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cleverness of form could delude one into overlooking
the lack of true poetry.

Platen was as powerless to win success on the stage
as his opponent, KARL LEBRECHT IMMERMANN, who in
Gardenia und Celinde (1826), speculating on the delight
in the horrible, gave new form to a repulsive subject from
Andreas Gryphius which Achim von Arnim had already
used. The Trauerspiel in Tirol (1828) aimed at pre-
senting in a great historical picture, the fight for in-
dependence of the mountain-folk against the French, but
Immermann did not know how to portray convincingly
either the Alpine world or the simple heart-life of its


inhabitants. And even with the aid of fictitious charac-
ters no dramatic action resulted. A revision by the
author under the title Andreas Hofer did as little to re-
move these faults as did later attempts by others down
to the most recent times. Immermann portrayed the
fate of the mightiest of the Hohenstaufens in his tragedy
Kaiser Friedrich II (1828) from the view-point that
the victory of a pure and mighty Catholicism over the
liberal thinker, even the most powerful, represents the
final outcome. He does not aim, like his contemporary
Raupach, at recounting the historic course of events ; on
the contrary, a fictitious family-tragedy stands in the
foreground. The same applies also to his trilogy Alexis
(1832) in which the contrast between Peter the Great
and his unfortunate son is represented as a similar one
in Don Carlos. As author Immermann produced his
best work in the thoughtful dramatic myth Merlin
(1832), though with complete disregard of what was
suitable for the stage.


Among the Eomanticists ZACHARIAS WERNER was the
only one who understood how to unite the tendencies
of the school with a form suitable for acting. His
great importance in the history of the drama does not
depend upon the effective but mystical and emotional
play, Martin Luther oder die Weihe der Kraft (1806),
or upon any other of his bulky dramas, but upon a trag-
edy in one act entitled Der vierundzwanzigste Februar.
"Under Goethe's auspices" it was written in 1809 and
was the first of the Fate-tragedies which for some years
dominated the stage. The contradiction between classi-


oal fatalism and the modern world-philosophy, which
Schiller had not been able to overcome, is here adjusted
by the introduction of a wilful, malicious chance plotting
the destruction of men, in the place of a great and
powerful fate. In superstition, in wanton joy in the
horrible and the uncanny lies the cause of the vogue of
the Fate-tragedy which, however, quickly passed. Even
in the individual works of Tieck this trend appeared.
Its origin was favored by Schiller's Braut von Messina,
with this difference, that Schiller never degrades to
low designs the fate which obstinately and at all costs
carries through its predetermined purposes ; on the con-
trary he succeeds in getting out of it an effect deeply
thrilling and exalted.

Of this there is no trace in the best of the real Fate-
tragedies, Werner's plays. The spectator receives only
the impression of horror. At the same time Der vier-
undzwanzigste Februar is the work of a poet, while his
imitators try to obtain the same success with ineffective
mechanical construction. The calculating, unsympa-
thetic ADOLPH MULLNER, who had before composed com-
edies in Kotzebue's style, wrote in direct dependence on
Werner, Der neunundzwanzigste Februar (1812), also
a tragedy in one act. He heaps up the horrors ; bigamy,
incest, childmurder, blizzards at night, solitude, thirst
for blood are made use of to increase the terror as
much as possible, and as an effective addition an effemi-
nate sentimentality is introduced. His success was so
great that Milliner in the very same year wrote a sec-
ond play of four acts in the same style, Die Schuld.
The same ingredients are here mingled just as unpleas-
antly as before, with such accurate calculation that they
deceived not only the mass of the spectators but also


many penetrating critics. By many Werner and Milli-
ner were at the time considered worthy successors of
Schiller. No wonder that now a great flood of worthless
Fate-tragedies swept over the land, each and all por-
traying the operations of a secret inevitable power which
by preference makes use of certain days and objects for
its fateful interference in human destinies, avenges the
iniquity of the fathers upon the children and finds rest
only when the family, the source of the crime, is exter-
minated. How strong the influence of the Fate-drama
was at that time is clear from the fact that even GRILL-
PARZER bases his first work, Die Ahnfrau, upon fatalistic
ideas and that HEINRICH HEINE follows in the footsteps
of Werner and Milliner in the only two tragedies he
wrote, Ratcliffe and Almansor (1823), which, in other
respects as well, were complete failures.


