Johann Goethe Biography


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born into an upper-middle-class family in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, on August 28, 1749. Given a largely private education that included a rigorous study of ancient and modern languages, he came into contact with the theater at a very early age. At the age of sixteen, he studied law at Leipzig but was interrupted by a debilitating illness that nearly took his life. Two years later, he went on to the University of Strasbourg, where he completed his studies. While there, he met Johann Gottfried Herder, who introduced him to the works of Homer, Shakespeare, Ossian, and to folk literature. Herder also converted Goethe to the tenets of a new artistic credo which would become known as Romanticism. All these elements loom large in Goethe’s work.

On his return to Frankfurt, Goethe engaged in law and writing. In 1773, he achieved immediate renown among his compatriots with the play Götz von Berlichingen mit der eisernen Hand (Götz von Berlichingen with the Iron Hand, 1799). A year later, his reputation took on international stature with The Sorrows of Young Werther, his most noted work with the exception of Faust. In 1775, Goethe attracted the attention of the young Duke of Saxe-Weimar, who invited him to the capital city, Weimar. Except for a two-year interval when Goethe visited Italy, he would remain at Weimar all of his life. It was at Weimar that Goethe fell in love with the married...

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Johann Goethe Biography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

The early life of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was shaped by cultivated middle-class and patrician surroundings. An emotionally complex relationship with his sister Cornelia had significant impact on many of his creative works, while the contrasts in temperament and worldview of his parents fostered a rapidly developing awareness of German cultural polarities: northern intellectual and moral intensity and southern artistic sensuousness and sensitivity.

From the autumn of 1765 until serious illness forced him to return home in 1768, Goethe studied law in Leipzig. Stimulated by encounters with popular rococo culture, a love affair with the daughter of an innkeeper, and university exposure to the ideas of Christian Fürchtegott Gellert, Johann Christoph Gottsched, Adam Friedrich Oeser, and Christoph Martin Wieland, he began creating poetry and light pastoral plays that were intended only to be socially entertaining. The poems of Neue Lieder (1770; New Poems, 1853) are his most important literary accomplishment of this period.

After a slow convalescence in Frankfurt, during which he studied the writings of Susanne von Klettenburg and the natural philosophers Paracelsus von Hohenheim and Emanuel Swedenborg, Goethe entered the university at Strasbourg. Under the influence of Herder, whom he met during the winter of 1770-1771, and other Sturm und Drang figures, the young poet turned away from the cosmopolitan tendencies of Leipzig and declared allegiance to a German gothic ideal. Homer, William Shakespeare, and the Ossian poems of James Macpherson provided the literary models for changes in creative approach that mark Goethe’s subsequent writings. On the level of personal experience, his love for the pastor’s daughter Friederike Brion informed his best lyrics of the time.

On completion of his studies, Goethe practiced law in Frankfurt. While at the Imperial Chancelry in...

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Johann Goethe Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born August 28, 1749, in Frankfurt am Main. His father, Johann Kaspar Goethe, was a well-to-do nonpracticing lawyer holding the title of imperial councilor. His learning and multifaceted interests were passed on to the young Goethe. The father was strict, often overbearing, and Goethe was never close to him. Goethe’s mother, Katharina Elisabeth (née Textor), the daughter of the mayor, received more of his affection. In Frankfurt, Goethe first made contact with the theater through puppet plays and French troupes. He recorded these impressions vividly in his autobiography, Poetry and Truth from My Own Life. From 1765 to 1768, he attended the university in Leipzig, famous for its Enlightenment and Rococo writers, and studied law. There he also studied painting and had the first of his many famous love affairs (this one with Kätchen Schönkopf), which always resulted in beautiful poetry. His not atypical student life was interrupted by a lung hemorrhage, which compelled him to return to Frankfurt. Home again, and sickly, he came under the influence of the Pietist and mystic Susanna von Klettenberg, whose teachings can be found in “Bekenntnisse einer schönen Selle” (“Confessions of a Fair Saint”), which constitutes the sixth book of Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship.

Goethe returned to the university in 1770, this time to Strasbourg, where he received his degree in 1771. While in this French-German border city, he met Johann Gottfried Herder, the theologian and critic who, at that time, was singing the praises of Shakespeare, Ossian, primitive poetry, and the need for a German literature...

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Johann Goethe Biography

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Three aspects of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s childhood contributed substantially to his development as a literary artist. A sheltered existence, in which he spent long hours completely alone, fostered the growth of an active imagination. A complicated attachment to his sister Cornelia colored his perceptions of male-female relationships in ways that had a profound impact on the kinds of experience from which his works were generated. Finally, contrasts between his parents in temperament and cultural attitudes gave him an early awareness of the stark polarities of life upon which the central tensions of his major literary creations are based.

