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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