Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Die deutsche Klassik / German Classicism

LEVEL 03 - Years 2, 3, 4 in Modular Undergraduate Course



DESCRIPTION "Die deutsche Klassik" (German classical literature) is also known as "die Weimarer Klassik" (Weimar Classicism) because the movement is closely associated with the town of Weimar. During the last three decades of the 18th and the first years of the 19th century, some of Germany's leading authors and scholars, such as Christoph Martin Wieland, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Friedrich Schiller and Johann Gottfried Herder, made Weimar their home.

There they interacted, at times collaborating closely, at times falling out with each other; in Weimar they produced their masterpieces. They turned the small provincial town into Germany's "literarisch gelehrte Hauptstadt" (the literati's erudite capital city), "das deutsche Athen" (the German Athens), the spiritual cradle of German culture. The legacy of the classical age of Weimar (and its subsequent idealization) was an essential element in the formation of the national identity of the German people in the course of the 19th century. This identity, largely based on the concept of a common cultural heritage (the idea of a "Kulturnation"), was one of the driving forces that led to the unification of the country. Even today, Weimar classicism remains a symbol of "all that is best in German thought and aspiration" (W. H. Bruford). According to Jean-Louis Bandet, "Weimar classicism was and remains -- for the collective German conscience -- the most brilliant period". To understand German history and culture, therefore, knowledge of German classicism is essential.

By concentrating on the personal experiences and works of the most notable exponents of Weimar classicism, Goethe and Schiller, this study-unit will examine first the historical events and intellectual developments that led to the emergence of "die deutsche Klassik" in Weimar (i.e. the historical and cultural context). What led Goethe and Schiller, at a time of great social turmoil and historical upheaval in Europe (the French Revolution and its aftermath), to disassociate from the rebellious Sturm und Drang movement (1767-1785), of which they had been leading representatives, and embark on a transformation of German literature, a development that reached its climax in their own classical works? Their writings, produced – separately and jointly – in Weimar from 1795 until 1805, the year of Schiller's death, epitomize the aesthetic, philosophical and literary principles of German classicism. What were these principles? Which were the main themes and preferred genres and styles of "die deutsche Klassik"? Why and how and was the age of Weimar constructed, idealised and used in German national memory, and what is its relevance today? Works and parts of works by Goethe and Schiller will be read and discussed in detail in class. Each student will be expected to make a short presentation (in German) on a particular aspect of one of the works. A list of topics will be made available.

Study-unit Aims:

The first aim of this study-unit is to lead students to understand the specific social, historical and cultural developments that brought about the classicism of Weimar, which produced some of the most important works of German literature. For the reasons mentioned above, knowledge of this period is essential for an understanding of the evolution of German literature and of the driving forces which determined German history.

The second aim is to help students identify (a) the major concerns of the authors of this period and the main themes of their work (the concepts of "Humanität", "Harmonie" and "die schöne Seele" -- the beautiful soul; the conflict between the spiritual and material natures in man and ideas about their reconciliation; the aesthetic education of man; sublime events illustrated in the bahaviour of extraordinary characters) and (b) their preferred genres and styles (restraint, lucidity, balance; the "Kunst-Sprache" – the non-realistic language of verse drama; philosophical poetry).

The third aim is to enhance the students' skills in dealing with complex German texts through close reading and a detailed analysis of the texts themselves.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding:
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

-- identify the reasons which led to the emergence of German classicism and relate it to (a) the social/historical events of the period and (b) the milestones in the lives of the two main exponents of the movement (Goethe and Schiller);
-- explain how these events and life experiences had a determining influence on the authors' literary/artistic outlook;
-- illustrate with the help of examples the main topics and the stylistic preferences and trends in the works of German classical authors;
-- assess the subsequent idealization of "die deutsche Klassik" and its effect on the German national memory and German history.

2. Skills:
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

-- distinguish German classicism from other literary movements, especially the ones that preceded it (Enlightenment and Storm and Stress) and the Romantic movement that followed it;
-- define the space occupied by German classicism in the history of German culture;
-- deal more effectively with complex German texts and express ideas and opinions in oral and written form, in German, in response to such texts.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

Main Texts:
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Torquato Tasso, Iphigenie auf Tauris
Friedrich von Schiller, Maria Stuart

Supplementary readings:
Peter Boerner, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe -- rororo Monographie
Nicholas Boyle, Goethe: The Poet and the Age
F. J. Lamport, German Classical Drama: Theatre, Humanity and Nation, 1750-1870
Claudia Pilling, Diana Schilling & Mirjam Springer, Friedrich Schiller -- rororo Monographie
T. J. Reed, Goethe
T. J. Reed, Schiller
Simon Richter (ed.), The Literature of Weimar Classicism
Lesley Sharpe, Friedrich Schiller: Drama, Thought and Politics
Lesley Sharpe (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Goethe

ADDITIONAL NOTES Pre-requisite Qualifications: Advanced Level German or similar


Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Resit Availability Weighting
Presentation (15 Minutes) SEM2 Yes 25%
Examination (2 Hours) SEM2 Yes 75%

LECTURER/S Kathrin Schoedel

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It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2020/1. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.