Shakespeare Jahrbuch 146 (2010)

Umschlagmotiv

SHAKESPEARE AND THE ONSET OF MODERNITY

At the beginning of the twentieth century Shakespeare was discovered as a modern playwright. In the context of a general cultural and political reorientation he allowed for a critical negotiation of dramatic, literary and critical conventions. The contributions to this volume explore the manifold and contradictory aspects of this ‘onset of modernity’ and discuss the competition between artistic experiments and conservative forms of ‘maintaining the classics’ – from political exploitation to aesthetic stylization. Jonathan Bate traces the German appropriation of Shakespeare from Herder via Wagner to Hitler and contrasts their nationalism with the aesthetically motivated reception by Walter Pater. Richard Wilson’s contribution engages with Edward Gordon Craig, with his work on Shakespeare in particular, and his aesthetic considerations on the theatre in general – both were particularly inspired by his stay in Weimar. The tension between power and modernity, between political authority and art, which fascinated Craig, also particularly marked the German engagement with Shakespeare and his contemporaries after World War I: Hans Henny Jahnn’s Richard III from 1917, a “panorama of human cruelty”, is at the center of Jan Bürger’s essay; Peter W. Marx engages with Leopold Jessner’s Shakespeare productions in the 1920s and early 1930s; Werner von Koppenfels shows how Bertolt Brecht’s and Lion Feuchtwanger’s The Life of Edward the Second of England (1924) introduced the young Brecht to a new style of drama. Katrin Trüstedt shifts the perspective by reading King Lear and The Tempest against the backdrop of a debate between Carl Schmitt and Hans Blumenberg regarding the ‘upheaval of modernity’. Using Between the Acts (1941) and its intertextual references to A Midsummer Night’s Dream as an example, Claudia Olk analyses the relationship between narrative prose, drama and the staging of history. Finally, Norbert Lammert unsparingly takes stock of Weimar’s ‘onset of modernity’ and convincingly shows that although Weimar was able to become a site of such an ‘onset’ from an artistic point of view, the political idea of a “state in the spirit of Goethe” (Peter Gay) was doomed to failure from the very beginning.