History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Late German 18th
- 1 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
- 2 Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
- 3 Friedrich von Schiller
- 4 Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz
- 5 August Wilhelm Iffland
- 6 August von Kotzebue
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Late 18th century German theatre was led by the towering figure of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) with such plays as "Götz von Berlichingen" (1773), "Clavigo" (1775), and "Torquato Tasso" (1790).
"Götz von Berlichingen" was taken from the autobiography of Gottfried von Berlinchengen (1480-1562). The dialogue is “remarkable for its vivid natural tone, its bite, and its varied adaptation to character...We are told that [Göetz himself is] great and noble, that he is sturdy and loves his freedom as his life; he is genuinely kind and paternal in the best feudal condition, he defends his own rights and those of the poor against their arrogant, grasping overlords secular and ecclesiastical, [but yet he defends] vociferous and even turbulent men engaged in feuds which...appear petty” (Peacock, 1959 pp 18-21). The historical Göetz “was important as the champion of the...law of survival of the fittest which had permitted knights of the Holy Roman Empire...to wage predatory wars against each other. At the Diet of Worms (1521), Emperor Maximilian abolished [it], a decision welcomed by the bishops and princes as a means of strengthening their power. To men like Göetz, however, for whom plunder was a way of life, its abolition seemed an intolerable infringement of their ancient freedom. Accordingly, they allied themselves with the peasantry in common struggle against spiritual and temporal despotism...History is also brought alive by the engaging picture of warmth, idealism and bluntness in the hero’s character...He is shown as loyal to the emperor, only quarreling with the corruption of the empire...He confronts his judges with a forthright common sense” (Prudhoe, 1973 pp 33-35). "Among all Goethe’s masculine creations he stands alone, the only one who did not use the world, but served it...It is curious that Adelheid...is the only feminine character of the proud passionate class that Goethe ever drew and that Maria, much more like his other characters in type, is about the faintest and poorest of them. With all his unmistakable wealth and inimitable grace in producing women’s characters, each as distinct from the other as Adelheid is from Maria, they are all, Adelheid only excepted, of the dependent, tender, worshipping class" (Hutton, 1903 p 38). The play "is a somewhat chaotic performance, obviously written in imitation of Shakespeare. It violates, whether purposely or not, every law of dramatic construction. It is a touching and poetical story, displaying psychological insight and vigorous characterization. But it takes a nimble fancy to keep up with the perpetual changes of scene; and even the tendency and moral of the piece are open to criticism. Goethe enlists the reader's sympathies in behalf of the law-breaker, whose sturdy manhood and stubborn independence bring him into conflict with the state. Gotz, in spite of his personal merits, represents the wild and disorderly individualism of the Middle Ages, at war with the forces of order and social progress, represented by the emperor and the free cities. Therefore it is scarcely proper to apostrophize him as the martyr of a noble cause. In 'Gotz' Goethe deals, secondarily, with faithlessness as a psychological problem. He practically assigns to himself the part of the villain, Weisslingen, who from sheer weakness, 'possessing no resolution either for good or for ill', breaks the heart of a noble young girl. But Weisslingen is faithless not because of any sinister delight in breaking hearts, but because he lacks the courage to be true, when he falls under the spell of a more dazzling and more powerful charmer. The latter, Adelaide von Walldorf, is the only conventionally wicked stock character of the drama to be found in all Goethe's writings" (Boyesen, 1892 pp 17-18).
"Clavigo" is based on an episode in the life of Pierre Beaumarchais (1732-1799), the dramatist. The subject of Goethe’s play was taken from Beaumarchais’ auto-biography, except that the historical Clavigo was not killed by Beaumarchais, who nevertheless caused him to lose his post after appealing to the Spanish king. Clavigo died in a context unrelated to the play’s action, in 1806, after the French dramatist’s death in 1799. According to his friend, Carlos, Clavigo has ‘strength of thought’ and ‘burgeoning imagination’...Carlos is a clear-thinking philosopher who sees through the cant of bourgeois morality. He analyzes Clavigo’s dilemma with masterly logic...is known to us only by the way he thinks. He does practically nothing in the play. The apparatus of debate having being set up, one of the speakers [Clavigo] proves wanting” (Prudhoe, 1973 pp 39-41). Many critics are biased in preferring plays with strong male protagonists, and underestimate a study of a weak or vacillating character such as Clavigo and a conventional Marie, but she maintains interest as a prototypical picture of abandoned womanhood, as shown in Soren Kierkegaard's analysis of the psychology of the abandoned woman in his philosophical work, "Either/or" (1843). Peacock (1959) showed the same bias, in that he found Clavigo “a distasteful spectacle of weakness”, preferring instead Carlos, “a strong and brilliant personality rising to power in elevated circles...Beaumarchais is drawn without subtlety and indeed in some scenes is coarse...The other characters...are all slight, including Marie herself, the wilting object of Clavigo’s affections...Carlo’s feelings about Clavigo’s folly in sacrificing a great future with Marie are reasonable and eloquently expressed...It is not the usual conflict of right and wrong...it is...[a] philosophical dilemma as to different values” (pp 26-28).
