History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Late German 18th

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Goethe was the dominant playwright of late 18th century Germany. Portrait by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein (1751-1829), 1787

Late 18th century German theatre is led by the towering figure of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), with such plays as "Götz von Berlichingen" (1773) and "Torquato Tasso" (1790), based on 16th century historical figures, alive from 1480 to 1562 and from 1544 to 1595, respectively, as well as "Clavigo" (1775), based on an episode in the life of Pierre Beaumarchais (1732-1799), the dramatist. Marie's sufferings were used as an example in Soren Kierkegaard's analysis of the psychology of the abandoned woman in his philosophical work, "Either/or" (1843).

Other well-remembered playwrights include Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805) for "Maria Stuart" (Mary Stuart, 1800), Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781) for "Emilia Galotti" (1772) and "Nathan der Weise" (Nathan the wise, 1779), and Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz (1751-1792) for "Der Hofmeister" (The tutor, 1778). Less well remembered is August von Kotzebue (1761-1819), who nevertheless achieves some distinction with "Menschenhass und Reue" (The stranger, more precisely Misanthropy and repentance, 1789).

"Götz von Berlichingen"[edit]

"Götz von Berlichingen". Time: 16th century. Place: Germany.

"Götz von Berlichingen" text at ?

Goetz von Berlichingen (1480-1562) was embroiled in controversies among nobles in 16th century German states. Drawing by by Emil Eugen Sache (1828-1887)

In violent conflict with the bishop of Bamberg who has captured one of his vassals, Goetz of Berlichingen seizes one of his men, Adalbert Weislingen, once a friend. He is ready to release Adalbert provided the prisoner promises never to fight against him again, a promise readily assented to. When Adalbert asks to marry his sister, Maria, he joyfully consents. In joy, Adalbert shakes his hand so hard that he tears offs his artificial right arm made of steel. However, once freed, Adalbert renews his alliance with the bishop and marries Adelaide of Walldorf. Moreover, he convinces Emperor Maximilian to fight Goetz as the enemy of peace. Abandoned by the traitor, Maria accepts Friedreich of Sickengen in marriage, who proposes to fight on Goetz' behalf. When the imperial troops chase Goetz from his castle to Heilbronn and the emperor's commissioner is about to arrest him as a rebel, Friedreich's troops save him. Goetz returns safely back to his castle, where the emperor orders him to remain. But when the peasants revolt against their masters and Goetz is proposed as their leader, he accepts, though only in hope of containing their disordered rage. He cannot, and decides to abandon them as they burn Miltenberg, just as the imperial troops close in. The nobles burn alive, break on wheels, and tear apart the rebel leaders. Learning of Goetz' imprisonment at Weislingen castle, his wife, Elizabeth, sends Maria to Adalbert, now commissioner, to beg for her brother's life. A sickly Adalbert tears up his death sentence. He has been poisoned to death by Adelaide's adulterous squire, who, stricken with remorse, admits his crime and drowns himself in the river Mein. On learning of Adelaide's adultery and murder, judges of a secret tribunal send an avenger to her with a rope and sword. Sent back to his wife, Goetz feels the end near. "Are you looking for Goetz? He has been gone for a long time," he says. After learning of the death of one his favorite companions, he warns: "Close your hearts tighter than your doors: the days of treachery approach." Then, fatally stricken, he cries out: "Liberty! Liberty!" to which Elizabeth assents, looking at the heavens: "Only up there, where you are."

"Torquato Tasso"[edit]

"Torquato Tasso". Time: 16th century. Place: Belriguardo, Italy.

"Torquato Tasso" text at http://archive.org/details/dramaticworksofg00goet

Torquato Tasso (1544-1595) was a great Renaissance poet involved in subtleties of love-relations at court. Etching based on a painting of Alessandro Allori (1535-1607)

