History, Fiction, Verisimilitude: Studies in the Poetics of Gottfried's 'Tristan'

Marc Chinca
2 July 1993
144 pp
Paperback: 978-0-947623-49-4

This study of Gottfried von Straßburg discusses the narrative technique of the romance of Tristan (c. 1210) against the double background of Latin rhetoric and poetics on the one hand and the developing written vernacular tradition on the other. It argues that Gottfried's poetics represent the attempt to mediate between opposing tendencies in vernacular narrative, the one historiographic and archival, the other fictional and experimental; the Tristan romance is the fictional treatment of a traditional story whose foundations Gottfried considers to be historical. Central to this experiment with history is a concept of verisimilitude that is developed in rhetoric and especially in grammarians' commentaries on Lucan, who in the Middle Ages was the canonical example of the 'poeta et historiographus'. Verisimilitude, the 'res ficta quae tamen fieri potest', occupies an intermediate position between the 'res factae' of history and the 'res fictae' of poetry; it is on this middle ground that Gottfried situates his narrative.