Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The boy, Goethe, was a precocious youngster. At the early age of eight
he had already acquired some knowledge of Greek, Latin, French and
Italian. He had likewise acquired from his mother the knack of story
telling; and from a toy puppet show in his nursery his first interest
in the stage.
Goethe's early education was somewhat irregular and informal, and
already that apparent feeling of superiority that stayed marked him by
him throughout his life. When he was about 16 he was sent to Leipzig,
ostensibly to study law. He apparently studied more life than law and
put in his time expressing his reactions through some form of writing.
On at least two occasions, this form was dramatic.
Finally, in 1770 Goethe went to Strassburg, this time really intent on
passing his preliminary examinations in law, and with the somewhat
more frivolous ambition of learning to dance. Along with his study of
law, he studied art, music, anatomy and chemistry. A strong friendship
with the writer, Herder, was likewise no part of Goethe's experience
at this time, a contact which was of considerable importance in these
In 1771 Goethe returned to Frankfurt, nominally to practice law, but
he was soon deep in work on what was to be his first dramatic success,
Götz von Berlichingen. While this was actually the story of a robber
baron of the 16th century it really represented Goethe's youthful
protest against the established order and his demand for intellectual
freedom. Its success made its hitherto unknown author the literary
leader of Germany.
Goethe's invitation in 1775 to the court of Duke Karl August at Weimar
was a turning point in the literary life of Germany. He became manager
of the Court Theater, and interested himself in various other
activities, so that for a period of some ten years not much actual
writing was done.
The writing of Faust, however, that best known of Goethe's works,
extended over practically the whole of Goethe's literary life, a
period of 57 years. It was finally finished when Goethe was 81. Faust
is in reality a dramatic poem rather than a piece for the stage. While
based on the same legend as Marlowe's Dr. Faustus, it far transcends
both its legendary source and the English play. The latter is little
more than a Morality illustrating the punishment of sin; Goethe's work
is a drama of redemption.
Others of Goethe's works, which have stood the test of time, include:
Clavigo, Egmont, Stella, Iphigenia in Tauris and Torquato Tasso.
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