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cognizable in the use made of primitive, popular concep-
tions, but a new and piquant charm is sought by putting


the man with the scythe in the midst of real life among
enlightened people or his terrors are taken from him
and everything avoided which might remind one of the

But no one has made death appear so noble and artistic
on the stage as HUGO VON HOFFMANNSTHAL in his little
drama, Der Tor und der Tod (1899). Like Maeterlinck
he, too, aims in his first dramas merely at exciting feel-
ing. But not by the aid of the peculiar and the gloomy.
In the clear light of day, exulting in beauty without
dross, his muse strides along on the heights of an aristo-
cratic, noble humanity which is no longer touched by
the breath of the low, the wretched and the ugly. His
art shares with the Romantic the excess of musical ef-
fects, but the notes express no longer a delicate, indis-
tinct longing; on the contrary the ear is ravished by
grand and gorgeous expressions pouring forth in swell-
ing periods while the eye delights in exquisite forms and
colors. It is a pity that this esthetic enjoyment alone
seems to the dramatist exclusively worthy of aspiration,
because the beautiful shell lacks the kernel of strong
feeling and direct impulsive passion.

The unhappy fate of the beautiful heroine in Die
Hochzeit der Sobeide (1899) is intended by the drama-
tist to affect the soul only with light sadness instead of
overwhelming it, because the aesthetic idea of the play
has been extended far beyond the hitherto current con-
ception. Der Abenteurer und die Sangerin (1899) also
aims at exciting no stronger interest than that in the
beautiful form and even then it always turns on a pic-
ture or a lyrical expression of the soul. The dramatic
form, especially in his briefest works, Der Tod Tizicms
(1898) and Das kleine Welttheater (1903), is only a


means to make this note sound out full. Through the
rank climbing flowers on their high slender lattices,
which surround the artist's magic garden, one is to
suspect rather than see the outside world. The dra-
matic form is here resolved into a series of lyrical
poems, the speakers stand at last in no external con-
nection whatever and all trace of a scene is lacking, let
alone an action directed to a certain goal.

To provide a definite action, Hoffmannsthal later
made use of older dramatists, as the English Otway in
Das gerettete Venedig (1905), or Sophocles in his
Elektra (1904) and in Oedipus und die Sphinx (1905).
The cause of this very questionable proceeding is that
the dramatist lacks real power or capacity for passion-
ate feeling and for plastic creation. Therefore he takes
ready-made figures from his predecessors, tints, them
anew with pale, modern colors, with often very unsuit-
able outlines of perverted, most finely differentiated
sensations or endows them, in simulation of strength
but in bad taste, with superfluous brutality. Only upon
similarly constituted spectators, without a cultivated
sense for style, can these recasts, individually charming
but on the whole worthless, have any influence. In com-
parison, the theatrical quality of Monna Vanna seems
after all the better. They signify only more or less
interesting experiments which do the stage no good and
endanger the aesthetic well-being of the public.



In his Monna Vanna Maeterlinck revealed in sur-
prising fashion a practical aptitude which, to judge
from his early dramatic works, seemed to be entirely
lacking in him and which had hitherto been displayed
by the only one of the German "Moderns" who is
recognized on all sides as the best dramatist among
them, Gerhart Hauptmann.

In his work there is reflected the uncertain artistic
character of the times, a continual search for a new
style and new fields for subjects. Of the fifteen * dra-
matic works by him scarcely one will be able to hold
a lasting place on the stage, but they all, the best as well
as the least successful, will live on in history as monu-
ments of this confused, uncertain and unsettled period.
None of his fellow-seekers strive with such earnest zeal
for the art which will offer to him, as a man living en-
tirely in the present, the corresponding expression of his
feelings. None possess in so great a degree the talent to
master quickly new styles of expression and fill them
with genuine intrinsic import and few have remained
so free from the hurtful influences of the life and cul-
ture of large cities, of excessive sensitiveness and of
decadence or have kept so well in touch with his native
soil as Hauptmann.

