Staging Theater to Realize a Nation: The Development of German National Theater in the 18th Century
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University of Washington Abstract Staging Theater to Realize a Nation: The Development of German National Theater in the 18th Century Elizabeth Coen Chair of the Supervisory Committee: Dr. Odai Johnson School of Drama This dissertation examines the invention and promotion of German national theater in Prussia, Austria, and the German states of the Holy Roman Empire between 1767 and 1797 to demonstrate how theatrical performance and rituals of theater-going were integral to the formation of German national identity and the burgeoning desire to constitute a German nation-state. I present four case studies that examine the guiding principles and repertoires of three German national theaters: The Hamburg National Theater, the Court and National Theater of Vienna, and the Mannheim National Theater. I also analyze discursive material such as journals, play texts, and correspondence to interrogate how these national institutions served the political aspirations of a diverse population of bourgeois critics, theater practitioners, and German princes. My findings suggest that each theater promoted a different geopolitical configuration of an imagined German nation-state, challenging scholars’ assertions that these theaters represented an apolitical cultural project. This dissertation demonstrates that German national theaters not only reflected, but also promoted a “future Germany” that espoused the principles of both republicanism and autocracy, a tension that influenced the politics of unification in the nineteenth century. The German national theater movement of the eighteenth century also offers a critical starting point for studies of imperial nationalism in German performance.
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