The great writer who, after the death of Schiller,
might have been named to continue the evolution of
German drama to modern and national form could find
no hearing in the age of Romanticism and of Fate-
drama. Thanks to the exertions of Ludwig Tieck, pub-
lic attention began to turn to him in the second decade
of the nineteenth century without, however, his being
recognized in his true greatness and historical impor-
tance. Only much later did it become clear that HEIN-
RICH VON KLEIST, while he was aiming to unite the art
of ^Eschylus and Shakespeare, was on the way to a
new and national drama in harmony with the spirit of
the age.

Bernd Heinrich Wilhelm von Kleist, born at Frank-


fort on the Oder, Oct. 18, 1777, became an author late
in life. At the age of fifteen, as a member of an old
Prussian family of soldiers, he joined the Guards in
Potsdam, serving reluctantly. During the Rhine cam-
paign of 1792 he felt the deep gulf between the duties
of a man and those of a soldier. In 1799 he gave up
his military position but again and again sought refuge
under the wings of the Prussian eagle when life pressed
him too hard. In his native city he collected with an
insatiable thirst literary, historical and philosophical
knowledge and thereby probably laid the foundation
of that derangement which all too soon was to lame his
power of will and purpose. His portrait shows a beard-
less boyish face with melancholy eyes, lines of suffering
about the mouth and a splendid forehead. His inter-
course with the cultured circles of Berlin, to which city
he returned in 1800, awakened in him the idea of win-
ning bread and fame as an author. He soon found in
Robert Guiskard's fate a subject of imposing grandeur.
In fruitless wrestling with this task he dissipated his
life's energies during the following years. Restlessly
he wandered away from his native place. Paris could
not give him peace nor was his hope fulfilled that in
Switzerland, in the idyllic quiet of country life, he
would recover from his unrest. A few months only of
happy life were granted him while he led in Berne the
modest life of a poet in company with the sons of Wie-
land and Solomon Gessner and with Heinrich Zschokke.
For a time he now allowed his Robert Guiskard to drop
into the background, and his first work, Die Familie
Schroffenstein, took form. In spite of the fact that
Ludwig Uhland, who looked after its publication, sub-
jected it to a thorough revision, even in this form it still


bears testimony to the independent originality of Kleist,
scarcely influenced by any predecessors.

Not from the mighty primal impulses of mankind but
from distrust, that black poison of the soul, does ruin
proceed. It destroys both sexes; the blossoms of love,
unfolding amid hate and murder with magical fra-
grance, fade away under its pestilential breath. With
compelling necessity the course of action follows from
the given data and the characters are seen to be most
sharply and realistically conceived. Most remarkable
is the difference between his language and that of his
predecessors. In place of the figurative, copious and
sentimental diction of Schiller, gilded over with an
even brilliancy, in Kleist exuberance and concise brevity
appear in turn. His pictures do not disdain the re-
pulsive and common, but every shade of thought and
feeling is brought to clearest expression. Acute, in-
deed subtle explanations are introduced while the action
rushes on. Limpid flow is lacking in the verse, often-
times the sentences burst forth and tumble over each
other like rocks down the mountain. Men forge their
own fates, there is no interference by a higher power
standing apart from the world of reality.

In the second work of these months at Berne, Kleist
gave to German literature one of its best comedies, Der
zerbrochene Krug. The same pleasure in acute argu-
mentation, noticeable in Die Familie Schroffenstein, is
found in this play. The effective forms of legal proceed-
ings, which writers were very fond of using at the be-
ginnings of German comedy and especially in the
carnival-plays, are here taken up again for a higher
purpose. For no longer is it a question of the repro-
duction of an amusing scene; here a human figure of


the significance of a type appears in the village magis-
trate, Adam, who with low, foxy shrewdness tries to
turn the suspicion for the deed he himself has done
upon another, and thereby becomes involved deeper and
deeper in ruin. This court-scene is a really brilliant per-
formance but fitted out with a wealth of striking fea-
tures almost too great for the stage. It serves, however,
the purpose of giving an impression of the most com-
plete material reality. In this regard the play forms
a striking contrast to the unpractical idealism of his
predecessors and contemporaries.

