Andreas Gryphius Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Andreas Gryphius was one of the most important European poets of the Baroque period, comparable in power and complexity to the English Metaphysical poets. This is all the more astonishing as there was little vernacular German poetry to serve as a model other than the theoretical exhortations of Martin Opitz in his Buch von der deutschen Poeterey (1624) and the samples given there. Like many of his contemporaries, Gryphius cut his poetic teeth on Latin verse composition in school; as early as 1632, he wrote Herodis furiae et Rachelis lacrymae (1634), an epic in Latin on the story of Herod, which he followed with another one in 1635 and Olivetum libri tres (1646), a verse epic on the sorrows of Christ on Mount Olive. His claim to fame, however, rests on his mastery of the sonnet form, which he began to display with his first German publication, the Lissaer Sonette (1637), a collection that also earned for him the title of poeta laureatus. His command of the ode, epigram, and other poetic forms is evident in his subsequent publications of 1639 and 1657, where he not only domesticates the classical models but also manages to bend them to a powerful expression of his own worldview.

The themes of his poems are those familiar throughout Western Europe at this time, ranging from the vanity of all things, the fleeting and problematic nature of time, and the dubious nature of worldly reality all the way to an expectation of permanence, peace, and constancy in another existence constituted by love, human and divine. What makes Gryphius special is his ability to convey within the traditional tropes and topoi the genuine anguish and personal feeling about human suffering and about the destruction which the Thirty Years’ War brought to Germany generally and his family in particular. His use of paradox, caesura, juxtaposition of thought, and metaphor is again commonplace. What sets him apart from others is the power of his language, the vivid metaphors, and above all the creativity he demonstrates in inventing a vocabulary quite his own, his famous Zentnerworte, words heavy with meaning and sound, frequently neologisms. Both scholars and general readers found Gryphius particularly congenial after the two world wars, when his worldview and theirs seemed to be most congruent.

Andreas Gryphius Achievements

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Experts in the field of German Baroque literature have called Andreas Gryphius the most outstanding author of the seventeenth century next to Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen. This assessment not only reflects the important role of Gryphius’s work in the development of German literature, where he established both the sonnet and a new kind of drama in the vernacular but also indicates that, like Grimmelshausen, he is still readable today—a judgment more appropriate to his poetry than his drama, for modern expectations of drama have changed significantly more than those applied to poetry.

Gryphius has been called the first German high-culture dramatist whose plays, especially his tragedies, were highly regarded in his own time, as many editions and performances attest. His comedies proved to be no less popular over the ages, and today his mixed-form plays attract the greatest interest. In Cardenio und Celinde, often regarded as his most complex and fascinating drama, he broke with several norms and expectations of his age. Most notably, he used nonroyal personages to act out the juxtaposition of chaste and nonchaste love, establishing in the process ambiguous and richly complex interpersonal relations. Even in his first published play, Leo Armenius, he speculates (in a manner very evocative of twentieth century literary theory) on the ways in which language constitutes reality. In his late work Verliebtes Gespenste und die gelibte Dornrose, he not only used dialect for the first time in German drama, anticipating by more than 250 years Gerhart Hauptmann’s use of Silesian in his naturalist play Die Weber (pb. 1892; The Weavers, 1899), but...

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Andreas Gryphius Bibliography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Becker, Hugo. Andreas Gryphius: Poet Between Epochs. Berne, Switzerland: Herbert Lang, 1973. A critical analysis of the literary work of Gryphius, with emphasis on his poetry. Bibliography.

Metzger, Erika A., and Michael M. Metzger. Reading Andreas Gryphius: Critical Trends, 1664-1993. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1994. A look at the literary criticism pertaining to Gryphius over the years. Bibliography and index.

Schindler, Marvin S. The Sonnets of Andreas Gryphius: Use of the Poetic World in the Seventeenth Century. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1971. Although this critical analysis of Gryphius centers on his poetry, it also sheds light on his dramatic works.

Spahr, Blake Lee. Andreas Gryphius: A Modern Perspective. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1993. An examination of the life and works of Gryphius. Bibliography and index.