He comes from a small Silesian town and is the off-
spring of poor weavers. With the impressions of his
youth there was mingled the remembrance of great suf-
fering, though he himself did not have to taste the sor-
rows of poverty. He saw many peasants grow rich
without effort because of coal-treasures under their acres
* This number is now increased to nineteen. (L. E. H., 1908.)


and then degenerate into laziness and vice, while all
around him was the prosaic acquisitiveness of the citi-
zens of a provincial town. The youth with tender feel-
ings and high ideals found in this world no satisfaction
as landowner. He wanted to become a sculptor, but
at the Breslau Art-School came to the conviction that
the chisel was not to be the instrument of his develop-
ment. His work was not to comprehend external phe-
nomena but the inner nature of things and in this, ac-
cording to the then prevalent faith in their omnipotence,
the natural sciences were to serve him. In Jena he
became Haeckel's scholar. In Berlin he looked more
closely into social questions and this insight into the
misery of the metropolis supplemented his earlier im-
pressions. The despairing mood, which so often arises
from the clash of youthful idealism with reality took
possession of Hauptmann as well, and on an Italian
journey it was condensed into his first work, the epic
Prometkidenlos (1885). Revolution does not rear its
head angrily in this play as in so many "maiden"
works, for according to his conviction of the legitimate
nature of everything that happens, all opposition to
the powers ruling in nature and society seems to him
impossible and he can only show deep sympathy with
the unfortunate who fall under their weight.

This conviction was still more strengthened by the
influence of his brother Carl, the psychologist and
physiologist with his independence of thought, and also
by the circle of young authors which had collected in
a suburb of Berlin and into which Hauptmann entered
in 1885.

First of all the brothers Heinrich and Julius Hart


had opened the fight against senile decadence and un-
truth in their Kritische Waffengange (1882). They de-
sired to imbibe new life from healthy national sentiment.
Karl Bleibtreu had, in his Revolution der Literatur
(1885), tried to shatter every stone of the Bastille within
whose walls all earlier authors were said to have de-
generated. William Bolsche sought to find poetic form
for the results of the modern natural sciences. Haupt-
mann came into personal and intellectual touch with
them all, but above all he came under the influence of
the most logical of the Naturalists, Arno Holz, and
what he learned from him is shown in his first drama,
Vor Sonnenaufgang (1889).

Its aim is to give a faithful description of certain
social conditions. Exactly as the dramatist had seen
them, the degenerate Silesian peasants were to appear
on the stage with all that was disgusting in their
disgraceful appetites, their souls completely brutalized
by wealth. The most trifling characteristic was not to
be wanting in the scene, and because stage-expedients
were not sufficient, the author takes refuge in long de-
scriptions in the form of stage directions. But even
by this means his purpose was not to be attained. A
choice had to be made from the great number of details
and those received the preference, in accordance with
the aggressive mood of those years, which bade stoutest
defiance to the prevailing disinclination to the artistic
use of what was disgusting. This tendency coincides
with Hauptmann's experience. What most offends his
moral and aesthetic feelings has been most deeply im-
pressed upon him and must have seemed to him to be
the most characteristic feature of the circumstances he


has described. With disgust is coupled sympathy with
the degenerate. From the consciousness of an inexor-
able fate ruling over them, there grows the conviction
of a necessary connection with it; out of this develops
the tragedy of their situation and with it the possibility
of giving it dramatic form. In accordance with his con-
viction of the absolute might of the powers which settle
the conditions, Hauptmann cannot, to be sure, introduce
into the field against them any successful or even merely
hopeful will, but he can show how the individual strives
in vain to withstand them.

He places a pure girlish nature in the midst of a
family circle of drunkards, adulterers and prostitutes.
An ideally-minded, sympathetic socialist stretches out
his hand to her in sincere love to lead her forth, but
draws back because this revolt against the laws of nature
must be for no good and would be avenged on the coming
generation. Robbed of all hope she falls a victim.

