History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/German Realist
Realism and naturalism developed in Germany in parallel to developments in Scandinavia. "Realism was content to observe; naturalism demanded scientific experimentation" (Henderson, 1914 p 115). Witkowski (1909) described the essence of naturalism as follows: "Naturalism chooses its material exclusively from the life of the present day and preferably from the domain of the lowly, the ugly and the morally objectionable, which up to the present has been excluded from artistic treatment. Instead of plots it offers accurately observed scenes and individual incidents which are to be considered typical of the conditions of society. In addition, abnormal morbid qualities are assigned to the characters introduced which, however, likewise claim a typical significance as the results of the unnatural conditions of modern life. Everything is derived from mythological and pathological causes. The law of causality holds unconditional sway, represented by scientific hypotheses, such as heredity and the influence of suggestion upon the will and by socialistic theories. Instead of strong utterances of passion, conversation alone serves as the means of sketching character and of disclosing the progress of events. Involuntary suggestions, instead of intentional communications, seeming equalization of what is essential and non-essential, avoidance of the monologue and of everything serving merely for the enlightenment of the spectator, and the most accurate prescriptions for everything external are to produce complete illusion without any assistance from the imagination of the spectator. The single aim is ostensibly to do battle against lying, hypocrisy and whatever is antiquated in art and life. At the same time, judgment is mostly given from the standpoint of youthful inexperience and of extreme political and social endeavor which would like at one stroke to put a new order of society and a new art in the place of the old, and to which therefore everything is welcome which makes light of prevailing views" (pp 146-147).
Clark (1915b) described the realist/naturalist movement as follows: "The Naturalist movement in literature, in which Tolstoy, Zola, Ibsen, and Strindberg were the leaders, bore fruit in France with the Theatre Libre, founded by Andre Antoine in 1887, and in the German theater abovementioned. The new movement aimed at two things: the delineation of character in as truthful a manner as possible, and the presentation of problems and theses directly affecting the society of the day. These ideas were by no means new, but the combination of greater adherence to external details— usually 'unpleasant' and often brutally shocking— and purposefulness was decidedly novel, [including the unemphatic ending], quite a common practice nowadays, and the reason for it is chiefly that it heightens the illusion. In life, the exciting is mingled with the commonplace, and one of the most interesting and dramatic things in life is the strange contrast between the sublime and the commonplace, between the tragic and the comic. Therefore, in place of ending his act or his play with a scene of great tension or high emotion, the dramatist seeks to reproduce parts of life, makes a still more lifelike and exciting scene, and places one of these contrasted moments at one of the most critical points of his act or play: the last" (pp 107-134).
Among major figures of late 19th century drama, Gerhart Hauptmann (1862-1946) stands out for the gritty proletarian play, "Die Weber" (The weavers, 1892) and the criticism of the judicial system inherent in "Der Biberpelz" (The beaver coat, 1893).
“The new form of drama created by Gerhart Hauptmann we shall denominate the drama of pure Naturalism. In such dramas, the subjects are invariably chosen from contemporary life and, because of the sharp contrasts and new materials afforded, from those phases of life which had hitherto been rigorously excluded from the domain of the drama- the life of the humble and the lowly. The subjects treated were repulsive to many theater-goers, accustomed to the universal idealization of life in the conventional theater. The ugly, the abnormal, the asymmetric were types enthusiastically studied by the naturalists. Their search was not for beauty, for the ideal, or for the moral; their search was only for the truth in the light of modern social relativity. A graphic and faithful projection of a section of human actuality- that, in fine, was the ideal of the naturalist” (Henderson, 1914 pp 123-124).
"The weavers" represents what early Naturalism had set as its goal. In rapid succession act follows upon act, each one presenting minutely detailed characterizations that are skillfully integrated to achieve a tremendous effect. In the presentation of the weavers' graphic suffering before our eyes, there is no theoretical discussion of social maladjustment...Individual characters are pictured that represent different classes, different ages, and both sexes, all suffering in an environment which is so closely bound up with their misery. But the tragedy of the individual assumes a new significance and is again reflected in the tragedy of the mass. Hauptmann's subjective reaction to this theme and his historical treatment of the material combined to make a drama free from tendency and propaganda that will continue to stand as a great human document" (Reichart, 1932, p 211). "The weavers" has been described as "a saddening, humiliating, reproachful picture of hopeless poverty...To look at the wretched people crowded into the outer office of Dreissiger's factory, one would never suppose them capable of such sturdy violence as subsequently animates them. Deathly pale men, women, and children: hollow-eyed, stoop-shouldered, tottering as they move. They fairly sneak to the cashier's desk to receive the few pennies due them for their week's work, each drawing himself together as if conscious that he really has no place on earth and is suffered to remain only in consideration of contracting himself into the smallest possible compass" (Nirdlinger, 1899, pp 199-201). What many critics emphasize is the presentation of a group as the main character. "The strike is the only character of importance; men and women appear and disappear only that the strike may be presented to us" (Hale, 1905 p 40). "Hauptmann created a timeless work. Radicals may complain, as they do, that the play does not outline an acceptable course of action, and their opponents may dislike its painful picture or its social implications. But The Weavers lives by its vivid evocation of realities and by its tight-lipped compassion. The most vigorous tendencies of the age were welded into drama when Hauptmann combined naturalist observation with social-democratic sympathies in this history of the revolt of the Silesian weavers in 1844...The Weavers was epoch-making. Never before had naturalism been linked so plainly with direct social issues, and with this drama Hauptmann cemented a new bond between the realistic theatre and the masses" (Gassner, 1954a pp 454-456). Witkowski (1909) emphsized the importance of "The weavers" in the history of the theatre. "Earlier dramatists had never tried to sketch any but individual natures. When it had been a question of using the masses in a drama as co-acting factors, then either individual representatives would be picked out, as in Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar' (1599) or Goethe's 'Egmont' (1788), and treated according to the principles of individual psychology, or the chorus of Greek tragedy gave the model and the feeling of unity was indicated, as in that by some few general human impulses which are present in all. Beginnings of a 'psychology of the masses' are to be discerned in Kleist's 'Robert Guiscuard' (uncompleted), in Hebbel's 'Judith' (1841), and in Ludwig's 'The Maccabees' (1852). Here is already shown something of that immense strengthening force which every impulse receives because of a number feeling it in common, of those sudden transitions which arise therefrom and of