In "Torquato Tasso", the main character "is represented as an impulsive and warm-hearted man who is violently swayed by his emotions, while the cool-headed man of the world, Antonio, represents the opposite type...Antonio, the adroit and sagacious diplomat, is an unattractive character as compared with the noble and generous Tasso, who errs from inability to restrain his passionate adoration of the Princess Leonora. The world is apt to sympathize more with generous folly than with far-seeing sagacity and nicely-adjusted calculation" (Boyesen, 1892 pp 30-31). The play has been described as "a penetrating study of a too introspective mind" (Wilson, 1937 p 128) and “impregnated with moral philosophy and with judgments of value...It is the most eloquent play in the whole of dramatic literature...commanding, an enveloping form which controls everything, and within which all the characters move...[The] central problem [is] how to subordinate the fulfillment of individual desires and ideals, however precious and good, to a civilized social order...The superb mastery of statement, the crystal-clear and limpidly defining language, the wonderful authority and the descriptive analyses of behavior, of men and affairs, all show that the play is a document of a philosophical victory of Goethe’s own...[There is a] feeling of dramatic tension of ideas that exists throughout...[a work] unique in character and form...a remarkable comprehensiveness and detail in the moral analysis of the situation and its delicate, precise, and serene statement...Tasso is...a prey to his imagination...wrapped up in his own thoughts and fancies and fails to care sufficiently about his obligations...to society and the principles of manners and decorum by which it maintains its existence and balances its interests...[When the two ladies crown him with the laurel wreath], a profound humility in his creative being and a still more sublime sense of an ideal never to be attained make him draw back...In a platonic exchange with the woman he loves...he evokes a paradise. The princess, while hinting that his love is reciprocated, gently and realistically reminds him that the golden age is...held...only by the exercise of virtue and the subjugation of licentious desires...What follows will show a double failure of Tasso: a psychological one, his character not being equal to the demands of an ethical social code, and a philosophical one, his view of life being overcharged with dreamy idealism and inadequate to life’s problems...It is in this mood of agreeable surrender to an idealistic love...that he meets Antonio...this man of completely opposite temperament...[After Tasso draws his sword and is taken prisoner], a natural antipathy to the man...reinforced by a latent envy of his rank, his prestige, and his public and social importance...leads...to a violent outbreak of his sense of inferiority, accompanied by a growing hostility to his surroundings...Amidst the charms and sentiment, the quick intelligence...the princess declares her love but cannot allow herself to yield to it, who inflames both Tasso’s passions and the emotional optimism which drives him to his first ill-judged collision with Antonio...We feel too much zeal in her wish to influence Tasso and a lack of a more natural charity and tolerance...Leonore...attempts to conduct an intrigue of her own...stealing him for herself...pleasure-loving, light-hearted, and shrewd” (Peacock, 1959 pp 96-119). “Our first impression is one of brilliance mingled with modesty...Throughout the play he shows a sense of dissatisfaction with his own achievements which suggests man’s universal striving for perfection...Even in self-pity we detect the genuine artist's refusal to rest content with his work...Though the duke is his patron and friend, it is clear that he regards Tasso as his ‘possession’ and to some extent only tolerates his whims for the sake of the glory he brings to Ferrara...Even Leonora Sanvitale, who loves him, shows the same selfish quality in her affection...The elegance of her...imagination does not conceal the cold self-seeking of her heart...Tasso is surrounded by a world only superficially attuned to his poetry and...ultimately proves too passionate a creature to live within its framework...He constantly misinterprets the intentions of those who seek to help him” (Prudhoe, 1973 pp 175-181).
"Goetz von Berlichingen"
Time: 16th century. Place: Germany.
