"Hamlet" in the theaterromane of Goethe and Hauptmann
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Goethe was the first German critic to devote himself to an interpretation of Shakespeare's Hamlet. He chose to incorporate his ideas on this play in the world's most famous Theaterroman. When in our own time another great German dramatist, Gerhart Hauptmann, attempted to explain the enigma of Hamlet, he followed the precedent of Goethe, and used a novel to convey his ideas. And while the novel may not be the recognized vehicle of scholarly criticism, the opinions of great minds must always command respect; and so these, on a difficult product of Shakespeare's genius. In this study, I propose to examine the treatment of Hamlet in two German novels of the theatre: Goethe's Wilhelm Meister and Gerhart Hauptmann's Im Wirbel der Berufung. A brief survey of the beginnings of Shakespearean criticism will lead up to Goethe. The formative influences that went into the writing of Wilhelm Meister, especially the Hamlet-episodes, will then be considered. Since Goethe's views on Shakespeare and Hamlet are not finally expressed in Wilhelm Meister, it will be necessary to extend the scope of this essay, as if affects Goethe, beyond the period of the novel. I hope to show that Hauptmann owed the basis for his final theory on Hamlet, as expressed in Im Wirbel der Berufung, to a late and rather obscure essay of Goethe's: Shakespeare und kein Ende. The number of antecedents to his novel, in Hauptmann’s study of Hamlet, make a biographical approach also necessary. While the final form of Goethe’s novel, Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, has been admirably translated by Carlyle, no translations of Shakespeare und kein Ende or Im Wirbel der Berufung have yet been made. I therefore include sections from these works in an appendix.