Theatre and Film, Johnny Carson School of


Date of this Version



Published in Theatre Survey 28:2 (November 1987), pp. 89-100. Copyright 1987 by the American Society for Theatre Research, Inc.


The Weimar Republic occupies a period in German history that has long fascinated students of theatre and drama. It was a period of profound change in German social, political, and cultural experience, and rarely has the confluence of those experiences figured so influentially upon the performance of William Shakespeare's plays. In decades previous to Weimar, German Shakespeare productions manifested the awed reverence in which the playwright was held, since most German actors, directors, and designers regarded Shakespeare in the same light as they did Goethe and Schiller. In 1864, for example, Germany celebrated the three-hundredth anniversary of the playwright's birth with the founding of the Deutsche Shakespeare Gesellschaft and the proclamation that Shakespeare was not "a foreign poet, but one which England must share with us, due to his inborn Germanic nature." In the Weimar Republic, however, the view of Shakespeare as playwright changed; it did so perhaps because everything else was changing in that volatile period, and also because Weimar culture encouraged innovation and experimentation. The republic itself, after all, was an experiment. If in retrospect the Weimar Republic's experimentation with democracy seems a failure, its success and achievement in painting, architecture, music, literature, and theatre cannot be denied. One overlooked area of particular achievement is the work of Weimar theatre artists who succeeded in their attempts to dismantle Shakespeare's status as a cultural icon.