Hamlet in Germany
Roger Paulin
• Introduction
“Germany is Hamlet.” These words uttered by Ferdinand Freiligrath in 1844 indicate a degree of identification with Shakespeare’s hero that few other cultures would dare to emulate. They suggest that there is something in the German make-up or psyche that renders the figure of Hamlet especially appropriate as a national symbol. They could be taken to mean that the Germans are peculiarly suited to comment on this Shakespearean figure or that the Prince, who is so given to thinking, is particularly at home in the culture of “poets and thinkers.” There is a considerable degree of truth in this. But Freiligrath’s phrase, as written, had a political application and spoke of Germany in terms of the Prince’s inaction and introspection. Thus H. H. Furness in The New Variorum Edition (NV),1877, felt the need to dedicate his Hamlet volumes to the “Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft” in Weimar with the words, “representative of a people whose recent history has proved once for all that Germany is not Hamlet.” The Bismarckian German empire of 1871 seemed for him to bear witness to a nation and a culture that had shaken off Hamlet’s doubts and hesitations. Alas, Furness’s confidence proved to be unfounded: we are still living with the consequences and effects of German self-doubt.
The documentation in Furness’s NV is, however, evidence of the Germans’ wider preoccupation with Shakespeare, not merely with Hamlet and certainly not only with political matters. It is part of a debate, going back to the eighteenth century, that discusses Shakespeare seriously as a German classic and as a witness to deep structures within German culture. Hamlet the character and Hamlet the play need therefore to be referred to this wider discussion of Shakespeare’s reception in Germany. They come to symbolize particular aspirations within that broader context and contribute notably to a definition of German national literature. Indeed the first great German Shakespearean ideologue, Friedrich Gundolf (1911, 316, 318), went as far as to elevate Hamlet to the status of a national myth, like the Bible or Homer a “symptom and element of German Bildung.”
• The literature on the subject
Not surprisingly, a huge literature on Hamlet in Germany has been generated. Furness needed nearly ten pages of bibliography to document Hamlet reception up to 1877, an account that did not mention the early draft of Wilhelm Meister, Hegel, Schopenhauer or Nietzsche and which could not take in some Romantic writing, as yet unpublished. Loening (1893) and Laehr (1898) added further material, mainly on the representation of madness in the play. Jones (1949) has more material on these psychological aspects. Richard M. Meyer (1905) and Muschg (1965) deal with the theme of “Germany is Hamlet.” Lüthi (1951) covers the nineteenth century in considerable detail. Loquai (1993) is essential for the late nineteenth century and for the twentieth. Blinn (1993) has nearly twelve pages of material, but, unlike Furness, he does not list editions or translations. Paulin (2003) discusses German Hamlet reception in its general context up to 1914. Blinn and Schmidt (2003) have eighteen pages on German translations. Two older studies dealing with Hamlet on the German stage, Weilen (1908) and Widmann (1931), contain much useful material but lack bibliographies. The standard account of Shakespeare in the German theater, Stahl (1947), also has no bibliography, but two recent English-language accounts, Williams (1990) and Hortmann (1998) make up in part for this deficiency.
• First mentions
Inevitably, we must begin with Der bestrafte Brudermord (Fratricide Punished), a parallel text first published in its entirety in 1781 and well known to scholars since Cohn’s edition of 1865 (236-303) and Furness’s translation in the NV (1877). Some words of caution are needed here. Nineteenth-century Shakespeare scholarship tended to make more of the English strolling players in Germany than we do today. We should pause to reflect that it was Ludwig Tieck who first drew serious attention to a corpus of old German acting texts of English provenance from the seventeenth century. He was notorious for his extravagant attributions of all kinds of doubtful material to Shakespeare. He also helped to formulate nineteenth-century notions of a Germanic brotherhood that involved Shakespeare and his texts in a close cultural embrace. Thus even Gundolf (1911, 36-41) could speak of Der bestrafte Brudermord as a “German Hamlet” that had preserved some rudimentary elements of the English original and that somehow formed an integral part of an account of Shakespeare and German Geist.
Like the others plays which Cohn first made known a century and a half ago, Der bestrafte Brudermord informs us of the transfer of an original text of Shakespeare’s Hamlet into a foreign medium and of its adaptation for stage conditions in seventeenth-century Germany. Its relatively late date (it is a text of 1710) does not make it a secure indicator of a much earlier textual state: it is generally thought to be from around 1660 to 1680. Yet the name “Corambus” for Polonius suggests that it is either based on Q1 or indeed on the text upon which Q1 rests. It shares with other contemporary adaptations from Shakespeare a skeletal resemblance to the original plot (in this case the Ghost scene, Hamlet’s madness, the play within the play, the closet scene and the murder of Polonius, the English interval, the duel), with crude accretions or concessions to popular theatrical taste. The names of Hamlet, Horatio and Ophelia have been retained. The name “Carl” for the Actor refers to Carl Andreas Paul, the leader of a troupe known to have performed plays in Holstein and Mecklenburg in the late seventeenth century (Widmann 1931, 21-2).
Redefinitions of taste in the first half of the eighteenth century in Germany, especially the domination of the French style, meant that such stage adaptations fell into disfavor among critics. But in fact unattributed versions (of all kinds) still survived into the early years of the first important period of Shakespeare’s reception in Germany (1682-1760). Most have but a tenuous link with the original, like the opera Amleto performed in Vienna in 1742 (Widmann 1931, 22-4), based on an Italian reworking of Saxo Grammaticus. There are, however, no secure grounds for assuming that there was a “Shakespearean style” that survived in the popular performing theater and re-emerged in the 1770s when Hamlet and other plays by Shakespeare were actually staged in the German lands.
Of greater importance is the French connection. Some more words of caution are needed here. Older studies of Shakespeare’s reception in Germany stressed that it was the shaking off of French classicism (Voltaire especially) that led to Shakespeare’s eventual triumphant establishment. The reality is, however, different. French sources were crucial in the dissemination of the basic important facts of Shakespeare’s life and works. A few examples may suffice. Justus van Effen’s Dissertation sur la Poësie Angloise (1717), with its account of Hamlet, is excerpted and discussed in a German periodical in the very same year that it appears in France (Brown 1965, 16). The French Spectateur, with its translation of the speech “Look, my lord, it comes!” (1714) is the basis for a German Spectateur in 1719, which, however, leaves this passage in the “original” French (1719, 219-20)!
