“Shakespears Geist.” Lenz and the Reception of Shakespeare in Germany

  • John Guthrie


Let me begin with one of the clichés of literary history: that the Sturm and Drang idolised Shakespeare. It produced, according to Simon Williams, “an outbreak of Shakespeare-worship in Germany that has rarely if ever been equalled elsewhere”.1 I do not wish to disprove this. But we have come a long way since Gundolf’ s Shakespeare and der deutsche Geist (Berlin, 1911).2 A more subtle, differentiated, and historically valid view of the relation of individual writers to Shakespeare now exists.3 The antithesis of Sturm and Drang and Enlightenment views of Shakespeare is no longer widely accepted. Our understanding of Lenz’s reception has been deepened in recent years, particularly by Hans-Günther Schwarz4 and Eva Maria Inbar.5 Yet some interesting questions remain, and it is still necessary to ask how far Lenz extends into the direction of the uncritically adulatory or the derivative. Wherein lies the distinctiveness of his view of Shakespeare? Wherein consists its originality, its relationship to Lenz’s own dramatic oeuvre and the history of Shakespeare in Germany?


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  1. 1.
    Shakespeare on the German Stage (Cambridge, 1990 ), I, 14.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For a discussion of Gundolf-inspired judgements see the introduction to Eva Maria Inbar, Shakespeare in Deutschland. Der Fall Lenz (Tübingen, 1982), p. 4ff.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    For a discussion of some of the earlier outdated and inaccurate views of Lenz and Shakespeare, see Inbar, Shakespeare in Deutschland (esp. p. 4, et passim).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Lenz und Shakespeare,“ Jahrbuch, Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft West, (1971), 85–96; ”Nachwort“ to his edition of J. M. R. Lenz, Anmerkungen abers Theater, Shakespeare-Arbeiten und Shakespeare-Übersetzungen, Reclams Universal Bibliothek, 9815 (Stuttgart, 1976), pp. 135–141.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Logen“ is suggested by Prof. Dr Richard Daunicht rather than ”Bogen“, as in the editions of Sigrid Damm (III, 206), Britta Titel and Helmut Haug (J. M. R. Lenz, Werke und Schriften [Stuttgart, 1966f.], I, 166, and others). I am grateful to Professor Daunicht for providing me with his transcript of the text, which he made from a proof-copy in Krakau which was compared with the original.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Werke, Hamburger Ausgabe (Hamburg, 1948ff.), XII, 227.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Lenz himself published work in this journal from 1776 and had earlier corresponded with Boie, as had Lichtenberg, who had been asked to provide news of his travels in England. Lichtenberg had previously noted his impressions of Garrick in his diaries of 1774–75; see Hans Ludwig Gumbert “Einleitung” to his edition, Lichtenberg in England. Dokumente einer Begegnung (Wiesbaden, 1977), I, xiii-lvi. Some of this information had evidently filtered through to Boie. The first of his letters was published in June 1776, and dated “London, den 1. Oktob. 1775”.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Briefwechsel, ed. Ulrich Joost and Albrecht Schöne (Munich, 1983ff.), I, 543.Google Scholar
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    Briefe an einen jungen Dichter“, 3. Brief, 1784.Google Scholar
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    Shakespeare im Urteil der deutschen Theaterkritik des 18. Jahrhunderts,“ Shakespeare-Jahrbuch (1967), 37–69, here 41.Google Scholar
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    Die Einbürgerung Shakespeares auf dem Theater des Sturm und Drangs, Schriften zur Theaterwissenschaft, 3/2 (Berlin, 1964), p. 58.Google Scholar
  13. 21.
    Schröder was to follow many of Lenz’s ideas in his famous production of King Lear, as Hoffmeier shows; see also Williams, Shakespeare on the German Stage, I, 74f.Google Scholar
  14. 22.
    Schröder produced Der Hofmeister and thought highly of Lenz. Many of his ideas, like those of Herder, were mediated by Bode.Google Scholar
  15. 23.
