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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)


German poet, novelist, playwright, courtier, and natural philosopher, one of the greatest figures in Western literature. In literature Goethe gained early fame with Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774, The Sorrows of Young Werther), but his most famous work is the poetic drama in two parts, Faust. Like the famous character of this poem, Goethe was interested in alchemy. He also made important discoveries in connection with plant and animal life, and evolved a non-Newtonian and unorthodox theory of the character of light and color, which has influenced such abstract painters as Kandinsky and Mondrian.

"I have carefully collected all I could possibly find out about the history of poor Werther, and I lay it before you here, knowing that you will thank me for doing so. You cannot deny his mind and character your admiration and love, or his fate your tears."
(The Sorrows of Young Werther, translated by Byard Quincy Morgan, Alma Classics, 2015, p. 3)

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born in Frankfurt am Main, the first child of a lawyer Johann Caspar Goethe, and Katherine Elisabeth Textor, the daughter of the mayor of Frankfurt. Goethe had a comfortable childhood and he was greatly influenced by his mother, who encouraged his literary aspirations. Due to  troubles at school, he received education at home.

At the age of 16, Goethe began to study law at Leipzig University (1765-68), and he also studied drawing with Adam Oeser. An unhappy love affair inspired Goethe's first play, Die Laune des Verliebten (1767, The Lover's Caprice). Götz von Berlichingen mit der eisernen Hand (1773) was an early success. This Sturm und Drang tragedy told of the notorious fifteenth century robber baron, whom Goethe turns into a champion of freedom.

After a period of illness, Goethe resumed his studies in Strasbourg (1770-71). Some biographers have speculated that Goethe had contracted syphilis – at least his relationships with women were years apart. Goethe practised law in Frankfurt (1771-72) and Wetzlar (1772). He contributed to Frankfurter Gelehrte Anzeigen (1772-73), and in 1774 he published his first novel, self-revelatory The Sorrows of Young Werther, in which he created the prototype of the Romantic hero, who wears blue coat and yellow breeches and commits suicide.

The novel, written in the form of a series of letters, depicted the hopeless affair of a young man, Werther, with the beautiful Charlotte. In the end the melancholic Werther shoots himself in the head, after one brief moment of happiness with Charlotte, when she lets him kiss her. Goethe's model was Charlotte Buff, the fiancée of his friend, whom he had met in Wetzlar in 1772. William Thackeray attacked the cult of "Wertherism" in his verse: "Werther had a love for Charlotte, / Such as words could never utter; / Would you know how he first met her? / She was cutting bread and butter." (Ballads by William Makepeace Thackeray, Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1882, p. 97)

Goethe's youth was emotionally hectic to the point that he sometimes feared for his reason. He was recognized as a leading figure in the Sturm und Drang, which celebrated the energetic Promethean restlessness of spirit as opposed to the ideal of calm rationalism of the Enlightenment. Goethe's poem 'Prometheus', with its insistence that man must believe not in gods but in himself, might be seen as a motto for the whole movement.

After a relaxing trip to Switzerland, Goethe made a decisive break with his past. In 1775 he was welcomed by Duke Karl August into the small court of Weimar, where he worked in several governmental offices. Occasionally he read aloud his texts to a selected group of persons – among them the Duke and the two Duchesses. To his disappointment a dog-trainer was also allowed to amuse in the court theatre.

"What you don't feel, you will not grasp by art,
Unless it wells out of your soul
And with sheer pleasure takes control,
Compelling every listener's heart.
But sit—and sit, and patch and knead,
Cook a ragout, reheat your hashes,
Blow at the sparks and try to breed
A fire out of piles of ashes!
Children and apes may think it great,
If that should titillate your gum,
But from heart to heart you will never create.
If from your heart it does not come."

(Goethe's Faust: Part One and Selections from Part Two, translated by Walter Kaufmann, 1963, pp. 106-107)

In Weimar Goethe did not have much time to publish fiction. He was a council member and member of the war commission, director of roads and services, and managed the financial affairs of the court. Also Goethe's scientific researches were wide. He discovered the human intermaxilarry bone (1784), and formulated a vertebral theory of the skull. His idea of Urpflanze, the archetypal forms after which all other plants are patterned, has similarities with Plato's theory of eternal and changeless Forms. In general, Goethe's metaphysics and organic view of nature showed the influence of Spinoza.

As the director of the Court Theater from 1791 to 1817, Goethe had Mozart's The Magic Flute performed over eighty times. It was the single most performed work during his tenure. A Freemason like Mozart, he knew well the background of the opera, but it was not performed with its original libretto by Emmanuel Schikaneder. Goethe preferred the adaptation of his common-law brother-in-law C.A. Vulpius, which offered a backstory and clarified the roles of the Queen of the Night and Sarasto. Goethe also spent to years trying to write the libretto for a sequel, Die Zauberharfe (The Magic Harpf). The famous magician Count Alessandro Cagliostro, another Freemason, reputedly inspired the character of Sarastro in The Magic Flute. 

