Weimar Classic

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The Weimar Musenhof . Oil painting, Theobald von Oer , 1860.
Friedrich Schiller declaims in Tiefurter Park . Below the audience on the far left (seated) Herder , in the center of the picture (seated with cap) Wieland and on the right (standing) Goethe .

In the 19th century, the expression Weimarer Klassik referred to the time when the "four stars" Wieland , Goethe , Herder and Schiller worked in Weimar . In a narrower sense, it describes the epoch after Johann Wolfgang Goethe's first trip to Italy in 1786 . The Weimar Classics lasted roughly until Goethe's death in 1832 . Often the Weimar Classic is also used to refer to the joint creative period of the poet friends Goethe and Schiller, which lasted from 1794 to 1805 and began with the correspondence between the two.

Definition of the term

The term was only coined in the course of the 19th century, and none of the four poets called themselves a classic. Today there are two different definitions of the term Weimar Classic :

The first, broad definition relates to the time and place of the work of Wieland, Herder, Goethe and Schiller. This simplistic definition suggests far-reaching similarities in the literary work of the four, but these similarities existed mainly between Goethe and Schiller in the period from 1794 to 1805. Also, extraordinary personal relationships between all four never existed at the same time. Thus, this definition of the term mainly summarizes the four most prominent literary personalities of the then existing cultural area (Weimar and Jena) who did not belong to the early romantic trend.

The second, much narrower definition relates to the roughly 11-year creative period between Goethe and Schiller. By restricting the definition to intense personal friendship and the “aesthetic alliance” in poetry, it is possible to differentiate the term Weimar Classicism more precisely from the complex cultural contexts in Weimar and Jena around 1800. It should be added that Goethe continued this alliance in terms of content after Schiller's death (1805). The coining of the term in the 19th century with regard to the location was also simplistic, because Schiller lived and worked in Jena for the first half of the classical era (until December 1799), so that a large part of the communication took place via letters and during mutual visits.
The poet friendship between Goethe and Schiller and their works from this period thus form a more applicable definition of the term from both a literary and historical perspective.

Requirements for the Weimar Classic

The French Classical was seen worldwide as the culmination of efforts since the Renaissance to revive the poetry of antiquity. After the death of the Sun King (Louis XIV) in 1715, there were tendencies to break away from these models. The antique fabrics were replaced by realistic-current and then increasingly by medieval, exotic, fairytale-like. Therefore efforts began to save the preoccupation with antiquity and in the process to strip it of that aristocratic appearance which met with rejection from the bourgeoisie. This went hand in hand with a return to the sources presented in the travel literature on ancient sites and the incipient archeology .

When Johann Joachim Winckelmann wrote his thoughts on “Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture” in 1755 and his “History of Ancient Art” in 1764/67, he had no idea what effect these works would have on the world well into the 19th century should have predominantly art and culture based on Roman antiquity. His aesthetic consideration of Greek art ( noble simplicity, quiet grandeur ) was a basis for the time of the “German” classical period. The ostentatiousness of the French classical music was turned into a bourgeois simplicity. This corresponded to the tendency in the German-speaking area to mediate between the nobility and the bourgeoisie instead of creating boundaries. The literary classics, later also called Weimar Classics, remained true to these principles. Albrecht von Haller with his poem Die Alpen in his attempt at Swiss poems (Bern 1732) can be regarded as the founder of German classical literature .


It started in 1772 when the widowed Duchess Anna Amalie von Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach called Christoph Martin Wieland to Weimar to bring up her two sons, who had just published his modern, ironic prince's mirror The Golden Mirror or the Kings of Scheschian . As early as 1771 Anna Amalia had invited the Seylersche Drama Society with several prominent actors and playwrights, including Konrad Ekhof , to their court; the troupe stayed at Anna Amalia's court until 1774. The Seylersche Drama Society was considered "the best drama company that existed in Germany in that second [1769–1779]".

Before Goethe was called to Weimar in 1775 at the age of 26 - also as a prince educator - he had become the leader of the Sturm und Drangs - mainly through the epistolary novel " The Sorrows of Young Werther " . With Goethe's move to Weimar, his works became continuously more mature in the sense of an aesthetic ideal approaching classical antiquity in terms of content and form . In 1786, Goethe traveled to Italy in pursuit of this ideal. Immediately after his return in the spring of 1788, he let himself be released from his previous positions and met Schiller in Rudolstadt in September . This encounter was rather sobering for both: Goethe considered Schiller to be a hot spur of Sturm und Drang, and Schiller saw Goethe's poetic approach in stark contrast to his own.

In 1776, Goethe also moved Johann Gottfried Herder , whom he admired from Bückeburg, to Weimar as general superintendent - not without the relationship between them cooling off immediately.

When Schiller and Goethe came closer to each other at a lecture in Jena in 1794 , the judgments about each other looked a little different (see Schiller's essay On Naive and Sentimental Poetry from 1795). Two letters from Schiller to Goethe, one dated August 23 and the other dated August 31, 1794, with which he successfully advertised his friendship, are decisive for these findings. The mutual influence of Schiller and Goethe is reflected in their jointly authored Xenien of 1796, but especially in their subsequent correspondence to the 1,835 critical comments of playwright Christian Dietrich Grabbe appeared.

