History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/German Romantic
Goethe (1919 edition) complained about the state of German theatre in his time. "What business have our young girls at the theater? They do not belong to it. They belong to the convent; and the theater is only for men and women who know something of human affairs. When Molière wrote, girls were in the convent, and he was not forced to think about them. But since we cannot get rid of these young girls nowadays, and pieces which are weak and therefore suited to girls continue to be produced, be wise and stay away, as I do" (p 63).
- 1 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
- 2 Friedrich von Schiller
- 3 Otto Ludwig
- 4 Franz Grillparzer
- 5 Georg Büchner
- 6 Heinrich von Kleist
- 7 Christian Dietrich Grabbe
- 8 Amalie Heiter
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Among major figures in German Romantic theatre, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) continued work from the previous century with "Faust" parts 1 (1808) and 2 (1832), whose main source is medieval German puppet plays, also a source for Christopher Marlowe's "Doctor Faustus" (1593).
"From the prologue in heaven in "Faust part 1", "the point of interest is therefore no longer: What will become of Faust? but how is this clearness to come to him; and the action is thus raised wholly out of the sphere of Marlowe's tragedy of sin and damnation to a serener ethical plane...What has given the First Part its pre-eminent place in German literature, at least in the popular consciouness, is in part the gnomic wisdom of Mephistopheles, which takes up and embodies a view of the world and of life which all recognize and too many share; but, more even than that, it is the unique portrayal of guilty innocence and betrayed simplicity in the drama of Gretchen's fall and purgation through suffering"(Wells, 1894 pp 391-400). "She is sympathetic, shy, devoted, humble, and trustful, but has only a brief occasion to show how much she is also spirited, self-reliant, perceptive...But she is too unconscious of all that is going on about her for her fate to be more than pathetic" (Gray 1965-66a, p 131).
“The prologue in heaven makes it clear that Mephistopheles’ attempt to claim Faust’s soul will fail...The devil in the play cannot be the traditional figure of absolute evil, nor can Faust sell his soul for the traditional motive of material gain [or book learning. Instead, he signs the pact to obtain experience]” (Prudhoe, 1973 pp 187-200). The prologue in heaven is derived from the Biblical Book of Job in which a man is tested by means of a demonic agency. Yet, in “Table talk” (1835), Coleridge judged the prologue in heaven to be blasphemous. On the contrary, Lewes (1882) considered it necessary to be in tune with the medieval context of the rest of the play (p 252). Coupland (1895) explained Faust's susceptibility to the earth-spirit. "This Spirit alone could give him what his starved nature needed. He was in that condition where pure science could avail nothing, if indeed it could ever serve him. The spectacle of the midnight heavens, the glory of the astronomer, could bring no healing to Faust now, nor could any celestial food prepared within the church's hallowed precincts still his hunger— what Faust needed was the natural human life. His intellect had been cultured to a high degree, and he had tasted in earlier days of religious joy- it was the clamorous heart which had never obtained its natural aliment that now was goading him to despair. But though the Earth-Spirit was the power who could aid him, it also was too vast for any individual mortal; some agency closer still must be found" (pp 68-69).
"Mephistopheles proceeds to introduce Faust to all phases of sensual pleasure, in the hope of corrupting him. Faust, however, though he sins, is in nowise corrupted. The love affair and the subsequent tragedy with Margaret are, from the author's point of view, merely episodes in Faust's development, cruel as it may seem. Faust, in his typical capacity, rises above the error which came near crippling him, to higher phases of being. His ideal changes; he goes in search of culture and intellectual achievement. Mephistopheles's attempts to lead him astray are turned directly to useful purposes. The devil, who in the sensual stage of his development had had a certain predominance over him, becomes now more and more subservient to him. Faust's intellectual powers are especially employed in statesmanship and political activity for the welfare of the state. Then comes the pursuit of the beautiful, regarded as an educational agency, symbolized in the quest for Helen of Troy and the pilgrimage to Greece. Particularly in the classical Walpurgis Night are the spiritual value and the ennobling influence of Greek art emphasized. The last and concluding phase of man's development, which is logically derived from the preceding ones, is altruism- a noble devotion to humanity, and self-forgetful labor for the common weal" (Boyesen, 1892 pp 41-42).
