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The love theme in Gottfried's Tristan und Isolde and its treatment in German literature from the romantics to Wagner Lenos, Maria Helene

Abstract

Although there are several versions of the story of Tristan and Isolde before Gottfried von Strassburg none has survived in more than fragmentary form since they lacked appeal to following generations. The version par excellence is that by Gottfried. His method of writing in allegories and symbols, which he uses to convey to his select audience of edele herzen the deeper meaning of his words, has given rise to many controversial interpretations. The contradicting interpretations of the most noted scholars are briefly touched upon and an attempt is made to offer a more balanced approach to Gottfried's ideal of love. The later medieval continuations by Ulrich von Türheim and Heinrich von Freiberg are considered in relation to each other as well as to Gottfried. Only the Eilhart version, entirely based on effective narration of outer action, remained popular. This was put into prose by an unknown author in the second half of the fifteenth century and became known as the Prose Romance. In it the old courtly epic was reduced to a story for entertainment and its style consequently altered to suit the level of the readers. The Prose Romance of the sixteenth century became the source for Hans Sachs who retold the Tristan legend in six Meisterlieder and one drama (1553). Hereafter the legend seemed forgotten for two centuries until the German Romantic Movement revived interest in it in the course of its general emphasis on the German cultural and literary past. Several attempts were made by the Romantics to create independent versions inspired by Gottfried's Tristan and under the influence of the critical writings of Schlegel and others. The attempts at literary versions of the Tristan-theme by August Wilhelm von Schlegel, Karl Phllipp Conz, Wilhelm Wackernagel and Friedrich Rückert are briefly discussed and analyzed in the light of Romantic theories of love. The results of Romantic interest in the theme of Tristan are surprisingly meagre and since no specific evidence can be adduced as to the reason for this, it is only possible to put forward a tentative theory regarding some of the causes. Only Immermann produced a work of any consequence and this is therefore discussed at some length. Only after the Romantics are there any serious efforts to produce linguistically and scholastically acceptable translations (Hermann Kurtz, Karl Simrock, Wilhelm Hertz). It was left to Richard Wagner, on the basis of modern translations, to "rehabilitate" the Tristan legend in his music drama and although it has very little in common with Gottfried, it is nevertheless the only work since Gottfried that has succeeded in provoking further interest in Tristan. M. S. Batts

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