the blind passion of the excited popular mind, which is swayed by quite different laws than affect the individual. But still no one before Hauptmann had attempted to make this knowledge fruitful to the drama. In Schiller's 'William Tell' (1804), the people spoke and acted just as every Swiss would have spoken and acted for himself. In 'The weavers', on the other hand, the representatives of the class described there form a harp, all the strings of which begin to give out at the same time, when the air-waves strike them, low complaining or loud screaming notes, so that the individual voices together form a mighty accord, in which the peculiar quality of each is indeed discernible, but none prevails over and sounds above the other" (pp 194-195). Likewise, Clark (1915b) remarked that "Hauptmann may be said to have created a new form of drama in 'The weavers', and that form is what may be designated as the tableau series form, with no hero but a community. As the play is not a close-knit entity, the first act is casual, and might open at almost any point; and since it starts with a picture, or part of a picture, there is hardly anything to be known of the past. The result is that no exposition is needed. The audience sees a state of affairs, it does not lend its attention and interest to a story or the beginning of a plot or intrigue. This first act merely establishes the relation between the weavers and the manufacturers. There is no direct hint given in the first act as to what is to come in the second; the first is a play in itself, a situation which does not necessarily have to be developed. It does, however, prepare for the revolt, by showing the discontent among the downtrodden people, and it also enlists the sympathy of the audience. Act two is another picture, this time that of the homes of the weavers; the effect produced is one of blackest misery and unrelieved poverty. Two points should be noticed: first, the dramatist develops some characters, like Mother Baumert and Ansorge, but only to a certain extent, for fear of their overshadowing the chief business of the play, which is the presentation in concrete form of the oppression and struggles of the weavers; and second, the plot— such as it is— is started by Jaeger. But this plot is not permitted to absorb the interest of the audience, it is rather brought in almost as an incident, and does not attain to great proportions until a large number of the weavers participate, later on. And when that happens, the plot and characters have an equal claim upon our attention. This act does look forward; it throws out tentacles of interest, for when Ansorge says: 'We'll stand it no longer, we'll stand it no longer come what may,' the audience knows that trouble is ahead, and wants to see its result. The third act carries the plot forward, and gives a further picture of the life of the weavers, this time a little less sordid than in the foregoing acts. The change of scene is made primarily in order to give variety to the whole picture, and also to furnish a likely gathering place for the instigators of the rebellion. The end of the act brings the plot to a higher degree of development, and increases the suspense; Hornig's words,'It'll not surprise me if this ends badly,' are clearly prophetic, and prepare for the next act. Between the third and fourth acts the rebellion has come to a head, and the weavers start on their warpath of depredation. The contrast in setting is again good; this time we are in the luxuriously furnished home of the capitalist. We are aware of the presence of the wild crowd outside, and know that the revolt is making quick headway. The entrance of Jaeger as a prisoner, his subsequent release by the mob, the evacuation of the house by its owners, the entrance of the weavers, the despoiling of the rich furnishings, all supply excellent dramatic action. By the end of the act, the weavers are like wild animals, whom nothing can curb. Here, then, is the culmination of the action: the climax. What more is expected? Clearly, the result of what has happened. Will the weavers conquer? The last act must terminate the rebellion, but the mere ending, in the defeat of the strikers, is not sufficient to fill an entire act; there must be something further. Hauptmann has therefore introduced an incident that will supply the need. The "reactionary" weaver is accidentally shot. The purpose of this is doubtless to drive home the irony of fate, in this case the uselessness of revolt. This bit of action is very skilfully interwoven, and leaves us with a keen appreciation of the wrongs of the weavers, by reason of its vividness— also because it is the last incident of the play. While it is true that we sympathize with the weavers as a class up to the last act, we lack the personal element. For example, we may read in a newspaper that five thousand people die of the famine, but until we see the mother dying in an effort to feed her child, or the father killing his family outright rather than see them starve— until we see these things individually— they will not touch us" (pp 90-93). Goldman (1914) remarked on the Baumert incidents that "appalling as the scene in the office of Dreissiger is, the life in the home of the old weaver Baumert is even more terrible. His decrepit old wife, his idiotic son August, who still has to wind spools, his two daughters weaving their youth and bloom into the cloth, and Ansorge, the broken remnant of a heroic type of man, bent over his baskets, all live in cramped quarters lit up only by two small windows. They are waiting anxiously for the few pence old Baumert is to bring, that they may indulge in a long-missed meal...It did not do old Baumert much good. His stomach, tortured and abused so long, rebelled, and the old man had to "give up the precious dog"...Man's endurance is almost limitless. Almost, yet not quite. For there comes a time when the Baumerts, even like their stomachs, rise in rebellion, when they hurl themselves, even though in blind fury, against the pillars of their prison house" (pp 102-103). From the modern viewpoint described by Wilson (1937),"the weavers have no minimum wage, no trade union, no proper regulation of hours. They bring the cloth from their homes to the factory and are entirely at the mercy of the owners. They are bullied and cheated. A girl faints from hunger. A man kills his dog for food. At length the workers rebel against their inhuman treatment. They break into a revolutionary song, march off to their employer’s house and sack it. Police and soldiers are summoned. There is some spasmodic shooting in which a weaver, who has doggedly remained at work, is killed. Nothing is achieved. There is no neat ending, no suggestion of reform: nothing but a vivid picture of things as they are, or, at least, as Hauptmaim saw them, for he made no attempt, as Galsworthy did in Strife, to be impartial" (pp 176-177).
In "The beaver coat", Hauptmann's "thieving washerwoman Mrs Wolff, who is the wife of a poacher, is a magnificent character, and the impudence with which she hoodwinks the bewhiskered police-superintendent Werhahn after she has stolen a beaver coat is conducive to rich earthy laughter. Werhahn is a perfect caricature of an officious incompetent, and much irony is achieved when this Dogberry who suspects a red network in every corner proclaims the amoral Mrs Wolff the most upright woman in the village. She takes the compliment gracefully and improves upon it by declaring that the place is becoming positively too immoral for her!" (Gassner, 1954a p 458).
In general, "the delineation of all these characters has two constantqualities: objectivity and justice. The author has not merged the sharp outlines of humanity into the background of his own idiosyncrasy. These men and women are themselves. No trick of speech, no lurking similarity of thought, unites them to each other or to the mind that shaped them. The nearer any two of them tend to approach a recognisable type, the more magnificently is the individuality of each vindicated" (Lewisohn, 1915 pp 123-124).
Time: 1840s. Place: Silesia, Germany.
