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all the arts, plastic, mimic and rhetorical, work together
to the highest aims. Through Christianity, as Wagner
at that time supposed, mankind had fallen into slavery ;
Art, in the service of the church, of princes and of
industry, had degenerated to handicraft and now served
only the few as a sensual enjoyment and luxury. Only



128 GERMAN DRAMA

when at some future time the great revolution of man-
kind has uprooted slavery in every form, can the re-
birth of the drama take place. In this Kunstwerk der
Zukunft, the sole subject of which is a beautiful and
strong humanity, which has attained to freedom by the
loftiest power of love, all the individual arts are most
intimately connected as in classic tragedy. It appeals
to the whole people out of whose life in common it had
its issue as the loftiest intellectual production. "Wagner
developed these thoughts in a number of works written
in Zurich, viz: Kunst und Klima (1850), Das Kunstwerk
ch r Zukunft (1850), Oper und Drama (1851).

Even before this he had written the drama which,
on a national basis, embodied this idea and also th?
means for its realization. In the year 1848 Siegfrieds
Tod was written, in 1851 its sunny companion-picture,
Der junge Siegfried, appeared, and in the following year
Wagner wrote, first Walk u re and then Rhcingold, be-
eause of the necessity of developing independently the
mythical and philosophical foundations of the action.
After Siegfrieds Tod had been remodelled into Gotter-
dammerung, to fit in with the three other plays in
preparation, "Wagner had the principal work printed
for his friends towards the end of 1852. He called it
Der Ring des Xibelungen, ein Biihnenfestspiel fur drei
Tage und einen Vorabend. The music of Rheingold
was already finished in 1854, Walkure in the beginning
of 1856, but in the middle of Siegfried, in 1857, work
ceased and only after a long pause was it completed in
1869, and Die Gotterdammerung in 1874. In his work,
Die Nibelungen, which appeared in the same decade,
Hebbel had used almost exclusively the German folk-
epic as his source, but Wagner gave the northern version



RICHARD WAGNER 129

of the Edda commanding consideration. Out of it he
tried to extract the essence of the old legend and con-
ceived of it as mythical and not historical. He con-
sidered Siegfried synonymous with the Germanic god
Baldur whose death symbolizes the destruction of the
world. It must be destroyed because the greed for pos-
session and power has become dominant and has also
ensnared and poisoned the representatives of purity,
Wotan and the Lichtalben. Their ending is prepared
for them by the dark Nibelungs and in vain does Wotan
beget for himself Siegmund, the hero who shall conquer
the enemy. Siegfried alone, not begotten by the guilt-
laden god, but a free innocent man, is able to snatch
away the ring, the symbol of power and possession, from
the guardian dragon. But he also becomes involved in
guilt through Hagen, the son of Nibelung, and with
him is destroyed Brunhild, the daughter of the god,
who in her selfishness wishes to live only for her love.
Walhall, the citadel of the gods, flashes up in flames
and the ring is given back to the daughters of the Rhine,
from whom Nibelung had once stolen his gold. The
great wealth of thought and the dramatic significance
of the ring lift the drama into the domain of genuine
and lofty tragedy, but the whimsical outer form of
the senselessly applied alliteration, the purposely archaic
language, distorted by countless puns and the tendency
to extended expositions, which do not advance the dra-
matic action, detract from the artistic merit. The
characterization also is often weakened by the symbolic
conception of the figures.

At the close of the Ring the sin-laden world goes
down to destruction and finds peace in ruin. This cor-
responds to the new views which Wagner had come to



130 GERMAN DRAMA

independently and had found confirmed in the philoso-
phy of Schopenhauer. His lack of success in his efforts
and the necessity of giving up his relation to the high-
minded Mathilde Wesendonk had driven him to pessi-
mism, all hope in the future had vanished and the thought
of contempt for and victory over the world was a de-
liverance for him. Everything in his earlier works he
now declared to be the product of a very abnormal
condition and from the view-point of this new world
philosophy he composed Tristan und Isolde (1854), the
"song of songs" of a love perfected in death.