On a lawn ornamented with the busts of epic poets, Leonora d'Este, princess and sister to Alphonse, duke of Ferrare, and a second Leonora, countess of Scandiano, both devoted to poetry, weave garlands and place crowns on the head of Virgil and Ariosto. Whatever the subject, the princess loves to follow "the dialogue of noble spirits," to which Leonora assents: "After so many grave exchanges, the ear and intimate sense taste a soft repose to a poet's rhymes, who spread in our soul in suave songs the emotion of exquisite feelings." The court poet, Torquato Tasso, presents to the duke his epic poem: "Jerusalem delivered". As a reward for his efforts, the princess removes the wreath from Virgil's bust and places it on Torquato's head, who feels unworthy of that honor. "It consumes my hair," he cries out. Torquato questions the princess about certain rumors of a possible marriage for her, which she, to his joy, denies. "Each of my days belongs to you," he swears, transported. In the duke's palace, knowing it is her wish, Torquato approaches the secretary of state, Antonio, with a friendlier face than he has before, but he is coldly received. Humiliated by his insolence, the poet draws his sword on him. Antonio scorns to fight, reminding him where they are. The duke has no choice but to approve Antonio's behavior, whereby Torquato sadly yields his sword and removes the wreath from his head. The princess and Leonora agree that the latter should take him to Rome and Florence with her husband, but Antonio disapproves of that idea. Informed of their plan by Leonora, Torquato also disapproves. To soften the impact of their quarrel, she reports that Antonio never denigrates him, to which Torquato responds: "He is never so evil as in his praises, never so harmful as in his compliments." Yet to determine whether he has a rival for the princess' love, Torquato pretends to need a leave of absence from the duke for completing his poem. To the poet's disgust, Antonio accepts, as does the duke. In the business of taking leave, Torquato dismisses his patron's solicitude: "Rest is what rests me least," he comments. While taking leave of the princess, in a sort of delirium, Torquato embraces her. She pushes him away. The duke cries out to Antonio: "He has lost his mind. Stop him." As the poet is seized, the duke turns away from him.

"Clavigo"[edit]

"Clavigo". Time: 1770s. Place: Madrid, Spain.

"Clavigo" text at https://archive.org/details/tragedyoffaustcl00goetuoft

Carlos has a difficult time in preventing his friend, Clavigo, from getting into trouble. Carlos was played by Josef Lowinsky, depicted in 1915 by Gustav Klimt (1862-1918)

Bored of his relation with Marie Beaumarchais and considering her a clog for future advancements, Clavigo abandons her once he is promoted as the king's archivist, though she had facilitated this by teaching him French. Nevertheless, he has qualms, which his friend, Carlos, tries to dispel by saying there will be time enough to marry after achieving a higher position late in life. Though her older sister, Sophie, tries to uplift her spirits, Marie remains despondent. "What does my fate matter?" she asks, "what does it matter that a young girl's heart is torn apart, that she is consumed with sorrow and that her unhappy youth tires itself in tears?" She hates Clavigo on seeing him with another woman, but arms herself with only a dagger of the mind. She is both anxious and happy after receiving her brother's letter, stating: "If you are innocent, vengeance, the most terrible vengeance will strike the traitor." Beaumarchais confronts Clavigo by asking him whether he has any cause of complaint against her sister. He has none, but yet refuses to sign a letter admitting his guilt. When Beaumarchais says he will hound him till he signs, he yields, but on one condition. "Promise me not to use it before I have a chance to persuade Marie that my heart is changed and full of remorse, before I speak to her sister to intercede on my behalf to my loved one," he pleads. Beaumarchais reluctantly agrees. Marie shivers on hearing that Clavigo has spoken to Sophie. "You heart speaks for Clavigo more than you know; if you do not possess the courage to see him again," Sophie assures her, "it is because you ardently wish him to come back." Sophie's husband, Guilbert, points out that whether her brother kills Clavigo or is killed by him, he is lost either way, since Clavigo's death would be avenged. Marie cries out as she hears Clavigo's voice. He avers that nothing has really changed, that he loves her and she loves him. Marie is unable to speak, but through Sophie lets him know he is forgiven. Left alone, Clavigo begins to doubt about the soundness of his judgment. Carlos reminds him that many women of high rank are willing to ensnare him and that no man at court would approve of such a misalliance. He convinces him to hide while he finds a way to have Beaumarchais arrested. Though outwardly happier, yet Marie is anxious still, suffering from heart palpitations and feels she does not deserve such a man as Clavigo. Beaumarchais receives a letter from the French ambassador in Spain, informing him that Clavigo had lodged a complaint against him for threatening him with violence. He, Marie, Sophie, and Guilbert all believe he should escape before the authorities arrest him. At the news of Clavigo's double treachery and her brother's danger, Marie is seized with violent palpitations and dies. Stricken with remorse, Clavigo interrupts the funeral procession to see his dead love one last time, but is attacked by Beaumarchais. They fight with swords till the vengeful brother stabs him. When Carlos arrives, the dying Clavigo beseeches him to forego avenging his death as Beaumarchais escapes.