In Dreissiger's shop of fustian-weavers, the manager, Pfeifer, hears several complaints. The workers want to be paid in advance. "People who are industrious, and understand their work, and do it in the fear of God, never need their pay in advance," Pfeifer retorts. What about bad pay for bad work? "If you want to live well, then be sure to weave well," answers Pfeifer. They face more problems; they are underfed. One boy in the shop faints from hunger. To get meat, Baumert had to kill his dog. For complaining too loudly, Becker is dismissed. When one of her neighbors asks for food, Mother Baumert answers: "There's not so much as a handful o'salt in the house, not a bite o' bread, nor a bit o' wood for the fire...The best thing as could happen to the likes o' us, Jenny, would be if God had pity on us an' took us away out o' this weary world." Because of her mother's rheumatic pains, Bertha says: "We've to dress her in the mornin' an' undress her at night, an' to feed her like a baby." Says the mother about the women workers: "Their feet never off the treadle from year's end to year's end...An' with it all they can't scrape together as much as'll buy them clothes that they can let theirselves be seen in; never a step can they go to church, to hear a word o' comfort." Although the oven smokes in their house, Baumert knows that it is useless to complain to the cottager, Ansorge. "One word of a complaint an' out we go. He's had no rent from us this last half-year," he says. When an old friend, Jaeger, now a soldier, drops by with a roast for him, Baumbert is unable to hold it in. He vomits and cries in rage. "We don't need no meat." Jaeger then comments sarcastically. "The manufacturers eats it for us." "Things was different in my young days," Ansorge reminisces. "Then the manufacturers let the weaver have his share. Now they keeps everything to theirselves. An' would you like to know what's at the bottom of it all? It's that the fine folks nowadays believes neither in God nor devil." In the common-room of a public-house, expensive funerals are spoken of, the pastor all the more profiting by large ones. Says Hornig, the rag-seller, to Wiegand, the joiner: "When you see the rows o' little children's graves, you pats yourself on the belly and says you: this has been a good year; the little brats have fallen like cockchafers off the trees." One day, Jaeger and Becker enter the shop arm in arm, singing. "They're goin' to Dreissiger's to make him add something on to the pay," explains Baumert to the rest. In Dressiger's private room, Pastor Kittelhaus is disturbed at hearing strains of the "Weavers' Song". For his complaints, Jaeger is arrested. On his side, Dreissiger also complains of the present times. "Most certainly that is what they used to be- patient, easily managed, well-behaved and orderly people." he says. "They were that as long as these so-called humanitarians let them alone. But for ever so long now they've had the awful misery of their condition held up to them." At the sight of Jaeger tied up as a prisoner, the crowd becomes rowdy and free him. "They've set Moritz Jaeger free- they've thrashed the superintendent and driven him away- they've thrashed the policeman and sent him off too- without his helmet ... his sword broken ... Oh dear, oh dear!" exclaims Pfeifer in a panic. An old soldier with a lost arm, Hilse, weaving in his own workroom, disagrees with this uprising "If we've no butter, we can eat dry bread- when we've no bread, we can eat potatoes- when there's no potatoes left, we can eat bran," he declares. Hornig reports the damage caused by the workers at Dreissiger's home: "They've wrecked his house from the cellar to the roof," he says. But this situation does not worry Schmidt, the surgeon. "The troops will be on them in no time," he says with confidence. Hilse's son-in-law, Gottlieb, is glad at least of what the workers have gained. "We're to have our half-pound o' meat on Sundays, and now and again on a holiday sausage with our cabbage. Yes, things is to be quite different, by what he tells me." Yet Hilse maintains his point of view. "They've let themselves be tempted by Satan, an' it's his works they're doin'," he grumbles. In contrast, Luise, his daughter, joins the rioting weavers. "How many hundred nights has I lain an' racked my head to think what I could do to cheat the churchyard of my little one? What harm has a baby like that done that it must come to such a miserable end- eh? An' over there at Dittrich's they're bathed in wine an' washed in milk," she says. When police officers shoot at the workers, a stray bullet strikes Hilse in his own house. His blind wife does not understand why he is so silent, crying out in distress: "Come now, father, can't you say something? You're frightenin' me."
"The beaver coat"
Time: 1890s. Place: Berlin region, Germany.
Adelaide has some town news to relate to her mother, Mrs Wolff, a washerwoman in the employ of the Kruegers. "Mrs. Krueger has bought a fur-coat that cost pretty near a hundred crowns. It's a beaver coat," she specifies. When Mr and Mrs Motes arrive to settle their account, Mrs Wolff clears away anything that could in any degree suggest that her husband, Julius, a carpenter, had just poached a stag. Mrs Motes shows her several wire-snares they have found, evidence of poaching. Mr Motes was once a forester, but was shot in the eye and is now a free-lance writer. "Forester Seidel has nabbed a poacher again," he relates. "He'll be taken to the detention prison tomorrow. There's an officer with style about him! If I hadn't had my misfortune, I could have been a head forester today. I'd go after those dogs even more energetically." Mrs Motes pretends to laugh off a rumor that they were once forced to move away from the Krueger premises, at which her husband's face reddens in rage: "The reason why I moved away from that place? You'll find it out some day. The man is a usurer and a cutthroat," he avers. After they leave, Mrs Wolff has an idea for her husband concerning what they might do to the Kruegers where their other daughter, Leontine, works as a servant. "An' if I was to say: all right, you abuse my children, I'll take your wood- a nice face you'd make," she says. "I wouldn't do no such thing ... I don't give a--! I c'n do more'n eat, too. I'd like to see! I wouldn't stand for nothin' like that. Beatin'!" he responds. Instead of that plan, he goes out to steal the wood himself as Constable Mitteldorf arrives complaining that his superior, Justice of the Peace Wehrhahn, has formed an unfavorable opinion about his work: not severe enough. "I ain't keen enough after the people," he says. Meanwhile, Motes reports to Wehrhahn the liberal opinions expressed by Krueger concerning his boarder, Dr Fleischer. Wehrhahn hates such people. "Under the protection of my honourable predecessor, the sphere of our activity has become a receptacle for refuse of various kinds: lives that cannot bear the light- outlawed individuals, enemies of royalty and of the realm. These people must be made to suffer," the judge declares. Motes hands the snares over to the judge, then Krueger arrives to declare that his wood was stolen in front of his garden after his servant, Lenontine, refused to take it in. "And when I insisted on her doing it, she ended by running away. I intend to bring suit against her parents. I intend to claim full damages," he announces. When Mrs Wolff is called in and asked about Leontine's behavior, she complains about her daughter being forced to carry so heavy a load so late in the evening. She refuses to pay for Krueger's wood and quits her job as his washerwoman. Back at home, Adelaide tells her mother she has discovered where the new wood comes from, at which the mother cuffs her head. Fleischer reports to Mrs Wolff that Mrs Krueger's beaver coat has been stolen and that the new washerwoman has been fired because of it. As Fleischer leaves her house, Krueger arrives. Mrs Wolff tries to hide the stolen wood, but he fails to notice it as his. He wants to forget their difference by hiring her back along with Leonine, to which she agrees. Called again at court, Mrs Wolff warns the boatman, Wulkow, that he should not be seen wearing his beaver coat, the one she stole and sold to him. She brings to Wehrhahn's attention that Adelaide found a green waist-coat that belongs to Krueger. Fleischer then enters to report he saw a slovenly boatman at a distance suspiciously wearing a new beaver coat. Hating the sight of the liberal, Wehrhahn takes no notice of his report. Krueger then arrives to complain that the judge takes no interest of the robberies, presenting Mrs Wolf, Fleischer, and Wulkow as cases in point. In regard to a boatman with beaver coats, Wulkow declares: "There ain't nothin' suspicious about that, your honor. There's many as has fine coats. I got one myself, in fac'." Krueger then accuses Motes of trying to inveigle a woman named Mrs. Dreier into committing perjury against Fleischer for insulting the emperor. But the judge's mind is set against Fleischer. While looking approvingly at Mrs Wolff, he declares: "And as surely as it is true when I say: Mrs. Wolff is an honest woman; so surely I tell you: this Dr. Fleischer of yours, of whom we were speaking, is a thoroughly dangerous person."
