Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749 – 1832)
A Short Biographical Overview
The man who was to become, in many opinions, Germany’s Shakespeare began his life on August 28th, 1749 in Frankfort, Germany. Born of a privileged family, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, was the son of an upper class, bourgeois father and the grandson of the city’s Mayor (Dieckmann, 13). He was a lucky child to grow up in such a financially and emotionally secure home. His family valued education and, within that, artistic expression thru music and writing. In volume one of Albert Bielschowsky’s book The Life of Goethe, he writes: “Among his first productions we may reckon the three German-Latin colloquies which he composed when eight years old…such invention in the development of the subject, such lively humour in the dialogue, such skill in delineating the individuality of the speakers, and such quickness and keenness at repartee” (31). Even as a young boy, Goethe showed the true talent of a promising writer.
A career in writing was not in his father’s plans, however. Goethe’s father sent him to a university in Strasbourg in 1770 to study law (Diekmann, 13). These studies were not where his interests lie and, though he did continue his classes, Goethe spent much of his time writing poetry and indulging his fascination with the natural world and sciences. He eventually was invited by Duke Karl August to join his men at court in Weimar in 1775 and less than a year later became the Prime Minister in the Duke’s council. There he stayed, an extremely busy man, for ten years. During this period of his life Goethe: “enters the adult world of responsibility and of tasks different from the self imposed work on his poetry…His life at the court was not easy, since the duke was very demanding” (Dieckmann, 28). Any poetry written was during his spare time and could not take precedence over his work. In 1786, after ten years in this challenging position, Goethe took a long trip to Italy (Diekmann, 13). It was on this trip that Goethe realized how much of his life was being consumed by his job, and although he returned to Weimar, he began to focus on his artistic talents with a renewed vigor.
After his trip to Italy in 1786, Goethe continued to travel, but never officially moved from Weimar. He became the director of the Weimar Theater in 1791 (Diekmann, 13), and continued to produce multiple works over the remaining years of his life. In addition to his many poems, plays, and books, Goethe published an autobiography detailing the years from his birth up to is visit to Italy. One of his most studied plays, Faust, was published in 1808 and part two of that play, Faust II, was published posthumously after his death in 1832 (Diekmann, 14). He lived a full and rich life, reflected in his full and rich repertoire.