August Wilhelm Schlegel (September 8, 1767 – May 12, 1845) was a German poet, translator, critic, and a foremost leader of German Romanticism. His translations of Shakespeare made the English dramatist's works into German classics.
Schlegel was born in Hanover, where his father, Johann Adolf Schlegel, was a Lutheran pastor. He was educated at the Hanover gymnasium and at the university of Göttingen. At the University of Göttingen, he received a thorough philological training under Heyne and became an admirer and friend of Bürger, with whom he was engaged in an ardent study of Dante, Petrarch and Shakespeare. From 1791 to 1795, Schlegel was tutor in a Dutch banker's family at Amsterdam.
In 1796, soon after his return to Germany, Schlegel settled in Jena, following an invitation of Schiller. That year he married Karoline, the widow of the physician Böhmer. She assisted Schlegel in some of his literary productions, and the publication of her correspondence in 1871 established for her a posthumous reputation as a German letter writer. She separated from Schlegel in 1801 and became the wife of the philosopher Schelling soon after.
In Jena, Schlegel made critical contributions to Schiller's Horen, to that author's Musenalmanach, and to the Jenaer Allgemeine Litteratur-Zeitung. He also did translations from Dante and Shakespeare. This work established his literary reputation and gained for him in 1798 an extraordinary professorship at the University of Jena. His house became the intellectual headquarters of the “romanticists,” and was visited at various times between 1796 to 1801 by Fichte, Friedrich Schlegel, Schelling, Tieck, Novalis and others.
With his brother Friedrich, Schlegel founded Athenaeum (1798–1800), the organ of the Romantic school, in which he dissected disapprovingly the immensely popular works of the sentimental novelist August Lafontaine. He also published a volume of poems, and carried on a rather bitter controversy with Kotzebue. At this time the two brothers were remarkable for the vigour and freshness of their ideas, and commanded respect as the leaders of the new Romantic criticism. A volume of their joint essays appeared in 1801 under the title Charakteristiken und Kritiken.
In 1802 Schlegel went to Berlin, where he delivered lectures on art and literature; and in the following year he published Ion, a tragedy in Euripidean style, which gave rise to a suggestive discussion on the principles of dramatic poetry. This was followed by Spanisches Theater (2 vols, 1803/1809), in which he presented admirable translations of five of Calderon's plays; and in another volume, Blumensträusse italienischer, spanischer und portugiesischer Poesie (1804), he gave translations of Spanish, Portuguese and Italian lyrics; his translations included works by Dante and Camoens.
After divorcing his wife Karoline, in 1804, Schlegel traveled in France, Germany, Italy and other countries with Madame de Staël, as tutor to her sons and adviser in her literary work. She owed to him many of the ideas which she embodied in her work, De l'Allemagne. In 1807 he attracted much attention in France by an essay in the French language, Comparaison entre la Phèdre de Racine et celle d'Euripide, in which he attacked French classicism from the standpoint of the Romantic school. His lectures on dramatic art and literature (Über dramatische Kunst und Literatur, 1809–1811), which have been translated into most European languages, were delivered at Vienna in 1808.
From 1813 to 1817, he acted as secretary of the crown prince of Sweden, through whose influence the right of his family to noble rank was revived. After this, he joined again the household of Mme. de Staël until her death in 1817. Schlegel was made a professor of literature at the University of Bonn in 1818, and during the remainder of his life occupied himself chiefly with oriental studies. He founded a special printing office for Sanskrit. As an orientalist, he was unable to adapt himself to the new methods opened by Bopp.
He continued to lecture on art and literature, in 1827 published On the Theory and History of the Plastic Arts, and in 1828 issued two volumes of critical writings (Kritische Schriften). In 1823-1830 he published the journal Indische Bibliothek and edited (1823) the Bhagavad Gita with a Latin translation, and (1829) the Ramayana. This was followed by his 1832 work Reflections on the Study of the Asiatic Languages.
After the death of Madame de Staël, Schlegel married (1818) a daughter of Professor Paulus of Heidelberg, but this union was dissolved in 1821.
In 1835, Schlegel became head of the committee organising a monument to Ludwig van Beethoven in Bonn. He died in Bonn in 1845, three months before the official unveiling of the Beethoven Monument.