Lastly, in Switzerland, too, Robert Guiskard developed
more and more towards completion. But we only pos-
sess a few introductory scenes which Kleist restored
with difficulty after he had destroyed the great play in
a paroxysm of the blackest despair. The fragment takes
its place among the greatest dramatic creations of all
time. In it the difference between the ancient and
the modern view-point is overcome by putting in the
place of fate the plague, that inexorable power which
rules in the world of reality and which cuts down men
without any consideration for their plans and purposes.
The style unites the dignified power of ^Eschylus with
the passionate subjectivity of modern writers. The
chief characters stand out at the very first glance in
plastic beauty and are at the same time endowed with
a rich soul-life full of splendor and color. The func-
tion of the Greek chorus is represented by individuals
taken from the whole body who give expression to the
feelings of all.

After he had come through a severe illness in Switzer-
land, Kleist was justified in venturing with Robert
Guiskard to try to gain admission into the circle of


noble spirits who had come together in Weiinar. Wie-
land especially gave him a kindly welcome, Schiller also
made him advances in a friendly spirit and Goethe tried
to constrain him to co-operation in his works, though
they appealed but little to his nature. But the mor-
bid ambition of Kleist could not submit to looking up to
the great man of Weimar. "I will tear the wreath
from his brow," he cried, and was consumed with pas-
sionate, fruitless incitement of his own powers; "Hell
gave me my half-talent, Heaven gives a whole or none
at all. ' ' He could not endure the serene air of Weimar.
Once more he was driven to restless wandering through
the world and the end was that destruction of his great
life-work, which meant renunciation of all his plans.
Modestly he re-entered the Civil service and in Konigs-
berg he found a couple of years of quiet, during which
first of all he made his thoughtful recast of the
Amphitryon legend. No longer, as with Plautus and
Moliere who had treated it before him, is the subject
ridicule of the deceived husband ; it is rather the almost
tragic perplexity of feeling on the part of the con-
stant and faithful wife Alkmene. When the god avows
to her that he had come to her in the form of her hus-
band, then holy tremors pass over her but she wishes
this night blotted out of her memory. There is some-
thing allied to the mysteries of the Christian religion
in this new, soulful content given to the old heathen

Penthesilea, likewise begun in Konigsberg, also lays
bare the innermost depths of a woman's heart. Again
a new content is given to a Greek legend, which to our
modern feeling is scarcely comprehensible. By endow-
ing the heroine with a supreme need for love and at


the same time with an unconquerable desire to gain the
mastery over her lover, the poet creates an extivmr
type, a strange mixture of attractive and repulsive
features, but after all grand and symmetrical. All the
charm of his language, melodious and yet not cloying,
of his images full of feeling and picturesque effects,
Kleist poured out in the Penthesilea as in no other
work; and yet it is just the very one which is most
difficult to comprehend.

He only finished it in Dresden, after the misfortunes
of the Fatherland had startled him out of his brief
period of quiet in Konigsberg and an unfortunate inci-
dent had caused him to be thrust into prison in France.
And now for the third time he tried again, from an-
other point of view, to portray the essential character
of the loving wife. As a companion picture to Pen-
thesilea he wrote Kdthchen v*n Heilbronn, whose hero-
ine voluntarily endures every ill treatment and every
disgrace which the loved one heaps upon her. Clothed
with all the charm of the fairy-story the gracious figure
had an effect like a miraculous picture. But in con-
tradistinction to the vague, fantastic manner with which
the Romanticists of his day treated similar subjects, here
everything is set forth clearly and definitely. Kleist
chose the popular form of the drama of chivalry and
by a revision met the requirements of the stage better
than he had done before. For this reason Kdthchen at-
tained a popularity beyond any of his other works and
was proof even against the wretched stage-versions in
which it had to appear.

A burning hatred of Napoleon drove the author out
of Dresden when Austria rose in 1809 to fight for free-
dom. At that time he wrote Die Hermannsschlacht to


inspire the Germans to a national war against the con-
queror. But embittered passion could produce no work
of art and the unsuitable material, which had always
been intractable to dramatists, helped to bring about
the failure of this powerful drama, though it was very
impressive in individual passages.

