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Götz von Berlichingen


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AT: Ironhand A: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Pf: 1774, Berlin Pb: 1771; rev. 1773 Tr: 1799 G: Drama in 5 acts; German prose S: Germany, early 16th c. C: 24m, 4f, many extrasGötz von Berlichingen, a noble knight with an iron hand, is hated by the rich and powerful and loved by the oppressed and poor. His behaviour invokes the enmity of the Bishop of Bamberg, whose follower Weislingen is captured by Götz. Weislingen is persuaded to join forces with Götz and becomes engaged to his sister. However, Weislingen is tempted back to the Bishop's court, not least by the charms of Adelheid von Walldorf, whom he marries. When Götz robs some Nuremberg merchants to give to the poor, the Emperor outlaws Götz. At first Götz easily repels attempts to capture him, but, when a truce is declared, he leaves his castle. He is treacherously seized by the imperial forces but freed by a loyal follower. He seems a broken man, until the leaders of the Peasants' Revolt enlist his support. He breaks with them, however, when they become excessively violent, but is nevertheless arrested. Adelheid, weary of Weislingen, poisons him and is condemned to death. Götz dies in prison, his last words being ‘Freedom! Freedom!’

AT: Ironhand A: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Pf: 1774, Berlin Pb: 1771; rev. 1773 Tr: 1799 G: Drama in 5 acts; German prose S: Germany, early 16th c. C: 24m, 4f, many extras

Based on Götz's memoirs, published in 1731, Goethe's play reflected the eagerness with which Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) writers rejected the neo-classical formality of French drama in favour of the freedoms of Shakespeare. The result is a sprawling epic packed with exciting incident, which was to inspire a whole genre of Ritterdramen (knight dramas) throughout the Romantic period. In celebrating this national figure, the young Goethe embraced apparent contradictions. The despising of the refinements of court life and championing a plain German life-style pointed to conservatism. The defiance of authority (including – to the delight of generations of German schoolchildren – the famous utterance ‘lick my arse!’), also stood as a revolutionary challenge to a corrupt age.

Subjects: Literature.


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