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Goethe and the Uncontrollable Business of Appropriative Stage Sequels

from Special Section on What Goethe Heard, edited by Mary Helen Dupree

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 May 2018

Matthew H. Birkhold
Affiliation:
The Ohio State University
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Summary

IN THE FINAL DECADES Of the eighteenth century, writers regularly borrowed fictional characters invented by other authors for use in their own texts. Most commonly, these works took the form of sequels—what German contemporaries dubbed “Fortsetzungen einer fremden Hand” (continuations by another hand), and what this article names “appropriative sequels.” In the absence of formal legal regulation, many authors felt free to write such texts, including Goethe. But little work has been done to understand this surprisingly widespread writing practice, particularly in light of the commercial realities of the German theater. As William Hinrichs recently put it: “We do not know what to call these sequels; we do not know how to talk about them; we do not know how they function; and we do not know why people read and write them.” Turning to Goethe begins to provide answers.

It is well known that Goethe was preoccupied with sequels; after all, he devoted much of his literary life to Faust II, as well as sequels to Wilhelm Meister, Des Künstlers Erdewallen (1773) and Des Künstlers Vergötterung (1774). Fewer scholars have noted, however, that Goethe also made something of a habit of writing sequels to other authors’ works. Between 1793 and 1806, Goethe began Die Aufgeregten (1793), conceived with Schiller a sequel to Die Hagestolzen (sometime between 1793 and 1805), and published two sequels: Der Bürgergeneral (1793) and Der Zauberflöte, Zweyter Theil (begun in 1795, and first published in 1806). Goethe wrote his appropriative sequels when he was faced with new pressures as director of the Weimar Court Theater and increasingly conscious of the market value of literature.

Taken together, Der Bürgergeneral and Der Zauberflöte, Zweyter Theil offer new insights into the business of appropriative stage sequels. To date, scholarship has overlooked the self-reflexivity of Goethe's Zauberflöte and its own observation of sequels on the German stage. Analyzing Der Zauberflöte,

Zweyter Theil as an aesthetic comment on appropriative sequels offers a new reading of Goethe's perplexing libretto and helps explain why these texts proliferated around 1800. Furthermore, studying the reception of Der Bürgergeneral, a sequel to Heyne's Die beiden Billets (1782), illuminates how the issues raised in Goethe's Zauberflöte sequel played out in the literary field, highlighting the uncontainable nature of these works.

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Goethe Yearbook 25
Publications of the Goethe Society of North America
, pp. 109 - 132
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2018

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