It is the reaction against this imperfect version from the French that prompts Luise Gottsched to produce her Der Zuschauer (1739), based on Addison’s original, where these few verses are the basis of the very first translation of a Shakespeare text into German (details in Paulin 2003, 43-9). She does a basically competent version, even if she fails to understand the conditional mode of “Be thou” etc. Her rendition of “questionable” [628] as “fragwürdig” is, however, correct: no other translator before Schlegel (1798) gets it right. As late as 1750, Lessing’s friend Christlob Mylius was translating Voltaire’s Lettres philosophiques and recasting “To be, or not to be,” quoted there, into German alexandrines (1750, 99-100)
When it came to producing a translation of the complete text of a Shakespeare play, the French experience was vital. La Place was able to draw on an existing French prose translation (Brumoy: Le Théâtre des Grecs [1719]) as an analogy and to some extent a model, when he produced his Le Théâtre anglois. in 1746-49. Wieland, in his turn, followed La Place’s practice and translated twenty-two plays in prose (1762-66), including Hamlet (1766). For both La Place and Wieland it involved accommodating the profound alienness of a foreign-language text to the differing linguistic capacities and the proprieties of their own literary culture.
• Wieland’s translation (1766)
The real critical reception of Hamlet in Germany, as well as its début on the German stage, dates from this translation. True, there were already three versions of “To be, or not to be” before 1766: Mylius’s, Johann Arnold Ebert’s of 1751, and Moses Mendelssohn’s of 1758. Mendelssohn’s and Ebert’s comments foreshadow to some extent the later discussion of Hamlet’s character. Mendelssohn (1758, 243-4) sees the soliloquy in terms of a noble character weighing the principles for and against the path of virtue—and making the morally correct decision. Ebert’s version (1760, 10; 1763, 75) takes the form of two glosses to his translation of Young’s Night Thoughts and is part of a wider discourse directed against melancholy and suicide.
Wieland followed Warburton’s text (1747) and thus incorporated its idiosyncrasies. But he added factors of his own. Except for the songs, he used prose. Despite having some experience with blank verse, he had little other choice. Throughout much of the eighteenth century, the general medium for translations of verse originals (such as Ebert’s Night Thoughts) was prose. Blank verse was regarded as difficult and almost intractable: it was to be another twenty years before it was generally accepted in Germany. Then there was the problem of the content. Compared with some eighteenth-century adaptors, Wieland altered very little. Some, but not all, of the bawdy was too much for him; he cut part of the grave scene. To his credit, he did not change the ending. His main problem was finding German equivalents for Shakespeare’s images, and often he had recourse to neologisms or circumlocutions (e.g. the literal “Stör-Rogen für den Pöbel” for “caviare to the general”). Not surprisingly, he made mistakes (e.g. “ehrwürdig,” which in German means “venerable,” for “questionable” [628]).
In 1773, Wieland set out his general views of Shakespeare’s greatness and artistry in the article Der Geist Shakespears [The Spirit of Shakespeare]. In it, he included excerpts from Hamlet as illustrations of the variety of Shakespeare’s style, the coexistence of different registers and modes (Polonius’s instructions to Laertes and to Ophelia, or the Ghost’s first speech to Hamlet, for instance) (1993, 199-205).
• The first stage versions
Wieland’s relative fidelity to the text did not, however, remain the pattern for the versions that accompanied Hamlet’s introduction to the German stage. For all that, they never went as far as Ducis in France. “German” must be used in the widest sense, for the first adaptation, by Franz Heufeld (1773), was used for performance in Vienna, later in Prague and elsewhere in the imperial lands. Heufeld used Wieland’s text as a basis, but transferred scenes from Act 1 to Act 2, even placing “To be, or not to be” and the scenes with Ophelia in Act 4. He compressed Acts 4 and 5 of the original so as to concentrate the action on the domestic tragedy (a feature of adaptations of Richard III and Romeo and Juliet in the 1760s). Hamlet, following contemporary taste, remained alive at the end (Widmann 1931, 47-57).
This is the general pattern for the adaptation that made history on the German stage, the first performance of Hamlet in Hamburg on 20 September, 1776, under the direction of Friedrich Ludwig Schröder. This event is generally regarded as the beginning of Shakespeare’s conquest of the German stage (Williams 1990, 69-81). The degree of respect for Shakespeare’s text is roughly equivalent to Garrick’s. As an actor, producer, and author, Schröder made running alterations to his performing text. In his first published version (Hamburg, 1777), there are six acts. Later (1778) there are only five, enabled by the suppression of the graveyard scenes. In both versions, the play has a happy end.
The 1778 version incorporates direct borrowings from the new and vastly superior prose translation by Johann Joachim Eschenburg (1777). Eschenburg’s original task was to revise and correct Wieland and to translate the plays not contained in that translation. He went far beyond his original brief and restored the text according to Johnson and Steevens, reinstated sections left out by Wieland, and supplied a critical apparatus based on current English Shakespeare scholarship. Eschenburg has a plainness, but a directness, that makes his version relatively easy to speak by actors, unlike Schlegel’s later, and highly literary, translation.
Schröder’s productions had an electrifying effect on their audiences. They pushed two actors into prominence: Schröder himself, but initially Johann Franz Hieronymus Brockmann, who first played Hamlet. Comparisons were made between Garrick and Brockmann, a high compliment indeed, given that Georg Christoph Lichtenberg had recently (1776) published letters from London praising the great English actor as Hamlet (1967-92, 3:326-67). There is a whole study of Hamlet based on Brockmann’s interpretation (Schink 1778), stressing Hamlet’s melancholy and misanthropy. These two great actors become identified with Hamlet productions and interpretations over more than a decade. The character Serlo in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister has features of Schröder, and the scene with Hamlet and the Ghost in the same novel is based loosely on accounts of Brockmann.
• Goethe’s Hamlet novel Wilhelm Meister
Much of the enthusiasm generated by performances of Shakespeare on the German stage, not least of Hamlet, goes into Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister. The position is, however, more complex. In 1774, Friedrich von Blanckenburg, in a treatise on the novel, had called for the emotional range of Shakespeare’s plays to be made available for the purposes of fiction (1965, 100-68). Goethe is, to a degree, reacting to that insight, but with the difference that his novel does not depict a Hamlet-like hero, but one obsessed for a time with the figure of the Prince and desperate to direct a production of Hamlet based on his own reading of the play. True, there are occasional part-identifications, but generally Goethe is careful to preserve an ironical authorial distance from his creation, gently hinting to the reader that we are dealing with “indirections.”