Also of note in the German-speaking drama is the Austrian playwright, Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931) for "Reigen" (Ring-dance, or La ronde, 1897), described as "an erotic counterpart to the medieval dance of death" (Garten, 1964), a dance of sex, duologues comprising 1) prostitute and soldier, 2) soldier and parlormaid, 3) parlormaid and young gentleman, 4) young gentleman and young lady, 5) young lady and her husband, 6) husband and girl, 7) girl and poet, 8) poet and actress, 9) actress and nobleman, 10) nobleman and prostitute, lovemaking occurring in each. “There are five women in Schnitzler’s play, a cocotte, a servant-girl, a femme du monde, a little dressmaker, and an actress, each of whom is seen first with one lover and then with another or her husband. The cocotte meets a sailor, who leaves her for a servant-girl dancing in a cafe. The servant-girl pretends to be seduced by a young man who has an affair with the femme du monde who allows her husband to lecture her on the beauty of faithfulness, after which he deceives her with the little dressmaker. The little dressmaker makes love to a famous dramatist, who has an episode with an actress, who grants favours to a count, who spends a night with the cocotte with whom the play began. And so the chain is complete” (Agate, 1944 p 125).
Puritan-minded critics found the play “coarse” and “vulgar”, in which “love is described with merciless candor and in its ugliest aspects” (Lamm, 1952 p 243). “Despite the author’s terrible pessimism in his attitude to love in this play,” Lamm wrote, “there is a trace of the suppressed pathos which has grown into hard cynicism.” He cited another critic, Henry Schnitzler, who attempted to moralize the tale: 'by cruel and pitiless wit, Schnitzler (1947) implies the emptiness of merely sexual love, at the same time demonstrating that the animal urge wipes out all social distinctions' (p 135).
Others such as Roe (1994) emphasize the comic aspects: "one particular source of the comedy is provided by the very structure of the play, in that the audience gradually becomes aware that in each scene the two characters' words, behaviour, and above all their sexual strategies are not to be viewed in isolation, but may either be compared with the preceding scene or judged in anticipation of the one that is to follow...The fourth scene is the first in which the sexual act seems mutually and lastingly enjoyable rather than followed by an abrupt change of mood on the part of one or both participants...[In scene five], from the very start, the young woman's surprise at her husband's renewed interest in her is revealed in her ironic comments...and the same irony underpins her laconic responses to his excuse that it is the sanctity of marriage which necessitates his frequent suppression of or, as she sees it, lack of erotic interest...One has the impression that they both finally make love to someone else or at least to a figment of their imagination...The comedy of the sixth scene is more muted than in the previous two, and derives principally from the recurrence of by now familiar motifs, not least the contrast between the woman's apparent attempt to keep her distance and an obvious enjoyment of intimacy...[In scene 7] the comedy of the scene results largely from the portrayal of the writer as a self-centred poseur who sees every situation, every sentence, as a potential literary gem to be used in a subsequent work...[In scene 8], the actress and writer reveal a consummate ability to act a part, thereby demonstrating in extreme form what the play suggests is a feature of all human sexual behaviour; in this particular instance, however, both characters appear to be in full agreement as far as the play's direction is concerned...[In scene 9] the count, unlike the writer, readily accepts as the truth the actress's protestations of illness and also her claim that she is a misanthropist, or that she was performing only for him...The mockery she had hurled at the writer is here used more sparingly and indirectly, no doubt out of respect for his military rank and concomitant social standing, but she quietly pokes fun at his philosophizing, his insistence on a schedule or on the importance of the right ambience for seduction, or which drives her to call him an old man...The concluding scene is also unusual in that there is no explicit comedy to speak of, certainly not by comparison with the preceding scenes, but merely a certain gentle irony at the count's expense which arises out of the contrast between his philosophizing and the prostitute's very down-to-earth approach...On the whole, however, the women are more witty and amusing, but also as a result more warm and sympathetic, whilst the men appear shallow and lacking in warmth and humanity. For all the male characters, empty philosophizing and a concern with order and ritual replace or even indicate a lack of genuine emotional involvement...The women, unlike their male counterparts, retain an awareness of past loves, with which they are happy to compare present experience. They appear to derive a more lasting pleasure from sexual experience, showing less furtiveness and fewer signs of post-coital guilt. Even the prostitute regrets that she could not sleep with the soldier in more comfortable surroundings, whilst the final scene finds her sleeping contentedly after her night with the drunken count. For the women, sexuality is a weapon that gives them a certain power over men, or at the very least an awareness of equality with them...It is scarcely surprising, therefore, that in the final scene [merriment] is indeed outweighed by [melancholy], as the cycle returns to the character who owes her raison d'être to the suppression of more natural and mutual sexuality that is codified in social convention" (pp 676-687).
Time: 1890s. Place: Austria.
A prostitute proposes to a soldier to come to her room. He has no money, but for him she is willing to offer her services for free. He objects her room is too far, so they copulate in the bushes. She then asks at least for carfare, but he refuses. In an amusement park, the same soldier tries to seduce a chambermaid. He sees another couple near. "Others are like us," he points out, but she refuses to take the hint till he rubs himself on her. She complains she cannot see his face, but he considers that unimportant. They copulate in the dark. She then wants him to take her home, but he refuses, at which he cries out: "Oh I know you, now it's the pie-faced blonde's turn!" Nevertheless, she'll wait for him as he goes to dance. The next day, the chambermaid serves a glass of water to a young gentleman. He comments favorably on her blouse, opens it, and kisses her breasts. They copulate while the doorbell rings. He then gruffly goes out to a cafe. The young gentleman has a rendez-vous with a heavily veiled married lady who has qualms about their relation. "You tormented me so. But I didn't want to do it. God is my witness- I didn't want to do it." she specifies. "Yesterday I was absolutely determined...Do you know, I even wrote you a long letter last night." He knows she is unhappy. She is pleased to answer yes. She puts a candied pear on his lips. They go to bed, but he is unable to achieve a lasting erection. He recounts Stendhal's story about cavalry officers, who become impotent when in presence of the woman they love. She is about to go, but he manages to take her to his bed to copulate. She then worries about not having any excuse to invent to her husband because of the late hour. Back home, the married lady hears her husband say: "If we hadn't sometimes forgotten...during the five years we've been married...that we were in love with each other, we certainly wouldn't be now." He adds: "That's why it's such a wise thing from time to time to live together like good friends." Curious to know about his past, she asks whether there was a married woman among those he slept with. The question disturbs him. He asks her to promise this: "That you'll never have anything to do with a woman who is the least bit under suspicion of not...not leading a quite spotless life." He adds: "One can only love where one finds purity and truth." They go on to copulate. "If only you'd always-" she regretfully exclaims afterwards. "One can't always be the lover, one has to enter the battle of life now and then, to fight and struggle," he declares. The next day, the husband treats a sweet young girl to a meal in the private room of a restaurant. She has not had a sweetheart for six months and accepted his invitation because he looks a little like him, and with the same name. The previous man was a rotter, leaving her in the lurch. Her head is swimming, he presses her. They copulate. "Honest, I'm not like this...Honest to God- if you thought that of me . . ." she confesses anxiously. She guesses that he is married and that his wife is doing the same thing. He protests to the contrary. "Well, then- if you really want to be my sweetheart- mine alone- something can be arranged- even if I do live in Graz most of the time," he assures her. The next day, the sweet young girl is invited in a poet's room. Since she is hungry, he suggests a private room in a restaurant, to which she repeats the same story as she did to the husband. They copulate, an experience the poet considers "transcendental bliss". He reveals that the name he gave her is not his own. "I'm not Biebitz, but Biebitz is a friend of mine. I'll introduce him to you sometime. Well, on Sunday Biebitz's play is being given. I'll send you a ticket and then I'll pick you up at the theatre afterwards. You'll tell me how you liked the play, won't you?" Later, the poet and an actress enter a room at a country inn. To his consternation, she kneels and prays, enjoining him to pray with her. Then she asks him: "I suppose you'd like to have an affair with me, wouldn't you?" They copulate. She then tells him she considers him a caprice. But yet she has fevers out of longing for him. "A hundred and four degrees!" she specifies. "That's pretty high for a caprice," he notes, to which she replies: "A caprice, you call it? I'm dying of love for you and you call it a caprice?!" Later, in the actress's bedroom, a count meets with her. "Last night you were literally showered with flowers and wreaths," he says. "They're all in my dressing-room still.," she answers. "I took only your basket home with me." "I'm never in the right mood till after supper," he specifies, but he finds the room hot. "Do you think so?" she asks, "And it's dark, too, almost as dark as night. It is evening...it is night... close your eyes if it's too light for you. Come! ...Come!" The count resists no longer. In a poorly furnished room, the count wakes up next to the prostitute. "Well, good luck to you. The wine's still got me. Really, that beats everything...I come to a female like this and don't do anything but kiss her eyes, because she reminds me of somebody. Tell me, Leocadia, does that happen to you often, a man going away like this?... I mean, men being with you- and not wanting anything from you?" he asks. "No," she admits, "It's never happened to me before." She adds: "The maid's up already. You might give her something when you go out. The street door is open, too, so that'll save you the janitor's tip." "Well...it would have been beautiful if I'd only kissed her eyes," he murmurs. "That would have been an adventure, almost...but I guess it wasn't to be...Ah, here, take this...Good night." "Good morning," she corrects him. "Oh yes, of course... Good morning...good morning," he echoes.
