A little heavy on the symbolism?
Writing Update: For those impatient for the next Wearing the Cape book (and believe me, I’m as eager to see how it turns out as you are), I can say that I hope to have a first rough-draft done by the end of March, mid-April tops. From there it should only be another couple of months to edit, rewrite, and polish–which means a possible July release date. No promises, but I will try my best to see that happen.
Meanwhile, on a completely unrelated subject, if you’re following this blog you already know of my love for Castle. Well, here’s another love letter to the series.
Castle and Courtly Love
It may surprise readers who don’t know my background that I once wrote a senior paper on Courtly Love; in fact, it was my “graduate paper” and the paper I sent with my history master’s program application. It was also the funniest graduate paper of the semester—I had to read parts of it for the class, and many of my fellow students needed to see the example citations before they would believe I wasn’t making it up. I mention this because I recently realized that one of my favorite TV shows, Castle, is in among other things a protracted tale of courtly love.
For those who haven’t encountered the concept before, here is courtly love in its purest form.
1.) A knight falls in love with an unobtainable lady of superior station.
2.) The knight falls into a melancholy inspired by his unworthy state and/or the hopelessness of his love.
3.) Nonetheless, the knight is inspired and ennobled by his love, performing great deeds to woo her.
4.) The knight also sings his lady’s praises, composes poetry and songs for her, even makes himself a ridiculous figure through his pursuit of her good graces. Captured by love, he is willing to serve her with no recognition or requiting of affection.
In its pure form, Courtly Love can look pretty ridiculous; we would also consider it rather unhealthy (for a serious TV Trope analysis of it, go here). Historically, it was only ever really practiced in a highly artificial court setting (thus the name), and was as stylized as cosplay and LARPing. However, remove the unobtainable part, and you have the framework for Romantic Love as idealized in Western Culture.
Castle the Courtly Lover
So let’s look at the symbolism and themes developed in Castle.
First off, Richard Castle is a name invoking chivalry. Richard as in Richard the Lionhearted, Castle as in, well, the whole Middle Ages, the chivalric period. Since Rick chose his name, one wonders if he sees himself as a questing knight of sorts.
When Castle first encounters Beckett (whose name, Katherine Beckett, implies both nobility and unbending character), he is a charming but rather pitiful man. While successful, he has fallen into despondency. He is also presented as both uncaring of others (he is undisturbed by murders dressed up to mimic his books and even wants pictures for bragging rights), and a clown (the whole multiple arrests thing, one involving stealing a police horse and riding it naked). Castle’s one saving grace is his love for and devotion to his daughter, the exception to his self-centered behavior.
Detective Kate Beckett is in every way superior to Castle when they first meet; while he is a wildly successful mystery writer, he is an entertainer. She is dedicated to giving others justice while Castle is dedicated to no one (except Alexis, and to a much lesser extent his mother). Castle is initially drawn to Beckett on only a superficial level; she is a fascinating character for him to mine for inspiration, plus he finds her hot. In the first episode he straight-up propositions her, and is refused.
Detective Beckett herself possesses interesting chivalric/mythic resonances. First, she is a lady-knight, a questor in her own right. Second, like the Fisher King of Arthurian Myth, she is afflicted by a Wound That Will Not Heal.
Probably the single strongest Courtly Love parallel is that, from the very beginning, Castle chooses Beckett as his muse. He writes books about her and dedicates them to her. He pursues her from the beginning, although the goals of his pursuit change over time. He is inspired by Beckett and the others at the 12th, gradually becoming a less self-centered man.
Beckett also makes the perfect Unobtainable Lady; she is disdainful of Castle until their association begins to change him for the better, and once she returns his feelings she is prevented from accepting him, first by circumstance, then by her Wound That Will Not Heal. At one point (all of Season Four) Castle is reduced to exactly the kind of hopeless, unobtainable love that most characterized the Courtly Love ideal.
Like many Castle fans, I found Season Four incredibly frustrating; if the writers had extended the Season of Frustration into Season Five I probably would have stopped watching. Why? Because there is a simple reason why Courtly Love, in its pure form, isn’t part of Western Culture; we believe in Happy Endings. At some point we find the courtly lover an object of pity rather than admiration. Unrequited love stinks (thus the song), and Castle was getting rather pitiful towards the end of Season Four.
However, Castle’s extended quest (which really lasted through Seasons Three and Four, with Season Five, Six, and part of Seven a testing of their mutual love and commitment) provided a tremendous series arc and gave firm ground for the evolution of both Castle’s and Beckett’s characters. It is also the only series currently on TV where this kind of arc—a romantic quest with its accompanying challenges and ennoblement—has gotten so explicit. And the huge fan-following it has created is a testament to the enduring value of romantic love in our somewhat jaded culture.
Plus, it’s been a helluva lot of fun to watch.