Why Hamlet? Serlo, the stage director in the novel, asks the same question. Wilhelm is so preoccupied with Hamlet that this play comes for him to encapsulate Shakespeare to the exclusion of all else. Schröder and Brockmann were also famous for their roles as Macbeth and Lear, and these two tragedies, while never quite as popular as Hamlet, nevertheless stand in very high esteem in Germany at this time, and Wilhelm (or his creator) is choosing to overlook that fact. The situation is further complicated by Goethe’s own later autobiographical account in Dichtung und Wahrheit (Poetry and Truth) (1811-14). According to that, he and his contemporaries in their Sturm und Drang days seemed to have fallen victim to a “Hamlet fever.” Goethe is, however, merely using Hamlet (and English literature in general) as a device for concealing the true nature of his emotional life in the early 1770s.
There is, of course, no single novel called Wilhelm Meister: there are two. The first incomplete draft, Wilhelm Meisters theatralische Sendung (Wilhelm Meister’s Theatrical Mission) was most likely started in 1777 and continued until the mid-1780s. It remained unpublished until 1911 and thus plays no part in the discussion of Hamlet during the nineteenth century. The final version, Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre [Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship] was published in 1795-6. The relationship between the two versions is complex, except for the Hamlet sections. There, Goethe simply borrowed the discussion of Hamlet from the earlier draft and inserted it almost without change into a different context in the finished novel. Crucially, however, he brought Wilhelm’s “Hamlet fever” to a climax with a performance of the play, after which Hamlet ceases to play any further part in the novel.
The Theatralical Mission is significant for being the first sustained attempt by a German author to analyze a Shakespeare play from various different angles. The analysis takes the form of pauses for reflexion amidst raffish, Hogarthian adventures involving a troupe of actors whom Wilhelm has joined. Wilhelm finds it hard to distinguish between illusion and reality, between the Hamlet of his imagination and the character of the theater. His reading is also selective: he is really only interested in the first three acts, and most particularly in the person of Hamlet himself. He sees Hamlet caught up in the “huge books of fate unfolded” (1911, 160, a near-quotation from Herder’s Shakespeare essay of 1773), overtaken, disconcerted and offended by external events, not a victim of his state of mind. Hamlet is a model of princely virtues which are challenged by the sequence of fateful events to which he is subjected. This is not a brooding, lugubrious Hamlet; far from it. In terms of the wider reception of the play, it is close to Johnson’s reading (who also concentrates on the first three acts), of Hamlet “rather an instrument than an agent” (1968, 1011). It echoes, too, William Richardson’s “entirely regulated by the present passion or state of mind,” “exquisite sense of virtue” and “purity of moral sentiment” (1780, 92, 115). It postulates a “normal” Hamlet outside of the text. The key phrase is “The time is out of joint”[885], Hamlet’s inadequacy to the responsibilities the ghost placed upon him within the span of the play.
Goethe’s reading of the play in the 1770s or 1780s differed from that of his German contemporaries. By the same token, his interpretation of 1795-96 was not tied to the Shakespearean discussions of that decade. The young Romantics were not primarily interested in Hamlet and initially sought other paradigms. The only major non-Romantic discussion, by Garve, was concerned above all with the play’s demented characters. Goethe’s novel spoke of as yet unfulfilled aspirations for a German national theater, while its own creator was now director of the ducal theater in Weimar and knew something of the practical accommodations that that office entailed. He had directed a performance of Hamlet in 1795 using Schröder’s version, the sort of thing that Wilhelm set his face against.
Goethe actually excludes elements which interested his contemporaries and many commentators since then (Paulin 2003, 217-18). His Hamlet is not melancholy or “ratiocinative.” There are no affinities with Goethe’s most famous creation, Werther. He suppresses a possible parallel with Hamlet from the Theatralical Mission, the death of Wilhelm’s mother and her forthcoming remarriage. Rather, there is a concentration on fate and premonition (1898-1901, 21: 107-8) the awareness of playing a part in a wider 'theater' beyond the individual’s control. But Wilhelm goes beyond Johnson’s “rather an instrument than an agent” and postulates an identity with the blind fate of antiquity, where one generation is swept away and replaced by another. This insistence on a force that supervenes in human affairs and brings about successions as it wills, is a convenient device for exculpating Hamlet from some aspects of his behavior (there is next to no discussion of Ophelia). It enables Wilhelm to cut a swathe through the complexities of the text and to sanction notable omissions. The noble Hamlet whom he projects is thus a figure with whom he can identify as he seeks for self-fulfillment in role-playing.
The performance of Hamlet produces its own problems, both of a theoretical and a practical nature. Wilhelm reflects 1770s thinking on Shakespeare (notably Herder) in insisting on the play being performed without major cuts. It is the awareness of Shakespeare’s world as an organic and integral whole. Garrick’s or Schröder’s practice are anathema. But Wilhelm has recourse to a device which itself runs against notions of wholeness. He distinguishes between “great internal relationships” (1898-1901, 21: 158), the essential features of character necessary for the action, and the “external relationships of the characters” (159), the mesh of sub-plots that seem to counter the main action. He deems the expedition to Norway the main sub-plot, as part of a general heroic background of fleets, appropriate for a seafaring nation. Like Schröder, he dispenses with Fortinbras, but unlike him he makes Horatio Hamlet’s designated successor.
Then there is the actual performance. Wilhelm (who else?) plays Hamlet and underlines the Hamlet-centredness of his own interpretation. He prepares a translation based on Wieland, an anachronism in the 1790s. We do not learn how well Wilhelm copes with this task, except for one crucial excerpt. Nor do we know much about the performance, except for one critical moment. It is the Ghost’s appearance, “Angels and ministers of grace” [624]. Wilhelm is not told who will be playing the Ghost. Goethe is doubtless teasing his readers, who might know that (according to legend) Shakespeare himself and Schröder in reality had played this very role. The stranger who appears fills Wilhelm with such genuine terror that the audience is ecstatic with applause at his interpretation. Garrick or Brockmann, by contrast, would achieve the same effect through their sheer acting skills.