Once more the legend became the receptacle of his
personal view-point. In the epic of Tristan and Isolde
Gottfried von Strassburg had extolled the good fortune
of a "love of high degree" and surrounded it with the
richest fullness of life. Wagner extracted from it the
fundamental tragic motives, the unconquerable desire
for the woman whom Tristan has wooed for his lord and
father's friend, with the determination to give up his
own claim to her. The magic love-potion does not
awaken their love. On the contrary, both had felt
from the very beginning that they were destined for
one another; they do not intend treason but a mortal
longing is the torment which they suffer. The number
of external incidents is here limited to those absolutely
necessary, so that the fundamental lyric feelings may
have complete course. The poet revels in them and
spreads over them all the charms of lofty poetry into
which the contemplative is this time completely merged.

Not for long could Wagner's active and really joyous,
sensuous nature remain in this state of pessimism.
When in the summer of 1860 he returned to Germany



RICHARD WAGNER 131

and could look with more confidence into the future,
he worked out an old plan of his Dresden days and
wrote in 1862 his Meistersinger von Nurnberg.

The peaceful German Imperial city, filled with genu-
ine cheeriness, in which Hans Sachs had written, be-
came the scene of a capital comedy. The antagonism
between a limited philistine art and gifted creative work
is embodied most happily in the school-laws of the
tablature, restored true to history, and in the independ-
ent song of Walther von Stolzing. Without obtrusive-
ness the poet also gave free course to his disgust with
his opponents. Unaffected by these purposes, the char-
acters unfold and are full of life, while the course of
the happily invented love-intrigue is intimately con-
nected with the clash of view-points in art.

When Wagner had finished the musical composition
for this work in 1867, there was already looming up,
through a surprising intervention of destiny, an early
prospect of the fulfilment of his boldest plans which
up to that time had seemed unattainable. The young
king of Bavaria, Ludwig II, showed him his favor and,
with the aid of a rapidly increasing host of enthusiastic
supporters, he was able to build his festival-theatre
in Bayreuth, where, far from "the daily round," the
drama, by a new art of presentation and under a pure
and ideal fostering care, was to awaken an exaltation
and enthusiasm worthy of its high calling.

In the presence of the German emperor and of a
number of princes, the Ring des Nibelungen was given
here for the first time in August, 1876, and in defiance
to the slack and degenerate spirit of the times won
a success, which, exerting a continuous influence even



132 GERMAN DRAMA

beyond German boundaries, has given an impulse to
the purification of the artistic spirit and to a revolt
from the frivolity of the old opera.

In continual conflict with the "business" sense, with
indolence and the encouragement of search after low
pleasure, the mightiest factors in the life of the regular
theatres, Bayreuth, even since the death of Wagner,
holds high the banner of the practice of pure art, and
for it fortunately the last and profoundest work of the
master, Der Parsifal (1882), has up to the present
been reserved.

In Parsifal pessimism has become clarified to sympa-
thy and there appears a new ideal for the future, an
ethical regeneration of the world by a recognition of
its woes. The most thoughtful poem of the German
Middle Ages, Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parcival, is
here, as was Gottfried von Strassburg's Tristan in
the former opera, carried back to its simplest elements
and over it a mystical splendor is shed, so that the
vicarious suffering of Christ in the person of the hero,
along with his own suffering, becomes the salvation of
mankind. Amfortas, the King of the Grail, who is
freed from his torments by Parsifal, had been wounded
with the same lance which once pierced the Redeemer's
side and Herodias lives on in Kundry, the messenger
of the Grail.

The sin of the hero is ignorance of suffering, which
refuses sympathy; through sympathy he attains to un-
derstanding without guilt. Because of this there is
lacking in the drama everything that otherwise forms
a basis in tragic conflicts and in its temper it consciously
approaches the oratorio, the character of which also
prevails in the music. Even if this coloring were de-



ERNST VON WILDENBRUCH 133

inanded by the peculiar nature of the material, it yet
gives evidence of declining powers and does not permit
the last lofty work of Wagner to appear as the equal
of the earlier dramas. Perhaps this was contributed to
by the suffering which overtook him even while he was
working at Parsifal, and to which he succumbed, Feb.
13, 1883.

With Wagner's last works is closed for the present
the history of the musical drama of Germany. Neither
in the old forms nor in the new ones created by him has
there a work appeared which can offer anything fresh in
respect to drama and the present day is still living en-
tirely on its inheritance from the great age of opera
which began with Gluck and has ended, as it seems,
with Wagner.

