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smoother than in the early work, and happily colored by
the slightly archaic touch of the time of the action.

For the comprehension of a woman's feelings in their


deepest depths Agnes is as little adapted as any of
Hebbel's earlier woman-characters, because in them all
special conditions of personality permit what is gener-
ally legitimate for their sex only to shine as it were
through a mist. Gyges und sein Ring (1854) delineates
a woman who, completely cut off from the world, with-
out any disturbing influence from outside, develops one-
sidedly in the specifically female direction. Her ex-
aggerated feeling of modesty feels even the glance of
a stranger as a stain which she must remove at all
costs. Perhaps purity is here exaggerated to a paradox
but everything develops logically from this feeling which
has complete mastery over Rhodope. She says to her-
self: "Only my husband may see my face; therefore
he who has seen it must become my husband and there-
fore must first murder my earlier husband. But I
cannot possibly live in marriage bonds with the mur-
derer," and she stabs herself before the altar after
the outrage to her feeling of purity is atoned for by
her marriage with Gyges. Kandaules, the husband, is
not merely a boaster as in the legend told by Herod-
otus. Hebbel deduces his conduct from the deepest
motives of his nature. As the descendant of a great
family, as the last of the Heraclides he aims at intro-
ducing a new era for his people. He lacks reverence
for traditional custom, for the historical as well as the
enlightened, the liberal. He depreciates the old values
without being able to put new ones in their place.

Hebbel thought that he had here found the point
of intersection in which the ancient and the modern
atmosphere pass over into one another. He supposed
he had solved in a general human fashion, comprehensi-
ble for all times, a problem such as could only have


originated in that legendary period. He did not intend
to give the drama any particular idea as a background
but to his greatest surprise, after its completion, there
suddenly issues out of it, like an island out of the
ocean, the idea of custom as that which conditions and
binds everything together.

In this in reality lies an aid to the full understand-
ing of the strange work. We find another in the com-
parison of Rhodope with the figure of Nora, seemingly
so very different from her, in Ibsen's Doll's House,
of whom one is already reminded by Hebbel's M<iri-
amne. Here as there the slumbering, dreamy soul of a
wife who accepts life as something to be taken for
granted wakes up to independent activity and experi-
ence. Here as there the husband believes that in her
he has a possession with which he may do as he likes
and has to make grievous atonement for his error. In
both dramas the right of the wife to respect for her
peculiar nature is maintained and finally gains the
victory. But while with Ibsen all lines come out sharply
in the clear cold light of reality, Ilebbel envelops his
figures in the faint light of the mystical. Gyges' ring,
which is superfluous for the real purpose of the author,
fulfils the object of awakening the feeling of the mys-
terious associations of nature, of the riddle in its phe-
nomena which is not to be solved by reason. Hebbel
thought of putting the drama on the French stage and
certainly he was right in his statement that in outward
form it was as nearly related to Racine as it was in
essence different. For just as in the great French
tragedy writer, so here there is united with strict forms
borrowed from the classical writers, a sympathetic, thor-
oughly modern sentiment and a deep subjectivity.


There is hardly a modern work so near in form as this
to the ideal of classic art and to the noble simplicity
and modest grandeur of the ancients.

No one but a writer with full strength in himself
and with a complete mastery of all the resources of his
art could succeed in such a work. Hebbel's helpful
home-life, the recognition of his work by a few, but
these the best, his own feeling of maturity permit him
now to look above him with the greatest gratitude. In
a prayer he calls out:

" Goiter, offnet die Hande nicht mehr, ich wiirde erschrecken,
Denn ihr gabt mir genug; hebt sie nur schirmend empor! "

And now he collected his whole strength for a drama
in which he aimed at placing on the stage before
the eyes of his nation Die Nibelungen, the greatest
figures in German legend. Before him Fouque and
Raupach had contended for this prize, and Richard
Wagner's great work, Die Nibelutigen, had just been
written. Modestly Hebbel limited his purpose to mak-
ing the dramatic contents of the old epic soluble. But,
in spite of the fact that he did not intend to explore
its poetic-mythical contents, he could not, true to his
whole nature, cut out the mythical altogether. Seven
years, from 1855 to 1862 he worked, often interrupted
indeed, on the play, and the result was a trilogy of
eleven acts.

