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Friendship and rivalry in creativity

A symbiotic marriage of two minds, involved deep in creativity, can turn out to be a bond, both singular and fruitful in nature. The relationship that developed between the two German poets, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and a much younger Friedrich von Schiller, was a remarkable phase that began for them and as well as for German literature in 1794. It was sadly aborted though, by Schiller’s untimely death in 1805.

‘Friends Forever’ (concept and narrative by Subhoranjan Dasgupta), a play-reading event based on the letters ' more than 1,000 ' exchanged by Goethe and Schiller, coupled with a detailed interpretation by Samik Bandyopadhyay, was held at Max Mueller Bhavan on November 7. It turned out to be a thought-provoking journey into the German classical age and little-known episodes in this unique relationship.

The inclusion of reminiscences of the two friends as well as of other contemporaries or people close to them in thought and belief (like Rabindranath Tagore) added an extra edge to the letters that Goethe and Schiller wrote to each other.

Both of them were dramatists. Goethe went on to be recognised as one of the greatest figures in world literature, while Schiller’s engagement with Kantian philosophy made him the dramatic spokesman of “German idealism”. At the same time, both friends wrote poetry in a certain rivalry with each other. Schiller, however, admitted that Goethe’s “genius is much richer than mine.”

Within the folds of personal restraint, an oscillation of hope and despair that co-existed in the interaction of the two vibrant minds, lend the letters a certain dramatic element.

This was brought to full use by Prabir Ghosh, who read out Goethe’s letters, Subhoranjan Dasgupta playing Schiller’s voice, Zarin Chaudhuri as Schiller’s sister-in-law Caroline von Wolzogen, and moderator Samik Bandopadhyay. Their interpretation lent a rare insight to the warmth of the friendship.

It’s not easy to “enact” this complex and many-faceted relationship within a short span; the maiden effort by the participants is to be appreciated, because the passion in the letters is difficult to translate.

However, an added dramatic fervour and a sense of immediacy in the reading, use of musical interludes, and, more importantly, onscreen background visuals would have made the session more absorbing.

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