ERNST VON WILDENBRUCH

The salutary influence of the Meininger on the stage
and the public, the interest in the enjoyment of a noble
art, which has been awakened by them and Richard
Wagner, was first of advantage to ERNST VON WILDEN-
BRUCH, a poet who for ten long years had been
knocking in vain at the portals of the theatre with his
dramas of an ideal tendency. In May, 1881, the Mein-
inger brought his tragedy, Die Karolinger, upon the
boards at their home, in the autumn of the same year a
Berlin theatre repeated the attempt amid the greatest
applause and then his earlier rejected tragedies appeared
in rapid succession in all the larger theatres. In him
seemed to have been found the long wished for suc-
cessor of Schiller, who was to bring release from the
wretched drama of the last decades.



134 GERMAN DRAMA

Carried away by the strong passionate flight of his
poetry, the public overlooked the weaknesses in the con-
fused plot, the insufficient motivation and the superficial
psychology. The poet did not allow his hearers to re-
cover consciousness so long as he held them in his spell
and it was seen that the seemingly worn-out forms of
the old historical drama again and again prove their
power, whenever a strong individuality and an ideal
temperament give them the corresponding contents and
whenever the desire for brilliant pictures, for strong
momentary effects is fulfilled.

On looking closer, however, one recognizes that Wild-
enbruch's enthusiastic temperament was not kindled
by warm spiritual conflict. Settled in his moral and
patriotic convictions, he scarcely feels the deep dis-
cord running through his times, however much trouble
he gives himself to comprehend and represent the move-
ments of the present. Over his first dramas lay the
rosy glimmer of a simple youthful belief in ideals which
had not yet been dimmed by experience. The hope has
not been fulfilled that he would struggle upwards out of
this beginner's stage which is best embodied in Die
Karolinger (1882), Harold (1882), Der Mennonit
(1884) and Das neue Gebot (1886).

Even Die Haubenlerche (1891), which tries to make
connection with the realistic drama of the present, aims
at proving his good faith in the well-regulated mechan-
ism of the course of the world with its righteous divis-
ion of reward and punishment, only that the pathos
disguises itself in Berlin dialect and the people do not
wear historical dress. Wildenbruch gained his greatest
and most lasting triumph with this play because he
succeeded in infusing into the scenes from lowly life



ERNST VON WILDENBRUCH 135

a lofty, inspiring and yet human spirit which the ma-
jority of dramatists misused for mere formal experi-
ments. But his own particular field is the historical
drama which places external scenes before the eyes of
the spectator with superficial argumentation and above
all tries to cause strong excitement through interest
in the subject.

Subjects from the history of Brandenburg and Prussia
lay nearest to hand for this enthusiastic patriot and, as
Raupach had once done for the Hohenstaufens, so now
Wildenbruch has put the Hohenzollerns on the stage in
a series of historical pictures and of faithful portraits.
But in this he is not guided, like his predecessors, by
the purpose of using the stage to supplement the teach-
ings of history, but in his veins there courses a glowing
love, admiration, and gratitude to the sovereigns who
have by their sturdy deeds made little Brandenburg
the cradle of the modern German Empire.

About the heads of these rulers there gathers all glory
in the Hohenzollern dramas, Die Quitzows (1888), Der
Generalfeldoberst (1889), and Der neue Herr (1891).
The dramatic life of the characters is a failure because
of the conviction that all opposition to the mission of the
Hohenzollern is unjustifiable in itself and must be un-
successful.

