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GE4 Reading List

1. Gottfried von Strassburg, Tristan

Gottfried’s Tristan (c.1210) is not only a gripping story involving a dragon-slaying and a love potion, political intrigue, subterfuge and a sex scandal in a British royal family, it is also one of the most artistically accomplished and thematically multilayered works of world literature. Its richness and complexity make it hard to pin down, and this in turn contributes to the fascination it has always exerted over its readers. Gottfried’s romance is the product of a court culture, and in many respects is complicit with courtly values; yet Gottfried can be critical, even cynical about the court and its representatives. So far as the main theme of love is concerned, on the one hand the author conducts a purely secular discourse, on the other he surrounds love, the lovers and also love stories with an aura of the sacred, to such a degree that critics have even spoken of a “religion of love” in Tristan or made connections with Christian mysticism. And in the domain of aesthetics, Gottfried insists on the historical veracity of his story, while at the same time demonstrating time and again how poetry has the power to create objects of pure imagination which baffle the senses and defy reason and logic.


  • Recommended edition:

Gottfried von Straßburg, Tristan, edition, with translation and commentary by Rüdiger Krohn, 3 vols (Reclam 4471-73).
Excellent commentary in Gottfried von Straßburg, Tristan und Isold, ed. Walter Haug / Manfred Günter Scholz, 2 vols, Frankfurt 2011 (Bibliothek des Mittelalters 10, 11; consult in libraries).

  • Introductory reading:

(read one or two of the following):
Mark Chinca, Gottfried von Strassburg: Tristan, Cambridge 1997 (Landmarks of World Literature).
Christoph Huber, Gottfried von Straßburg: Tristan, 3rd edition, Berlin 2013 (Klassiker-Lektüren 3).
Tomas Tomasek, Gottfried von Straßburg, Stuttgart 2007 (Reclam 17665).


  • Court culture and cultural critique:
    C. Stephen Jaeger, Medieval Humanism in Gottfried von Strassburg’s ‘Tristan und Isolde’, Heidelberg 1977.
    Rüdiger Schnell, Curialitas und dissimulatio im Mittelalter. Zur Interdependenz von Hofkritik und Hofideal. In Zeitschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Linguistik Jahrgang 2011, Heft 161, 77-138.
    Monika Schausten, “dâ hovet ir iuch selben mite”: Höfische Jagdkunst im Spiegel klerikaler Kritik am Beispiel des Tristan Gottfrieds von Straßburg. In Zeitschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Linguistik Jahrgang 2011, Heft 161, 139-163.
  • The secular and the sacred:
    Burghart Wachinger, Geistliche Motive und geistliche Denkformen in Gottfrieds ‘Tristan’. In Der ‘Tristan’ Gottfrieds von Straßburg, ed. Victor Millet, Tübingen 2002, pp. 243-255.
    Niklaus Largier, Liebe als Medium der Transgression. Überlegungen zur Affektgemeinschaft und Habitusformung in Gottfrieds ‘Tristan’ (mit einer Anmerkung zur ‘Hohelied’-Mystik). In Norm und Krise von Kommunikation, ed. Alois Hahn / Gert Melville / Werner Röcke, Münster 2007, pp. 209-224.
  • Aesthetics:
    James J. Murphy, Rhetoric in the Middle Ages, Berkeley / Los Angeles 1974, repr. 2001, chapter IV.
    Mark Chinca, Metaphorische Interartifizialität. Zu Gottfried von Straßburg. In Interartifizialität. Die Diskussion der Künste in der mittelalterlichen Literatur, ed. Susanne Bürkle / Ursula Peters, Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie 128 (2009) Sonderheft, pp. 17-36.

