History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/German Romantic
Major figures in German Romantic theatre are Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), whose two main dramas in the 19th century are "Faust" parts 1 (1808) and 2 (1832). Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805) continued strong dramatic works from the previous century with "Wilhelm Tell" (William Tell, 1804). Also of note is the Austrian dramatist, Franz Grillparzer (1791-1872), who wrote a Gothic drama, "Die Ahnfrau" (The ancestress, 1817).
Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811) wrote a fine small-town comedy in "Der zerbrochne Krug" (The broken jug, 1808). The art of Georg Büchner (1813-1837) resembles more 19th century German Realist and even 20th century drama, though with themes in common with France's Alfred de Musset, namely the despairing poetic musings of the main character, with the important though incomplete "Woyzeck" (1837). In a more minor but still enjoyable vein, Amalie Heiter, princess of Saxony (1794-1870), wrote "Die Heimkehr des Sohnes" (The son's return, 1842), a comedy about a married couple wishing to separate but unexpectedly brought together again.
"Faust, part 1"
"Faust, part 1". Time: 1800s. Place: Germany.
"Faust, part 1" text at http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/German/FaustIProl.htm
Despite having mastered many facets of learning, including jurisprudence and medicine, Faust is dissatisfied with them all. He is visited by an Earth-spirit, but remains unable to achieve the superior knowledge he seeks. Faust thereby considers suicide. Raising a vial of poison to his lips, he is dissuaded by the sound of church bells at Easter-time, reminding him of childhood days. While walking in the streets with his assistant, Wagner, Faust notices a poodle following them. It is the disguised devil, Mephistopheles, who proposes to him a pact, by which hell wins his soul should he desire a thing so beautiful that he would desire to have that moment linger. That great moment is not found in the drinking pleasures inside Auerbach's cellar, where Faust is disgusted at the sight of drunken revellers. However, Faust accepts to be transformed as a young man and, spying a simple milkmaid, Gretchen, in the street, is determined to seduce her. In a garden, Faust and Gretchen stroll about alone, while Mephistopheles does the same with her neighbor, Martha. Having previously learned from Mephistopheles her husband's death, Martha flirts with him, who encounters grave difficulties in politely rejecting her advances. Gretchen confesses her love to Faust and is willing, one one hand, to have him enter her room, but, on the other hand, unwilling to be discovered by her pious mother. He gives Gretchen a bottle containing what he thinks is a sleeping potion but is in reality poisonous. Gretchen is soon discovered to be pregnant. Her enraged brother, Valentine, challenges the culprit to a duel. Helped by Mephistopheles, Faust kills him. To distract Faust from Gretchen's abandoned state, Mephistopheles invites him to a witches' sabbath, where he is about to fall in the arms of a naked young witch when Gretchen's image suddenly appears. Before he can return to the real Gretchen, she drowns her baby and is condemned to death. Although Mephistopheles promises to rescue her from her prison cell, Gretchen refuses to follow Faust, because the man she once loved has changed for the worse. In danger of being caught, the devil pushes Faust away with the words: "She is judged." However, a voice from heaven decrees: "She is saved."
"Faust, part 2"
"Faust, part 2". Time: 1800s. Place: Germany.
Faust and Mephistopheles arrive at an emperor's court where money is scarce. Thanks to the devil, Faust obtains favor by discovering piles of gold in the bowels of the earth. To distract him and to satisfy his intellectual curiosity, Mephistopheles presents Faust with a key, by which he learns about the Mothers, spiritual creatures mysteriously guiding the world's destinies. After having ensured the empire's prosperity, Faust and Mephistopheles entertain the court with pageants from Greek mythology, such as Helen of Troy and her lover, Paris. At Faust's house, long abandoned by him, Wagner, his servant, seeks to recreate mankind anew inside his oven. A homonculus appears, who ignores Wagner and follows instead the more interesting Mephistopheles. Faust seeks something beyond mere pageantry, and, with Mephistopheles' powers, reaches the very land of classical myth itself, where Helen of Troy is in danger of being axed to death by her husband, Menelaus, for adultery. Faust saves her in the shape of a medieval knight and secures her for himself in Arcadia, pastoral land of shepherds and lyric poetry, where they bear a son, Euphorio. Faust and Helen have difficulty in restraining the impetuous Euphorio, who seizes a young girl and is about to rape her when she is transformed into fire and disappears. They next see Euphorio prepare to engage in martial feats, but, to their grief, he soon falls to his death. Faust cannot hold Helen longer. As he embraces her, her bodily form disappears, only the robe remaining. When Faust and Mephistopheles return at court, there is an armed revolt afoot. In Mephistopheles' view, "war, commerce, and pirating are inseparable". Thanks to him, the emperor's troops succeed in crushing the opposition. Now quite old, Faust becomes blind, though seeing very well his probable end in infernal regions. He nevertheless commands Mephistopheles to retrieve a huge number of workers and create great achievements on earth, but before he can do so, he falls on the ground where lemurs seize him. Instead of seizing Faust off to hell, Mephistopheles sees roses and angels cover the scene, along with other spiritual creatures accompanying Gretchen in her state of beatitude.
