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Flute repertoire 1800 - 1900
A pattern was establishing itself already in the s: the overlapping of projects, brief spasms of attention, then abrupt abandonments. The Dante project is one of these, competing with Homer, then pushed aside as the next idea caught his imagination. It did not mean that he was a fragmentist by nature, like his brother Friedrich: it was not the way August Wilhelm worked. He simply took on too many commitments: a too crowded writing and reviewing programme saw flagging interests, as personal crises also supervened. A history of Italian poetry, with Dante at its centre, and a translation of Shakespeare, simply could not coexist.
Furthermore, both Dante and Shakespeare involved verse translations, requiring concentration and attention to the minutest detail; they could not be hurried. In Germany, people had been writing about Shakespeare for most of the eighteenth century and there had been two major attempts at translation Wieland and Eschenburg. Dante, by contrast, was hardly known. True, there had been prose versions in the s—by Johann Nicolaus Meinhard and Leberecht Bachenschwanz 95 —but Schlegel was the first actually to put Dante into German verse. This deserves to be given its due, in the face of assertions that his translation is archaizing, uniformly elevated and stiff, where in fact it actually reads quite well.
He could show his contemporaries, Goethe among them, that this technically demanding verse was possible in German and worthy of creative imitation.
Its very publication seemed haphazard. With that, the Dante project was forced out by his fellow-genius Shakespeare. We know that Caroline, the co-translator of Shakespeare, also helped to keep the guttering flame of Dante alight before its final extinction. Dante provided too good an opportunity for excursions. Thus readers of Die Horen could learn that Inferno was different from Paradise Lost or Der Messias , its characters human, its world restricted to Earth in the centre of which was Hell , not domiciled in some extraterrestrial sphere. As yet, he did not postulate a Catholic alternative, but that would come soon enough in the pages of the Athenaeum.
Dante had also inspired Michelangelo: Schlegel mentions a terracotta basrelief of Ugolino and his sons by the Renaissance master. Schiller, more robust, wanted to see Macbeth and Othello performed on the Weimar stage, but Schlegel could not or would not supply them. Horror and cruelty did not feature in his later lectures on Classical and Romantic literature, either; already his account of Dante in the Athenaeum in was much blander, smoother, Hemsterhuisian, while his discomfort with the aesthetically compromising in Shakespeare was still evident in his Vienna Lectures in The selections from Purgatorio and Paradiso meanwhile brought Schlegel on to more familiar and acceptable ground: the Platonism employed by his mentor Hemsterhuis to demonstrate the existence of God in us.
A generation of translators, like Wieland or Eschenburg, would need to arise, or dramatists like Lessing, Goethe and Schiller, before blank verse could become established in German letters, and then often more Augustan than Shakespearean. In all this Schlegel acknowledged Schiller as a model or mentor, if only grudgingly, especially after their estrangement.
The Shakespeare project brought out most but not all sides of Schlegel: the translator, of course, the critic, the analyst, the historian rather less. In the writings devoted exclusively to Shakespeare, we have none of the historical background that informs his Dante, such as the circumstantial recounting of the true story of Ugolino; there is, for instance, only the briefest of information about the sources of Romeo and Juliet , and then not the crucial point that it is an early play. Schlegel was not a Shakespearean scholar of the stamp of Eschenburg or—even allowing for his sometimes freakish attributions—Ludwig Tieck.
Unlike Tieck, who at the age of 20 owned the Fourth Folio, he had no significant collection Eschenburg was a prodigious collector. There were, of course, personal reasons for their omission. Looking at the nine volumes of the Schlegel translation and assessing their significance, we may easily overlook the actual circumstances and the element of the haphazard and the adventitious that accompanied them and their occasionally cooperative origins.
As we have seen, being a professional writer meant grasping every opportunity. He followed this in with his fine critical essay on Romeo and Juliet. Pushing Eschenburg aside was one thing, and here Schiller was only too willing to abet Schlegel by publishing his extracts in Die Horen. It was to know no mercy; only the creative forces of the century were to have recognition. The Schlegel brothers, the one exalting Lessing and Kant, the other extolling Shakespeare, both elevating Goethe, gladly joined in this chorus until they found a voice of their own.
At no stage, however, did they admit how useful they had found the corpus of knowledge patiently collated by painstaking scholars like Eschenburg, whom Goethe and Schiller were in the process of excoriating.