"Goethe's devil is a cultivated personage, and acquainted with the modern sciences; sneers at witchcraft and the black-art, even while employing them...He is the devil, not of superstition, but of knowledge..Thus does he go along, qualifying, confuting, despising...He can believe in nothing but in his own self-conceit, and in the indestructible baseness, folly, and hypocrisy of men...In strong contrast with this impersonation of modern worldly-mindedness stands Faust himself, by nature the antagonist of it, but destined also to be its victim. If Mephistopheles represent the spirit of denial, Faust may represent that of inquiry and endeavour: the two are, by necessity, in conflict; the light and the darkness of man's life and mind...To his dream of a glorious higher happiness, all earthly happiness has been sacrificed; friendship, love, the social rewards of ambition were cheerfully cast aside, for his eye and his heart were bent on a region of clear and supreme good; and now, in its stead, he finds isolation, silence, and despair. What solace remains?" (Carlyle, 1905 edition pp 113-117). Mephisto “has something of...the devil of the Middle Ages [but also] the mischievous goblin of folk literature...the incarnation of cynicism and carping hostility, of mean and destructive forces...courteous and gallant but heartless, materialistic, intriguing...lewd, mocking...[and] indulges in a kind of cynicism...at its most flippant...a wit, providing a running philosophic commentary...acute and epigrammatic...Gretchen is sublimely simple, strong, and true. She responds directly, without wiles or affectation...Her actual fate, to bear her child and drown it, is the direct opposite of her true vocation...Threatened by the petty bourgeois reality, [her] heart-touching naturalness will become mean...the consequences of love sordid and horrible” (Peacock, 1959 pp 177-190). “Wagner is a pedant of limited gifts, full of short-sighted and pious respect for the learning and outlook against which Faust himself is desperately in revolt. He provides the foil, satirically lighted, to Faust’s heroic discontent”(Peacock, 1959 p 157).
The scene between Mephistopheles and the student is exaggeratedly interpreted as a “withering satire on every branch of knowledge" (Lewes, 1882, p 261). It may be rather seen as a satire of the students who practice it. In regard to the devil’s pact, Lewes (1882) further wrote that “the age demanded that it should be no simple legend, but a symbolical legend; not a story to be credited as fact but a story to be credited as representative of fact; for although the rudest intellect would reject the notion of any such actual compact with Satan, the rudest and the loftiest would see in that compact a symbol of their own desires and struggles” (pp 284-285). This critic treats the pact as a symbol but Gretchen’s plight as real, whereas others prefer a more integrated approach. In Lewes’ view, Goethe’s symbols and his seducing devil are superior visions than Marlowe’s naïve ones and his more terrifying devil. However, the so-called naïve approach draws more tragic power. Moreover, Hutton (1903) complained that "Faust has no glimmering of salvation" (p 42).
In Auerbach's cellar, "Faust enters the cellar only to wish himself away. If the devil is to get Faust’s soul, a finer bait than this must be offered, and this the clever fiend knows well enough, but as Faust has asked to traverse the whole world of human feeling, it is fitting he should for once see what kind of enjoyment suffices some of his fellow-beings...Once he encounters the village maiden, nothing can be plainer than that Gretchen is Faust's first love, and although his conversation with Mephistopheles after the brief encounter is frank even to coarseness, experience shows that the collapse of asceticism is only too apt to be followed by licentiousness of thought....To obtain access to one so jealously guarded both by her own innocence and her mother’s watchful care, Martha's intervention is necessary. The inexperienced Gretchen, no less than her mother, failed to pierce the outwork of her neighbor’s soul, but what was more, although she could not have explained it to herself, she was positively drawn towards the only one in her small circle who knew how to play upon the instincts of a young girl’s heart. What wonder then that, on the discovery of the second casket of jewels placed in her cupboard, she should immediately run over to her neighbour, and inform her of the marvel!...[In the garden, Gretchen] is both flattered and puzzled at being the object of attention of so distinguished a personage as Faust....[As the seduction progresses, Faust] perceives that he is gradually losing control over himself, feels that his eye is growing dim and his foothold less sure, while the path pursued is becoming narrower, winding ever closer to the edge of a precipice...The encounter with Valentine had taken place on the eve of the famous Walpurgis night, the great meeting time of the witches, the servants of the Prince of Evil, a festival which Mephistopheles was anxious for Faust to take part in. The more readily therefore was he able to persuade his companion to follow him with the consequences of that fatal encounter threatening the man who had struck the blow. Faust was now wholly in the power of Mephistopheles....[When Faust sees Helen of Troy, Mephistopheles, being apart from the Classic world of Greece,] cannot himself fetch the ancient beauties, [but] he can indicate to Faust the means by which they are to be evoked" (Coupland, 1895 pp 117-198).
Critics prefer "Faust part 1" than "Faust part 2". Faust‘s adventures in part 2 “are an attempt to share the whole experience of the human race from the creation...through classical and medieval times to the utopian world of the end” (Prudhoe, 1973 p 202). Gray (1965-66) complained that "the difficulty remains that for long passages of the play, hundreds of lines together, the action is lost completely from view, and the masques or the series of persons declaiming occasional verse, who occupy the stage, have very little of dramatic interest to offer...The absence of development is...striking in the play as a whole...although in Act II Faust was urgently in quest of Helen...Faust's quest is dismissed as though it had never been [in Act 3]...The leaders of Faust's army assemble to hear his orders for the fight against Menelaus...However, he invites Helen to join him in...Arcadia...All talk of war and defence disappears...Almost nothing occurs in a coherent sequence...And when Faust is saved within the love which approves him, it should not be lost from sight that his attitude throughout the play has been one in which he has declined to consider the faults and crimes he has committed" (pp 360-376). “Some minds will be delighted with the allegorical Helen embracing Faust, and in the embrace leaving only her veil and vest behind, her body vanishing into thin air- typical of what must ever be the embrace of the defunct Classical with the living Romantic, the resuscitated Past with the actual Present- and in their delight at the recognition of the meaning, will write chapters of commentary. But the kiss of Gretchen is worth a thousand allegories” (Lewes, 1882, pp 374-375).
"Faust’s vision of Helen represents form without substance and so Faust needs to come into contact with the Mothers, keepers of such forms" (Nichols, 1977). "But when Faust touches Paris with the key, an explosion occurs as the result of incompatibility. Faust represents the romantic figure who rejects the old forms of the classic view, judged to be incompatible. It is Homunculus, unborn intellect, possessing access to incorporate forms, who finds the solution by transporting Faust back in time to ancient Greece, so that he may engender with her. But when he reaches Greece, he must forward her towards the Middle Ages when they eventually engender Euphorio, child of classic and post-classic culture, the 'romantic exuberance' destined to die. At the end, Faust is saved 'for two reasons- first, because it is not Mephistopheles who has brought his bliss; secondly, because that bliss was not a bliss of ease, but a bliss of the fullest activity" (Coupland, 1895 p 339).
"Homunculus is clearly the artificial conception of the ideal that comes not from the experience of life but from study. It, too, as well as Faust, has Greek aspirations and therefore it seeks to draw its parent to classic ground. Suddenly it escapes from Wagner's hand, hovers over the head of Faust and reveals the course of the sleeper's mind as his soul gradually accustoms itself to the Greek view of life...Euphorion is but a thin mask for Lord Byron...Here the essential allegory seems to be that a perfect and fruitful union between modern and classic life is impossible. It produces an idealism that destroys itself because it is not in touch with the actualities of our life...Helena must return to the shades. But she leaves behind her all that we can take up into our modern life of the classic ideals, 'the garment that is love of beauty', especially in artistic form...It is, then, through the Greek view of life that Faust is to gain the foundation for his future experience, and this foundation is to be a practical idealism...Faust chooses not wealth but work and in that work finds his salvation. To this choice he is brought, mediately by Gretchen, immediately by Helena, for beauty is positive, creative, and so here, as in life contrasted with the ugly, the evil, the negative, as it appears in Mephistopheles-Phorkyas. It is Helena that reveals to Faust the worth of life, of this life, and so frees him from the spirit that denies" (Wells, 1894 pp 404-411).
"Faust, part 1"
Time: 1800s. Place: Germany.
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. He 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 Faust 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. Faust and Gretchen stroll about in a garden, 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. Faust gives Gretchen a bottle containing what he thinks is a sleeping potion for her mother but is in reality poisonous. After her mother's death, Gretchen is soon discovered to be pregnant and 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. But before he can return to the real Gretchen, she drowns her baby and is condemned to death. Although Mephistopheles promises to rescue her from the 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." On the contrary, a voice from heaven decrees: "She is saved."
"Faust, part 2"
Time: 1800s. Place: Germany.
Faust and Mephistopheles arrive at an emperor's court where money is scarce. Thanks to Mephistopheles, Faust obtains favor from the emperor by printing paper-money based on discovering piles of gold in the bowels of the earth, sufficient to forestall a mass revolt. Now that the emperor is saved, he wants to be entertained, which Faust seeks to satisfy by the use of pageantry. To satisfy Faust’s intellectual curiosity, Mephistopheles presents him with a key by which he learns about the Mothers, spiritual creatures mysteriously guiding the world's destinies and concepts. After having ensured the empire's prosperity, Faust and Mephistopheles entertain the court with pageants from Greek mythology, in particular Helen of Troy abducted from her husband, Menelaus, by Paris. Meanwhile, at Faust's house, long abandoned by the master, Wagner, his servant, seeks to recreate mankind anew inside his oven. To his joy, a homunculus appears inside a glass vial, but, to his chagrin, the homunculus ignores the lacklustre Wagner to follow the more interesting Mephistopheles. Because Faust seeks something beyond mere pageantry, Mephistopheles' powers permit him to reach the very land of classical myth itself where Helen of Troy is in danger of being chopped to death with an ax by the cheated Menelaus because of her adulterous relations with Paris. Faust saves her in the shape of a medieval knight and secures her for himself in the land of Arcadia, replete with shepherds and lyric poetry, where the happy pair bear a son, Euphorio. However, 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, the boy soon plummets from a height to his death. After this misfortune, Faust cannot hold on to Helen any longer. When he embraces her bodily form, it 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". But thanks to his powers, the emperor's troops succeed in crushing the opposition. Now quite old, Faust becomes blind, though mentally seeing his probable end in infernal regions. He nevertheless commands Mephistopheles to retrieve a huge number of workers to build massive structures and gardens, but before he can complete his pursuits, he falls on the ground where working lemurs seize him. Instead of hauling Faust to hell as expected, Mephistopheles sees roses and angels cover his sight from above, lifting his prize up to Gretchen’s state of beatitude.
