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his own conception of people and events more in doubt.
By doing this he fulfils, it is true, a requirement of
Naturalism but takes from the drama the substance
of a basic idea. The theme is very cleverly presented
so that a mild light falls on the old-fashioned society
with its limited view-points, its rigid but at the same
time firm and bracing ethics, its self-sacrificing spirit
and its modesty, while the newly gained freedom of the


individual who strives upward by his own effort is
woven about with a gleaming splendor. In Magda, the
representative of this new nature, he has created a cap-
tivating role and has besides scattered throughout the
whole play such a great variety of striking external
effects that he has given to the stage a work whose
international success has only been attained, among all
German dramas, by Kotzebue's Menschenhass und Reue.

But in this fact lies the proof also that the inherent
import, which can be easily comprehended by any class
of public of any nation, is not so very deep. In this
play it is of course not a question of great and general
human relations but of such as grow out of the life
of specifically unimportant people of the present day
in Germany. At the same time, however, the almost
unexampled success of Die Heimat furnished proof
that conscientious observance of reality and its repro-
duction with a proper adaptation to the conditions of
stage effect afford the means of charming large audiences
and that without transgressing against the nature of
art. Therefore one ought not to condemn this middle
class, to which Die Heimat belongs, so disdainfully as
often happens.

Once more Sudermann attempted to picture a definite
social class in Die Schmetterlingsschlacht (1893) and
at the same time allowed accurate calculation of the
external factors of the action to drop into the back-
ground; once more the result was at first rejection,
which later indeed gave way to kindly and continued
applause because of growing recognition of the good
properties of the play. Repentantly Sudermann bowed
to the wish of his public and from now on was sub-
missive. All grand and bold desires, all artistic pur-


poses were permitted to hold sway only as long as the
prevailing taste and the external effect conditioned by
it was not prohibited. Only in one single instance,
when a lucky chance did not demand the intervention
of this highest court, did he succeed in another work
of fine quality. The one-act play, Fritzchen, inserted
in an otherwise unimportant cycle of one-act plays,
Morituri ( 1897 ) , shows how an effeminate young fellow,
through lack of firm grip and because of the rigidity
of the idea of "honor," is ruined in the enforced calling
of officer, when he might have found happiness in a
quiet everyday life. The incident, and the environ-
ment as well, is comprehended in its deepest import
and worked out very effectively with a few strokes,
the emotional effect being always kept in view.

All the rest of Sudermann's dramas after Die Schmet-
terlingsschlacht are plays aiming at effect. The first
of them, Das Gliick im Winkel (1895), avoids at the end,
with difficulty and in an improbable manner, the same
conflict that is carried through logically to its tragic
issue in Fritzchen. It aims at awakening the belief
that, for the gentle husband whom a brutal hand has
torn from his dream of happiness and for the wife
who has destroyed their married life, companionship is
still possible on the ruins of their partnership.

After the failure of Naturalism, when the historical
problem-drama seemed to be the order of the day,
Sudermann tried in Johannes (1898), with insufficient
powers, to depict the portentous times before the appear-
ance of Christ and to place the hero between the setting
and the new rising world. For the decadent repre-
sentatives of a depraved and decayed antique culture
he could effectively employ the colors from Sodoms


Ende, but he did not succeed in entering into an appre-
ciation of the prophetic childhood of developing Chris-
tendom, so that the reflection of the blood-red sinking
sun of the ancient world and of the gently rising mild
constellation of the new produced only an unsteady flick-
ering. The effort to combine the description of the
inherent contrast of two ages with the accumulated
external impressions, which seem to Sudermann indis*
pensable, resulted in a mixture which possibly might
dazzle at the moment but must soon be recognized as
inartistic and immoral.

The Drei Beiherfedern (1898) is just as confused,
and again attempted unsuccessfully to entice the spec-
tator into a distant world. Because the present seemed
to long to get back to the mysterious fairy-world of
Romanticism, Sudermann now offered a fairy-play, in-
termingled with symbolical elements, but this domain
was sealed to the clear-headed poet. He quickly turned
his back upon it and directed himself to the present,
which by the way, is the real theatre of his work.

