sense, then, the woman’s asking the man to get away from the brothers, is for the soul to ask that its cultivation of spirit, in therapy or elsewhere, be kept separate and even secret from the ego-world of social existence and its snares. Otherwise there is grave danger that the contact with spirit will be replaced by a substitute in the ego-world. In therapy this separation includes the well-known requirement of confidentiality. In the Church, it is the confidentiality of the Confessional and of pastoral counseling. The goal is faithfulness to the inner divine, not substitution of one ego-orientation for another.
This aspect was developed especially by the Muslim ancestors of the troubadours. Although it is highly dubious that Shakespeare knew their work, their poetry is helpful understanding that of Romeo and Juliet. For these poets, the dawn song expresses the soul's communion with a higher god, or the one god on a higher level, than that of the marketplace and the daytime. Here is Abu Amir ibn Shuhayd, of 11th century Cordoba:
When, full of drunkenness he went to sleepAnother 11th century Spanish Muslim poet, Ibn Zaydun, continues the familiar themes:
and also the eyes of the watchmen were closed
I came near to him, though he was far away,
like a companion who knows whom he seeks.
I crept nearer as sleep creeps,
I lifted myself up as breathing lifts up.
I spent with him a night full of delights,
until the darkness showed smilingly its white teeth:
Kissing the white neck ;and caressing the dark-red lips.
(Hatto 1965, 236, where the Arabic also appears)
It is as if we had never lain, our union being a third with usAs to the identity of the beloved, we might wish to probe Ibn Zaydun further about the nature of the union, the "third thing" that appears alongside the lovers. For that, I turn to the earliest known textbook on the cult of courtly love, by a Spanish Muslim named Ibn Hazm in the 10th century. Influenced by the Neoplatonism of the late Roman Empire, Ibn Hazm expresses the spiritual dimensions of love in a poem:
and good fortune closing the eyelids of our slanderer.
Two secrets in the mind of the darkness that covered us,
Until the tongue of dawn almost gave us away. (Hatto 1965, 237)
Are you of the world of angels or merely human?This could have been Romeo speaking as he beholds Juliet standing above him, a woman seems to take on angelic form when a man experiences true love. But the song is not restrictive as to gender; a woman could be seeing a male angel, or a man a male angel, or a woman a female angel. Gender in these poems is typically left unspecified, except that sometimes the word "he" is used, usually to refer to the beloved, which may well be a generic term used to include both genders. And we do not have to restrict the angel to an image of the beloved. Perhaps, from a Gnostic perspective, the image is of the lover's divine twin. Or the angel might be the third that appears in the union of the two souls.
Make it clear to me, for fatigue has weakened my understanding
I see a human form, but when I think more deeply
It seems to be a body from higher spheres. (Chejue 1974, 253)
Ibn Hazm also makes the Gospel of Philip's point about separation of the lovers being a return to mortality. He says that true love is the fusion of two souls and as such is eternal, "the cause of itself," in the language of Plato and Aristotle. At the same time, as caused by two souls which were once separate, the separation may come again. Then "The coming to naught of that thing will be caused by our/ Being bereft of that to which it owed its existence" (Chejue, 253). In this way, for Ibn Hazm, comes love's well-known despair. In separation, lovers return to the world of mortality. What is more, their whole identity has been defined by their fusion: with the death of the fusion, it feels like the death of the individual soul as well, as Romeo and Juliet's despair at separation indicates. Indeed, the individual soul is not what it was, and a new identity, containing the memory of the beloved, must be constructed.
Angels are experienced in mystical Islam as beings of light; in a similar way the beloved, too, acquires the image of light, as we saw in Romeo and Juliet. Wolfram, and the ancient Gnostic texts. I cite A’Sharif Mas'Ud al’Bayadi of Baghdad:
O night, in which my moon lay embracing meThis dramatic naming of the dawn is what became formalized in Provencale dawn songs, in many songs ending every stanza. In the night, the beloved is moon, stars and glistening pearls--a being of light, in what we might call imaginal space.
Until the dawn, without fear or caution.
His words were pearls, no need for stars;
His face made there no need for the moon.
While I allowed my ear and my eye
To graze in his charms, I was warned--the dawn! (Hatto 1965, 236)
I turn now to Chaucer. He wrote two dawn songs. One is in his long poem Troilus and Cressida. Shakespeare certainly knew this work, because he wrote a play of the same name.
Troilus is the second son of Priam, King of Troy, in love with a young well-born Trojan lady named Criseyde (Cressida). But her father is giving her to a Greek as his concubine, in exchange for some Trojan warriors whom the Greeks captured. The lovers spend one night of "joie" and "gentilesse" together, with her uncle Pandarus as lookout. Then:
But whan the cok, comune astrologer [astronomer]We have here the bird, albeit only the rooster. We also have the morning star and another sign, the rising Jupiter: in short, conventional signs of dawn. As the day breaks the lovers each speak their part of an alba. Troilus' lines fit the tradition best. Of its six stanzas, I will give the first and third:
Gan on his brest to bete and after crowe,
And Lucyfer, the dayes messager,
Gan for to rise, and out hire bemes throwe,
And estward roos, to hyum that koude it knows,
Fortuna Major [Jupiter], that anoon Criseyde,
With herte soor, to Troilus thus seyde: (Hatto 1965, 533; notes his)
"O cruel day, accusour of the joie
That night and love han stole and faste irwyen,
Acorsed be thi comyng intoTroye,
For every bore [hole] hath oon of thi brighte yen [rays]!
