Graeme Dunphy

title.none: Schulz, Die Eigenbezeichnungen des geistlichen Spiels (Dunphy)

identifier.other: baj9928.9911.003 99.11.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Graeme Dunphy, Universitat Regensburg,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Schulz, Matthias. Die Eigenbezeichnungen des mittelalterlichen deutschsprachigen geistlichen Spiels. Heidelberg: Universitaätsverlag C. Winter, 1998. Pp. x, 408. ISBN: 3-825-30796-4.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.11.03

Schulz, Matthias. Die Eigenbezeichnungen des mittelalterlichen deutschsprachigen geistlichen Spiels. Heidelberg: Universitaätsverlag C. Winter, 1998. Pp. x, 408. ISBN: 3-825-30796-4.

Reviewed by:

Graeme Dunphy
Universitat Regensburg

Matthias Schulz's Bamberg dissertation is the first substantial study to be undertaken of the self-referential passages in medieval German religious drama. It covers the Middle High German and Latin terminology by which the plays categorise themselves (spil, ludus, comedi, tragedi) and their parts (vers, actus, scena, teil). This terminology is occasionally found in the speakers' parts, but more commonly in the titles and stage directions. The task which Schulz has set himself is to construct a methodology for identifying self-referential language, to gather relevant lexemes and syntactical units, and to explore the etymology and semantic range of these. In all, 235 terms from 246 texts are identified for discussion. A complete list of occurrences is given in a source index (Belegstellenregister) at the end of the book. This gathering of material from such a large corpus of primary texts is an important contribution to our knowledge of medieval drama.

The first section of the book deals with the process by which a list of relevant terminology can be determined. The author's method is to make a "philologically exact translation" (to which end the introduction includes a rather inconclusive discussion of translation theory) and to judge the translated term according to an "Einsatztest," in which the modern German word is placed in a test sentence to see if it makes sense. Since the word "Vers" can be inserted into the sentence "Ein ______ ist ein Abschnitt eines Spiels", the medieval words which have been translated as "Vers" are suitable for discussion in the section "Eigenbezeichnungen für Teile von Spielen". As a procedure, this is rather laboured, since the judgements involved are commonsense ones, but the list which is produced appears to be complete and serviceable. We might note with regret that the author now eliminates from his enquiry all musical terminology on the grounds that these are outside the philologian's field of competence. This concern is understandable, but a holistic approach must be risked if we are to do justice to the complexity of drama. Even from a purely literary point of view, the use of "antiphona" to identify a section of text must be interesting.

Having established a list of words and phrases, the author discusses these individually. A sensible distinction is made between content terminology such "ascensio Domini" and formal terminology such as "prologus". The former are listed without comment while the latter are each given a short "chapter" in which they are examined to determine their exact content. Since a lexeme may appear in the texts with different gradations of meaning, different definitions are discussed in separate subsections. Some of these sections contain very perceptive discussions, for example of "spil" and "ludus". Others are disappointingly short. More citations would have been good, illustrating a variety of collocations and syntactical arrangements; generally we are offered only one reference per definition. The focus on a strictly linguistic analysis means that there is little real discussion of exactly how the formal terms relate to content or to methods of performance. The discussion of exegetical principles in relation to "figura" is a laudable exception. Surprisingly, a full subsection is also given to definitions which are not self-referential: plays which organise their material for presentation over a number of days may use "tag" to indicate a division within the play, but one would not expect that the author will include also a discussion of "tag" in its general sense, or that all references to all meanings of "tag" will be found in the Belegstellenregister. This is perhaps a good indication that the necessary balance between linguistic and literary analysis has been skewed. Despite this limitation, however, this section of the book is extremely valuable in its often perceptive isolation of distinct usages. Constant comparison with dictionaries and with existing philological studies make clear which results confirm existing opinions and which produce significant new data.

The final section of the book seeks to draw more general conclusions. Of interest here is the section on chronology, in which important data on the distribution of terms according to century is presented in tabular form. The author rightly warns us against the temptation to draw simplistic conclusions from chronological data, but nonetheless, the table hints at promising avenues of exploration. The attempt at a categorisation of the terminology according to types, on the other hand, appears at times to belabour the obvious. Other questions might usefully have been examined in the concluding remarks. We are told that religious plays were performed in every city in the German-speaking world, which raises the issue of geographical distribution; it may not be possible to identify regional variations in terminology, but a homogeneity from Bolzano to Zerbst cannot simply be assumed. The inclusion of one play each by Hans Sachs and Jacob Rueff (on what criterion? -- both wrote a number of religious plays) would raise the interesting question of whether the terminology of early Reformation drama differs from that of medieval drama. Since the author has chosen to include token Protestant plays, it would have been worth investigating this question.

A serious methodological problem is posed by the author's reliance on the modern German translation of terminology in the first section of his analysis. Since the categories in which medieval playwrights conceived their works need not coincide with modern categories, since indeed these categories are the unknown factor which the study seeks to elucidate, a translation into modern terminology prior to analysis and the use of this translation to aid analysis is unacceptable. This preoccupation with translation poses a difficulty elsewhere in the book, too. Many of the sections on individual lexemes are dominated by discussions of how best to translate them while more pressing questions are left unaddressed. A discussion of translation problems might arguably have been offered in a postscript to each section, but even this would only have been really useful if a project of translating whole plays were envisaged. Elsewhere, the modern rather than the medieval terms take priority, as in summary tables like that beginning on p.175, where the order is alphabetical according to the modern German term. Academic discussion does better to cite the terms in their medieval forms; satisfactory modern equivalents are often unattainable and the quest for them is misleading.

The book is in a number of respects rather user-unfriendly, with information not always to be found where one might expect it. The discussion of any one lexeme is scattered around the volume, with linguistic analysis in one place, chronological data in another, and information on the actual sources in an appendix; this mitigates against an exhaustive study. Since a number of terms can refer both to a section of a play and to a complete play (figura, rede, procession), and since in the philological analysis all meanings of a lexeme require to be discussed together, the division of section E into subsections on parts of plays and whole plays is unhelpful; the author is forced to place some terminology under the wrong heading, and in the absence of cross-referencing, the reader cannot easily discover this. No details are given of dates, provenance or editions of the various plays; of course, this information is readily available from the Verfasserlexikon, but it would help if it were brought in at the point where a work is being discussed. The book contains a great deal of repetition (compare for example the tables on pp 96ff and 104ff; pp. 342ff, 348ff and 351ff), and could have been made significantly shorter and less unwieldy without any loss. Apart from the Belegstellenregister, there are no indices; in particular, an index leading the reader to all discussions pertaining to a particular play would have been useful.

Despite these reservations, there is no doubt that this volume contributes significantly to our knowledge of self-referential terminology. In the narrow field in which the author specialises, gathering and defining terminology, an important step forward has been made. If Matthias Schulz has not explored all the ramifications of his research, he has certainly provided a basis on which others may do so.