The great and principal question of the present is
how the primitive instincts or the freedom won by con-
scious will power have to be correlated to the narrow
forms safeguarded by reverence and the rigid tradi-
tional ethics of society. This becomes the chief interest
in his following works. While in the more meritorious
JoJiannisfeuer (1899) the innate power of the impulses
is destroyed in the conflict with the prevailing view of
life, Es lebe das Leben (1902) makes the desire for
happiness felt by the more gifted character conclude
a compromise with Society and its ethics which brings
blessing to him and to others. The love of the wife
who, with a not improbable cleverness, succeeds in find-


ing this tortuous road to what was in her judgment a
worthy existence, elevates the man of her heart and
they both stand on the heights of a ripe art of living,
after they have conquered their passions. By a blind
chance the secret of their intimacy is discovered and
the wife sacrifices herself instead of the lover.

Sturmgeselle Sokrates (1903) belongs again to the
plays not rare with Sudermann which terminate without
any profit, for the reason that a fine original thought
is made coarse and distorted in the straining after rude
effects. Certainly a gentle hand could have made a
warm, cheerful and touching figure of the man of forty-
eight years whose ideals had become inelastic. So also
in Stein unter Steinen (1903) there was no need of
making merely a melodramatic theatrical figure out of
the noble murderer Biegler who, after his release from
the reformatory, has to suffer so grievously from the
prejudices of the members of his guild. How well
Anzengruber knew how to get at the bottom of a similar
motive in Fleck auf der Ehr'! But the necessary cour-
age in quest of truth in such problems is rarely in accord
with the taste of the public and there result those in-
credible conclusions which do violence to all finer artistic
feelings and which, by a fortunate turn, dragged in by
main force, open up the prospect of the happy solution
so indispensable to the superficial perceptions of the
average public.

When a man of great talents like Sudermann conde-
scends to such expedients, he certainly does not do it
voluntarily and the fault lies more with the low con-
dition of artistic taste than with him. And further,
what in him is criticized severely as an unpardonable
moral defect, has been at all times an accompaniment


of creative work for the stage, just as it has been im-
possible for writers with the greatest gifts to carry
out their great purposes in defiance of the public. In
this they have scarcely ever succeeded directly, or have
been unable to combine genuine artistic power with a
regard for the taste of the times, which none of the
great ones have ever lost sight of, neither Shakespeare,
nor Moliere, nor Schiller, If only an author does not
condescend to flatter the likings of the public which
are contrary to the rules of art, if only a sound germ
and an honest striving after truth is not lacking in
his works, it is not permissible to deny them the rank
of works of art solely because of a shrewd calculation
on popular effect. To be sure, the mightiest dramatic
talents succeed in combining the unconscious with this
reasonable calculation, so that their works appear as
the products of an inward compulsion uninfluenced by
any regard for externals, but these perfect dramas are
too rare to supply the daily needs of the stage. Suder-
mann deserves commendation that he alone of all living
authors understands how to satisfy this need with the
greatest technical skill.


There is in German literary circles a small but power-
ful party which condemns unconditionally, as treachery
to art, any compromise with traditional forms, or any
yielding to the desire of the public for theatrical effect.
To these critics Sudermann, the most successful of the
stage writers of the present day, is most distasteful
and every one of his works on its appearance is attacked
by them with the greater virulence, the greater its


success has boon. They condemn his "manufacture"
unconditionally, but justly only when he places it at
the service of low ideals. His theatrical ability and
accurate technique are certainly no fault. And yet it
often has the appearance as if in it, in and for itself,
there were something objectionable. The contempt for
outward form, peculiar to- the Germans, which has
robbed so many of their best writers of success on
the stage, easily conduces to Ihe idea of seeing some-
thing ignoble or undignified and speculative in its
possession. There is really no occasion whatever for
this judgment.

Such kindly pleasant pictures as ERNST WICHERT
offered to the public in a long series are surely not
hurtful food. His dramatic writings began as early
as 1858 and especially in the field of the finer comedy
he obtained charming effects, as in Ein Schritt vom
Wege (1871), Der Frewnd des Fursten (1879) and
Post Festum (1890). ADOLF WILBRANDT, in his Meister
von Palmyra (1889), produced a thought-drama beauti-
ful in form and very successful in spite of its undramatic
structure. He provided light entertainment without
any serious purpose in his fine comedy, Der Unter-
staatssekretar (1891).