2. Nibelungenlied

The Nibelungenlied has been described as 'der deutscheste aller deutschen Stoffe', and not without reason. In 2003, when the dating of a newly found fragment of the medieval work caused controversy in scholarly circles, Spiegel, Zeit and FAZ all covered the skirmish with major reports and interviews. Since its written composition c.1200, the tale of the apocalyptic destruction of the Nibelungen warriors at the hands of the vengeful heroine Kriemhilt has excited huge interest. Significant manuscript changes suggest that readers took sides between the key protagonists and attempted to rid the work of its inherent, defining ambiguities. Yet these same ambiguities assisted the appropriation of the work as a national epic for a century and a half, from the Napoleonic occupation through to National Socialism; Göring famously compared the struggle for Stalingrad to the work's bloody denouement. This module explores the construction of the original work, its ideological exploitation up to the Second World War and its artistic rehabilitation after 1945. A variety of sources will be covered, including schoolbooks, opera, film, visual arts and modern museum design.


  • Recommended editions: Nibelungenlied, ed. H. Brackert, 1970 (Fischer); or ed. S. Grosse, 1997 (Reclam 644); or ed. Joachim Heinzle 2013 (Deutscher Klasasiker Verlag).
  • Introductory reading:
    • Joachim Heinzle, , Das Nibelungenlied. Eine Einführung 1994 (Fischer)
    • Jan-Dirk Müller, Das Nibelungenlied, 2002 (Klassiker-Lektüren)


  • Nineteenth-century reception:
    • R. Borchmeyer (ed.), Wege des Mythos in der Moderne. Richard Wagner, 'Der Ring des Nibelungen', 1987 (dtv 4468)
    • J. Heinzle & A. Waldschmidt (eds), Die Nibelungen. Ein deutscher Wahn, ein deutscher Alptraum. Studien und Dokumente zur Rezeption des Nibelungenstoffs im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, 1991(Suhrkamp)
  • Weimar and National Socialism:
    • Fritz Lang, Die Nibelungen. Part 1: Siegfrieds Tod, 1923; Part 2: Kriemhilds Rache 1924 (film; available as Transitfilm videocassettes)
    • Borchmeyer, pp. 202-23; Heinzle/Waldschmidt, pp. 151-90.
  • Post-1945:


3. Mechthild von Magdeburg Das fließende Licht der Gottheit

Mechthild’s Das fließende Licht der Gottheit (c. 1250) is considered to be one of the most accomplished and beautiful works of medieval German literature. Little is known about Mechthild’s life, the only extant source is the text itself which contains scattered biographical references. Moreover, the Middle Low German ‘Original’ is lost, the text survived in two translations, one in Latin and the other in Middle High German. Combining reports of divine visions and rapture, poetry, prayers and meditations, Das fließende Licht offers a kaleidoscopic range of the ever evolving relationship between the soul and the divine which culminates in the unio mystica experience. In the past, the highly eroticised and passionate unio scenes which draw on the tradition of courtly literature puzzled critics. In recent years, scholarship has focussed on how the varying subject positions merge into Mechthild as author during the course of textual transmission. In this respect, Das Fließende Licht provides ample opportunities for the discussion of the concept of medieval authorship and the production and reception of Frauenmystik. 

Recommended edition:
Mechthild von Magdeburg, Das fließende Licht der Gottheit. Eine Auswahl. Mittelhochdeutsch/Neuhochdeutsch, ed. Gisela Vollmann-Profe. Reclam, 2008.

Excellent commentary in: Mechthild von Magdeburg, Das fließende Licht der Gottheit. Nach der Einsiedler Handschrift in kritischem Vergleich mit der gesamten Überlieferung, ed. Hans Neumann. Volume II. München 1993 (Münchener Texte und Untersuchungen zur deutschen Literatur des Mittelalters, 101, consult in libraries). 

Introductory reading: 

  • Ursula Peters, Religiöse Erfahrung als literarisches Faktum. Zur Vorgeschichte und Genese frauenmystischer Texte des 13. und 14. Jahrhunderts. Tübingen 1988, pp. 53-67. 
  • Kurt Ruh, Geschichte der abendländischen Mystik. Volume II Frauenmystik und Franziskanische Mystik der Frühzeit. München 1993, pp. 247-292.
  • Almut Suerbaum, Dialogische Identitätskonzeption bei Mechthild von Magdeburg. In: Dialoge. Sprachliche Kommunikation in und zwischen Texten im deutschen Mittelalter, ed. Nikolaus Henkel. Tübingen 2003, pp. 239-255. 