In violent conflict with the bishop of Bamberg who captured one of his vassals, Goetz of Berlichingen seizes one of the bishop's 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 Goetz' sister, Maria, he joyfully consents. In joy, Adalbert shakes his hand so hard that he tears off his artificial right arm made of steel. However, once freed, Adalbert renews his alliance with the bishop and marries instead 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 as her husband, who proposes to fight on Goetz' behalf. When the imperial troops chase Goetz from his castle to Heilbronn and the emperor's commissioner is ready 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 abandons them when they burn Miltenberg just as the imperial troops close in. The nobles burn alive, break on wheels, and tear apart the rebel leaders. After learning of Goetz' imprisonment at Weislingen castle, his wife, Elizabeth, sends Maria to Adalbert, now commissioner, to beg for her brother's life. As a result, a sickly Adalbert tears up Goetz' death sentence before being poisoned to death by Adelaide's adulterous squire, who, stricken with remorse, confesses his crime and drowns himself. After learning of Adelaide's adultery and murder, judges of a secret tribunal send out an avenger carrying 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 declares. After learning of the death of one his favorite companions, he warns: "Close your hearts tighter than your doors: the days of treachery approach." Soon, murderers reach his home and Goetz is fatally stricken while crying out: "Liberty! Liberty!" before his wife's face. "Only up there, where you are," she responds.
Time: 1770s. Place: Madrid, Spain.
Bored of his relation with Marie Beaumarchais and considering her a clog for future advancements, Clavigo abandons her after being promoted as the king's archivist, though she had facilitated the obtaining of this post by teaching him French. Yet he has qualms about leaving her, which his friend, Carlos, tries to dispel by saying there will be time enough to marry after achieving a higher social station. 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 asks Clavigo 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 assures him that he will hound him till he signs, Clavigo yields 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. "Your heart speaks for Clavigo more than you know," Sophie assures her. "If you do not possess the courage to see him again, 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. One day, 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. But, 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, Marie is still anxious, suffers 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 until the vengeful brother stabs him. When Carlos arrives, the dying Clavigo beseeches him to forego avenging his death as Beaumarchais escapes.
Time: 16th century. Place: Belriguardo, Italy.
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 the countess 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 accepts it while feeling 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 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 countess agree that the latter should take him to Rome and Florence along with her husband, but Antonio disapproves of that idea. Informed of their plan by the countess, Torquato also disapproves. To soften the impact of their quarrel, the countess 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 another poem. To the poet's disgust, Antonio accepts, as does the duke. While taking leave of him, 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. "He has lost his mind. Stop him," the duke cries out to Antonio. As the poet is seized, the duke turns away from him.
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781) continued premier work from early to late 18th century Germany, particularly for "Emilia Galotti" (1772), "Minna von Barnhelm" (1767), and "Nathan der Weise" (Nathan the wise, 1779).
The source of "Emilia Galotti" is an anecdote described by Livy (64 BC-17 AD) in his chronicle of ancient Roman history on the subject of Virginia (465 BC–449 BC), killed by her father, Virginius, to prevent her from becoming a slave. The story was previously adapted for the theatre by the combined collaboration of John Webster (1580-1634) and Thomas Heywood (1570-1641) under the title of "Appius and Virginia" (1625). "In some of the characters of "Emilia Galotti" there is high imaginative power, as in the prince of Guastalla and his chamberlain, Marinelli, who weaves the intrigue from which Emilia escapes by death. The diction is at once refined and vigorous, and there are scenes in which some of the deepest passions in human nature are sounded with perfect art" (Bates, 1903 vol 10 German drama p 54). "The characters are drawn with clear, sharp outlines, well contrasted. The weak vacillating prince, eager to profit by Marinelli's villanies, yet afraid to meet the consequences- prone to crime, yet throwing the blame on others- signing a death warrant with the same levity as if it were a billet doux- is capitally studied" (Lewes, 1896 p 214). "Her father used to be, for her and for practically everybody else, a model of rough-hewn integrity and strength of principle. He has now lost control of himself and the situation, being unable to prevent what he must view as an abduction for the most illicit purposes, or worse, he has turned against his daughter or abandoned her. Her mother has revealed herself as a woman of tireless social ambition, unswervingly blind to the pitfalls of the road she would travel. Only at the last moment- too late- is she aware of the crisis her ambition and folly have in part engineered" (Ryder, 1972 p 341). The play made Schopenhauer squirm in his seat as no other (Parerga and Paralipomena, 1851), because the sight of virtue subverting herself makes anyone uncomfortable. Brown (1971 p 