Copyright
Georg Witkowski.

The German drama of the nineteenth century online

. (page 5 of 17)
Online LibraryGeorg WitkowskiThe German drama of the nineteenth century → online text (page 5 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


tolle Hund (1837) and Der Datterich (1840), com-
posed by the highly gifted but early degenerate ERNST



56 GERMAN DRAMA

ELIAS NIEBERGALL. The second work especially is filled
with a genuine cynical humor, by which a ragged genius
is raised above the cleverly caricatured philistines who
do not notice how he is despising them while serving
as their jester. In this portrait Niebergall stands out
as the precursor of Gerhart Hauptmann's College
Grampian, which appeared over half a century later.
As a link between the two we have the great phenomenon
of LUDWIG ANZENGRUBER, who again raised German
dialect and folk-plays into the domain of art.

IDEALIZING DRAMA

In the high class theatres folk-plays and dialect-pieces
were entirely tabooed during this period. The prevail-
ing art-ideal only permitted that to pass current which
created another and better world far removed from
reality and which showed the outward characteristics of
harmonious beauty. This limited view originated in
the days of the Classicists and Romanticists. The clari-
fied serenity of Hellenism was present to their minds as
the final goal. Their longing for a more beautiful life
wished to find satisfaction in literature. Where a great
talent like Grillparzer's was at work with this end in
view, there were produced grand works which did not
lack inherent warmth and truth, but when lesser talents
aspired to the same thing the result was smooth out-
ward form without substance and the power of life was
lacking in the shadowy forms. The tragical did not
arise in them from great inward antagonisms but from
external collisions, especially from the conflict of pas-
sion with the demands of prevailing custom and the
inertia of environment in which these two forces were



IDEALIZING DRAMA 57

considered legitimate while passion per se already meant
guilt.

Historical and legendary subjects were still by far
in the majority and most of the writers thought they had
done enough when they seized upon some traditional
character or other, striking because of its unusual fate,
divided its life into acts and scenes, emphasized strongly
the climaxes of the course of events and conferred upon
the hero those typical qualities by which his fate was
humanly to be explained. The particular conditions
of time and place, the more intimate relations of things
to each other, all psychology that lay in the province
of the unknown, was at the same time completely neg-
lected. In spite of their efforts to obtain strong out-
ward effects, these dramatists seldom attained to even
a momentary success because most of them despised the
mechanical rules of the stage or were unable to conjoin
them with the demands of an idealizing art. Only here
and there could a greater poetic content or the charm of
the subject delude the audience into overlooking the dra-
matic faults. To-day the most of these dramas have
sunk into oblivion or still eke out a miserable existence,
thanks only to a reverence which is scarcely in place.

The most successful author of this group was Eligius
Franz Joseph Freiherr von Miinch-Bellinghausen, known
by the pseudonym FRIEDEICH HALM. His very first
work, Griseldis (1834), showed an author who was master
of mechanical expedients. It captured every stage by
its romantic subject, melodious language, sentimental
feeling and mawkish mood-painting. Among his nu-
merous later dramas Der Sohn der Wildnis (1842) had
the greatest influence. The contrast between culture
and barbarism which Grillparzer had comprehended in



58 GERMAN DRAMA

its depth is here used merely to celebrate, in the barba-
rian youth Ingomar, the easy victory of love over defiant
manliness. This same favorite character in somewhat
different costumes becomes Thumelikus of the Fechter
von Ravenna (1854) which added to the earlier proper-
ties of Halm's art, as approved aids to a shallow success,
the hollow pathos of a cheap patriotism and the pungent
description of moral depravity. In the dramatic poem,
Wildfeuer (1863), the improbability that the heroine
had been brought up as a boy and remained unknown in
this role almost to the close is gladly accepted for the
benefit of the piquant effect of this change of sex.

Nevertheless Halm's plays show after all in certain
scenes a happy invention; his language is often trivial
but the verse is clever and runs well. He knows how to
arouse feeling by the insertion of lyric passages and
he is reckoned among the few representatives of Ger-
man Art-drama who knew the stage and its require-
ments exactly.

SOLOMON HERMANN HITTER VON MOSENTHAL, who like-
wise lived in Vienna, w r as the surest master of technique
but for him it was an end in itself. He exerted no in-
fluence in historical tragedy but in his pathetic peasant-
play, Deborah (1848), he produced one of the most
popular dramas of his time. The great conceptions of
tolerance and self-control are here incorporated into
effective scenes and touching situations and the role of
heroine offered actresses for a long time a welcome
opportunity to show all their arts.

