1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Iffland, August Wilhelm

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21868381911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 14 — Iffland, August Wilhelm

IFFLAND, AUGUST WILHELM (1759–1814), German actor and dramatic author, was born at Hanover on the 19th of April 1759. His father intended his son to be a clergyman, but the boy preferred the stage, and at eighteen ran away to Gotha in order to prepare himself for a theatrical career. He was fortunate enough to receive instruction from Hans Ekhof, and made such rapid progress that he was able in 1779 to accept an engagement at the theatre in Mannheim, then rising into prominence. He soon stood high in his profession, and extended his reputation by frequently playing in other towns. In 1796 he settled in Berlin, where he became director of the national theatre of Prussia; and in 1811 he was made general director of all representations before royalty. Iffland produced the classical works of Goethe and Schiller with conscientious care; but he had little understanding for the drama of the romantic writers. The form of play in which he was most at home, both as actor and playwright, was the domestic drama, the sentimental play of everyday life. His works are almost entirely destitute of imagination; but they display a thorough mastery of the technical necessities of the stage, and a remarkable power of devising effective situations. His best characters are simple and natural, fond of domestic life, but too much given to the utterance of sentimental commonplace. His best-known plays are Die Jäger, Dienstpflicht, Die Advokaten, Die Mündel and Die Hagestolzen. Iffland was also a dramatic critic, and German actors place high value on the reasonings and hints respecting their art in his Almanach für Theater und Theaterfreunde. In 1798–1802 he issued his Dramatischen Werke in 16 volumes, to which he added an autobiography (Meine theatralische Laufbahn). In 1807–1809 Iffland brought out two volumes of Neue dramatische Werke. Selections from his writings were afterwards published, one in 11 (Leipzig, 1827–1828), the other in 10 volumes (Leipzig, 1844, and again 1860). As an actor, he was conspicuous for his brilliant portrayal of comedy parts. His fine gentlemen, polished men of the world, and distinguished princes were models of perfection, and showed none of the traces of elaborate study which were noticed in his interpretation of tragedy. He especially excelled in presenting those types of middle-class life which appear in his own comedies. Iffland died at Berlin on the 22nd of September 1814. A bronze portrait statue of him was erected in front of the Mannheim theatre in 1864.

See K. Duncker, Iffland in seinen Schriften als Künstler, Lehrer, und Direktor der Berliner Bühne (1859); W. Koffka, Iffland und Dalberg (1865); and Lampe, Studien über Iffland als Dramatiker (Celle, 1899). Iffland’s interesting autobiography, Meine theatralische Laufbahn, was republished by H. Holstein in 1885.