"William Tell". Time: 14th century. Place: Switzerland
A ferryman, a hunter, and a shepherd are surprised to see Baumgarten running towards them. He has just killed a bailiff with an axe for entering his house and proposing disgraceful matters to his wife. He asks the ferryman to help him cross the lake to escape from the authorities pursuing him for murder. The ferryman refuses because a storm is rising. Despite the tempest, William Tell saves Baumgarten in the ferryman's canoe. Frustrated to see the murderer escape, the officers of governor Gessler avenge themselves on innocent bystanders by destroying their property. By order of the governor, a prison-fortress is built in Uri and a hat placed atop the highest point in the village, below which everyone must kneel and lift his hat. The villagers laugh and consider this is a gross sign of Austrian tyranny. To punish a minor fault, a governor's officer removes Melchthal's two best oxen from his team. The peasant retaliates by breaking the officer's finger before escaping. In retribution, the governor seizes Melchthal's father and blinds him. Hearing such news, the baron of Attinghausen accuses his nephew, Ulrich, for being on the side of oppression. Ulrich is of the opinion that they should submit to the emperor's authority. His armor rusts and he is tired of staying inactive at home, with only the sound of cowbells in his ears. The baron appeals to the ancient ways, the Swiss being traditionally free of any oppressor. Furthermore, he accuses him of hoping to claim Bertha, the governor's ward. "To conquer this woman, you would enslave your country," says he. At night, a group of thirty men, including Melchthal and Baumgarten, plot rebellion, hoping to oust offending governors from the three Swiss cantons. Here even men opposed to each other at the tribunal shake hands. Bertha accuses Ulrich of being "Swiss' unnatural son". Ulrich declares he only wishes to win her, but how can he, she being dependent on her parents' will? "If Switzerland is free, so am I," she declares. In town, the guardians of the hat arrest Tell in the name of the emperor for violating the ordinance. To make an example of him, Gessler declares: "Prepare to strike an apple on the top of your child's head." If he misses Walter from 80 steps away, he dies. Walter has confidence in his father, refusing to be tied to the tree and to be blindfolded. Tell asks the soldiers to kill him insuead, but if he refuses to shoot, both he and his son die. Tell hides a second arrow, seen by Gessler. Though in the governor's train, Ulrich tries to interfere. While Ulrich and Gessler bandy angry words, Tell succeeds in striking the apple. What would he have done with the second arrow? wonders Gessler. Tell admits he would have aimed it at him, so that the honest archer is arrested and led in chains to Küssnacht fortress. But on the way, he frees himself during a tempest. After baron of Attinghausen's death, Ulrich is the new baron and joins the revolted peasants, with all the more reason since Bertha has been kidnapped. On the way to the castle, a woman begs the governor for clemency, she and her children being without means since her husband's imprisonment while awaiting trial. Thanks to this delay, from behind a bush Tell strikes Gessler dead with an arrow. The happy mother shows her children how a villain dies. Fire signals in the mountains and tolling bells indicate that the peasants are invading and burning the fortresses, with Bertha saved by Ulrich and Melchthal before the fire reaches her. The hat will henceforth be maintained as a sign of liberty. There is even more momentous news: the emperor has been assassinated by his nephew, the duke of Austria. There is now hope that the new emperor will protect the Swiss against Austria. One day, the duke of Austria, disguised as a monk, enters Tell's house. Tell, an assassin for the people's good, is horrified at seeing the assassin of his own good: "Do not sully the peaceful house where innocence inhabits," he tells him. He recommends him to the pope, to pardon his crime or not. Ulrich and Bertha marry and declare freedom for all the serfs.
"The ancestress". Time: 1810s. Place: Austria.
