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longing for a comprehension of the unconscious.

"New Romanticism" has developed out of Symbolism


since about 1895 and again its favorite field for subjects
is the fairy-story. Its aim is to combine, as in Novalis
and Tieck, naivete and lofty symbolism, direct expres-
sion of the deepest feelings and weighty thought, con-
tempt for the age and an ideal picture of a genuine and
loftier humanity.

The acquisitions of psychological science in the nine-
teenth century anticipate this combination of the most
varied objects because it is, after all, mere self-revela-
tion on the basis of a keen dissection of one 's own inner
life. At the same time these New Romanticists derive
advantage from the better aids for the suggestion of
artistic impressions which the technique of the Natural-
ists has produced.

They, too, aim at giving pictures and despise dramatic
art of the older style. But while Naturalism at least
offered reality in its palpable brutality, here everything
dissolves into airy floating creations and only a super-
fine feeling can follow up all the emotions of the poets
in their spirit-like utterances. Therefore this aristo-
cratic, profound art which surpasses all earlier tech-
nique, is limited by its nature to a quite narrow circle.
Its creations cannot possibly foreshadow the drama of
the future.

It would seem that for the present they are the last
stage by way of attempts to create a new drama without
any regard to tradition. And yet the circle of possi-
bilities is unlimited and who can say whether the near
future will not produce a literature which will solve
the problem of giving to the present its own peculiar
style of art.

To-day, indeed, in place of the pleasurable anticipa-
tion which prevailed ten years ago, the spirit of resigna-


tion seems to have come. The works of Shakespeare,
Goethe, Schiller and Grillparzer are once more plainly
in the foreground. Desire for the impression of suita-
bility to the times has ceased, the historical drama and
the problem-play are celebrating their resurrection in
purified form. The dramatic art of which Joseph Kainz
is now the greatest representative is purifying and
supplementing in a modern sense the characters of the
great plays of the past by covering the outlines marked
out by the poet with the transparent colors of uncon-
scious, nervous moods. To be sure, this disturbs a part
of the clear plastic of these works of art but, as a
recompense, it creates new charms more acceptable to
the sentiment of the present day.

At the same time this combination is after all but
a makeshift towards getting over the lack of living
modern dramas. The classic drama demands that it
be played and felt in the spirit of its time and besides,
we are still able to enjoy it. It has not lost its ethical
and artistic effect, indeed its value is to be estimated
higher than formerly, because it offers a perfected form
and a developed style, just what the present lacks. The
absence of those lately acquired technical art-devices,
which produce complete illusion without any effort on
the part of the spectator, is rather to be called an ad-
vantage in so far as the imagination is spurred on to
great activity and the incitements having the strongest
effect on the stage, viz: interest in the plot and the
characters and the contents of thought and feeling,
are not encroached upon and weakened by indifferent
externals and excessively refined moods.

The theatre comes only into consideration as a directly
influential factor of elevating pleasure and of higher


education in so far as it finds ready in the thought and
feelings of the spectator a ground capable of receiving
its gifts. Although the new forms offer to the artis-
tically refined spirit greater satisfaction, though the
profounder heart-life and the more impressionable feel-
ings mean, as they doubtless do, a valuable acquisition,
so long as the understanding of the works produced by
their aid is limited to such small circles as has hitherto
been the case, they must not presume to despise the
older art, as if it were worthless. To measure works
of art by the standard of suitability to the times is
evidence of a lack of culture and of the historic sense.
Art fulfils its lofty mission only when it brings us out
of the narrow circle of our own limited existence into its
boundless and timeless dominion where we forget life
and its limitations and by sympathy are absorbed in
the poetic production whether its outer form be bor-
rowed from a past century or from the present.