During this period, Goethe's great love was Charlotte von Stein, an older married woman, but the relationship remained platonic. Eventually Goethe was released from day-to-day governmental duties to concentrate on writing, although he was still general supervisor for arts and sciences, and director of the court theatres. After Goethe's emotional dependence on Charlotte ended, he lived happily and unmarried with Christiane Vulpius, who became Goethe's mistress in 1789. Goethe called her his "Little Eroticon", while she called his penis "Herr Schönfuss". (Private Lives: Curious Facts about the Famous and Infamous by Mark Bryant, 1996, p. 143) In spite of public pressure, it was not until 1806 when they married. Goethe had a son with her in 1789, August, who died in Rome in 1830. "I was not unaware that I had begotten a mortal," Goethe stated. (Ibid., p. 143)

In 1786-88 Goethe made a journey to Italy. In Rome he began to read Johann Joachim Winckelmann's Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums (1764). He drew statues and ruins, collected antique and botanical samples, and was shocked by the primitive power of an ancient Greek temple – Renaissance art did not interest him. "In Rome I have found myself for the first time. For the first time I have been in harmony with myself, happy and reasonable," wrote Goethe in his diary. (Italian Journey, 1786-1788 by J.W. Goethe, translated from the German with an introduction by W.H. Auden and Elizabeth Mayer, 1968, p. 482) The journey ended Goethe's celibacy and inspired his play Iphigenie auf Tauris, and Römische Elegien, sensuous poems relating partly to Christiane. The ancient monuments he saw in Italy significantly influenced his growing commitment to a classical view of art. "Three thing," Goethe later wrote in Die Wahlverwandtschaften (1809, Elective Affinities), "are needful in a building: that it is in the right place, that it has good foundations, and that it is perfectly executed." (Elective Affinities: A Novel, translated with an introduction and notes by David Constantine, 1999, p. 58)

While in Sicily, Goethe met Count Cagliostro's relatives. At the time Goethe wrote his masonic comedy entitled Der Groß-Cophta (1791, The Grand Koptha), Cagliostro was touring the courts of Europe. In this play "the Count" was portrayed as a self-confident swindler.  One month after the first performance of The Grand Koptha, Goethe wrote: "All secret associations should be destroyed,  whatever the consequences." (Goethe: The Poet and the Age: Volume II: Revolution and Renunciation (1790-1802) by Nicholas Boyle, 2000, p. 173) For a period, Goethe himself may have been a member of the Order of Illuminati under the alias  of Abris. The secret society had been founded in 1776 by Adam Weishaupt to oppose monarchies and religions and spread enlightened reason.

In the 1790s Goethe contributed to Friedrich von Schiller´s journal Die Horen, published Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship) in 1795-96, and continued his writings on the ideals of arts and literature in his own journal Propyläen. Wilhelm Meister's story had preoccupied the author for many years. Wilhelm, disillusioned by love, starts actively to seek out other values, and becomes an actor and playwright. Whereas Werther's life ended in despair, Wilhelm has a more optimistic spirit. At the end of his wanderings in Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre (1821; 2nd ed. 1829, Wilhelm Meister's Travels) he finds happiness in present life. Wim Wenders and Peter Handke made in 1974 a modernized film adaptation of Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, entitled Wrong Move, in which Wilhelm's visions are shot down. "If only both, the poeticc and the political, could be one," he says to his friend, The old man, who answers: "That would be the end of longing—and the end of the world." ('The Writer in Film: Wrong Move' by Richard W. McCormick, in The Cinema of Wim Wenders: Image, Narrative, and the Postmodern Condition, edited by Roger F. Cook, Gerd Gemünden, 1997, p. 92)

During the French Revolution Goethe reported in letters – sometimes written in the middle of cannon fire – to his family his inconveniences, complaining that he was forced to leave his home and dear garden after the French army attacked Prussia. He also saw killings and looted villages. Although Goethe supported freedom and progress, he wanted to preserve the bourgeois or his artistic-individualistic way of life. However, the majority of the German intelligentsia greeted with enthusiasm the goals of the revolution, including Kant, Schiller, and Friedrich Schlegel.

As a response to the French Revolution Goethe wrote the epic poem Hermann und Dorothea (1797), which contrasts chaos and bourgeois harmony. In the abandoned drama The Mystified he tried to analyze the preconditions that led to the Revolution. Der Gross-Cophta (1791, The Great Copt) was a comedy about Cagliostro, whose trickery reflected the susceptibility of the court. Die natürliche Tochter, derived from the memoirs of Princess Stéphanie-Louis de Bourbon Conti, was Goethe's attempt to delt with the abuses of the ancien régime. 

Faust is an alchemical drama from beginning to end, claims C.G. Jung. Goethe came under the spell of alchemy in his youth, when he read Anton Josef Kirchweger's Aurea Catena Homeri (1723),  Georg von Welling's Opus Mago-cabbalisticum et Theosophicum (1735) – which he described as "obscure and incomprehensible" – and studied authors such as Basil Valentine and Paracelsus. He started to compose Faust about the age of twenty-three, and finished the second part in 1832, just before his death. Many of its lines have passed into the proverbial wisdom  in Germany. At the beginning of WWI, Goethe's Faust along with the New Testament and Nietzsche's Also Sprach Zarathustra were printed in special edition and distributed to the soldiers at the front. The first English translation from Faust was published in the Monthly Review (1810), Shelley made translations of sections of the work in 1822, and Bayard Taylor's verse translation came out in 1870-71.

