The Literature Book (Big Ideas Simply Explained) (2016)

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IN CONTEXT

FOCUS

Troubadours and minnesingers

BEFORE

Late 11th century The troubadour tradition of courtly love poetry, written in the southern French Occitan dialect (langue d’oc), spreads to Spain and Italy.

12th century Poets known as trouvères, including Chrétien de Troyes, begin to compose lyric poems in the northern French dialect (langue d’oïl).

Late 12th century Der von Kürenberg and Dietmar von Aist pioneer the German Minnesänger tradition.

AFTER

Late 13th century Heinrich Frauenlob, one of the last of the Minnesänger, sets up a school for Meistersinger.

c.1330s Troubadour numbers wane before they vanish with the Black Death (c.1346–53).

Entertainment in the early medieval courts of Europe was provided by minstrels, who recited or sang epic poems. But in the 11th century, a number of more aristocratic poets, at first in Occitania, southern France, became travelling minstrels. In order to distinguish them from the jongleurs, or the common entertainers, they became known as troubadours, and their poetry moved from a focus on historical narrative to songs of courtly love – the chivalrous exploits of knights and their noble lady-loves.

"Still you may find there, Lovely together, Flowers crushed and grass down-pressed."

“Under the Linden Tree”

Noble entertainers

Lyric poetry caught on first in northern France, and later in Italy and Spain. In the next century, the noble entertainers emerged in Germany as Minnesänger, or minnesingers. Foremost among these was Walther von der Vogelweide (c.1170–c.1230), who also wrote political and satirical poetry. He is best known for his charming “Under the Linden Tree”, a love poem in the courtly tradition of the troubadours but distinct in key respects. With its memorable refrain of the nightingale singing “Tandaradei”, he references the choruses of folk song, and more significantly, some of the poem’s most beautiful words are not those of a noble lady, but a simple girl.

These features anticipated the eventual end of the age of courtly lyric poetry, which in Gemany was marked by the emergence of new, professional, poet-composers, the Meistersinger, or mastersingers.

See also: The Song of Roland • Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart • The Canterbury Tales