Shrovetide carnival plays

The University Library has recently acquired a rare edition of three early dramatic pieces by Goethe, the Neueröfnetes moralisch-politisches Puppenspiel (7001.d.268), which like Werther was published for the Leipzig autumn fair of 1774, when Goethe was 25 years old. The Library’s copy, bound in later period vellum with red morocco lettering pieces, is in excellent condition with only minimal browning. The title-page has a vignette of a seated boy striking with a sword at a slate bearing letters of the alphabet.

Neueröfnetes moralisch-politisches Puppenspiel (7001.d.268)

Neueröfnetes moralisch-politisches Puppenspiel (7001.d.268)

The three works in question are a dramatic poem, Des Künstlers Erdewallen, and two Shrovetide carnival pantomimes, Jahrmarktsfest zu Plundersweilern and Ein Fastnachtsspiel vom Pater Brey. In his Goethe, the poet and the age, Nicholas Boyle summarises the Jahrmarktsfest zu Plundersweilern : “In a fairground setting a vivid and satirical kaleidoscope of figures, quacks, gypsies, peasants, pedlars from Nuremberg and the Tyrol, an Italian barrel-organist, and one or two more characters from the refined classes, all conversing in a lively rhyming farrago, form an audience for a play within the play: the biblical folk-story of Queen Esther and the villainous Haman”.

In Ein Fastnachtsspiel vom Pater Brey a false prophet tries to take advantage of an innocent girl (who was modelled on Herder’s future wife Caroline Flachsland), but is defeated by her returning fiancé. Goethe read it as an entertainment on the night before Herder’s wedding, but Herder did not enjoy the insinuations of the piece, and relations between him and Goethe remained cool for several months.

Title page (detail)

Title page (detail)

The publication is item no. 77 in Waltraud Hagen’s Die Drucke von Goethes Werken (B151.GOE.1), and is the latest in a succession of editions of early texts by Goethe acquired by the University Library. From 1774 we also have Clavigo (7746.d.103), but unfortunately not yet a first edition of Die Leiden des jungen Werthers.

David Lowe

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