Gottsched, Johann Christoph

Gottsched, Johann Christoph
(1700-1766)
   Scholar, playwright. Gottsched was a pastor's son who, as a professor at the University of Leipzig, had a missionary zeal to reform the German theater; with Caroline Neuber in the mid-18th century, he realized his missionary goals. Gottsched viewed theater as the ideal instrument to establish both spoken and written German as a literary language, but based on French models. In 1732 he convinced Neuber to begin performing his Der sterbende Cato (The Dying Cato), and he supported her attempts to make theater performances more professional by improving the diction of actors, correcting their comportment offstage, augmenting production values, and banning the presence of the low comic type Hanswurst from the stage. Nearly all German troupes in the first half of the 18th century were presenting fare that was vulgar, sloppy, and poorly produced. Between performances actors augmented their incomes by selling quack medicine, pulling teeth, or giving astrological advice; actresses in many cases provided sexual favors to anyone with money to pay for them. Gottsched wanted to cultivate in German audiences the taste for an alternative "national" drama, cleansed of obscene gimmicks, indecent innuendo, and juvenile humor—all of which Hanswurst personified. Gottsched envisioned a German theater whose principal task was public edification, and his quest for reform complemented Neu-ber's of raising the social status of actors and actresses. Their shared efforts were a driving force behind the German theater's transformation from a Schaubude (show booth) to a Schaubühne (theatrical showplace).
   Gottsched's attempts to raise the status of the German language was successful, though his attempts to write neoclassical tragedy in German based on French precedents were not. He published six volumes of plays imitating Jean Racine and Pierre Corneille between 1740 and 1745, but their inadequacies as stageworthy vehicles led to a break with the Neuber troupe. Gottsched was among the first German theorists to propose a "systematic" discussion of comic theory, and in it he echoed earlier German views on drama's need to parallel life as closely as possible to achieve its moral ends. "The moral force of a play is dependent on its degree of realism, for the spectators must be able to recognize themselves and their environment in order to take to heart the examples they see on the stage," he wrote. Gottsched described comedy as "an imitation of a depraved action, which through its essential ridiculousness the spectator is both amused and morally renewed." Both "depraved action" (lasterhafte Handlung) and "essential ridiculousness" (lächerliches Wesen) must coexist in performance, however, if the spectator's renewal is to take place (Versuch einer critischen Dichtkunst [Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1962], 643).

Historical dictionary of German Theatre. . 2006.


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