Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock is known primarily as a lyrical poet. His masterpiece is the monumental epic poem Der Messias (The Messiah, 1776), begun in 1748 and completed in 1773, but he was also famous as a writer of odes and elegies. A number of his influential critical writings deal with theoretical and critical aspects of poetry, language reform, and the establishment of a utopian German society of intellectuals.
Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock’s creative life fell between the period of the German Enlightenment, dominated by the influence of French neoclassicism, and the emergence of the youthful, German nationalist writers of the Sturm und Drang and the early Romantic period, dominated by the young Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. This transitional position has led to Klopstock’s being praised as the godfather of a self-confident new generation of German writers while being criticized as long-winded, excessively ornate, and obtuse. Therefore, the author of The Messiah paradoxically is praised more for his literary influence than for his literary output. This is particularly true for his plays, which were seldom performed onstage—indeed, his biblical plays were more popular in Italy and France than in Germany. Klopstock’s enthusiastic endorsement of the French Revolution led to his being made an honorary citizen of France by the National Assembly in 1792, a title he retained even after he was deeply disappointed by the subsequent reign of terror. His funeral in Hamburg was attended by a large number of dignitaries and thousands of mourners—further proof of the accuracy of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s prediction in 1753 that Klopstock would be honored by many but read by only a few.
Heitner, Robert H. German Tragedy in the Age of Enlightenment. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963. Contains a discussion of Klopstock’s biblical plays, with a particularly detailed discussion of The Death of Adam.
Hilliard, Kevin. Philosophy, Letters, and the Fine Arts in Klopstock’s Thought. London: Institute of Germanic Studies, University of London, 1987. An examination of Klopstock’s philosophy and aesthetics as they presented themselves in his works. Bibliography and index.
Lee, Meredith. Displacing Authority: Goethe’s Poetic Reception of Klopstock. Heidelberg, Germany: Universitätsverlag C. Winter, 1999. Lee examines Klopstock’s influence on Goethe. Bibliography and index.
Peucker, Brigitte. “Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock.” In European Writers. Vol. 4 edited by George Stade. New York: Scribner’s, 1984. A brief but thorough critical resume of Klopstock’s life and work, with a fine section on his biblical and patriotic plays. Includes a comprehensive bibliography and a list of translations of Klopstock’s works into English.