Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

* 18.08.1749 in Frankfurt (Main); ✝ 22.03.1832 in Weimar

Poet, Playwright, Writer



Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is regarded as the greatest German poet; since the appearance of his first great works he stands at the very centre of literary Germany. The young Goethe came into contact with Shakespeare’s writings as early as his university law course in Leipzig and Strasbourg, and they immediately roused him to a great admiration for England’s national poet. In 1770 he began a period of intense engagement with Shakespeare’s works, an engagement most eloquently expressed in the 1771 ‘Rede zum Shäkespear’s Tag’ – along with Herder’s essay ‘Shakesepeare, one of the most important programmatic documents of the Sturm und Drang period.  In this lecture Goethe made clear that the principles of Sturm und Drang were already present in Shakespeare.  For example, the ‘Bard of Avon’ had already broken with Aristotle’s dramatic rules.  Besides which, both the concept of a ‘genius’ and a ‘child of nature’ were eminently applicable to both Shakespeare and his writings. 

After the great public success of Götz von Berlichingen and Die Leiden des jungen Werthers, from 1775 onwards Goethe focused his attention on the theory and practice of the theatre. In the period which followed his journeys to Italy (1786/1788) he increasingly shifted his attention to composing works on natural history and art theory. Together with Friedrich Schiller Goethe is regarded as having established, around 1790, Weimar Classicism, one of the founding principles of which was the education of men and women in a spirit of humane independence and responsibility. Their deep friendship and mutual literary influence meant that Goethe and Schiller were particularly close, so that when Schiller died in 1805 it represented a painful break in Goethe’s creative life. Thereafter, his work was chiefly autobiographical.

In 1813 Goethe returned to the theme of Shakespeare with ‘Shakespeare und kein Ende’.  In this essay he declared that Shakespeare’s art was an art without frontiers – which is to say, that it was the common property of all periods, peoples and nations.  But Goethe’s enthusiasm for Shakespeare was not limited to being expressed in ‘Rede zum Shäkespear’s Tag’ and ‘Shakespeare und kein Ende’; in his other literary activities, too, Shakespearean traits are always detectable. The honour in which Johann Wolfgang von Goethe held Shakespeare continued until his death in 1832.



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Citation and Licence

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, in: The Digital Shakespeare Memorial Album. Edited by Christa Jansohn. URI: (Accessed on 27.02.2024)

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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