UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A history of Tristan scholarship Picozzi , Rosemary


Although a few summaries of the results gained in certain limited areas of Tristan scholarship have appeared, a comprehensive historical study of its development has not yet been made. In this dissertation the ideas and achievements of successive generations of critics are presented and conclusions drawn as to the trends in intellectual history which account for the distinct changes in methods, attitudes and interests. The opening chapter discusses the theories on the origins of the medieval Tristan romances in oral and literary tradition. After examining the earliest speculations about the geographical birthplace of romance it then presents the views of the Romantics concerning the historical and mythological sources of the legend and the language of the first Tristan poem. As shown in the review of subsequent origin research, opinions about the oral diffusion became sharply divided; when this, the "insular-continental debate," subsided, scholars turned their attention first to reconstructing the archetypal poem and later to interpretation of the extant material. The first of three chapters dealing with Gottfried's Tristan describes the recovery of manuscripts, studies of the transmission, and preparation of editions. The second surveys the changing patterns in Gottfried criticism up to the beginning of the twentieth century: after an enthusiastic reception among the early Romantics Gottfried's poem, though still admired by the minority which posited mythological origins, was condemned by most literary historians on grounds of immorality and blasphemy. Later critics were preoccupied with eliciting the poet's biography from his work and assessing the extent of his dependence on Thomas of Brittany. The question of Gottfried's originality maintained its prominent position in twentieth-century interpretations, examined in the next chapter. To most critics the novelty in his treatment lay in the association of Tristan-love with religion, and the problems arising from this relationship were frequently discussed in terms of the medieval "Zeitgeist." Implicit throughout this study and elaborated in the conclusion are the links between Tristan scholarship and intellectual history. For example, the eighteenth-century idea of human nature influenced the early theories of origins; when the Enlightenment aversion to the medieval period had been overcome, the new interest in history, mythology and the age of chivalry among the Romantics accounted for some approaches to the material, but other attitudes (e.g., denigrations of Gottfried's poem and the lack of interest in producing a reliable edition) reflected current nationalistic tendencies and hostility towards the French—from whom Gottfried borrowed the theme. Later developments (source studies, genealogical research into manuscripts and extant versions, quasi-mechanical reconstructions, biographies) typified the scientific outlook of positivism. Gottfried's independence of Thomas, at first underplayed for political reasons, finally attracted attention in the twentieth century when interpretation became the primary concern among scholars. Both the general interest in finding an adequate definition of Tristan-love and the methods adopted in interpretations of Gottfried's amatory doctrine showed the marked impact exerted by "Geistesgeschichte" on literary criticism. Depth psychology and modern political ideologies (National Socialism and Marxism) have also determined the approach taken by some scholars. It appears that Tristan scholarship is now moving in new directions, for in recent research into the structure and symbolism of Gottfried's poem hypotheses about the metaphysical background have been displaced by intrinsic study of the work itself.

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