'An Old Friend in a Foreign Land': Walter Scott, Götz von Berlichingen, and Drama Between Cultures

Michael Wood
2018 Oxford German studies  
s translations of German plays are largely seen as expressing his interest in medieval themes and the historical individual, and as linguistically deficient works that aided the young man in his artistic development. But his translation of Götz von Berlichingen shows that Scott emphasizes the commonalities between German and British culture: in foregrounding the influence of Shakespeare on Goethe and drawing analogies between German and British historical customs, Scott points his readers
more » ... s his readers towards the familiarity of the foreign culture. Following in Lessing's footsteps, Scott uses cultural similarity in dramatic texts to drive appreciation for another culture and the development of his own. The discovery of the works of William Shakespeare in the German-speaking world illustrates the significance of drama for both the understanding of another culture and the improvement of one's own. That is not to say that foreign literary traditions are always helpful. Gotthold Ephraim Lessing writes in the seventeenth of the Briefe, die neueste Litteratur betreffend (1759-66), for example, that Johann Christoph Gottsched's use of French neo-classical Aristotelianism as a model for reforming German drama had led to 'wahre 2 Verschlimmerungen' in the latter. 1 Comparing Pierre Corneille and Jean Racine with Shakespeare in the same letter, however, Lessing finds two compelling reasons for adopting this English model: Erstlich würde das Volk an jenem weit mehr Geschmack gefunden haben, als es an diesen nicht finden kann; und zweytens würde jener ganz andere Köpfe unter uns erweckt haben, als man von diesen zu rühmen weiß. Denn ein Genie kann nur von einem Genie entzündet werden, und am leichtesten von so einem, das alles bloß der Natur zu danken haben scheinet, und durch die mühsamen Vollkommenheiten der Kunst nicht abschrecket. 2
doi:10.1080/00787191.2018.1409504 fatcat:zmpaucdjtfepfe3mu642zbmllu