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A structural analysis of Gottfried Von Strassburg’s "Tristan" based on the structural markers of extant manuscripts Woods, Gurli Aagaard

Abstract

The purpose of this study is to analyse the structure of Gottfried von Strassburg's "Tristan" and to base such an analysis on the structural markers in the extant MSS of the romance. Before embarking on the structural analysis we discuss various approaches to analysing the structure of a given work; we thereby touch upon problems such as the relationship between form and content and the importance of consulting the MSS of the work concerned for possible indications of structure. In order to have an objective basis to work from, we establish statistically a model MS which represents the average of the total number of structural markers (initials) in the extant "Tristan" MSS. Our approach is based on the assumption that most of the original structure markers filtered through to the various MSS and that they can be restored—at least partially—by focusing on an average representation of the initials in the MSS. The MSS are then placed on an evaluation scale according to the degree to which their initials coincide with those of the model MS. During the subsequent structural analysis this evaluation scale helps to determine which paragraph divisions are "weak." Our structural analysis is in two parts; the first part is a detailed analysis of the "Vorgeschichte" based on the paragraph divisions (initials) of the model MS. The "Vorgeschichte" has been chosen as the object for the structural analysis partly because it forms the smallest narrative complex within the epic while at the same time containing enough narrative units to enable us to detect possible numerical structures within this complex and partly on the assumption that the scribes most likely copied the first portions of the epic more accurately than later sections, thus also following the structural indications of their source more faithfully. In the second part of our structural analysis we deal with the acrostics. By examining in detail the large initials in the MSS, we obtain an accurate picture of the three acrostics in "Tristan", and we proceed to discuss the possible significance of the acrostic initials for the over-all structure of the romance. Our structural analysis of the "Vorgeschichte", based on the paragraph divisions of the model MS, shows that Gottfried singles out specific points in the narrative (the well documented paragraph divisions of the model MS) both by initials and by accompanying recurrent stylistic features and that his reason for doing so is to structure his work according to numerical symmetrical patterns. The fact that such patterns emerge when we group the paragraphs of the model MS of the "Vorgeschichte" according to content indicates that further study of other parts of "Tristan" based on the structural indications in the MSS would provide us with more information about Gottfried's technique of structuring his narrative.

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