The original figure in the Faust legend was Gregorius Faustus (or Gregorius Sabellicus, Faustus Junior, c1480-1510/1), a seeker of forbidden knowledge. His true identity is not known, but he claimed to be an astrologer, expert in magic, and an alchemist. This legend attracted Christopher Marlowe, who offered in his play a psychological study of the battle between good and evil. Marlowe's drama ends with the protagonist's damnation. Goethe's story created a new persona for the Devil – Mephistopheles was a gentleman, who had adopted the manners of a courtier. Faust's lust for knowledge is limitless and he makes a contract with Mephistopheles: he will die at the moment he declares himself satisfied, if he should exclaim, "Stay, thou art so fair" (Verweile doch, du bist so schön!). 

In the first part, published in 1808, Faust seduces and loses Margaret (in German, Margarete, or its diminutive, Gretchen), an innocent girl, who is condemned to death for murdering her illegitimate child by Faust. She asks Faust, does he believe in God? And he answers: "Does not the heaven vault above? / Is the earth not firmly based down here? / And do not, friendly, / Eternal stars arise? / Do we not look into each other's eyes, / And all in you is surging, / To your head and heart, / And weaves in timeless mystery, / Unseeable, yet seen, around you?" (Goethe's Faust: Part One and Selections from Part Two, translated by Walter Kaufmann, 1963, p. 327)

In the philosophical second part Faust marries Helen of Troy and starts to create an ideal community. Harold Bloom has said, that the monstrously complex poem is a "scandalous pleasure for the exuberant reader, but it is also a trap, a Maphistophelean abyss in which you will never touch bottom." (The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages, by Harold Bloom, 1994, p. 206) Without knowing that his plans have failed, the blind Faust is finally satisfied. However, Mephistopheles loses his victory, when angels take Faust to heaven. Faust versions: Gotthold Lessing's (1729-1781) lost play Faust, Don Juan/Don Giovanni (perhaps best known from the Opera by Lorenzo Ponte and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart), Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorothy L. Sayers's play The Devil to Pay (1939), Thomas Mann's novel Doctor Faustus (1947).  Film adaptations: 1909, dir.  Edwin S. Porter; 1911, Bill Bumper's Bargain, starring Francis X. Bushman, Harry Cashman, Dolores Cassinelli; 1922, dir.  Gérard Bourgeois; 1926, dir.  F.W. Murnau, starring Gösta Ekman, Emil Jannings, Camilla Horn; 1941, All That Money Can Buy , dir. William Dieterle, based on Stephen Vincent Benét's work; 1948, La Leggenda di Faust, dir. Carmine Gallone, starring Italo Tajo, Nelly Corradi, Gino Mattera; 1949, La Beauté du Diable, dir. René Clair; 1957, Faustina, dir.  José Luis Sáenz de Heredia, starring María Félix, Juan de Landa; 1960, dir. Peter Gorski, starring Will Quadflieg, Gustaf Gründgens, Ella Büchi; 1964, Mi alma por un amor, dir. Rafael Baledón, starring Enrique Guzmán, Angélica María, Manolo Muñoz; 1970, Genius, dir. Gregory J. Markopoulos; 1988, dir. Dieter Dorn, starring Helmut Griem, Romuald Pekny, Sunnyi Melles; 1994, dir. Jan Svankmajer, starring Petr Cepek; 2002, 666 - Traue keinem, mit dem Du schläfst!, dir. by Rainer Matsutani, starring Jan Josef Liefers, Armin Rohde; 2009, Faust. Der Tragödie erster Teil, dir. Ingo J. Biermann; 2009, Faust, dir. Ansel Faraj; 2011 TV film, The Damnation of Faust, dir. Peter Maniura; Faust, 2011, dir. Aleksandr Sokurov, starring Johannes Zeiler, Anton Adasinski, Isolda Dišauk; 2020, Goethe's Faust, dir. Karsten Pruehl, starring Bernardo Arias Porras, Heidrun Bartholomäus, Peer Blank.  Opera: Gounod's Faust (1859), Buïto's Mefistotele (1866), Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust (1893), Busoni's Doktor Faust (1925).  Animation: 1994, dir. Jan Svankmaijer.

Goethe advised Duke Carl August on mining and Jena University, which for a short time attracted the most prominent figures in German philosophy, including Hegel and Fichte. In 1812 Goethe met the famous composer Ludwig van Beethoven in Teplitz. Beethoven had admired Goethe already in his youth, although he considered Goethe's attitude toward the nobility too servile. Beethoven composed several music pieces based on the author's texts, among them Egmont. Franz Schubert's (1797-1828) first Lieder masterpiece, 'Gretchen am Spinnrade', took the words from Faust, but Goethe did not much appreciate Schubert's musical achievements.