Wildenbruch does not, however, deserve the reproach
of servility. His noble enthusiasm is far removed from
the commanded glorification in the showy festival plays
of Joseph Lauff, who otherwise proves himself to be a
sane, sympathetic nature, as in his comedy, Der Heer-
ohme (1902), or the voluntary place-hunting of im-
portunate "patriotic" poets. Wildenbruch gained later
a great but temporary success with the double drama,



136 GERMAN DRAMA

Heinrich und Heinrichs Geschlecht (1896). The his-
torical contrast of Germany's monarchial principles and
the Papacy on the one hand and the conflict of the king
against the egoism and separatism of German princes
on the other, are the motive forces of those histories.
The poet did not succeed, however, in translating the
political motives into human ones nor in avoiding the
impression of chance in the course of the historical
events. In addition to this, he has in this drama still
oftener than before brought in theatrical effects and
is not able to hold fast the lines of characterization even
in the rudest outlines. The weakening of his power in
the later acts, which is a special characteristic of Wild-
enbruch, is seen very clearly in his latest drama, Konig
Laurin (1902). The beginning of the action in the first
act is significant and exciting but it flattens out quickly
into a play of intrigue and proceeds fitfully and capri-
ciously from one startling scene to another.

Actuated by the noblest purposes, endowed with the
valuable qualities of a strong temperament and of an
accurate eye for what is suited to the stage, Wilden-
bruch's talent has after all brought little good to Ger-
man drama. Each of his successes means only a per-
sonal victory to the detriment of those efforts which
are aimed at developing the psychical and strengthening
the contact with the life of the present.



THE OLD ART AND NATURALISM

BASED on the conviction that classic antiquity has left
behind it in all realms of art works that will forever
remain standard, the view has been prevalent since the
Renaissance that perfection is only to be attained by
following these models. The history of modern German
poetry up to the present is the history of its relation to
antiquity. Its different periods are distinguished in
this, that sometimes the outward form, sometimes the
whole intellectual world of antiquity is to be acquired.
Sometimes the effort is made to deny the present and
become wrapped up in the antique, sometimes to com-
bine the views of antiquity with modern ideas.

Classic art represents the last stage of this road and
all the attacks of the Romanticists, of "Young Ger-
many" and of the partisans of Realism down into the
eighties were scarcely able to give the dominion of the
art-view established by the classicists a passing shock,
let alone to overthrow it.

The reason for this was partly that the great German
writers had with the greatest ability perfected this style
in their masterpieces and that the form was then given
credit for the elevating effect which for the most part
depended upon quite personal characteristics of Goethe
and Schiller. But even in themselves Schiller's idealism
and the plastic ideal of form in the mature Goethe possess

137



138 GERMAN DRAMA

a high ethical and artistic value. Both correspond en-
tirely to the chief tendencies of the intellectual devel-
opment of Germany since the Reformation. They rep-
resent the elevation of the body of German citizens from
a modest existence through a striving for individual
development and the highest ethical maturity to a free-
dom gained by will power because they are filled with
faith in the realm of ideals and in the absolute nature
of ethical demands.

The low, the ugly and the immoral find no place in
this art where, as a justifiable power, they might have
held their own, and passion had to allow itself to be
shut in by the barriers of the prevailing ethical system
or be dashed to pieces against them. The finer sub-
jective characteristics of the psychical yield precedence
entirely to typical qualities and are considered whimsi-
cal and abnormal. To the heroes was given a purified
sentiment and a high culture which, indifferent to his-
torical facts, permeated all with the same idealism and
expressed itself always in the same noble, exalted lan-
guage, with scarcely any shade of personal coloring.
It was the business of the drama in the first place to
impress upon the spectators the great teachings of his-
tory by sensuous representation, where some important
incident was shown in its causes and development and
in which those concerned pronounced ethical judgment
upon themselves. Only the past, however, permitted
such a seemingly final judgment, and the nearer one
came to the present, the less could one fail to recognize
that reality did not allow of such clear knowledge. For
this reason classic art excluded the present from the
field of serious drama and allowed it merely to present
entertaining scenes without any higher purpose. Even



THE OLD ART AND NATURALISM 139

here, however, the laws of that theory of beauty were
held to be valid which admitted only what was pleasing
to the eye and the feelings.

It is clear that this art is especially adapted to awak-
ening enthusiasm for everything noble and grand, to
strengthening in the people the belief in the ideal and to
providing pure and lofty enjoyment. In it are reflected
the best qualities of German character and its imper-
ishable significance depends upon the fact that it re-
peatedly embodies in noble form the victory of the free
moral will over necessity.

And yet it cannot be denied that to fulfil its office,
it simplified the universe altogether too much, did not
venture to tread the mysterious regions of the inner
life and paid too exclusive attention to the conscious
impulses taking form in powerful action.