Goethe gives us Wilhelm’s version of the text, from “Be thou a spirit” to “O! answer me!” [625-30] (1898-1901, 22: 200). It is, not surprisingly, rather better than Wieland or Eschenburg, but it contains one serious error. Goethe has allowed Wilhelm to translate “questionable” [628] as “ehrwürdig” (“worthy,” “venerable”), following Wieland and Schröder. Surely Goethe knew better. There may be another irony here. Wilhelm cannot as yet understand why this mysterious figure has appeared. Had he known who he was (he is an emissary from the world outside the theater), he might have found him “worthy of question,” not merely “worthy.” For this person has come to tell him that it is time to stop play-acting and to reflect on the world of moral responsibilities that will form the substance of the rest of the novel. Hamlet is thus reduced to an episode, admittedly a significant one, in Wilhelm’s development, an “indirection” as it turns out. The climax of the world of Hamlet is thus the turning-point of the novel.
• Romantic readings of Hamlet
The later symbiotic association of Hamlet with the German nation can be traced in part to Wilhelm Meister. Goethe had, of course, not turned his attention to the things that were to occupy the Romantics and their contemporaries: Hamlet’s “madness,” or questions of character or the supernatural. There was no question of Hamlet being a “man for our times.” Not that there is anything specifically 'Romantic' about some of the pronouncements by members of the German movement. There seems, on the surface, little to distinguish the notes made by Ludwig Tieck as a student in 1792 from the popular philosopher of the late Enlightenment, Christian Garve. His Ueber die Rollen der Wahnwitzigen in Shakespears Schauspielen und über den Charakter Hamlets ins besondere (On the Role of the Mad in Shakespeare’s Plays and on Hamlet’s Characters in Particular) (1796) talks of “purpose,” “intention” or “construction” (1801, 383, 385, 444) as a critical position from which to observe the various mental aberrations which Hamlet displays. What may seem to be flying off at tangents, encouraging states between reason and unreason, is actually an “imaginative philosophy” (389), a conscious device (381) for holding together the various strands of the action. The aim is not to present us with divagations of the mind, but with “moral and intellectual manifestations” (388) in their undiluted state. The intensity with which these states of mind are presented means that they may easily overbalance into the irrational.
This is interpreting Shakespeare’s character according to the categories of moral philosophy and at no stage abandoning the lifeline to reason. Tieck never goes that far. He has, however, not been nurtured on Wilhelm Meister, but on the dark and melancholic strand of eighteenth-century literature (esp. Werther) He has read nearly all the English critics and knows about the various “phrenzies” and mental disorders that they have identified in Hamlet. He is familiar with discussions of “ruling passion.” Thus Tieck’s notes (never published in his lifetime) concentrate on “dramatic economy” and “wholeness of composition” (1920, 61, 66) and see the play as constructed round one deeply delineated character (55). All of the play’s situations and characters are so ordered as to make Hamlet aware of his own unhappiness; as he suffers, so all around him act in order to make him suffer.
Tieck does not find these principles well upheld in the actual structure of the play, with its “superfluous” scenes and characters who are always interrupting the action (Polonius, Laertes, Ophelia). This state of affairs he explains by the play’s early dating (following Malone) and the resultant overlap of three notionally different versions. It also falls into the same trap as Romeo and Juliet or Love’s Labour’s Lost, in that it is over-given to mannerisms and tropes.
This magisterial dismissal is not sustained in Tieck’s scene-by-scene discussion of the play. Ophelia, who offends against the 'economy' of the play, actually moves us more than Hamlet, who holds it together structurally. Tiny details which irritate in terms of the overall plan prove to be indicators of Shakespeare’s genius (“Enter one with a recorder” [2215], for instance, as older editions have it). Above all, Tieck is interested in aspects of Hamlet’s character. Not only is he a prey to chronic melancholy and unhappiness: he is in addition given to religious enthusiasm (“schwärmerisch,” 61). Thus his religious sense makes him obey the Ghost implicitly. It is part of Shakespeare’s general deployment of the supernatural, never gratuitously and always recording the reactions of those who are confronted with apparitions. Enthusiasm can, however, also be related to eighteenth-century debates on madness. Tieck distinguishes between German “Wahnsinn” (madness) and “Verrücktheit” (a crazed state of mind). There is no question of Hamlet having the obsessive idée fixe of Lear. Instead, he displays a distracted state of mind, with ideas moving randomly in his head. Lear, by contrast, moves through an increasing scale of passions. Hamlet, playing a role that comes naturally to him, is thus able to utter disjunct and uncomfortable statements that a raving madman could in reality not formulate.
August Wilhelm and Friedrich Schlegel made public statements on Hamlet that have a significance beyond their actual content. August Wilhelm’s essay Etwas über William Shakespeare bei Gelegenheit Wilhelm Meisters (Some Remarks on William Shakespeare Occasioned by Wilhelm Meister) of 1796 has little as such to say about Hamlet except to claim that the discussion of the play in Goethe’s novel is not an episode (1846-47, 7: 24). That is in effect proposing that the novel’s significance rests as much in its rediscovery of Shakespeare as in anything else. For this essay states that Shakespeare is now “risen and walking among us” (24-5) and further, that he is “quite ours” (38), proprietary claims that are at the basis of German Shakespeare reception then and since. Similarly, Schlegel makes claims for criticism that place it on a higher level than visual reception through the theater, as a creative and imaginative process. The later Tieck, by contrast, is able to reconcile both of these aspects, theater and criticism.
Friedrich Schlegel’s comments on Hamlet, in Über das Studium der griechischen Poesie (On the Study of Greek Poetry) (1795-7) are part of a philosophical and aesthetic critique of modern poetry in general. Ancient Greek poetry displays “objectivity,” modern poetry “interest.” The balance and harmony once found in the ancient world are lost and cannot be recaptured. Modern poetry is “characteristic,” disharmonious, unresolved. Hamlet is a prime example. It displays a maximum of despair, a “colossal dissonance” (1979, 248), disparate, mannered, an indication of the crisis of modern culture and of its need to return to objectivity and disinterestedness. Only three years later, in his periodical Athenaeum (1800) (1967, 391), Schlegel was able more readily to affirm modern poetry and see its place in an historical process. Hamlet loses its representative status and becomes the expression of a transition within Shakespeare’s oeuvre, standing between the early “mannerist” works and the mature tragedies, King Lear and Macbeth. A little later, Tieck, especially given to periodizations in Shakespeare’s life and works, sees Hamlet as belonging to a third and final period, with its consummate understanding of the human character (1920, 404-5, 440).
