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The German classics on the British stage : the reception of Goethe, Schiller and Kleist since 1945

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Göbels, Bettina Maria Maximiliane 


This thesis explores the complex interplay of factors that have led to the recent significant change in the reception of the plays usually referred to as the great 'classics' of German drama, that is, works by Goethe, Schiller and Kleist. The reception of these plays for most of the pre-war period was unenthusiastic, and they were rarely staged before 1945. Even after this they were only gradually introduced onto the British stage. The long-lasting rejection is usually explained with reference to the rivalries between Britain and Germany since the late nineteenth century and, after 1945, by post-war resentment. In showing that there are more complex mechanisms at work, this thesis demonstrates the highly problematic basis of such explanations. As a case study in intra-European cultural transfer, the history of the reception of the German classics is examined against the backdrop of the British theatrical culture and the implications of the habitus of British theatre: its structures, history and tradition, and how these determine the ways in which foreign plays are perceived and treated by theatre practitioners and, in turn, how this determines how they will be perceived by audiences and critics. The incongruence between the dramatic traditions of Britain and Germany has led to interpretations of the plays that differ widely from those of scholars or German theatre practitioners, but in some cases resulted in notable and influential productions. During the post-war period, political developments have repeatedly made the German classics strikingly relevant, which has worked to the advantage of these plays by effectively outweighing most of the problematic aspects that had formerly led to rejection. The role of individual theatres and directors who spearheaded the reawakening of interest in the German classics is examined alongside the role of translations that were found to be increasingly suitable for performance.


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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge