This article picks up on a tendency of recent criticism to look to Shakespeare for insights into contemporary politics, and extends it backwards to the period of German history known as the “Vormärz”―the period between 1815 and 1848. It establishes parallels between that period and the current debates about Brexit, and shows how equivalent issues are reflected in the accounts of King John given by three leading German critics of the “Vormärz” period―which also successively demonstrate the deleterious rise of German nationalism. These issues include: the weaknesses, mistakes and crimes of the powerful, and their effect both on the nation directly afflicted with them, and on others; the issue of national sovereignty and its relationship to the fellowship of nations; the struggle against arguably alien ways of thinking; the dividing line between necessary compromise and rank betrayal; the dilemma of choice; and the poisoned chalice of democratic freedom. And the parallels they establish between Shakespeare, the “Vormärz” and us are as instructive as they are unsettling.


Brexit, Europe, Reception, Germany, Politics, Nationalism


Austin, Linda M. “Children of Childhood: Nostalgia and the Romantic Legacy.” Studies in Romanticism 42.1 (2003): 75-98.

Bate, Jonathan and Eric Rasmussen, eds. William Shakespeare. King John and Henry VIII. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2012.

Benedix, Roderich. Die Shakespearomanie. Zur Abwehr. Stuttgart: Cotta, 1873.

Dedner, Burghard. “‘Alle Dichter wie Schulknaben’ – Büchner und Shakespeare.” Georg Büchner. Revolutionär mit Feder und Skalpell. Ed. Ralf Beil and Burghard Dedner. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2013. 115-125.

Grabbe, Christian Dietrich. “König Johann. Aufgeführt den 1. April 1835.” Werke. Zweiter Band. Ed. Roy C. Cowen. Munich and Vienna: Hanser, 1977. 543-546.

Grabbe, Christian Dietrich. “Über die Shakespearo-manie.” Werke. Zweiter Band. Ed. Roy C. Cowen. Munich and Vienna: Hanser, 1977. 417-445.

Gubar, Marah. “The Victorian Child, c.1837-1901.” Representing Childhood. University of Pittsburgh, 2005. 23 January 2018. .

Gutzkow, Karl. Rückblicke auf mein Leben. Berlin: Hofmann, 1875.

Heine, Heinrich. Shakespeares Mädchen und Frauen. Historisch-kritische Gesamtausgabe der Werke. Ed. Manfred Windfuhr. Vol 10. Ed. Jan-Christoph Hauschild. Hamburg: Hoffmann & Campe, 1993. 7-191.

Horn, Franz. Shakspeare’s Schauspiele erläutert. Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1823 (Part 1), 1825 (Part 2), 1826 (Part 3), 1827 (Part 4), 1831 (Part 5).

Ingram, Philip. Napoleon and Europe. Cheltenham: Stanley Thornes, 1998.

Jameson, Anna Brownell. Characteristics of Women, Moral, Poetical, and Historical. I & II. 4th ed. London: Saunders and Otley, 1846.

Paulin, Roger. Critical Reception of Shakespeare in Germany, 1682-1914. Native Literature and Foreign Genius. Hildesheim: Olms, 2003.

Paulin, Roger. The Life of August Wilhelm Schlegel, Cosmopolitan of Art and Poetry. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2016.

Reed, Henry. “The Reign of King John.” Lectures on English History and Tragic Poetry. Philadelphia: Parry & McMillan, 1855. Quoted in Candido, Joseph, ed. King John. Shakespeare. The Critical Tradition. London and Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Athlone, 1996. 152-157.

Roger, Christine. La Réception de Shakespeare en Allemagne de 1815 à 1850: propagation et assimilation de la référence étrangère. Bern etc.: Peter Lang, 2008.

Schabert, Ina, ed. Shakespeare-Handbuch. Die Zeit, der Mensch, das Werk, die Nachwelt. 4th ed. Stuttgart: Kröner, 2000.

Schlegel, August Wilhelm. „Anmerkungen zu Tiecks Anmerkungen zum deutschen Sh. Und zu einigen Stellen des englischen Textes.“ In Sämmtliche Werke. Ed. Eduard Böcking. Weidmann: 1846. 7, 292-296.

Schlegel, August Wilhelm. Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature. Trans. John Black. 2nd ed. Revised by A. J. W. Morrison. London: George Bell, 1894.

Schlegel, August Wilhelm. Vorlesung über dramatische Kunst und Literatur. I & II. Kritische Schriften und Briefe. Ed. Edgar Lohner, Stuttgart etc.: Kohlhammer, 1966. V & VI.

Stahl, Ernst Leopold. Shakespeare und das deutsche Theater. Wanderung und Wandelung seines Werkes in dreiundhalb Jahrhunderten. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1947.

Tieck, Ludwig. Das Buch über Shakespeare. Handschriftliche Aufzeichnungen aus dem Nachlaß. Ed. Henry Lüdecke. Halle/Saale: Niemeyer, 1920.

Ulrici, Hermann. Shakespeare’s Dramatic Art. History and Character of Shakspeare’s Plays. Trans. L. Dora Schmitz. London: George Bell, 1876.

Ulrici, Hermann. Shakspeare’s dramatische Kunst. Geschichte und Charakteristik des Shakspeareschen Dramas. 2nd ed. Leipzig: Weigel, 1847.

Watt, Gary. “Sovereigns, Sterling and ‘Some Bastards Too!’: Brexit Seen from Shakespeare’s King John.” Journal of International Dispute Settlement 9.11 (2018): 58-82.

Williams, Simon. Shakespeare on the German Stage. Volume 1: 1586-1914. Cambridge etc: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

First Page


Last Page