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Write a product review. Get to Know Us. Not Enabled Word Wise: And what of the greatest writer to emerge between Dante and Goethe? Could we decipher the inexhaustible works of William Shakespeare, with its enigmatic humour and cryptic gravity, without some understanding of the earthly and metaphysical turmoil suffered by his generation? The only exception was, of course, Italy, which had already entered the modern era of literature in grand style with the work of Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio in the late Dugento and Trecento.
Germany, on the other hand, came late to this century of change B a century which was to set the course for the future development of Europe. Its response to the humanist impulses emanating from Italy, however, was rapid. The Empire, the spiritual and secular worlds, but above all B just as in Italy B the cities, enjoyed a revival of classical culture and literature for a multitude of reasons. This development led to a period of blossoming in cities such as Nuremberg, Augsburg, Strasbourg and Basle between the middle of the fifteenth century and the beginning of the sixteenth.
It was a period which was, to some extent, unique in Europe, the result of the regional diversity of the old Empire, and of its cities in particular.
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However, just as the literary craft had been mastered, and a command of Latin poetry acquired through practice B to which Conrad Celtis and others urged the transition to the German language B Martin Luther arrived to cast his spell over the nation. Luther worked the German language like no other before or after him, enriching it and blending it into a single entity. Thus, as the earthquake unleashed by Luther subsided, Germany was left to retrace its steps to the path left in It was a journey which was to take more than half a century B by which time the situation in Europe had radically changed.
Italy, Spain and Portugal, France and England, even the Netherlands, fresh from victory in its war with Spain, had all developed their own national literatures based on the classical works. The ground to be made up was enormous. Yet there is a view frequently aired, even among specialist circles, that German "baroque literature" as it is known B despite bearing all the hallmarks of humanist literature B was weak, stunted and not worthy of comparison with its European contemporaries.
Without clouding our assessment with patriotic sentiment, it is clear that these insults are based more on ignorance and lack of study than any deficiency in the writing concerned. This period in German literature had the great misfortune not to coincide with a period of national revival similar to that which occurred in neighbouring countries.
Hence, unlike in Spain and France, there were no "classic" works of German literature produced during the seventeenth century. Those works which now bear this equally difficult label did not begin to appear in Germany until around The literature of the seventeenth century was combined with its sentimental precursors and a corresponding conception of art based on feeling and experience to become the benchmark and critical standpoint for a humanist literature which had developed under wholly different circumstances.
Hence its disappearance from the collective literary memory of the German people, with only such names as Gryphius, Grimmelshausen or Paul Gerhard re-emerging from time to time. It is a period which, as a whole, has failed to gain admittance to the cultural history of the German nation as a valuable legacy of great literary art. All the more reason then to examine the difficult conditions in which this literature was born, in which it developed, and which provided its dominant theme: The beginnings of the new German poetry which emerged around can be found on the edges of the German-speaking world: The reason seems obvious.
At the border of any nation, the desire to emphasis national identity is always great. While this may be true in this case, it is not the only reason. In the early part of the modern era, all cultural development was bound up with religious and therefore denominational issues. Since the establishment of the Council of Trent and the Society of Jesus Jesuits , reformed European Catholicism had developed an aggressive cultural policy aimed at winning back lost territory.
It was a policy which was put to work throughout Europe, and which therefore continued to encourage the use of Latin in literature, particularly in drama. Playwrights such as Jakob Masen, Jakob Gretser and Jakob Bidermann well illustrate the type of conscience-rattling theatre the Jesuits were capable of. From the days of Wycliffe and Hus, Protestantism had grown large by translating the Bible into the vernacular languages of Europe.
It was therefore reasonable that any attempt to develop a national literature movement was more likely to thrive under Protestantism than Roman Catholicism. It is interesting to note that it was those authors and territories influenced by Calvinism which took the helm within the Protestant movement.
To a certain extent, this was due to the good international links between the reformed lands and kingdoms, however it may also be attributed to a greater level of political and cultural education. The Lutherans were much more disposed towards co-operation with the Catholics than were the Calvinists. Indeed, the disagreements between the Protestant factions at times appear more violent and irremediable than those between the Lutherans and orthodox Roman Catholicism.
Whatever the case, we may proceed from the view now generally accepted by historians that, in the Calvinist milieu and those circles sympathetic to it, there was an acute awareness that the Catholic offensive had to be repelled in the national idiom. Doing so, it was thought, would help unite the Protestants, while presenting Protestantism as the champion of the legitimate interests of the nation. How else can we explain the affinity between the spokesmen of the new literature and the reformed royal dynasties and nobility of Bohemia and Silesia, of the Palatinate and upper Rhine, and soon also of central Germany, Anhalt, Hesse and so on.