"The ancestress" text at ?
With no son as heir to his fortune, but only a single daughter, Bertha, Count Zdenko von Borotin bitterly regrets he represents the last of his ancestral lineage. Put asleep by his daughter's harp, he thinks he sees an ancestress of his, also named Berta, murdered many years ago by her husband after engaging in an adulterous relation, whose bastard son is the only source of the ancestral line. His daughter and the guardian of the castle, Gunther, assure him that they were on the terrace together when the apparent vision appeared. Their talk is interrupted by the sudden arrival of a perturbed Jaromir, Berta's lover, barely escaped from robbers in the forest who killed two of his servants. Approving of the intended marriage between this man and his daughter, Zdenko agrees to harbor him for the night. However, Jaromir's sleep is broken by phantom lights. He thinks he sees Bertha before him walking from one room to another until the real Bertha appears, who does not see her ancestress. The count also awakes. He asks Jaromir whether he truly agrees to mix his fate with theirs. "Only a fool builds a home where thunder has struck," the count comments. Yet Jaromir is willing. Berta is glad. She playfully binds his arm with a scarf so that he does not fly away. Their talk is interrupted by a captain, sent with his men to pursue the murderous brigands. Unexpectedly, Jaromir defends them, supposing some to be driven to a thief's life because of poverty. He refuses to join Zdenko and the captain in pursuit of the thieves. Left alone, Berta trembles while heading towards Jaromir's room left to rest on his bed, all the more so after hearing two gunshots. She finds the bed empty. Later that night, Jaromir returns. She discovers he has been shot in the arm and binds his arm with the remains of the torn-off scarf. A knock is heard and a soldier enters as Jaromir heads out. He explains he had spotted the captain of the robbers and shot him in the arm. He further reveals that he had seized him, but the robber had pulled away and escaped, with only part of a scarf left behind. To her despair, Berta recognizes the rest of Jaromir's scarf. Jaromir explains he has been a thief since childhood, his father being one. Now he depends on her to retire from that kind of life by escaping with him. Thinking of her father, she hesitates, but then agrees. To her consternation, he pulls down from the wall the dagger that killed the ancestress. They agree to meet at midnight. As Berta and Gunther worry over the count's fate, soldiers enter carrying his struck body, stabbed by Jaromir when about to be captured. A captured thief, Boleslas, is led in with a strange story to tell. On the present castle grounds, he confesses to kidnapping many years ago a three-year old boy, keeping him as his son and fellow thief, the count's son, whom he thought had drowned, now a man they know as Jaromir. In despair, the count dies and Berta swoons at the point of reaching a vial full of poison left behind by Jaromir. Distracted by the count's death, the soldiers neglect to keep a close watch on Boleslas, who escapes and finds Jaromir. Boleslas discloses to him his true origin. Jaromir pushes him away and calls for Berta. "Who calls?" asks instead the ancestress. Believing here to be his Berta, though his sister, he pleads with her to go away with him. When the ancestress shows him her grave, he dies next to it while she disappears.
"Woyzeck". Time: 1830s. Place: Germany.
Woyzeck, a soldier, is subject to anguish for no specific reason. He experiences sights and sounds intensely. While tapping his feet on the ground, he is fearful on discovering that the sound is one of struck wood. For none of his worries does he obtain any encouragement from his supposed friend, Andres. Woyzeck executes menial tasks for his captain and acts as an experimental subject to a doctor in a nonsensical study on the effects of a diet consisting entirely of peas. The captain seems well-intentioned towards Woyzeck, but his recommendations are vague and unhelpful. He particularly recommends that he should stop pissing in the open. Woyzeck visits his girlfriend, Marie, living near the army camp as a whore, with a small boy to care for. Marie is tempted to stray from Woyzeck when she sees a drum major arrive. When Woyzeck and Marie go to a local fair, the pleasures associated with this and other activities are minimal and brief. Suspicious of the drum major, Woyzeck walks up to him in challen, but is beaten by him. All the more suspicious and anguished in the extreme, Woyzeck stabs Marie to death by a pond and throws the knife away . When next seen at an inn, he has neglected to wipe the incriminating blood from his clothes. When asked about it, he says he cut himself shaving, but a man comments he is certainly talented, because it looks as if he smeared his right elbow with his right hand. Worried about the incriminating knife, he returns to the pond to look for it but cannot at first find it. He finds the corpse first and asks in a delusion: "Why so pale, Marie?" Finally; he finds the knife and runs off to escape being discovered. A policeman is called in the case, impressed by the deed. "A good murder, a proper murder, a lovely murder, as lovely a murder as anyone could wish. We've not had a murder like this for years," he says admiringly.
