Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture
Modern German World Theater: Playing and Reality
Between 1750 and 1830, German playwrights created some of the most memorable characters on the modern stage, such as Lessing’s Minna or Goethe’s Faust. They adapted classical myths and dramatized history in new ways. A key goal was to establish a text-based theater for educating the audience and creating new forms of aesthetic community. The practitioners of this bourgeois theater distanced themselves both from the lavish court spectacles of the time as well as the popular marketplace shows of the itinerant actors’ troupes. Experimenting with English and French cultural models, they sought to shape their audience’s affective response to the plays. The Viennese theatrical tradition continues to be more entertaining and is indebted to the Spanish Baroque and the Italian Commedia dell’ arte in turn.
In this course, we will examine some key issues pertaining to the German theater of the long 18th century, the so-called Goethezeit, focusing our attention on five major playwrights and plays: Goethe’s Faust I; Schiller’s Maria Stuart; Lessing’s Minna von Barnhelm, Grillparzer’s Medea (from the trilogy Das goldene Vliess) and Mozart’s opera Die Zauberflöte. The plays and the opera selected represent the variety of forms, themes, and agendas in the theater of the time. We will ask how these “very serious jokes” (Goethe’s term for his Faust) may continue to entertain and engage us today. Theater entails live performances in a public space shared by actors and audiences alike. How can we re-envision theatrical performance practice from the vantage point of the digital age? Why do we need theater in troubled times? What kind of models does the German Goethezeit theater provide?
Annotated versions of the plays are available to help with the readings in German. Our discussion will be in German or English, depending on the linguistic preparation of the group. Required preparation: German 203. Recommended level of preparation: German 301, 302 or 303. Course requirements: Class participation, brief presentations, journals, final-exam essay.