Besides Halm and Mosenthal many an aspiring dram-
atist of this period ought probably to be mentioned,
but no one would have attained great and lasting suc-
cess with dramas of ideal form. Poetic endowment and



IDEALIZING DRAMA 59

clear recognition of the problems do not at all suffice
to make good the lack of specific dramatic talent and
ability.

The virile JULIUS MOSEN wished to look at history as
"a struggle between opposing principles, in which the
contending spirits purify and ennoble each other and so
present and solve in the drama the highest problems of
man here below" or he wished "to help history to free
consciousness and raise it in its ideals as the ancients
did with nature." And yet he was not able to trans-
late these purposes into a work that would live, how-
ever little the best, Ileinrich der Finkler (1836), Her-
zog Bernhard (1842) and Der Sohn des Fiirsten (1842),
lacked in greatness and historical judgment.

In the numerous dramas of RUDOLF VON GOTTSCHALL
rhetorical diction is the most prominent characteristic.
In his earlier efforts he is closely allied to "Young
Germany," when in Ulricli von Hutten (1843) and
Robespierre (1846), with great expenditure of energy, he
pleads the cause of liberal aspirations and the rights of
sensuousness. Later this tendency vanishes and he treats
historical subjects. But this he does with deficient char-
acterization and a strong dependence on Shakespeare
and Schiller, as in Mazeppa (1855), Katharina Howard
(1868), Maria de Padilla (1889), Rdhdb (1898), Der
Gotze von Venedig (1901). His greatest success is
the comedy written on the model of Scribe, Pitt und Fox
(1854).

JOSEPH WEIL VON WEILEN was influenced by noble
purposes but was likewise no great dramatist. His
talent, which was rather a lyrical one, would hardly
have drawn him to historical drama, had it not been
that in the judgment of that day in it alone the laurels



60 GERMAN DRAMA

of a great writer were to be won. To gain these he
wrote his romantic tragedies, Tristan (1860) and Dcr
arme Heinrich (1860), then a succession of works in
which we find some splendid female characters, as in
Drahomira (1867) and Rosamunde (1869). What-
ever in them was lacking in merit and truth was made
good to the spectators by the plastic power of the great
tragic actress of Vienna, Charlotte Wolter. Without
this same assistance the finer gifts of FRANZ NISSEL,
could not obtain recognition and at the end of his ca-
reer he looked back on an unusually sad and wasted life.
With all his noble qualities there was lacking in him
and his works the power to succeed, in spite of the fact
that public attention was drawn to him in 1878 when he
received the Schiller prize for his drama Agnes von
Meran.

Like Halm and Nissel, OSKAR VON REDWITZ may also
be reckoned as a descendant of the Romanticists, only,
however, as a degenerate one. His drama, Philippine
Welser (1859), was often acted but is entirely without
character, full of a pretty coquettish emotional dis-
play.

A long succession of other writers who attained to
fame and honor as lyrists and epic poets were but sel-
dom able to win success when they tried the stage;
then it is to be ascribed to their poetic talents and only
too often, in the first place, to their name. Otherwise
they were entirely without influence in this field.

EMANUEL GEIBEL, the most popular lyrist of this
period, wrote the tragedies, Konig Roderick (1842) and
SopJwnisbe (1868), also the pleasant comedy, Meister
Andrea (1847), but only his Brunhild (1861) gained a
certain popularity because the great figures of the



IDEALIZING DRAMA 61

Nibelungen were toned down to correspond to the pre-
vailing taste.

A similar fate in drama fell to the lot of PAUL
HEYSE. In the long succession of his greater plays there
are only two, Hans Lange (1866) and Kolberg (1868),
which attained a fair popularity on the stage. Besides
these perhaps Die Gottin der Vernunft (1870), Don
Juans Ende (1883), Die Weisheit Salomos (1886) and
Maria von Magdala (1899) are worthy of mention, the
latter because of the political agitation called forth by
the censorship. Closely connected with his main field,
the short story, are his short dramas in one act, of
which he has written a great number, all of them pre-
senting clearly a tragic incident but without real dra-
matic qualities. Such are Unter Briidern, Ehrenschul-
den and Im Bunde der Dritte (1886).