Frank Wedekind (1864-1918) is another important playwright, especially for "Frühlings Erwachen" (Spring awakening, 1891) and "Erdgeist" (Earth-spirit, 1895).
Wedekind's main influence is Georg Büchner (1813-1837) in terms of subject matter and literary style often characterized by short scenes indirectly related to each other (Rapp, 1947, p 99). Some early critics were offended at Wedekind’s exposure of corruption. Chandler (1914) noted that “in Wedekind, we have a nature corrupt and unclean, rejoicing to explore the foulest sores of society for no other reason, it would seem, than the pleasure of laying them open” (p 292). But for Garten (1964), Wedekind represents "a fresh breeze" in the "stuffy atmosphere of late nineteenth century" (p 94). As Dukes (1911) averred, "where other dramatists touched delicately, for fear of over-boldness, upon the woman with a past or the life of the demimonde, he dragged pathology, sex perversion and insanity relentlessly upon the stage" (p 96).
"Spring awakening" is "sex awakening" (Dukes, 1911 p 101). In the view of Goldman (1914), "never was a more powerful indictment hurled against society, which out of sheer hypocrisy and cowardice persists that boys and girls must grow up in ignorance of their sex functions, that they must be sacrificed on the altar of stupidity and convention which taboo the enlightenment of the child in questions of such elemental importance to health and well-being...Melchior's mother, a modern type, has greater faith in her child than in school education. But even she cannot hold out against the pressure of public opinion; still less against the father of Melchior, a firm believer in authority and discipline...The child is the unit of the race, and only through its unhampered unfoldment can humanity come into its heritage. 'The Awakening of Spring' is one of the great forces of modern times that is paving the way for the birth of a free race" (pp 119-128). For Lewisohn (1915), "Wedekind set himself the task of describing and interpreting the sexual difficulties of adolescence...Each scene, moreover, though of a haunting reality of impression, is lifted above the physical crassness of its incidents by a strange remoteness of speech and gesture that clings to all the characters. Thus even the incredibly daring incident in the reform school fills one with compassion rather than with disgust. It is not hard to disengage in fairly exact terms the thoughts to which the shifting scenes of the play correspond: the youth of the race is seized at a certain period by inevitable instincts and passions. Society is so organized, however, and conventions are so fixed, that youth attains no clarity concerning these instincts, but struggles with them in the lurid twilight of ignorance and of fantastic guilt. Thus bodies are corrupted and souls perverted by the mysterious degradation of the race's very condition of continuance. A morbid importance then surrounds the instinct of sex; it penetrates all the recesses of the nature; it becomes unclean; it gives rise to practices that deepen the evil and unnatural sense of guilt. These facts no sane observer of society will deny. In Wedekind's play they are rendered objective in a manner that will deeply stir the mature mind to compassion and reflection" (pp 151-153). For Garten (1964), the subject of puberty in "Spring awakening" is presented with "unprecedented candor" (p 88). The author underlines "the moral cowardice of the parents" and the "narrow-mindedness of the teachers". The language of the young is "lyrical", the language of the parents is "matter-of-fact".
In "Earth-spirit", instances in which physical action is either the exclusive and co-equal means of communication are readily found. For example, the entire last scene of Erdgeist is conceived in terms of two distinct levels: Lulu is confronted front stage verbally by Aiwa and his father, Dr Schön, the latter accusing her of keeping company with the former, while backstage her other hangers-on, Rodrigo, Hugenberg, and Gräfin Geschwitz, surreptitiously move among various hiding places. The rather chaotic mimic action in the background (facilitated by a set with a balcony over the stage) is in contrast to the front-stage dialogue and subtly underlines its import. This contrapuntal nature of the final scene is none other than a comment- in spatial language- on the contradiction between Lulu and the world imposed on her" (Jones, 1970-1971 p 286). Garten (1964) described Lulu as many critics have: “soulless, callous, driven only by her animal instincts, leading man after man to his ruin” (p 90-91). "Each of Lulu’s men believes holding the key to her true nature...Schön understands that she will destroy Escerny, but yet he is himself too weak to withstand her charms. She 'represents the illusion of joy' to the men around her 'and she seems incapable of experiencing joy herself' (Whalley, 2002 pp 60-61). Hibberd (1984) was more indulgent. Lulu "may be given various names, but essentially she does not change with the name she is given. Each name may, however, reveal something about her as well as about the person who applies it to her. Her first unfortunate husband, Goll, calls her Nelli. If this is an abbreviation for Helen it suggests her beauty and her threat to the peace of her husband and of men in general...Her second husband, Schwarz, calls her Eve and thus unwittingly points to her perilous potential. Schön dubs her Mignon, recalling the charm and mystery of the young temptress of Goethe's Wilhelm Meister, perhaps too her nostalgia for a long-lost happier past...Lulu is in many respects a child...Alwa expresses his approval of these childlike characteristics which are, he thinks, emphasized when she is dressed in white. He thinks of her strange innocence. But his awe for this facet of Lulu must also be seen in the context of the belief that children were more ready to accept and enjoy life and that natural vitality was sapped by the process of maturing and social assimilation. She is body, matter, instinct; she is irrational beauty, the triumph of nature, the spirit of the flesh. She is essential to the survival of vitality and to creativity, but is also, at least under certain circumstances, destructive...Each of the male characters represents a variation of [spirit] in its opposition to instinct...Her lack of feeling is an invention of her critics. What she lacks is sentimentality...Her self-centredness represents an ethic based on fundamental honesty...Her lack of conscious reflection and her fierce rage for life mean that she is sometimes insensitive to the feelings of others...If she has so often been seen as the evil destroyer of men, it is because audiences and critics have shared the attitudes of the male characters in Wedekind's drama" (pp 342-354).
