What is the Anglo-German tradition of Hamlet?
- · Not all Anglo-German scholars necessarily agree on every aspect of the play, BUT the general assumption is that Hamlet failed to act
- · Anglo-German scholars focus on understanding why Hamlet fails to act
- · i.e. Goethe (as described by Zimmerman) proposes that Hamlet fails to act because he is too noble – too disgusted with the world around him to consider acting worthwhile
- · Zimmerman discusses Germans’ personal identification with Hamlet (i.e. surrounding the French Revolution, German nationalism)
- “Wilhelm Meister’s analysis of Hamlet, or more precisely, of its prose translation by Wieland, forms the core of the novel. It is seldom realized that Goethe’s interpretation itself is based on a version of the play which had been revised according to the literary taste and moral convictions of the time. Wieland’s omissions and translations in the original of translating it purge Hamlet of all cruelty, madness, and frivolous or vulgar speech.” (Zimmerman 295)
- Emphasizes the German tradition of reading Hamlet (based on Wieland’s translation), which generally views him as being too noble to act
Who is Goethe?
- · Respected as one of the greatest German writers of all time
- · Frequently identified with German Romanticism (late 18th and early 19th centuries)
- · Lyric poet, novelist, playwright, scientist, art critic, and literature critic
- · Studied Shakespeare – influenced many of his famous works, including his plays
- · Studied in Italy and greatly influenced by Italian art and literature – first version of Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship written during his time in Italy
- · Also studied English, French, German, Classical Greek, Persian, and Arabic literature
- · Instrumental in establishing the novella as a German literary genre (novella = short novel)
- · Revised Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship in 1795 – describes Wilhelm’s journey to understand and succeed in an overwhelming world – helped to establish the Bildungsroman as a literary genre
- · Had been a friend of the courts earlier in his career, and sympathized with Napoleon during the French Revolution – supporter of government and order over individual liberty
- · Goethe wrote a sequel to Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship – loosely structured novel about Wilhelm’s journeys through life – challenges his original idea that individual development is possible
- · Goethe has remained powerful German literary figure – yet there is no consensus over how he is perceived by other scholars
- o i.e. epitome of 19th century culture vs. disconnected from his time; concerned/indifferent
- His admiration of Shakespeare was largely responsible for popularizing Shakespeare in Germany
Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship
- Genre: Bildungsroman – German coming of age novel
- Follows Wilhelm Meister – young man who attempts to “break free” from the world by joining the theatre
The obvious intertext is Hamlet, but the real question is why Goethe devotes an entire chapter of his novel to the discussion of Hamlet…
· Wilhelm – possibly a loose representation of Shakespeare; Aurelia – possibly a loose representation of Ophelia
- Hamlet’s rejection of the world and his feelings of indecision (“To be, or not to be?”) - feelings that Wilhelm can relate to?
- Hamlet, through Goethe’s interpretation (through a biased translation) thinks of Hamlet as a “noble young man, too sensitive to respond to the situation he finds himself in” (Zimmerman 295).
- The nobility of Hamlet, as created by Wieland, the translator, was engineered to mold to the romanticism of late 18th century German art.
- Goethe’s Hamlet is fated to be unable to complete a task assigned to him, because the task asks “the impossible” (Zimmerman 296) of him. The conflict lies in the disparity of Hamlet’s thoughts and actions.
- Wilhelm stresses a self defeatist picture of Hamlet, pointing to his own doubt in his ability to fulfill the task bestowed upon him. Hamlet considers himself unworthy, or at least incapable of killing his uncle when instructed to do so by his father’s ghost. This is analogous to a mighty oak tree (the deed, outgrowing the jar in which it had been planted (Hamlet).
- “‘The time is out of joint: O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right…’ In this view the whole play seems to be composed. There is an oak tree planted in a costly jar, which should have born only pleasant flowers in its bosom. The roots expand, the jar is shivered.” (Goethe 152)