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GE14 Reading List

Topic 1. Romance

The brilliant literature that flourished at the courts of the German aristocracy between 1170 and 1230 was centred on three genres that have shaped the canon down to the present day: heroic epic, love lyric (minnesang), and romance. The latter is the direct ancestor of the modern novel, the form of writing that practically defines literature for us nowadays. The module focuses on three masterworks of the romance genre, and will explore not only their themes but also their ideology and their aesthetics. Romances are a manifestation of the "discovery of the individual" that took place in the tweflth century: their narratives open up a new literary space in which the self can be seen in its relation to others: the other of love, and the other of society with its norms and expectations. At the same time, romance narratives are collective "myths of restoration": Veldeke's Eneasroman offers a political version of this myth, as the world order destroyed in the Trojan Wars is restored by the rise of Rome and its legendary founder Aeneas; Hartmann's Arthurian romance Erec is a myth of the restitution of the flawed individual to a state of harmony with himself and society; Wolfram's Parzival combines both the political and the individual variants of the myth in the religious perspective of the Holy Grail, which restores kingdoms and sinful humans alike to a state of grace and oneness with God. Finally, the authors of romances present themselves in more or less developed roles: through commentary and focalization they achieve an ironic refraction of the narrated content, and in passages of "literary theory" they develop profile for themselves and their particular poetic project.


  • Heinrich von Veldeke, Eneasroman, ed. Dieter Kartschoke, Stuttgart 1986 (Reclam)
  • Hartmann von Aue, Erec, ed. Volker Mertens, Stuttgart 2008 (Reclam)
  • Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival, ed. Eberhard Nellmann, Frankfurt 2006 (Deutscher Klassiker Verlag im Taschenbuch 7), or ed. Bernd Schirok, Berlin 2003 (de Gruyter Texte)

Introductory reading:

- the relevant chapters in:

  • Elisabeth Lienert, Deutsche Antikenromane des Mittelalters, Berlin 2001
  • Jürgen Wolf, Einführung in das Werk Hartmanns von Aue, Darmstadt 2007
  • Joachim Bumke, Wolfram von Eschenbach, 8th edition, Stuttgart 2004 (Sammlung Metzler)


Topic 2. Minnesang

Minnesang (literally "love song") is the genre par excellence of that most medieval of phenomena, courtly love: the wooing of a noble lady by a lover who hopes to gain the reward of her love in return for the services he performs for her. From historical record, we know that this scenario did not reflect the reality of relations between the sexes. Nevertheless, courtly love enjoyed enduring success as a literary theme, for two reasons. Firstly, the lover's feelings were expressed in a stylized language whose formal conventions could be presented in ever-new variations in order to give pleasure to an audience of connoisseurs. Secondly, the lyric provided poets with a medium for articulating all kinds of desires and impulse that had no essential connection with love: the impulse to self-fashioning, the desire for social distinction and - paradoxically for such a code-bound mode of expression - the yearning to transgress. This module looks at lyrics by foremost practitioners of Minnesang. Reinmar has long been stylized by literary historians as the "Meister des schönen Schmerzes"; his lyrics convert the pain of unrequited love service into the aesthetic and ethical capital of beautifully articulated, patiently borne suffering. Heinrich von Morungen, by contrast, allows full rein to his disaffection, playing out phantasies of violence and also a dialectic of singing versus silence; this alienation is however all an act by a consummate performer wishing to stand out from the rest. Walther treats scenarios of wooing and courtship as transparently literary models, setting himself up as the "expert" who can handle them all and assess their relative merits. Finally, in the "post-classical" lyric of Neidhart the courtly love scenario is relocated a non-courtly setting, opening the door not only to caricature and burlesque, but also to the realization of a desire for tactile contact with the beloved.

Primary texts:

  • Reinmar, Lieder, ed. Günther Schweikle, Stuttgart 1986 (Reclam)
  • Heinrich von Morungen, Lieder, ed. Helmut Tervooren, Stuttgart 1986 (Reclam)
  • Walther von der Vogelweide, Werke, vol. 2: Liedlyrik, ed. Günther Schweikle, Stuttgart 1998 (Reclam)
  • Neidhart, Lieder, Stuttgart, ed. Helmut Lomnitzer, Stuttgart 1986 (Reclam)

Introductory reading:

  • Günther Schweikle, Minnesang, 2nd edition, Stuttgart 1995 (Sammlung Metzler)


Topic 3. The Middle High German Epic: Rolandslied and Wolfram's Willehalm

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, European and Middle Eastern politics were dominated by the clash between Christian and Islamic worlds. As heirs to the Holy Roman Empire, German nobles and princes were caught up in a series of military actions, with varying degrees of support and war-weariness. Such events left their mark on the literature of the period, which reflected upon and processed the parameters and paradoxes of ideological conflict in various ways. This module concentrates on two highly significant works from either end of the Blütezeit, Pfaffe Konrad's Rolandslied and Wolfram von Eschenbach's Willehalm, which has been described as 'one of the great narrative texts of medieval literature'. It will explore how such works raise and attempt to answer questions on issues such as race, empire, religion, multiculturalism, political allegiance, and war that resonate with considerable urgency in the modern world. At the same time, it will focus on the specific poetics of the epic genre, investigating how the texts construct characters, portray emotions, explore human relationships, generate meaning and play off other literary works in the period.


