Shakespeare is German

A series of talks, readings, film screenings and discussions
7 October 2010 to 18 November 2010
Goethe-Institut London

“So much has already been said about Shakespeare it might seem there is nothing left to say. But the mind’s chief characteristic is that it will always excite activity in other minds,” wrote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in his 1815 essay No end to Shakespeare. Right up until the present day countless Shakepearean plays have been produced on German stages, have been filmed by German directors or analysed by German academics. Shakespeare is German – a multi-disciplinary festival organised by the Goethe-Institut London together with the Globe Theatre and the Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies of Queen Mary, University of London – reviews this multifaceted history of the reception of Shakespeare in Germany. 

The season opens on 7 October 2010 with a book launch at the Globe Theatre: for the first time ever both of Goethe’s essays on Shakespeare are united in a bilingual edition entitled Goethe on Shakespeare. On 14 October to commemorate the day Goethe delivered his In Celebration of Shakespeare lecture, actor Sebastian Koch (The Lives of Others, The Black Book, Effie Briest,) reads extracts from texts by Shakespeare, Goethe, Schlegel and Tieck, together with Germanist Martin Swales and accompanied by extracts from German films on Shakespeare. The festival continues with discussions and lectures: actor and director Norbert Kentrup proposes the bold thesis that “Shakespeare is much better in German”, and Rüdiger Görner, literary scholar and founding director of the Centre for Anglo-German Cultural Relations, who wrote the afterword to Goethe on Shakespeare, reflects on Germany’s passion for Shakespeare from the 18th century to the present day.

The Goethe-Institut addresses the widely-different ways that Shakespeare is produced on German and English stages: on 13 November Thomas Ostermeier, artistic director of the Berlin-based Schaubühne and David Lan, artistic director of the Young Vic, talk about Thomas Ostermeier’s radical production of “Hamlet”. On 18 November Herbert Fritsch presents his multi-media art project hamlet_X, for which the theatre-maker carved the Hamlet text into 111 individual sections and then, using famous German actors, turned them into short films. The 1923 film Der Kaufmann von Venedig (The Jew of Mestri) by Peter Paul Felner starring Werner Krauss (Dr. Caligari) and Max Schreck (Murnau’s Nosferatu), and Helmut Käutner’s post-war Der Rest ist Schweigen (The Rest is Silence), filmed in 1959, are good examples of how German directors adapt Shakespeare’s plays and give them a contemporary interpretation.

The programme is rounded off with two further lectures: Ray Ockenden, lecturer at Oxford University talks about how Shakespeare was viewed by Stefan George and his friends (George-Kreis), Manfred Pfister, Emeritus Professor at the Freie Universität Berlin, talks about Shakespeare’s sonnets.


4 Responses to Shakespeare is German

  1. Dr. Albert Wittine says:

    Ludwig Fulda, German writer and Shakespeare translator, founder and first president of the German PEN – club, actually wanted to annex Shakespeare in 1916.
    He wrote: “[…] falls es uns glückt, England niederzuzwingen, dann meine ich, wir sollten in den Friedensvertrag eine Klausel setzen, wonach William Shakespeare auch formell an Deutschland abzutreten ist. Ich glaube sogar, für diese Abtretung werden die Engländer noch am ehesten zu haben sein, weil sie ohnehin nichts Rechtes mit ihm anzufangen wissen.”(Ludwig Fulda: Deutsche Kultur und Ausländerei. Leipzig 1916. (= Zwischen Krieg und Frieden. Bd. 31.), S. 13 f.) Translation: “…if we should be succesful in beating Englang the peace treaty should contain an article that Shakespeare has to be officially conveyed to Germany. I think this assignation would not be a problem for the English. They have little use for Shakespeare anyway.”

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