Home  »  Volume V: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part One  »  § 2. His influence on German and Dutch Seventeenth Century Drama

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

§ 2. His influence on German and Dutch Seventeenth Century Drama

The influence of Shakespeare on both the German and the Dutch drama of the seventeenth century is, however, clearly demonstrable, notwithstanding the lack of curiosity as to the name and personality of the English poet. In the case of the oldest German dramatist who imitated the methods of the Comoedianten, the Nürnberg notary Jacob Ayrer, there are chronological difficulties in the way of describing this influence as Shakespearean; the resemblance which his Comedia von der schönen Sidea bears to The Tempest, and his Schöne Phoenicia to Much Ado about Nothing, seems to point rather to common sources than to actual borrowing. It is, however, just possible that Shakespeare obtained some knowledge of Sidea from English actors. In any case, Ayrer did not stand on a much higher level than the nameless German adapters, and it was hardly likely he should have any greater curiosity as to the authorship of his models. About a generation later, Andreas Gryphius based his comedy or, rather, farce, Absurda comica, oder Herr Peter Squentz, on the interlude of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The nature and method of Gryphius’s borrowing are still wrapped in mystery; but it seems clear that his knowledge of the English comedy was not immediate. He himself, if his statement is to be trusted, obtained the materials for his Peter Squentz from the learned Daniel Schwenter, professor at the university of Altdorf; but it is not possible to say whether Schwenter actually knew Shakespeare’s work, or, as is more likely, became acquainted with A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a Dutch adaptation. Here again, however, we find no mention of Shakespeare’s name. Still later, at the very end of the seventeenth century, Christian Weise, a prolific writer of school dramas in Zittau, made a lengthy version of The Taming of the Shrew, under the title Comödie von der bösen Catherine which goes back directly or indirectly to Shakespeare. But he, too, is silent with regard to his source. The hypothesis of a Dutch intermediary in the case of both Gryphius and Weise receives some support from the fact that the two comedies by Shakespeare which they adapted are also to be found in Dutch seventeenth century literature. The Pyramus and Thisbe episode from A Midsummer Night’s Dream forms the basis of Matthus Gramsbergen’s Kluchtige Tragedie of den Hartoog van Pierlepon (1650), and The Taming of the Shrew was reproducedby A. Sybant in alexandrines as De dolle Bruyloft, Bley-eyndend-Spel, in 1654.