Hauptmann wished to produce this comfortless im-
pression and thus remain true to the demands of the
school as well as to his own impressions. But contrary
to his own purpose an element of joy is intermingled.
Helene, this character thirsting for love, full of lofty
grace and of vigorous life, may be ruined as an in-
dividual. But we cannot believe that the impulse to
self-preservation in the human race, which is uncon-
sciously revealed in her surrender to her lover, should
not carry off the victory over all logical considerations.
Even in the drama itself a charming love scene allows
this faith to spring up. In this the dramatist shows
himself mightier than the theorist, he forgets his school
lesson and becomes free. The longing for happiness,
for beauty, breaks out so strongly that it is inextin-


guishable, even if afterwards the hazy grey twilight of
hopeless degeneration lies over all that follows.

Still another element is revealed in this great love-
scene, the instinct for dramatic effect. Hauptmann felt
that there was nothing to be gained by a description
of conditions on the stage because it is a question of
inner conduct, of pyschical developments brought about
by conscious or still better by unconscious volition. In
defiance to naturalistic dogma, he here makes two souls
reveal the same strong desire, so that the spectators,
like the characters themselves, forget everything else.
This scene means more to the quiet spectator than all
the rest of the play. In the accuracy of the character-
ization and in the charming sentiment of many other
portions, he might also note signs that Hauptmann him-
self was not finding satisfaction in the artistic and
scientific dogmas to which he at that time subscribed.
He himself has expressed that in clear words in Vor
Sonnenaufgang. Helene asks, "Zola and Ibsen are
spoken of so much in the newspapers, are they great
writers?" Loth answers, "They are not writers at all,
miss, they are necessary evils. I am honorable and
thirsty and desire from literature a clear, refreshing
drink. I am not sick. What Zola and Ibsen offer, is
medicine. ' ' But where among the spectators filled with
party passion, who were present at the play in the
Berlin "Free Theatre," was the ability to understand
the meaning of this utterance?

Hauptmann was considered from now on an out-and-
out Naturalist, whose talent and inclinations were to
be at the service of the petty reproduction of external
phenomena. For the sake of party prejudice, the lack
of logic revealing itself in the lengthy didactic utter-


auces of engineer Loth was overlooked and also the
faults of his language, which is often by no means true
to life.

In this respect his second work, Das Friedensfest
(1890), marks a step in advance. And so also does
the fact that now, instead of following the German
Naturalists Holz and Schlaf and thus indirectly Zola,
the novelist, Ibsen, that is, a great dramatist, became
Hauptmann's model. He calls his play "a family
catastrophe," but he had not yet learned from Ibsen
to seize the last point of a dramatic development and
so present it with its preliminary conditions that the
necessity of the ending becomes clear. The new influ-
ence was still being crossed by the earlier effort to
describe conditions. He, therefore, picked out from the
stream of events one in which the nature of his char-
acters and their relations to each other were significantly
illustrated. Like Ibsen in his last period he does not
now wish any longer to pass criticism on society but
merely to present modern, morbid individuals, who are
to be sure settled in their peculiarities by the condition
of society.

However unsatisfactory the whole picture of this fam-
ily, torn by hatred, may be, however dismal, too, the
heaven that lies above them, yet there is here a far
wider hope for a bright day than in Vor Sonncnauf-
gang. Significantly, at the close is placed the outlook
for the victory of a firm confidence in life on the part
of a womanly heart filled with love. A faint doubt
disturbs the blindly accepted natural law of heredity.
Surprising is the advance in technique from disjointed
description to an energetic working out of characters


and the collisions between them which result in a series
of explosive scenes.

The action in Einsame Menschen (1891) once more
takes a quieter course. It is a tragedy of insufficient
talents, incapable of deeds. Johannes Vockerath is not
a talented man and is not crushed by the might of
the commonplace as would at first sight appear. That
in his heart he has conquered all prejudices, has no
meaning for him, because he gives way to them without
opposition in order to spare his family. His intellectual
significance remains an unproved assertion. He is
ruined because, from fear of a decision by the stronger
woman who loves him, he cannot become free. Haupt-
mann has here given a type of his time with convincing
fidelity, a man who desires in vain to bring his over-
tender feelings, which make reverent consideration his
duty, into harmony with his new convictions and his
striving for freedom. This suffering, in the conscious-
ness of not being able to unite what cannot be united,
is the subject of Einsame Menschen, the first mature
work Hauptmann wrote. First, it brought cheerful
recognition from outside the party to which he had
up to that time been counted and awakened the belief
that in him had arisen the new poet for whom the
times had been looking. It was now recognized that
the "drama of social conditions" could arrest one's
attention as strongly from beginning to end as a plot
overloaded with incidents and that it did not need the
inciting expedients of what was disgusting and low.
And for the sake of these excellencies one gladly over-
looked the weaknesses of the too wordy outpourings
of the hero and of the indistinct lines with which the
most important figure, Anna Mahr, was drawn.


