Castle and Courtly Love

CastleA 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.

Courtly Love

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.

Love Stinks

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.

12 thoughts on “Castle and Courtly Love

  1. My e-mail tweet went off and I took a break on my novel to read what you had to say about Castle. I admit that I have only watched a few episodes of the series. But I think that the relationship between Castle and Beckett has improved ten times since they first met each other. What I find about these two has been a growing relationship. They have a two-fold relationship. First, they have a professional relationship, although he is a writer and she is a detective. But both have grown close to each other each and every episode and each and every case they get involved with. Of course, Castle has been self-centered and is an entertainer with his books (a lot of writers are that way—maybe they should not be that way). But Beckett is a professional. She is law enforcement who has vowed to bring criminals to justice and solve crimes. She’s a homicide detective and she enjoys what she does.

    You claim that Beckett is “superior” to Castle? That’s very true and there is nothing wrong with it. There are many women who are focused on their profession and some actual women detectives and law enforcement officers (as well as other first responders) take tons of pride into their work and they deserve the recognition for their dedication and their ability to go above and beyond the call of duty when they are needed.

    I admit that I found my favorite comic book superheroes, Firestar and Justice to have had a similar situation. Firestar was much more superior and much more powerful compared to Justice. Firestar focused on the situation at hand, although she has been through the ringer on many fronts in her personal life (including cancer). Justice was just wanting to be on a super team and become someone like Captain America. Firestar had every right to break up with Justice a few years ago simply because she felt like she was #2 and she wanted to be herself and focus on her life. Justice could not remember that in a relationship, both people are equal and both respect and love each other equally, even if one is much more powerful than the other. In a relationship, no one in the couple is dominant.

    A few days ago, I re-read the chapter in your first novel, Wearing the Cape, A Superhero Story, and I really appreciate what I read when Atlas (John) was fixing a dinner for Astra (Hope) at his cabin, during some downtime. That particular chapter was very moving. John started having true feelings for Hope and Hope, after admitting she had fantasies for him, was actually starting to have true feelings. Both took care of each other. It wasn’t an established hero teaching a mentor anymore. Both of them began to be on the same level. You wrote that perfectly and it really worked throughout the rest of the novel. Granted, John was still more powerful than Hope. But both of them grew in their relationship. Hope will never forget John and has dedicated her life to not just her career, but realizes that she still has a very special place in her heart for John and she will never forget that.

    Well, with that said, I will return to working on my third novel in my realistic YA series.

  2. Hey. just noticed you updated the blog. I read Wearing the cape about a month ago, more or less by accident – Amazon’s been auto-recommending it to me at the bottom of the kindle for a while and I gave in one bored afternoon and read a sample. I’ve now read all four, plus Omega Night, and I liked them so much you actually got me writing a fanfic. no idea if I’ll actually finish the thing, of course. I loved the opening to Wearing the cape, I think its one the best and most gripping introductions to a book I’ve ever read. I liked the serious tone of the rest of the book as well, major characters die, you got rows of dead kids from the LA big one sequence, a largely successful terrorist attack – Its a pretty grim look at the chaos of a suddenly super powered world.

    I do like the last three. They introduce some good characters, develop established ones, hope is being much more of a leader. – But you’ve seriously dropped the tension by reducing the body count, the enemies are less destructive, the world seems a lot more ordered.

    I still like the books and I’ll be buying the next one, hell, I’ll probably pre-order it if I see it. I just wanted to throw my opinion out there. And thank you, for some truly entertaining daydreams.

    1. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the series, and as one who has committed the act of fanfic himself, I perfectly understand the compulsion. As to the body-count thing, keep in mind that all four books take place in a little under two year’s time. The Ring’s attack represented a high-water mark for the group, at least for awhile, and in the Real World major events like The Big One and Fort Whittier Attack don’t happen that often. Which doesn’t mean that more isn’t coming…

  3. For better or worse, I posted the fanfic on archive of our own. I’m not going to link, but if you want to read, look for Hope Vs Disaster, by flipdart. If you like it or not, I had a LOT of fun writing it.

  4. I’ve actually been watching Murder She Wrote all over from the beginning, and I just couldn’t believe how many parallels there were between the shows. I know it isn’t even close to an exact match, but sometimes, when I’m watching an episode, I can’t help but think Castle is just a rebooted version of MSW with more contemporary themes and ideas.

      1. You’ve never watched it? I’m shocked and appalled, appalled I say. At least tell me you have watched Remington Steele? A fine example of why you shouldn’t make up imaginary people, otherwise Pierce Brosnan will magically appear. Or Magnum P.I., a sterling example of the power of Tom Sellacks’ mustache.

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