Johann Christoph Gottsched and German Drama
For German drama, the eighteenth century marks the beginning of a new era that culminates in the unprecedented achievements of Weimar classicism. The credit for having moved literature onto this course must be given to Johann Christoph Gottsched, who is the dominant figure of the early Enlightenment, a time when supreme faith was placed on the exercise of reason.
Though trained as a theologian, Gottsched’s real interest was in literature and aesthetics. His productivity began early. At age twenty-four, he arrived at Leipzig, then an important intellectual and cultural center. He soon involved himself in the literary and academic life of the city and became a dominant force. When he published his highly influential Versuch einer critischen Dichtkunst vor die Deutschen (1730; attempt at a critical poesy for the Germans), it became the recognized authority for the writing of poetry and drama. The work, a practical guide for the aspiring author, prescribes principles of composition and discusses elements of style. Its basic premise is that literature is the product of the mind acting in accordance with preestablished laws of composition. Gottsched’s primary aim was to introduce into German drama something of that beauty of form that he admired in the plays of the French tragedians Pierre Corneille and Jean Racine. To put his theories into practice, he formed an alliance with the acting company of Karoline Neuber . Together they set out to reform German...
(The entire section is 461 words.)