123-130) summarized opinions of various critics in regard to whether Emilia was sincere in telling her father that she might accept the prince as a lover or whether it is merely a ploy to goad him into killing her, rather than be subject to the prince's power. The unwillingness of Odoardo to kill the prince for Appiani's murder pushes her towards this drastic extremity. To other critics, the motivation to commit suicide is insufficient unless we accept her statement that she would have eventually submitted herself to become the prince's whore. "Emilia sees her virtue less threatened by the power of the prince than her own willingness to be seduced. She is not afraid of a weak will which would allow her to give in to the power of the prince, but rather her own drive, her own senses, which can no longer be controlled under such sensual surroundings" (Fischer-Lichte, 2002 p 158). "Marriage having been impossible for her on the death of her betrothed, and religion...denied her by Marinelli's intrigue, she was left open to temptation she could not hope to resist" (Bostock, 1951 p 71). "Examination of the text of the second act reveals careful and adequate- although subtle- preparation for Emilia's candor about her sensual nature...Emilia's narration of her encounter with the prince in church...[indicates that she is] stirred by the bold declaration of passion for the personage behind her...Emilia's prayer for deafness clearly anticipates her later demand for death...A genuine dilemma confronts the prince. If he punishes Odoardo for murder, then he compounds his own guilt before the next higher court, which is God's own tribunal. If, on the other hand, he confesses his own implication in the catastrophe, he may possibly suffer the fate of his ancient counterpart, Appius" (Cowen, 1969 pp 13-17). An additional viewpoint is that suicide arises partly from guilt feelings of her lover's murder.
"Minna von Barnhelm" "provides an appealing romance in the behavior of the spirited heroine who woos her lover when his loss of position and lack of means prevent him from taking the initiative" (Gassner, 1954a p 320), "an extraordinary play which fits into no accepted category and defies rigid classification. It has few literary ancestors, either in plot or spirit. It springs almost entirely from Lessing’s own experiences and critical standards...One does not at first grasp the full meaning 'Minna von Barnhelm' or even the main outlines of its plot...The complicated antecedent action gives a body to the comic misunderstandings between Minna and Tellheim by indicating that political forces underlie the apparent triviality of the situation. Tellheim is meant to represent the Prussian officer at his best, charitable, loyal, and courageous; Minna is the Saxon landowner, emotional and impulsive, but practical and shrewd. Minna oscillates between sentimentally thanking heaven that she has found her constant lover and mischievously planning a trick to make him reveal his true feelings to her. After the long and important scene between them in the fourth act, at the end of which they agree to part, Tellheim is informed that Minna has been disinherited and is therefore no longer rich. The fifth act is taken up with Tellheim’s reaction to this news, his decision to seek a fortune for them both, and his pleasure at being able to take care of Minna when he learns that the generous king has taken him back into favor. Minna has the fun of seeing how Tellheim would feel about her poverty, whether he is poor or rich himself, before she admits that her story of being disinherited is all a fiction and that she has invented it to overcome his conscientious scruples about marrying her" (Sanderson, 1939 pp 292-293). "The plot deals with problems of a society grown accustomed to war but now confronted with peacetime by focusing on those of a Prussian officer, Major von Tellheim, and his Saxon fiancee, Minna von Barnhelm. Tellheim, dismissed from the Prussian army in dishonor due to suspicions that he had mishandled money, taken bribes, and conspired with the enemy Saxons during the war, avoids his fiancée and his friends because of his disgrace. Minna seeks him out and, upon hearing of his misfortune, offers him her own fortune and insists that their marriage take place as planned; he refuses on grounds of honor...This sense of honor has been damaged by the accusations leveled against him, even though he knows that they are untrue. The damaged sense of honor precludes handouts from anyone, even from those whom he has helped in the past...The ring trick Portia plays on Bassiano, a small episode in Shakespeare's fifth act of 'The merchant of Venice' (1597), becomes in 'Minna von Barnhelm' the comic backbone of the entire plot. The two ring tricks bear a marked resemblance to one another. Each man has received a ring from his fiancée; and each man, contrary to oaths and apparently contrary to constancy, allows the ring to leave his hand. In each case the woman obtains the ring, and in each case she fully utilizes the situation to berate the man for his supposed inconstancy. A major discrepancy occurs at this point. Portia ends the game with an admission of the trick upon Bassiano's promise to be faithful in the future, and general laughter ensues. Lessing's Minna, however, continues the trick to a point where the comedy nearly becomes tragedy. Unlike Bassiano, Tellheim is so blinded by upsetting circumstances that he neither recognizes the truth nor gains insight into his fault. When the game is finally brought to an end with the arrival of Minna's uncle and Minna's hasty explanation, Tellheim's confusion is akin to despair...Why doesn't Tellheim follow Lessing's prescriptions for the educational goal of comedy by gaining insight into his exaggerated and ludicrous sense of honor? And why does Lessing have to resort to a fortuitous coincidence (which he elsewhere deplores) in order to resolve the