Love on the Air: ‘The Bachelor’s’ Medieval Romantic Roots

Monday, February 6, 2012

The music swells as a luxury limo whirrs up to an exotic location at dusk. A beautiful woman emerges from the vehicle and is met by many hopeful, dashing suitors who will vie for her hand in marriage. The winner will be chosen on the season finale, but along the way there will be sun-drenched, sparkling days and romantic, moonlit nights that will alternately thrill or disappoint the contestants and their audience.

Production for the eighth season of ABC-TV’s “The Bachelorette” – the successful spin-off of the hugely popular “The Bachelor” – starts next month, but medievalist Paul Patterson, Ph.D., assistant professor of English at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, says the plots for both TV hits were written long ago.

“Our ideas about what constitutes romantic love have their roots in the romances that were written during the Middle Ages,” says Patterson. “Many of the characteristics of these romances – including the tales of King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Sir Lancelot and the Knights of the Round Table, as well as Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Knight’s Tale”  –can be found in programs like ‘The Bachelorette,’ in mainstream movies and in romance novels for sale in drug stores.”

According to Patterson, the elements of medieval romances found in modern love stories include a focus on the aristocracy, or in the case of “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette,” contestants who are made to seem like they are living an opulent lifestyle – at least during filming.

“The medieval tales take place in long ago and far away locations, and the characters are removed from local settings and contemporary time periods,” Patterson says. “Knights go on dangerous quests and vie for the maiden’s hand. Modern love stories often employ these themes.”

Both medieval and modern love stories idealize love, Patterson adds, which may be why people read the novels, attend the movies or watch the television programs. “Much like medieval romances, it’s all artifice. It’s a nice escape, but there is no realization that day-to-day partnering takes work, which is why the relationships started on ‘The Bachelor’ and ‘The Bachelorette’ rarely work out. They always seem to end in disaster,” he says.


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