McLaughlin Lecture explores love in the Middle Ages and today

· 4 min read

McLaughlin Lecture explores love in the Middle Ages and today

Lynn Shutters
Courtesy photo
Lynn Shutters

What is love and what does it have to do with marriage? The answers to those questions have changed throughout history — but what is the answer today?

Lynn Shutters, special assistant professor of English at Colorado State University, will draw on medieval literature to delve into the processes of love and marriage in both the Middle Ages and today during the fifth annual Mary Martin McLaughlin Lecture. Shutters’ lecture, “What’s Love Got to Do with It? Love and Marriage, Medieval and Modern,” is 5 p.m. Oct. 9 in the Great Plains Center, 1155 Q St. The talk will be followed by a reception.

“Love and marriage are topics of interest for me in the Middle Ages, and I argue that medieval literature can help us think about how we represent, talk about and think about love today,” Shutters said.

Shutters said there is a prevalent narrative in popular culture that love and marriage did not always co-exist in the Middle Ages and that as a society, we often think about love and marriage as a history of progress, in which Western society has evolved to have marriages about love and choice. Shutters will use examples from medieval author Christine de Pizan to show that love was an important component of marriage in the Middle Ages. She also hopes to challenge the audience to think about our current views of love and marriage.

“Medieval authors thought about love differently than we do today,” Shutters said. “What’s key to me, though, is that these authors were asking questions, and I mean really hard questions, about love and marriage.

“Today, most Americans cite love as the foundation of marriage. But I think that we just assume that everybody knows what love is or means and we don’t go any further. So, in comparing medieval and modern marriage, I don’t want to say that marriage is timeless or that medieval or modern marriage is better or worse. What I do want to say is that maybe we should be asking more questions about love in marriage today, and maybe medieval authors like Christine de Pizan can guide us in thinking about what questions to ask.”

Shutters will also touch on how society views marriage and those people who don’t marry, which, she says, is similar to medieval times.

“Today, we think of marriage as a choice,” she said. “Choice was actually important to issues of love and marriage in the Middle Ages as well, although in somewhat different ways.

“De Pizan was aware that people are either rewarded or punished for their choices in society. And that’s something I want ask about marriage today that I don’t know if we always ask. We think of marriage as this free choice, but are there rewards and punishments for that choice in our society? That is, do we reward people for loving in certain ways and choosing to marry and punish those who don’t conform to our narratives of how love and marriage work? In my talk, I’ll be thinking about such rewards and punishments as they pertain to medieval and modern women.”

The audience will also be challenged to think about how ideas and values of the Middle Ages have a direct tie to society today.

“The Middle Ages isn’t just this distant time period lost in the past,” she said. “Looking at things that were important in medieval society, like love and marriage, can give us a fresh eye for looking at and thinking about those same issues in our own society.

“Having the opportunity to present medieval scholarship to an audience and show them how we might use that scholarship or those ideas to think about our own society is something that I really enjoy doing and excites me about my work.”

The lecture is named for Mary Martin McLaughlin, who was an internationally renowned scholar of the Middle Ages. Carole Levin, Willa Cather Professor of history and chair of the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program, said the department funds the lecture to honor McLaughlin for her contributions to the field, and because McLaughlin attained both her bachelor and master’s degree from UNL.

“Because Mary pioneered the study of medieval women’s history and women’s studies, the lecture will always touch on medieval women.” Levin said.

McLaughlin died in 2006 at age 87. Her sister, Rosanne McLaughlin, helped fund the first lecture. Since then, the medieval and Renaissance Studies Program has funded the lecture.

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