Hebbel dispensed with the mysterious expedients of
the northern legend, Siegfried's double marriage and
the potion producing loss of memory, because according
to his scarcely tenable view they would have expected
too much of a modern public and he therefore allowed
the characters to act in full freedom. He took the


bas-reliefs of the old poem down from the wall and
traced what was monstrous back to the universal-human
without touching the heart of the legend, because he
felt himself here the interpreter of something higher.
He says: "One must, with such a subject, drop out
nine-tenths of the culture and yet manage with the
rest without becoming dry. That I have practised self-
denial, all just critics will sooner or later acknowledge;
I aimed merely at bringing this great national epic
dramatically nearer to the public without any additions
of my own."

One need only compare Geibel's Brunhild, which ap-
peared during the writing of Hebbel's drama, with the
latter in order to recognize that every attempt to bring
the incidents, the characters and the spirit of the
Nibelungenlied near to modern feeling takes from the
subject its grandeur and its peculiar character. In
Geibel's work Brunhild becomes a coquettish woman
taking vengeance for despised love; with Hebbel she
appears giantlike in her emotions; she and Siegfried
are the last of a dying race.

Once more, as is so often the case in Hebbel, we stand
at the turning-point of two periods. In Hagen the old
is represented with its unyielding nature, its lack of
higher morality, its untamed hate and jealousy. Even
fidelity is counted to him as guilt. The Nibelungs must
perish because their perjury over Siegfried's dead body
has shown them all to be men blinded and entangled
in narrow selfishness. Kriemhild belongs to the new
period with her quiet gentleness but withers away in
heart; world-weary and in despair she has to do duty
as an avenger. At the close Dietrich von Bern em-
bodies the new epoch of Christianity, heroically but


humbly, even when the crowns of the world are placed
in his hands.

Even Hebbel's mighty talent did not succeed in
overcoming the epic character of the Nibelungen-theme.
In his work, too, what happens outweighs the inner
changes finding expression in action, although the
mighty collision of opposites at the climaxes and the
wonderful depth of characterization just at these points
produce the appearance of the dramatic. If Die
Nibelungen, of all the works of Hebbel after the Maria
Magdale-na, at present appear most frequently on the
stage and receive the greatest applause, they owe this
to the national subject and to the lucidity of the charac-
terization which is interspersed and overlaid with dialec-
tical discussion of difficult problems, as happened so
often in the earlier dramas of the author.

Hebbel seized upon a genuinely dramatic theme which
had already attracted a number of poets, among them
Schiller, in the Demetrius (1855-63), but death took
the pen out of his hand also, Dec. 13, 1863, before the
work was completed. At first he had been moved, like
so many others, to supplement Schiller's fragment. At
that time there was widely known only the sketch of a
continuation, useless for the stage, which Korner had
put together from Schiller's numerous and very diver-
gent posthumous plans. But even leaving that out of
the question, Hebbel's entirely different nature would
have made it impossible for him to continue in Schiller's
spirit and he soon came to the conviction that one could
just as little begin to write on from where Schiller
had left off, as begin to love from where another had
ceased. Besides he wrongly supposed, misled by
Korner 's intimations, that Schiller had intended to


make his hero, as a conscious deceiver, fight in the last
acts to preserve his usurped throne, which was not the
case. He therefore sketched his own independent
framework, made his hero appear at first in lowliness,
as Schiller had done in the original plan of his first
act, and mixed into this portrait the feelings of his own
hard experience in youth. His Demetrius is destroyed
at the moment that he recognizes the unrighteousness
of his claim to the crown and after that thinks only
of the rescue of the friends who have given him their
aid. He is destroyed because he is too noble and pure
for the calling of a usurper which fate forces upon
him. But this solution carries with it the danger that
the hero will fall a victim to fate without resistance and
hence a depressing sense of the ruin of a pure innocent
nature takes the place of mighty tragedy. It must be
remembered that Hebbel had already described similar
fates in Genoveva, Maria Magdalena, Agnes Bernauer,
and Rhodope, but there had been placed beside them
such characters as Golo, Meister Anton, Duke Ernest,
and Kandaules, whose passionate energy had balanced
the lack of force in the female characters. Moreover,
these victims of fate were all women, whose sex in itself
makes one more easily forget the lack of energetic oppo-