Friedrich von Schiller
Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805) continued potent dramatic works from the previous century with "Wilhelm Tell" (William Tell, 1804), folk hero of the late 15th century.
William Tell first appears as dissociated from political aims, for he saves Baumgarten’s life while refusing to engage in any political discussion. “Although the historical sources Schiller used (Tschudi’s 16th century [chronicle] and Johannes Müller’s ‘History of the Swiss Federation’) indicated that Tell was present on the Rütli when the Swiss uprising was planned, the play makes his absence conspicuous...So remote is Tell from political affairs that, when the Austrian hat is erected in Altdorf and the Swiss are required to do obeisance to it, he quietly ignores the symbol of oppressors...Only when he is taken prisoner [does he realize] that if Gessler is allowed to live, then his own family will be further persecuted...Nowhere does Tell avoid the fact that he must commit murder. This is the point...when Johannes, duke of Swabia, seeks shelter in Tell’s house after murdering his father, the emperor. Johannes has killed for political ambition, Tell in obedience to the commands of justice. However, in the end, Tell pities him, suggesting that he himself harbors a certain degree of guilt for his own murder" (Prudhoe, 1973 pp 153-157).
"Tell is the combative sportsman in contrast with the peaceful shepherd; he represents the self-reliant strong man in contrast with more ordinary men who believe themselves stronger when allied with others. Tell acts, where others only talk, deliberate or hesitate. He knows no fear, and does not reflect long where it is a question of action; at the same time, he is humane and benevolent, and trusts to God's help in the time of need. He is strong and active in body and expert in all manly exercise, a sure shot, a bold sailor, a skillful carpenter and always ready to help on occasion" (Bates, 1913 vol 10 German drama p 142).
"Although somewhat loosely put together, and without any well-defined focus of interest, 'Wilhelm Tell' has always been the popular favorite among Schiller's dramas, and possesses a charm which seems never to fail or grow old. It may be a weakness of construction that Tell's role, as the deliverer of his country, is, in a manner, accidental; since, according to his own testimony, he kills Gessler in self-defence, and in order to protect his wife and children from the tyrant's vengeance. It may also be contrary to dramatic canons to have two parallel intrigues without any vital interdependence, but in spite of all such objections the fact remains that the drama has always been greeted with a warm and spontaneous enthusiasm wherever it has been worthily represented. The fragrance of the Alpine meadows, and the breath of the glaciers blow into our faces from the very opening scene, and a long, clear vista is revealed into the very heart of the beautiful Switzerland. In the presence of such vivid impressions the critic's dissenting voice is left unheeded" (Boyesen, 1892 pp 208-209).
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 own 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," he affirms. 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 responds 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, Tell dies. Walter has confidence in his father to the extent of refusing to be tied to the tree and blindfolded. Tell requests the soldiers to kill him instead, but if he refuses to shoot, both he and his son die together. 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 the death of the baron of Attinghausen, Ulrich becomes 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,the 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," Tell warns him. He recommends him to the pope, to pardon his crime or not. Ulrich and Bertha marry and declare freedom for all the serfs.
Also of note is the German dramatist Otto Ludwig (1813-1865), who wrote "Der Erbförster" (The hereditary forester, 1850).
In "The hereditary forester", for Christian Ulrich "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 discernment and thereby he becomes the victim of unfortunate accidents which make him a criminal, the murderer of his daughter" (Witkowski, 1909 p 96).
"Ulrich finds himself involved in a set of circumstances which transcend the confines of his idyllic forest dwelling, as his existence and that of his family is threatened by the forces of the modern world...The revolutionary intentions of certain disreputable inhabitants of the forest- an ugly, though avowedly false reflexion of the hero's own rebellious tendencies- threaten to undermine the carefully guarded basis of his respectable way of life. Under the influence of the February revolution in Paris, his peaceful provincial environment is shaken by menacing forces which, being outside his experience, are also beyond his comprehension...Whilst the first two acts show us the hero deeply rooted in his native milieu and assailed by circumstances peculiar to his social and economic position, the latter part constitutes a deliberate attempt to divest the Erbforster's actions of all connexion with the supra-individual forces operative in his environment. This was intended to heighten the general human interest of the tragedy, but it in fact weakens it by ignoring the fundamental premises so convincingly presented at the beginning...When the the hereditary forester and his wife speak of the forest so that one can almost hear and see it through the window, Ludwig gets nearer than anyone before Ibsen to an artistic fusion of interior and exterior, of room and landscape" (Schatzky, 1955 pp 299-301).
