German literature

The Protestant Reformation, High German, and Literary Academies: The Fifteenth to Seventeenth Centuries

After 1400 more popular literary forms became dominant: folk songs, fables, folktales, and short plays. The aristocratic heritage of the minnesingers was replaced by meistersingers, notably Hans Sachs. The Reformation profoundly influenced the course of German literature, and Martin Luther's translation (1522–34) of the Bible propagated a unified High German language. Religious and scholarly writings were also affected by humanism; German humanists included Ulrich von Hutten and Conradus Celtes.

The Thirty Years War (1618–48) brought religious schism, widespread devastation, and, concomitantly, a consolidation of national consciousness resulting in a flowering of German literature with strong courtly and absolutist tendencies. Literary academies, arising in Hamburg, Nuremberg, and other cities, worked for the purification and development of the German language. Most influential was the Silesian school, which included Martin Opitz, noted for his metrical reforms, and the poets Hofmann von Hofmannswaldau (1618–79), Paul Fleming (1609–40), Andreas Gryphius, and Daniel Casper von Lohenstein. Leading writers of hymns were the Protestant Paul Gerhardt and the Catholic Angelus Silesius. Hans Jakob von Grimmelshausen's Simplicissimus (1669), a picaresque account of the Thirty Years War, may be considered the first German novel.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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