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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

§ 19. Shakespeare included in the répertoire of the German stage; Schröder

The chief importance of the age of Sturm und Drang for the history of Shakespeare on the continent lies in the fact that it led to the permanent incorporation of his plays in the répertoire of the German national stage. Wieland had made the earliest beginning, by arranging a performance of The Tempest in Biberach in 1761; but the most memorable date in this connection is 20 September, 1776, when Germany’s greatest actor, Friedrich Ludwig Schröder, produced Hamlet in Hamburg, he himself playing—like Garrick in England in 1741—the ghost. This was followed in the same year by a production of Othello; in 1777, by The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure; and in 1778, by King Lear, Richard II and Henry IV; Macbeth was produced in 1779 and Much Ado about Nothing in 1792. The chief impression we obtain from Schröder’s Shakespeare versions nowadays is their inadequacy to reproduce the poetry of the originals; but it would be unfair to condemn them. Compared with the travesties of Ducis, a little later, they are masterpieces of reverent translation. The fact must be recognised that the real Shakespeare, that is to say, the Shakespeare Schlegel gave to Germany twenty years later, would have been impossible on Schröder’s stage;and it was Schröder’s unquestionable merit—just as it was that of Ducis in France—that he realised clearly in what form Shakespeare could be made palatable to the theatre-goers of his time. In fact, the extraordinary success of Schröder’s Shakespeare over the German speaking continent from Hamburg to Vienna—in the latter city, the performance of Lear on 13 April, 1780, was again a landmark in the history of the theatre—is the best justification of his method of treating Shakespeare; and we have only to compare his work with the versions in which, before his time, German theatres had ventured to perform Shakespeare, to appreciate the magnitude of Schröder’s achievement. In these years, the English poet was accepted by the Germans as one of the chief assets of their national stage, and he has never since lost his commanding position in the German répertoire.