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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

XII. Shakespeare on the Continent

§ 17. Wieland’s Prose Translation

A very few years after Lessing’s famous letter, the Germans were themselves in a position—and in a better position than their French neighbours—to form some idea of the English poet. Between 1762 and 1766, appeared Christoph Martin Wieland’s translation of Shakespeare into prose. It was very far from being adequate; it was suggested, doubtless, in the first instance, by La Place’s French translations, and, like these, was in clumsy prose; but, compared with what had preceded it in Germany—Borck’s Caesar, a few fragmentary specimens of Shakespeare’s work in periodicals and a bad iambic translation of Romeo and Juliet—it was an achievement no less great than Le Tourneur’s French translation at a somewhat later date. And, in one respect, no subsequent translationcould vie with Wieland’s, namely, in its immediate influence upon German literature. Its faults are obvious enough; it is ludicrously clumsy, often ludicrously inaccurate. Wieland was himself too good a Voltairean to extend a wholehearted sympathy to Shakespeare’s irregularities and improprieties, and he grasped at every straw which contemporary French criticism or the notes of Pope and Warburton offered him, to vindicate the superiority of classic taste. At the same time, his private correspondence would seem to indicate that his feelings for Shakespeare were considerably less straitlaced than his commentary would imply. The consequences of the translation were more far-reaching than Wieland had anticipated; indeed, he, no less than Lessing, was filled with dismay at the extravagances which followed the introduction of Shakespeare to the German literary world—perhaps this is even a reason why, in Dramaturgie, Lessing is reserved on the subject of Shakespeare. In that work, Lessing had published a kindly recommendation of Wieland’s translation; but, a few months earlier, another and more subversive critic, Heinrich Wilhelm von Gerstenberg, under the stimulus of the new ideas of genius propounded in England by Young and Home, had made claims for Shakespeare of which Lessing could not have approved.