conflict he creates in the drama?...The dilemma cannot be resolved without the 'deus ex machina' device of full restoration of his honor and his fortune, since without both he is not Minna's equal" (Aikin, 1987 pp 48-53). "'Minna von Barnhelm' is always called a comedy. Tellheim is comic, not because he is a Prussian officer with a high sense of honour, nor because his ideas are conspicuously false, for they are not. Any man who had been discharged from the Forces, not exactly in disgrace, but in disfavour, and had no means of support, might feel unworthy to marry a girl he loved and respected, and any man might feel ashamed to be dependent on his wife, although that may be less obvious today than it was even a generation ago. Tellheim, however, is bent on sacrificing the happiness of two lives to these scruples, and the mistaken chivalry with which he treats Minna is really masculine conceit. He carries things to the verge of tragedy, and Minna does likewise in her not unnatural pique" (Bostock, 1951 p 70). One perceived fault in the play “is that the audience is kept in ignorance of Tellheim's disgrace until he has been pardoned...and the details are communicated through the medium of dauntingly legalistic jargon...It is curious that so many authorities should still refer to Tellheim as a Prussian when Just indicates that his master is a native of Kurland [who fought for the Prussian cause]...a predominantly Latvian-speaking duchy...While the overwhelming majority of critics state or imply that Tellheim bears no responsibility for his financial misfortune, it can hardly be overlooked that by his own admission he has knowingly disobeyed military orders passed to him by his superiors...But we feel we know enough of him to detect the operation of a high-minded humanitarianism in what he has done” (Durrani, 1989 pp 639-640). "It is only after Minna deceives him into thinking that she has been disinherited by her uncle that he experiences a change of heart and recommits himself to their marriage, regardless of the social consequences. [Erlin (2001)'s] claim is that the conditions of possibility for Tellheim's change of heart are inextricably intertwined with the urban setting in which this transformation takes place. "Of central importance in this context is the notion, common in late eighteenth-century discussions of Berlin, of the city as a site of social detachment, of liberation from existing social conventions and norms" (Bostock, 1951 p 22).
In "Nathan the wise", "Saladin spares Curd’s life because of a family resemblance, a universal appeal. Curd saves Recha’s life out of feelings of general humanity. Nathan raises Recha despite the fact that Christians had murdered his wife and sons. All these as well as Nathan's fable and Recha’s triple appurtenance of Christian, Jew, and Muslim, point in the same direction in that human concerns as a whole supersede concerns of state and religion" (Brown, 1971 p 158-161). Various opinions have been expressed on the fable of the three rings. For example "Nathan gives voice to the sentiment that it is the moral life, love, through which the truth of our inherited religion manifests itself. The manner in which tlhe owners of the three rings quarrel with one another tends to show us that that miraculous force inherent in the true religion is active in none of the three religions whose symbols are the rings. Hence they are urged to emulate this love, so that perhaps later the truth might be revealed to their descendants. This love we know is the touchstone of real religion. But Nathan makes it the property of the Mohammedan, Jewish and Christian religions, when it belongs to the Christian alone" (Primer, 1893 p 365). Various opinions have also been expressed on the way in which toleration appears. "To weaken the link between toleration and disapproval, to satisfy rationalist scepticism about the truth-claims of revelation, to smooth relations among proponents of different religions, and to avoid stirring up enmities like those that devastated Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it is tempting to seek a common ground on which proponents of different religions can agree. Enlightenment thinkers found this common ground in natural religion and natural morality. 'By Natural Religion', wrote the English deist Matthew Tindal, 'I understand the belief of the existence of a God, and the sense and practice of those duties which result from the knowledge, we, by our reason, have of him, and his perfections; and of ourselves, and or own imperfections; and of the relation we stand in to him, and to our fellow-creatures; so that the religion of nature takes in every thing that is founded on the reason and nature of things.' Yet this common ground has proved unstable. For many people nowadays, the assumptions that Tindal thought self-evident have been undermined by moral and cognitive relativism. Moreover, what purports to be a neutral standpoint, intended to promote tolerance, has developed into a secular agnosticism that is hostile to religion as such. The toleration offered by such an agnosticism tends to sidestep judgement, either by interpreting other people's beliefs as being only superficially different but fundamentally the same as one's own, or by denying that any judgements of truth or value are legitimate" (Robertson, 1998 pp 108-109). "What is the philosophy embodied in his character Lessing wished to preach from the stage? It is thought of toleration, sectarian charity; not the toleration arising from contempt of those of a different creed, nor the toleration arising from mutual concession, political toleration necessary for mankind that they may be able to live side in the same body politic; neither is it that toleration from a spirit of justice and intelligence, it is the 'love' of the New Testament...[shown] by the character of Recha, the perfected product of such education" (Gruener, 1892 p 85).
