Saturday, April 19, 2014

August Wilhelm Iffland and the Iffland Ring

August Wilhelm Iffland (1759-1814)
On April 19, 1759, German actor and dramatic author August Wilhelm Iffland was born. He was the most important actor of his age and is best remembered for playing the main part of Franz Moor in Friedrich Schiller's 'The Robbers'. And there is this ring, the Iffland-Ring, which bears Iffland's likeness, and is borne by the most important German-speaking actor, as decided by his predecessor. When I first heard the story of the Iffland-Ring, to me it sounded a little bit like a 'Lord of the Ring' like story. There is a ring, passed over from generation to generation, and only its bearer decides who is worthy to bear it next...

OK, so who was this August Wilhelm Iffland? Born in Hanover, capital of Lower Saxony, in northwestern Germany, is father originally intended him to be a clergyman, but Iffland preferred the stage, and in 1777, at age eighteen ran away to the city of Gotha in central Germany, in order to prepare himself for a theatrical career. When Iffland first started his career in theater, it was the German actor Konrad Ekhof who taught Iffland both the art and indeed business of acting. Iffland made fast progress. In 1779, Iffland joined the cast of the National Theatre of Mannheim at the request of Prince Charles Theodore of Bavaria, where Iffland made​ a name for himself by developing and performing acts that became famous for their psychological and realistic touch.

In 1782, Iffland who performed on every single one of the main stages in Germany, triumphed in the role of Franz Moor in The Robbers, written by the German poet, philosopher and playwright Friedrich von Schiller. Schiller enjoyed Iffland’s acting so much that a fruitful collaboration developed between the two men. Iffland also gained an important reputation in the country by performing on every single one of the main stages of Germany. In April 1796, Iffland travelled to Weimar, responding to the invitation of the famous German poet, philosopher and playwright Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had extended to him. In the same year he settled in Berlin, where Iffland became director of the national theater of Prussia, and in 1811 he was made general director of all presentations before royalty.

Iffland produced all the classical works of Goethe and Schiller with conscientious care, but he had little understanding for the drama of the romantic writers. As an actor, he was conspicuous for his comedy parts: fine gentlemen, polished men of the world, and distinguished princes. On the other hand, Iffland also had success as an author himself. His most famous plays are The Hunters (“Die Jäger”, 1785), Dienstpflicht (“Compulsory Service”), and Die Hagstolzen (“The Old Boys”). The form of play in which Iffland was most at home, both as an actor and playwright, was the domestic drama, the sentimental play of everyday life. His works show little imagination, but they display a thorough mastery of the technical necessities of the stage, and a remarkable power of devising effective situations. Moreover, he was also an important drama critic. In fact, German actors used to take with great importance the remarks that Iffland could make on their works in his Almanach für Theater und Theaterfreunde.

What is today famous as the “Iffland-Ring”, which is engraved with the portrait of Iffland, is since Ludwig Devrient worn by a German actor chosen by his predecessor as one of the main representatives of the profession. Iffland was inspired by the Romanticism. Thus, he might be have been inspired to commission the ring the play Nathan the Wise by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing telling the famous "Ringparabel". The circumstances of where and when Iffland passed on the ring to its first bearer Ludwig Devrient are uncertain. But there is the story that Iffland handed the ring to Devrient in 1814, after his last performance in Breslau. Shortly after, in September 1814, Iffland died in Berlin. The current holder of the Iffland-Ring is Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, who is well known for his performance as Adolf Hitler in "The Downfall".

At yovisto you can learn more about classical theatre in the lecture of Sam Walters, the Artistic Director of Orange Tree Theatre, at Gresham College on 'Is Theatre History?'

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