Hamlet in August Wilhelm Schlegel’s translation and lectures
Schlegel’s translation of Hamlet (1798) and his discussion of the play in his Vienna Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature (first 1809) are related through the principles that underlie both. Both are motivated by a sense of Shakespeare’s organic form, the balance and harmony of the parts in relation to the whole, the interworking of styles, the sense of conscious artistic purpose (Gebhard, 1970). As a translator, Schlegel sees himself as coming at a time when the German language and its poetic powers of expression are now adequate to the ultimate challenge of Shakespeare in his original form. Unlike his great rival, Johann Heinrich Voss, Schlegel did not believe in forcing the language; rather, he proceeded from the maxim, “what the language is capable of” (1846-7, 7: 62). That would mean rendering Shakespeare’s verse, where possible, line for line, even allowing for irregularities. It meant producing a text that was artistic, that gave satisfaction to the appreciative and critical reader rather than to the listening audience. We have, incidentally, to distinguish Schlegel’s version of 1798 from the so-called “Schlegel-Tieck” (1825-33 and much reprinted), the misnomer of a revision which Ludwig Tieck supervised and which incorporated features of which Schlegel himself did not approve. It is to Schlegel’s text to which we must always return.
Of course, Schlegel had to operate within the different, and more regular, stress system of German. The most famous line in the play, “To be, or not to be” fails in his version (and in most others) because “Seyn oder Nichtseyn, das ist hier die Frage” smoothes Shakespeare’s irregular line (and has the intractable problem of a one-syllable German infinitive). The hard blows of “O, that this too too solid flesh would melt” are regularized in “O schmölze doch dieß allzu feste Fleisch.” These are symptomatic of a tendency to normalize, to abbreviate, to poeticize. Sometimes there is a literalness that does not reflect the range of the original’s meaning: “conscience” is rendered throughout with “Gewissen,” although the English word encompasses much more than its German equivalent. By contrast, the word group “remember” or “remembrance” is rendered with the full range of German equivalents and even reinforces the original. When unable to contain the “bloat king” [2558] in one line, Schlegel compensates with an extra verse, to produce the three-syllable German “aufgedunsen” (“bloated”) and compound the sense of disgust that the original contains.
The translation gains from close study of its sensitive approximations to Shakespeare. It is not a good theater text, but no one in over two hundred years has managed to produce a substantially better one. It remains the benchmark against which all subsequent translations are measured (Voss, Bodenstedt, Gundolf, Flatter, Fried, to name some) (Hofmann 1980, 67-8). Goethe used it for his production in Weimar in 1809 (Huesman 1968, 66-92), but he cut and straightened Schlegel’s text considerably and insisted on a dynamic, active Prince, played by the great actor, Pius Alexander Wolff. From the early nineteenth century on, Hamlet becomes one of the great German stage roles, like Faust or Don Carlos. It is associated with nineteenth-century actors like Karl and Emil Devrient, Bohumil Dawison, Ludwig Dessoir or Josef Kainz, in the twentieth century with Gustav Gründgens or Will Quadflieg.
Schlegel’s brief, but influential, interpretation of Hamlet in his 29th Lecture of 1809 centers on thought, ratiocination (“Nachsinnen”) (1846-7, 6: 247), on that which ultimately cannot be fathomed or solved. True, there is often a lot happening on stage, but the play is less theatrical than many of Shakespeare’s because of the hesitations and hiatuses of the main action. This is in keeping with the play’s underlying sense: the attempt to ponder all the implications and consequences of one’s actions leads to a lack of resolution. Schlegel parts company with Goethe in the matter of Hamlet’s character. With all his undoubted qualities, Hamlet is also skeptical, hypocritical, unfeeling, reveling in others’ discomfiture, indeed his agnosticism spreads to the whole play. We are left with unresolved doubts, velleities, moral uncertainties.
• Reactions to Goethe and Schlegel
In 1904, A.C. Bradley expressed the need to counter what he saw as the two most influential readings of Hamlet, Goethe’s “sentimental view” and Schlegel’s (and Coleridge’s) “fatally untrue” irresolution theory (1960, 101, 104, 116). This reaction testifies to the durability of these theories, available in English respectively in Carlyle’s and Black’s translations. While it would be an exaggeration to say that German interpretations in the nineteenth century followed similar lines, much of the discussion of Hamlet does nevertheless reflect an engagement with the arguments set out by Goethe and Schlegel, often repetitiously and captiously (as set out in Fischer’s magisterial dismissal of most of them in 1896).
There were also strident voices of dissent. The young dramatist, Christian Dietrich Grabbe, for instance, feeling heavily the presence of Shakespeare in his own dramatic writing, in 1827 declared Hamlet a structural failure (1960-73, 4: 45-46). Franz Grillparzer, nineteenth-century Austria’s most prominent playwright, said substantially the same, having the grace to admit that only Shakespeare could get away with these “weaknesses” (1960-3, 3: 649). Similary Gustav Rümelin in 1865, who added some pertinent comments about the “ambiguities” of all the characters (1874, 91).
Some commentators chronologically closer to Schlegel evinced a greater degree of tragic satisfaction from the play. Both Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand Solger and Franz Horn, for instance, stress the element of higher necessity that destroys both the avenger and the avenged. Solger makes the substantive point that Shakespeare’s non-historical tragedies deal with “human fate in general” which, however, proceeds out of the specific details of circumstance and character. Extending Goethe, he reads the ending of the play in an almost Aeschylan fashion: the slate is wiped clean, and new fresh life begins (1826, 583-4, 588). Horn, a Christian apologist who sees much moral virtue in Hamlet, stresses the appropriateness of Fortinbras, a man of few words but decisive actions, to preside over the end of the old order and the onset of the new (1823-1831, 2: 90).
Ludwig Tieck, by now the “Dramaturg” at the Dresden theater, goes further and offers a reading of the whole play (1826) that seeks to engage reader, actor, and beholder, Bemerkungen über einige Charaktere im Hamlet [Remarks on Some Characters in Hamlet]. It sees itself as presenting corrective positions to recent interpretations, concentrating not just on the central character but on the interreaction of all parts. Above all, he warns against predictable positions and seeks deliberately to challenge comfortable notions. It is part of his awareness, stated in his essay, that criticism has the function of tapping the creative force of poetry and must constantly be giving birth to new positions, must be truly hermeneutic (1848-52, 3: 247). Thus, in the same way that Shakespeare takes us to the very limits of the possible, so the critic, too, must not shy away from the seemingly aberrant.
