Ferdinand Mount, "Super Goethe
," The New York Review of Books
(December 17, 2017), a review of Rüdiger Safranski, Goethe: Life as a Work of Art
, tr. David Dollenmayer (New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2017):
The best-remembered line from his first play, Götz von Berlichingen, is the robber baron Götz shouting through the window to the emperor's messenger: "Tell his Imperial Majesty that he can lick my arse"—otherwise known as the Swabian salute.
Goethe, Götz von Berlichingen
, Act III, Scene 17 (tr. Cyrus Hamlin):
Tell your Captain: To his Imperial Majesty, as ever, I offer all due respect. But as for him, you tell him, he can kiss my arse!
Sag deinem Hauptmann: Vor Ihro Kaiserliche Majestät hab ich, wie immer, schuldigen Respekt. Er aber, sag's ihm, er kann mich im Arsche lecken!
The antecedent of the pronouns er and ihm seems to be the Hauptmann, not the Kaiserliche Majestät. If so, it's inaccurate to say that Götz told the messenger, "Tell his Imperial Majesty that he can lick my arse." Rather, Götz told the messenger, "Tell your Captain that he can lick my arse." See Jeffrey Champlin, The Making of a Terrorist: On Classic German Rogues
(Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2015), p. 57:
Götz tells the first intermediary, the herald, to tell the second intermediary, the captain, that he will not obey him. He refuses to admit that he targets the Emperor, aiming his words at the captain, the head of the army.