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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

§ 23. Influence of Hegelianism

As the romantic movement passed away, the place of its followers was taken by a new race of critics, who followed the dictates of Hegel; and, during the first half of the nineteenth century, Hegelianism lay particularly heavy on German Shakespeare scholarship, one obvious reason being that Shakespeare’s life offered no opportunity for the pragmatic investigation and criticism which, for instance, was the saving element in extricating Goethe from Hegelian metaphysics. The influence of Hegel’s aesthetics, which was essentially antiromantic in its tendency, is to be seen in Hermann Ulrici’s Über Shakespeares dramatische Kunst und sein Verhältnis zu Calderon und Goethe (1839), and, in a less accentuated form, in Georg Gottfried Gervinus’s Shakespeare (1849–52), in Friedrich Kreyssig’s Vorlesungen über Shakespeare und seine Werke (1858) and in the recently published Shakespeare-Vorträge of the famous Swabian Hegelian, Friedrich Theodor Vischer. On the whole, the influence of Hegelianism on German Shakespeare criticism has not been favourable; it has led to an excessive preoccupation with metaphysical theories of tragic guilt and tragic purpose, to a misleading confusion of moral and aesthetic standards and to a too confident reliance on a priori theories of literary genius. It has also made it difficult for Shakespeare’s countrymen to appreciate at their true value the learning and scholarship which lay behind the metaphysical veil. With the labours, however, of Karl Simrock, Gustav Rümelin, Karl Elze, whose biography, William Shakespeare, appeared in 1876, Nikolaus Delius and Alexander Schmidt, not to mention more recent workers, the speculative method has been in great measure discarded in favour of scientific investigation of facts. Germans can now point to a magnificent record of patient and careful work, to which, since 1865, the Shakespeare Jahrbuch has borne eloquent testimony.