Goethe remained creative during his last period. He edited Kunst and Altertum (1816-32) and Zur Naturwissenschaft (1817-24), wrote his autobiography, Aus meinem Leben. Dichtung und Wahrheit (1811-1833, Poetry and Truth), and completed the novel Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre; Goethe's readers have never truly loved this book. Thomas Carlyle translated the Wilhelm Meister novels into English, but they deviate from the original. He called Goethe "the Wisest of our Time" but he also said of the Apprenticeship in a letter that there "are touches of the very highest, most ethereal genius in it; but diluted with floods of insipidity, which even I would not have written for the world." (The Early Letters of Thomas Carlyle: Vol. II: 1821-1826, edited by Charles Eliot Norton, 1886, p. 219) When Ludwig van Beethoven met Goethe, his great idol, in Teplitz in 1812, he was disappointed: by accident they saw the Emperor Franz and his family on the Promenade, and while Beethoven strode defiently on through the Royal party, Goethe's eyes were lowered and he bowed with the greatest ceremony.

Interested in visual arts throughout his life, Goethe published a large volume on the theory of color, which he considered one of his major achievements. In Zur Farbenlehre (1810) Goethe famously attacked Newton on methodological ground and put his trust in direct testimony of the senses. Comparing Newtonian theory to an old uninhitable castle, which has never been taken during its history. Goethe rejected mathematical approach in the treatment of color, and argued that light, shade and color are associated with the emotional experience – "every color produces a distinct impression on the mind, and thus addresses at once the eye and feelings." (Goethe's Theory of Colors, translated from the German by Charles Lock Eastlake, 1840, p. 406)

Despite best attempts to convince Goethe that he had misunderstood physical optics, he ignored facts and let his own "poetic imagination" guide his studies of light and color. In England, J.M.W. Turner's 'Light and Colour (Goethe's Theory) – the Morning after the Deluge – Mooses Writing the Book of Genesis' (1843) was an impressive expression of the Farbenlehre. Charles Lock Eastlake, who championed the pre-Raphaelites, was also the translator of Theory of Colours. In drawing attention to the importance of the book, Eastlake said in the preface: "It may require more magnanimity in English scientific readers to do justice to the merits of one who was so open and, in many respects, it it believed, so mistaken an opponent of Newton; but it must be admitted that the statements of Goethe contain more useful principles in all that relates to harmony and colour than any that have been derived from the established doctrine." (Goethe's Theory of Colors, translated from the German by Charles Lock Eastlake, 1840, p. 15)

At the age of 74 Goethe fell in love with the 19-year old Ulrike von Levetzow; she was his Muse in the 'Elegie' of Trilogie der Leidenschaft (1827). He followed her with high hopes from Marienbad to Karlsbad, and then returned disappointed to Weimar. There he wrote The Marienbad elegy, the most personal poem of his later years. Goethe died in Weimar on March 22, 1832. He and Schiller, who died over a quarter of a century earlier, are buried together, in a mausoleum in the ducal cemetery. The Goethe House and Schiller House stand in the town, and the two statues of these literary giants are outside the National Theatre.

For further reading: Goethe in Context, edited by Charlotte Lee (2024); Conversations with Goethe: In the Last Years of His Life by Johann Peter Eckermann; translated by Allan Blunden; with an introduction and notes by Ritchie Robertson (2022); Goethes Haus am Weimarer Frauenplan: Fassade und Bildprogramme by Christian Hecht (2020); Goethe and the Myth of the Bildungsroman: Rethinking the Wilhelm Meister Novels by Frederick Amrine (2020) Goethe: Life as a Work of Art by Rüdiger Safranski (2017); Goethe and Judaism: the Troubled Inheritance of Modern Literature by Karin Schutjer (2015); Mehr Licht: Goethe mit Newton im Streit um die Farben by Olaf L. Müller (2015); Goethe: The Poet and the Age. Vol. II. by Nicholas Boyle (2000); Unterirdische Gänge. Goethe, Freimaurerei und Politik by W. Daniel Wilson (1999); Das Goethe-Tabu by W. Daniel Wilson (1999); Christiane un Goethe by Sigrid Damm (1999); Goethes "Werther": Kritik und Forschung by Peter Hans Herrmann (1994); Goethe: The Poet and the Age. Vol. I. by Nicholas Boyle (1991); Wilhelm Meister: Das Ende der Kunst und die Wiederkehr des Mythos by Hannelore Schlaffer (1989); Goethe Contra Newton: Polemics and the Project for a New Science of Color by Dennis L. Sepper (1988); The Damnation of Newton: Goethe's Color Theory and Romantic Perception by Frederick Burwick (1986); "The Sorrows of Young Werther" by Martin Swales (1987); Goethe's Faust: A Critical Reading by L. Dieckmann (1972); Goethe's Novels by Hans Reiss (1969); Goethe's "Die Wahlverwandtschaften": A Literary Interpretation by Harry George Barnes (1967); Goethe: A Critical Introduction by H. Hatfield (1963); Goethe: A Psychoanalytic Study by Kurt Eissler (1963); Goethe-Bibliographie (1955-, serial); Goethe's "Wilhelm Meister" by Karl Schlechta (1953); Goethe the Alchemist: A Study of Alchemical Symbolism in Goethe's Literary and Scientific Works by Ronald D. Gray (1952); Goethe, The History of a Man, 1749-1832 by E.Ludwig (1928); The Life and Works of Goethe by G.H. Lewes (1855); Gespräche mit Goethe by Johann Eckermann (1836) - Museums: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's House (Goethehaus), Am Frauenplan 1. Goethe lived there for fifty years.  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Summerhouse, im Park an der Ilm. Goethe started there Iphigènie. In Weimar is a copy of Goethe's Gartenhaus; also the furniture and other details follow the original. - Suomeksi on julkaistu mm. kaksi laitosta Valittuja teoksia, ensimmäinen 1932 (8 osaa) ja toinen 1956 (3 osaa) sekä Goethen elämäkerta V.A. Koskenniemen kirjoittamana. Jälkisointuja: Goethen kirkkaimmat runot ilmestyi 2013 (suom. Helmut Diekmann ja Arja Hakulinen). 