With a short comedy, Durchs Ohr (1865), WILHELM
JORDAN, the author of Die Nibelungen, also obtained, at
least once, recognition as a dramatist because of his
charm and resonant rhymed-verse. Quite unsuccessful
were the attempts of Friedrich Bodenstedt, Hermann
Lingg, Count Adolf von Schack, Martin Greif, Robert
Hamerling, Otto Roquette, Friedrich Spielhagen, and
Felix Dahn, so that we can spare ourselves mention of
any particular work.



SUMMARY

The general impression of German dramatic produc-
tion and of the German stage during the fifty-five years
from 1830-85 is entirely unsatisfactory. All forceful
progressive movements seem to have died away; the old
worn-out fields are cultivated with ever-decreasing
profit, the petrified forms resist every attempt at im-
provement. The cultivation of formal beauty is the
highest aim. Morality is repressed in favor of conven-
tional middle-class ethics. Everything reflecting the
spirit of the age is carefully avoided by upper-class
writers as dangerous and hostile to art while some op-
position-natures give vent to their hatred of existing
conditions by rude and formless contempt of law and
morals.

Middle-class drama both of the more serious and the
brighter kind loses the worthy character which class-
consciousness and the treatment of social differences had
formerly given it and aims only at providing enter-
tainment. The fantastic style of the farce, the sound
humor of the folk-play, degenerate into nasty vulgarity
and stale puns. Actors lose serious ambition and all
desire to adapt themselves to their tasks. "Stars" mis-
use the great works of the classic writers as the sport of
their surprising tricks and destroy co-operation in act-
ing. Care in rehearsals and in the external decoration
of the scenes, obedience to the directions of the author
and reverence for his creation are lost gradually and
entirely.

And yet the ideal drama had a more numerous and
more grateful public than ever before or since. Tin-
longing for freedom grew intoxicated on the speeches of



FRIEDRICH HEBBEL 63

Posa and Tell, the desire for a genuine free humanity
got satisfaction in Goethe's characters, and pity for all
oppressed and faith in an adjustment of all differences
in some higher state was satisfied in Lessing's Nathan
instead of in life. Schiller's popularity reached its
highest point in this period. The celebration of the
hundredth anniversary of his birth in 1859 was made
a brilliant festival in which all Germans took enthusias-
tic part, with the feeling that in his poetry the best
which filled their own souls had been uttered, the unful-
filled longing for the freedom, unity and greatness of
the Fatherland.

When a succession of mighty deeds of war and Bis-
marck's genius brought these thoughts and aspirations
down from the airy kingdom of ideals to the firm ground
of reality, then was lost to art and especially to the
drama, that last support which had kept it from sink-
ing down completely into a cultivation of external form
and low epicureanism. Therefore the years from 1870-
80 became the saddest in the history of the modern Ger-
man drama.

FRIEDRICH HEBBEL

From this background stands out the brilliant crea-
tive work of FRIEDRICH HEBBEL, the greatest dramatist
that Germany has produced since the days of the classic
writers. And he became such while struggling on with
heart of steel against the temporal needs of life and at
the same time striving to gain a settled philosophy of
the world and art, without any aid but his belief in
himself and his calling.

A descendant of a sturdy race of the " Dithmarsen, "



64, GERMAN DRAMA

he saw the light of day March 18, 1813, at Wesselburen
in Holstein in the cramped home of a bricklayer. His
father, by nature a man of great talents, grew bitter in
the unceasing struggle for the necessities of life, for
"poverty had taken the place of his soul." All the
mortifications which lowliness and need could cause a
highminded spirit Friedrich Hebbel's early developed
pride had to endure, but under the pressure his will-
power grew and at the same time his thought and power
of imagination expanded. From his fourteenth year
he was in service as secretary to a narrow-minded man,
the parish bailiff Mohr in Wesselburen. He soon grew
intellectually far above his environment, working un-
wearyingly at his education, reading and reflecting.