When Austria was vanquished, Kleist again and for
the last time sought help in Berlin. He brought with
him a new work, Der Prinz von Hamburg, a companion
piece to Hermannsschlacht. It showed where the poet
saw the hope for the salvation of his native country,
namely, in the Prussian spirit of unconditional obedi-
ence and in a readiness to sacrifice everything for the
state. Kleist does not make his prince despise death
like the ordinary heroes of tragedy; on the contrary,
he trembles so violently in its presence that everything
else in comparison with mere existence seems as nothing.
But the conviction of the necessity of discipline conquers
even this fear of death and the prince is ready to suffer
the punishment he has deserved for his transgression.
Thus the power of the sense of duty, through which
Prussia has become great, is upheld in all its strength.
In the Prinz von Hamburg Kleist produced his best and
last work. All the brilliant characteristics, which make
his figure stand out prominently from the great crowd
of dramatists, he displayed in this work as never before
and combined them with full mastery over all artistic
devices. His power as a poet was still increasing when
despair and an intolerable disgust of life drove him,
on Nov. 21, 1811, into voluntary death.

In his lifetime only Der zerbrochene Krug and
Kdthchen von Heilbronn were put upon the stage.
Kleist 's fame blossomed late and even then his attempt


to create a realistic drama met with but little real ap-
preciation. The field belonged to the false idealism of
the descendants of classicism.


With the works of his last period Schiller had won
his greatest triumphs, because he combined in ideal
excellence suitable stage-technique with great thought-
content, unerring judgment with inspiring flights of
poetry. It did not seem difficult to appropriate this
style which offered so many advantages. The prepon-
derance of incident over characterization anticipated
the delight of the public in external agencies, in stage
effects. The action is under the guidance of a higher
power outside the play. This exercises an inexorable
influence over great characters who think themselves free
and fight against it with all their might. And yet the
individual case appears as a type of human destiny. In
the characterization of his personages he preferred
great and easily comprehended outlines and avoided
everything complicated, inexplicable and disordered.
His language is full of grand and brilliant metaphors
which sacrifice pithiness to beauty and is rich in inter-
polations of generalized truths and aphorisms. The
subjects are taken from the history of the Middle Ages
or of modern times and offer plenty of occasion for
varied and figure-filled canvases. The iambic pentameter
seemed easy to master and gave dignity to the dialogue
which, by help of the rhyme at the climaxes, attained
increased melodious effect.

All these superficial qualities of Schiller's later
dramas have been copied faithfully for nearly a century


by his imitators and they have supposed that thereby
they possessed a style in lofty drama which would hold
good for all time. But they forgot in doing this that
only Schiller's peculiar personality gave these forms
their validity and disguised their lack of unity and
modern consciousness. Schiller's great judgment in
matters of history had comprehended in every case the
true significance of the scenes he portrayed, his great
genius had given form in brilliant language to an ideal,
self-acquired world of thought. The power of his char-
acterization had, in defiance of his own artificially con-
structed principles, almost everywhere revealed the in-
ner just as fully as the outward causes of the destinies
and deeds of his heroes. The breath of inspiration ex-
haled from his dramas carried all before it and corre-
sponded to that ethical idealism which soon afterwards,
disjoined from other ideas, became a mere phrase with
later writers. It was a fateful error when it was gen-
erally believed that one could not improve on Schiller
and must strive for his effect and with his means.

Even in young THEODOR KORNER these characteristics
are conspicuous in his first dramas, Toni, Zriny, Hedwig,
Rosamunde (all 1812). As a writer of comedies he fol-
lows Kotzebue, whom he also resembles in his rapid
and frivolous methods of work. He possessed a decided
sense for theatrical effects and would doubtless have
given to the German stage a number of successful, even
though inherently unimportant works, had not a heroic
death for the Fatherland fallen to his lot.

