When in World War II dramatists of enemy nations were banned from German theatres, an exception was made for Shakespeare. For, as the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda decreed officially, Shakespeare was to be treated as a German author. This, however, was by then the confirmation of a hardly contested fact rather than a vicarious invasion of British territory. Affinities between Shakespeare and German culture had been enthusiastically acknowledged and bardolatrously celebrated throughout the preceding two centuries, ever since eighteenth-century intellectuals had discovered his plays. These had then left their imprint on the work of the major German classics, from Lessing through Goethe to Kleist and Büchner. Shakespeare was considered as the catalyst that brought German literature into its own – a view which in the course of the nineteenth century grew into something of a myth, the fullest presentation of which was to be Friedrich Gundolf’s influential book Shakespeare und der Deutsche Geist (1911). It is true that throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries there had also been patriotic objections to the mania with which a foreign dramatist was thus extolled at the expense of the national classics and of the respect due to the classical Greek subsoil of German culture.
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