Lewisohn (1922) delineated the impact of Frank Wedekind on other dramatists. "The exact character of Wedekind's power over the younger generation can be best observed in the plays of Carl Sternheim and Georg Kaiser. Both have richer natures. But what Wedekind taught them was how to attain dramatic range through speed. He broke up the dramatic continuity which he considered as but productive of a futile illusion and sought sweep, variety, and also concentration by lifting his characters at crucial and frankly isolated moments out of the darkness into a strong and sudden light. Within these apparently random scenes hurled on the stage, he likewise makes no effort to produce an illusion of reality. All gestures become symbols; all speech races toward its ultimate significance. A terrible yet hopeless avidness after the meaning of life dominates this drama, and under its cold cynicism you feel a stifled moan of pain" (pp 153-154).
Time: 1890s. Place: Germany.
Schön has been Lulu's benefactor since her childhood and has arranged her present marriage with Dr Goll, who asks Schwarz, an artist, to paint her portrait. As Goll leaves them, Schwarz can control his lust no longer, chasing her about the studio until hr hears a knock at the door. It is Goll returning. Deeply suspicious, the husband knocks the door down and, in his torment, suddenly dies of a heart attack. Schwarz then marries Lulu, but she quickly becomes bored with him, since he prevents her from continuing a career as a dancer. He is blind to her escapades. Schön advises Schwarz to be firmer and to use authority over his flighty wife, especially when one considers her background. Schwarz is devastated at hearing about her background. In despair of ever changing her, he heads toward the adjoining room and cuts his throat with a razor. This enables Lulu to return to a dancing career. Backstage during one of her performances, Prince Escarny asks her whether she would be interested in leading a quiet life at his mansion in Africa. As she returns onstage, Lulu has a fainting fit. As Schön rushes backstage to find out what happened, she says her weakness was caused by seeing him with another woman. She then mentions Escarny's offer. From this and other reasons, Schön realizes he cannot do without Lulu and so marries her. It does not take long before Schön become suspicious about his wife's activities. He takes a gun on his way to spy on her. Countess Geschwitz, a lesbian friend of Lulu's, also decides to spy on her. One fateful day, Lulu welcomes Schigolch, once known as her father, together with a friend, Rodrigo, and Hugenberg, a student. Schön's son, Alwa, comes in to join them. On his knees, a despairing Alwa reveals his love to Lulu. From his hiding place, Rodrigo notices Schön with a gun aimed at his head. He points his finger towards Alwa, signifying that the husband should shoot the lover, not he. As Schön walks in to speak with his son and they leave together in the adjoining room, a nervous Rodrigo looks about to change his hiding place, but on lifting the table-cloth, he sees Hugenberg under the table and finds another place to hide. Schön returns alone to find Geschwitz. Despairing over his wife's infidelities, he calls Geschwitz "avenging angel", "inexorable fate", "hangman's noose", requesting her to commit suicide. Instead of that, she shoots him to death. As policemen knock at the door, Hugenberg fears he may be expelled from school.
Time: 1890s. Place: Germany.
At fourteen years of age, Wendla insists on not wearing her mother's choice of a long dress. While preparing for school-work, Melchior and Moritz speak of adolescence. Moritz asks him to complete his education by writing about it. Martha reveals to her fellow-students, Wendla and Thea, that she is not allowed a blue ribbon through the top of her chemise. "Mamma pulled me out of bed by the hair," she reveals, "Then papa came in. Rip- he tore off my chemise. Out of the door I went...I had to sleep all night in a sack...If I ever have children, I will let them grow up like the weeds in our flower garden." Moritz has secretly found out he has been promoted. "Lord, but I'll grind from today on!- I can say so now- whether you believe it or not- It's all the same now- I- I know how true it is; if I hadn't been promoted I would have shot myself," he says. In the woods, Wendla reveals to Melchior what Martha said to her about her parents' strictness. On seeing him casually holds a switch, she goads him. "Would you like to beat me with it once?" she asks. Instead, he beats her with his fists while tears stream down his cheeks, then he springs away. Back in his study, Melchior continues to speak of intimate subjects to Moritz, who says he imagines a woman's pleasure in love as being greater than a man's. After being made an aunt three times, Wendla asks her mother: "How does it happen?- How does it all come about?- You cannot really deceive yourself that I, who am fourteen years old, still believe in the stork." "To have a child, one must love the man to whom one is married, love him, I tell you, as one can only love a man," her mother answers. "One must love him so much with one's whole heart, so- so that one can't describe it! One must love him, Wendla, as you at your age are still unable to love- now you know it!" Despite his past behavior, Melchior meets Wendla in a haymow and kisses her, avowing that love does not exist, just selfish interests. She pleads for him to stop his advances, but, in the end, yields to his desires. Moritz fails in class. Despite an encouraging letter from Mrs Gabor, Melchior's mother, he contemplates suicide. He meets Ilse, a poor girl leading a bohemian life. She knows a friend, Heinrich, who put a gun to his mouth. "Is Heinrich living yet?" he asks. "How do I know!" she answers. "Over the bed was a large mirror set into the ceiling. The room seemed as high as a tower and as bright as an opera house. One saw one's self hanging down bodily from heaven. I had frightful dreams at night- O God, O God, if it were only day!" He tells her he must go, burns Mrs Gabor's letter, and commits suicide. After finding a text in Melchior's room, the rector avers to his colleagues that he must be held partly responsible for his friend's death. "It grieves us deeply, gentlemen," says he, "that we are not in a position to consider the other qualifications of our guilt-laden pupil as mitigating circumstances. An indulgent treatment, which would allow our guilty pupil to be vindicated, would not in any conceivable way imaginable vindicate the present imperiled existence of our institute. This manuscript, in the form of a dialogue entitled “The nuptial sleep”, illustrated with life-size pictures full of shameless obscenity, has twenty pages of long explanations that seek to satisfy every claim a profligate imagination can make on a lewd book." Melchior is expelled. While spreading anemones over his grave, Ilse says the reason Moritz gave why he shot himself was a parallelepipedon. She will keep his pistol as a souvenir. Mrs Gabor is against her husband's determination of sending Melchior to a house of correction, threatening to divorce him, but when she discovers her son's letter to Wendla concerning their sexual relation, she changes her mind. Wendla is sick in bed during her pregnancy and reprimands her mother for neglecting to inform her about sex. Melchior escapes from the reform school and discovers Wendla's grave, killed by abortives. Moritz' ghost then enters, his head under his arm. The dead "laugh at tragedies", see lovers as "deceived deceivers". Wishing to guide Melchior onward, a masked man commands Moritz away, who submits. "I will go back to my place, right my cross, which that madcap trampled down so inconsiderately, and when everything is in order I will lie down on my back again, warm myself in the corruption, and smile," Moritz promises.
