Supriya Ghosh (Editor)

Weimar Classicism

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Weimar Classicism

Weimar Classicism (German: Weimarer Klassik) is a German literary and cultural movement, whose practitioners established a new humanism, from the synthesis of ideas from Romanticism, Classicism, and the Age of Enlightenment.


The Weimarer Klassik movement lasted thirty-three years, from 1772 until 1805, and involved intellectuals such as Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Johann Gottfried Herder, Friedrich Schiller, and Christoph Martin Wieland; and then was concentrated upon Goethe and Schiller during the period 1788–1805.


The German Enlightenment, called “neo-classical”, burgeoned in the synthesis of Empiricism and Rationalism as developed by Christian Thomasius (1655–1728) and Christian Wolff (1679–1754). This philosophy, circulated widely in many magazines and journals, profoundly directed the subsequent expansion of German-speaking and European culture.

The inability of this common-sense outlook convincingly to bridge “feeling” and “thought”, “body” and “mind”, led to Immanuel Kant's epochal “critical” philosophy. Another, though not as abstract, approach to this problem was a governing concern with the problems of aesthetics. In his Aesthetica of 1750 (vol. II; 1758) Alexander Baumgarten (1714–62) defined “aesthetics”, which he coined earlier in 1735, with its current intention as the “science” of the “lower faculties” (i.e., feeling, sensation, imagination, memory, et al.), which earlier figures of the Enlightenment had neglected. (The term, however, gave way to misunderstandings due to Baumgarten’s use of the Latin in accordance with the German renditions, and consequently this has often led many to falsely undervalue his accomplishment.) It was no inquiry into taste — into positive or negative appeals — nor sensations as such but rather a way of knowledge. Baumgarten's emphasis on the need for such “sensuous” knowledge was a major abetment to the “pre-Romanticism” known as Sturm und Drang (1765), of which Goethe and Schiller were notable participants for a time.

Cultural and historical context

Following Goethe's competition with and separation from Wieland and Herder, the movement Weimar Classicism is often described to have occurred only between Goethe's first stay in Rome (1786) and the death of Schiller (1805), his close friend and collaborator, underrating especially Wieland's influence on German intellectual and poetic life. Therefore, the Weimar Classicism could also be started with the arrival of Wieland (1772) and extended beyond Schiller's death until the death of Wieland (1813) or even of Goethe himself (1832).

In Italy Goethe aimed to rediscover himself as a writer and to become an artist, through formal training in Rome, Europe's 'school of art'. While he failed as an artist, Italy appeared to have made him a better writer.

Schiller's evolution as a writer was following a similar path to Goethe's. He had begun as a writer of wild, violent, emotion-driven plays. In the late 1780s he turned to a more classical style. In 1794 Schiller and Goethe became friends and allies in a project to establish new standards for literature and the arts in Germany.

By contrast the contemporaneous and efflorescing literary movement of German Romanticism was in opposition to Weimar and German Classicism, especially to Schiller. It is in this way both may be best understood, even to the degree in which Goethe continuously and stringently criticized it through much of his essays, such as “On Dilettantism”, on art and literature. After Schiller's death, the continuity of these objections partly elucidates the nature of Goethe's ideas in art and how they intermingled with his scientific thinking as well, inasmuch as it gives coherence to Goethe's work. Weimar Classicism may be seen as an attempt to reconcile—in “binary synthesis” — the vivid feeling emphasized by the Sturm und Drang movement with the clear thought emphasized by the Enlightenment, thus implying Weimar Classicism is intrinsically un-Platonic. On this Goethe remarked:

The Weimar movement was notable for its inclusion of female writers. Die Horen included works by several women, including a serially published novel, Agnes von Lilien, by Schiller's sister-in-law Caroline von Wolzogen. Other women published by Schiller included Sophie Mereau, Friederike Brun, Amalie von Imhoff, Elisa von der Recke, and Louise Brachmann.