This is really the field in which LUDWIG FULDA'S
charming talents are well displayed. With a comedy
in verse, Die Aufrichtigen (1883), he first showed his
unusual cleverness in form, which since then has risen
to genius, especially in his translation of Moliere's chief
works (1892) and of Rostand's fine comedies, such as
Les Romanesques (1895) and Cyrano de Bergerac
(1898). The graceful but too very hastily sketched
plays, Die Zunllingsschwester (1900) and Novella d'


Andrea (1903), also prove this. When he tries to give
form to serious conditions of the times or even to write
historical tragedies, as in Das verlorene Paradies (1890),
Die Sklavin (1891), Herostrat (1898) and Maskerade
(1904), his powers fail him. For the fairy-drama his
inventive imagination is also insufficient and in vain
does he try to cover up the lack of it by neat witticisms
and brillant form. In spite of this the dramatic fairy
story, Der Talisman (1892), was the most successful
of his works because it came out just when Naturalism
had awakened a great longing for charm and depth of
thought. A certain reality also contributed to the great
success which far surpassed the real worth of the play.
With later works of a similar nature Fulda could gain
no influence, while his comedies, Die Kameraden (1894),
Jugendfreunde (1897), were as before greeted with ap-
plause whenever they were not altogether too lacking
in substance as was Kaltwasser (1902). FRIEDRICH
ADLER also deserves mention as a clever versifier and
adapter of Spanish comedies, as Zwei Eisen im Feuer
(1900) after Calderon and Dan Gil (1902) after "Tirso
de Molina."

The dramatists who make use of the life of the
present for theatrical effect in serious and light comedy
are strongly influenced by the desire for a faithful re-
production of reality. Such are HERMANN FABER-
GOLDSCHMIDT in Ewige Liebe (1897) and Frau Lili
(1902) and GEORG ENGEL in Die goldene Luge (1892),
Uber den Wassern (1901) and Im Hafen (1904). But
these authors are altogether too lacking in the cap-
tivating power of original talent for the stage and this
prevents their purpose of influencing the public by
an outwardly effective treatment of the serious problems


of the times from being crowned with any groat show
of success.

What these latter lack, FELIX PHILIPPI possesses with-
out doubt in the highest degree. He knows exactly all
the expedients, great and small, with which the appear-
ance of an action can be imposed upon an audience
and the feelings of the great mass stirred up and he
makes use, without any artistic scruple, of the vulgar
interest in the most recent events of the day, or of
curiosity, to get a glance behind the scenes of con-
temporary history. By transferring his "actual" ma-
terials to another sphere, from the political to the
industrial for example, he disguises the facts and char-
acters he employs only so lightly that a cursory glance
penetrates the mask. At the central point he puts some
sort of stage-effect that will shock the strongest nerves
and in this way produces an excitement which, because
the heart is never touched, is felt as a pleasant charm
by those who seek only entertainment from the stair*'.
This excitement, however, has nothing in common with
any kind of artistic effect.

With still greater success OTTO ERNEST (-SCHMIDT) has
trodden the road to sure royalties, when in his Jugend
von heute (1899), which gave itself in addition some
airs of literary authority, he helped Philistinism to
victory over the "moderns" who, in distorted pictures,
were given over to ridicule. In this play, as in his far
weaker comedies, Flachsmann ah Erzieher (1901),
Gerechtigkeit (1902) and Bannermann (1904) a "pur-
pose" was intended to replace the insufficient dramatic
ability of the otherwise so unerring and well-balanced
author. The first two attempts succeeded indeed be-


cause of a clever choice of theme, but in the end these
untruthful exaggerations will not maintain their hold
especially as they are translated so clumsily into action.

