Strange as it may seem, the German Shakespeare Society (die Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft, DSG) is the world's oldest! Founded in 1864, on the occasion of the Bard's 300th birthday (zum 300. Geburtstag vom Barden), the Society's headquarters are in Weimar, a city also closely associated with the real "German Shakespeares," Friedrich Schiller and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Divided by the Cold War and the Berlin Wall for three decades, Germany's oldest literary society successfully managed its own reunification in 1993. Each year in April (the month of Shakespeare's birth and death) the DSG sponsors its "Shakespeare-Tage" (Shakespeare Days), an international event held in either Weimar or Bochum, the former western headquarters, in alternate years. The Society also promotes other meetings, seminars and research, and publishes a book-like annual journal, Das Shakespeare-Jahrbuch, in English and German. (See the DSG Web site link on our Shakespeare links page for more about the Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft.)
»Sein oder Nichtsein—das ist die Frage!«
“To be, or not to be, that is the question.”
The German fascination with Shakespeare began in the early 1700s when English repertoire companies crossed the Ärmelkanal (English Channel) to perform the Bard's plays all across Germany and Europe. Translations of Shakespeare's words have become so much a part of the German language, that Germans can be forgiven if they sometimes seem to forget that William Shakespeare was not Wilhelm Shakespeare! In fact, the Germans take a back seat to no one when it comes to honoring the greatest English poet of all time. They do so by performing and attending his plays (more performances each year than in Britain!), using his words and phrases, and by joining Shakespeare clubs and associations. There's even a replica of the Globe Theatre in Neuss, Germany, not far from Düsseldorf. Each season in Neuss the German Globe offers a program of Shakespeare productions—in both German and English. (See our links for more about the "Globe.")
As in the English-speaking world, Germans often fail to realize just how much of their vocabulary comes from Shakespeare. But was ist ein Name? (what's in a name?) They would no doubt consider such concerns viel Lärm um nichts (much ado about nothing). However, worrying about such things could be der Anfang vom Ende (the beginning of the end). Okay, I'll stop. Der Rest ist Schweigen (the rest is silence).
A Brief Shakespeare (English-German) Glossary
- the Bard der Barde
- play das Schauspiel (the play's the thing)
- poet der Dichter / die Dichterin
- the Swan of Avon der Schwan vom Avon
- sonnet(s) das Sonett (-e)
- “The Taming of the Shrew” »Der Widerspenstigen Zähmung«
- More Shakespeare Vocabulary - Plays, theater terms, etc.
Over the years, many German literary figures have translated Shakespeare into the language of Goethe and Schiller. (Among other works, Goethe's "Götz von Berlichingen" shows Shakespeare's influence.) For many of the Bard's plays and sonnets it is possible to find several German versions, translated at different times by different poets. Ironically, this means that it is usually easier to read Shakespeare in German (if you're German) than in English! The English of Shakespeare's time is often foreign to modern ears, but the German translations tend to be in more modern German than the Elizabethan English of the originals.
On the next page you can compare several German versions of lines from Hamlet and other works by Shakespeare. And don't miss our German Shakespeare links!