The Literary Views of
Gottfried von Strassburg
LITERARY CRITICISM of any sort is unusual in medieval writing. When works are cited or discussed, it is usually to help a student to formalize his own endeavors, and the authors used for the purpose are those beyond criticism, that is, the classical writers who have long been canonized. Any mention of contemporary authors is rare and when it occurs at all it is usually inspired by either affection or rancor and does not constitute literary criticism in any real sense of the term. Style or even poetic method is never discussed. There were, of course, numerous "Arts of Poetry" in Latin and in some of the vernaculars but these are works written with the express purpose of providing rules of poetic composition. They are prescriptive, not critical.
In view of this absence of even the most rudimentary literary criticism in the work of contemporaries, it is surprising to find embedded in a courtly romance an apparent digression which seems at first sight to be a review of the present state of the poetic art, complete with all the touchiness and prejudice which one associates with artists talking about their rivals' work. The passage has actually been called "Gottfried's literary criticism" and it is, of course, best known for its caustic references to a writer who is almost certainly Wolfram von Eschenbach. But does the passage in fact constitute literary criticism? Gottfried was not the kind of artist who dropped his theme to make asides, particularly asides of 456 lines. Nor, when the passage is inspected closely, is there much literary criticism in it. Very few authors are mentioned, and, as I hope to show, they are mentioned in a specific order with a very definite purpose in mind. The