He, too, grew enthusiastic at first over the lofty dic-
tion of Schiller, then became enchanted with the shadowy
figures which E. T. A. Hoffmann sketched with pecul-
iarly realistic touches, and at last through Uhland's
poem, Des Sangers Fluch, found the way to his own con-
ception of art. Of these points he says in his diary:
"I had up to this time felt very comfortable in my
strumming in imitation of Schiller and had listened to
and picked up many a doubt from the philosopher and
many a rule for beauty from the aesthete. But now
Uhland took me into the depths of a human heart and
thereby into the depths of nature. I saw how he
scorned nothing except what I had up to this time looked
upon as the greatest thing reflection. I saw that he
understood how to find a spiritual bond between him-
self and all things; that he, removed from all wilfulness
and prejudice I know no more significant word knew
how to trace everything back, even the wondrous and
the mystical, to the simply human ; how every one of



FRIEDRICH HEBBEL 65

his poems had its peculiar vital point and yet was only
to be completely understood and estimated by looking
back over the whole work of the poet. . . . Not
without being close to despair, indeed to madness, did
I gain this first result, that the poet must not write
into nature but out from it. It is not to be estimated
how far I was still removed from the conception of the
first and only law of art, namely, to illustrate the in-
finite from the individual phenomenon."

Hebbel's villenage had lasted for eight years when
the authoress, Amalie Schoppe, interested herself in
him and made it possible for him to remove to Ham-
burg. Here he was now to supplement the defective
education of his youth, but instead of this he wrote
in his diary the thoughts which poured in upon him,
his impressions of people and the results of his self-
observation. At the head he set these words: "I am
not beginning this notebook merely to please my future
biographer, although with my prospects of immortality
I can be certain that I will find one. It is to be the
music-book of my heart and preserve the key notes,
which my heart gives forth, faithfully and for my
edification in future days."

The scanty aid of his patroness, who expected as
thanks obedience to her narrow-minded advice, aimed
only at quick bread-winning, was not of so much use
to Hebbel as the devotion of the faithful Elise Lensing,
for whom no sacrifice was too great, and who had recog-
nised his greatness long before the world knew of him.
He had indeed nothing to offer her but friendship and
esteem and when later a deep and genuine love took
possession of him, Elise had to give way. Hebbel was
not ungrateful and not cruel but only clear and firm



66 GERMAN DRAMA

in thought and feeling in spite of all his gentleness
of disposition. Hand in hand with Elise he could not
have reached and maintained the height of his develop-
ment.

His development was soon so far advanced that he
considered it his life's work to symbolize his inner life
as far as it was fixed in important instances in word
and figure. This self-description meant at the same
time something higher because art was to him realized
philosophy as the world was realized idea. But he did
not, like the Classicists and Romanticists, support him-
self by a fixed and final conception of the world which
solves contradictions by an appeal to a higher unity.
He declares the problematical to be the breath of life to
poetry and its only source, that for it anything finished,
perfect and dormant, is as little in existence as the
healthy body for the physician.

Hebbel sees the deep plague spots of the day, he
feels in himself the feverish ague which shakes diseased
society, the conflicts, the contradictions of life for which
there is no solution. The class of literature in which
all this is artistically presented is for him, tragedy.
It has to do with what is incurable and unavoidable
in man's fate and, because he is so conscious of its
office, he is zealous against unfruitful coquetting with
the beautiful and against the one-sidedness of the drama,
because it is either historical, social or philosophical.
In his plays he joins all three divisions to make a
new one which always, even when portraying the past,
reflects the present and its struggles, and at the same
time, from a lofty standpoint, lightens up the inner
spirit of the times.

In Hebbel is found a cool, keen intellect, finding



FRIEDRICH HEBBEL 67

satisfaction in a dialectic which is often subtle, a glow-
ing sensuousness and a thorough conception of reality
combined with a perfect comprehension of causes and
a clear understanding of his own times, its problems and
needs looked at from the point of view of universal
history. He is not full of contradictions but of a
grand many-sidedness, the consistency of which, how-
ever, cannot be perceived offhand. He lacks joy in the
little charms of life, the quiet enjoyment of nature,
the blind enthusiasm of youth or the beautiful and
noble, but so much the deeper does he feel true great-
ness and with really dignified contempt does he score
what is vulgar. His earlier works* lack harmony, be-
cause he did not find it in himself and in the world
and because he was too proud to be willing to delude
himself and others by a delusion into overlooking what
was painful and hateful. But this harmony is by no
means equivalent to artistic perfection, as many sup-
pose; if one considers that an artist is great because
with the aid of great ability he brings a deep, inner
content clearly to view, then Hebbel is to be counted
among the great artists, although simplicity of feeling
and production was denied him. Only too often does
his discussion of problems cause neglect of the real
purpose of the drama, viz: to present scenes full of
life and characters that are humanly significant.

