August Wilhelm Schlegel Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

August Wilhelm Schlegel (SHLAY-guhl) was born in Hannover to one of Germany’s most prominent literary families. His father was the pastor and author Johan Adolph Schlegel, and his uncle was the playwright and critic Johann Elias Schlegel. August’s younger brother, Friedrich, was a literary theorist and leader of a group of early German Romantic intellectuals which included August. For five years, August was married to Caroline Schlegel (later Caroline Schelling), an author, letter writer, and controversial intellectual celebrity.

August Schlegel’s talents as a writer and thinker became evident during his studies in the local Gymnasium (secondary school), and in 1786 his family sent him to study theology and philology at the University of Göttingen, where he came under the influence of the poet Gottfried Burger. In 1791 Schlegel moved to Amsterdam to work as a private tutor. From Amsterdam, he went to Jena, site of an important German university. He became a Privatdozent (tutor attached to the university) in 1795 and obtained a position as professor of literature two years later. His younger brother, Friedrich, joined him in Jena in 1796. Jena became the gathering place for a Romantic school of German intellectuals that included the Schlegel brothers, Friedrich von Hardenberg (known as Novalis), Ludwig Tieck, Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder, and Friedrich Schiermacher. During his time at Jena, August Schlegel contributed to a number of literary journals that were founded and edited by Friedrich Schiller.

In 1796, August Schlegel married Caroline Michaelis, a widow and the brilliant daughter of a Göttingen University professor. Together, August and Caroline Schlegel began translating the works of William Shakespeare from English into German. They completed seventeen plays, which established Shakespeare’s reputation in Germany and are considered among the finest translations of literary works into the German language.

The home of August and Caroline Schlegel became a gathering place for the Jena circle of Romantic philosophers, poets, and critics. In 1801, though, Caroline left August for Friedrich Schelling. After a divorce, she married Schelling in 1804. Following her departure, August Schlegel gave up the...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Atkinson, Margaret E. August Wilhelm Schlegel as a Translator of Shakespeare. New York: Haskell House, 1977. A short but valuable discussion of Schlegel’s work in bringing the works of William Shakespeare into German literature.

Behler, Ernst. German Romantic Literary Theory. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. An account of how new theories of literature emerged from the Romantic movement in Germany.

Heine, Heinrich. The Romantic School, and Other Essays. Edited by Jost Hermand and Robert C. Holub. New York: Continuum, 1985. Originally published as Die romantische Schule (1836). This work by a younger German Romantic contains a description of August Schlegel as an elderly professor.