Selected works:

  • Annette, 1767
  • Die Laune des Verliebten, 1767
    - The Lover's Caprice (translated by Martha Ridgway Bannan, 1899)
  • Satyros, 1770
  • Neue Lieder, 1770
  • Von deutscher Baukunst, 1773
  • Götz von Berlichingen mit der eisernen Hand, 1773
    - Goetz von Berlichingen (translated by Sir Walter Scott, 1799) / Ironhand (adapted by John Arden, 1965) / Götz von Berlichingen; a Play (translated by Charles E. Passage, 1965) / Götz von Berlichingen with the Iron Hand (translated by Robert Dierlam, in Tragedy: Ten Major Plays, 1969)
    - Götz von Berlichingen, rautakäsi (suom. Antti Räihä, 1899; J.A.Hollo, 1923)
    - Films: 1925, dir.  Gérard Bourgeois, starring Eugen Klöpfer; 1955, dir.  Alfred Stögery, starring Ewald Balser; 1979, dir.  Wolfgang Liebeneiner, starring Raimund Harmstorf
  • Götter, Helden und Wieland, 1774
  • Clavigo, 1774
    - Clavigo (tr. anon., 1798; E.A. Bowring (?), in The Works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Vol. X, 1901) 
    - Film 1988, dir.  Eusebio Poncela, starring Michael Maertens
  • Die Leiden des jungen Werthers, 1774
    - The Sorrows of Werter (translated by Daniel Malthus, 1779) / The Sorrows and Sympathetic Attachments of Werter,  A German Story  (tr. 1784) / Werter and Charlotte, A German Story  (tr. 1786) / The Sorrows of Werter. A German Story (tr. 1790) / The Sorrows of Werther (translated by William Render, 1801) / The Sorrows of Werter: A German Story (a new and improved translation, 1814)  / The Sorrows of Young Werther (translated by Victor Lange, 1949; R. D. Boylan, in Novels and Tales by Goethe, 1901; Catherine Hutter, 1962; Elizabeth Mayer and Louise Bogan, 1971; Victor Lange and Judith Ryan, 1988; Michael Hulse, 1989; Burton Pike, 2004) / The Sufferings of Young Werther (translated by Bayard Quincy Morgan, 1957; Harry Steinhauer, 1970)
    - Nuoren Wertherin kärsimykset (suom. Volter Kilpi, 1904; Markku Mannila, 1992)
    - Films: 1922, Werther, dir. by Germaine Dulac; 1938, Werther, dir.  Max Ophüls, starring Pierre Richard-Willm; 1949, Begegnung mit Werther, dir.  Karl-Heinz Stroux, starring Horst Caspar; 1976, dir. Egon Günther; 1986, dir. by Pilar Miró, starring Eusebio Poncela;1990, Werther, dir. Håkan Alexandersson, starring Peter Sjöquist; 2004, Stradaniya yunogo Wertera, dir. Esther Schaer, starring Roman Sviridenko
  • Claudine von Villa Bella, 1776
  • Stella. Ein Schauspiel für Liebende, 1776
    - Stella (tr. anon., 1798; Robert M. Browning and Frank Ryder, in Goethe's Collected Works, Vol. VII, 1988)
  • Die Geschwister, 1776
    - Brother and Sister (translated by Frank Ryder, in Early Verse Drama and Prose Plays, 1988)
    - Sisarukset: näytelmä yhdessä näytöksessä (suom. F. W. R-n, 2. p. 1876)
  • Iphigenie auf Tauris, 1779 / 1787
    - Iphigenia in Tauris (translated by  William Taylor, 1793; John Prudhoe, 1966; Anna Swanwick, in The Works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Vol. VI, 1901; Elizabeth D. Dowden, 1906; Sidney E. Kaplan, 1953; Bayard Quincy Morgan, 1954; Charles E. Passage, 1963; John Prudhoe, 1966 )
    - Iphigeneia Tauriissa: viisi-näytöksinen näytelmä (suom. Eino Leino, 1910)
  • Die Fischerin, 1782
  • Der Triumph der Empfindsamkeit, 1787
  • Egmont, 1788
    - Egmont (tr. anon., 1841; Anna Swanwick, 1901; Michael Hamburger, in The Classic Theatre, Vol. 2, 1959; F.J. Lamport, in Five German Tragedies, 1969; Willard R. Trask, 1960; Theodore H. Lustig, in Classical German Drama, 1963; F.J. Lamport, in Five German Tragedies, 1969; Pierre and Lotte Conlon, 1976; Charles E. Passage, 1984)
    - Egmont: viisinäytöksinen murhenäytelmä (suom. Antti Räihä, 1896; J.A.Hollo, 1923)
  • Römische Elegien, 1790
    -  Roman Elegies (translated by David Luke, 1977) / Roman Elegies and Other Poems (translated by Michael Hamburger, in Collected Works, Vol. 1, 1983)
    - Roomalaisia elegioita: saksaksi ja suomeksi (suomentanut ja toimittanut Teivas Oksala, 1997)
  • Faust. Ein Fragment, 1790 (also in Schriften, Band 7, 1790)
  • Versuch die Metamorphose der Pflanzen zu erklären, 1790
