Gottfried von Straßburg

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Gottfried von Straßburg (also spelled Gottfried von Strassburg) was a German poet of the early thirteenth century, considered one of the three great masters of the high courtly literature of the era (together with Hartmann von Aue and Wolfram von Eschenbach). He gained fame as the author of the epic poem Tristan and Isolde.

Nothing is known with certainty about the author, not even his name. In the sole surviving work that can confidently be attributed to him (Tristan), he does not mention his name, although as narrator Gottfried is a striking personality, commenting frequently on his own life. It is not until after his death that other authors describe the author of Tristan as meister Gottfried von Straßburg. There is no conclusive evidence for any connection to the city of Strasbourg — though there is no reason to doubt it — or further clarification of the meaning of the word meister here. A number of poems, found in Ms. Heidelberg cpg 357 (Heidelberg Liederhandschrift A) and Ms. Heidelberg cpg 848 (Große Heidelberger or Manessische Liederhandschrift) and attributed to Gottfried, have since been rejected by literary scholars as spurious.

Tristan and Isolde

The epic poem Tristan and Isolde, a story about the perils of adulterous love, is incomplete. Yet is of such enormous mastery that it has commanded universal praise, both among Gottfried's contemporaries and among modern readers and scholars. Richard Wagner used it as the basis for his Tristan und Isolde. The complete story is well known as it has been told by many other medieval poets, most notably the Norwegian Tristramssaga. German audiences would already have been familiar with the story through the version by Eilhart von Oberge. Gottfried claims to have used only the now largely lost Old French version by the Anglo-Norman poet Thomas von Britanje as his source. Because what happens to have survived of Thomas's work is the end of the tale, A.T. Hatto has used these surviving fragments to take the reader to the end of the story in his translation of the work.

Central to the story is the magic potion which causes the two eponymous characters to fall in love with each other. The relationship between them would have been considered shocking to medieval audiences, but the ingenious device used by Gottfried in the scene with the potion — they drink the love potion by accident rather than by design, as in other versions of the story — has created the possibility of sinless adultery.