Without the stage-skill of Korner, the noble LUDWIG
UHLAND could not, with all his efforts, win any success
as a dramatist, in spite of his higher poetic gifts. The
only representatives of his numerous sketches which


appeared in print, Ernst, Herzog von Schwaben (1818)
and Ludwig, der Bayer (1819) brought no gain to the
stage. The same thing happened to a number of dilet-
tanti who expressed noble ideas in their dramas without
the necessary mastery of technique, such as FRIEDRICH


Directors of theatres and actors, such as AUGUST KLINGE-
MANN and FRANZ VON HOLBEIN, who with shrewd calcu-
lation understood how to employ Schiller's style gained
a great public. The greatest success in this way was
won by ERNST RAUPACH, a prosaic, cool, calculating,
common sense writer, who for a time dominated the
stage with his worthless tragedies and comedies.


The one great dramatist whom Germany possessed at
Schiller's death, Heinrich von Kleist, died unheeded
by his contemporaries. The whole energy of the nation
was turned to the one thought of deliverance from the
yoke of Napoleon and, when after a great and heroic
struggle it was finally accomplished, when this mighty
restless spirit was banished to St. Helena, every one
hoped for a period of freedom. Never was a hope
more shamefully deceived. What the sword had won,
the pen destroyed. The princes forgot the promises
which in time of need they had made to their subjects.
Matters looked worst of all in Austria. For centuries
the Hapsburgs had seen in Jesuitism, the means of hold-
ing together and ruling their disunited peoples. In
the short reign of Joseph II alone was a more liberal
spirit displayed. "Good" Emperor Franz returned to
the old paths, the Jesuits again received charge of


public instruction; the cloisters and other institutions
secularized by the state were again established and the
police supervision of Metternich threatened all inde-
pendent thought with the severest punishment.

FRANZ GRILLPARZER, the ablest of those who followed
in the footsteps of Goethe and Schiller, had to live
and write in this Austria of Metternich 's. Where they
had stood he would have preferred to stand, for he
thought that the world would need several generations
to rise to the height of their idealism. But, to-day we
must say it was fortunate for him, his gentle nature
was not strong enough to overcome the earthly, and
therefore his creations could not disown the influence
of the soil and of the time in which they had their

He first saw the light of day in Vienna on Jan. 15,
1791. The tenacious uprightness and clear judgment of
his father, the passionate, musical and nervous nature
of his mother were united in him. This mingling of
the opposite natures of the parents made Grillparzer
a peculiar, contradictory, perverse and yet weak-willed
character. Only a small measure of freedom and favor-
able circumstances would have been necessary to let
him find the way to the cheerful regions of peace and
good fortune. His nature and his talents continually
sought peace and beauty; and yet from youth up he
was sinned against by the education and the environ-
ment in which he grew to manhood. When he had fin-
ished his studies, after a distressing existence as a
private tutor, he received a position in the Civil service
in which he was obliged to remain until 1856. The
fame which he won as a writer was fatal to him in this
position and hindered his advancement. As an official


he was not taken at his full value and was considered
a suspicious character in the Austria of that day, as was
every one whose independent spirit aimed to attain to
higher things. Therefore he was obliged in the days of
his best powers to carefully repress every expression
of independence and was never sure but that the life of
his intellectual offspring would be stifled even in the
cradle by a stupid censorship. He became a discon-
tented, embittered man. Not understood by the easy-
going, happy-spirited Viennese, he lived in solitude
beside the love of his youth to whom he had never dared
to unite himself because he lacked courage to believe
in good fortune. The Revolution of 1848 brought the
possibility of freedom to write and his almost forgotten
works were revived through the instrumentality of
Laube; but that did not become in him a joyous in-
citement to new activity because his desire to create had
died in him. He lived on until Jan. 21, 1872, but
during this long period produced scarcely anything new.
Grillparzer first appeared to the public as an author
when twenty-five years of age. His first acted drama,
Die Ahnfrau (1816), was a fate-tragedy in spite of the
fact that the poet denied this. It did, indeed, stand
high above the seemingly similar plays of Milliner
by whom it was most influenced ; not with cool calcula-
tion but with glowing passion did the poet transform
the contents of a penny-dreadful into a genuine and

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Online LibraryGeorg WitkowskiThe German drama of the nineteenth century → online text (page 2 of 17)