Friedrich Schiller excelled in the depiction of the unfortunate Mary Stuart. Schiller image based on a painting by Anton Graff (1736-1813)

"Mary Stuart"[edit]

"Mary Stuart" Time: 1580s. Place: Fotheringay and London, England.

"Mary Stuart" text at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/6791

Mary Queen of Scots prepares for her execution

By order of Queen Elizabeth of England, Mary Stuart is held prisoner in Fotheringay castle. To counter this, Mortimer is the agent of a mission from the cardinal of Lorraine in the faction of the Guises to liberate Mary Stuart and let her reign as Catholic queen of England. Mary receives a death sentence by an English tribunal for her part in the Babington plot, but Queen Elizabeth, her cousin, hesitates to put her to death. She negotiates with France in the matter of a possible husband in the duke of Anjou. On one hand, the queen wishes her dead, on the other she is fearful of executing a crowned head. "The part that I take in her death must be forever doubtful," she says to Mortimer. She wants him to execute Mary secretly. Mortimer gives to the earl of Leicester a letter from Mary, as the one most likely to save her. The proposed marriage betwen Mary and Catherine de Medici's son is certain to make the earl lose favor at court. Mortimer reveals that he has accomplices to free her, and, at the same time, Elizabeth's order of death. Leicester tries to convince the queen to see Mary, as if by accident hunting in the park near Fotheringay castle. The two queens confront each other. "Do not profane the Tudor blood flowing in my veins as well as yours," Mary begs her. Had Elizabeth declared Mary as heir to the throne, none of this would have happened. But to Elizabeth, this is not a viable option. "Your family is papism," Elizabeth says. "I renounce all my possessions of this realm," Mary assures her. In anger, they trade insults as to Mary's known lovers and Elizabeth's secret ones. Eventually, Mary makes known she considers herself Elizabeth's queen. Alone with her, Mortimer tells Mary not to hope for anything from Leicester. Instead, he declares in a frenzy his love for her. Guards enter quickly to seize him as a result of a rumor that Elizabeth has been assassinated on her way to London. However, one of Mortimer's accomplices, acting alone, failed in his task. Mortimer's friends flee, but he remains to "die on her coffin" if need be. Meanwhile, the marriage plan with the duke of Anjou is annulled. Mortimer says to Leicester that Burleigh, Lord Treasurer of the realm, has found a letter in Mary's cell, mentioning the portrait Leicester received from her. Leicester commands his guards to seize Mortimer as a traitor. In despair, Mortimer stabs himself to death. Before the queen and Burleigh, Leicester defends himself by revealing Mortimer's treachery. Elizabeth is greatly surprised and wishes Mary dead. Burleigh suggests that Leicester should be Mary's executionner. Moreover, the people, in rage and fearful for their queen's safety, demand Mary's death, but she hesitates again, yet gives to Davison, her secretary of state, the order of execution. He insists on hearing from her mouth what is her will. "Act according to your prudence," she answers. He is frightened and wishes to hear more explicit orders. "Do your duty," she counters. Burleigh takes from the confused Davison the death-warrant. In her death-march, Mary is firm, serenely declaring: "I feel again the crown on my head and noble pride in my soul." In prison, one of Mary's accusers in the Babington plot admits he lied, so that a new inquiry must be made. The queen and Lord Shrewsbury ask Davison to restore the death-warrant. When he cannot, the queen declares: "You have treacherously overstepped the bounds of your commission," ordering him to be conducted to the tower. However, Shrewsbury intervenes in his favor as well as that of Burleigh and Leicester.

