115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

A Christian King, a Jewish Knight? Exploring Religion in Two Arthurian Romances. 

Annegret Oehme, University of Washington

This paper explores the ways in which religion is employed in the narration of an Arthurian knight’s tale, comparing the Middle High German Wigalois (1215) and its Yiddish adaption Viduvilt (14th or 15th ct.). The discussion of these texts unearths how religion plays a role within the transfers of the narrative through different cultural and religious groups: the Jewish-Yiddish and the Christian-German, respectively. 

Proposal: 

Perhaps not the most famous of King Arthur’s knights, but Wigalois, son of Gawein, has fascinated many audiences and inspired adaptations in German and Yiddish, in medieval manuscript and modern forms. This paper explores the relevance of religious motifs in Middle High German Wigalois (1215) by Wirnt von Grafenberg and its Yiddish adaption Viduvilt (14th or 15th ct.) in order to question the traditional understanding of these texts as either inherently ‘Christian’ or ‘Jewish’. The discussion of these texts unearths how religion plays a role within the transfers of the narrative through different cultural and religious groups: the Jewish-Yiddish and the Christian-German, respectively.

Religion is a dominant topic in the Middle High German Wigaloisas scholars have not grown tired to point and referred to the tale’s religious character. Not only is the protagonist supposedly portrayed as a Messiah but the country under siege that he is going to free is also depicted as an infernal otherworld – only the bewitched king finds peace in what he refers to as his paradise. Furthermore, Wigalois repeatedly fights ‘heathens,’ of which some eventually convert to Christianity. Yet, my paper offers a critical review of the portrayal of religion in Wigalois and shows that although Wirnt repeatedly draws on religious motifs, he does by no means bring them together into a coherent religious tale. This enables later adoptions for audiences from different religious backgrounds. Thus, in a second step, this paper takes on the Jewish retelling of the story and the question of to what extent this can be understood as a ‘judaized’ narrative by exploring the use of religious motifs in the Yiddish Viduvilt. 

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