The term "literature" is, of course, difficult to define in these troubled times. The borders between "literature" and the popular press are fluid. And just as the poets of the time earned their livings as jurists, diplomats, secretaries, royal advisors, barristers, so they took up the pen to compose speeches, polemical prefaces, commentaries, sometimes even pamphlets, all of which were aimed at serving the cause of a "national" literature as well as "national" politics.
During this period, the great works of classical literature were used for translation and exercises in stylistic composition to a much greater degree than was previously recognised. These exercises are full of political symbolism which can only be deciphered through the study of the art of figurative or allegorical writing. He was one of the key figures and contacts working on behalf of Christian of Anhalt to promote an anti-Habsburg front, principally among the Austrian and Bohemian nobility. Men such as this can be found throughout the early development of the new German literature.
From onwards, Hoeck was in the service of the Bohemian magnate Peter Wok von Rosenberg, a man who wielded as much influence as Karl von Zierotin. Hoeck's use of language is still slightly awkward and stiff, while the diversity and didacticism of his subject matter is a clear reference to the bourgeois poetry of the sixteenth century. Nevertheless, this partisan of the Calvinist cause had the future development of a German national poetry movement in mind: The country had been a Nebenland or subordinate region of Bohemia since under Habsburg and therefore Catholic sovereignty.
However, the political situation did not prevent Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists from co-existing in the princely houses, among the nobility and in the cities until well into the seventeenth century. Perhaps this may help explain the blossoming of Christian mysticism on Silesian soil and in neighbouring Lusatia during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Inter-denominational harmony was achieved in Silesia in the form of a more spiritualised faith which, it is safe to assume, was a contributing factor in the development of German-language literature, a movement which found such fertile soil in Silesia. The multitude of courts, estates and cities required educated personnel. Silesia, however, did not have its own university. Students had no option but to head west; the less well-off to Wittenberg or Leipzig, while the more wealthy made for the Calvinist strongholds of Leiden in the Netherlands, Heidelberg, Basle or the Academy of Strasbourg, which became a university in No other country had such a widely scattered, cosmopolitan and outgoing scholastic community during the late humanist period as Silesia.
The Gymnasium had three modernising features: You must love the German tongue, if you do not wish to harbour enmity against the heavens of your own Fatherland, against yourselves, you must work at your learning, you must be as men in it. Hic Rhodus, hic salta! And if you believe that pleas and oaths are to be obeyed, then I plead with you now, by your beloved Mother Germany, by your glorious ancestors, honour your noble people, defend your language with the same vigour as you once defended your borders.
If nothing more, grant at least to this lofty character, which is held so pure within your hearts, a voice of equal purity. What we have here is an adaptation of familiar and well-established humanist conventions, which demanded reference to noble forebears and praise of the native tongue. Now, even on German soil, there was an awareness of the fact B incontrovertible for every humanist since the era of Dante and Petrarch B that a developing nation, and therefore at last Germany, required its own national literature dealing with subjects of interest to the educated populace.
High among these subjects were the great national events of civil war and the militarisation of the Christian denominations. The German writers now required a stimulating milieu in which to develop power and perspective in their literary work. Opitz, like many other Silesians, found this environment in the west, in the Palatinate.
Its electoral princes were among the first converts to the Reformed church of John Calvin, and the region spearheaded the development of international Calvinism on German soil, creating close ties between the Palatine court, university, councillors and academics and the Huguenots in France, the reformed church in the Netherlands, and the Protestants in Tudor England under Elizabeth I and Stuart England under James I. Their wedding was a spectacular formal celebration which sent waves far beyond the borders of the Empire.
Weckherlin soon left Germany to settle in England, and has therefore become somewhat overshadowed by Martin Opitz. Schede also began to write in German, setting an example for those younger poets who admired and emulated him, but who were also familiar with Weckherlin, knew of the poetry of Johann Fischart of Strasbourg, and who welcomed Martin Opitz and his companions from Silesia.
Their names may be long forgotten, but that of Martin Opitz lives on. Yet all were united in the conviction that the time had come for the development of a purely German poetry, whose function it was to help warn of the threat posed to the Empire, to the unity of the nation by the approach of militant Catholicism under the leadership of Spain.
