Iphigeneia in Tauris

Iphigeneia in Tauris

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Iphigeneia in Tauris

Iphigeneia in Tauris

Read FREE!

Excerpt

The Iphigeneia in Tauris has been described by a distinguished French critic as 'the highest effort of spiritual abstraction' in dramatic literature. It certainly moves on the highest level of moral feeling attained by the greatest poet of the last three centuries. And as a work of art, possessing a warm and living body of beauty, it is perhaps his creation with the best claim to be called flawless.

The drama belongs to the earlier years of Goethe's residence at Weimar. The first idea of the drama may have arisen in his mind in 1776, when he was in his twenty-seventh year, but the statement of Goethe from which this inference has been drawn was made in his old age to Riemer, when his memory sometimes played strange tricks. It is certain that he began to dictate the poem on February 14, 1779, and that, although distracted by various pieces of public business, it was completed in its first form--that of a rhythmical prose--on March 28, 1780. At Schwalbenstein, near Ilmenau, the fourth act was written (March 19) in a single day. On April 6, a private representation of the play was given at Weimar in honour of the Duchess Luise's birthday; the actress Corona Schröter took the part of the heroine; that of Orestes was presented by Goethe.

Thus, in a far greater degree than with certain other works of Goethe, the drama had the advantage of a swift development; there was no piecing together of fragments belonging to various periods; the whole has a crystalline unity. 'The printed words,' he said in 1827 to Eckermann, `are indeed only a faint reflex of the life which stirred within me during its invention.' But the Iphigeneia had also the advantage of careful revision. In 1780 it was thrown somewhat hastily into irregular verse; in 1781 it was again re-handled, more fully and more carefully, in prose. Five years later Goethe announced an edition of his collected works, in the third volume of which the Iphigeneia was to appear. He proceeded to transform the prose into verse, which, under the influence of Sophocles, became more regular and finely wrought than that of 1780. When, filled with new hope and joy, he took his flight to Italy, in September 1786, he carried with him the manuscript of his play: on the Brenner he chose out this, from among other manuscripts, to be the special companion of his travel. At the Lake of Garda he listened to 'the dull sound of the ceaseless waves,' of which the resonance is heard in the opening monologue of Iphigeneia in lines added in the final revision. At Verona, at Vicenza, in Venice, he worked upon the prose text, finding it grow from day to day in beauty and in harmony. At Bologna he stood before the St. Agatha of Raphael, so virginal and calm, yet so warm with life, and free from all austerity, and he vowed that no word should be uttered by his Iphigeneia which might not have been heard from the lips of Raphael's saint. In Rome the final revision was completed as the year 1786 was coming to its close. Goethe `Child of Sorrow' (Schmerzenskind), . . .

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