E M Valk

Shakespeare’s Realism and the Gallery

The German novelist Theodor Fontane (1819–98) also worked as a drama critic – in London in the fifties and later for 20 years in Berlin. As attested by frequent comments in his letters and novels as well as by his reviews, his great favourite was Shakespeare. (His early translation of Hamlet was not published until 1966 as part of the growing recognition Fontane has received in Germany since the last war.)

Fontane also invoked Shakespeare in a discussion of realism: ‘Realism is completely misconceived if it is thought of as once and for all wedded to ugliness; it will only be wholly authentic if, on the contrary, it is wedded to beauty, transfiguring the attendant ugliness, which is after all part of life. How to set about doing this? That needs to be discovered; the best way is that of humour. Actually, we have long had the perfection of realism in Shakespeare. Only, in his greatness he is not viewed exclusively in that light.’

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