Also of note is Max Halbe (1865-1944) for "Jugend" (Youth, 1893). Lewisohn (1915) enthused that "what glorifies the play, for I can use no lesser word, is the exquisite picture of young love, consciously touched with tragedy, but irresistible, the loveliness of a sane instinct unblunted, unvitiated by the wrongs, the sins, the violences of life. Thus love may have come and almost thus been tasted in some morning of the world. Yet the reality of the scene and of the passion is complete. For a few days these two young creatures forget society, or strive to forget it: Hans, his necessary career, Annchen, her social asset of chastity. That is all. Any other way of ending the play would have served equally well. The lyric cry that may be at the heart of the homeliest reality, the hymn of love that may be heard by the simplest souls, has been uttered" (p 137). "Max Halbe... enriched naturalism...with the highly lauded Jugend or Youth which describes racial antagonisms between Poles and Germans in Prussia and dramatizes the tragic awakening of two youngsters who fall in love only to have their happiness destroyed. As in Hauptmann’s work, heredity is the invisible protagonist of the play. The girl Annchen, born out of wedlock, has inherited her mother’s passionate disposition; the half-wit brother, who kills her accidentally, was crippled by his mother's frantic worry concerning her daughter's illegitimacy. Humanizing the rigors of naturalism with much tenderness, Halbe won an honorable place in the theatre. His specific contribution, the study of adolescence, introduced a rewarding subject to realists" (Gassner, 1954a pp 471-472).
Time: 1890s. Place: Rosenau, West Prussia.
Since when both of her parents died, Anna has been keeping house at the parsonage of Reverend Hoppe, her uncle, and taking care of her mentally handicapped half-brother, Amandus, much dependent on her. Amandus picks up the first radish of the spring from a dungheap and places it on the living-room table. While Reverend Hoppe and Anna talk, he stares at it for some time and then devours it with great relish. Anna gently scolds him. “Youth! They are in such a rush,” Reverend Hoppe comments. “They would like best of all to build Rome in a day. Later, when one gets along in years-” muses the uncle. He receives a letter announcing a visit from Hans, his nephew, whom Anna knew as a child, on his way to the University of Heidelberg as a student. Seeing Anna glad of his arrival, Father Schigorski reminds her of his wish for her to enter a convent, all the more to expiate the sin of her mother, who bore her out of wedlock. She is reluctant to do so. When Hans suddenly arrives, she welcomes him in blushing confusion. Together alone, they very quickly sympathize. In a spontaneous rush of feeling, he flings himself over her and kisses her madly while she throws her arms around him and returns his kisses. As they hold each other, Amadeus observes them, peering through a crack of the door, and is ushered out by Anna. As Hans embraces her again, they are interrupted by Father Schigorski, who takes in the awkward situation. Amandus returns but hides behind the linen press, then rushes out the door. Expecting a visit of at least one month, she is disappointed when Hans declares he is going in two days. Next morning, Anna scolds Amandus for being rude to their cousin. When she boasts of her cousin’s intelligence, Amandus points out that he is stronger. A nettled Anna retorts that it is so when he trips him from behind as he did that morning. Amadeus rages in a fit of jealousy. Looking gloomier than ever, Father Schigorski warns her about her cousin. “Listen before it is too late. There is recklessness in your family. Think of your mother, Pannie,” he says. As Amandus looks out of the window at Hans carrying his uncle’s gun, he rises as if aiming with it, his eyes sparkling. “Bing! Bang! Dead!” he cries. Hans enters with the gun and puts it down. Amandus looks it over. When reminded that Hans is leaving the next day, Anna avers absent-mindedly that he will not and fetches the cakes she baked for him. Alone together again, she pleads for him to stay at least five more days, or why not forever? “You stay here and learn Polish and help uncle look after things,” she suggests. “We have enough to do here, too, if we want to. And afterward you get your parents to give you some money, and buy a large estate here. And then you will not go away at all, then we shall always be together.” As she heads towards the drawing-room with Reverend Hoppe and Father Schigorski to play music, a grinning Amandus approaches Hans with the gun. When Hans asks for it, he quickly goes out. That night, Anna enters Hans’ room, an encounter spied on by Amandus. The next morning, she sits at the living room in limp misery. Hans promises to stay by her, but he also wants to go to the university as planned. Father Schigorski announces that he has read the mass for her mother's soul, at which she sobs, having forgotten it. Amandus gobbles several cakes prepared for Hans. When Anna scolds him, he throws the rest at her feet. “Will be revenged,” he growls maliciously. “Tell everything, give everything away.” Sure enough, he tells about Hans' nighttime visit to his half-sister's room late at night to Father Schigorski, who in turn reveals it to Reverend Hoppe. Father Schigorski rips up the letter from the mother superior announcing that she may enter the convent and refuses henceforth to act as her confessor. Reverend Hoppe is stunned at the mention of the letter, for which he was not consulted, and dismisses Schigorski from his service. Recognizing the importance of Hans’ university studies in his career, the reverend proposes that he should leave at once, at which the student reluctantly agrees. But before he can go, Amandus, gnashing his teeth, advances with the gun again and levels it at him. An anguished Anna steps between the two and is shot to death.
Hermann Sudermann (1857-1928) achieved a fine level of dramatic art for "Heimat" (Home, 1893).
Clark (1915b) remarked that the play "is one of the finest technical accomplishments in all modern drama, practically every element of the well-made play— unity, clearness, and a well-defined struggle— is here skilfully adapted to a modern theme. The entire first act is exposition, exposition of the best kind. The important characters are introduced, or— as in the case of Magda herself so constantly spoken of that they are well known before they appear; the history of the past is unfolded, the spirit of the 'home' makes itself felt almost immediately, and the struggle between the old and the new, between Schwartze and Magda, set in movement...The contrast between the old and new orders, between the old German idea of home and the new idea of individual development, begun in the first act, is continued throughout the play; in the first act, the spirit of the old was brought before us by means of conversation, in the second, it is set forth in the struggle between two persons- Schwartze and Magda— and in the third it is both discussed and acted. Magda's playful banter, the little humorous touches in her scene with the servants, the provincial wonderment of Franziska and Mrs Schwartze, all contribute to the central idea. In addition, the first few pages of the third act form an interlude between the rising action of the second and the tension that is to increase later in the third act. The scene between Magda and Marie is a 'bridging section' or connecting link between the 'interlude' and the Heffterdingt- Magda and the Schwartze-Magda colloquies, which are followed by further scenes of varying tension, through that between Magda and Von Keller, to the culminating point in the act, in which Schwartze and his 'erring' daughter go into the former's room, each having 'something to say' to the other. So far, the end of each act has been emotionally higher than the beginning, as well as tenser than the end of the preceding. The first, second, and third acts have each culminated in a crisis; while the end of the third act was the greatest crisis— that fraught with the utmost importance to the chief characters— in the play that was: the beginning of the climax. But the actual climax occurs off-stage in the interval between the third and fourth acts. This is a more effective method than as if the clash had occurred upon the stage, because we see the beginning, imagine the struggle, are ignorant for a few moments of its outcome, and when the curtain rises on the last act, are still in suspense. In this way, there is no relaxation of pressure. The climax started in one act is carried over into the next and does not end until Schwartze enters, as we see, defeated" (pp 110-112).