The comedies not related to any time may hope for
a longer period of life, as they are merely to amuse,
whether by historical anecdotes as in Wie die Alien
sung en (1895) by CARL NIEMANN, or by a sort of local
coloring, as in the comedies of RICHARD SKOWRONNEK,
Halali, Die stille Wache and Waterkant (1904). In
these everything depends upon discovering a hitherto
unworked field which appeals to the great public and
by its new charms bribing the judgment. Most suc-
cessfully was this managed by WILHELM MEYER-FORSTER
with the dramatized novel, Alt Heidelberg (1898), which
compounded sentimentality and Heidelberg student-life,
crowned with its halo of poetry, to make the very
tastiest theatrical mixture ; also by ARNO HOLZ, aided by
OSWALD JERSCHKE, in the high school play, Traumulus

In this mixture there was still lacking two ingredients
to drive out even the last thought of any artistic pur-
pose: the comic of situation at all costs and empty play
on words, both of which aim merely at exciting peals
of laughter. Wherever they hold sway, all regard for
a connected plot and for characterization vanishes, all
trace of an idea is lacking and at most the semblance
of proper feelings is awakened by the aid of false
sentimentality. In regard to such a play, whoever ven-
tures to raise even the most modest claims to good taste
is laughed out of court by the author who carries on
his writing according to principles of the unscrupulous
merchant and like him has only gain in view. This


class of plays occupies the chief place on the German
stage to judge from the number of times they are
acted and their typical representative is OSKAE BLU-


At the beginning of his career he pursued more serious
purposes: his comedies, Der Probepfeil (1882) and Die
grosse Glocke (1883), his drama, Ein Tropfen Gift
(1885) could still rank as carefully executed, enter-
taining and exciting society-plays, although everything
in them was already made subject to theatrical effect.
But later Blumenthal kept lowering his aim. He now
carried on the business usually with the actor Kadelburg,
and with their farce, 1m weissen Ross'l (1898), the two
reached a total of performances never before equalled.
Kadelburg was an advisor who knew the stage and had
even earlier been connected with the humorist FRANZ
VON SCHONTHAN in Die beriihmte Frau (1887), Zwei
gliickliche Tage (1893) and Der Herr Senator (1894).
Schonthan further ' ' composed ' ' with GUSTAV VON MOSEB
a number of farces, such as Krieg im Frieden (1879),
and with his brother Paul, Der Raub der Sabinennnen
(1878), which, because of the Saxon dialect of a strolling
director and a rich collection of stage anecdotes, created
extraordinary amusement. Then when, after the stormy
days of Naturalism, the gracious morn of poetry seemed
about to dawn, Sehonthan modernized, with Koppel-
Ellfeld, the historical comedy in verse, so popular at
the beginning of the century, such as Komtesse Guckerl
(1895), Renaissance (1896), Die goldene Eva (1896),
by dressing up in the clothes of earlier days and in
gayer colors the customary figures and situations of the
modern farce. This proceeding was also imitated by
Blumenthal with success in Der Schwur der Treue


(1905), when he found that the old-fashioned farces
were no longer drawing well.

Other double firms, like Laufs and Jacoby, Walther
and Stein, competed with the above-named and likewise
gathered in large sums. They delivered factory-work
without any stamp of personality, calculated for whole-
sale consumption. All questions of the times were
anxiously avoided so as not to excite offence in any
listener; all higher interests had to be excluded, merely
of course to restrain the spectators from reflection and
even the coarsest expedients were not disdained if they
had power to excite laughter. As compared with these
plays even Kotzebue's slight comedies are still to be
called works of art because in them there is to be found
at least superficial characterization and a plot according
to a definite plan. Likewise the French farces, justly
condemned so severely and so lacking in morality, far
surpass the clumsy German "manufactures," which like
them aim at amusing, by their careful work, their sur-
prising inventions and easy even if frivolous charm.
England alone has furnished something similar in its
stupid farces (e. g. Charley's Aunt by Thomas) with
their circus humor which is also applauded in Germany.

But even these do not touch the lowest point of stage
productions in the present day. This is found in the
degenerate Berlin farce and the Vienna operetta where
the disgusting exhibition of naked women is joined
to the other absurdities.

