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Personal clothing in Wolfram’s Parzival and Willehalm : Symbolism and significance Barran, Paula A.

Abstract

This study is a discussion of the use of clothing symbolism by Wolfram von Eschenbach in Parzival and in Willehalm, investigating whether he did in fact use clothing symbols, how he made use of them, and suggesting some explanation for why he used them. The reasonableness of the hypothesis that clothing symbols were used is established by the existence of a strong symbolic tradition in the times in which Wolfram was writing, an era in which everything participated in the fundamental underlying unity of all creation and therefore had the potential for acting as symbols of those aspects to which a relationship was established. The hypothesis is further supported by the existence of confessed clothing symbolism in the garments used in the services of the Church during Wolfram's lifetime, and made likely by the use of admitted clothing symbols in the narrative poetry of Wolfram's contemporaries, notably Hartmann von Aue, Gottfried von Strassburg, and the author of the Nibelungenlied. Elements of medieval clothing which contribute to the symbolic potential of the various garments are examined. These include color and style as well as legal restrictions covering the use of certain clothing styles by certain classes of society. The following groups of clothing and clothing-related articles are considered separately: armor, clothing on formal occasions, daily clothing, gemstones, gifts of clothing and aid offered in the act of robing and disrobing. The same distinctions are followed in the discussion of personal clothing in Willehalm, but the discussion is confined to a single chapter. Individual considerations which are important in establishing a firm support for the arguments are elements of contemporary culture which establish symbolic significance for certain articles, among them lapidaries, bestiaries, and the customs of the Church. A very important aspect of the argument is the establishment of an interpretation that is coherent in terms of the parameters of the narrative as a whole. The general conclusions reached are that the use of clothing symbolism is supported by personal admission of the author, the existence of a strong tradition, and by poetic use within the narrative, notably by the creation of incongruity of situation which indicates an extended meaning. Clothing symbols are valuable tools for the poet's characterization as well as for scene linkage and are used furthermore to suggest an inner reality which is not necessarily supported by the external evidence offered.

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