Sample Essay

Patrick Gowey
Humanities 410
May 27, 2011 Exam Essay

The Prompt:

Scientific or social science studies on “love” are apt to seem peculiar or intriguing because of a kind of assumed mismatch between the approach and the subject. Yet in the arts and humanities, love is a, and maybe the, predominant subject. The question then is this: why is “love” (whatever you think “courtly love” or “amor” really is) so much at home in the arts?

The apparent disconnect between the scientific method and its approach to love is likely founded in the curiosity of the attempt to quantify what we experience as inquantifiable. Whether or not love is a cultural construct, the popular experience of love is ineffable, both in scope and in nature: it is difficult, if not impossible, to adequately explain the sensation of being in love, much how it is at some level impossible to describe how it feels to pet a cat, or how chocolate tastes. Biochemistry might explain the taste of chocolate as the interaction of W-particle with X-receptor producing the neuruotransmitter Y which in turn provokes the physical sensation Z. Yet while this (pseudo-)scientific explanation communicates how we taste chocolate, it fails to describe what chocolate tastes like. In the same way, we can scientifically explain which chemicals interact to produce love, yet the human experience of love is somehow disconnected from the chemical fact.

In describing the ineffable, then, the creative method is the only satisfactory outlet. When Orlando falls in love with Rosalind in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, he is literally at a loss for words, unable to speak to her: “What passion hangs these weights upon my tongue? / I cannot speak to her, yet she urged conference” (I.ii.244-245). While this scene succumbs to the Capellanus and popular stereotypes of tongue-tied love at first sight. However, the more notable implication is that Orlando finds himself unable to describe his love, perhaps because of some adolescent nervousness, but alternately because Orlando discovers that love is indescribable. In short, he experiences the ineffable, and fails to communicate his feelings even to their subject.

When Orlando does seek an outlet for his overflowing emotions, he rather interestingly chooses poetry. Rosalind and Celia find lengthy verses “hanged and carved upon … trees” scattered throughout the Forest of Arden, making various proclamations such as “From the east to western Ind, / No jewel is like Rosalind” (III.ii.169, 85). After overcoming his speech loss, Orlando uses poetry, albeit of questionable quality, to approximate his feelings for Rosalind. Orlando’s devolutionary progress through expressions of the ineffable, first in silent awe and then in poetry, seems to suggest that the creative is the best realization of love. This is perhaps comparable to another example of artistic use of the creative to express love, the madrigal “Thule, the Period of Cosmography,” which uses a mythological comparison to magnify the speaker’s amour. The creative arts suffice in the communication of love because they allow the speaker to attempt to explain the nature of his love, rather than why he loves, or how he loves. The creative arts are not limited to the interaction of neurotransmitters or hypotheses and experiments, and thus the arts are most able to approximate the experience of love rather than its mundane nature.