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Shakespeare is German at Shakespeare’s Globe

Theatre feature

SHAKESPEARE is German, a season of events celebrating Germany’s special affinity with Shakespeare, begins in October 2010 at Shakespeare’s Globe.

Germans speak of “unser” (our) Shakespeare. He remains the most played author on the German stage where more Shakespeare plays are performed than in England. His work has been translated and admired through the centuries by German greats, Christoph Martin Wieland, Herder, Goethe, Hegel, Heine and Nietzsche.

Much German vocabulary comes from Shakespeare and he is so revered in Germany that he has been adopted by the German people as one of their own national heroes.

Cord Meier-Klodt, Head of Culture and Education at the German Embassy, London explains:

Shakespeare is German – who would not be puzzled by this statement at first? Upon reflection, however, it captures a deeper truth. No other national culture has Shakespeare embedded quite so deeply into its literary DNA.

“Of course there are many examples of British giants becoming German favourites, but Shakespeare’s Globe is to be praised for highlighting the enormous impact ‘The Bard of Avon’ had on the German greats – ever since Lessing, Herder and Goethe during the famous ‘Sturm und Drang’ period. The Embassy is proud to support the Season within the framework of its ‘Think German’ campaign.”

Goethe, the renowned German writer and polymath, championed Shakespeare in an impassioned speech in 1771 when he was only 22. The Shakespeare is German season opens on October 7 with the launch of a book of new translations of Goethe’s essays on Shakespeare commissioned by Globe Education.

The acclaimed German actor, Sebastian Koch (Effi Briest, The Lives of Others, The Black Book), will commemorate Shakespeare – the German Writer on October 14, St William’s Day, with an evening of readings in English and German and extracts from German films of Shakespeare.

It was on this day in 1771 that Goethe presented his speech ‘For Shakespeare’s Day’ in which he described his encounter with Shakespeare as his personal awakening in literature.

The wealth and range of German Shakespeare film adaptations, from silent to avant-garde, will be featured in a series of screenings at the Goethe-Institut, London. Leading German and Shakespeare scholars will speak about German responses to Shakespeare.

Sabine Hentzsch, director of the Goethe-Institut London, said:

“It is generally not known here in Britain, quite how popular and beloved Shakespeare is in Germany. This is reflected in many things: The German Shakespeare society was founded as early as 1864 in Weimar, where Goethe had lived and worked for 57 years.

“Over the centuries various famous German writers and poets have translated Shakespeare into German, with the effect that Shakespeare today might well be easier to understand in German than in English. This results in the huge popularity of his plays. We are delighted to be able to share and compare our readings of Shakespeare’s works with Shakespeare’s Globe and London audiences.”

The German actor and director Norbert Kentrup – the Globe’s first Shylock in 1998 – is this year’s Theo Crosby Fellow. He will describe his experiences of playing Shakespeare in English and in German. He suggests that he is “Much better in German”.

Staged readings include a 1590s play set in Germany that influenced Shakespeare and a 1630s English play about Wallenstein that influenced Schiller’s play about the German hero.

There will be a Gala presentation of the 1920 silent film of Hamlet starring silver screen goddess Asta Nielsen in the title role – a world premiere of a new print of the film with music composed especially by Claire van Kampen and played live by six musicians.

Patrick Spottiswoode, Director of Globe Education, said:

“Shakespeare’s Globe has long had a relationship with Germany. Sam Wanamaker first met Norbert Kentrup in 1991 in Neuss and was determined a German should be the first Shylock at the Globe.

“In 1991, a partnership began between Shakespeare’s Globe and SET Bremen which brought German students to London for lectures and workshops. Twenty years on, over 18,000 German Mittelstufe and Oberstufe students, teachers and undergraduates visit the Globe every year for lectures, workshops and courses.

“Indeed over half of our visiting overseas students are German. Our annual Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank project provides over 16,000 London students and families with free tickets to a production at the Globe.

“We are delighted that German people, who had a reconstructed Globe theatre some six years before we existed here in Bankside, are happy to share unser Shakepeare in unser Globe.”

Shakespeare’s Globe’s 2010 Kings and Rogues season continues until October 9.