Johann Gottfried Herder
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Without Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803), we simply would not understand Shakespeare in the way we do. In fact, much literature and art besides Shakespeare would neither look the same nor be the same without the influence of Herder's "Shakespeare" (1773). One of the most important and original works in the history of literary criticism, this passionate essay pioneered a new, historicist approach to cultural artifacts by arguing that they should be judged not by their conformity to a set of conventions imported from another time and place, but by the effectiveness of their response to their own historical and cultural context. Rejecting the authority of a dominant and stifling French neoclassicism that judged eighteenth-century plays by the criteria of Aristotle, Herder's "Shakespeare" signaled a break with the Enlightenment, the approach of Romanticism, and the arrival of a distinctly modern form of aesthetic appreciation.
With a vivid new translation and a fascinating introduction by Gregory Moore, this edition of Herder's classic will speak to today's readers with undiminished power and persuasiveness.
Woodstock, Oxfordshire OX20 1SY All Rights Reserved LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA Herder, Johann Gottfried, 1744–1803. Shakespeare / Johann Gottfried Herder ; translated, edited, and with an introduction by Gregory Moore. p. cm. “First published in 1773, as one of five contributions to a pamphlet edited by Herder himself and entitled Von deutscher Art und Kunst (On German Character and Art)” — T.p. verso. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN:
drama and dramatic spirit would remain (or else I have written in vain). Thus we see that the whole world is merely the body belonging to this great spirit: all the scenes of Nature are the limbs of this body, just as every character and way of thinking is a feature of this spirit—and we might call the whole by the name of Spinoza’s vast God: “Pan! Universum!” Sophocles remained true to Nature when he adapted a single action in a single time and place; Shakespeare could remain true to Nature only
opportunity to share his discovery with others—with his new friend Goethe, most momentously, but also with his fiancée, Caroline Flachsland. Shakespeare was his “hobbyhorse,” he confessed to her late in 1770, introducing the man who, as the correspondence during their courtship attests, would become the third apex in a long-running love triangle: “I have not so much read as studied him, and I underline the word; each of his plays is a complete philosophy of the passion whereof it treats.”2 Like
possessed an expressive power, a sensuous directness that was typical of what Herder called “popular poetry” (Volkspoesie). If poetry was indeed, as he frequently asserted (borrowing a phrase of Hamann’s), the “mother tongue of mankind,” then these “primitive” figures spoke it with an easy fluency long since lost in the stilted, prosy world of the Enlightenment. Active when their respective national cultures were still unformed, they drew from the subterranean reservoirs of human imagination and
geniuses share: they are true not only to nature (as Young argued) but also to the culture from which they emerged (and herein lies Herder’s decisive contribution to the concept of genius). Both are mouthpieces of the collective soul of the nation, expressing its thoughts and sentiments, manners and morals; in each case their art is a development of indigenous species of expression. Though their purpose—the manufacture of theatrical illusion, the convulsion of the heart—is the same, their means