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Frederick William Meisnest.

Wieland's translation of Shakespeare online

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damit zufrieden sein sollten, so kann sie wenigstens zur Bezeugung meiner aufrichtigen
Hochachtung gegen Ihre Verdienste, dienen, die auch bey einer nicht volligen Uberein-
stimmung der Meinungen bestandig bleiben wird.' Otto Sievers, Akademische Blatter,
1884, p. 268.



^8 Wieland's Translation of Shakespeare

Nos. 3, 58, 81 ; 1764, Nos. 58, 97 ; Gottingische Anzeigen von gelehrten
Sachen, 1764, Nos. 26, 96, 156; 1766, No. 7; by Uz, Klotz, K. A.
Schmid, Lessing, Goethe and Schiller'.

Dr Stadler's excellent discussion of the reception of Wieland's
Shakespeare may be supplemented by the following references. Severe
judgment is pronounced upon Wieland's work by the reviewer of
Meinhard's translation of Henry Home's Elements of Criticism in the
Allgemeine deutsche Bibliothek (1766, vol. ii, 1, p. 36):

Wie gul diese U ebersetzung sey, kanu der Augenschein gleich frappaut lehreu,
wenn man nur ein paar Stellen aus deni Shakespear nach dieser Uebersetzung gegen
die steife, geschmacklose Uebersetzung halt, die jetzt in der Schweiz erscheint, und
wodurch dieser grosse englische Dichter mehr entstellt als in unsre Sprache heriiber
getragen worden.

The signature ' B ' to this review corresponds to ' Westfeld,' in Parthey's
Mitarbeiter an der Allgemeinen deutschen Bibliothek.

In a superficial review (signed ' Dtsch ') of C. H. Schmidt's Theorie
der Poesie in Klotz's Deutsche Bibliothek der schonen Wissenschaften
(Halle, 1768, vol. i, p. 3) Wieland's translation receives favourable
mention :

Eben so ist es Ihnen, mein Herr S., mit Wielanden gegangen. 1st as nicht wahr,
jetzt wiirden Sie ihr Urtheil von seinem Shakspear gerne zuriicknelimen, nachdem
Sie Lessings Dramaturgic gelesen liaben ? Schon lange zuvor liabe ich geglaubt,
dass Wielands Uebersetzung so schlecht nicht ist, als es den Kunstrichtern gefallen
hat, sie abzumahlen. Diese Herren wollten uns, wenn es Ihnen gegUickt hatte, die
besten Schriften aus den Handen kritisireii, die nicht aus ihrer Litteraturschule
herstammten. Sie, Herr Schmidt, und Herr Fll. und wie sie weiter heissen, mogen
einmal eine Uebersetzung von Shakspear hefern, die die Wielandsche libertrifft. Sie
soil uns willkommen seyn : allein bis dahin bitte ich Sie, erlauben Sie ims andern,
die Wielandsche Arbeit nicht schlecht zu nennen.

The estimate of Wieland's Shakespeare in Jordens' Lexikon deutscher
Dichter und Prosaisten (Leipzig, 1810, vol. v, p. 404) — the standard
work of reference of that time — may be regarded as expressing the
sober and final judgment of the eighteenth century:

Durch diese Uebersetzung (ein schweres Unternehmen, da die Balm zu brechen
war) hat sich Wieland um den theatralischen Geschmack in Deutschland grosse
Verdienste erworben. Seine Verdeutschung und Lessings Anpreisungen zogen die
Aufmerksamkeit auf den Englischen Dichter; man las, man studirte, und bekam
allmahlig andere und bessere Begrifie vou Menschendarstellung in theatralischen
und andern Werken.

Wieland's translation and the interest and criticism which it en-
gendered brought about two significant results : first, the introduction
of Shakespeare upon the German stage and secondly, a demonstration

1 Cf. Stadler, Q.-F. cvii, pp. 75—94.



F. W. MEISNEST 29

of the fact that a translation of Shakespeare was not only possible but
desirable.

After the first successful performance of the Tempest on the stage at
Biberach (1761) in Wieland's version this small Swabian town became
the centre of a Shakespearian cult. The Tempest was the greatest
favourite on this stage and the most frequently repeated. Macbeth
(1771-2), Hamlet (1773-4), including the gravediggers' scene which
even Garrick had expunged, Romeo and Juliet (1774-5) were each
performed four times, and Othello (1774), As You Like It (1775), and
The Tivo Gentlemen of Verona (1782) each three times in the years
indicated — and all in Wieland's version. At least two members of the
Biberach dramatic society of which Wieland was director (1761-9),
Karl Fr. Abt and his wife, became leading members of various theatrical
companies and carried the news of the Shakespeare performances at
Biberach to the principal cities of northern and central Germany.
With Madame Schroder they established the first German theatrical
company at The Hague (1774) and in 1780 the first at Bremen, of
which Abt was the director. Of Frau Abt in the role of Hamlet at
Gotha (May 10, 1779) it is said: 'Madame Abt hat die Rolle des
Hamlet gottlich gespielt^'

In 1773 Hamlet was performed at Vienna in Heufeld's version
based on Wieland's translation, and three years later after Friedrich
Ludwig Schroder had seen Hamlet on the stage at Prague, he hastened
home and within a few days completed his version of the play, which
was given Sept. 20, 1776, in the Hamburg theatre.

In making a complete and faithful translation of the great master-
pieces his chief aim and purpose, Wieland was in advance of most of
the best scholars and critics of his time, such as Weisse, Nicolai, Herder
and Gerstenberg, who either opposed all translations of Shakespeare, or
at most favoured the translation of selected passages with synopses of
the remainder. His high ideal was best realised in Midsummer Night's
Dream, where the metre, style and spirit of the original were so
successfully reproduced that Eschenburg accepted the entire translation
without averaging more than two or three changes, mostly formal, to
a page. The rabble-scenes and the Pyramus and Thisbe play were
exceptionally well done. Schlegel adopted the former with few changes
and the latter without any. But often Wieland failed to accomplish
his high aims, as is most evident in the Tempest and Romeo and Jidiet

^ Ofterdinger, Geschichte des Theaters in Biberach, Wilrttembergische Vierteljahreshefte,
VI (1883), pp. 113-126.



30 Wieland's Translation of Shakespea7''e

Shakespeare's subtle phraseology, his puns and quibbles often caused
Wieland to despair. His much condemned ' footnotes ' indicate that
his attitude towards Shakespeare underwent temporary changes during
the progress of the work, yet his general conception remained firm.
Contemporary critics misjudged and greatly undervalued his work.
He possessed a great part of the genius of a translator, but he lacked
the patience and perseverance necessary for such a gigantic piece of
work.

F. W. Meisnest.

Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.



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Online LibraryFrederick William MeisnestWieland's translation of Shakespeare → online text (page 4 of 4)