"Our first impression of Christian Ulrich is of a brusque man who seems to feel the need of asserting his authority (I,3). From his conversation with his future son-in-law, Robert Stein, in the following scene we learn that this need springs from a basic fear of losing authority, and having understood this we are prepared for his refusal later (I,6) to obey the order of Herr Stein...He is capable, conscientious, and extremely loyal...[But] our sympathy wanes when we see how his obstinacy and self-righteousness obsess him to the extent that he is willing to sacrifice even his family's security and his daughter's happiness to his principles...One main way in which Ludwig achieved the consistency which he believed so important was to have the tragic circumstances which ultimately destroy Ulrich and his daughter arise directly out of a basic flaw in his nature...Each successive step is but a more intensified expression of his innate, fatal proclivity always to act as his feelings prompt him and to refuse to heed the advice of those who would would counsel him to act otherwise" (Taylor and McClain, 1969 pp 460-466).
"The hereditary forester"
Time: 1850s. Place: Prussia.
During the engagement party of Robert Stein and Mary Ulrich, his father, Adolf, quarrels with hers, Christian Ulrich, surnamed the "hereditary forester" for having occupied that position for several generations. Like his master, Adolf orders Christian to clear trees from one part of the forest. Christian rightly considers this a mistake, since the winds from the mountain will then destroy the rest. The master warns him that if he disobeys, he will be replaced by Godfrey, a disreputable hunter in those parts. Yet since Christian continues to defy him, he is ordered away by Adolf's bookkeeper, Möller. "Ulrich, yield; you must yield," declares an angry Robert. "What do you want from the man whom your father intends to dismiss?" the forester asks Mary. "I am going, but come what may, I shall not resign my claim on Mary," Robert retorts. When Adolf learns that the forester still refuses to obey, he blames Möller for having expressed himself badly, since he only meant to scare him. "His post, I dare say, he must resign for the time being; but his present salary he may— yes, he shall draw twice the amount," Adolf declares. "He may regard it as a pension until further notice. I should think—after all, his is the chief fault in this business— in this way he is let off easily enough for his share." While ostensibly protecting the forest from poachers, Godfrey seizes the opportunity of enraging the old forester for whom he harbors a grudge. With the help of five other men, he takes hold of his son, Andrew, removes his clothes, ties him to a tree, and whips him. On hearing this, Christian sends his other son, William, to draw a complaint against the master and Godfrey in court. While William rests in a country inn on his way there, his rifle is stolen from him by a poacher named Lindenschmied, who, bearing a grudge against Godfrey, shoots him with it. Before dying, Godfrey reveals to Robert and Möller that a man holding a rifle with a yellow strap is responsible. Robert confronts Andrew in the forest and accuses him of murder. He denies it. When Robert turns away, Lindenschmied, still on the prowl for more mayhem, shoots at him. Seeing a man fall at a distance, Andrew advances to help him. Meanwhile, Adolf continues to have second thoughts about his rash behavior. He now intends to transfer the forest property to Robert, so that he could reinstate the dismissed forester. Considering the situation hopeless and his family about to be destitute, Wilkens, a cousin of the forester's wife, Sophy, proposes that they come over to live with him. She accepts, but not the forester. He is however stunned on learning from William that the court refuses to consider his complaint on the basis that the master is in his rights to take down his own trees. Mary receives a letter from Robert, asking her to leave with him, which Sophy approves of. "If you would go," Sophy says to Mary, "we might then remain with father. Robert would try once more to persuade his father, Uncle Wilkens also would yield, and when you wear the bridal wreath a second time it would be even more becoming to you." Mary accepts to sneak out of the house in the evening but only to tell Robert that she intends to stay with her father. Even worse news come to the forester when his keeper, Weiler, reports that he saw Robert shoot at a man who fell, probably Andrew, because the victim bore the rifle with the yellow strap and he recovered his son's muffler covered with blood. Drunk with rage and wine, the forester goes out to avenge his son. When he discovers Robert at a distance, he shoots at him. However, Mary at the point of joining her lover steps in front of the bullet and is killed. Christian returns home in a confused state. On seeing Andrew also back home, he is unable to believe his eyes. "You have my muffler which Lindenschmied stole from me before he killed Godfrey?" Andrew asks and then relates that Robert shot Lindenschmied to death. When Robert shows up with Mary's corpse, the forester goes out and shoots himself to death.
