Weimar Classicism (German: Weimarer Klassik) was a German literary and cultural movement, whose practitioners established a new humanism from the synthesis of ideas from Romanticism, Classicism, and the Age of Enlightenment. It was presumably named after the city of Weimar, Germany, because the leading authors of Weimar Classicism lived there.
The Weimarer Klassik movement lasted thirty-three years, from 1772 until 1805, and involved intellectuals such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Johann Gottfried Herder, Friedrich Schiller, and Christoph Martin Wieland; and then was concentrated upon Goethe and Schiller during the period 1788–1805.
The German Enlightenment, called "neo-classical", burgeoned in the synthesis of Empiricism and Rationalism as developed by Christian Thomasius (1655–1728) and Christian Wolff (1679–1754). This philosophy, circulated widely in many magazines and journals, profoundly directed the subsequent expansion of German-speaking and European culture.
The inability of this common-sense outlook convincingly to bridge "feeling" and "thought", "body" and "mind", led to Immanuel Kant's epochal "critical" philosophy.[clarification needed] Another, though not as abstract, approach to this problem was a governing concern with the problems of aesthetics. In his Aesthetica of 1750 (vol. II; 1758) Alexander Baumgarten (1714–62) defined "aesthetics", which he coined earlier in 1735, with its current intention as the "science" of the "lower faculties" (i.e., feeling, sensation, imagination, memory, et al.), which earlier figures of the Enlightenment had neglected. (The term, however, gave way to misunderstandings due to Baumgarten's use of the Latin in accordance with the German renditions, and consequently this has often led many to falsely undervalue his accomplishment.) It was no inquiry into taste—into positive or negative appeals—nor sensations as such but rather a way of knowledge. Baumgarten's emphasis on the need for such "sensuous" knowledge was a major abetment to the "pre-Romanticism" known as Sturm und Drang (1765), of which Goethe and Schiller were notable participants for a time.
Following Goethe's competition with and separation from Wieland and Herder, the movement Weimar Classicism is often described to have occurred only between Goethe's first stay in Rome (1786) and the death of Schiller (1805), his close friend and collaborator, underrating especially Wieland's influence on German intellectual and poetic life. Therefore, the Weimar Classicism could also be started with the arrival of Wieland (1772) and extended beyond Schiller's death until the death of Wieland (1813) or even of Goethe himself (1832).
In Italy, Goethe aimed to rediscover himself as a writer and to become an artist, through formal training in Rome, Europe's 'school of art'. While he failed as an artist, Italy appeared to have made him a better writer.
Schiller's evolution as a writer was following a similar path to Goethe's. He had begun as a writer of wild, violent, emotion-driven plays. In the late 1780s he turned to a more classical style. In 1794, Schiller and Goethe became friends and allies in a project to establish new standards for literature and the arts in Germany.
By contrast, the contemporaneous and efflorescing literary movement of German Romanticism was in opposition to Weimar and German Classicism, especially to Schiller. It is in this way both may be best understood, even to the degree in which Goethe continuously and stringently criticized it through much of his essays, such as "On Dilettantism", on art and literature. After Schiller's death, the continuity of these objections partly elucidates the nature of Goethe's ideas in art and how they intermingled with his scientific thinking as well, inasmuch as it gives coherence to Goethe's work. Weimar Classicism may be seen as an attempt to reconcile—in "binary synthesis"—the vivid feeling emphasized by the Sturm und Drang movement with the clear thought emphasized by the Enlightenment, thus implying Weimar Classicism is intrinsically un-Platonic. On this Goethe remarked:
The idea of the distinction between classical and romantic poetry [Dichtung], which is now spread over the whole world, and occasions so many quarrels and divisions, came originally from Schiller and myself. I laid down the maxim of objective treatment of poetry, and would allow no other; but Schiller, who worked quite in the subjective way, deemed his own fashion the right one, and to defend himself against me, wrote the treatise upon 'Naïve and Sentimental Poetry.' He proved to me that I myself, against my will, was romantic, and that my 'Iphigenia,' through the predominance of sentiment, was by no means so classical and so much in the antique spirit as some people supposed. The Schlegels took up this idea, and carried it further, so that it has now been diffused over the whole world; and every one talks about classicism and romanticism—of which nobody thought fifty years ago.
The Weimar movement was notable for its inclusion of female writers. Die Horen published works by several women, including a serially published novel, Agnes von Lilien, by Schiller's sister-in-law Caroline von Wolzogen. Other women published by Schiller included Sophie Mereau, Friederike Brun, Amalie von Imhoff, Elisa von der Recke, and Louise Brachmann.
Between 1786 and Schiller's death in 1805, he and Goethe worked to recruit a network of writers, philosophers, scholars, artists and even representatives of the natural sciences such as Alexander von Humboldt to their cause. This alliance later became known as 'Weimar Classicism', and it came to form a part of the foundation of 19th-century Germany's understanding of itself as a culture and the political unification of Germany.
These are essentials used by Goethe and Schiller:
Although the vociferously unrestricted, even "organic", works that were produced, such as Wilhelm Meister, Faust, and West-östlicher Divan, where playful and turbulent ironies abound, may perceivably lend Weimar Classicism the double, ironic title "Weimar Romanticism", it must nevertheless be understood that Goethe consistently demanded this distance via irony to be imbued within a work for precipitate aesthetic affect.
Schiller was very prolific during this period, writing his plays Wallenstein (1799), Mary Stuart (1800), The Maid of Orleans (1801), The Bride of Messina (1803) and William Tell (1804).