  • Das Rolandslied des Pfaffen Konrad, ed. Dieter Kartschoke, Stuttgart 1993 (Reclam)
  • Wolfram von Eschenbach, Willehalm, ed., trans, commentary Joachim Heinzle, Frankfurt 2009 (Deutscher Klassiker Verlag im Taschenbuch 39)

Introductory reading:

  • G. Vollmann-Profe, Geschichte der deutschen Literatur von den Anfängen bis zum Beginn der Neuzeit. Vol. 1.2: Wiederbeginn volkssprachiger Schriftlichkeit im hohen Mittelalter (1050/60-1160-70), (Königstein 1986), 133-7, 211-3
  • L. P. Johnson, Geschichte der deutschen Literatur von den Anfängen bis zum Beginn der Neuzeit. Vol. 2.1: Die höfische Literatur der Blütezeit (1160/70-1220/30), (Tübingen 1999), 324-65
  • J. Bumke, Wolfram von Eschenbach, 8th edition, Stuttgart 2004 (Sammlung Metzler)
  • M. H. Jones and T. McFarland (eds), Wolfram's Willehalm. Fifteen Essays, (Rochester, NY, Woodbridge 2002)
  • J.-D. Müller, 'Ratgeber und Wissende in heroischer Epik' in Frühmittelalterliche Studien 27 (1993), 125-146
  • B. Bastert (ed.), Karl der Große in den europäischen Literaturen des Mittelalters. Konstruktion eines Mythos, (Tübingen 2004)


Topic 4. Ritual, representation, community: drama in the later middle ages

Religious and profane drama was performed all over German‑speaking central Europe from the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries, but it offered a very different theatrical experience from any we are used to. First, religious drama is in between ritual and representation. Although it originated in the liturgy of the church, it is not quite the same thing, nor ‑ because the actors waver between self‑consciously playing a part and actually being the characters they impersonate ‑ is it exactly a make‑believe representation. Second, the drama promotes both social harmony and social division. Early drama was a collective enterprise, performed by and for the whole community; one of its functions was therefore to represent and celebrate the cohesion of the social unit. Yet this community is simultaneously forged through excluding and deriding out‑groups, such as Jews and women; performers and spectators often used the occasion of the performance to act out tensions and rivalries that otherwise remained latent; these exclusions and these 'unscripted' performances reveal the darker side of community.


  1. Religious drama

Das Donaueschinger Passionsspiel, ed. A.H. Touber, Stuttgart 1985 (Reclam).

Das Redentiner Osterspiel, ed. B. Schottmann, Stuttgart 1975 (Reclam).

  1. Profane drama

Fastnachtspiele des 15. und 16. Jahrhunderts, ed. D. Wuttke, Stuttgart 1978 (Reclam)

Introductory reading

  • Hansjürgen Linke. Vom Sakrament bis zum Exkrement. Ein Überblick über Drama und Theater des deutschen Mittelalters. In Theaterwesen und dramatische Literatur, ed. Gunter Holtus, Tübingen 1987, pp. 127‑64.
  • Hansjürgen Linke. Germany and German-speaking central Europe. In The Theatre of Medieval Europe: New Research in Early Drama, ed. Eckehard Simon, Cambridge 1991, pp. 207-24.
  • Hedda Ragotzky. Fastnachtspiel. In Reallexikon der deutschen Literaturwissenschaft 1 (2007), 568-72.
  • Ursula Schulze. Geistliches Spiel. In Reallexikon der deutschen Literaturwissenschaft 1 (2007), 683-88.


Topic 5. Formation of the Holy Roman Empire: Charlemagne to Frederick Barbarossa

We are accustomed to describing the historical German polity as the Holy Roman Empire.  In this module we shall explore the medieval origins of this concept to understand why the later medieval German monarchs and their early modern and modern successors came to rule over an Empire that was described as both Holy and Roman.  Extending from Charlemagne's coronation as emperor at Rome in 800 to the death of Frederick Barbarossa on the Third Crusade in 1190, we shall examine some of the most important themes in German medieval history including medieval ideas of Empire, the classical and religious importance of Rome, the sacral nature of high medieval kingship, the relationship between church and state (and papacy and empire), and the development of an elective monarchy.