Also of note in 19th century German-speking theatre is the Austrian dramatist, Franz Grillparzer (1791-1872), author of a Gothic drama, "Die Ahnfrau" (The ancestress, 1817).
"The ancestress" "is fantastic, but its effects arc essentially and in the best sense theatrical. It is melodramatic, but that is a failure in quality not in kind. Its tragic plot is far-fetched and mechanical, like the ‘fatalistic horror-dramas’ of the time; but its poetic promise is quite brilliant and evokes something like genuine tragic feeling in spite of extravagances, and does so with the intensity that is achieved in the theatre alone" (Peacock, 1946 pp 42-43). The play stood "high above the seemingly similar plays of Müllner by whom it was most influenced; not with cool calculation but with glowing passion did the poet transform the contents of a penny-dreadful into a genuine and great work of art. With him the hereditary impulse to evil, which may lie in the blood, does not do away with moral responsibility. In this way 'The ancestress' is distinguished from the rest of the fate-tragedies as well as from the heredity-plays of the present. Moreover, it is not a question with him, as with his predecessors, of revealing former events; on the contrary, an action developing with astonishing rapidity in the presence of the spectators compels the attention of all. And thus 'The ancestress', which quickly made Grillparzer's name famous all over Germany, has also justly outlived the vogue of the fate-tragedies" (Witkowski, 1909 pp 26-27).
In "the various works on the author and the special studies on the play itself that were written round the turn of the century, the main stumbling block to a wholehearted approval of Die Ahnfrau was still the ghost and the idea of fate she embodied. One way of circumventing this difficulty was to regard the play as a character-tragedy and explain everything in psychological terms: the ghost is an hallucination and nothing more, a figment of the imagination due either to the excited condition of the characters or to the tricks played by the gloomy setting. The fate-element is also subjective; everything is possible without the ghost and the tragedy is a purely human one of guilt and its inevitable consequences. The play could, therefore, be praised as upholding Schillerian views on character and guilt; it could even be called progressive for anticipating the heredity-motif of naturalist drama. These attempts to vindicate the play as a character-drama could not be wholly successful, however. For one thing the ghost was not so obliging as to appear only to the characters; there are at least two scenes, where, as one critic has to admit, she is...not a hallucination. The guilty character theory was not convincing either: with the exception of 'der wilde Jaromir' the family was too good and the dire fate that overtook them too unjust; it was even monstrous to suppose that this fate was the result of the guilty doings of an ancient ancestress. To meet these objections what might be called the 'aesthetic' method was employed, whereby the ghost and any suggestion of an external fate implied by her presence and the attitude of the characters could be interpreted as a poetic device. They were merely aesthetic trimmings and did not exclude a rational and moral explanation of the play" (Morris, 1967 p 288).
Time: 1810s. Place: Austria.
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 succumbs next to it as she disappears.
With the important though incomplete "Woyzeck" (1837), the art of Georg Büchner (1813-1837) resembles more closely the realist drama of the 19th and even 20th century, though with themes in common with France's Alfred de Musset, namely the despairing poetic musings of the main character. This work was influenced by Lenz' "The soldiers" (1776) in its short-scene format and betrayal themes between soldiers and their women.
Woyzek as a character figures as a “Hamlet without a mission...the incarnation of what is done to man...Nothing he does precipitates or speeds his fate...Woyzek is abused...The medical doctor employs him as a guinea pig...[yet] berates Woyzek for having been unable to defer answering a call of nature...his captain uses Woyzek's lowly status...to erect his own aggrandizement" (Gilman, 1999 pp 34-37). Resemblances have also been drawn between the jealous Woyzeck and Othello (Otten, 1978; Stodder, 1974). Both suffer from alineation. "Both struggle to exist amid strangers; both seek in vain for refuge in society, the cosmos and the self...Woyzeck...completely lacks Othello’s strength and high position...However, Othello remains on the defensive [throughout] the play...Like Woyzeck, Othello tries to reconcile the demands of selfhood with the requirements of the role he must play...[But Büchner] inverted the character of Desdemona in the guise of the morally loose, poverty-stricken Marie" (Otten, 1978 pp 125-129). "Like Othello, Woyzeck moves from the initial stab of recognition, through incredulity at the thought of her infidelity, to the first tentative encounter with serious doubt...The imagery which Woyzeck uses to describe Marie's infidelity is directly reminiscent of that used by Othello in accusing Desdemona...As Woyzeck's obsession grows, his language becomes more excited and distracted until he falls in a stupour- exactly as Othello’s...Finally, the murder scenes themselves are remarkably alike not only in verbal patterns, but also in their dramatic mixture of poignant regret and momentary indecision" (Stodder, 1974 pp 116-118).