Gotthold Lessing excelled in depicting social conflict between people at different levels of social stratification. Portrait by Anton Graff (1736-1813)

"Emilia Galotti"[edit]

"Emilia Galotti". Time: 1770s. Place: Italy.

"Emilia Galotti" text at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/33435

The painter, Conti, presents to the prince a portait of Emilia Galotti. The prince is quite struck with it. Conti says the work left him dissatified, but only to a certain extent. "I am happy with my dissatisfaction," he says. What is lost from the eye to brush makes him prouder than what he achieved. Marinelli, the court chamberlain, tells the prince the woman is to be married this very day to Count Appiani, at which the prince tosses the painting violently aside. He accosts her at church and is all the more impressed. A frightened Emilia reveals what the prince said to her mother, Claudia, then, calmer, considers she has nothing to fear. Marinelli proposes to Count Appiani an errand he may have the honor of doing for the prince, but the latter rudely sends him away. Marinelli forms a second plan: to ambush the wedding party with his men on the way to church and then pretend a rescue with a second group of his men. Unforeseen by him, Appiani shoots one of his men and is fatally shot by another. Nevertheless, Marinelli continues with his plan, ushering inside the prince's country mansion the badly shaken mother and daughter separated from each other. Emilia is dismayed on seeing the prince and wonders where her mother is. "Never think you need anyone's protection rather than mine," the prince assures her. Marinelli confronts Claudia, who wishes to know where her daughter is. Claudia recognizes Marinelli as a man who had quarreled with the count and also the last one mentioned on the count's dying lips, in a tone which makes her deeply suspicious for their safety, yet he guides her towards her daughter. Countess Orsina arrives to visit the prince, but he refuses to see her. She guesses correctly the prince's infatuation with Emilia, approaches Marinelli as if to whisper a secret, then shouts: "The prince is a murderer." "Tomorrow I'll shout it in the market-place," she warns. She meets Odoardo, Emilia's father, and gives him a dagger. Odoardo has every intentions of taking his daughter away from that house, but the prince refuses, as he considers her an important witness of the bloody conflict, proposing instead the house of another of his chancellors. Left alone with his daughter, Odoardo considers her suspiciously calm. He shows her the dagger and says he meant to stab the prince and Marinelli with it. When Emilia asks for the dagger, he refuses to give it to her. Reflecting on the old Roman tale of Virginius, Emilia declares: "There was once a father, who, to save his daughter from disgrace, stabbed her through the heart with the first dagger he could find, and thus gave her life a second time, but all such deeds are from days long past. There are no such fathers now." Odoardo proves her wrong, to the prince's horror and dismay as he enters to find her. Frustrated at all points, he angrily dismisses Marinelli from his office.

"Nathan the Wise"[edit]

"Nathan the Wise". Time: 12th century. Place: Jerusalem.

"Nathan the wise" text at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/3820

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/33435

http://www.fullbooks.com/Nathan-the-Wise.html

Nathan the Wise succeeds in gaining the approval of the ruling sultan, Saladin, played in 1945 by Paul Wegener (1874-1948)and Kai Möller, respectively

