The Presence of French in German Courtly Literature ca. 1200

Mark Chinca
University of Cambridge

This talk begins with a brief overview of the reception of French and Occitan courtly literature (romance, lyric, chanson de geste) in Germany in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. The assimilation of these genres into German literature is emphatically not a reflection of cultural backwardness or belatedness: there was an already flourishing vernacular textual culture in the twelfth century, and the choice of French / Occitan narrative works for retextualization in German suggests a degree of co-ordination among patrons as well as selectivity. The main part of the talk focuses however on the presence of the French language in a number of German courtly narratives derived from French models: characters speaking and reading in French, narrators using and commenting on French words, authors highlighting the Frenchness of their model or their own (in)competence in the language. I will argue that for authors such as Hartmann von Aue, Gottfried von Strassburg, and Wolfram von Eschenbach the French language has become a literary resource which can be deployed to a number of ends: to place German authors and their public in a deliberate and reflected relation to linguistic otherness; to procure effects of irony and sarcasm; to highlight how the speaking subject not only masters language, but is in turn mastered by it.