To his student years in Heidelberg and Munich, full
of poverty and wretchedness, and only endurable be-
cause of Elise Lensing's aid, he owes less increase in
knowledge than growth and maturity of heart and
mind. Even at that time he was making great plans
and in a poem written on a later visit to Munich, the
following words occur:



68 GERMAN DRAMA

Hier zeigte wie iin Traume
Sich mir die Judith schon,
Dort unterm Tannenbaume
Sah ich den Tischlerssohn.
Da driiben winkle leise
Mir Genovevas Hand,
Und in des Weihera Kreise
Fand ich den Diamant.

When he returned to Hamburg in 1839, he wrote
Judith, the first of the works referred to in the above
lines. Just as clearly as Goethe's Gotz von Berlichingen
or Schiller's Rduber does this first drama of Hebbel's
also bear the marks of exuberant power, too glaring
colors, stormy revolt and feverish passion. But when
we look into its contents we find nothing of youthful
vagueness of thought or of artistic purpose and at
the same time the author has the greatest and most
unerring command of form.

Biblical subjects had in earlier days been long popu-
lar on the French and German stage. The Classicists
and Romanticists had turned away from them because
the field seemed to have been exhausted and individual-
ism thought there was no place to be found for it there.
At that time Gutzkow had just tried, in a drama
Konig Saul, to treat a biblical incident in modern
fashion and to justify it psychologically. But his
power was not equal to the task and when Hebbel
heard the play praised he set up his Judith as a con-
trast. In the biblical narrative belief in God, which
is a living faith in Judith, triumphs over the heathen.
Her woman's feelings are not considered in what she
does, nor is Holofernes, her opponent, given features
which surpass those typical of a conqueror and tyrant.
Here Hebbel's art steps in to supplement. Holofernes



FRIEDRICH HEBBEL 69

becomes the mighty representative of unbroken per-
sonality, which, as a power with equal rights, boldly
opposes, like the giants of old, the world-will, i. e., God.
With his exaggerated feeling of power, the expression
of which sometimes appears grotesque, Holofernes is
just the right man to prove by his fall the greatness
of God, and the victory of eternal law. The means
which God employs is Judith. To become his instru-
ment, she must possess qualities which make her stand
out prominently from the multitude of women.

Judith is an Oriental woman of a strongly sensual
nature, endowed with great spirit. Among her faint-
hearted fellow-countrymen she did not find the man
she longed for. She had been married, but her husband,
early deceased, had, with inexplicable timidity, as if
in the presence of something incomprehensible, not
ventured to touch her. Now she is living shut up in
her home as a virgin widow. She had plunged into
the eternal One as one plunges into deep water, that
is, she drowns the thoughts of her condition, which is
an enigma to herself, in an unswerving faith in the
secret will of God, until, through Holofernes, suffering
comes upon the country and her own city is besieged.
She hears that Holofernes kills women by kisses and
embraces, just as he does men by spear and sword.
Something whispers to her: "Had he known that you
were within the walls of the city, he would have come
for your sake alone." Judith answers with a sudden
thought which betrays her desire to see and possess
this man. "If that should be true then I should only
need to go out to him and my city and land would
be saved." But she is still far from this resolve.
Only when the suffering of the city had become very



70 GERMAN DRAMA

great and no aid was to be discovered, does she feel
certain that the invisible God had chosen her for his
instrument to save his people. And while driven out
into the hostile camp, as if by an inward force, she
believes she is fulfilling the will of the Highest, but
when she stands in the presence of Holofernes the
woman in her awakes; what was driving her out to him
was unconscious longing for the man himself. In vain
she prays: "God of my fathers, protect me from myself,
that I be not compelled to honor what I despise! He
is a man." She yields to him and when her desire
is satisfied, she becomes conscious that she has been
unfaithful to her mission. If she now slays Holofernes
she is no longer the instrument of God, but she is
avenging on him her own desire which she recognises
as sin. A selfish wish instead of religious enthusiasm
and patriotism had led her into his arms and not with
rejoicing, as in the biblical report, but as a broken
sinner she goes back to her people, trembling with the
fear that she will bear Holofernes a son who will immor-


1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryGeorg WitkowskiThe German drama of the nineteenth century → online text (page 5 of 17)