"Although on a conscious level Woyzeck is struggling to convey his terrifying sense of chaos, an examination of the circumstances suggests that Woyzeck also wants to be punished for being out of joint with nature and his world. For note whom he has chosen to confide in: the most contemptuous and sadistic of his persecutors; and notice the timing- when the doctor is in a rage- and also the situation: a confiding of intimate thoughts when the doctor is tearing at Woyzeck's very humanity, demeaning him as a 'dog' and an aberrant, jeering at his philosophizing" (Rugen, 1980 p 82).
Büchner "as a naturalist, proclaimed the absolute necessity of all that happens being considered as under the dominion of the laws of nature...Everywhere he aimed at transferring the world of reality without change into his artistic production. Like most naturalists he was attracted only by the dark sides of life which he reproduced with the keenest powers of observation in all their particulars, even the most repulsive" (Witkowski, 1909 pp 40-41). "Büchner was a forerunner of both naturalism and expressionism in the drama, although his life was cut short before he could develop the possibilities of either style. He had the naturalist’s 'despair over life’s uncleanliness' and the expressionist’s technique of substituting psychologically suggestive brief scenes for elaborately developed situations. He was, in effect, an anti-romanticist in his romantic milieu. His philosophy of character, which stemmed from the outlook of nineteenth-century mechanistic science, is a distinct departure from 'storm and stress' heroics. 'Danton's death' (1835), with its portraits of Danton and Robespierre, who are both caught in the swirl of an unleashed revolution, exemplifies his deterministic outlook. 'Individuals,' he wrote, explaining himself, 'are so much surf on a wave, greatness the sheerest accident, the strength of genius a puppet play- a child’s struggle against an iron law'" (Gassner, 1954a, p 337).
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 observes a drum major in the street. 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, but is beaten for his pains. All the more suspicious and anguished in the extreme, Woyzeck stabs Marie to death beside a pond and throws the knife away. Arriving 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 that he is certainly talented, because it looks as if he smeared his right elbow with his right hand. Worried about the incriminating knife, Woyzeck 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 before being discovered. A policeman is called in the case and is 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 doctor shows him off to his students much as the barker displays the horse”, lumping the human with the animal” (Hilton, 1982 pp 121-127). Woyzeck’s hallucinations frighten Marie, are noticed by the doctor who nevertheless does nothing to help, and are ignored by Andres. They are “Woyzeck believes that the freemasons caused the strange death he describes…as a prophetic anticipation of his peculiar death… Woyzeck believes himself to be an instrument of divine justice…[Figures of authority such as the captain and the doctor appear] grotesque and ludicrous…[The grandmother’s fairy tale shows] presumes a chaotic and absurd world in which there is no positive values and no hope” (Richards, 1977 pp 175-194).
Heinrich von Kleist
Among comedies of the period, Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811)'s "Der zerbrochne Krug" (The broken jug, 1808) stands out as a satire on jurisprudence.
"Kleist gave to German literature one of its best comedies, 'The broken jug'. The same pleasure in acute argumentation, noticeable in 'The Schroffenstein family', is found in this play. The effective forms of legal proceedings, which writers were very fond of using at the beginnings of German comedy and especially in the carnival-plays, are here taken up again for a higher purpose. For no longer is it a question of the reproduction of an amusing scene; here a human figure of the significance of a type appears in the village magistrate, Adam, who with low, foxy shrewdness tries to turn the suspicion for the deed he himself has done upon another, and thereby becomes involved deeper and deeper in ruin. This court-scene is a really brilliant performance but fitted out with a wealth of striking features almost too great for the stage. It serves, however, the purpose of giving an impression of the most complete material reality. In this regard the play forms a striking contrast to the unpractical idealism of his predecessors and contemporaries" (Witkowski, 1909 pp 17-18).
"The first critics of the play were bored by the final act in which Walter surreptitiously defends the judicial system, failing to see or be interested in Kleist’s social criticism. Like the Eve from Genesis, Kleist’s Eve brings about Adam’s fall, caused by his mistaken belief that the frightened maiden will cling to her mother’s wish of saving her reputation, not her future husband’s life if he is sent on a dangerous mission in an illegal war, though Ruprecht is unaware of her purpose. In court, she first keeps silent over Adam’s attempt to seduce her to obtain Ruprecht’s medical certificate. But instead of playing Eve’s game, Adam orders Ruprecht to be sent to jail, so that she is now forced to name the thunderstruck judge as her attempted seducer. The judge could have prevented his humiliation by speaking to Walter apart out of the court’s hearing. Instead, he compounds his mistake by attempting to appear innocent to his superior, and so the judicial system appears compromised and only the district magistrate can save it. When Ruprecht asks Eve whether Adam was the culprit, Walter rebukes him, since in his mind only Adam’s superior can accuse a judge, not a mere citizen. Walter first tries to cover up Adam’s fault by condemning Ruprecht, though specifying that he can appeal the verdict, but he has underestimated Eve’s resolve of obtaining a better deal. To conceal the now established fact of the state’s corruption, he will have to meet Eve’s demands and provide a personal guarantee that Ruprecht will not be drafted in the East Indies. Once this bargain is struck, however, and Eve agrees to trust him, Walter can put part of his planned cover-up in action, including the rehabilitation of Adam” (Allan, 1996 pp 81-102).