While studying law in Leipzig between 1765 and 1768, Goethe began to write poems and simple plays in the prevailing Anacreontic style. Although some of these productions relate to his infatuation with Kätchen Schönkopf, an innkeeper’s daughter, they are more the product of his desire to become a part of the contemporary intellectual establishment than a direct outpouring of his own inner concerns. Among the important figures who influenced his education and thinking during this period were Christoph Martin Wieland, Christian Fürchtegott Gellert, and Adam Friedrich Oeser.

The experiences that resulted in Goethe’s breakthrough to a distinctly individual and characteristic literary approach began when he entered the University of Strasbourg in 1770. Encounters with two very different people during the winter of 1770-1771 sharply changed his life. Johann Gottfried Herder introduced him to the concepts and ideals of the Sturm und Drang movement, providing him with new models in Homer and Shakespeare and moving him in the direction of less artificial modes of expression. Of equal consequence for the immediate evolution of his lyrics was an idyllic love affair with Friederike Brion that ended in a parting, the emotional implications of which marked his writings long afterward.


(The entire section is 802 words.)

Johann Goethe Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)
0111201548-Goethe.jpg Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (GUR-tuh) was born in Frankfurt am Main (now in Germany) on August 28, 1749, the eldest son of Johann Kaspar and Katharina Elisabeth Goethe. He was educated at home by his lawyer father before attending the University of Leipzig to study law in 1765. Goethe acknowledges his parents’ influence in his autobiography, indicating that from his father he inherited his stature and the serious conduct of his life, and from his “dear mother” he acquired the gaiety of spirit and his love of storytelling.

As a student in Leipzig, a leading cultural center of eighteenth century Europe, Goethe developed an interest in literature and art and became acquainted with the dramatic works of contemporary Romantic poet Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock and literary critic Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. Their influence and Goethe’s affection for Anna Katharina Schönkopf, daughter of a Leipzig tavern owner, are reflected in his early poetry and dramatic works, especially in the one-act comedy in verse Die Laune des Verliebten (wr. 1767, pr. 1779, pb. 1806; The Wayward Lover, 1879). Illness caused Goethe to return to Frankfurt in 1768. During his convalescence, he studied religious mysticism, astrology, and alchemy. His familiarity in these areas becomes evident in his best-known work, Faust: Eine Tragödie (pb. 1808, pr. 1829; The Tragedy of Faust, 1823).

Goethe received his law degree in 1771 from the University of Strasbourg and returned to Frankfurt to practice law with his father for four years. In Strasbourg, Goethe made the acquaintance of the German philosopher and literary critic Johann Gottfried Herder, a leader in the German Romantic movement known as Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress). Herder introduced Goethe to the works of William Shakespeare, and consequently, Goethe patterned his first dramatic tragedy on Shakespeare’s dramatic style. He received his first literary acclaim with Götz von Berlichingen mit der eisernen Hand (pb. 1773, pr. 1774; Goetz of Berlichingen, with the Iron Hand, 1799), the fictionalized story of a German knight whose exploits stimulated a national German revolt against the authority of the emperor and the church early in the sixteenth century.

In 1774, Goethe’s reputation as an author of international fame was established with the sensational success of Die Leiden des jungen...

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Johann Goethe Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Johann Wolfgang Goethe (GUR-tuh), poet, dramatist, philosopher, scientist, and leader of the German intellectual renaissance of the late eighteenth century, was born to a wealthy Frankfurt lawyer and his wife. Goethe’s poetic gift may well have come from his lively, witty mother, whose love of storytelling was early transmitted to her son. Educated at home in an atmosphere of learning and refinement, the boy displayed an unusual facility for languages and versification.

An unwilling law student at the University of Leipzig at the age of sixteen, his adolescent disgust with all book learning eventually led to his conceiving the original idea for his masterpiece, The Tragedy of Faust, which was not to be...

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Johann Goethe Biography

(eNotes Publishing)

While Goethe is almost without exception listed in the company of Tolstoy, Shakespeare, and Homer as a profound figure of world literature, he is known mostly outside of Germany for his short novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) and the first part of Faust. Within his own country, Goethe is not only known as a lyrical poet, playwright, and novelist, but as a celebrated “universal man” as well: his accomplishments include everything from a theater director to a court administrator, and much in between. Like Faust, his most famous protagonist, Goethe seems to have lived intensely and fully, embracing all that life has to offer.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born on August 28, 1749, in Frankfurt am...

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