While he was away at Babylon, there was a fire at Nathan's house. Daja, Christian confidante to his daughter, Recha, informs him that a knight templar of the third crusade, Curd de Stauffen, recently released by Saladin, the sultan, because of his resemblance to his brother, dead twenty years ago, saved his daughter from the fire. Nathan receives the visit by Al-Hafi, dervish and Saladin's treasurer, hired because, having known mendacity, he is able all the more to provide for the beggars in the city. A lay friar, Bonafides, asks the templar to carry a letter on the part of the Patriarch of Jerusalem to King Philip of France concerning Saladin's war tactics against him, but he refuses to be used as a spy. Friar Bonafides then asks him to consider murdering Saladin. Since he owes him his life. he considers such an act infamous. The sultan being out of funds, his sister, Sittah, suggests that Al-Hafi may borrow from Nathan. The dervish comments: "He never lends, so that he always has the means to give." Nathan meets Curd. After being harassed by his daughter's thanks, the knight dismisses speaking to him, aside from saying he wearied of his life when he saved a mere Jewess. "Great and abominable!" comments Nathan. In gratitude, he kisses the burnt spot on the knight's coat. When Al-Hafi discovers that Saladin requests to see Nathan, he informs Nathan that it is for the purpose of a loan, that Nathan will become his treasurer and lose all his money, so that they should leave together for India. Instead, Nathan goes to Saladin while Curd goes to Nathan's house to see Recha. They are pleased with one another. His leaving early not being a bad sign, according to Daja. "The water is boiling, but he does not want it to spill over," she comments. Meanwhile, Saladin asks Nathan which in his opinion is the best religion. Nathan answers him by a fable. A man once possessed a ring. He gave it to the son he loved most, who, notwithstanding order of birth, was to be the leader of his house after his death, and so on from one generation to the next, until the ring came into the hands of a father who could not decide which son he loved most, and so he asked an artist to make two other rings, exactly the same as the original, saying to each son it is the true ring, whereby quarrels ensued and it was impossible to recognize the true one. Asked for a judgment, a judge declares he heard the ring belongs to the brother who is most loved. The brothers stand mute. "You cannot answer?" asks he, "then all three of you are tricked tricksters. None of the rings is authentic." Nathan offers him the money he knows Saladin needs. On his way back, Curd asks Nathan for his daughter's hand in marriage. Nathan invites him to his house. "No," says the knight, "there lies fire." After Nathan leaves, Daja confides to Curd that Recha, unknown to her, is Nathan's adopted daughter born of Christian parents. Curd then questions the doctrine of the church in such a case to the patriarch, who answers the Jew should be burnt to death, even if he did not raise the child in the Jewish tradition but only taught about God in general. The patriarch would like to find that Jew. Knowing about this threat, Benafides confides to Nathan he was the messenger who gave him Recha eighteen years ago, beseeching him to keep that secret for his safety. Curd asks Nathan a second time for his daughter's hand. He answers he must ask that question to her brother. Meanwhile, Daja reveals to Recha her true origin. Recha fears losing her father, as she says to Sittah, on her way to plead Saladin to prevent that. Nathan discloses to everyone that in a prayer-book obtained from Benafides he learned that Recha is Curd's brother. From the knight's resemblance to his brother, Saladin correctly guesses that he himself is the uncle of both Curd and Recha, so that Recha can rightly be considered to be a Christian, a Jewess, and an Arab.

JMR Lenz drew a somber picture of the nobility's ingratitute towards their tutor

"The tutor"[edit]

"The tutor". Time 1770s. Place: Prussia and Saxony.

"The tutor" text at ?