Tieck sets out to deconstruct a Hamlet-centered interpretation of the play. The dominant character is King Claudius, strong and forceful and in command of most situations. He is a mover and doer. We understand some of Hamlet’s hesitations and conspirings when we see what he is up against. Polonius is part of this complex, an experienced courtier and statesman who has ambitions for his daughter and for the heir to the throne. Indeed, Polonius has already acquiesced in the seduction of his daughter by Hamlet. To the dismay of his sensitive readers (like Franz Horn), Tieck takes Ophelia’s St Valentine song to apply to her.
Tieck devotes several pages (274-90) to the famous soliloquy (3. 1). He does this, not to stress its centrality, but to show how it fits into the necessary relationship of parts to the whole (275). It cannot be about suicide (which had been Schlegel’s view). There is the evidence of other plays for a start, and the very different actions of Brutus, Juliet, or Othello. It cannot be separated from the monologue which almost precedes it (2. 2), which talks of revenge. It takes up the points made there, singly and as a whole. (Tieck adduces one or two alternative readings from F1 to bolster his argument.) Surely suicide cannot be one of those “enterprises of great pith and moment". Modern readers have been too much influenced by Werther and its imitations. There is nothing here of the sickness unto death expressed by such literature. Rather, Hamlet speaks of afflictions caused by others.
The soliloquy is symptomatic of Hamlet’s inner contradictions, his “folly and wisdom, magnanimity and pettiness” (291), and here Tieck follows Schlegel. Because the hero’s character is so many-sided, readers and theater-goers have easily been able to identify with at least one aspect of it and have therefore believed that they understood Shakespeare’s own mind. This may also help to account for the play’s exaggerated popularity.
Ludwig Börne in 1828 follows Tieck’s reading in many details ( for instance, his views on Claudius, Polonius, and Ophelia). But Hamlet remains an exception in Shakespeare’s oeuvre (1964-68, 1: 483). There is no purchase, there is nothing that relates to the real experience of life, no wisdom based on a knowledge of reality. All is darkness and death. The Prince, its seems, has been reading German philosophy avant la lettre, Fichte’s solipsism, Romantic introspection. These have undermined his sense of life itself. One might almost think the play had been written by a German.
• Germany is Hamlet
Nobody went quite as far as to suggest German authorship. Yet the strand of identification of Germany with Hamlet runs right through the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. The young Ludwig Tieck in 1800 had wished for a Fortinbras-like figure to usher in an age of great deeds and with it a golden age of poetry that might parallel Shakespeare’s (1848-52, 1: 155-6). In 1808, prompted not by Fortinbras but by Napoleon, Adam Müller saw a parallel with Hamlet. Unlike Wilhelm Meister, who saw one generation merely succeeding the next, Müller concentrates on the “new generation which arises out of the corruption” (1808, 78-9). It is a conservative hope, anticipating the political restoration and reaction that the chancellor Metternich was to initiate in the German lands in 1815.
The most famous utterance comes from quite a different political quarter: Ferdinand Freiligrath’s poem Hamlet (1844) (1909, 2: 71-73). A liberal patriot (and also a Shakespeare translator), Freiligrath was caught up in the repression of Young Germans like himself by the Metternich system. It was to lead to his exile until 1868. Furness’s reference to this poem in his dedication to NV, suggesting that Bismarckian Germany had overcome the sloth and irresolution that these verses express, gives perhaps too little credit to Freiligrath’s political principles. Furness’s praise was certainly what the Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft of the day, close to the political and cultural establishment of its age, would have liked to hear.
Of course the poem presupposes other things that go beyond politics. Its text quotes Schlegel’s and Börne’s formulations. Its tenor is not far from that of another political exile, Heinrich Heine, whose Shakespeares Mädchen und Frauen [Shakespeare’s Maidens and Women] had appeared in 1838. Heine had sought to emulate Anna Jameson’s portraits of Shakespeare’s women characters, but with a difference. Thus while the section on Ophelia expresses the usual pity and regret, it is really concerned with Hamlet, “whom we know like our own faces that we see in the mirror” (1993, 105) without realizing how close the identity is. Freiligrath’s identity is, however, with his country, which he sees as beleaguered under Metternich’s tyranny, defenseless, disunited, caught between the powers. It is not a vision of a liberal Germany: rather it expresses the fear that a scattered group of states with no center might fall prey to its neighbors.
Germany’s Hamlet-like torpor is the object of a more passionate outburst in 1849 from the leading Shakespeare scholar, Georg Gottfried Gervinus. It forms the envoi to his section on the play (1849-50, 3: 281-90). Gervinus was writing as a failed liberal parliamentarian after the collapse of the 1848 revolution and the end of hopes for a united Germany. Hamlet is symptomatic of an introspection that has undermined the national fiber. The Germans have retreated into ideas, not into deeds. They did nothing for Poland in 1830; when they did act, in 1848, like Hamlet, they showed their less attractive side.
The phrase “Germany is Hamlet” forms the accompaniment to almost every stage of German history since then (Loquai 1993, 8-13). Friedrich Theodor Vischer, another prominent Shakespeare scholar of whom one might have expected better, could not suppress the hope in 1860 that Hamlet/Germany might some day parry the rapier of Laertes/France (1922, 3: 107). The rabid chauvinist Julius Langbehn uses a similar analogy in 1890 (1893, 204-5). Liberal intellectuals like Meyer in 1905 (1905, 279) and Julius Bab (1914) looked forward to its demise. The revolutionary socialist Gustav Landauer, executed in 1919 by the Freikorps, left a study of Shakespeare that invoked Hamlet’s inner strife (“Zerrissenheit”) and the utopian wish for fulfillment in Fortinbras. Forced out by the Nazis in 1937, the philosopher Karl Jaspers returned to lecture in 1945 with the insight that Hamlet was a real searcher for the truth and that this must be the Germans’ aim in the recovery of their integrity (Loquai 1993, 10-13). A series of novels, from the 1930s to the 1970s, document the role of Hamlet as a “man for all seasons” (Loquai 1993), the figure against whom we may measure moral cowardice (between 1933-45), war guilt (after 1945), regenerative mourning (as in the 1960s and 1970s), and the conflict of sons against their complicit fathers. On the stage, one of the most famous Hamlet productions from the 1920s, Leopold Jessner’s, caused a furore by drawing an explicit parallel between Claudius and Gertrude and the recently departed German imperial family (Hortmann 1998, 58-9).