These products of the most vulgar scheming do not
concern the history of dramatic literature but they must
be mentioned so as to characterize the low condition of
taste at the very centres of intellectual life. For only
when one with disgust takes them into consideration


does one recognize the hindrances which stand in the
way of all effort to maintain the old and to create a new
drama of a nobler kind.


Under the designation "literary" are summed up
at the present time all those efforts which aim to advance
literature in its artistic creative work but which are
free from outward regard for the inclinations of the
public, and free from the constraint of tradition. This
point of view is the only common one from which, in a
summary of the drama of the present day, valuable and
independent beginnings and productions are distin-
guished from the great mass of stage-plays.

The time is not yet ripe for an historical review
of the development of the drama during the last decade
of the nineteenth century. There are too many pro-
miscuous and uncertain movements and a temporary
disappearance or a sudden rise does not in any way
betoken the final destiny of any one of the many classes.
Besides, almost all dramatists of these later times have
made trial one after another of the most widely differ-
ent, often diametrically opposite styles, so that the colors
under which the individual writers appear are for the
most part as varied as the whole picture.

In this there are prominent at first in the beginning
of the nineties the efforts of the extreme Naturalists
who were, however, not able to get a secure footing
on the stage. From about 1892 the scientific and social-
istic basic view-points of Naturalism were replaced by
the enthusiastic reception of the aristocratic teaching


of the poet-philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. In another
place * I have endeavored to paraphrase the nature of
this in the following words: "Nietzsche is enthusiastic
for beauty and sees in the masses merely the tools of
the great. The duty of mankind according to him is
to produce unique great men, philosophers, artists,
saints. In his book, Also Sprach Zaratkustra (1883-92),
he develops his teaching in regard to the superman,
in which the species appears on a higher plane of de-
velopment or the individual raises the species to his
level. According to this the superman arises by cul-
tivation or by chance at the close of a long ascending
period of development. As lawgiver and inventor he
creates new ideals in all fields and opposes to the old
Christian, liberal and social values others by which
is guaranteed to the individual the development of all
his powers in freedom and beauty. Nietzsche does not,
however, end up in anarchy, but in aristocracy, for
he gives to the strong the right to rule the weak and
the low.

In this teaching there was so much that agrees with
Egoism and the noble desire for individual freedom and
it was offered in such a seductive dress that the youth
became enthusiastic and applauded Nietzsche though
without understanding. People had for so long believed
in the unconditional authority of law in all departments
of life and been oppressed by it and the ugly had only
just finished celebrating its orgies when Zarathustra
appeared as a deliverer. The wonderful language in
its prophetic speeches, its symbolism and aphorisms
incited even to superficial imitation and the great

* In Spemann's Das goldene Buch der Weltliteratur. (L. E.


thought of a new world of heroic beings soon took root.
Everyone who was unwilling to set bounds to his actions
and thoughts believed that he might consider himself
a superman, if he only played the strong man, set
regard for others aside and made an outward boast
of superior refinement in spite of rudeness of heart.

It belongs to the nature of the ' ' upland man ' ' that he
should despise the lowlands of life with its everyday
bustle and its dirt, its joys and sorrows, all too modest
for him. He either lives out his own life in the
ruthless egoism of the "all-round" man of the Re-
naissance and employs in all directions the surplus of
his mental and bodily powers, while unsparingly tramp-
ling underfoot everything that is sacred to others or
he cherishes only in his heart great thoughts which do
not develop into practical knowledge but through his
artistic work come to light in dark mysterious symbols
as hazily as they dawn upon himself.

The magnificent metaphors and the self-created style
of Nietzsche offered the material for this symbolism,
which is filled with a longing for the unknown, and
with the feeling of the great mystic unity of the un-
conscious in man and in nature.

To the symbolists this uncertain groping in the night-
regions of the soul seems far more valuable than the
bright daylight of reasonable conduct. Complete and
passive surrender to a world of dreams they consider
the only method of artistic creation and enjoyment.
Their conception of art comes in touch with that of
the Romanticists at the beginning of the century which
was likewise swayed by the loftiest subjectivity and a

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Online LibraryGeorg WitkowskiThe German drama of the nineteenth century → online text (page 12 of 17)