"The broken jug"
"The broken jug". Time: 1800s. Place: Huisum, Holland.
"The broken jug" text at http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=9405298
Judge Adam learns that a justice counsellor has arrived to investigate the doings of his court. It is a bad time for him, having suffered two blows on the head from the previous night and being scratched all over. He is nervous, and, whenever so, subject to defecating. Counsellor Walter notes Adam's behavior in a case about a jug. Martha accuses Ruprecht, her daughter's intended, of breaking it, which he denies, accusing a stranger found in Eve's bedroom late at night, whom he could not identify, perhaps another suitor of hers named Liebrecht, to whom he gave two head-blows. Eve also denies that Ruprecht is responsible but names no one. Adam appears relieved to hear Liebrecht's name, but Walter is surprised at the judge's unwillingness to hear Eve's complete testimony. Ruprecht's aunt testifies she heard Eve in her garden one half-hour before he broke her door in. She reports that Eve seemed discontented and even disgusted at being in that man's company. When she asked Eve who is the man she talked with, she answered "Ruprecht". Ruprecht again denies he was there. She followed the unknown man's footprints in the snow and saw a pile of excrement along the way. She also saw evidence of a deformed foot, perhaps the devil's, leading all the way to Judge Adam's house. At this point, Walter orders that the case be immediately stopped. Adam pronounces Ruprecht guilty, who, convinced Adam is the culprit, rushes towards him, but he escapes, leaving his robe behind. Eve worries about Ruprecht being sent to prison, but Walter reassures on that point. He learns that Adam demanded sexual favors from her in exchange of preventing Ruprecht's conscription in the army on dangerous missions.
"The son's return"
"The son's return". Time: 1830s. Place: Hamburg, Germany.
"The son's return" text at https://archive.org/details/sixdramasillustr00amaliala
Against Colonel Seewald’s advice, his son, George, married Johanna, a poor man’s daughter. Because of his father’s lack of financial support and his obligations towards his wife’s family, the couple were forced to accept positions as tutor and governess, which they lost when their patron discovered their love of each other. As a result, George sought his fortune in America as a tutor, but was reported to have died. Taking pity on her poor condition, Colonel Seewald and his wife, Clara, took up Johanna into their house, who pays them back by devoting her time in household duties with an energetic will. During the course of one year, Johanna is courted by Braus, a forester, but is hesitant to marry him. Unexpectedly, George returns from Guadalupe, even more expectedly, rich. Overwhelmed with joy, Clara requests Braus to tell Johanna about George’s arrival, which he accepts to do. Johanna is stunned at these news and intimates a fault on her part concerning her long-lost husband. The colonel decides “to throw anger in the grave” and forget about his son’s disobedience to his will. When Clara announces that Johanna has lived under their roof, George is as stunned at this turn of events as she was at his return, because he thought she had died, having received a letter on this subject in Guadalupe. On entering the room, Johanna glances at him and immediately rushes out, determined to leave the house before even speaking with him. George reveals to his father that he lived mostly at variance with his wife and is dejected at the thought of living with her again. There is a second unexpected arrival, for George, thinking his wife dead, married a second time, to Adèle, daughter of a wealthy Creole while serving as her brother’s tutor, both the father and brother having died from yellow fever and she the only remaining survivor of the family. When Adèle first meets the colonel, she takes him for the steward. After some painful moments with her, the colonel discovers she is his son’s wife. He disowns him, unaware he thought his first wife had died. Suspecting that Johanna wrote to George the false news of his wife’s death, Braus confronts her with his thoughts but is unable to make her talk. He next reveals to George the love he bears her, but yet encourages him out of a sense of duty to remain with her. On discovering that George’s wife is still alive, Adèle prepares to bo back to Guadalupe but not before offering half her fortune to him, but he declines the offer. When Johanna learns of Adèle’s arrival and departure, she asks a servant to pursue her. A final surprise occurs when George finally casts his eyes on Johanna, whom he calls “Lisette”. Indeed, Johanna is not Johanna but her grieving younger sister, who, destitute of means after her sister's death, pretended to be Johanna while accepting the charitable offer of the Seewalds to live with them. This revelation sets George free to remain with Adèle.