Wolfram von Eschenbach Analysis

Other Literary Forms

All surviving manuscripts of works attributed to Wolfram von Eschenbach lead to the conclusion that he was exclusively a poet. His masterpiece, Parzival, is considered the father of the Bildungsroman, or novel of development. This paternity is extremely tenuous, however, resting on affinities of characterization rather than of genre; the first recognizable novel did not appear until some 450 years after Parzival.


Although Wolfram von Eschenbach was roundly criticized by his contemporary Gottfried von Strassburg as a “fabricator of wild tales,” other poets and especially Wolfram’s audience were more appreciative. The extraordinarily large number of extant manuscripts—eighty-four separate manuscripts or fragments of Parzival and seventy-six of Willehalm—attests his popularity. In comparison, other major works of the High Middle Ages would seem to have been in less demand; The Nibelungenlied (c. 1200) exists in thirty-four versions, Gottfried von Strassburg’s Tristan und Isolde (c. 1210; Tristan and Isolde, 1899) in only twenty-three. Still, modern critics also proclaim Wolfram to have been a careless poet, unrefined and unlearned. Yet, Wolfram’s works sparkle with his own vital personality in an era of subdued conventionality. In contrast to the sophisticated stylists Gottfried and Hartmann von Aue, Wolfram wrote with color, depicting exotic scenes and exciting adventures in vibrant tones. His language is uniquely robust, studded with heroic (rather than courtly) terminology, Franconian dialect, and French loanwords, as well as a number of neologisms. Often chosen for resonance and acoustical effect, his language lends additional energy to his rhetorically crafted tales. His style is serious and humorous, insightful and charmingly frivolous. In short, Wolfram was a thoroughly delightful storyteller who constantly...

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Green, Dennis H. The Art of Recognition in Wolfram’s Parzival. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982. Studies narration in Wolfram’s poem, focusing on moments when the audience is given seemingly accurate information. The juxtaposition of true and false information puts the audience into the same position as Parzival, caught between certainty and ignorance while seeking a larger truth.

Groos, Arthur. Romancing the Grail: Genre, Science, and Quest in Wolfram’s Parzival. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1995. With roots in the critical theory of Russian scholar Mikhail Bahktin, this study examines the narrative discourse of one of Wolfram’s major poems. Unfortunately, Groos is not especially successful in applying a critical theory which was designed to interpret modern novels to this major work of medieval poetry. Moreover, Groos does not pay enough attention to Wolfram’s other major works.

Hasty, Will, ed. A Companion to Wolfram’s Parzival. Columbia: Camden House, 1999. A valuable guide to those readers who are familiar with modern literary theory. An anthology of critical essays, this work presents a variety of scholarly perspectives on Wolfram von Eschenbach, his major and minor works, and his cultural milieu.

Hutchins, Eileen. Parzival: An Introduction. London: Temple Lodge, 1979.

Jones, Martin, and Timothy McFarland, eds. Wolfram’s “Willehalm”: Fifteen Essays. New York: Camden House, 2001.

Poag, James F. Wolfram von Eschenbach. New York: Twayne, 1972.

Reinhardt, Kurt F. Germany: 2000 Years. Milwaukee, Wis.: Bruce, 1950. This survey of German civilization includes an excellent chapter on the Middle Ages, with a discussion of Wolfram and Parzifal. Contains bibliography and index.

Sivertson, Randal. Loyalty and Riches in Wolfram’s “Parzifal.” New York: P. Lang, 1999.

Springer, Otto. “Wolfram’s Parzifal.” In Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages: A Collaborative History, edited by Roger Loomis. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959. This chapter considers some of the central questions in Parzifal scholarship.

Walshe, Maurice O’Connell. Medieval German Literature. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1962. Excellent introduction to the period, with a section on Wolfram. Contains a bibliography.

Weigand, Hermann J. Wolfram’s “Parzival.” Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1969. General but very good introduction to Wolfram’s text by a noted scholar. Contains bibliographic references and index.