The Challenge of the Medieval Text: Studies in Genre and Interpretation

By W. T. H. Jackson; Joan M. Ferrante et al. | Go to book overview
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of the existence of a courtly convention but he ceased to believe in it after his apprenticeship, even though in later life he occasionally wrote songs in the mode.

What, then, are we to understand by courtly love in German literature? Firstly, we should think of it in a literal sense, as love-at-court. To this degree German literature, like all literature of the High Middle Ages not written by clerics, is in some sense courtly, because it was written for audiences at courts which thought of themselves as possessing a superior culture. But if we are to think of courtly love as a special kind of love-- spiritual, unfulfilled, nonsensual, and all the other epithets commonly attributed to it, then in German as in French literature we are faced with very difficult problems. It is clear that German authors regarded the love they found in the works of their French models as characterized by love- service. This is natural enough, since it appears in one form or other in most if not all French romances. That they did not always recognize the irony in Chrétien's treatment is not surprising. A large number of modern critics have failed to recognize it also. This element of service, the most telling evidence of the influence of feudal society on the love concept, was regarded as a thoroughly bad characteristic by the greatest of the German authors. It is in this sense that they recognized "courtly love" and in this sense that they rejected it. There is no German version of Chrétien Lancelot. All the poetry of these authors is a reaction to courtly love and, in the best authors, it is a rejection. The ideal of love based on service and admiration of specific qualities is to be replaced by mutual attraction. Each in his own way, Wolfram, Gottfried, and Walther told of a love that was shared and in turning his back on the concept of service opened new ways for the consideration of the love phenomenon.

Gustav Ehrismann, "Die Grundlagen des ritterlichen Tugendsystems", Zeitschrift für Deutsches Altertum und Deutsche Literatur, ( 1919), 56: 137-216; Ernst Robert Curtius , "Das ritterliche Tugendsystem", Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte ( 1943), 21: 343-68; Eduard Neumann, "Der Streit um das ritterliche Tugendsystem", Erbe der Vergangenheit, Festgabe für Karl Helm ( Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1951), pp. 137-55.


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The Challenge of the Medieval Text: Studies in Genre and Interpretation


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