Daniel Call’s Schocker: German Knittelvers in the late twentieth century
The word “Knittelvers” has been used since the eighteenth century to describe four-stress rhyming couplets which seem to be rather simply and awkwardly constructed, and whose content is frequently comical, course, vulgar or obscene. Today German Knittelvers is perhaps best known from the works of Goethe and Schiller, as well as other late eighteenth and early nineteenth century writers.
Well-known examples occur together with other verse forms in Goethe’s Faust and Schiller’s Wallensteins Lager, as well as in ballads and occasional poems by both poets. While literary critics have shown considerable interest in Knittelvers written from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century, there has been almost no discussion of the further use and development of this verse form from the nineteenth century to the present, despite the fact that it continues to appear in both humorous and serious works by many contemporary German writers. This article focuses on an example of dramatic Knittelvers in a late twentieth century play, namely Daniel Call’s comedy Schocker, a modern parody of Goethe’s Faust. Among other things, Call’s play, as well as other examples of Knittelvers in works by twentieth and early twenty-first century poets, demonstrates that while this verse form has undergone some changes and variations, it still retains metrical characteristics which have remained constant since the fifteenth century. Today these four-stress couplets continue to function as a means of depicting comic, mock-heroic and tragicomic situations by means of parody, farce and burlesque satire.