Alongside the completed works of Hebbel there tower
aloft in his workshop, like mighty but only roughly chis-
elled granite blocks, a number of uncompleted dramatic
modellings of legendary and historic incidents. From
the years of his youth, before Judith, comes Mirandola, a
preliminary study for Genoveva, influenced, just as was
Der Vatermord (1831), by the popular tendencies of
the robber and fate drama prevalent at that time. In


Munich a succession of great historic personages appear
to his vision : Julian the Apostate, the Maid of Orleans,
Napoleon, figures from whom much passed over to Holo-
fernes, Judith and Herod. Further Alexander the
Great, his heart torn with doubt whether he was the
son of Philip or Jupiter Ammon ; then for a long time
vacillating between drama and novel, the plan of Die
Ditmarschen, the picture of -the author 's own country-
men with their defiant love of freedom, which was so
brilliantly shown in the battle of Hemmingstedt against
the Danes.

The greatest of these plans was that of Moloch, which
from 1837 to Hebbel's death exercised its attractive
power over him and yet, after repeated attempts, was
not put into shape. It was certainly the loftiest idea
of all that arose in the poet's mind but just for that
reason offered the greatest difficulties to realization in
form. In it he wished to illustrate the evolution of
the religious and political relations which continue
throughout the whole course of history, although modi-
fied considerably during the centuries. Rome, Carthage,
and primitive German conditions were to form the
background, the theme was the coming of culture to
the barbarian. By Hiram, a fugitive from Carthage
when destroyed by the Romans, the belief in Moloch,
a mass of iron which he brought with him, is utilized
to teach the barbarians the use of the bodily and in-
tellectual powers, to make them recognize the value
of culture and to form them into instruments of his
revenge by awakening in them the longing for Italy.
But their blind idolatrous belief in Moloch grows to
an inward power which Hiram himself must recognize
and to which he falls a victim. Thus there is presented


in its beginnings the idea of God, growing out of an
awe-filled worship of the unknown into the mightiest
factor of the life of the soul.

The further stages in the evolution of mankind down
to the present are the chief subject of Hebbel's com-
pleted dramas and his far more numerous plans. This
is the case, for instance, with the great fragment, Die
Schauspielerin (1848-1850). A woman aims at aveng-
ing herself on the whole race because the man whom
she used to love is unworthy of her. She becomes an
actress in order that through the characters in drama
she may awaken love without responding to it. But
a new passion for a second man enters her heart. The
latter is willing to risk his life for her in a duel with
the unworthy one, but because of anxiety for her lover,
she now no longer charges the sex with the offences
which the individual had committed. In Eugenia, the
actress, the free woman with her rights and her feelings
carries her point; she feels the stain upon her soul
more than the sin against the body; she demands for
herself the right of untrammeled decision over her fate,
consideration equal to that for a man.

This appears to be an attempt to solve one of the
chief questions of the day but appearances deceive.
The rivalry of the sexes is not made to end but is
transferred to another and nobler sphere.

In his fantastic sketch of the future, Zu irgend ciner
Zeit (1843-1848), Hebbel has also tried to throw a light
out into the distant darkness. The satiric picture shows
mankind sunk back again, because of communism, into
the animal stage in which all individualism has van-
ished and blind necessity alone prevails.