    - Goethe’s Botany; the Metamorphosis of Plants (1790) and Tobler’s Ode to Nature (1782) (translated by Agnes Arber, 1946) / Goethe's Botanical Writings (translated by Bertha Mueller, 1952) / The Metamorphosis of Plants (translated by Emily M. Cox, 1863, rev. by Anne E. Marshall and Heinz Grotzke; introduction by Rudolf Steiner, 1974)
    - Kasvin muodonmuutos (suomennos: Kari Järvinen, Päivi Suokas, 2000)
  • Torquato Tasso, 1790 (see the myth that Tasso was imprisoned because of his love for Duke Alfonso's sister Leonoro)
    - Torquato Tasso (translated by Charles des Voeux, 1827; Anna Swanwick, in The Works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Vol. VI, 1901; Charles E. Passage, 1966; John Prudhoe, 1979; Michael Hamburger, 1987;  Robert David MacDonald, 1994)
    - Torquato Tasso (suom. Juhani Siljo, 1913)
  • Beiträge zur Optik, 1791
  • Der Groß-Cophta, 1791
  • Der Bürgergeneral, 1793
  • Reineke Fuchs, 1794
    - Reynard the Fox (translated by John Storer Cobb, 1899; Thomas James Arnold, in The Works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Vol. X, 1901; Clifton Johnson, 1924) / The Story of Reynard the Fox (translated by Thomas James Arnold, illustrations by Fritz Eichenberg, 1954)
    - Film 1930, Le Roman de Renard, dir.  Irene Starewicz, Wladyslaw Starewicz
  • Unterhaltungen deutscher Ausgewanderten, 1795 (includes Das Märchen)
    - The Parable (translated by Alice Raphael, 1963) / Goethe's 'Das Märchen': Translation and Analysis (translated by Waltaud Bartscht, 1972) / The Tale of Fair Lily and the Green Serpent (translated by Alice Raphael, 1974) / Conversations of German Refugees (ed. Victor Lange, translated by Krishna Winston, in The Collected Works, Vol. 10, 1989) / Fairy Tale, the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily (translated by Julius E. Heuscher, 2006)
    - Taru käärmeestä ja liljasta (suom. Aila Meriluoto, 1982)
  • Physiognomische Fragmente, 1775-78
  • Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, 1796
    - Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship (translated by Thomas Carlyle, 1824; R. Dillon Boylan, 1900; Eric A. Blackall and Victor Lange, 1989) / Wilhelm Meister: Apprenticeship and Travels (2 vols., translated by R.O. Moon, 1947) / Wilhelm Meister (Vols 1-3: Wilhelm Meister's Year's of Apprenticeship, translated by H.M. Waidson, 1977-1980)
    - Wilhelm Meisterin oppivuodet (suom. 1923)  
    - Film 1974, Falsche Bewegung/Wrong Movement, dir.  Wim Wenders, screrenplay by Peter Handke, starring Rüdiger Vogler, Hanna Schygulla, Hans Christian Blech, Peter Kern
  • Hermann und Dorothea, 1798
    - Herman and Dorothea (translated by Thomas Holcroft, 1805; Edgar Alfred Bowring, in The Poems of Goethe, 1900; Ellen Frothingham, 1910; George F. Timpson, 1950; Daniel Coogan, 1966; David Luke, in Collected Works, Vol. 8, 1987)
    - Hermann ja Dorothea (suom. Valter Juva, 1916; Otto Manninen, 1929)
  • Mahomet der Prophet, 1802 (tr. from Voltaire's work)
  • Tancred: Trauerspiel in fünf Aufzügen, 1802 (tr. from Voltaire's work)
  • Die natürliche Tochter, 1804
    - The Natural Daughter (edited by Victor Lange, translated by Hunter Hannum, in The Collected Works, Vol. 8, 1987)
  • Winkelmann und sein Jahrhundert, 1805 (editor)
  • Faust. Eine Tragödie, 1808
    -  Faust (fragments, translated by Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1822) / Faust: A Drama by Goethe (translated by Francis Leveson Gower, 1823) / Faust: A Dramatic Poem (translated by Abraham Hayward, 1833; Anna Swanwick, 19-?) / Faust: A Tragedy (translated by Charles T. Brooks, 1856; Bayard Taylor, 1870-71) / The Tragedy of Faust (translated by Anna Swanwick, 1901) / Goethe’s Faust. Part I (translated by Albert G. Latham, 1902) / Faust: A Dramatic Mystery (translated by John Anster, 1903) / Faust. Part I (translated by Abraham Hayward, 1908) / The Tragedy of Faustus: The First Part (tr. in the original rhyme and metre by Alfred Henry Huth, the second edition, revised, 1912) / Faust, Part  One (translated by G.M. Cookson, in The Permanent Goethe, ed. Thomas Mann, 1948) / Faust, Part One (translated by Philip Wayne, 1949; C.F. MacIntyre, in