Julius Wilhelm Zincgref, the most talented and versatile of these German poets, preserved the early endeavours of the movement in a collection of verse. Here, the poet rouses his compatriots to finally recognise their own qualities, as their neighbours have done, and to safeguard the peace whilst remaining alert to the enemy.
An address to the nobility was the perfect vehicle for this message.
A similar sentiment was expressed by the publisher in a lengthy Vermahnung zur Tapferkeit Exhortation to Valour , which concluded the collection and which describes the valiant defender: But again, they cannot simply be dismissed as a lust for blood and death or a scorn of life and happiness. With the carnage of war at hand, and therefore manifest in his poetry, the author seeks to halt further devastation by calling on his readership to acknowledge and safeguard their freedom, both internal and external, as the most valuable of possessions.
During this period of history, the most dreaded and merciless power of repression was Spain. Between the lines of this generation of German poets can be glimpsed the fear of the Inquisition and the suppression of religious freedom B or indeed the suppression of any independent philosophy or way of life a theme which these German authors spelled out in their popular writings.
Yet these same poets, the driving force behind the development of German literature on the eve of the Thirty Years' War, with their predilection for themes of personal and national autonomy, were not without their own network of connections and contacts. Parallel to the efforts of literature, the German princes were also engaged in creating a broad national and politico-cultural unity on the eve of war. This too is a fact long since forgotten, despite being worthy of greater acknowledgement and inclusion in our written history. As the humanists in Italy set out with the aim of methodically reviving classical culture, a number of academies were established under royal patronage in which artists and writers could discuss new directions in literature, philosophy and art and find patrons for their work.
The most important of these associations, the Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft Fruitful Society , was formed in , deriving its name from the Florentine Accademia della Crusca. Apart from representatives of the nobility and scholars such as Opitz, the Gesellschaft 's hundreds of members included the Protestant and subsequently Calvinist Imperial princes of Hesse, Brandenburg and Silesia. Apart from its specific aims concerning German language and poetry, much emphasis was placed on the old German teutsche notions of virtue and loyalty, faith and courage.
So far, German philology has been unable to make much of these concepts. Yet they correspond entirely with the ideas promoted by the poets and scholars of the time. Again, the aim was to weld the German people into one nation, and remind them of their heroic past in preparation for the enormous challenge and struggle that lay ahead.
The national concerns of the Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft can only be viewed in a proper light if we consider the enormous efforts made in the course of the sixteenth century to bridge the denominational divide; efforts which began with the reign emperor Charles V and his brother Ferdinand I, and continued with the work of conciliatory theologians such as Melanchthon and his humanist contemporaries throughout the Empire.
On the eve of this great European war, these attempts at reconciliation represent one final, moving effort to bring unity. Hence the strict order that theologians should not be admitted to the society lest they introduce further discord, and hence the vague, teutsche exhortations, intended to heal old divisions and welcome all to the national cause. Where unity threatened to break down, the Protestant and in particular the Calvinist nobility of the Empire needed a forum where agreements could be reached quickly and focused action decided.
With the exception of Freemasonry in the eighteenth century, the Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft was the most comprehensive national politico-cultural initiative on German soil at any stage during the old Empire. All these efforts were doomed to failure. But before the country could be sucked into the maelstrom of war, a breathtaking piece of political opportunism took place in Germany, the like of which has rarely been seen.
It was an event in which the German poets were all more or less directly involved. Had it succeeded, not only German literature, but the whole of German history would have embarked on a completely different course. With Frederick's coronation, the close and long-established cultural links between east and west would be symbolised in one person: The Protestant and in many cases Calvinist nobility of Bohemia were enthusiastic in their support for Frederick.
The illustrious humanist movement in Silesia, which included such names as Tobias Scultetus, Caspar Cunrad and Henel von Hennefeld B all supporters and patrons of Opitz and his colleagues B were also extremely hopeful of success. The numerous poems, pamphlets and declarations of allegiance held in the unique civic and now university library of Wroclaw offer an insight into the otherwise unimaginable optimism of this generation.
Opitz and Zincgref both wrote eulogies, one in the form of a speech, the other as a short narrative poem in Latin, describing the departing elector and soon-to-be king of Bohemia. Yet despite all this euphoria, it is as the "Winter King" that Frederick will be remembered by posterity. After just one year, the dream had vanished, the Battle of White Mountain in November lost to the armies of Spain and Maximilian of Bavaria. The king was now forced to flee Prague. The city of Wroclaw, which had only just paid homage to the triumphant Frederick, now saw him leave as a refugee.