Envyous day, what list [leads] the so to spien [spy]?
What hastow lost, why sekestow this place,
Ther God thi light so quenche, for his grace?"...
[One stanza omitted.]
And ek the sone, Titan, gan he chide,
And seyde, "O fool, wel may men the dispise,
That hast the dawyng al night by thi syde,
And suffrest hire so soone up fro the rise,
For to disese [disuse] loveris in this wyse.
What! holde youre bed ther, thow, and ek [also] thi Morwe! [Morrow]
I bidde God, so yeve yow bothe serwe!" (Hatto 1965, 534-535; notes his)
"Envyous day," the destroyer of night's joy, we know from Shakespeare ("envious streaks") and the troubadour songs ( the gilos 's envy of the knight, and the poet's of the lark). Day sends his rays through the holes or cracks in the walls. This is similar to Wolfram's "glances" sent by the day to "spien" inside, except that now Day does not penetrate only windows, but the smallest opening, with the same fatal consequences.
With the sun's rise, the omitted second stanza of Troilus's lament says, many a warrior goes to his death, for which reason Troilus curses him. The sun is an ally of the temporal lord, as with the troubadours. Then in the third stanza, he calls the sun a "fool"--as the Gnostics called the demiurge and the troubadour the gilos--because as Tithonus, the night-sun.of Graeco-Roman mythology (not "Titan" as Chaucer erroneously says), he has had Aurora by his side all night. Now when he rises, she leaves him for another (the day-sun, Sol or Helios)--just as Criseyde will do to Troilus. Like Ovid in one of his Amores, Troilus asks the god to serve himself and lovers everywhere by just not completing his nightly course under the earth.
In another poem, "The Complynt of Mars," written for Valentine's Day (then celebrated on April 15), Chaucer uses other dawn-song motifs. I quote from the first stanza:
Gladeth, y foules, of the morrow gray,In the gray morning Venus rises among red streaks, the same streaks in the gray as Romeo saw, and the same morning star that the alba watchmen saw, now called Venus rather than Lucyfer, presumably because the day that is dawning is sacred to St. Valentine (whom some think was originally the Gnostic Valentinus, an early theorist of the bridal chamber). The wicked tongues are the same as in Muslim Spain, and the day-sun burns with the same jealous fire as in Languedoc.
Lo! Venuys risen among yon rowes [streaks] rede!
... ye lovers, that lye in any drede,
Fleeth, lest wikkid tonges yowe espy,
Lo! yond the sonne, the candel of Ielosye!
(Hatto 1965, 532; notes his)
(Be Glad, you fools, of the morning gray,
Lo, Venus risen among yon streaks red!
....you lovers, that lie in any dread,
Flee, lest wicked tongues you espy,
Lo! yonder the sun, the candle of Jealosy!)
My speculation is that the troubadour tradition spread to England by way of Aquitane, whose Eleanor had married Henry II of England; their son, Richard the Lionheart, was a troubadour himself. I have already mentioned Marie de France, a poet at Henry's court. England remained in Aquitane until the 15th century. We might imagine the noble English devotees of courtly love passing it down, including aspects that could not be put in writing. Chaucer in the 14th century might have inherited this material. He certainly studied its later developments, in France and elsewhere; for example, he translated into English the Romance of the Rose, the major 14th century French work in the courtly love tradition.
Shakespeare's immediate source, Brooke's Romeus and Juliet, shows clear signs of being influenced by Chaucer's Troilus, according to Gibbons in his introduction to the Arden edition of the play, an influence that continues in Shakespeare. What they all have in common is “the idea of the shared private world of intensity created by the lovers,” as Gibbons puts it (Shakespeare 1980, 37), in contrast to the unstable and hostile forces around them. Yet Shakespeare adds something: With him the traditional images of courtly love again take on a mystical quality reminiscent of the Arabs, the troubadours, and the Song of Songs.
How did this happen? We must credit alchemy with keeping alive some of the mystical spirit--later poets, such as Donne and Vaughan, also had some of that spirit, as well as signs of alchemy's influence. Perhaps, too, Muslim poetry continued to seep into Christian lands, if only by word of mouth. It was a mystical age, liberated from Catholic prohibitions and not yet clouded over by the scientific world-view, which in its turn demanded, most dogmatically, exclusivity of perspective as surely as any fundamentalism before or since.
There is one last question I want to deal with: was there anything about Verona historically in the middle ages that coudl have given rise to a story about forbidden worship masquerading as forbidden love?