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interest; in other words, the development of the action out of its fundamental idea, no matter of how many single deeds and events this development may consist.

Lessing thus endeavoured everywhere to determine the rules according to the nature and aim of art, not art according to rules. It was in this way that he censured the French writers and commended Shakspeare, not because of single beauties in his works, in the manner of the English critics of the time, but because of beauty itself, because of the agreement of Shakspeare's works with the true rules of art and with the true nature of art.





WHILE Lessing, in taking the nearest way to introduce Shakspeare into Germany, entered upon the path of criticism and the purification of æsthetic taste, Wieland soon entered upon a second path which promised to lead to the same goal.

One year previous to the first appearance of Lessing's * Hamburgische Dramaturgie,' Wieland had completed his translation of twenty-two of Shakspeare's plays.* This was an event in the history of German literature, the great importance of which again none knew better than Lessing. Wieland, it is true, still jndged Shakspeare in the spirit of Pope, Johnson and other English critics of the age; his opinion was that Shakspeare, although possessing many beauties, had as many great defects, that

in regard to expression he was not only coarse and incorrect, but also in thousands of instances hard, stiff, bombastic, and frivolous.' Goethet justly says of some of Wieland's æsthetico critical remarks on his own translation that if he (Wieland) were wise he would buy them up with his blood.' Moreover the translation itself is by no means perfect; apart from individual defects it does not, as a whole, show Shakspeare's genius in its true form, simply because it is written throughout in prose. Still Lessing is perfectly right in maintaining that its deficiencies should not have called forth the censure they did ; for, he adds, the undertaking was very arduous; anyone but Wieland would, in the hurry, have made more frequent blunders, and in ignorance, or for the sako of convenience, have skipped over more; what he has

* Published in 8 vols. Zurich, 1762-66.

In his Helden, Götter und Wieland.


done well it would be difficult for anyone else to do better. This is so true that not only has Eschenburg done wisely to base his translation of Shakspeare's plays* upon Wieland's correcting his faults as far as possible and filling up the gaps), but that even a master-mind like Schlegel has adopted single passages (for instance the scenes of the mechanics in A Midsummer Night's Dream ') because he did not think he could do them better himself.

Wieland's translation, which, in fact, satisfied all reasonable demands because it was, at least, imbued throughout with an appreciation and feeling for genuine poetry, was the means of paving the way for the introduction of Shakspeare's plays upon the German stage.

It was adaptations of Wieland's and Eschenburg's texts that F. L. Schröder (1744-1816) (one of the greatest masters of histrionic art on the German stage) made use of, after the eighth decade, in presenting Shakspeare to his countrymen. Upon first introducing the plays, Schröder made rather considerable alterations, but subsequently gave them in a more unadulterated form. Thus a third path was opened, and moreover the chief path, if the object in view was not only to introduce Shakspeare to cultured circles, but also to make the German people acquainted with him. Shakspeare's plays were not only acted in the Hamburg theatre (of which Schröder was the manager), but in all the places visited by the great actor on his tour in 1780, and they received a welcome that bordered upon enthusiasm. This produced, in ever wider circles, a poetical tone of mind which made it more easy for the first masterpieces of the German stage — which were appearing simultaneously - to find their way into the hearts of the people.

In the first instance, however, the acquaintance with Shakspeare produced, in æsthetic and literary circles -to use Lessing's expression---such “a ferment'in matters of taste, that it threatened to destroy the good results that were expected from it. In spite of the grand flashes of light which the Hamburgische Dramaturgie' had cast into the dark atmosphere of German literature and

* Sämmtliche Shakspeare'sche Schanspiele (12 vols. 1775–77).

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æsthetics, the greater part of the older art-critics still continued, in all essential points, to agree with Wieland's above-mentioned criticism of Shakspeare. In a review of Wieland's translation in • The Library of the Fine Arts'* it is said that the majority of readers will feel provoked with Shakspeare's faults without perceiving his beauties, and that only the few will feel themselves tempted to seek for the gold in the raw ore, and to remove the dross, etc.,-in short, that it would have been beter had Shakspeare been left untranslated. The same opinion was expressed in a review of Eschenburg's translation, where it is even maintained that, owing to the translation of Shakspeare's entire works and the performances of his plays, dramatic art, the principles of æsthetic taste, and the whole German stage had fallen back fully ten years. That the childish taste for mere spectacles, puppet-shows, processions, and other such fiddle-faddle would inevitably be re-introduced through him; and that excellence did not consist in producing strong effects That such violent levers as Shakspeare makes use of (for instance, the scene between Lear and Edgar in the wood, the utter senselessness of which so confuses one, that one would wish one's ears stuffed with wadding) may perhaps have been acceptable to his audiences, to Englishınen, but that they need not on that account appear excellent to Germans, to people with well-balanced minds who know the difference between reason and imagination, and have arrived at a higher degree of moral development. The reviewer gues on to say : What does a nation, whose taste moreover has taken a wrong course, want with a man like Shakspeare, who, notwithstanding his great genius, does not possess the smallest feeling for beauty, a writer full of excrescences, full of wild fire, full of constrained witticisms, full of vulgar nonsense and low manners!' The reviewer would therefore gladly see the world rid of his works, and declares : “ Were I ruler of the realm I should forbid the representation of Shakspeare's plays ; these savage dramas have an injurious influence upon the morality of the nation. . . Shakspeare's gladiatorial plays

* Bibliothek der schönen Wissenschaften, vol. ix. + Ibid., vol. xxiii.

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invariably produce rudeness and savageness in the minds of the spectators and suppress all delicate emotions, they confuse the imagination and engender a taste for barbarous amusements. Let us leave them to the English, who are accustomed to be fed on cock-fights, boxing-matches, and duels--and much good may they get from their Roman taste!'

While such lamentations and abuse give us a reflection of the wrath of the admirers of the ancient drama in opposition to Lessing's innovations, and his recommendation of Shakspeare, this latter influence was itself threatening to lead to so senseless an extreme in the very quarter where it had met with enthusiastic approbation, that it nccessarily frustrated its own purpose. Lessing describes this effect produced by the closer acquaintance with Shakspeare in the last part of his · Hamburgische Dramaturgie’; he there says, “The assumption of our poets, that to imitate the French is much the sanie thing as working in accordance with the rules of the ancients, could not hold its own against the right state of feeling. This was fortunately aroused out of its slumber by some English plays, and we finally made the experience that tragedy was capable of an entirely different effect from that which Corneille and Racine had produced. But, blinded by this sudden flash of truth, we started back to the verge of another precipice. The English plays were obviously wanting in certain rules with which the French had made us but too well acquainted. What was the inference? It was this--that the aim of tragedy could be attained without these rules, nay, that these very rules might perhaps be to blame, were the aim less successfully attained. This might have been allowed to pass! But these rules began to be confounded with all rules, and, in fact, it was declared mere pedantry to prescribe what a genius should do and what he should leave undone. In short, we were upon the point of wilfully letting slip all our experience of bygone days, and of being inclined to expect poets to re-discover poetic art.'

In fact, while the well-balanced minds' of the contributors to the Bibliothek der schönen Wissenschaften, with their · high degree of moral culture,' were using all their

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