Hauptmann likewise showed, in the field of the cheer-
ful, the possibility of doing away with the old develop-
ments in comedy, when his College Grampian (Isni'
appeared. It is a picture of the degenerate genius,
taken from life, touching and at the same time diverting,
but framed about with superfluous arabesques, all too
easily thrown off.

Then he wrote Die Weber (1893). Earlier dramatists
had never tried to sketch any but individual natures.
When it had been a question of using the masses in a
drama as co-acting factors, then either individual rep-
resentatives w r ould be picked out, as in Shakespeare's
Julius Ccesar or Goethe's Egmont, and treated accord-
ing to the principles of individual psychology, or the
chorus of Greek tragedy gave the model and the feel-
ing of unity was indicated, as in that, by some few
general human impulses which are present in all. Be-
ginnings of a "psychology of the masses" are to be
discerned in Kleist's Robert Guiskard, in Hebbel's
Judith and in Ludwig's Makkabaer. Here is already
shown something of that immense strengthening force
which every impulse receives because of a number feel-
ing it in common, of those sudden transitions which
arise therefrom and of the blind passion of the excited
popular mind, which is swayed by quite different laws
than affect the individual. But still no one before
Hauptmann had attempted to make this knowledge
fruitful to the drama. In Schiller's Tell the people
spoke and acted just as every Swiss would have spoken
and acted for himself. In Die Weber, on the other
hand, the representatives of the class described there
form a harp, all the strings of which begin to give out
at the same time, when the air-waves strike them, low


complaining or loud screaming notes, so that the in-
dividual voices together form a mighty accord, in which
the peculiar quality of each is indeed discernible, but
none prevails over and sounds above the other.

Die Weber is a historical drama. Free from any
didactic purpose, it aims at so representing an event
of the past, on the basis of a conscientious study of
the facts, that the humanly significant, inwardly effective
impulses stand out clearly. As the subject demands,
the place of the single hero is here taken by the col-
lective mind of the poor handweavers who start up out
of dumb patient suffering with a fearful cry, become
intoxicated in a half dreamy condition with good for-
tune and freedom and then sink back into powerless,
aimless existences. In four scenes the dramatist shows
us this development. With a new counterpoint tech-
nique, which one may well compare with that of Wag-
ner, the leading motives embodied in certain figures
are interwoven into a surprising wealth of combinations
and at the same time the flow of the action, of the
never-ending melody that carries them all, is continued.
As the stage demands, one link is made fast to the
next before our eyes, all joined into an unbreakable
chain. The sketching of conditions here becomes, at
the same time, a very valuable dramatic expedient, be-
cause volition and individuality do not settle every-
thing, but the given circumstances and their changes
are both the cause and the condition of the action.
In earlier dramas by the Naturalists one could allow
that the new style was a valuable technical advance;
here in Die Weber alone has it become a necessary
expression of the inherent nature of a work of art,
that is, style in the higher sense.


The influence of this significant drama was both
helped and hindered by the fact that its nature was
mostly misunderstood. When the censor looked on it
as a revolutionary drama with a purpose and there-
fore vetoed its performance, attention was widely called
to it, and when at last its performance was allowed,
it became from that point of view a drawing card,
so that at first it could not be understood as the
dramatist purposed. But just because of the numerous
performances the author's view afterwards prevailed,
viz: that Die Weber was only to be considered as a
work of art and that its author had put nothing else
into his historical material than a deep sympathy with
all the unfortunate.