• Hegel and his followers
It is important to distinguish Hegel from Hegelians. Hegelians, by and large, apply Hegel’s historical scheme to Hamlet and see it in schematic and abstract terms. The first editor of Hegel’s lectures on world history, Eduard Gans (1834-6, 2: 269-298), reads the play in that fashion. The conflict in Hamlet is between “Verstand,” the powers of individual intelligence (Hamlet), and “Vernunft,” the reason that underlies historical events (the elements of family and dynasty). These are in a dialectical relationship. Hamlet’s real strength lies in his weakness, in his character; but higher forces require that he act. He does this purely by chance and thus forfeits any claim to moral rightness. He becomes, not a judge, but a mere executor of higher justice. Unlike Orestes, an old parallel taken up by both Gans, (1834-6, 2: 293-4) and Hegel (1835-8, 3: 566-7) he lacks true ethical motivation. Gans postulates a tragic satisfaction at the end: which character brings it about is immaterial. Fortinbras, not Hamlet, fulfils the demands of world history (290, 292).
Hegel does not see the play or its hero in these terms. He is not interested in Shakespeare in any mechanical way, but primarily as the main representative of dramatic art in the post-ancient world. Hegel cannot abandon the view that Greek antiquity was the highest age of aesthetic achievement, fulfilling the ideals of harmony and balance in polity, religious observance, and art. But the succeeding age, while intrinsically inferior and manifesting disintegration and lack of fulfillment, nevertheless can produce a Shakespeare, to whom Hegel, despite himself, accords the highest accolade. Shakespeare, of course, cannot display a world where the protagonists are at one with their religious system and accept its constraints (like Electra or Orestes). His is a world of characters, striving for sense and fulfillment, with only themselves and their inner resources to pit against those around them. They may display a one-sided, ruthless determination, like Macbeth, or they may have deeper qualities in themselves, like Hamlet. Essentially, Hegel’s reading (esp. 1835-38, 2: 204-5) concentrates on the nobility of Hamlet’s character, his inward sense that things are not as they should be, his restraint when faced with the need for action. Despite this, his failure to act delivers him up to random forces which bring about the fate of the whole as well as visiting on him individually the nemesis of his own introspection. Unlike Electra, caught between two intrinsically correct moral principles, Hamlet, the modern character, faces an unclear set of circumstances, chance and doubt. Modern tragedy, Hamlet tells us, lies not so much in deeds as in the greatness, breadth and depth displayed by character.
There is a tendency in post-Hegelian readings to superimpose a central thesis or principle upon the analysis of character. For Friedrich Theodor Rötscher (1844, 105), one of the more abstract commentators (despite also seeing Germany as Hamlet), “theorizing consciousness” prevents Hamlet from getting down to the practical realities of action. For Hermann Ulrici’s essentially Christian interpretation, Hamlet is held back by religious scruples, but divine justice nevertheless supervenes to impose a solution (1847, 445-6). Gervinus, whose favorite Shakespearean characters are Percy and Prince Henry, sees similar virtues in Hamlet. He represents all the high qualities of statecraft and honor, but not their fulfillment in deed (1849-50, 3: 281-2). Friedrich Theodor Vischer, on the other hand, seizes on the mixed quality of Hamlet’s character, the morbid and the healthy, the justified and the unjustified, in thought and deed. These are the inconsistencies of Shakespeare’s own robust age (1922, 6: 175-6). Hamlet has laudable intentions: he wishes to exact a revenge free of personal motives, that will stand the scrutiny of a higher justice. Instead, he is forced into compromise and mere retaliation. Even his less admirable nature never seems to coincide with the intended action of his thoughts. He cannot “perform” (Vischer uses the drastic analogy of wedding-night impotence, 90). For all that, the play satisfies the requirements we place on tragedy. Hamlet, unable to act naturally and according to plan, is forced to function in the grand unfolding of a higher judiciary. Victims, whether innocent (such as Ophelia) or guilty, merely stand in the way of this fulfillment and are swept away in its inexorable path. The play, like King Lear or Macbeth, therefore ends of the note of a new order.
Hamlet and human misery: Schopenhauer and Nietzsche
Arthur Schopenhauer, in The World as Will and Representation (1819, revised 1859), has no one consistent view of Hamlet. Rather, the play is symptomatic of the state of suffering that the Will (Schopenhauer’s term for the never-ceasing activity to which humankind is condemned) brings about. Shakespeare, like all great tragedians, enables us to have moments of recognition in which we discern our true state, but also intuit the possibility of existence above and beyond the Will (1988, 2: 506-7). In Hamlet, Shakespeare has brought this about. Unlike so many nineteenth-century commentators on Hamlet, Schopenhauer is equally interested in the supporting characters, Ophelia, Laertes, Horatio, who are involved in the horror and iniquity of the tragic process. For the form of tragedy that is closest to our experience is that in which human relationships, their misunderstandings and their fatal constellations, bring about the tragic outcome (Ophelia, Laertes). Horatio (“for thou hast been As one, in suff'ring all, that suffers nothing” [1916-17]), stands for the recognition of another’s sufferings and of their inevitability. That recognition has a soothing and quieting effect on the activity of the Will.
Schopenhauer, too, has his view on the famous soliloquy. Hamlet “devoutly wishes” the relinquishing of the Will and indeed of life itself. This is, however, impossible. Of our very essence, subject as we are to the activity of the Will, we are imperishable. At most, we lose our perceptive consciousness. This, not the Will itself, dies, as we slip into dreams and ultimately into death. It is to that last sleep that Hamlet’s words refer.
Nietzsche, in The Birth of Tragedy (1871), takes up some of these ideas from Schopenhauer. Hamlet is used as an illustration only, but it is in itself significant that this play should be chosen. Nietzsche goes beyond Schopenhauer’s notion of two irreconcilable forces, to postulate a reconciliation of primal urge (what he calls the Dionysian) and the formal principle (the Apolline) in the work of art. The function of art is to counter the sense of disgust and torpor that follows Dionysian intoxication and its loss of physical and mental restraints. It is at that moment that humans gain a recognition of the true state of things. Thus by analogy Hamlet knows the world for what it is. Nothing he can do will resolve a world “out of joint.” This does not make him a mere inactive dreamer: he has seen the absurdity of existence. In another context, Nietzsche confers upon Hamlet an inner nobility, as one who knows the certainty of suffering and accepts that there is no cure for his condition (1988, 1:35).
