Shakespeare on the Nazi stage, 1933-1944
: performance as negotiation

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis focuses on Shakespeare productions in Nazi Germany and Nazi occupied territories between 1933 and 1944. It critically examines existing notions about theatre in Nazi Germany, its position in wider theatre history and its relationship with past theatrical practices and trends. I look at how Shakespeare became one of the most revered playwrights in Nazi Germany and the state of the theatres under Hitler’s regime, before moving on to the analyses of fourteen productions of eight Shakespeare plays (Richard II, Richard III, The Merchant of Venice, Othello, Antony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Coriolanus, and The Winter’s Tale) across four cities. The aim of the contextualization, description and analysis of Shakespeare productions is to fill a void in academic research, but also to dispute any assumption that the political background of genocide and autocracy makes the theatre that took place in this context unworthy of scholarly attention. Instead, I consider the extent to which the theatrical output of the time can be seen as a tentative interaction, with or against the Nazi regime. I argue that while the theatres could surely not fully resist the control and influence of the regime, it would be false to assume that the entire theatrical output of the time was organised, created, and produced exclusively in the service of Nazi propaganda. Relatively open criticism of the regime can be found in Jürgen Fehling’s earlier productions (Richard III and II), but, alongside other directors’ and actors’ work, his fervour seems to decline as the war and Hitler’s brutal regime raged on. Heinz Hilpert’s work overall is initially harder to align with resistance, but a closer look at his productions soon reveals covert commentary and criticism – albeit more in line with inner emigration. With the exception of The Merchant of Venice production in 1943, I demonstrate in my discussion of later productions (such as Antony and Cleopatra or The Winter’s Tale by Hilpert, or Julius Caesar by Fehling), that the war and the ongoing years of autocratic rule had a crucial impact on the levels or kind of political commentary in theatre productions. While more open criticism of the regime does lessen over time, Hilpert’s The Winter’s Tale production (1944) exemplifies what seems to have become a unifier among the productions analysed in this thesis: the creation of interpretational ‘grey zones’, which would allow the audiences to interpret the productions either in a pro- or anti-Nazi way.
Date of Award1 Jan 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorSonia Massai (Supervisor) & Ben Schofield (Supervisor)

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