The Disputation zwischen einem Chorherren und Schuhmacher, the first of Hans Sachs four Reformation dialogues was by far the most successful. The pamphlet’s enormous popularity is proved both by the notable number of eleven different printed editions in 1524 alone and the fact that it was translated not only into Dutch, but also into English (A goodly dysputacion betwene a christen shomaker, and a popysshe parson). Sachs’ publisher and printer was Hieronymus Höltzel, who produced the first prints of the last three dialogues, whereas this dialogue was first printed by Gustav Erlinger in Bamberg – possibly for the reason that reformatory publications in the city of Nuremberg, Sachs’ hometown, were subject to strict censorship at the time.
The dialogue features a lively debate between a canon and the shoemaker Hans, which centres on the principal question as to the say of laymen in clerical and theological discussions. Sachs plays on his recently attained fame through the publication of his allegoric poem Die Wittembergisch Nachtigall (1523) as the shoemaker casually notes the cleric’s nightingale, which results in a temperamental outburst of the canon. The opponents are unevenly matched: From the very beginning the figures are characterised by their manner of speaking. The author satirically targets the contrast between the shoemaker’s respectful, polite salutation and the canon’s distinctly ‘sloppy’ remarks. It quickly becomes obvious that the Lutheran craftsman, who is very well-versed in the Bible, outperforms the canon by far. The argumentation of the latter seems to result chiefly from his insistence on traditional privileges, underlining the concern for his own comfort. Not by chance does Sachs frequently refer to the canon’s pantoffel, which are a symbol for the comfortable and easy life he leads. Throughout the discussion the shoemaker’s sober reasoning leaves the canon unconvincing and helpless.
The use of the dialogue form in pamphlets was not new. Especially in the early 1520s the dialogue experienced a striking popularity. This potent genre offered the opportunity to simultaneously depict the process of opinion-forming and influence it. Nevertheless, Hans Sachs’ Disputation zwischen einem Chorherren und Schuhmacher was particularly significant, owing its enormous popularity to its distinctly vivid style of conversation and character depiction and its numerous reproductions, which were fuelled by the controversial prominence of Luther’s conception of lay priesthood.
See my blog www.hanssachsinoxford.wordpress.com for more information on Hans Sachs prints in Oxford’s university libraries.
New College, Oxford