Even in these beginnings which scarcely give hope


of a satisfactory artistic development, there is still
shown, from all points of view, that which distinguishes
Hebbel from the great mass of writers of his time, viz:
the endeavor to startle and enrich men's hearts by the
treatment of the deepest problems of life and society,
but not to favor the worship of mere beauty or to
satisfy the call for passionate experience by the old,
threadbare conflicts and their conventional solutions.
So long as the great mass of spectators wish to see
only such requirements fulfilled in serious drama, Heb-
bel cannot be their poet in spite of the fact that he does
not really lack dramatic life and sensuous wealth of
delineation. He himself has convincingly explained in
numerous critical essays his aim and its justification,
especially in the three long articles, Mein Wort uber das
Drama (1843), Vorwort zu Maria Magdalena (1844)
and Uber den Stil des Dramas (1847). Even during
his life he had enthusiastic admirers and their number
is still constantly growing, but general recognition of
Hebbel as the greatest dramatist since Schiller has not
yet resulted and it can only be hoped that it will come
at no very distant time. The hindrances to this lie
in his pessimism, in his preference for the abnormal
rather than what is generally accepted, in his mingling
of sensuous warmth and cold dialectic discussion, and
in his clothing of modern problems in historical dress.
These are easier to overcome, however, than the obscur-
ity of his psychological hypotheses, the threads of which
can often be followed only with difficulty. But just
on this point the greatest of his successors, Ibsen, has
broken down the earlier passive resistance and therefore
the difficulties in the way of the complete understand-
ing of Hebbel are to-day no longer so great as in his
lifetime when he stood almost alone on the stage.



The only writer who might have taken his place
beside Hebbel, because of his endeavor to produce
dramas in keeping with the spirit of the times and of
real weight because of their contents and artistic merit,
was OTTO LUDWIG, who was born at Eisfeld in Thurin-
gia, Feb. 11, 1813, and died after a long and severe
illness in Dresden, Feb. 25, 1865. But his lack of
energetic, connected and unswerving effort towards the
goal of artistic creation, his wrestling with technical
problems and his uncertainty of judgment in regard
to his own performances, made it impossible for him to
stamp his own artistic personality upon any large
number of great works. He said, "The beautiful is
never completed, it could always become still more

By ceaseless brooding he destroyed his own power of
production and it was because of despair that he finally
clung to Shakespeare as the dramatist who is in every
way an absolute standard. Therefore it is with a cer-
tain sense of justice that all his posthumous discussions
of dramatic creation are entitled Shakespeare-Stud i< n,
although they by no means have reference to Shake-
speare alone.

In many respects he is nearly related to Hebbel ; in
his rejection of the classical drama of beauty, because
"everything is beautiful, nothing is ugly if it is only
in its right place," in his demand for subjects suited
to the times, in the reconciliation of art and life, and
in his perception that the history of the tragic reveals
itself as the history of the ethical interpretation of soul-
conflicts. But he rejects the problem-drama entirely


and would ask from poetry not to be made to think
but to feel. In the influences of philosophy and of
antiquity he sees the causes which led Schiller and his
successors from the right path. He says: "Out of the
confusion into which we have fallen because of reflec-
tion, reflection alone can bring us. We must through
it rid ourselves of it." The great German authors had
set themselves another problem than the dramatic. To
them the drama was only a means and it had to make
atonement therefor. Now it is a question of finding
the way back to the drama, of recognising the dramatic
duty of the times, and this he sees in the suppression
of the lyrical and idyllic and in the reproduction of
the great passions and of manly energy. From the
reciprocal relations of the author, the actor and the
public, the essential factors of the drama, he desires
to develop his technique. He comes to the conclusion
that the drama must come down to the common needs
of the people who, as Ludwig says, attend the theatre
to obtain a rest, not from the worries of life but from
life itself. The dramatist is to bring something to
everybody. While he is continually transposing the
sum of human powers into a living play these different
requirements proceed essentially from the one-sided
prominence usually attached to one of them he re-
stores again in the individual spectator, at least for
the brief period of the full power of his magic, the
original totality of the person, however much his par-
ticular position in life, his education or his experience
of special daily professional work have put him out of
joint and by developing to the greatest possible degree
some parts of his being have left the others to waste
away from lack of use.


