The production of literature in early modern Germany was conditioned by the complex socio-political organization of the Holy Roman Empire. In contrast to other Western European lands, the Empire lacked a vibrant literary capital, similar to Paris, London, or Madrid, that functioned as a centre of learning, a gathering place for aspiring intellectuals, and a mass market for the consumption of their works. Book publication was scattered throughout the Empire from major printers in Frankfurt, Leipzig, and Strasburg to smaller presses at individual courts. Literary criticism was similarly dispersed, and only a few works, such as Martin Opitz's Buch von der deutschen Poeterey (1624), attained an influence that transcended the boundaries of an imperial city or territory. The flowering of poetological speculation at a particular place and time was most often determined by the presence of a single energetic person, or an unusually productive group of poets, but their influence frequently remained limited to their immediate environment and ended with their deaths.
Literary criticism in the Empire was generally produced in two places: the courts, both secular and ecclesiastical, and the cities, at municipal grammar schools, gymnasia, and universities or at private gatherings of poets in literary societies. Occasionally, the courts were the prime sponsors of the schools, as was the case in Heidelberg where the Count of the Palatinate appointed the first humanist lecturers in the 1450s, or in late sixteenth-century Munich where the ruling Wittelsbach family financed the ambitious Counter-Reformation programme at the Jesuit gymnasium. Writing about literature was carried out by the functionaries of these courts or schools, whose primary duties lay elsewhere, in education, law, theology, local government, and, less frequently, medicine and natural science.