Authors: Gottfried von Strassburg

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

German poet

Author Works


Tristan und Isolde, c. 1210 (Tristan and Isolde, 1899)


Nothing is known of the life of Gottfried von Strassburg (GAWT-freet fawn SHTRAHS-burk) beyond what can be gleaned from his own work and from references to him by his contemporaries. He was certainly born in the late twelfth century. Unlike his contemporary court poets, Gottfried was probably from a bourgeois family, since he is referred to as meister rather than herr. The commercial center of Strassburg may have been his birthplace or may simply have been where he lived. The name Dietrich, perhaps a wealthy bourgeois patron from Strassburg, appears as an acrostic at the beginning of Tristan.{$I[AN]9810000332}{$I[A]Gottfried von Strassburg}{$I[geo]GERMANY;Gottfried von Strassburg}{$I[tim]1210;Gottfried von Strassburg}

Whether in Strassburg or elsewhere, perhaps at a monastery school, Gottfried received an excellent education. The title meister may suggest that he was a learned man. He knew French and Latin very well and was particularly fond of Vergil and Ovid. He was acquainted with scholasticism and with law. He was a skilled versifier and was aware of the poetic currents of his time. In Tristan and Isolde, he refers to Hartmann von Aue as his master. He also refers to Reinmar der Alte as having died (Reinmar died in 1210) and alludes to Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival (c. 1200-1210) disparagingly. Wolfram responded to Gottfried’s criticism in Willehalm(begun c. 1212), which fixes the date of composition of Tristan andIsolde around 1210.

Gottfried based his version of Tristan and Isolde on Thomas of Britain’s version. In Gottfried’s tale, Tristan goes to Ireland in order to bring back Isolde, bride of his uncle, the king of Cornwall. By mistake, the two drink a love potion and so are bound irrevocably to each other. For a time, they deceive the cuckold king. When their guilty love is revealed, Tristan flees to Normandy, where he marries a different Isolde and where he is wounded by a poisoned spear. Only the Irish Isolde can cure him, but the jealous wife makes him believe she cannot come. The Irish Isolde dies of grief. Tristan’s death moves the king to pity, and he has the lovers buried side by side. This latter part is taken from fragments written in continuation by two followers of Gottfried, Ulrich von Turheim and Heinrich von Freiberg.

Besides Tristan and Isolde, Gottfried is believed to have written shorter poems which are no longer extant. Poems attributed to him in various manuscripts are spurious. However, scholars do believe that two lyrics previously attributed to Ulrich von Lichtenstein are probably Gottfried’s. Gottfried’s Tristan and Isolde is the best version of a story that many other French and German poets had tried: Chrétien de Troyes, the trouvère Thomas, and Eilhart von Oberge, among others, attempted the Tristan and Isolde theme. Many translations have been made of the epic, but none improves upon the original. The psychological overtones, the deft poetic insights, and the lack of didacticism make it one of the unique and original masterpieces of world literature.

BibliographyBatts, Michael S. Gottfried von Strassburg. New York: Twayne, 1971. An excellent introduction to Gottfried’ life and times with an interpretive focus on his Tristan and Isolde and on the legend in general. Contains a bibliography.Batts, Michael S. “Research Since 1945 on Gottfried’s Tristan.” Tristania: A Journal Devoted to Tristan Studies 9 (Autumn-Spring, 1983-1984). An English bibliography.Bekker, Hugo. Gottfried von Strassburg’ “Tristan”: Journey Through the Realm of Eros. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1987. An analysis of the the medieval concept of love in Gottfried’ Tristan and Isolde.Chinca, Mark. Gottfried von Strassburg: “Tristan.” Chinca, a professor of medieval literature, has published several books and essays on Gottfried. This concise introduction for students compares Gottfried’ approach to literary tradition with that of previous writers and examines the reception of Tristan and Isolde by contemporaries and later writers.Chinca, Mark. History, Fiction, Verisimilitude: Studies in the Poetics of Gottfried’ “Tristan.” London: University of London, 1993. Close readings of Tristan and Isolde.Hall, Clifton D. A Complete Concordance to Gottfried von Strassburg’ “Tristan.” Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1992. Includes bibliographical references and an index.Jackson, W. T. H. “The Role of Brangaene in Gottfried’ Tristan.” The Germanic Review 27 (1953): 290-296. A brief essay on the pivotal position of Isolde’ servant. Contains notes with bibliographical information.Jackson, W. T. H. “Tristan the Artist in Gottfried’ Poem.” PMLA 77 (1962): 364-372. This scholarly essay examines the title character and the talents he exhibits at court. Contains notes with bibliographical information.Jackson, William T. H. The Anatomy of Love: The “Tristan” of Gottfried von Strassburg. New York: Columbia University Press, 1971. Studies of Tristan and Isolde might begin here.Jaeger, Stephen. Medieval Humanism in Gottfried von Strassburg’ “Tristan and Isolde.” Heidelberg, Germany: Winter, 1977. Jaeger, a professor of comparative and Germanic literature and social/intellectual history, considers Tristan and Isolde in the light of the humanist tradition in Europe.Loomis, Roger, ed. Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959. An important collection of essays on medieval literature with several on Gottfried’ epic. Contains a bibliography.Schultz, James A. “Teaching Gottfried and Wolfram.” In Approaches to Teaching the Arthurian Tradition, edited by Maureen Fries and Jeanie Watson. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1992. A brief but useful article for teachers.Stevens, Adrian, and Roy Wisbey, eds. Gottfried von Strassburg and the Medieval Tristan Legend. Rochester, N.Y.: Boydell & Brewer, 1990. Papers from a symposium held at the Institute of Germanic Studies, London, March 24-26, 1986. Includes bibliographical references and an index.Sullivan, Robert G. Justice and the Social Context of Early Middle High German Literature. New York: Routledge, 2001. A history of the Holy Roman Empire hinging on an examination of High German literature and its authors’ focus on social, political, and spiritual issues during a time of transformation. Bibliographical references, index.Thomas, Neil E. Tristan in the Underworld: A Study of Gottfried von Strassburg’ “Tristan” Together with the “Tristran” of Thomas. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1991. An analysis of the legend from its Celtic roots to its proliferation by European poets. Gottfried’ source for the Tristan legend is the rendition of the French poet Thomas, to which Gottfried’ work is compared. Concludes that Gottfried’ work defends rather than condemns feudal order.Willson, H. B. “Vicissitudes in Gottfried’ Tristan.” The Modern Language Review 52 (1957): 203-213. This essay discusses the narrative structure of Gottfried’ text. Contains notes with bibliographical information.
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