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Shakespeare as German Author


John A. McCarthy, Editor. Shakespeare as German Author: Reception, Translation theory, and Cultural Transfer. Amsterdam: Brill/Rodopi,2018.

The volume grew out of a 2013 graduate seminar at Vanderbilt University that included Lisa Beesely, Johanna Hörnig, Curtis Maughan, and Christine M. Nilsson.

Even before the turn of the century from the 18th to the 19th century William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was considered a canonical German author along with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller. This volume explores seminal aspects of the intensive, formative phase of the Bard’s reception in Germany ca. 1760-1830 that has been deemed to have served a catalyzing function within the development of German aesthetics and literary production. Following a detailed introduction to the historical and theoretical parameters of an era in search of its own literary voice, six case studies examine Shakespeare’s catalytic role in reshaping German aesthetics and stage production. They illuminate what German speakers found so appealing (or off-putting) about Shakespeare’s spirit, consider how translating it nurtured new linguistic and aesthetic sensibilities, and reflect on its relationship to German Geist through translation and cultural transfer theory. In the process, they shed new light on Eschenburg and Genieästhetik (Kinzel), the translation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as dialogue (Beesely), the rise of Hamlet (Nenon) and Macbeth (Dröse) to canonical status, the role of women translators and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Hörnig), Gerhart Hauptmann’s reconstruction of Hamlet (Maughan), and why Titus Andronicus proved so influential in 29th-century theater performance (Nilsson).

Most contributors reflect on how Shakespeare reception around 1800 related to two central questions: (1) could early translators draw on established translation theories in rendering Elizabethan English into a German tongue that was just then finding its own literary voice? And (2) how can one explain the rapid rise of Shakespeare to the status of canonical German writer against the backdrop of cultural transfer theory? Thus, the contributors highlight the connection between Shakespeare’s mind (“der Geist Shakespeares”) and the German mind (“der deutsche Geist”) that led to ‘Shakespeare mania’ (“Shakespearomanie”) in the 19th century and his continued popularity in the 20th century.

While there has been no dearth of writing on Shakespeare reception in Germany, there was a need for a fresh look at how the making of the German Shakespeare occurred. The two guiding queries necessitated a look at issues of book history in general. By drawing more emphatically than previously on it, on the development of translation theory and practice in the 18th century, and on contemporary thinking about the possibility and mechanisms of cultural transfer, the volume offers a new and fruitful reading. Combining these perspectives offers a fuller response to the question of how the Briton could so rapidly enter the German literary canon. Moreover, a number of critiques of Shakespeare’s spirit central to his “naturalization” have been largely ignored in previous studies. These include Chr. M. Wieland’s seminal essay, “Der Geist Shakespeares” (1773), J. J. Eschenburg’s monograph, On W. Shakespeare (1787), and G. G. Gervinus’ multivolume study, Shakespeare (1849-50). Their inclusion adds to the innovative thrust of the current reassessment.

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