Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 16 (1999)
In the latter half of the twelfth century, the Arthurian romance made its entrance onto the stage of medieval vernacular literature and found an eager audience in German courtly culture. The works of Béroul and Chrétien de Troyes quickly (at least by medieval standards) found their way into German adpatations by Wolfram von Eschenbach and Gottfried von Strassburg, among others. Intended for a secular and noble audience, these Arthurian romances celebrate the feudal court and its way of life, offering listeners an appropriate measure of both pleasure and usefulness1 in the idealized Arthurian mirror of their own society. Much recent research has been done on the “usefulness” of Arthurian romance as a vehicle for the socialization of its audience. This function certainly did not escape the medieval contemporaries of Chrétien, Wolfram and Gottfried. In his moral treatise Der wälsche Gast, written around 1215, the cleric Thomasin von Zerklære emphasizes the prescriptive values illustrated by the main actors in romance, casting the Arthurian characters as exempla for his readers and thereby allowing secular fiction to become an acceptable vehicle for moral teaching. In this way, Thomasin indicates that he believes the romance exceptionally well-suited for the education and socialization of noble women and men, superior even to other didactic literature of the time.