Features and characteristics

The experience of the difficult enforcement of the ideals of the French Revolution ( freedom, equality and fraternity ) and their perversion during the Jacobin reign of terror (1793/94) had a general influence on the entire German cultural scene, e.g. B. on the authors of the Weimar Classic, but also on the work of Ludwig van Beethoven in contemporary music. Another point of reference is the literature of Sturm und Drang: Here, too, a conflict of values ​​resulting from the Enlightenment, here between reason and feeling, could not be satisfactorily resolved and led to numerous catastrophes in the texts (see Werther's suicide in Goethe's Die Leiden of the young Werther ). As a reaction to these experiences, the focus of the classical art concept is the striving for a harmonious balance of the opposites - because precisely this balance failed in the reality of the French Revolution and the literature of Sturm und Drang and led to their increasing escalation. Based on the ancient ideal of art, the classical period is now looking for perfection, harmony, humanity and the correspondence of content and form. Where Goethe sought a model in nature for the universal connection of all phenomena, history became the most important point of reference for Schiller. Further features are:

  • Confrontation with the French Revolution.
  • Not through a violent overthrow (French Revolution), but through an evolutionary further development (slow higher development) of society one arrives at the goal of a state corresponding to the ideals of the Enlightenment.
  • Centralization on Weimar and z. T. Jena .
  • Contrast the unrest of the times with the program of aesthetic education: people should be educated to humanity through art and literature and thereby become ripe for social change.
  • The ideal of education is the " beautiful soul ", i. H. the person whose action, duty and inclination are in harmony (ideal of a calm, serene, self-contained person).
  • The timelessness of the epoch by choosing objects for observation that are “above all the influence of the times”, more precisely human-ethical values.
  • Striving for harmony in society instead of the selfishness of Sturm und Drang.
  • Humanity .
  • Realization that personal ruin is the just punishment for moral misconduct.

The most important motifs of the Weimar Classic include humanity and tolerance . The most important genre is the drama , whereby poetry and epic remain secondary. A high level of language and a regulated language were typical (cf. blank verse of Iphigenia on Tauris ). Compared to the natural language ideal of Sturm und Drang, with all its coarseness, this regulated language precisely illustrates the balance between reason and feeling and can therefore also serve as a mediator of the values ​​of the classical period and as a means of aesthetic education (see Schiller's On Aesthetic Education of man and the power of the word in Goethe's Iphigenia on Tauris). The return or approach of Goethe and Schiller to the classical drama concept (pyramidal structure, adherence to the Aristotelian three units, etc.) should be seen in the same context .

The Weimarer Klassik got its name not only from its orientation towards antiquity, which was strongly influenced by Wieland's conceptual and material reception of antiquity and is also reflected in the form of many works - especially with Goethe. It was also considered the “classic” epoch of German poetry.

In the countermovement of the “ Romanticism ”, the term “Classical” was then narrowed down to formal takeovers and used primarily against Schiller as a controversial term. Seen from this point of view, the term did not designate an exemplary epoch, but a school that took the Greek classic as its model.

Selected works from this period

Christoph Martin Wieland

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Gottfried (von) Herder

Friedrich von Schiller


  • Karl August Böttiger : Literary conditions and contemporaries. Encounters and conversations in classic Weimar. Edited by Klaus Gerlach and René Sternke, Aufbau-Verlag, Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-351-02829-6 .
  • Andreas Beyer : The art of classicism and romanticism. Beck'sche Reihe, CH Beck, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-406-60762-2 .
  • Heinrich Pleticha (ed.): The classic Weimar - texts and testimonials. Licensed edition for the Komet Verlag Cologne by the Deutsches Taschenbuch Verlag, 1983, ISBN 3-89836-517-4 .
  • Carl Wilhelm Heinrich Freiherr von Lyncker: I served at the Weimar court. Notes from the time of Goethe. Edited by Jürgen Lauchner, Böhlau, Cologne-Weimar-Vienna 1997, ISBN 3-412-05297-3 .
  • Hubert Erzmann, Rainer Wagner: Weimar viewed from below. Fragments of a chronicle between 1806 and 1835. Recorded by Franz David Gesky, Glaux, Jena 1997, ISBN 3-931743-15-2 .
  • Michael Titzmann: From “Sturm und Drang” to “Classic”. “Limits of Humanity” and “The Divine” - poetry as the intersection of discourses. In: Schiller yearbook. Vol. 42, 1998, pp. 42-63.
  • Volker C. Dörr : Weimar Classic. UTB literary studies elementary, volume 2926, Fink, Paderborn 2007, ISBN 978-3-8252-2926-9 .
  • Norbert Oellers , Robert Steegers: Weimar. Literature and Life in Goethe's Time. 2. verb. Edition. Philipp Reclam jun., Stuttgart 2009 ( Reclam Taschenbuch ; 20182) ISBN 978-3-15-020182-4 .

Web links


  1. ^ "Duchess Anna Amalie von Weimar and her theater," in Robert Keil (ed.), Goethe's diary from the years 1776–1782 , Veit, 1875, p. 69.
  2. cf. Schiller's letter to Gottfried Körner, Rudolstadt, September 12, 1788
  3. cf. Schiller's letter to Goethe, Jena, 23 August 1794
  4. cf. Schiller's letter to Goethe, Jena, August 31, 1794