August Wilhelm Schlegel and his Shakespeare Translations

August Wilhelm Schlegel

On September 8, 1767, German poet, translator, and critic August Wilhelm Schlegel was born, who became a foremost leader of German Romanticism. He is best known for his translations of Shakespeare‘s works into German.

August Wilhelm Schlegel attended the school in Hannover, followed by the University of Göttingen, where he enrolled in 1787. At first, he studied theology, changing to classical philology and aesthetics later on. After Schlegel had worked in Amsterdam for a while as a teacher, he moved to Jena in order to work as a literary critic and write for Friedrich Schiller’s short-lived periodical Die Horen. He married in 1896 and his wife, Caroline Michaelis, highly motivated him to start his projects translating Shakespeare‘s plays, in which she also participated. In 1798, August Wilhelm and his brother Friedrich Schlegel founded the famous Athenaeum, being tired of the publishing troubles back then. The brothers were both, editors and main writers of the journal and they managed to become one of the German Romantic Movement‘s principal voices. The Athenaeum was devoted mainly to literary criticism with a philological and historical perspective, and a large section of it featured the review of contemporary literature. It contained critical essays, fragments, letters, announcements and dialogues and appeared twice a year between 1798 and 1800 [1,3].

Also in 1798, Schlegel was appointed professor at the University of Jena and there, he had the chance to continue his translation of the works of Shakespeare. Schlegel managed to translated over 16 Shakespearean plays, five plays from the Spanish dramaturge Calderón de la Barca, and other selected pieces from Dante, Petrarch, Giovanni Boccaccio, Miguel de Cervantes, Torquato Tasso, and Luís de Camões which were published in 1804 as “Blumensträusse italiänischer, spanischer, und portugiesischer Poesie” (Bouquets of Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese Poetry) [2]. The poet, translator, and critic also became well known for his great teaching abilities. Schlegel moved to Berlin in the early 19th century and his lectures were highly didactic while at the same time interspersed with important philosophical insights. Some of his lectures were later on also published in literary journals. In 1818, Schlegel was appointed professor of literature and art history in Bonn, where he published the scholarly journal ‘Indische Bibliothek’ and set up a Sanskrit printing press with which he provided the first printed editions of the Bhagavadg?t? and R?m?yana in continental Europe [1].

The rediscovery of Shakespeare‘s greatness in the 19th century was due, not only to Schlegel‘s translations, but most importantly to his special approach to Shakespearean theatre. Schlegel claimed that it should be analyzed on the grounds of constituting a necessary historical difference. This difference between the ancients and the modern was the cornerstone of Schlegel‘s critique and set the basis for his theoretical use of the concept Romantic, which became the key-concept in his comprehension and reevaluation of modernity [1].

At yovisto, you may be interested in a short video documentation about William Shakespeare.

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