Reviewed by Robert S. Bledsoe (Department of English and Foreign Languages, Augusta State University)
Published on H-German (June, 2008)
Now in America: Herder!
The most enduring image of Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) is as a mentor to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in Strasbourg and a catalyst for the Storm and Stress movement. We owe this image in large part to Goethe's memorial to Herder in the tenth book of his autobiography, and--despite the image's problematic nature--it has maintained its hold on much of the scholarship dealing with Herder. However, Herder's influence was restricted neither to this early period nor to aesthetics and literary criticism; his work includes notable contributions to the philosophy of history, the philosophy of language, anthropology, and the study of folklore. Access to his writings has been limited in America by the paucity of English translations. Fortunately this has changed recently with translations by Michael N. Forster ( 2002) and Ioannis D. Evrigenis and Daniel Pellerin (2004). Gregory Moore made another significant contribution with the publication of Selected Writings on Aesthetics (2006).
In that anthology, Moore primarily selected works previously unavailable in translation. The one exception was Herder's early essay, "Shakespeare" (1773), which is also available in the volume Eighteenth-Century German Criticism (1992) in Continuum's German Library series. One cannot fault Moore's decision. An anthology of Herder's aesthetic writings should include this essay because of its significance in Herder's output, in the European reception of Shakespeare, and because of the topic's interest to an Anglo-American audience. In the essay, Herder argues that Shakespeare's plays and other cultural artifacts have to be understood in their historical time and context. Shakespeare's and Sophocles' dramas follow different conventions, but internally they are the same: they capture the nature of their time and place. Now Princeton University Press has brought out this essay as a stand-alone volume.
The essay is accompanied by a new introduction and notes by Moore. The introduction places the essay in the context of the debates about Shakespeare's position as a dramatist and the value of neoclassical theater as a model for German literature. Moore discusses the contributions to the debates by Johann Christoph Gottsched, Johann Elias Schlegel, Friedrich Nicolai, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Heinrich von Gerstenberg, as well as the debt that Gerstenberg and Herder owe to Edward Young's Conjectures on Original Composition (1759). In the second half of the introduction, Moore rehearses Herder's argument in the essay and offers some concluding remarks on Herder's intentions and his style. Moore does a nice job of situating the essay in its historical context; however, I would have liked Moore to give us a better sense of its value to those who followed. The notes that accompany the translation are good and helpful, although I was surprised to find that there are neither note reference numbers in the text nor page reference numbers in the endnotes. There is, however, a nice index. In his review of the 2006 anthology K. F. Hilliard faulted Moore's ability to communicate the grace of Herder's style. I side with Katherine Arens who feels that Moore's translations "modernize Herder's diction judiciously to capture its intellectual muscle."
Finally, one must address the question of audience. The essay is already available in two anthologies. Scholars are likely to turn to these two resources. Since this edition of the essay costs $12.95, teachers are unlikely to require students to purchase the volume. Instead, it seems more likely to find favor as a gift book. It is a handsomely designed hardcover book in a handy size (16 cm x 10 cm), printed on nice, acid-free paper. The book has visual and tactile appeal; while I was writing this review several colleagues who saw the book could not keep their hands off it. One hopes that this edition finds an audience ready to appreciate it.
. Michael N. Forster, trans. and ed., Herder: Philosophical Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Ioannis D. Evrigenis and Daniel Pellerin, trans. and eds., Another Philosophy of History and Selected Political Writings (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2004).
. Reviews of the title by K. F. Hilliard, in Modern Language Review 103 (2008): 270-271; Katherine Arens, in British Journal of Aesthetics 47 (2007): 324-326.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-german.
Robert S. Bledsoe. Review of Herder, Johann Gottfried, Shakespeare.
H-German, H-Net Reviews.
Copyright © 2008 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at email@example.com.