A German tutor at work. Early 19th century lithograph

Privy Councillor Von Berg wonders why his brother, a major, is about to hire a tutor for his son and daughter. The major assures him he will tell the tutor what to do in due course. "In other words, you'll be a tutor to your tutor," the councillor responds. The major hires Läuffer for 400 thalers, though his wife promised him 450. He warns him not to take liberties with his daughter, Gustchen, for otherwise "a bullet through the head and no nonsense!" Gustchen and the councillor's son, Fritz, love each other and promise to remain true despite his departure for the university for three years. Von Berg discovers their love, but finds the matter childish. In course of time, Läuffer's father, a pastor, says to the councillor he is scandalized about his son's drop in salary to a paltry 100 ducats. The major justifies this by saying that his son does not accomplish much and his position is compromised by a loss of freedom, since "freedom is man's element as water to a fish". His salary eventually drops to 60 ducats. At the university, Frïtz and his friend, Pätus, live under difficult circumstances. Their coffee tastes like barley, which Pätus throws out the window, drenching their landlady. Pätus is later seen to act strangely by neighboring women, three huge dogs chasing him and he in a wolfskin coat in blazing summer heat. Back home, the tutor's salary drops to 40 ducats. With her lover gone, Gustchen is wasting away, the major blaming his wife and her stepmother for "strictness and cruelties". In seeking to protect Pätus from being pursued for debts, Fritz is thrown in prison in his place and seemingly abandoned. Yet Pätus returns to his friend, but is forced away by him before the creditors arrive. On beholding his daughter's health deteriorate, the major himself starts to waste away. Suddenly, his wife rushes in to say the tutor has taken Gustchen away, at which the major, berserk with more than a father's worry and hate, runs off in pursuit. His friend, Count Vermouth, traces the fleeing and desperate Läuffer to a village school, where a schoolmaster, Wenzeslaus, protects him from discovery. With no news from his daughter for more than one year, the major's ravings increase. She lives in a hovel inside the woods with Martha, a blind old woman, but wishes to return home. The major follows his brother's directions towards Wenzeslaus' schoolhouse, where, in a fit of madness, he shoots Läuffer in the arm. When interrogated, he is yet unable to reveal the whereabouts of his daughter. She is groping among the bushes nearby, and under the impression her father died of grief for her sake, dives into a pond, but is saved from drowning by her father. Meanwhile, Pätus is still in debt, notably to a poor musician named Rehaar, who blames him for attempting to seduce his daughter. Insulted, Pätus slaps him in the face, much to Fritz' disapproval, who intends to fight his friend in the musician's place. In the schoolhouse, Läffner gives a coin to the begging Martha; then, looking down at her arms, he discovers Gustchen's baby and faints. In the woods, Pätus, unable to fight against his friend, throws down his sword, but Rehaar draws his and stabs him in the arm. His sword is knocked away by Fritz. To avoid more violence, Pätus proposes to marry Rehaar's daughter, accepted by Rehaar. Stricken with guilt, a bed-ridden Läuffer reveals to Wenzeslaus he has castrated himself, at which the philosophic Wenzeslaus laughs in approval: "A second Origen!" cries he. Meanwhile, Fritz, also guilt-stricken, learns of Gustchen's dishonor and thinks she has drowned. Rehaar's daughter is taken up by Councillor Von Burg and makes friends with Gustchen. After three years, Fritz is able to return home thanks to a lottery ticket won by Pätus. Despite his handicap, Läuffner falls in love with a girl named Lise, much to Wenzeslaus' disapproval. On learning he is a eunuch, she appears indifferent. Fritz is reunited with Gustchen, Pätus with his wife, and Pätus' father with son and mother, Martha.

August von Kotzebue showed how an estranged couple can come together at the end. Engraving by an unknown artist, 1790

"Misanthropy and repentance"[edit]

"Misanthropy and repentance". Time: 1780s. Place: Germany.

"Misanthropy and repentance" text at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/20217

A poor old man, Tobias, is an object of charity for Mrs Haller, manager in the house of Count Wintersen. One day, a man living in the premises of Wintersen's grounds knowns only as the stranger beholds Tobias pray. The stranger's servant, Francis, comments: "Hope is the nurse of life." "And her cradle is the grave," retorts the stranger. He gives Tobias money to buy his son's release from the army. "Yes, I must envy those who, with the will, have the power to do good," Francis reflects. When the count arrives in his house, he sees someone unfamiliar to him and asks Solomon, his steward: "Who is that ape in the corner?" Solomon answers: "Ape!—Oh! that is—with respect to your Excellency be it spoken—the son of my body, by name, Peter." As the count, Peter, and his little son walk on the grounds, a bridge breaks under the son, plunging him into the river, but he is saved from drowning by the stranger, who refuses to be thanked. Later, the count's brother, Baron Steinfort, confesses to his sister that he loves Mrs Haller. Curious to know more of her past, the countess interrogates Mrs Haller, who answers her by asking whether she had heard of Countess Waldbourg. The countess replies: "I think I heard, at the neighboring court, of such a creature. She plunged an honorable husband into misery. She ran away with a villain." That is Mrs Haller. When the baron comes over to the stranger's house to thank him for the rescue, he discovers he is Charles, an old dear friend of his. Charles lived happily with his wife for awhile, then a false friend stole her away from him. Since then, he has lived alone, separated from her and two children. Steinfort invites him to supper, but more importantly avers: "You shall sue on my behalf to Mrs. Haller. You have the talent of persuasion." But as soon as Mrs Haller sees the stranger, she shrieks and swoons. The baron proposes "to reunite two lovely souls". To facilitate his marriage with someone else, Mrs Haller offers him a written acknowledgement of her guilt, which he tears up. On his side, he offers her money, which she declines. She refuses jewels as well as other objects of many painful memories. As they start to walk away separately, she encounters her son and he his daughter. The estranged husband and wife look back at each other and embrace.