Idealism, upon which it depended, was crowded out
in the course of the nineteenth century by other philo-
sophical conceptions of first principles, especially by
Pessimism and Materialism. The natural sciences gained
a decisive influence upon thought because of which the
universe was put out of joint. The spirit no longer
appeared to be the independent sovereign of matter but
bound to it indissolubly and conditioned by it in its
being. ^Recognition of the historical, geographical and
social relativity of all phenomena limited extraordinarily
the assumption of personal freedom and in the place
of the earlier simple hypotheses came now the co-opera-
tion of highly complicated factors, to which was as-
signed an absolute power, in accordance with natural
laws.

Because of this, historical events also appeared in a
different light, no longer as a series of great heroic



140 GERMAN DRAMA

deeds, but as a necessary result of industrial and
psychical mass-movements in which the highest as well
as the lowest must take part because everywhere the
same inviolable laws hold sway.

The earlier standards of the essential and the non-
essential, derived from the ethical estimate of person-
ality, were rejected and in vain did historic science
and philosophy look for new and universally accepted
values.

As a result of this confusion, the new art sought
at first to reproduce only external phenomena as con-
scientiously as possible and, in order to avoid the sus-
picion of an independent valuation in the old sense,
preferred now those very subjects which, according to
the earlier estimate, were considered distasteful to art
and without significance, and to which, in addition,
there clung the charm of novelty.

With the intensified curiosity of an explorer who
penetrates into an untrodden district of Africa the
material and psychical life of the proletariat, the pros-
titutes and the criminals was observed and described,
without subjective coloring, as far as possible like an
object in natural science.

This procedure was called Naturalism. Long before
there was talk of this tendency in Germany it had
become dominant in France and from there had exer-
cised an influence, especially in Scandinavia and Russia.
Even. Romanticism in France, in contrast with that
of Germany, had become extremely progressive and
democratic in political matters. It inclined to the social
conception which had given rise to a new art of story-
telling in Balzac's novels. Upon the foundation laid
by him built the great masters Gustav Flaubert and



THE OLD ART AND NATURALISM 141

Emil Zola. The latter had described contemporary
society of France in a long series of novels and therefore
his foreign imitators also tried to describe society in
their countries in the form of the novel and at the
same time to follow conscientiously the technique of
their master and the principles which he had derived
from natural science. He supplied no serviceable
model, however, for the drama; his Therese Raquin
was a failure as even his most enthusiastic partisans
had to acknowledge.

The writers who wished to establish a naturalistic
drama in Germany believed that they had found their
master in the great Norwegian HENRIK IBSEN. This
was an error, for Ibsen never wrote in naturalistic
fashion in the sense in which Zola did. In his first
drama, Catilina, he defined it as his purpose to represent
the contradiction between will and possibility, between
humanity and the individual; the tragedy and the com-
edy of humanity and of the individual conjointly was
to be his drama.

At first he realized this purpose, treating preferably
historical and legendary material with Romantic touch
and in rhythmic form, but even in The Comedy of Love
(1862) the action is laid in the present. With The
League of Youth (1869) began the series of Ibsen's
modern prose dramas. They all describe Norwegian
society and show that its conditions, externally so well
regulated, are in truth corroded with common selfish-
ness, with prejudices and vices and are therefore not
permanent.

The second of these plays, The Pillars of Society
(1877), sums up this criticism in one great picture.
The individual phenomena are then examined in A



142 GERMAN DRAMA

Doll's House (1879) where, in the heroine Nora, is
sketched the degeneration of the wife because of illib-
eral education and of unworthy society-position ; also in
An Enemy of the People (1882), which shows the harm-
ful influence of public opinion, and in Ghosts (1883),
a ruthless condemnation of modern marriage, based
upon the laws of inheritance, the results of which come
out in terrible form in the case of the wife who was
bought, and of the offspring of the unnatural union.
The Wild Duck (1884) forms the conclusion of this
series. While Ibsen in the preceding dramas has every-
where defended the claims of truth and freedom and
of the absolute assertion of individuality, he shows here
the necessity of the society-lie and of dependence for


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Online LibraryGeorg WitkowskiThe German drama of the nineteenth century → online text (page 10 of 17)