Treasury of the Theatre, Vol. 1, 1951) / Faust (translated by Stuart Atkins, 1962; Bayard Quincy Morgan, 1954; David Luke, 1987-94) / Goethe's Faust, Parts I and II, an Abridged Version (translated by Louis MacNeice, 1952) / Goethe's Faust (tr. Barker Fairley, 1970) / Faust I & II (edited and translated by Stuart Atkins, 1984) / Dr. Henry Faust: The Tragedy's First and Second Parts (translated by John A. Roth, 1988) / Faust: Parts One and Two (translated by Philip Wayne, 1990)  / Faust: A Tragedy: Part 1 (translated by Martin Greenberg, 1992) / Faust, 1833. Part I (translated by Abraham Hayward, introduction by Jonathan Wordswworth, 1993) / Faust: Parts I & II (a new version by Howard Brenton; from a literal translation by Christa Weisman, 1995) / Faust: a Tragedy: Parts One & Two, Fully Revised [complete edition] (translated from the German by Martin Greenberg; introduction by W. Daniel Wilson, 2014) 
    - Faust I (suom. Kaarlo Forsman, 1884; Valter Juva, 1916; Otto Manninen, 1936; Esko Elstelä, 1969; Faust I-II: Eila Kivikk'aho, 1985)
  • Die Wahlverwandtschaften, 1809
    - Elective Affinities (translated by R. Dillon Boylan, 1854; Elizabeth Mayer and Louise Bogan, 1963; Judith Ryan, 1988;  R. J. Hollingdale, 1971; David Constantine, 1994) / Kindred by Choice (translated by H.M. Waidson, 1960; J. Calder, 1976)
    - Vaaliheimolaiset (suom. J.A. Hollo, 1923)
    - Films: 1974, dir.  Siegfried Kühn, screenplay by Christel Gräf; 1986, Tarot, dir.  Rudolf Thome, screenplay by Max Zihlmann; 1996, Le Affinità elettive, dir.  Paolo Taviani & Vittorio Taviani, starring Isabelle Huppert, Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Marie Gillain
  • Zur Farbenlehre, 1810 (2 vols.)
    - Goethe's Theory of Colours (translated by Charles Lock Eastlake, 1840) / Goethe's Approach to Colour (translated by  Eleanor C. Merry, 1958) / Goethe's Color Theory (ed. Rupprecht Matthaei, translated by Herb Aach, 1971
    - 'Esipuhe' (suom. Pajari Räsänen, niin & näin, 2/2018) / Värioppi (suom. Pirkko Holmberg and Pajari Räsänen, 2020) 
  • Aus meinem Leben. Dichtung und Wahrheit, 1811-33
    - Memoirs of Goethe: Written by Himself (tr. anon., 1824) / Truth and Poetry: from My Own Life; or, The Autobiography of Goethe (translated by Parke Godwin et al., 1846-47) / The Auto-Biography of Goethe. Truth and Poetry: From My Own Life translated by John Oxenford, 1848-49)  / Goethe’s Autobiography: Poetry and Truth from My Life (translated by R.O. Moon, 1932) / From My Life (2 vols., edited by Thomas P. Saine and Jeffrey L. Sammons, 1987)
    - Tarua ja totta elämästäni (suom. J.A. Hollo, 1924-25)
  • Des Epimenides Erwachen, 1815
  • Über Kunst und Altertum, 1816-32
  • Zur Naturwissenschaft überhaupt, besonders zur Morphologie, 1817-24
    - Scientific Studies (edited and translated by Douglas Miller, in Goethe's Collected Works, Vol. 12, 1988)
  • Italienische Reise I-II, 1816-17
    - Goethe's Travels in Italy (translated by A.J.W. Morrison and Charles Nisbet, 1883) / Italian Journey (translated by W.H. Auden and Elizabeth Mayer, 1962; Robert R. Heitner, 1994)  / The Flight to Italy: Diary and Selected Letters (ed. and tr. T.J. Reed, 1999)
    - Italian matka päiväkirjoineen (suom. Sinikka Kallio, 1992)
  • Tag- und Jahreshefte, 1817-30
  • West-östlicher Divan, 1819
    - West-Easterly Divan (translated by John Weiss, 1877) / West-Eastern Divan (translated by J. Edward Dowden, 1913; Whaley, 1974; Alex Page, 1975)
  • Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre, oder Die Entsagenden, 1821 (2nd ed., 1829)
    - Wilhelm Meister's Travels (translated by Thomas Carlyle, in German Romance, 1827) / Wilhelm Meister: Apprenticeship and Travels (2 vols., translated by R.O. Moon, 1947) / Wilhelm Meister (Vols 4-6: Wilhelm Meister's Years of Travel, or The Renunciants, translated by H.M. Waidson, 1980-1982) / Wilhelm Meister's Journeyman Years, or The Renunciants (translated by Krishna Winston, in The Collected Works, Vol 10, ed.  Victor Lange, 1989)
  • Kampagne in Frankreich, 1822
  • Trilogie der Leidenschaft, 1827
