Tragedy’s Endurance: Performances of Greek Tragedies and Cultural Identity in Germany since 1800
Erika Fischer-Lichte – 2017
The book is devoted to the remarkable phenomenon of Greek tragedy’s endurance on German stages during the last 200 years. It examines how performances of Greek tragedies since 1800 contributed to the emergence, stabilization, and transformation of the German Bildungsbürgertum’s (educated middle class) cultural identity. Its focus lies on performances that either introduced a new theatre aesthetics or a new image of ancient Greece, or both. Key here are the truly transformative moments as well as the cultural dynamics involved. In this context, the overall political situation of the 200 years between the French Revolution and the peaceful revolution of 1989 in the German Democratic Republic plays a central role. It resulted in the reunification of the two German states, both founded in 1949 in the aftermath of the Second World War and at the beginning of the cold war. What was/is the purpose and role of performances of Greek tragedies in such a political climate? Did they help to bring about changes or did they result from changes that were already taking place? Were the performances seen to be welcoming, opposing, or even negating these changes? This study supplies answers to these questions by shedding some light on the underexplored relationship between the Philhellenism and the theatromania of the German Bildungsbürgertum, which has been brought into a sharper focus in performances of ancient Greek tragedies since the beginning of the nineteenth century. In short, it attempts to understand tragedy’s endurance.