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Rudolf Steiner Archive Document
Lecture eleven of thirty-eight lectures in the lecture series entitled,
Philosophy, History, and Literature, published in German as,
Ueber Philosophie, Geschichte und Literatur.
Notes of a Lecture given
by Dr. Rudolf Steiner
Translator is Unknown
Berlin, May 6, 1902
Bn 51, GA 51, CW 51
This e.Text edition is provided through the wonderful work of:
Lecture eleven of thirty-eight lectures in the lecture series
Philosophy, History, and Literature,
published in German as,
Ueber Philosophie, Geschichte und Literatur.
Based on an essay, Bn 29.1.28, entitled,
Another Secret of Shakespeare's Works.
The original German text of this lecture can be found in the
Collected Edition of Rudolf Steiner's works, No. 51 in the
Bibliographical Survey, 1961.
This lecture series is presented here with the kind permission
of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland.
From Bn 51, GA 51, CW 51.
Various e.Text Transcribers
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Thanks to an anonymous donation, this lecture has been made available.
ACCOMPANYING NOTE: Friends who heard that there existed notes of a
lecture on Shakespeare given by Dr. Steiner in 1902 at the Workmen's
School in Berlin, expressed the wish to read these notes. They were
taken down by Frl. Johanna Mücke, who did not know shorthand, so that
they do not claim to be complete. Their 7 pages of typescript may
correspond to about 25 typescript pages of the original text of the
lecture. But important points emerge even from these incomplete notes.
A whole legend has arisen on Shakespeare and whole libraries have been
written on each one of his works. Men of learning have given many
interpretations of his plays, and a number of writers considered that
an uneducated actor could not have produced all the thoughts which
they discovered in Shakespeare's works, and they established the
hypothesis that not William Shakespeare, the actor of the Globe
Theatre, could have written the plays which bear his name, but some
other highly learned man, for example Lord Bacon of Verulam, who in
view of the low estimation of literary activity at that time, borrowed
the actor's name. These suppositions are based on the fact that no
manuscripts by Shakespeare have ever been found, they are also based
upon a notebook discovered in a London library with single passages in
it which are supposed to correspond with certain passages in
But Shakespeare's own works bear witness that he is their author. His
plays reveal that they were written by a man who had a thorough
knowledge of the theatre and the deepest understanding for theatrical
That Shakespeare himself did not publish his plays was simply in
keeping with the general custom at his time. Not one of his plays was
printed during his lifetime. They were anxiously kept away from the
printing press, the people were to come to the theatre and see the
plays there, not read them at home. Prints which arose at that time
were thefts, based on stenographic notes taken during a performance
(shorthand had just begun to exist), so that their text did not
correspond to the original version, but was full of errors and
These partial omissions and mistakes led certain investigators to the
statement that Shakespeare's plays are not works of art of any special
value and that originally they must have existed in quite a different
form. One of these investigators is Eugen Reichel, who thinks to
recognise in the author of Shakespeare's plays a man with a definite
world-conception. But such statements are contradicted by the fact
that the plays, in the form in which they now exist, are able to
exercise an extraordinary influence. We see this great effect in plays
that have undoubtedly been mutilated, for example in
MACBETH. The hold of Shakespeare's plays on his audience
was proved by a performance of HENRY V at the
inauguration of the Lessing Theatre. It did not fail to produce a
powerful impression in spite of a thoroughly bad translation and poor
Shakespeare's dramas are above all character-dramas. The great
interest which they arouse does not so much lie in the
action, as in the wonderful exposition and development of the single
characters. The poet conjures up before us a human character and
unfolds its thoughts and feelings.
This development in art which culminated in Shakespeare is determined
by the preceding phase of cultural development; the Renaissance
period. Shakespeare's character-dramas could only arise as a result of
the higher estimation of the individual during the Renaissance. During
the early Middle Ages we find, even in Dante and in spite of
his marked personality, the expression of Christian ideals of that
time. The Christian type of his days, not the individual personal
essence of the human being, appeared in the foreground. This was the
general conception. The Christian principles of that time did not
concern themselves with the single personality, with the individual.
But little by little a new world-conception aroused the interest in
the Individual human being.
The fact that Shakespeare's fame spread so quickly proves that he
found an audience keenly interested in the theatre, that is to say,
with a certain understanding for the representation of the personality
as offered by Shakespeare. Shakespeare's chief aim was to set forth
individual characters, he was far from presenting to his audience an
ethical or moral idea. For example, the idea of a tragic guilt, as
found in Schiller's dramas, who thought that he had to encumber his
hero with it in order to justify the catastrophe, does not exist in
Shakespeare's plays. He simply allows the events to take their course
consistently, uninfluenced by the idea of guilt and atonement. It
would be difficult to trace a concept of guilt in this meaning in any
of his dramas.
