Die Todesfigur : eine studie ihrer funktion in der deutschen literatur vom vierzehnten bis zum sechzehnten jahrhundert : unter besonderer beruecksichtigung des sozial - und gesellschaftskritischen aspekts.
Thiel, Gudrun Else Kaethe.
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This research report deals with the function of the figure of Death in German literature from the 14th to the 16th century and its early Latin predecessors. This thesis aims to give an overview of such texts, written predominantly in Latin until the first half of the 15th century and also in German from the second half of the 15th century. From the overview of the texts, it is evident that the figure of Death was employed mainly by reform-oriented groups within the Church in texts whose contents had a socio-religious bias. This, together with an analysis of the possible recipients of the texts, provides support for the thesis that these groups must have used the figure of Death within the social context of the period (from the 12th to the 16th century) in an attempt to protect the interest of the Church as an institution as well as its strong influence on society. The time span from the 14th to the 16th century is then subdivided into two epochs. The first epoch encompasses the period from the 14th century to the beginning of the Reformation; the second epoch encompasses texts dating from the beginning of the Reformation. Several texts from each epoch are analysed in detail in order to prove the thesis. The choice of texts takes into account the dominant church reform groups as well as the most relevant genres of the time. This investigation shows that the church established its hold on society, on the one hand, by keeping the higher clergy and the nobility in the place assigned to them by the concept of "ordo", and on the other hand, by directing social criticism at the people of high standing, and so appeasing the lower classes who were looking to heretical groups for the realization of their spiritual needs and social ambitions. Reform was thus seen by the reform-oriented people within the Church as upholding the "God-given" social order, related to the Great Chain of Being, by all estates. The more this order crumbled because the real political power-brokers had changed, the more universal the criticism of the figure of Death became. After the Reformation, however, the universality of social criticism was increasingly restricted to the local level, being mainly aimed at rich individuals within the city population.
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