In the dramatist Otto Ludwig the strongest impulse
is that to truth, to a perfect and faithful representation
of reality. How near he came to this goal is shown
by his first acted drama, Der Erbforster (1845-1849).
Like all Ludwig 's works, this grew slowly and with
great difficulty, out of a multitude of schemes. His
own dramatic requirements give at the same time the
essence of the play: "The motives follow one another
quickly and urgently. There is to be no trace of effem-
inacy, one figure must always be stronger than the
second, but none quixotic. The language must be pithy,
popular, clear, robust, alounding in proverbs, in short,
like Luther's. The rustling woods must always look
down upon the scene. Reality must be made beautiful
but not too restricted." But where Ludwig further
requires that the play must "grow without cessation,
seem to have root in Iffland and with its crown touch
Shakespeare, and everything be simple, nothing either
in character or in situation, affected or curious," then
he was not able to satisfy his own demand.

Chief forester Christian Ulrich is a character much
like Hebbel's Master Anton. Just as the latter is nar-
rowed in his thought by class-consciousness and the ideas
of right and honor peculiar to the lower classes, so, for
the former, reality and its conditions vanish behind
the thick green trees of the forest with which his life is
bound up. While he believes he is upholding his rights
he commits not only a series of grievous irregularities,
but his clear eye also loses the power of sharp discern-
ment and thereby he becomes the victim of unfortunate
accidents which make him a criminal, the murderer
of his daughter. But fate does not govern in this play
as in Werner and Milliner, where an unfortunate coin-


cidence of trifling circumstances brings about the pain-
ful result, but, on the other hand, these incidents become
of significance only because feelings irritated to the
highest degree destroy reflection and drive a man pre-
viously calm to act rashly and in wild sudden passion.
Shakespeare's Othello is obviously the model for such
a development. As in it, so in the Erbforster, the mon-
strous delusion which destroys the hero is the real
subject of the drama and it keeps growing until it
finally overpowers him.

This great drama has all the greater effect because
the outward forms of middle-class tragedy are employed,
which very rarely give room for the mighty passion
that produces the highest tragic emotions and because
the characters appear unpretentious and true to nature
in language and gesture and without any pathos what-
ever. Ludwig did not indeed master the difficulty of
making clear and convincing within this limitation the
course of a mighty fate : the pettiness of the motives
in the last acts makes the spectator misjudge the great
purpose of the dramatist and the action in its second
part seems to owe its impelling force more to something
from without than from within. But even this fault is,
from Ludwig 's standpoint, of lesser importance because
he aimed, as we have seen, at awakening a certain feel-
ing; all else to him was only a means to that end and
he required that he who wished to decide of the nature
of the work must think of the impression and not of
the means.

From the nature of the mountains and their inhab-
itants, the seclusion of the forester's house and the
environment, comes the strangely mingled effect of Der
Erbforster: fresh, spicy, chest-expanding forest air, free


and beautiful nature, and in the people stupid narrow-
ness, ineffectual desire and petty performance.

The first two factors of the drama, the dramatist and
the actor, get their rights in this play, but the claims
of the third part, the public, to a clearly intelligible,
immediately comprehensible expression of the purposes
of the author are not realized.

Ludwig called Der Erbforster a declaration of war
against unnaturalness and the conventional fashion of
present day poetry as well as of dramatic art. But
there was lacking in the call to the people the convinc-
ing power to attract the great body to his standard,
even if some of the best did applaud.

But one other work by Ludwig was put upon the
stage in his lifetime, Die Makkabaer (1850-52). Again,
after great wrestlings, the final form grew out of re-
peated remodellings of the rude material taken from
the Bible. Originally, when the piece was still called
Die Makkabderin, the two hostile wives of Judah,
the priest, were the central figures and his struggles
formed only a background of extrinsic and opera-
like liveliness. In the second revision the elder wife
Leah was made the mother of Judah and opposed
to her was his young wife Naomi, hated and de-
spised. Greater importance is attached now to the
contrast between Judah and his younger brother Eleazer,
the vanity of whose mother wishes to place him on the
throne of Jerusalem. From the broader foundation of
this second version, by contraction and stronger empha-
sis on the dramatic, the last form of Die Makkabaer was
constructed. As in the Erbforster, so also here con-
ditions of time and place give the feeling that prevails

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Online LibraryGeorg WitkowskiThe German drama of the nineteenth century → online text (page 7 of 17)