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The Romantics on Shakespeare

December 8, 2007

Extract from a letter by Hector Berlioz to Humbert Ferrand, 1828.

We`ll read HAMLET AND FAUST TOGETHER. Shakespeare and Goethe! The silent confidants of my torments, the elucidators of my life. Come, do come! No one here understands this frenzy of genius. The sun blinds them. They just find it bizarre. The day before yesterday, travelling in a carriage, I wrote the ballad of the King of Thule in Gothic style: I`ll give it to you to put into your Faust, if you have one.

Hector Berlioz

From Selected Letters of Berlioz, ed. Hugh Macdonald, trans. Roger Nichols. Letter 34, pp.48-49.


The letter was written in Grenoble.

Extract from a letter by Hector Berlioz to Adele Suat (1854)

The most colossal productions of the human spirit can find neither hearth not home in the modern world. The English talk of raising a statue to Shakespeare four hundred high and they don`t have a single theatre where the masterpieces of this demigod can be decently staged. It`s a belated expression of national vanity on their part, but the feeling of admiration is neither widespread nor real.

Hector Berlioz

From Selected Letters of Berlioz, ed. Hugh Macdonald, trans. Roger Nichols. Letter 300, pp.316-319.


Adele Suat was Berlioz` sister.

Extract from Fragmente uber Shakespeare by Adam Muller (1806).

Time, and our judgements on beauty and art, have finally ripened to the point where we can find no better expression for our feelings of reverence towards the ancients, loyalty towards our mentors the Greeks, and love for our friends the moderns, that by placing the richest and most powerful artist in the seat of judgement and agreeing to find in him a measure and a guiding principle for the rest. It is impossible to derive from his work vulgar rules for the craft of poetry, or poetic calculation; it is quite impossible to imitate him; but to be seized by him and swept along in the mighty stream of life, into true freedom from all oppressive, restrictive forms – that is certainly possible. Because he is an essential part of all that is created, like nature in her creativity, and yet nowhere hints at constraint or conformity; because he is free, infinitely free, and yet the briefest passage has yet to be found in which he might appear wilful or arrogant in his misuse of freedom; because he appears at one and the same time to sound the depths of nature and to create it artificially; because he unites, as no other before or since, the monologue of reflective art, with its sense of purpose, and the never-ending dialogue of playful, changeable, infinitely varied nature, in the higher being of his dramatic personality; for all these reasons the history of dramatic poetry must start with him, regardless of how late in the course of time he in fact took flesh, and of what great heroes of the stage had already gone before him…

Adam Muller

Translated by Louise Adey.


The “richest and most powerful artist” is Shakespeare.

On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again by John Keats.

Oh golden-tongued Romance, with serene lute!
Fair plumed siren, queen of far away!
Leave melodizing on this wintry day,
Shut up thine olden pages, and be mute.
Adieu! for, once again, the fierce dispute
Betwixt damnation and impassioned clay
Must I burn through; once more humbly assay
The bitter-sweet of this Shakespearian fruit.
Chief poet, and ye clouds of Albion,
Begetters of our deep eternal theme!
When through the old oak forest I am gone,
Let me not wander in a barren dream;
But when I am consumed in the fire,
Give me new phoenix wings to fly at my desire.

John Keats (1818)

Extract from Racine et Shakespeare by Stendhal (1823).

The whole dispute between Racine and Shakespeare amounts to knowing whether, in observing the two unites of place and time, one can create plays which would deeply interest spectators and the nineteenth century, plays which would make them weep and tremble, or, in other terms, which would afford them dramatic pleasures instead of the epic pleasures which make us run to the fiftieth performance of Le Parai or of Regulus.

I say that the observation of the two unites of place and time is a French habit, a deeply rooted habit, a habit of which we can rid ourselves with difficulty, because Paris is the salon of Europe and gives it its tone; but I say that these unities are in no way necessary to produce profound emotion and true dramatic effect.

Why, I shall say to the partisans of classicism, do you demand that the action represented in a tragedy shall last no longer that twenty-four and thirty-six hours, and that the place of the scene shall not change, or, as Voltaire said, that the changes of place shall not extend beyond the various suites of a palace?

Stendhal (Henri Beyle)

Translated by Francoise Rosen, from Shakespeare in Europe, ed. LeWinter.


Le Paria and Regulus are plays that were popular during the 1820s.

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