Authorship and authority

  • Klaus Grubmüller, Sprechen und Schreiben. Das Beispiel von Mechthild von Magdeburg. In: Festschrift für Walter Haug und Burghart Wachinger, ed. Johannes Janota. Volume I. Tübingen 1992, pp. 335-348.
  • Balázs J. Nemes, Von der Schrift zum Buch – vom Ich zum Autor. Zur Text- und Autorkonstitution in Überlieferung und Rezeption des Fließenden Lichts der Gottheit Mechthilds von Magdeburg. Tübingen 2010 (Bibliotheca Germanica, 55).
  • Sara S Poor, Mechthild of Magdeburg and Her Book. Gender and the Making of Textual Authority. Philadelphia 2004 (The Middle Ages Series). 


  • Susanne Bürkle, Literatur im Kloster. Historische Funktion und rhetorische Legitimation frauenmystischer Texte des 14. Jahrhunderts. Tübingen 1999 (Bibliotheca Germanica, 38), pp. 9-57.
  • Walter Haug, Das Gespräch mit dem unvergleichlichen Partner. Der mystische Dialog bei Mechthild von Magdeburg als Paradigma für eine personale Gesprächsstruktur. In: Das Gespräch, ed. Karlheinz Stierle und Rainer Warning. München 1984 (Poetik und Hermeneutik), pp. 251-279.
  • Walter Haug, Innerlichkeit, Körperlichkeit und Sprache in der spätmittelalterlichen Frauenmystik. In: Die Wahrheit der Fiktion. Studien zur weltlichen und geistlichen Literatur des Mittelalters und der frühen Neuzeit. Tübingen 2003, pp. 480-492.
  • Caroline Walker-Bynum, “…And Woman His Humanity: Female Imagery in the Religious Writing of the Later Middle Ages. In: Fragmentation and Redemption. Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion. New York 1991, pp. 151-180.


4. Thüring von Ringoltingen, Melusine

Melusine (1456) — a tale about the devastating consequences of a husband's discovery of his beautiful wife's regular Saturday metamorphosis into a mermaid — is perhaps the most significant of the first batch of German prose novels that began to spring up in the fifteenth century. With 24 editions in just 120 years it was a roaring success in its own day — a period of technological innovation (printing) and literary-social change (the town as centre of literary culture). Reworkings by Hans Sachs, Tieck, Grillparzer and Zuckmayer attest to the literary world's continued fascination with sex and the supernatural from the sixteenth through to the twentieth century. In addition to these important historical contexts, the work poses questions which take the modern reader on to familiar territory: its strangely sophisticated yet raw texture and structuration pose narratological questions about how the new genre handles the demands of theme, character, cause and event, and philosophical content, whilst its concentration on dynastic developments leads to a consideration of how dominant discourses (in this case genealogy) form the categories in which we structure our knowledge.


  • Recommended edition: Thüringen von Ringoltingen, Melusine, ed. H.-G. Roloff, 1991 (Reclam 1484).
  • Useful commentary and afterword in J.-D. Müller (ed.), Romane des 15. und 16. Jahrhunderts, 1990 (Bibliothek der frühen Neuzeit; consult in libraries).
  • Introductory reading: Anna Mühlherr, 'Geschichte und Liebe im Melusinenroman', in B. Wachinger & W. Haug (eds), Positionen des Romans im späten Mittelalter, 1991, pp. 328-337