Shakespeare also did not intend to present ideas of any kind, he did
not wish to set forth jealousy in Othello or ambition in Macbeth, but
simply the definite characters of Othello, Macbeth, or Hamlet. Just
because he did not burden his characters with theories, he was able to
create such great ones. He was thoroughly acquainted with the stage,
and this practical knowledge enabled him to develop his action in such
a way as to thrill an audience. In the whole literature of the world
there are no plays which are so completely conceived from the
standpoint of the actor. This is a clear proof that Shakespeare, the
actor, has the merit of having written these plays. (See in
this connection Rudolf Steiner's lectures given at Stratford on Avon.)
Shakespeare was born at Stratford in 1564; his father was in fairly
good circumstances, so that his son was able to attend the grammar
school of his native town. There are many legends about Shakespeare's
youth. Some say that he was a poacher and led an adventurous life.
These facts have been adduced against his authorship, yet these very
experiences could only enrich his dramatic creation. Even the fact
that in spite of his good education he was not encumbered with
book-learning, gave him the possibility to face things more freely and
in a far more unprejudiced way. The poet's adventurous nature explains
to some extent some of the greatest qualities in his plays: the bold
flight of his fantasy, his sudden changes in the action, his passion
and daring, all bear witness to a life full of movement and colour.
In 1585, when Shakespeare's financial conditions were no longer in a
flourishing state, he went to London. There he began his theatrical
career in the lowest ranks, by holding the horses of the visitors
while they were enjoying the performance. He then became supervisor of
a number of such boys who had to hold the horses' reins, and was at
last admitted to the stage. In 1592, he recited his first more
His fame soon began to spread both as an actor and as a
dramatist and his conditions improved, so that in 1597 he was
already able to buy a house at Stratford. As part-owner of the Globe
Theatre, he became a wealthy man.
Shakespeare's plays LOVE'S LABOUR LOST, AS YOU LIKE
IT and some of the Kings' plays do not differ so greatly from
the plays of his contemporaries, of Marlowe and others, their
expressive power, their purity and naturalness were moreover impaired
by a certain artificial note which was the fashion in those days. The
great character-plays which were to establish his fame for all times
followed little by little; HAMLET, MACBETH,
KING LEAR, JULIUS CAESAR, after his first
great play OTHELLO.
Some of Shakespeare's biographers and commentators wish to deduce from
certain of his plays troubled experiences which embittered him. But in
Shakespeare's case this is difficult to establish, because his
identity withdraws behind his characters. They do not voice his
thoughts, but they all think and act in accordance with their own
disposition and character.
It is consequently useless to ask what Shakespeare's own standpoint
may have been on certain difficult questions. For it is not
Shakespeare, but Hamlet who broods over the problem of to
be, or not to be; it [is] Hamlet who recoils from his father's
ghost, just as it is Macbeth who recoils from the witches. Whether
Shakespeare believed in ghosts and witches, whether he was a
churchgoer or a freethinker, is not the essential point at all, he
simply faced the problem: how should a ghost or a witch appear on the
scene so as to produce a strong effect upon the audience. The fact
that this effect is undiminished today, proves that Shakespeare was
able to solve this problem.
We should not forget that the modern stage is not favourable to the
effect which Shakespeare's plays can produce. The importance which is
now attributed to decorations, costumes, etc., the frequent changes of
scenery, diminish the effect which is to be produced by the characters
in the plays for this remains the chief thing. In Shakespeare's
time, when a change of scenery was simply indicated by a notice-board,
when a table and a chair sufficed for the equipment of a royal palace,
the effect produced by the characters must have been even greater than
Whereas in a modern play so much depends on scenery, decorations, etc.
(a modern writer generally gives a detailed description of the stage
decorations, etc., so that the effect of his plays may be handicapped
by bad staging), Shakespeare's plays leave a strong impression, even
when performed in the poorest way.
The influence exercised by Shakespeare's art will gain in power, when
we shall have learned to lay more stress on their essential character.
They will act through the power which lies in the description of the
single characters. It is this which constitutes their living essence,
which has never been surpassed throughout the centuries.
The above is taken verbatim, with only typographical corrections from
Anthroposophic News Sheet, Volume 14 (1945), page 71, No.
9/10, March. 4.
This statement appears: Copyright and all other Rights of reproduction
and translation reserved by General Anthroposophic Society, Dornach,
Anyone contemplating reproduction of the above lecture notes should be
informed on currently applicable copyright laws.
Last Modified: 29-Aug-2017
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