Germany Literature – Humanism and Reformation Part II

Germany Literature – Humanism and Reformation Part II

The figure of Luther brings back to the people: the nightingale of Wittenberga had greeted him by another man of the people, the most representative poet of the sixteenth century, Hans Sachs. There are thousands of MeistergesängeLieder, spiritual songs, visions, allegories, fables, jokes, dialogues, etc. attributed to him; hundreds of his Fastnachtspiele and tragedies and comedies. The old and new materials converge in his work as in a large collecting basin, where they re-arrange with an amiable and good-natured gentleness in the old forms, or are rejuvenated in a lively way. Conventional and schematic where he exceeds the limits of his common experience, within these he is precise, witty, firm in his homely morality, his municipal patriotism, his common sense, but capable of making use of these average virtues with his own characteristic humor. The last German medieval century, the century of the Reformation finds its idyll in the work of the cobbler of Nuremberg.

They can be put to dominate these figures, because they summarize the literary values ​​of the time. Below them one is easily led to see only shapeless mountains of literary genres: religious chant (Lutheran, Calvinist, dissident), VolksliedMeistergesangVolksbücher, the various kinds of religious and profane drama. This very lively one is multiplied in schools and squares, first an instrument of the confessional struggle, then, after the pacification in the middle of the century, more varied, realistic and colorful. Even learned people are willing to try it out, using, not without originality, the experience of classical theater and alternating Latin with German. T. Naogeorgus, J. Chryseus, N. Frischlin; B. Ringwaldt, P. Rebhuhn, Niklas Manuel, Sixt Birk, H. Bullinger and others give life to an abundant production, which seems to start a national theater. But the omen will not come true in the following century either.

The German sixteenth century is full of beginnings that will mature only slowly and even very far away. A legendary subject destined for the most illustrious of artistic transfigurations, the legend of Doctor Faust, now begins to crystallize and finds its first literary expression in the Volksbuch of 1587. In Theophrastus Paracelsus, the mystical and naturalistic doctrines of the Renaissance brilliantly fertilized science and faith, making him a teacher of many generations. We recall the novelty of the spiritualistic and historical positions of Sebastiano Franck, the great opponent of the Lutheran church, the audacity of the speculations of Valentin Weigel and the modernity of the historical method of J. Aventinus. But these are too evidently loners and precursors. The freedom of the spirit promised by the Reformation must be achieved by a very long road; meanwhile Faust is only a necromancer, and the mask of Eulenspiegel then responds to that, albeit satirical, of Grobianus.

The last decades of the sixteenth century show signs of the future and interesting references to major European literature in the structure of Jörg Wickram’s novels and in the remakes, fantasies and language of Johann Fischart. However, the new German literature would no longer take a bourgeois and popular road; with the prevalence of the principality, the guidance of poetry passed into the hands of the learned. In the language of the learned, Latin, is already a large part of literary production even after, by detaching itself from the reformist movement, Humanism has lost its importance. And we do not speak here of the scientific production carried out in the various cultural centers, Basel, Strasbourg, Ingolstadt, Erfurt, Heidelberg, Vienna, etc. Here and elsewhere, poetry in Latin was busily cultivated, as was the case in Italy. Italians were the first models. He began by addressing lesser poets, F. Beroaldo, Tiferna, Battista Mantovano, Molza, Sannazzaro, Bembo, Vida and especially Flaminio were more willingly preferred than Pontano and Poliziano. The ranks of poets that are experienced in lyric, epic and didactic compositions, which fight with drama, with satire or epigram, are very conspicuous, but they are ordinary exercises, reflective and occasional creations, in which the aristocratic character of Italian humanistic poetry often yields to a provincial narrowness. However, there is no shortage of artists. Here and there one begins to be able to give expression to individual sentiment, and Petrus Lotichius Secundus sings his own events and moods in elegies, poems, eclogues

According to, the custom of calling that poem lyric of the German Renaissance is not yet lost, which held the field most conspicuously at the beginning of the seventeenth century and which under the guidance of Martin Opitz hoped, with the imitation of the formal conquests of the French and Italian Renaissance, to to bring Germany out of the isolation into which the Reformation had thrown it. But this designation is misleading, since there is in that poem a very different spirit than the harmonious one of the Renaissance, and of this today rather bows to seek the German equivalent in the art of the great poets of the eighteenth century. Not classicism, but a derivative and scholastic classicism is in the precursors and followers of Opitz, a classicism that found a ground naturally prepared by neo-Latin poetry. Even in this, however, they had been manifesting themselves, already in last quarter of the sixteenth century, of the Baroque spirits. And in Germany, as elsewhere, the signature of the entire seventeenth century is baroque, with various shades depending on the origin and the quality of the influences suffered. The first influence was brought by the Jesuit theater, which in the second half of the century. XVI from the Rhine to Silesia firmly took hold in all Catholic countries, constituting the dominant literary phenomenon. A little later is the beginning of the influence of the Spanish, French and English novel, down from the Amadigi to pastoral novels, to picaresques, to political historians. And quite soon the derivations from French lyric (Ronsard, Du Bellay, etc.), from Italian (Petrarca, Marino) began; and for the pastoral fable they went to school from Tasso, Guarini, Rinuccini, and for the tragedy from the Dutch and for the opera again from the Italians. Germany is open to all European influences. This circumstance, combined with the scarcity of figures of original relief, makes it difficult for an arrangement that is not only external and schematic.

Germany Literature - Humanism and Reformation 2

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