European Theories of the Drama: An Anthology of Dramatic Theory and Criticism from Aristotle to the Present Day

By Barrett H. Clark | Go to book overview
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The period before Lessing was one of groping; he it was who gave the necessary impetus to original composition in criticism and the drama. His own plays particularly Minna von Barnhelm ( 1767), Emilia Galotti ( 1772), and Nathan der weise ( 1779)--were works of high quality. With Lessing the modern German drama was born. His criticism marked the beginning of an era which has not yet ended. During his lifetime the Romantic movement began. The inspiration was received chiefly from England, whose literature--especially Shakespeare--was read and admired. Klopstock, an epic, lyric, and dramatic poet belonged partly to the Gottsched group and partly to the new. A younger man, Wieland, exerted widespread influence in his dramatic reviews and general writings. He also translated twenty-two of Shakespeare's plays (between 1762 and 1766); the translations were not particularly good, though they undoubtedly affected the writers of his time. Next in importance to Lessing, however, was Johann Gottfried Herder, who first showed the way to original composition in his trenchant criticisms and Shakespeare study. His influence on the young Goethe was inestimable, and the Sturm und Drang Period dates from his meeting with the young poet at Strassburg in 1770-71. He wrote an essay on Shakespeare ( 1773), in which he attacked the French critical canons and demanded that Shakespeare should be judged on his own great merits. The Sturm und Drang was a period of violent reaction against the fetters and conventions of life and art. Shakespeare was the idol of the younger men, and Shakespeare study dates from these days. Goethe was strongly influenced by Shakespeare and an early play, Götz von Berlichingen ( 1773) was one of the results of his study of the English poet. There soon followed other romantic works, the novel of Werther ( 1774), the play Clavigo ( 1774) and the first sketch of Faust ( 1790). Then came the impetuous Schiller, whose play Die Räuber ( 1781) sounded a blast to the new Romantics. The Prefaces are documents of considerable interest. With this play and with its immediate successors, Fiesco ( 1783), and Kabale und Liebe ( 1784), it may be said that modern German poetic drama was born. The last play of Lessing, Nathan der weise, had appeared in 1779; Goethe's Iphigenie and Schiller's Don Carlos belong to the late eighties, as well as Goethe's Torquato Tasso. Goethe meanwhile had been contributing numerous articles on the drama, and strengthening the Shakespeare interest in his various versions of the Wilhelm Meister novel. Schiller had during the nineties delved into philosophy and æsthetics and delivered lectures and written essays on tragic art and the function of the drama, etc. The best of these are the Ueber den Grund des Verqnügens an tragischen Gegenstanden ( 1792), and Ueber die tragische Kunst, of the same year. His last years were devoted to the writing of Wallenstein ( 1800), and Wilhelm Tell. His death in 1805 cut short his brilliant career. For over a score of years Goethe continued to evolve his dramatic theories, but long before his death the Schlegels, August Wilhelm and Karl Wilhelm Friedrich, had begun their celebrated translations of Shakespeare, and in 1798 founded the Athenœum, which is usually regarded as the beginning of the truly modern Romantic movement, the influence of which was felt, through Coleridge, even in England. The brothers published in 1801 their joint work, Charakteristiken, containing their various literary theories, and in 1809 and 1811 August Wilhelm issued his famous lectures Vorlesungen über dramatische Kunst undLiteratur


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European Theories of the Drama: An Anthology of Dramatic Theory and Criticism from Aristotle to the Present Day


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