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Ludwig Tieck’s "Puss-in-Boots" and Theater of the Absurd

A Commentated Bilingual Edition


Gerald Gillespie

Johann Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853) was one of the most formative influences of the romantic movement, inspiring such major figures as Novalis and Hoffmann. Not only did his tales and novels shape the course of German romantic fiction; as a translator he helped to naturalize Shakespeare and Cervantes; as an editor he was among the first to recognize Kleist.
Tieck’s precocious invention of ironic-fantastic comedy quickly found resonance among fellow romantics, who worked under the parallel influence of the Goethean revolution in drama exhibited in Faust. Yet Tieck’s play Puss-in-Boots (1797) had to wait a full century before its impulses were transmitted, by Pirandello, to modern anti-theater and theater of the absurd.
The Tieckian direction anticipates the metaphysical strains both of symbolist and of existentialist theater and the beneficent absurdism of Wilder and Ionesco. As the boundary between stage and audience completely dissolves in Puss-in-Boots, we experience the transcendent delight of pure theater and unsettling doubts about our own roles on the world’s stage.


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It all started because Anthony Zahareas and I collaborated on trans- lating the manifesto play of Iberian absurdism, Luces de Bohemia, by the Galician writer Ramón María del Valle-Inclán. Still suppressed in Franco Spain as a dangerous work and having at that time never yet been produced in Spanish, our English version Bohemian Lights was chosen by the Oxford Theatre Group as their opening production under the direction of Nic Renton for the 1968 Edinburgh Arts Festival; and after this world premiere in translation the play went on to be staged elsewhere, initially in the Americas, in the original Spanish. The founder of the Edinburgh Bilingual Library, the distinguished Hispanist Alexan- der A. Parker, wanted it for his bilingual series which was being pub- lished jointly by Edinburgh University Press and the University of Texas Press. Our Bohemian Lights duly appeared in print in 1976. The seed for the present book on Tieck as a major progenitor of theater of the absurd was meanwhile first planted when Parker and I were walking through the Marienkirche in Munich on a winter’s day in the late 1960s and I explained the cathedral setting for moments in Die Nachtwachen von Bonaventura. He instantly asked me to translate this haunting dark work of German Romanticism, and it appeared as The Night Watches of Bonaventura in 1972. As soon as he learned of my interest in Tieck and theater of the absurd, he was eager to have Der gestiefelte Kater, too, for...

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