Johann Gottfried Herder

* 25.08.1744 in Mohrungen/Prussia; ✝ 18.12.1803 in Weimar

Poet, Translator, Philosopher, Theologist



Under the religious influence of his pietistic parents, Johann Gottfried Herder studied theology in Königsberg, where he attended the lectures of Immanuel Kant.  In 1764 he took up the position of teacher and preacher at the Cathedral School in Riga, but felt so uncomfortable there that he asked to be dismissed and, with the financial support of some Riga friends, he left for France. In the nick of time came a request from the prince-bishop of Lubeck’s Court in Eutin that he should accompany Peter Friedrich Wilhelm, Crown Prince of Holstein-Gottorp, as his travelling preacher; but in 1771 Herder asked to be allowed to leave this position too, on the grounds that after his marriage to Maria Karoline Flachsland he had begun to long for a more settled way of life.  It was in Strasburg that Herder made the acquaintance of Goethe, and the two of them made a special study of Shakespeare. In April 1771 Herder began serving as chief preacher and consistorial advisor in Bückeburg, the residential city of Schaumburg-Lippe.  It was here that he wrote, among other things, ‘Shakespeare’, which brought him to the very heart of the Sturm und Drang movement.

It was in this essay that Herder raised Shakespeare to a superhuman level and questioned Aristotle’s theatrical rules so as to release Shakespeare from the narrow perspective of Greek tragedy.  He also emphasized that Shakespearean and Aristotelean forms of tragedy should be clearly distinguished from one another, given that they were developed in different cultural contexts. Like Goethe in his ‘Rede zum Shäkespears Tag’ Herder conceded to Shakespeare the right to renounce Aristotle’s unity of space, time and action.

Herder’s time in Bückeburg did not last long, and in 1776 he was, with Goethe’s assistance, summoned to Weimar, where the post of General Superintendent, Member of the Consistorial and Church Council, Chief Cleric and First Preacher at the City Church of St. Peter and Paul was waiting for him.  Herder worked for 27 years in Weimar – a period, in which he brought about essential progress in its ecclesiastical and educational structures – until his death there in 1803.





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Citation and Licence

Herder, Johann Gottfried, in: The Digital Shakespeare Memorial Album. Edited by Christa Jansohn. URI: (Accessed on 26.09.2023)

This text is published under the following licence: CC BY-ND 3.0 DE. Digitzed media reproduced with the permission of the library of Birmingham.

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