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«Stella: A Play for Lovers» (1776) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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Goethe’s play Stella (1776) caused so much turmoil in Germany that it was retracted from the stage. In England, it was portrayed as evidence of lesser German values because of its portrayal of a ménage à trois. This new translation provides an introduction exploring the reception of the play in Germany and England, scholarly interpretations of the play, and the portions that were left out in earlier translations. The introduction also outlines the major questions the play highlights: Why do the two women, Stella and Cecilia, ultimately accept the ménage à trois? Can they trust Fernando, who flirts with every woman he meets? Do women and men conceive of marriage and loving commitments differently? Do the women agree to the ménage à trois because it is the only way they can be together as friends or as lovers? In addition, this translation has an appendix that outlines all of the changes (over 100) that Goethe made in 1806 in order to get the play back on stage. A useful resource for students, teachers, and scholars alike, this translation sheds new light on Goethe’s classic play.

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Translators’ Introduction

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) is one of Germany’s most famous and revered authors. Both within Germany and abroad Goethe is best known for his drama, Faust, and his novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther. Indeed, his Faust drama inspired a number of musical works by Schumann, Berlioz, Gounod, Boito, Busoni, Liszt, Wagner, and Mahler. Goethe is also considered a major contributor to several transforming literary movements in Germany and Europe including the Storm and Stress period, Classicism, and Romanticism. In spite of his high renown, however, Goethe’s play, Stella: A Play for Lovers (1776), is relatively unknown to both scholars and the general public, and is not usually listed as one of his most influential works.

When it was first produced, Goethe’s Stella: A Play for Lovers caused so much turmoil that in Germany, Goethe was forced to retract it from the stage after ten performances in Weimar and Hamburg. German audiences were appalled by the ménage à trois that forms at the end of the play. Historically, audiences, translators, and scholars have focused on the “disturbing” polygamous relationship that forms at the end of the play as the two women, Stella and Cecilia, come together with Fernando. As Dye notes, Stella: A Play for Lovers supplants “conventional with unconventional social relationships” by replacing monogamous marriage with a ménage à trois.1 Of course polygamy was widely discussed during the eighteenth century. Liberals argued that it was natural and perhaps beneficial to society, but there...

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