In contrast with the Decadence which, interested for
so long in a one-sided culture of beauty, had lost all
connection with the life of the present, Art now recog-
nizes that its chief mission is to give form to the ideas
which hold sway in its own time and so serve truth
and beauty at the same time. It must therefore keep
its finger on the pulse of its times. But where is the
beat to be felt most distinctly? The majority thinks
at the centres of public life with their increased sensi-
tiveness, their flooding life, their authoritative influences
in so many directions. However, the man who considers
the Germany of to-day dispassionately sees that the
cities, which have grown so rapidly to an immense size,
do not represent German nature, that in them views
prevail which are modified by international influence or


else certain lines of German character are peculiarly
exaggerated and twisted. The drama especially cannot
become a great popular factor if it follows the nervous
movements of the life of a large city. It must go down
deep into the soul of the people to find out what in-
fluences them and what they desire. This simple knowl-
edge has been obscured by the fact that the chief cities,
especially Berlin, Vienna and Munich, have now become
the depots of artistic work. Writers imagine they hear
the moving of the spirit of the times w r hen they catch
the notes of the asphalted streets and suppose that this
combination of the hurry for gain and of the desire for
sensation means a new and loftier step in national

To-day that is fortunately not yet true but the mistake
is comprehensible and continually being confirmed be-
cause the mass of energy collected in the metropolitan
cities seemingly places the rest of Germany in subjection
and it is continually increased by the attraction which
it exercises on all progressive elements.

Especially in the field of dramatic creation and of
theatrical life this tendency is most clearly noticeable.
If one were to judge according to the plays which have
been given most frequently in these latter years, one
would come to the conclusion that the culture of the
large cities had repressed every peculiarity of the Ger-
man races, all traditional customs and morality and
put in their place a ruthless assertion of individuality
unhindered by reverence and religion or the ability
to react on all external impressions. But this conclu-
sion is false. In the "provinces," as the litterateurs
of Berlin by preference slightingly call the rest of
Germany, the reflections of perverted metropolitan life


are, with low curiosity or ignorant admiration, con-
sidered something strange. They mislead indeed the
artistic and moral judgment, but they find no echo in
the feelings of the spectators to whom Schiller's works
still continue to mean what is loftiest and to whom the
comedies of Benedix unfortunately appear far more
congenial and entertaining than Der Biberpelz.


From what has been said it follows that the dramatists
who now are striving to solve new problems with new
means are all to be considered as precursors, just as
the "Storm and Stress" writers of the eighteenth cen-
tury preceded the classic writers. Goethe and Schiller
succeeded at that time in working out to a clear vision
while their comrades wasted their powers in vain effort.
So, too, on the literary battle-fields of to-day, so many
hopeful and talented writers have already fruitlessly
dissipated their energies, while of the survivors not
one has as yet brought home the crown of victory.

The brief onset of Naturalism claimed the greatest
number of victims. GERHART HAUPTMANN, the prom-
inent leader, remained unscathed. At his side fought
WILHELM WEIGAND in Der Vater (1894), and later
delineated in masterly style the mighty lordly men of
the Cinque-cento, as in Lorenzino (1897) and Die Re-
naissance (1899) ; also the youthful GEORG HIRSCHFELD,
who squandered his talent for accurate observation and
description, shown in the one-act play, Zu Hause (1895),
on the correct reproduction of the ugly without any
other end in view and remained longest true to the old
flag of Naturalism, as in Die Mutter (1896), Agnes


Jordan (1898), Pauline (1899) and Nebeneinander
(1904). He lacks the ability to combine his individual
impressions into larger scenes and to breathe into them
the power of independent life. For a time he attempted,
but unsuccessfully, to cross over to the popular fairy-
drama in Der Weg zum Licht (1902) and last tried his
hand at comedy in Spatfriihling (1906), also without

On the other side of Hauptmann stood MAX HALBE.
In Die Jugend (1893) he took the subject of the first
sudden development of the sexual impulses. He had
thus chosen a subject than which none could be more
favorable for impressionist reproduction. Into a sin-
gle moment is crowded the development of the sud-
denly growing passionate feelings and what seems new
in every single case is in truth a typical incident in
the truest sense arising from the most primitive im-
pulses. Halbe made also a happy hit in that he placed
the lovers in the simplest environment and did not
obscure the developments of the physical life by any
conditions of higher culture. Her surrender to over-
powering impulses brought the girl, who is sketched
with charming freshness and without any false naivete,
to the inevitable conflict with her innate moral ideas
which had been strengthened by training and her lot
in life and the idyll becomes an inexorable tragic fate.
Even those who took a negative position in regard to
Naturalism were deeply moved by his drama.