    - Trilogy of Passion (translated by Frederick Nims, in Goethe's Collected Works, Vol. 1, Selected Poems, edited by Christopher Middleton, 1983)
  • Vollstandige Ausgabe letzter Hand, 1828 (includes Novelle)
    - Novella (translated by Victor Lange, in The Collected Works, Vol. 11, 1987)
    - Film 1976, Novelle, dir.  Katja Georgi
  • Faust. Der Tragödie zweiter Teil, 1832
    - Goethe’s Faust, Part II (translated by Leopold J. Bernays, 1839)  / Goethe's Faust. In two parts (translated by Anna Swanwick, in Goethe's Works, Vol. III, 1900) / The Tragedy of Faust. Part II (translated by Anna Swanwick, in The Works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Vol. IX, 1901) Faust: A Tragedy. The Second Part (translated by Bayard Taylor, 1906)  / Goethe’s Faust. Parts  II (translated by Albert G. Latham, 1908) / Poem Faust (tr. Philip Wayne, 1949-59; David Luke, 1987-94) / Goethe's Faust, Parts I and II, An Abridged Version translated by Louis MacNeice, 1952) / Faust I & II (edited and translated by Stuart Atkins, 1984) / Dr. Henry Faust: The Tragedy's First and Second Parts (translated by John A. Roth, 1988) / Faust: Parts One and Two (translated by Philip Wayne, 1990) / Faust: Parts I & II (a new version by Howard Brenton; from a literal translation by Christa Weisman, 1995) / Faust: a Tragedy: Parts One & Two, Fully Revised [complete edition] (translated from the German by Martin Greenberg; introduction by W. Daniel Wilson, 2014) 
    - Faust II (suom. Otto Manninen, 1934; Faust I-II: Eila Kivikk'aho, 1985)
  • Nachgelassene Schriften, 1832-33
  • Gespräche mit Goethe, 1836-1848 (3 vols.)  
    - Conversations of Goethe with Eckermann and Soret (translated by John Oxenford, 1850) / Conversations of Goethe with Johann Peter Eckermann (translated by John Oxenford, 1930) / Conversations with Goethe (translated by Gisela C. O’Brien, 1964)
  • Essays on Art, 1845 (translated by Samuel Gray Ward)
  • Briefe und Aufsätze von Goethe aus den Jahren 1766 bis 1786, 1846 (ed.  A. Schöll)
  • Goethes Faust in ursprünglicher Gestalt, 1887 (ed.  Erich Schmidt)
    -  Goethe's Urfaust (translated by Mary Prentice Lillie, in Grist 3, no. 4, 1927) / The Urfaust translated by Douglas M. Scott, 1958)  / "Urfaust"; Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s Faust in Its Original Version (ed.  R. H. Samuel, 1967) / The 'Urfaust' (translated by Charles E. Passage, in Goethe's Plays, 1980)  / From the 'Urfaust', c. 1774 (translated by David Luke, in Selected Poetry of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1999)
  • Wilhelm Meisters theatralische Sendung, 1911
    - Wilhelm Meister's Theatrical Mission (translated by Gregory A. Page, introduction by H. Mayne, 1913)  / Wilhelm Meister’s Theatrical Calling translated by John R. Russell, 1995)
  • Aufsätze zur Kultur-, Theater- und Literatur-Geschichte, Maximen, Reflexionen, 1913-14 (2 vols.)
    - The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (translated by Bailey Saunders, 1906) /  Maximen und Reflexionen (edited and translated by R.H. Stephenson, 1983)
  • Literary Essays, 1921 (ed. J.E. Spingarn)
  • Schriften zur Literatur, 1970-82 (7 vols.)
  • Goethe on Art, 1980 (ed. and tr. John Gage)
  • Collected works editions: Werke, 1887-1919 (143 vols.); Works, 1902 (14 vols., ed.  Nathan Haskell Dole); Werke, 1948-64 (14 vols., ed. Erich Trunz et. al.); Gedenkausgabe der Werke, Briefe und Gespräche, 1948-71 (27 vols., ed.  Ernst Beutler); Goethe's Collected Works, 1983-89 (12 vols., ed.  Victor Lange et al., tr.  Michal Hamburger et al.); Sämtliche Werke, 1986- (in progress, ed.  Karl Richter et al.)
  • The Essential Goethe, 2016 (edited and introduced by Matthew Bell)
  • The Golden Goblet: Selected Poems of Goethe, 2019 (translated from German by Zsuzsanna Ozsváth & Frederick Turner)
  • Faust: Part One, 2020 (translated by Zsuzsanna Ozsváth and Frederick Turner; illustrations by Fowzia Karimi)
  • Begegnungen und Gespräche--Band VII. 1809-1810, 2022 (herausgegeben von Renate Grumach und Bastian Röther)
  • The Flight to Italy: Diary and Selected Letters, 2024 (New York: Oxford University Press)

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