Switzerland was instrumental in introducing Shakespeare to the German-speaking world in the 18th century and has had a lively Shakespeare tradition ever since. In 1599, Thomas Platter (1574–1628), a Basel traveler, saw a performance of what must have been Julius Caesar at the Globe in London, and described it in his travel report, the earliest of this kind. The Zurich critic Johann Jakob Bodmer (1698–1783) was fascinated by Shakespeare’s ability convincingly to present the marvelous (“das Wunderbare”), especially in the appearance of ghosts, and he promoted Shakespeare’s plays to argue for his poetics of the imagination against German Neoclassicist critics like Johann Christoph Gottsched (1700–1766). A correspondent of Bodmer’s, the Basel theologian Simon Grynäus (1725–1799), produced the first blank verse translation of a Shakespeare play into German (Romeo and Juliet, 1758). In the period between 1762 and 1777, the first complete edition of Shakespeare’s plays in German, translated by Christoph Martin Wieland (1733–1813) and Johann Joachim Eschenburg (1743–1820), also appeared in Bodmer’s Zurich. The painter Johann Heinrich Füssli or Henry Fuseli (1741–1825) received early Shakespearean inspiration in his hometown of Zurich. Ulrich Bräker (1735–1798), a farmer, peddler, and writer from Toggenburg in eastern Switzerland, in the spirit of Bodmer’s poetics, produced an impressive document of his fascination with reading Shakespeare in his Etwas über William Shakespeares Schauspiele (written 1780, first published 1877). The first recorded productions of Shakespeare plays took place in the 1780s: Hamlet in Berne and Lucerne (1784) and Romeo and Juliet in Lucerne (1787). The plays have remained regular fare in municipal theaters; at least one play tends to be performed each season. On the amateur stage, A Midsummer Night’s Dream has remained a particular favorite.
Swiss writers have repeatedly adapted Shakespeare. Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921–1990) adapted King John (König Johann, 1968) and Titus Andronicus (Titus Andronicus: Eine Komödie nach Shakespeare, 1970), calling it a comedy, because Dürrenmatt no longer thought tragedy possible. Shakespeare is regularly taught at Swiss universities, which have been heavily involved in the project of a bilingual English-German edition of Shakespeare’s plays (Englisch-deutsche Studienausgabe der Dramen Shakespeares, 1976–). An excellent website, Shakespeare in Europe, on Shakespeare in general and on his reception in Europe, is hosted by Basel University, (https://shine.unibas.ch/). Switzerland is mentioned once in Shakespeare, in Hamlet (4.5.98), where the king wonders where his “Swissers” or his Swiss guards are.
Bircher, Martin, and Heinrich Straumann. Shakespeare und die deutsche Schweiz bis zum Beginn des 19. Jahrhunderts. Francke, 1971; Bräker, Ulrich. A Few Words about William Shakespeare’s Plays. Trans. Derek Bowman. Wolff, 1979; Engler, Balz. “Shakespeare at cultural crossroads: Switzerland.” In Migrating Shakespeare, ed. Janet Clare and Dominique Goy-Blanquet. Bloomsbury, 2021, 79-93; Stadler, Edmund, ed. Shakespeare und die Schweiz. Theaterkultur-Verlag, 1964. Individual productions are documented at the Swiss Archive of the Performing Arts, www.sapa.swiss, and reviewed in Shakespeare Jahrbuch.