One of the few truly towering figures in the history of world literature was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He lived a long and productive life, during which he displayed his creative genius in a variety of fields of endeavor. Goethe is credited with writing literary works and establishing aesthetic ideals that had a significant impact on his contemporaries across Europe and continue to serve as examples today. The place that he occupies in the progression of German literature and thinking is analogous to that which Shakespeare has in the countries whose native language is English.
Goethe was born into a rich, middle-class family in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, on August 28, 1749. He was the first child in the family. Up until 1765, his father and several tutors were responsible for his education at home. After that year, however, his father sent him to Leipzig to study law so that he may follow in his father’s footsteps. Even as a young child, Goethe showed his prowess as a writer. While he was at Leipzig, he started writing beautiful lyric poetry and finished his first two full-length plays, even though these works were not performed until several years later.
Goethe entered the royal court of Weimar in 1775 and remained there for over ten years, devoting his time to scientific and metaphysical research during that time. In 1786, he took a trip to Italy, which revived his interest in writing poetry and prose. Roman Elegies is a compilation of poetry and a play that Goethe wrote after being influenced by the classical art he saw in Rome (1787).
Goethe never stopped expanding his already vast range of interests. His innovative researches in the scientific fields of botany, anatomy, geology, and optics were included in his academic studies. In addition to this, he had an active interest in the latest political and social developments, and in 1792, he went with the Duke on a military expedition against the French. In later years, he became a prolific writer, penning commentary on historical events such as the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.
Faust (1808), an epic poem written by Goethe and based on the legend of Doctor Faustus, which was made famous by Christopher Marlowe’s play of the same name, is Goethe’s most famous work. The poem communicates with us the story of a young scholar who, dissatisfied with the limitations placed on his education, power, and ability to take pleasure in life, seeks the devil’s assistance at the price of his soul. Goethe borrows significantly from Christian, medieval, and classical sources in his work Faust. By doing so, he complicates the dualistic fight between good and evil depicted in the original mythology and raises the question of what really constitutes ultimate human fulfillment.
Goethe expressed that he did not take any pride in his literary accomplishments and instead believed that his work as a philosopher and scientist, particularly his theories about color, would be his true legacy. This is despite the fact that he was successful as a poet and had a significant influence on others. His writings, on the other hand, spurred generations of Western literature and philosophy. His writings were emotional, far-reaching, prophetic, and formal.
Goethe is considered by many people to be the most brilliant poet of the contemporary world because of the breadth of his ideas, his insight into human nature and positive trust in the human spirit, and his instinctive grasp of universal truths. He passed away on March 22, 1832, yet the significance and importance of his work continue to resonate with readers today.