• Hamlet enters the twentieth century: Freud
Schopenhauer and Nietzsche are typical of writers who presuppose in their readers a knowledge of the play and the ability to relate its message to a different set of ideas. It is part of a process whereby the text assumes an existence of its own, independent of “right” or “wrong” interpretations and becomes an intertext for matters cultural and moral. Most of the readings of the play in the later nineteenth century share this identification with new philosophical or philological insights. They are to some extent those cited by Furness and, after him, by the neo-Kantian philosopher, Kuno Fischer, who magisterially dismisses a whole century of Hamlet studies and declares the play, in rather old-fashioned terms, a character tragedy (1896, 324-329). Fischer, in a sense, is returning to basics after decades of speculation involving “will,” “imagination,” “skepticism” after “Goethean” or “Hegelian” readings. Indeed, as he was writing, Fischer could have noted the dominance of a new kind of Hamlet interpretation, one that concerned itself with aberrant mental states. From the evidence of these texts (many listed in Laehr 1898, 189-200), Hamlet becomes a neuropathological case. In terms of Naturalist and Darwinist thinking, obsessed with matters of race and milieu, the royal family of Denmark emerges as tainted and degenerate.
Freud does not indulge in this kind of reductionist psychopathological character analysis. On the other hand, his study of Hamlet falls into a period before 1914 when literature and psychiatric medicine find each other mutually congenial and fruitful. Ernest Jones’s study is evidence of this (Jones 1949, orig. 1910). It is a further indication of the paradigmatic status of Hamlet (as well as of Oedipus Rex) that Freud assumes that his readers will be able to apply to general psychical phenomena insights drawn from the play. He formulates his ideas in a letter to his friend and colleague Wilhelm Fliess, on 15 October 1897 (1950: 232-9). It is the famous letter that first sets out the notion of the Oedipus complex. Freud has come to this recognition through self-analysis, through seeing in himself the awareness that Oedipus displays in Sophocles’s tragedy. But could these ideas not also apply equally to Hamlet? We know nothing of the real Sophocles or of the insights he may have had into his own self. But for Shakespeare we do have the evidence of a life and of his most famous product. Could Shakespeare not have come to terms with his own self-repression? For Hamlet’s character displays a number of 'classic' inconsistencies which must have their origin in hysteria: his sexual ambivalence, his vacillations. Here Freud is attempting to explain the two-sidedness of Hamlet’s character that had occupied commentators from Schlegel onwards.
Freud goes much further in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900 and 1934) (1989, 2: 268-70). The Oedipal paradigm works for Sophocles’s text, in that the child’s “fantasy” is brought out into the open and fulfilled. In Hamlet, it is suppressed, in his hesitation to carry out the avenging act. Hamlet identifies his uncle Claudius with his father, whose death is the subject of a repressed childhood wish. His horror, his disgust, his rejection of sexuality, all fit this “unconscious” image. We may infer some of this from the study of Shakespeare’s life, the death of his own father during the genesis period of Hamlet (1601). Thoughts similar to Hamlet’s “will have been in Shakespeare’s mind.” The reader of Hamlet or the spectator in the theater now has the opportunity of seeking the causes of neurosis in himself or herself. Psychoanalysis can unlock the secrets of the text.
• Brecht’s political reading
Brecht set out his views on Hamlet in a series of writings between the 1920s and the 1940s (esp. 1989-2000, 9:269; 23: 93-4). They are partly informed by his desire to adapt the play for stage or radio production, partly by his wish to use it as a paradigm for aspects of his dramatic theory, and always for purposes of political persuasion. From his Marxist view of human development, Hamlet can only be seen as a political or historical drama, a view that is less novel than it may appear (witness Adam Müller as far back as 1808). It is the application that is new. Where older interpretations stressed the role of Fortinbras as the figure who ties the play neatly up with his appearance, restores dynastic lines and gives order to the seeming chaos of events, Brecht sees him as merely perpetuating a feudal political system. Hamlet, by contrast, stands at the threshold of a new “bourgeois” era that succeeds the feudal age. The new age is one of reason: this manifests itself in Hamlet’s hesitation to act according to the old honor code of his society. He no longer automatically acquiesces in traditional thinking. That is, until he meets Fortinbras himself (4. 4.) and forms the resolution to carry out the deeds that have so far eluded him. Fortinbras’s incursion against the Poles is the catalyst for Hamlet’s brutal deeds on the sea-voyage and the bloodbath at the end. The words “For he was likely, had he been put on/To have proou'd most royall” (3897) become in Brecht’s reading the evidence that Hamlet has merely fallen back into the patterns of feudal society, that seek solutions by force. His newly-gained reason fails to save him. Brecht’s Marxist philosophy perceives Hamlet as a stage in a development towards revolution and, eventually, the ideal society. For this reason he reads into it a historical dynamic that points us beyond the text to our own times.
• Hamlet divides in two and self-destructs
Brecht’s ideological reading of Hamlet was realized to some extent in the theater of the German Democratic Republic after 1949, where productions were expected to bring out the political connotations of the action. There was nevertheless scope for subversion—Laertes receiving his passport to Paris in one production, “Words, words, words” [1230] referring to the party newspaper in another—but also for radical rethinking of the implications of past political inaction (Hortmann 1998, 370-2, 384-93, 410-20). West German productions, on the other hand, notably in the 1970s and 1980s, tended to attack the play’s “classic” status and its iconic position in German official culture. Iconoclastic productions were the result, underlying the perceived absurdity of Shakespeare’s text and its subversion of values, or stressing its quality as a mere “artifact” (Hortmann 1998, 275-9, 298-308).
The historical optimism once evinced by Brecht was beginning to wear decidedly thin in the last two decades of the German Democratic Republic. The loss of sense, and the feeling of coming at the end of an absurd series of historical events, is expressed at its most radical in Heiner Müller’s Die Hamletmaschine (The Hamlet Machine, 1977), performed symbolically in 1989 as the old order was collapsing. Müller sees the need to free himself and his audience from the hegemony of Shakespeare and his Hamlet, feeding the characters into a time machine, reversing roles, demolishing congruities. Like Nietzsche, Müller used Hamlet to represent the disgust engendered by the horrors of our existence. The plot is first reduced to universals—political inaction, and suffering - then Hamlet and Ophelia become symbols, respectively, of the German revolution that failed, and the suffering produced by its suppression. Perhaps such a descent into destructive absurdity was the only way of clearing a new path through the accumulated detritus of “Germany is Hamlet.” (Hortmann, 1998, 236, 428-34; Loquai, 1993, 179-191)
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