GREAT PHILOSOPHERS: JOHANN WOLFGANG GOETHE
Goethe is presented to us as an enviable, privileged, majestic, even Olympian figure — pampered by the gods since his birth on August 28th 1749.
The son of a wealthy family in Frankfurt, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe never knew the difficulties of life. He traveled and studied how and and as much as he likes; in love and in literature he achieved triumph after triumph. He crowned his youth with a garland of beautiful women.
Johann Christoph Friedrich (von) Schiller (1759–1805) was a great friend of Goethe and the most illustrious of his contemporaries. Less Olympian than Goethe, though endowed with greater emotion, he owed his formation to Rousseau and the French 18th century — an apostle of the ideals of justice, tolerance and humanity.
Both Goethe’s amorous and literary victories were endless. The overwhelming success that popularity gave him in his youth is evident in his novel, “The Sorrows of Young Werther” — in a certain autobiographical way. Written in an epistolary, romantic and sentimental form, the novel ends in the protagonist’s suicide for love.
Universal spirit, philosopher, critic, physicist, geologist biologist and poet — Goethe tries to lend a totalitarian, original philosophical vision to the passionate issues that move the human being in his novel-cum-play, Faust.
The same philosophical ambition appears in his great novel “Wilhelm Meister’s Journeyman Years.” In this work he traces the journey of his hero down the path of self-realization. In “West-Eastern Divan” he renews his poetry, inspired by the Arab world and its poetic models.
It is impossible to imagine a more complete human antithesis than the poets Goethe and Schiller — however — rarely do two intellects complete and understand each other as theirs did. The influence that the two divergent spirits exerted on each other is incalculable. Goethe agreed to collaborate on the poetic publication “The Hours,” founded by Schiller — and he promised to give the Weimar Theater the Wallenstein trilogy and other Schiller plays such as “Mary Stuart,” “Joan of Arc” and “William Tell” — all which were performed there.
At 46, Schiller died. The Weimar Theater was closed on the day of his death. Goethe, who was ill, was not told the sad news that would cause him such intense pain.
After the death of his friend, Goethe continued directing theater for a few more years. According to one critic “in the school of Goethe, a refined sense of the purity and beauty of language was awakened. This school, which did so much good for Germany, gradually fell into mannerism, provoking a reaction in favor of naturalism.”
It was Duke Carlos Augusto who ordered the rebuilding of the the Weimar Theater. Goethe was roped into this arduous undertaking — and it is worth considering how he accomplished it. The young poet formed a company of actors and actresses, and this new company outshone Berlin, Frankfurt and Dresden in every respect. Among the works they presented were: “The Bohemians” by Einsiedel and two play by Goethe: “The Accomplices” and “Iphigenia in Tauride.”
In 1779, Duke Carlos Augusto appointed Goethe as his personal advisor and took him with him to Switzerland and Italy. This trip and others were significant in Goethe’s development — he began to admire and adopt the magnificent simplicity of the Greek theater.
By 1794 he had reached his dramatic maturity. He was, at that time, a private advisor and chief minister to the Duke; supreme arbiter of the Institute of the Botanical Gardens, Museums and Theater. One day in Jena, leaving a session at the Academy, he ran into Schiller. From that memorable date, the ‘German theater’ was a glorious reality.
Goethe died in 1832 at the age of 83. He was buried in Weimar, between the poet Schiller and Prince Charles Augustus. Before dying, he ordered the windows of his bedroom to be opened and he expired asking for Light, more light!