For the second time Hauptmann intended in the
same way to conceive of an historic event in its whole
course when he wrote Florian Geyer (1895). With
the same intensive study he now worked his way into
the times of the Peasants' War and set himself the
mighty problem of conjuring up in its totality, out
of the legal documents, this period so rent by political,
religious and social factions. Every class, knight, citi-
zen, and peasant, was to appear on the stage true to
life in speech and gesture, in feeling and thought. At
the same time the clash of all these opposing interests
was to furnish, in the explosion of the peasant revolt,
the external limits of a background that was after all
scarcely to be clearly comprehended by the eye in its
whole extent. Florian Geyer gave his name to the
drama because the figure of the high-born leader of
the peasants stands at the point where the lines cross
one another. Thus in his fate there was attained at
the same time a sort of dramatic recapitulation and a


conclusion. Ilauptmann has done really gigantic work
in his artistic mastery of the mass of materials and
the play represents in this respect his greatest trial
of strength, in spite of the fact that there is still
enough rude and unworked material left. True, the
management and clear working out of the lines of
direction have fared badly and, because of its length
and the number of persons represented, it was shown
that the drama could not be played. This alone, but
not its artistic demerit, was confirmed by its complete
failure on the stage. In spite of its entire want of
success, this play does prove his great aim and his
unusual ability to transmute the effective mass-move-
ments beneath the surface of events and also individual
deeds into dramatic scenes. "With this play Hauptmann
gave the first impulse to a new form of historical drama,
corresponding to the modern conception of history; he
set himself a high aim which was denied to the petty
limitation of extreme Naturalism and struggled to get
out of the confining, limits of an outwardly accepted
theory and be free in his creative work.

How Hauptmann worked himself free from the ex-
clusive imitation of reality of the Naturalistic school
is made clearly visible in Hanneles Himmelfahrt (1893).
It is hardly possible to conceive of a greater contrast
than that of the Silesian poorhouse and the glory-filled
spaces of Heaven to which Hannele's soul mounts. We
recognize in it the bold protest of the dramatist against
his inclusion in the narrow everyday world. He pre-
serves to mother earth, upon which he stands, its rights,
but he wishes to let his eye wander as far as it can
see. Therefore he gives in the play, first of all, a sad
picture of misery and then Heaven is to light up with


fairy-like colors. His angels, too, are slightly touched
with the pallor of poor children and Hannele's fevered
dream contains more than her childish longings can
fully describe. The difficult transitions are not a suc-
cess and the transfiguration at the close is decked out
with too much tinsel. But these are externals which
do not affect the genuine poetic content of the dream-
poem and only show that a romantic and playful fancy
is not Hauptmann's strong point. It is likewise to
be noted even here, where for the first time the sym-
bolical is allowed a place, that the author is not able
to transmute the reflective fully and completely into
dramatic scenes.

These defects of his endowment he is striving to
remove because he is not satisfied with the reproduction
of reality and he keeps seeking and missing the road
to the kingdom of fairy phantasms. First, however,
he returned again to his hereditary field and in Der
Biberpelz (1893) he wrote a thieves' comedy which
grouped a series of capitally drawn figures about two
types of the present day. The washerwoman, "Mother
Wolff en," is a masterpiece of accurate conception of
a lowly soul with her shrewd impudence, her pliant
loyalty and her unscrupulous use of all possible ad-
vantages. She is always pretending to be simple, and
in this way comes out on top while her opponent, Super-
intendent Wehrhahn, inevitably falls into her nets be-
cause he wants to appear sharper than he is and is
blinded by the arrogance of infallibility. The plot
of Biberpelz is a little meagre and suffers from the
repetition of the theft. To this the author was seduced
by the desire to have the incident serve as a type. A
sequel with the title, Der rote Hahn (1901), gave a


series of successful pictures of social conditions in the
Berlin suburbs, but was altogether too lacking in well-
knit composition.

Der Biberpelz, like all earlier works by Hauptmann,
could only attract that part of the public which was
ready to forego the fulfillment of the desire for an

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Online LibraryGeorg WitkowskiThe German drama of the nineteenth century → online text (page 14 of 17)