Academic journal article German Quarterly

Gottfried von Stra(beta)burg: Tristan

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Gottfried von Stra(beta)burg: Tristan

Article excerpt

Chinca, Mark. Gottfried von Strassburg: Tristan. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 1997. 119 pp. $14.95 paperback.

Since about half of this rather nicely written booklet deals with the provenance of the Tristan saga, with Strasbourg's cultural climate in the early thirteenth century, and with the medieval German Tristan stories written after 1210, there is not much room left for a discussion of Gottfried's fragment. Because of its episodic structure "[this] work will not be unlocked by the analysis of its plot"; the actual key to understanding it is found "in the constant weaving into the narrative of authorial commentary" (70-71). This, logically, leads to the decision to devote some pages to the discussion of the prologue and of the literary excursus, and of the way in which Gottfried theorizes on the love principle-"microstructures" (7274)-leading to the view that "[Gottfried] concentrates on embellishing single episodes without regard to the coherence of the whole" (77). The scrutiny of "macrostructures," however, "brings the whole of Gottfried's project into view. That project is the mediation of love through literature" (79). Stated so often as to become a leitmotif, Chinca speaks of Gottfried's aesthetization of language (and of the implied self-aggrandizement involved-"a display of sophistry for its own sake" [74], as the criterion by which to judge the fragment's significance.

The truth, I believe, lies elsewhere, within the fragment as a whole-prologue and story and excurses. Therefore, if space were available, the number of arguments against Chinca's suggestions would be legion. They would dwell on the story behind the fragment, that is, on the emblematic values situated behind the flow of Gottfried's delivery; on moraliteit, which, if achieved, enables the individual to please both God and man; on Isolde's learning in the Brangaene story that she cannot do without what Brangaene represents, that is, courtly/public honor; on the episode in which Tristan slays the hairy giant, and the one in which Isolde, in an equally drastic gesture, takes the bell-an emblem of female sexuality-off Petitcrieu; on many matters in between; on the arduous, upward-leading path the lovers are traveling on their way to the grotto; on their telling each other the stories of misapplied love (Canacea, Biblis, Phyllis, Dido) as so many mutual warnings not to stray from the moraliteit about to be celebrated; on the abstinence-denoting sword separating the sleepers on the crystal bed; on the lovers' return to court for the sake of God and their honor-this spells moraliteit again. …

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