"The broken jug"
Time: 1800s. Place: Huisum, Holland.
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 spoke 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 her 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.
Christian Dietrich Grabbe
Another comic writer of note is Christian Dietrich Grabbe (1801-1836) with "Scherz, Satire, Ironie und tiefere Bedeutung" (Jest, satire, irony, and deeper significance, 1827).
"Jest, satire, irony, and deeper significance"
Time: 1820s. Place: Germanic territory.
Text at ?
To please the boy's father, a village schoolmaster agrees to present young Gottlieb to Baron Haldungen's castle. But first Gottlieb must mark the master's face with ink to make him appear more diligent. On a hot August day, the devil, removed from hell because of some housecleaning being done there, shivers on a hillside and faints as a natural scientist notices his plight. With three of his science colleagues, he helps the devil recover at the castle, where the latter identifies himself to all as a bishop. The court poet, Ratsbane, remarks that as a bishop he arrives in time to perform the marriage ceremony between the baron's daughter, Liddy, and a man named Wattsdale. The so-called bishop is forced to admit that he does not know the text of the ceremony, but Liddy assures him, to her lover's sorrow, that the wedding is still months away. When the schoolmaster arrives at court, the marks on his face impress no one. While the schoolmaster criticizes modern German poetry, the bishop, still feeling chilly, breaks a chair and sets it afire to dip his finger in. Gottlieb impresses no one either, to Liddy appearing much like a numskull. "A numskull genius," the schoolmaster points out, "like so many to be found today." Although the baron generously invites the false bishop to remain at the castle, the latter only wants to cause trouble, principally prevent his daughter's marriage. After having asked the village blacksmith to fix his loosened cloven hoof, he accosts Baron Murdax and promises him his aid in marrying Liddy provided he murder thirteen apprentice tailors. Murdax agrees to murder twelve and break a few ribs of the thirteenth. The devil next accosts Wattsdale, who agrees to part with his bride in exchange for cash to pay off his debts. In his room, Ratsbane decides to write a poem about a man unable to write a poem. Looking out the window in his plight to find a simile for chewing quills, he sees a boy defecating but decides that is not it. "What the mane is to a horse, the quill is to a pen," he reasons and decides to work on that. His musings are interrupted by the devil, who informs him about who is in and out of hell. Yet another suitor for Liddy arrives, Mushcliff, who expects to be repulsed because of his ugly face. To thank the schoolmaster for encouraging him despite his handicap, he gives the schoolmaster twenty condoms no longer of any use to him. Mushcliff's fears are all too justified: Liddy indeed rejects him without hesitation. For his part, the schoolmaster agrees with the blacksmith to capture the devil, place him inside a cage, and make money of him at fairs and market places. They go on a drinking binge with the suicidal Mushcliff, Ratsbane, and even little Gottlieb while Murdax murders all thirteen apprentice tailors. Recovering from the bout, Ratsbane invites Liddy for a coach drive in the woods. The schoolmaster succeeds in attracting the devil in his cage by placing the condoms in it. However, Murdax fails in wooing Liddy and therefore asks the help of accomplices to abduct her. But he fails once more when Mushcliff fires pistol shots to scare them away. This transforms Liddy's view of Mushcliff altogether. She agrees to marry the fellow after all. Unexpectedly, the schoolmaster is unable to follow his design when the devil's grandmother shows up to save him. The schoolmaster is then irritated to find Christian Dietrich Grabbe in the woods with a lighted lantern.
Amalie Heiter, princess of Saxony (1794-1870), was responsible for another fine comedy of the period: "Die Heimkehr des Sohnes" (The son's return, 1842) in which a married couple wishes to separate but is unexpectedly brought together again.
"The son's return"
Time: 1830s. Place: Hamburg, Germany.
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 paid them back by devoting time in household duties with an energetic will. During the course of a 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 inform 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 an ill-informed letter on this subject in Guadalupe. On entering the room, Johanna glances at her husband and immediately rushes out, determined to leave the house before even speaking with him. George tells his father that before their separation he mostly lived 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, Adèle, daughter of a wealthy Creole while serving as her brother’s tutor, the father and brother having died from yellow fever and she the only remaining survivor in the family. When Adèle first meets the colonel, she takes him for the steward. After some painful moments, the colonel discovers she is his son’s wife. He disowns him, unaware that his son 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 his wife, 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 return to Guadalupe, 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 the Johanna he knew as his wife but her grieving younger sister, who, destitute of any means of support 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 as husband and wife.