Between 1786 and Schiller's death in 1805 he and Goethe worked to recruit a network of writers, philosophers, scholars and artists to their cause. This alliance later became known as ‘Weimar Classicism’, and it came to form a part of the foundation of 19th-century Germany’s understanding of itself as a culture and the political unification of Germany.

Aesthetic and philosophical principles

These are essentials used by Goethe and Schiller:

  1. Gehalt: the inexpressible “felt-thought”, or “import”, which is alive in the artist and the percipient that he or she finds means to express within the aesthetic form, hence Gehalt is implicit with form. A work’s Gehalt is not reducible to its Inhalt.
  2. Gestalt: the aesthetic form, in which the import of the work is stratified, that emerges from the regulation of forms (these being rhetorical, grammatical, intellectual, and so on) abstracted from the world or created by the artist, with sense relationships prevailing within the employed medium.
  3. Stoff: Schiller and Goethe reserve this (almost solely) for the forms taken from the world or that are created. In a work of art, Stoff (designated as “Inhalt”, or “content”, when observed in this context) is to be “indifferent” (“gleichgültig”), that is, it should not arouse undue interest, deflecting attention from the aesthetic form. Indeed, Stoff (i.e., also the medium through which the artist creates) needs to be in such a complete state of unicity with the Gestalt of the art-symbol that it cannot be abstracted except at the cost of destroying the aesthetic relations established by the artist.


Christoph Martin Wieland was the first writer to arrive in Weimar. In 1772 he was called by the widowed Anna Amalia of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, then regent of the Duchy Sachsen-Weimar, to educate her son. Weimar remained Wieland's home until his death. Here, in 1773, he founded Der teutsche Merkur, which under his editorship (1773–1789) became the most influential literary review in Germany.


1776, one year after his arrival, Goethe arranged that Herder was called to Weimar, whom he had admired already in his Strasbourg years.

Goethe and Schiller

Although the vociferously unrestricted, even “organic”, works that were produced, such as Wilhelm Meister, Faust, and West-östlicher Divan, where playful and turbulent ironies abound, may perceivably lend Weimar Classicism the double, ironic title “Weimar Romanticism”, it must nevertheless be understood that Goethe consistently demanded this distance via irony to be imbued within a work for precipitate aesthetic affect. This, similar to what Schiller wrote of Bürger's poetry, partly explains the varied nature of the works they both produced in a considerable light and how it is they can sometimes escape the most exacting of categorizations. The vast array of writings themselves, other than being solely literary pursuances or distichs, include scientific, philosophic, and aesthetic disquisitions and periodicals as well.

Schiller was remarkably prolific during this period, writing his plays Wallenstein (1799), Mary Stuart (1800), The Maid of Orleans (1801), The Bride of Messina (1803) and William Tell (1804).

Christoph Martin Wieland

  • Alceste, (stage play, 1773, first on stage: Weimar, May 25, 1773)
  • Die Geschichte der Abderiten, (novel on ancient Abdera, Leipzig 1774-1780)
  • Hann und Gulpenheh, (rhymed novel, Weimar 1778)
  • Schach Lolo, (rhymed novel, Weimar 1778)
  • Oberon, (rhymed novel, Weimar 1780)
  • Dschinnistan, (tom. I-III, Winterthur 1786-1789)
  • Geheime Geschichte des Philosophen Peregrinus Proteus, (novel, Weimar 1788/89; Leipzig 1791)
  • Agathodämon, (novel, Leipzig 1796-1797)
  • Aristipp und einige seiner Zeitgenossen, (novel on Aristippus, tom. I-IV, Leipzig: Göschen 1800-1802)
  • Johann Gottfried Herder

  • Volkslieder nebst untermischten anderen Stücken (1778–1779, ²1807: Stimmen der Völker in Liedern)
  • Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit (essays, tom. I-IV, 1784–1791)
  • Briefe zur Beförderung der Humanität, (collected essays, 1791–1797)
  • Terpsichore, (Lübeck 1795)
  • Christliche Schriften, (5 collections, Riga 1796–1799)
  • Metakritik zur Kritik der reinen Vernunft, (essay, Part I+II, Leipzig 1799)
  • Kalligone, (Leipzig 1800)
  • Johann Wolfgang (von) Goethe

