The Political Dramaturgy of Nicodemus Frischlin: Essays on Humanist Drama in Germany

The Political Dramaturgy of Nicodemus Frischlin: Essays on Humanist Drama in Germany

The Political Dramaturgy of Nicodemus Frischlin: Essays on Humanist Drama in Germany

The Political Dramaturgy of Nicodemus Frischlin: Essays on Humanist Drama in Germany

Excerpt

Nicodemus Frischlin (1547-90) is now remembered more for his tragic fate than for his artistic accomplishments. Throughout his life, Frischlin was constantly involved in conflicts with those, mostly academics and noblemen, who had been offended by his critical and sometimes caustic writings. Eventually he was imprisoned by Duke Ludwig of Württemberg (1554-93), his erstwhile patron, and perished in a desperate escape attempt. However, his colorful biography aside, Frischlin was unquestionably one of the most important German writers of the late Renaissance, perhaps the most gifted playwright in Germany before Andreas Gryphius. If he is now largely ignored as an author, it is, as I hope to persuade, an undeserved fate, though one that he shares with most writers of the German Renaissance.

Frischlin's vicissitudes and struggles are so intriguing that, in retrospect, it appears that interest in his unusual life has detracted from study of his poetic works. In itself, the biographical trend in scholarship is neither amazing nor regrettable since, after all, his life makes for a remarkable story and also provides a glimpse into the political and academic conditions of the sixteenth century. While there is, relatively speaking, a dearth of research on Frischlin as an author, we have an embarras de richesses as far as biography goes. Carl Heinrich Lange, Carl Philipp Conz, Wilhelm Scherer, Reinhold Stahlecker, Gustav Bebermeyer, Klaus Schreiner, and Samuel Wheelis are several scholars who, to varying degrees of comprehensiveness, have attempted to depict the circumstances of his life. All of their work, however, pales in comparison to the exhaustive biography David Friedrich Strauß published in 1856. Some have quibbled with Strauß's pronounced tendency to sympathize with his subject's plight; Strauß apparently saw in Frischlin a fellow Swabian who, like himself, was undeservedly excluded from the upper echelons of academe. Nonetheless, his portrait of Frischlin is not only the richest and most poignant, but also, as even Strauß's critics have admitted, authoritative.

One might say that Frischlin, who was born on 22 September 1547, was destined for a professorial career from early childhood. At the age of thirteen he composed a translation of Psalm 23, most precociously, in Greek distiches. After entering the University of Tübingen in 1563, he expeditiously completed the requirements for the bachelor of arts (1564) as well as the master of arts (1565). As a beneficiary of the . . .

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