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    Werke, Hamburger Ausgabe, XII, 298. For a poststructuralist interpretation of Goethe’s essay, see Peter J. Burgard, “Literary History and Historical truth. Herder -`Shakespeare’-Goethe,” Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift fir Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte, 65 (1991), 636–52, which stresses Goethe’s sense that the contemporary stage, with its technical advances and ability to give the illusion of accurate representation, contaminates the reception of Shakespeare. The sense of Goethe’s paradoxical remarks is that Shakespeare’s death for the theatre will keep him alive as a poet.Google Scholar
  19. 29.
    See Heinz Kindermann, Lenz und die Romantik (Berlin, 1925).Google Scholar
  20. 31.
    Even Simon Williams, in his excellent book, seems not to give Lenz enough credit here (Shakespeare on the German Stage, I 23).Google Scholar
  21. 34.
    The view persists in recent scholarship. Hansjürgen Blinn presents Lenz as a mindless imitator of Shakespeare in his edition Shakespeare-Rezeption. Die Diskussion um Shakespeare in Deutschland, I (Berlin, 1982 ), 31.Google Scholar
  22. 35.
    Shakespeare in Deutschland, pp. 73–77. She shows that the comment in a letter to Gotter (10 May, 1775; III 317), “Ob sie [his own plays] übrigens spielbar sind bekümmert mich nicht,” has been taken out of context, e.g. by René Girard, J. M. R. Lenz: Genèse d’une dramaturgie du tragi-comique (Paris, 1968), p. 342, who sees Lenz as a writer of “Lesedramen” (p. 242). Inbar notes Lenz’s later distancing himself from these views in a fit of self-doubt, pp. 59f.Google Scholar
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    Shakespeare on the German Stage, I 23.Google Scholar
  24. 37.
    Williams, Shakespeare on the German Stage, I, 23. On the absence of the Kraftmensch in Lenz’s plays, see Alan C. Leidner, “A Titan in Extenuating Circumstances: Sturm und Drang and the Kraftmensch, ” Publications of the Modern Langugage Association of America, 104 (1989), 178–89.Google Scholar
  25. 38.
    Hans-Gerd Winter notes the lack of a study of Lenz’s influence on Tieck, J. M. R. Lenz, Sammlung Metzler, 233 (Stuttgart, 1987), pp. 116f. Williams notes that in “direct contrast to much eighteenth-century criticism of Shakespeare, [Tieck] demonstrated how character is subordinate to the overall design of the play, how it functions within a larger framework and is not the ultimate objective” (Shakespeare on the German Stage, I, 175). It would seem that in his emphasis on the wholeness of Shakespeare’s play-world Lenz is closer to Tieck than is generally assumed. In his view of Shakespeare as a deliberate strategist Tieck is close to Lenz’s views in the essay Verteidigung des Herrn W. gegen die Wolken, where he argues against Wieland that “Shakespears Manier ist nicht ungebunden,… sie ist gebundener als die neuere, für einen, der seine Phantasei nicht will gaukeln lassen, sondern fassen, darstellen, lebendig machen, wie er tat” (II, 729f.).Google Scholar
  26. 39.
    Williams, Shakespeare on the German Stage, I, 178f.Google Scholar
  27. 40.
    Goethe’s comment in Dichtung und Wahrheit (Werke, Hamburger Ausgabe, IX, 495) about Lenz’s choice of play reflects more accurately his relationship to Shakespeare. See Inbar, Shakespeare in Deutschland, p. 99.Google Scholar
  28. 41.
    The Shakespeare Canon in France, Germany, and England, 1700–1776: Some Preliminary Considerations,“ Michigan Germanic Studies, 15 (1989), 114–135, here 128.Google Scholar
  29. 42.
    It was unperformed in the century as a whole, according to Larson, “The Shakespeare Canon in France, Germany, and England, 1700–1776,” 129.Google Scholar
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    See Inbar, Shakespeare in Deutschland, pp. 128f.: “Wie sehr sich Lenz das Stück gesprochen und gespielt dachte, zeigen auch die zahlreichen Szenenanweisungen, die er hinzusetzt.”Google Scholar
  31. 46.
    Johann Karl Wezel, for example, thought translating and performing Shakespeare a mistake. See Thilo Joerger, “`The Bible for the Man of True Genius’: Johann Karl Wezels’s Views on Shakespeare and German Literature,” Michigan Germanic Studies, 15 (1989), 203–14, here 207f.Google Scholar

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© Westdeutscher Verlag GmbH, Opladen 1994

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  • John Guthrie

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