  • Egmont (“Trauerspiel”, begonnen 1775, im Druck 1788)
  • Wilhelm Meisters theatralische Sendung (nvel, ab 1776, im Druck 1911)
  • Stella. Ein Schauspiel für Liebende (stag play, 1776)
  • Iphigenie auf Tauris (“Iphigenia in Tauris”, stage play, printed 1787)
  • Torquato Tasso (stage play, 1780-, printed 1790)
  • Römische Elegien (written 1788–90)
  • Venezianische Epigramme (1790)
  • Faust. Ein Fragment (1790)
  • Beiträge zur Optik (“Theory of Colours”, 1791/92)
  • Der Bürgergeneral (stage play, 1793)
  • Reineke Fuchs (“Reineke Fox”, hexametric epos, 1794)
  • Unterhaltungen deutscher Ausgewanderten (“Conversations of German Refugees”, 1795)
  • Das Märchen, (“The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily”, fairy tale, 1795)
  • Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (“Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship”, novel, 1795/96)
  • Faust. Eine Tragödie (“Faust” I, 1797-, first print 1808)
  • Novelle (1797- )
  • Hermann und Dorothea (“Hermann and Dorothea”, hexametric epos, 1798)
  • Die natürliche Tochter (stage play, 1804)
  • Die Wahlverwandtschaften (“Elective Affinities”, novel, 1809)
  • Friedrich (von) Schiller

  • Don Karlos, (stage play, 1787)
  • Über den Grund des Vergnügens an tragischen Gegenständen, (essay, 1792)
  • Augustenburger Briefe, (essays, 1793)
  • Über Anmut und Würde, (essay, 1793)
  • Kallias-Briefe, (essays, 1793)
  • Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen, (“On the Aesthetic Education of Man”, essays, 1795)
  • Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung, (essay, 1795)
  • Der Taucher, (poem, 1797)
  • Die Kraniche des Ibykus, (poem, 1797)
  • Ritter Toggenburg, (poem, 1797)
  • Der Ring des Polykrates, (poem, 7987)
  • Der Geisterseher, (“The Ghost-seer”, (1789)
  • Die Bürgschaft, (poem, 1798)
  • Wallenstein (trilogy of stage plays, 1799)
  • Das Lied von der Glocke (poem, 1799)
  • Maria Stuart (“Mary Stuart”, stage play, 1800)
  • Die Jungfrau von Orleans (“The Maid of Orleans”, stage play, 1801)
  • Die Braut von Messina (“The Bride of Messina”, stage play, 1803)
  • Das Siegesfest (poem, 1803)
  • Wilhelm Tell “(William Tell”, stage play, 1803/04)
  • Die Huldigung der Künste (poem, 1804)
  • Demetrius (stage play, incomplete, 1805)
  • By Goethe and Schiller both in collaboration

  • Die Horen (edited by Schiller, periodical, 1795–96)
  • Musenalmanach (editorship, many contributions, 1796–97)
  • Xenien (poems, 1796)
  • Almanach (editorship, mane contributions, 1798–00)
  • Propyläen (periodical, 1798–01)
  • See also: works by Herder, works by Goethe, and works by Schiller.


    Weimar Classicism's two most notable exponents, Goethe and Schiller, especially influenced later Germans where their works have been read and studied by fellow playwrights, and also philosophers: Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche. Musicians were inspired to compose for the works of these writers: Ludwig van Beethoven, Paul Dukas, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Carl Friedrich Zelter. Through the efforts of Scotsman Thomas Carlyle, who translated some of these works and wrote a biography of Schiller, they became more accessible to the English-speaking peoples in the mid-19th Century.

    Some of Goethe's ideas in the Theory of Colours have impacted scientific figures such as Charles Darwin. Goethe's color spectrum is still used.


    Weimar Classicism Wikipedia