Never after did Halbe make a like impression.
Through his comedy, Der Walpurgistag (1902), there
befell him the fate of the poet Ansgar whose one single
capture of the prize of victory became his ruin. He
tried his hand without success at the rhymed comic


play, Der Amerikafahrer (1904), or aimed at making
the mighty power of a superman credible in Der
Eroberer (1899). To the heartfelt description of an
invigorating home-sickness in Mutter Erde (1897) his
warm and honorable nature could give faithful but not
dramatic expression and Der Strom (1903), the shallow
but clever revision of the older Eisgang, can not be
compared with Die Jugend.

An amusing but likewise undramatic description of
those literary circles in which Naturalism was first cul-
tivated was given by Ernst von Wolzogen in his comedy,
Das Lumpengesindel (1892). The cheery wretchedness
gave origin to a series of diverting and touching pic-
tures of conditions, but again there was a lack of
everything that would make a perfect work of art or
satisfy the most modest demands of a specifically dra-
matic nature.

OTTO ERICH HARTLEBEN also possessed genuine humor.
The youthful impudence of students sets its mark on
the most of his stories, while with greater adaptability
than the most of the Naturalists he succeeded in putting
effectively on the stage the modern people of the large
city as in Ang'ele (1891) and Hanna Jagert (1893).
The little comedy, Die sittliche Forderung, was a capital
and intrinsically very true parody of Sudermann's
Heimat, but in his most successful work, Rosenmontag
(1901), he has evidently become a follower. According
to the well-tried recipe he has combined in this work
outwardly faithful descriptions from the life of a certain
circle here the officer's world with complaisancy to
the demands of the public. In the episodes his ex-
traordinary humorous talent is again shown.

With genuine humor but without dramatic power


JOSEF RUEDERER succeeded in depicting a very diverting
episode of Bavarian country-life in his comedy, Die
Fahnenweihe (1894). LUDWIG THOMA drew from the
same soil stronger satirical effects in his Lokalbahn

Without such decided individuality as the preceding
a number of additional authors have with naturalistic
devices sketched for the stage their pictures of conditions.
Some count only on the charm of the faithful description
of some place in the lowlands of life and approximate
the folk-play, the subjects of which they treat less con-
siderately and with finer description of the emotions, as
for instance JOHANNES SCHLAF in Meister Olze (1892).
In contrast to him, the Vienna writers FELIX DORMANN
(really Biedermann) in Ledige Leute and PHILIP LANG-
MANN in Bartel Turaser (1897) do not at all disdain
the coarse excitement of strong effects and melodrama.

The primitive power of the impulses, undiminished by
any of the external forms which had made Anzengruber
prefer country conditions, often attracts the dramatists
of the present day also to describe them and yet there is
left a general impression of repulsive ugliness and of
lack of dramatic life, as in the plays by Gerhart Haupt-
mann's brother Carl, Waldleute (1895) and Ephraims
Breite (1898). Like Gerhart he also did sacrifice to
the modern drama of moods in Marianne (1894), to
the symbolistic verse-drama in Die Bergschmiede (1904)
and to the elegantly written peasant comedy in Die
Austreibung (1905), always however without success.

The dramatists are more numerous who describe by
preference the degenerate instincts, the diseased and
decrepit will of the educated man of culture. In these
the external world is no longer of chief importance.


It gives only the preliminary conditions for the dis-
tracted feelings, the representation of which is an end
in itself and for which the Italian, Gabriel D'Annunzio,
first gave the model by his richly colored descriptions
of sensuous conditions. He combines real formative
powers with a highly poetic and characteristic language
which brings even the most foreign subject, surrounded
by the magic of mysterious symbolism, near to his
hearers by the influence of suggestion.

The Lyric poet, RICHARD DEHMEL, had a like aim in
his tragedy, Der Mitmensch (1895), which was a total
failure. In it he described the sufferings of the medi-
ocre, slavishly devoted brother of the ideal superman
and the society opposing them, which is distorted even
to caricature. ERNST ROSMER (Elsa Forges) brings on
the stage with modern technique in Ddmmerung (1895)
the old melodramatic figures of the noble artist mis-
judged by the world, the spoiled headstrong girl and
the intellectual sacrificing wife, only that now the
spoiled girl has studied medicine, the misjudged artist
is a pioneer in Wagner music and the sacrificing wife
hysterical, while instead of being laid in an ivy bower
the scene is in a darkened sickroom. Afterwards the
authoress made a more successful attempt in the fairy-
play, Konigskinder (1898), but was not able to create
a living drama in her slender Johannes Herkner (1904).