  • Literature in urban centres: Jan-Dirk Müller, 'Melusine in Bern. Zum Problem der "Verbürgerlichung" höfischer Epik im 15. Jahrhundert', in G. Kaiser (ed.), Literatur — Publikum — historischer Kontext, 1977, pp. 29-78
  • Myth and history:
    • Volker Mertens, 'Melusinen, Undinen. Variationen des Mythos vom 12. bis zum 20. Jahrhundert', in J. Janota and others (eds), Festschrift für Walther Haug und Burghart Wachinger, 1992, vol.1, pp. 202-31
    • Stephen C Nichols, 'Melusine between Myth and History. Profile of a Female Demon', in J.-D. Müller & H. Wenzel (eds), Mittelalter. Neue Wege durch einen alten Kontinent, 1999, pp. 217-40
  • Genealogy:
    • Beate Kellner, 'Melusinengeschichten im Mittelalter. Formen und Möglichkeiten ihrer diskursiven Vernetzung', in Ursula Peters (ed.), Text und Kultur. Mittelalterliche Literatur 1150-1450, 2001, pp. 268-95
    • U. Peters, Dynastengeschichte und Verwandtschaftsbilder. Die Adelsfamilie in der volkssprachigen Literatur des Mittelalters, 1999, pp. 210-20

5. Martin Luther, Von weltlicher Obrigkeit

The Reformation transformed German culture and society. Not only did Protestantism redefine the relationship between the individual and God, it also redefined relationships between individuals and those who ruled over them in the political sphere. Lutheranism in particular has been held responsible for promoting obedience to authority as a central trait of the German national character, with all the historical consequences that flow from that attitude. Luther's brief treatise on the subject of temporal authority (1523) therefore repays careful reading and contextualization; if the former reveals many of Luther's key formulations as ambiguous or even slipshod, the latter shows how a text that inaugurated the whole 'magisterial' tradition of subservience to secular rulers could at the same time be used to legitimate resistance and outright disobedience to those same rulers.


  • Recommended edition: Harro Höpfl, (ed.), Luther and Calvin on secular authority, 1991. Modernized German text online at
  • Introductory reading: Euan Cameron, The European Reformation, 1991, chs 7, 10, 19


  • Luther's thought:
    • Luther, Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen (Reclam 1578)
    • A.G. Dickens, The German nation and Martin Luther, 1974, ch. 4
    • John Witte Jr, Law and Protestantism, 2002, ch. 3
  • Contemporary political theory: the 'magisterial' versus the 'radical' Reformation:
    • Quentin Skinner, The foundations of modern political thought, 1978, vol. 2, chs 1-3
    • Michael G. Baylor (ed.), The radical Reformation, 1991
  • Disobedience: the word of God, martyrdom, and the making of Protestant identity:
    • anonymous pamphlet Eyn wahrhafftig geschicht, in: Deutsche Flugschriften zur Reformation, 1980, pp. 329-58 (Reclam 9995)
    • Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance self-fashioning, 1980, ch. 2


6. Poetry of the Baroque

It is in poetry in particular that the tensions and stresses of one of the most unsettling periods in German history are expressed: the fear and experience of war, pestilence, and transience alongside a lust for life, a delight in nature, and spiritual contemplativeness. There is a great deal of love poetry, some of which shows Italian and Spanish influence. Women poets emerge and show the possibilities of a strong or authoritative female voice.

In a combination of lectures and classes, this option will explore the ways in which the poetry enables a deeper understanding of the mood of the age.

Gedichte des Barock (Reclam), ed. Ulrich Maché and Volker Meid. Stuttgart: Reclam 


  • Martin Opitz, Buch von der deutschen Poeterey, ed. Cornelius Sommer. Stuttgart: Reclam
  • Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly, ‘The early modern period, 1450-1720’, in The Cambridge History of German Literature, ed. Helen Watanabe O’Kelly. Cambridge: CUP 2000, 92-146
  • Klaus Garber, ‘Frühe Neuzeit—Early Modernity: Reflections on a New Category of Literary History’, in Early Modern German Literature 1350-1700 (The Camden House History of German Literature, vol. 4). Rochester, NY: Camden House 2007, 3-30
  • Peter Hess, ‘Poetry in Germany, 1450-1700’, in Early Modern German Literature 1350-1700 (The Camden House History of German Literature, vol. 4). Rochester, NY: Camden House 2007, 395-466
  • Peter M. Daly, ‘The Emblem and Emblematic Forms in Early Modern Germany’, in Early Modern German Literature 1350-1700 (The Camden House History of German Literature, vol. 4). Rochester, NY: Camden House 2007, 509-54