The Salting Down of Gertrude: Transgression and Preservation in Three Early German Carnival Plays


  • Stephen K. Wright The Catholic University of America



Early German carnival plays, translations, fifteenth-century Bavarian performance texts, The Salting of Gertrude, carnival, carnivalesque


The purpose of this article is twofold. First, it introduces a subgenre of the German carnival play to a wider audience by providing editions and translations of three fifteenth-century Bavarian texts on the theme of preserving unmarried women during lent by packing them in salt. Second, it discusses the historical context focusing on ways in which modern notions of the 'carnivalesque' as a putative agent for positive social transformation are themselves subverted by the conservative nature of much late medieval comedy. Paradoxically, what begins as anti-authoritarian licence ends in the affirmation of a patriarchal status quo that regards the unmarried female body as a commodity preserved for future male delectation.

Author Biography

Stephen K. Wright, The Catholic University of America

Stephen K.Wright (, a professor emeritus of English language and literature at the Catholic University of America (Washington, DC), is the author of numerous comparative studies of English, German, Latin, French, and Swedish early drama, art, and music. His most recent book, The Erlau Playbook: Five Medieval German Dramas for Christmas and Easter, is scheduled for publication in 2017. He is currently completing a collection of essays and translations entitled Hans Sachs and the Performable Voice: An Anthology of Debate, Disputation, Dialogue, Farce, Complaint, Comedy, Tragedy, Carnival Play, and Pasquinade.