MAX DREYER, on the other hand, showed his stage-
skill even in his first play, Drei (1892), in which he
treated feelingly and tenderly the conflict between love
and friendship. Later, with repression of all higher
artistic claims, he gave his talent full course in In
Behandlung (1897), Orossmama (1898) and Liebes-
tr'dume (1898). And yet there is not to be recognized


in these the cool scheming of the practical stage-
writers, eager for success but rather that fresh, na'ive
creation which gives something suitable to all his
figures, even if Der Probekandidat (1899) borders on
that business-like writing with a purpose which Otto
Ernst pursues. With Die Siebzehnjahrigen (1904) he
returned to the serious dramatic work of his promising

A peculiarly uncertain character is HERMANN BAHR.
At first a fully persuaded Naturalist who did not shrink
from the most disgusting phenomena, as in Die grosse
Sunde (1899) and in Die Mutter (1890), he followed
all the changes of most recent times. The last stage
he has up to the present reached is the Vienna society-
play, such as Der Star (1898), Wienerinnen (1900),
Der Meister (1903), a most unsuccessful description of
an unscrupulous lordly fellow, and Die Andere (1905),
the story of a mysterious girl with two souls. The
easy pliancy of his artistic tastes is peculiar, too, to
his women characters and over all his plays there lies
the superfine sensuousness of the aesthete.

This quality is coupled with great technical skill in
the most successful of the Vienna dramatists of to-day,
ARTHUR SCHNITZLER. In his first work, Anatol (1893),
the dramatic form is only an excuse to string together
an amusing series of momentary pictures from the life
of a worldling, but Liebelei (1895), and especially the
one-act play, Der griine Kakadu (1899), shows that
the plastic formative power and energy of the genuine
dramatist is not lacking and that he knows how to com-
bine these with the different moods which are to him the
most essential. There is in him the gentle ease of old
Vienna and the frivolity of the modern large city,


intimately joined because they both have had their final
origin in the same unchanging folk-character. That
with this there may be combined a certain seriousness,
even if not very deep, is seen in Schnitzler's good play,
Der einsame Weg (1904).

Where, however, the frivolous temper to which noth-
ing is sacred is the sole guide without the addition of
the lightly sentimental coloring of the old style, then
the result is a limitless contempt for the world which
seeks to crush even one's own personality with scorn
and raillery. That is the real gist of the peculiarly at-
tractive plays by FRANZ WEDEKIND such as Fruhlingser-
wachen (1894), Der Erdgeist (1895) and Der Kammer-
sdnger (1899). His is a completely vicious nature, at
the same time artistic through and through, driven
from desire to enjoyment and in enjoyment languishing
with desire, despising himself just as much as he does
those who think they find in his work any lofty aim
whatever. The omission of all reference to the super-
natural and the conception and use of existence as of a
mere given fact, is shown in its last artistic consequences
in a horrifying manner in Wedekind's writings.

"What can still produce a certain satisfaction in the
Naturalistic authors who make only a superficial ex-
amination of phenomena, is a source of despair to the
man who looks into the depths of his own soul and finds
there nothing but emptiness. To escape this fate, more
serious natures, who no longer shared the faith in the
old ethical and metaphysical values, eagerly seized upon
the compensation which seemed to be offered in mysti-
cism, myth and fairy-story. They have put the blue
flower in their coat of arms and sought the path which
leads to the enchanted forest of fancy. But only a few


found it and the rest contented themselves with the
scenes in which once upon a time the Romanticists had
given expression to their feelings, full of presentiments
and overspread with wavering moonlight, or they fol-
lowed the sweet, shuddering notes which the Belgian
MAURICE MAETERLINCK gave forth. Colors and tone-
effects, suggestions instead of clear expression, retarding
delay at the moment of greatest excitement, plain inter-
meddling on the part of supernatural powers, the same
expedients which Novalis, Tieck, Eichendorff, Zacharias
Werner and their successors employed, this present day
art also uses, only that now excessively refined, morbidly
excited nerves are made to tingle and listeners of like
nature are expected.