Introductory reading:

  • J. Gillingham, The kingdom of Germany in the High Middle Ages (900-1200) (Historical Association pamphlet, 1971)
  • T. Reuter, 'The medieval German Sonderweg? The empire and its rulers in the high Middle Ages', in Medieval Polities and Modern Mentalities ed. J. Nelson (Cambridge, 2006), pp.388-413
  • S. Weinfurter, Das Reich im Mittelalter.  Kleine deutsche Geschichte von 500 bis 1500 (Munich, 2008)


Topic 6. The German Reformation

The German Reformation changed the face of Europe, and had a radical impact on culture and politics, initiating the divisions within the Christian community, which still run deep in modern society. The monk and scholar Martin Luther's teachings on Christian salvation, using new humanist editions of the New Testament (e.g. by Erasmus, 1516), precipitated a crisis in the Catholic Church (at that time the only western Church and an important secular authority), beginning in 1517 with his 95 theses on the sale of indulgences. A wave of propaganda pamphlets followed, many using striking visual images to inform the illiterate of their ideas. Luther's new translation of the Bible into German, designed to appeal to the 'common man', is (among other things) an important landmark in German's linguistic development. His supporters also used hymns and drama to take their message into communities. However, the conversion of a state or city to Lutheranism was not possible without the support of its rulers, and so here the Reformation became a political movement, whose impact went far beyond that envisaged in the earliest days.

Introductory reading:

  • Luther, Schriften, (Reclam 1578)
  • E. Cameron, The European Reformation, (1991)
  • E. McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction, (1992)
  • S. Ozment, Protestants: The Birth of a Revolution, (1992)
  • R. W. Scribner, For the Sake of Simple Folk: Popular Propaganda for the German Reformation, (1981)


Topic 7. The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation 1495-1806

The early modern German polity was a unique system. Quite unlike the English and French monarchies, it had more in common with the elective Polish monarchy of the time. However, the Imperial title held many different meanings. The Holy Roman Emperor was the successor to the emperors of ancient Rome; he was the head of Christendom and, in theory at least, the premier monarch of Europe; he was also the elected ruler of a federal system that loosely comprised the German-speaking areas of central Europe. This module will examine the development of the German Empire from the reforms of the Emperor Maximilian in the 1490s, through the upheavals of the Reformation, Counter-Reformation and Thirty Years War to the eighteenth-century Aufklärung and its collapse in the era of the French Revolution. We shall examine the institutions of the Empire and the reason why increasing numbers of Germans identified strongly with it, so that it became one of the more durable and in many ways successful political systems of the pre-modern period. Finally we shall consider the reasons for its collapse and the ways in which its legacy continued to shape German history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


  • Georg Schmidt, Geschichte des Alten Reiches. Staat und Nation in der Frühen Neuzeit 1495-1806, (Munich, 1999)
  • Axel Gotthard, Das Alte Reich 1495-1806, (Darmstadt 2003)
  • Peter Wilson, The Holy Roman Empire 1495-1806, (Houndmills, 1999; 2nd edn, 2011)
  • Joachim Whaley, Reich, Nation, Volk. Early Modern Perspectives, (Modern Languages Review, ci, April 2006, 442-55)
  • Joachim Whaley, Germany and the Holy Roman Empire, Vol. 1: from Maximilian I to the Peace of Westphalia, 1493-1648 (Oxford 2012)


Topic 8. Power, “race,” and gender in early modern literary texts
Anxieties about women and Islam permeate Western culture not only in the twenty-first century. In seventeenth-century texts what we might now call “hegemonic” masculinity is defined in relation not only to a feminine but to an “oriental” Other which – in the context of historical tensions between the Holy Roman and Ottoman Empires – is often coded as Islamic. In Grimmelshausen, transgressive dressing and inappropriate behaviour are used to reflect on gender, power, and the social order.
Comedy of course has its own ways of reflecting (on) power, and both elements in Grimmelshausen’s prose narratives and the Lustspiele of the period demonstrate the controlling power of comic humiliation alongside the arguably anarchic potential of comic agency.
Suggestions for reading:

  • Trauerspiel: Gryphius, Catharina von Georgien (Reclam); Lohenstein, Sophonisbe (Reclam); Cleopatra (Reclam)
  • Lustspiel: Gryphius, Verlibtes Gespenst/Die gelibte Dornrose (Reclam), Horribilicribrifax Teutsch (Reclam)
  • Prose narrative: Grimmelshausen, Courasche (Reclam)

Secondary literature:                                    

  • Judith Aikin, “The Comedies of Andreas Gryphius and the Two Traditions of European Comedy,” The Germanic Review 63 (1988), 114-120.
  • Sarah Colvin, The Rhetorical Feminine: Gender and Orient on the German Stage 1647‑1742 (1999)
  • R.W. Connell, “The Social Organization of Masculinity,” in The Masculinities Reader, ed. Stephen M. Whitehead and Frank J. Barrett (2001), 30-50
  • Margo Hendricks and Patricia Parker (eds.), Women, "Race," and Writing in the Early Modern Period (1994)                                 
  • Susan Purdie, Comedy: The Mastery of Discourse (1993)
  • Lynne Tatlock, “Engendering Social Order: From Costume Autobiography to Conversation Games in Grimmelshausen's Simpliciana,” in A Companion to the Works of Grimmelshausen, ed. Karl F. Otto (2003)
  • Ingrid Walsoe-Engel, Father and Daughters: Patterns of Seduction in Tragedies by Gryphius, Lessing, Hebbel and Kroetz (1993)
  • Charlotte Woodford, “Gryphius: Peter Squenz,” in Landmarks in German Comedy, ed. Peter Hutchinson (2006)