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  • Creating Ideal Audiences:Ludwig Tieck and German Access to Shakespeare
  • Natalie Tenner (bio)

Does the theatre create the audience or the audience create the theatre? Depending on the artists and on contemporary society, the power to influence the type of art created and distributed shifts between the producers and the consumers. Prior to the first unification of Germany in 1871, the early Romantic movement was in many ways focused not on actual theatregoers but on an idealized audience the artists hoped to create through their art. Particularly in the theatre, early Romantics theorized ways in which the art form could incite feelings of national unity as well as provide a moral guidepost for the audience in attendance. The potential of the theatre to mold and shape its audience was not being satisfactorily realized for many of the Romantic theorists; however, much of the contemporary German theatre was modeled after French Neoclassicism. A new form was needed that would convey the German "spirit." The Romantics turned for help to authors such as Shakespeare and Calderón; one German theatre practitioner in particular, Ludwig Tieck, went so far as to advocate Elizabethan-style performances of Shakespeare in order to create a new, "German" form of theatre. I will explore more closely the Romantics' relationship with Shakespeare, Tieck's pursuit of Elizabethan practices on the German stage, and argue that Tieck ultimately hoped, through Shakespearean performance, to create an ideal audience, unified and strengthened in its "Germanness."

Based on Tieck's own writing and on the tenets of early Romantic authors, the purpose of art (including the theatre) was not simply to entertain but also to teach. However, the ability of the artist to reach the audience went beyond a Neoclassical sense of decorum and instead aimed [End Page 86] at the "spirit," a term that could refer to the connecting force between all humans or to the inner essence and most important aspect of a human individual. The idea of the spirit, or "character, emotion, sentiment, and soul" all referred to the "inner man," the part of the human that stands in opposition to "rational systemizing" and instead relies on non-rational processes to produce response.1 For the early German Romantics, the effect of art on the receiving audience had two main goals: the instilling of a sense of national unity and pride and the moral improvement of the individual audience members to strengthen the whole. It did not entirely matter who the receiving audience member was when he approached a work of art—the goal was to create a "German" with a sense of national history and pride who now had the tools to make the correct decisions regarding himself and his countrymen.2 While the undefined use of the label "German" is problematic, as is the amorphous idea "correct decisions," a closer examination of some of the ideas of the German Romantics will elucidate these goals.

The situation of the German people in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century lent itself to debates about identity and the role of art in society. Early Romantic artists were working not as united Germans but as members of disparate German states with no common government or strong sense of cultural history. Though Tieck did not live to see Germany become a unified country in 1871, his work draws on the Romantic desire to cultivate a cultural bed from which a strong German country could grow. The desire for a unified nationality showed strongly in the artists of the Romantic movement: there was "an emphasis on 'Germanness,' a desire to uncover the cultural roots that seemed to have been overlaid by so many foreign influences."3 For these artists, the basis of the German nation would not be military, but instead would depend on a "cultural strength": a rediscovery, or in many cases a recreation, of a German cultural history.4 Therefore, the Germans emphasized those areas of their history that could induce pride and were recognizably "German." Much of this historical focus centered on art; the historian George Mosse suggests that German nationalism "was not concerned with boundaries or even with blueprints for a government, but with 'culture' as a whole...


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pp. 86-96
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