Maeterlinck planned a number of. his early dramas
for the puppet-theatre, in order in this way to transfer
the scenes into the region of the fairy-story and of
childlike instinctive feeling. He has recourse to the
imagination and the unconscious recalling of incidents,
but reflection and strong willed passion are excluded.
It is a matter of indifference whether he takes his ma-
terial from the domain of the fairy-story or from real-
ity, the conditions of creation and enjoyment remain the
same. Everywhere his writings demand full self-sur-
render and do not allow critical examination. To force
the spectator completely into his spell Maeterlinck
deadens the thinking faculties with narcotics and
makes the clear outlook hazy. An enigmatical, gloomy
picture at the beginning, ambiguous speeches and ges-
tures which everywhere hide a mysterious sense behind
affected simplicity, numerous pauses which seem to con-
ceal something important and excite the hearers to fruit-
less worry, all this is combined and leads to a weariness


of consciousness which forms the proper basis of all sug-
gestion. The bodily eye closes but the eyes of the soul
remain wide open. Reality passes away, fairyland be-
comes our world.

The shorter and older dramas in the complete German
edition of Maeterlinck's works are without justification
divided into two groups, "Mystical Dramas" and
"Every-day Dramas." They are all of a mystical na-
ture in so far as in them a mysterious invisible something
approaches, making itself continuously felt, depriving
the spectator of breath and awakening in him an anxiety
which tightens his throat and makes the cold chills run
down his back. This impression is always prominent
whether, as in Intruse (1898), reality is the scene of the
action, or the fairyland of fancy, as in Die sieben Prinz-
essinnen (1891) and Der Tod des Tintagiles. " Some-
thing peculiar must be added to everyday life so that we
shall learn to estimate it rightly," says Maeterlinck, and
this "peculiar" thing is recognized in the soul's feeling
out beyond itself into the unknown, untravelled regions.
In these "boundless realms" mystery dwells, horror and
fear of the impalpable encircle the traveller on all sides,
ever narrowing the circle about him and crushing in his
breast until with the despairing cry, "I can bear it no
longer, ' ' he falls.

It is very comprehensible that in the quest for new and
striking impressions a genuine poet like Maeterlinck will
lose himself at times in these abysses and that kindred
natures longing for such excitement will give him grate-
ful admiration. But in the long run one can hardly sat-
isfy the theatrical public with these neurological effects.
On the one hand, the morbid, on the other, the lack of
tangible material, limit the whole class in its original


form to those who are looking for mystic lyric impres-

Maeterlinck himself returned to the basis of reality.
With his theatrical cloak-and-sword play, Monna Vanna
(1902), he gained, not without questionable expedients,
a large following. This, to be sure, was his only for a
time because in his next plays, Das W under des heiligen
Antonius (1905) and Schwcster Beatrix (1905), he was
understood by only a few. And yet Maeterlinck exer-
cised for some years a strong influence on dramatic writ-
ing. The conception of a domain of true poetry in which
the inner life is directed outwards has taken on a new
form under his influence. Those dramatists w r ho have
boxed the whole compass of possibilities for the means
of expressing their poetic feelings have also halted be-
fore him but found little indeed available for their pur-

Maeterlinck's influence is clearly recognizable in the
work of RUDOLF LOTHAR. His masque, Konig Harlekin
(1900), unfortunately does not devote the proper deep-
ening of the psychical to a very effective subject, one
containing in modern dramatic dress the Demetrius-
theme. From this mistake Lothar's mystic dramas also
suffer as Der Wert des Lebens (1892) and Bitter, Tod
und Teufel (1896). In the last-named one-act drama
death appears in visible form on the stage and this scene
has often been repeated in these latter years. SCHMIDT-
HASSLER has turned such a scene to good account in his
effective drama Herbst, also the sentimental lyrist MAX
MOLLER in his Totentanz (1898).

The influence of Romanticism and Maeterlinck is re-

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Online LibraryGeorg WitkowskiThe German drama of the nineteenth century → online text (page 13 of 17)