Chandler (1914) remarked that "Magda does not regret her past irregularity, since she feels that it has formed her character. When her father learns of her past, she defends her title to freedom as the only privilege left to an outcast. Yet in her lame diatribes against the family as an institution, and in her intimation that she has had more lovers than one, Magda forfeits the sympathy that the recital of her sufferings had aroused. To the pastor she defends herself, by saying: 'We must sin if we wish to grow. To become greater than our sins is worth more than all the purity you preach' (p 128). Other critics have disagreed that Magda forfeits our sympathy. "Magda, if you examine her keenly, has certainly adopted some of the mannerisms of travelling celebrities. At moments she exhibits those peculiarities of which we read so much in interviews and paragraphs, but, 'au fond', inwardly, this girlish woman, bred and born in German provincialism, is nothing but the Hausfrau with the polish of worldliness and obedience to convention, and, therefore, to filial subordination. Greater in her is the desire to settle down in life, a restful and respected woman; greatest of all is her spirit of maternity. Therefore, the right note, the human note, in which to play Madga is simplicity, repose, tenderness" (Grein, 1905 p 264). "The struggle that ensues between the woman's individualism and the old set of conditions is moving in the highest degree. It is set forth with much skill of character portraiture and contrast, in striking situations leading up to a logical and impressive climax. Throughout, the theories of individualism supported by Magda are presented not in mere talk but in illustrative action. One of the strongest passages in modern drama is that in which, instead of reproaching the pompous, mean-spirited coward, once her betrayer, now a respected and pious member of society, Magda astounds him by the vehemence of her gratitude for the part he has played in her life" (Andrews, 1913 p 181).
Goldman (1914) delineated the play's social impact. "Hermann Sudermann has given to the world a new picture of modern womanhood, a type of free motherhood. As such the play is of great revolutionary significance, not alone to Germany, but to the universal spirit of a newer day...The colonel is a rigid military man. He is utterly blind to the modern conception of woman's place in life. He rules his family as the Kaiser rules the nation, with severe discipline, with terrorism and despotism." Magda rejects Keller's offer of marriage under his conditions, because "she is outraged that she, the mother, who had given up everything for the sake of her child, who had slaved, struggled and drudged in order to win a career and economic independence— all for the sake of the child— that she should forswear her right to motherhood, her right to be true to herself!" (pp 78-79).
The play's "main theme, now an old-fashioned one, [is] the struggle between the authority of a biblical father and a rebellious daughter, who in the past has defied him by running away, and now urged by a sudden waft of homesickness, returns in triumph. She has had a bitter, hard struggle. She has known hunger; she has borne a son in loneliness and poverty to a man whom she presently meets again as a pillar of respectability under her father’s roof. Magda is the type of the [rebellious] woman of the ’eighties and ’nineties', a victorious example of 'self-realization'; she is one of the young released from the prison of 'Home' by Ibsen trumpets. But the walls of Jericho are now so flat that a modern audience has to make an effort of imagination, not unlike that demanded by a Greek play, in order to measure the strength of the bonds she has burst, or to believe in the passionate conviction with which her palsied old father still continues to assert his right to control her conscience and manner of life. Magda’s tirades, which once sent through us a thrill of fearful joy, now only prompt a mood of easy assent" (MacCarthy, 1940 p 80).
In general, Sudermann's plays "present to us, as 'Honor' does, the contrast between the provincial life and the big world. It shows us, as 'Sodom's end' does, the conflict between the quiet virtues of home and the brilliant temptations of art. It shows us, as 'The joy of living' does, the difference between fulfilling one's own personality and following the normal and narrow Ideas of duty. Nor is that all; it does show us paternal authority, but that is only the German form taken by the constant difference between the older generation and the newer" (Hale, 1905 p 71).
Time: 1890s. Place: Germany.
Twelve years ago, Leopold Schwartze wanted his daughter, Magda, to marry Pastor Heffterdingt, but she refused. As a result, he angrily forbid her his house. After some difficult times as a small-time singer, Magda wrote back to her father, but the breach was complete. She eventually became a famous opera singer. Now a retired army officer recovering from a stroke, Leopold learns from Franziska, his wife's sister, as well as the pastor, that she has been invited for a reception at the governor's house, but he refuses to see her. The pastor reprimands him. "My dear colonel, I might ask, what speaks in you? A father's love? You could make no pretence to that. Your rights? I think rather it would be your right to rejoice in the good fortune of your child." At last, Leopold agrees to see her. On arriving, Madga is greeted by Franziska, her stepmother's sister, who assures her of her forgiveness, to which Magda responds sarcastically. Leopold takes it for granted that she will live in his house and intends to take her financial affairs in hand. When meeting the pastor after all this time, Magda admits she has always hated him for driving her away from home. But when the pastor mentions that he was the one mainly responsible for helping her father recover from his stroke, she softens and agrees to stay at home rather than a hotel. Augusta, her stepmother, and Franziska comment on Magda's expensive clothes, the latter most disagreeably. When Franziska sits with some importance to hear about her life, Magda sends her on her way to do something useful, which angers her considerably. Magda then learns from her younger sister, Marie, that she and her suitor cannot marry because Franziska, his aunt, refuses to give them the money they need. Magda generously offers Marie enough money to marry, to her joy and Franziska's disgust. On meeting some of her family's friends, Magda's opinions on several subjects rub them the wrong way, especially after hearing one woman express the sentiment that "one must have one's real home". She answers: "Why? One must have a vocation. That seems to me enough." Madga next meets Councillor Von Keller, a man who once made love to her and then abandoned her. He is astonished on learning that she had a son by him, to which she airily comments: "Who are you? You're a strange man who gratified his lust and passed on with a laugh." Leopold begins to suspect something has happened between Keller and his daughter, but the former curtly replies to his searching questions: "Pardon me, if you wish to know anything, I beg you to ask your daughter." When he does, Leopold learns the truth. On informing his daughter what he expects of her, he emphasizes that her refusal is likely to annul her sister's marriage plans: "No one will marry a sister of yours," he assures her, to her distress. He marches out to discover Keller's intentions. Meanwhile, the pastor strongly reinforces his friend's views. She falters in growing agony but nevertheless blurts out: "I will not, I will not. This house is not my home. My home is with my child." Leopold returns without having found him. He takes out a pistol-case and opens it, takes a pistol, cocks it with difficulty, examines the barrel, and aims at a point on the wall. His arm trembles violently. He strikes it angrily and lets the pistol drop. Keller returns, guessing that Leopold knows everything. He agrees to marry, but when alone with Magda, he high-handedly makes it known that he expects her to abandon her career and their son, at least till the lad grows of age when he can safely be adopted. Magda's entire being revolts at these suggestions. She wants to continue her career, to which Keller sarcastically responds: "Shall I turn over your music, or take the tickets at the box-office?" When Magda's father returns, he promises Keller he will force her if necessary to this marriage. To goad him out of his promise, she replies: "Well, then, are you sure that you ought to force me on this man, that, according to your standards, I am altogether worthy of him? I mean- that he was the only one in my life?" He feels for the pistol-case and takes the pistol out. "You jade!" he cries out, then falls stricken with a second stroke and dies. Bewildered, she wonders why she ever came home and whether she should stay. "No one will hinder you from praying on his grave," the pastor answers laconically.