Time: 17th century. Place: Italy.
The painter, Conti, presents to the prince a portrait of Emilia Galotti. The prince is quite struck with it. Conti nevertheless 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 the brush makes him prouder than what he achieved. Marinelli, the court chamberlain, tells the prince the pictured woman is to be married this very day to Count Appiani, at which the prince tosses the painting violently aside. The prince first accosts Emilia at church and is all the more impressed. A frightened Emilia reveals her conversation with the prince 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 count 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 men. But 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 the 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 meet 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 goes over to Odoardo, Emilia's father, and hands him a dagger. Odoardo has every intention of removing his his daughter from the prince's mansion, 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 discovers her corpse. Frustrated at all points, the prince angrily dismisses Marinelli from his employ.
"Minna von Barnhelm"
Time: 1760s. Place: Germany.
Text at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2663 https://archive.org/details/dramaticworksge00lessgoog https://archive.org/stream/greatplaysfrench00corn https://archive.org/details/minnavonbarnhei00buchgoog
In the aftermath of the Seven Years War (1756-1763), a discharged Prussian officer, Major von Tellheim, has had difficulty in paying for his room, so that the innkeeper offers it to a Saxon gentlewoman who has just arrived, Minna von Barhelm, and gives him a poorer one. As a consequence, Tellheim wants to leave the inn. To pay the dept, he pawns his ring but yet refuses money owed him by the widow of his dead captain. The ring is purchased by the innkeeper and recognized on his finger by Minna as the one she once gave Tellheim, the lover she has been searching after receiving from him only a single letter since his discharge from the army. When Tellheim enters her room, she is disappointed to find his poverty prevents him from marrying her. To help ease his financial distress, Tellheim's former sergeant, Werner, pretends to deliver money to him on the part of the widow he has just dismissed and so is quickly found out. While waiting for Tellheim's visit, a French knight informs Minna that the king has been made aware of Tellheim's merit so that his fortunes will likely improve. In view of his losses at gaming, Minna gives the knight money to be invested for both of them at cards. The knight promises her share even if he has to cheat. Tellheim reminds Minna that he lost money to the government as a result of paying from his own pocket a contribution to the war that was never levied in her district, which government officials disbelieved belonged to him. "Minna von Barnhelm deserves an irreprochable husband," he asserts. "It is a worthless love which does not scruple to expose its object to scorn. He is a worthless man who is not ashamed to owe a woman all his good fortune, whose blind tenderness-" She interrupts by handing him a ring, not, as he thinks, the ring he once gave her, but the one she first gave him, only seeming to free him from their engagement. To his astonishment, he learns from her maid, Franziska, that her uncle, Count von Bruchsal, has disinherited her for refusing a husband of his choice. To avoid appearing as a deceiver, Tellheim requests Werner's help, but this is rendered unnecessary by the delivery of the king's letter stating that Tellhaim will receive the money owed him for his contribution to the war. Overjoyed, Tellheim declares that he will quit the army and marry her, but she draws back her hand, reminding him that "it is a worthless love which does not scruple to expose its object to scorn". "Equality is the only sure bond of love," she adds. "The happy Mina only wished to live for the happy Tellheim." To win her, he prepares to tear up the king's letter until Minna prevents him while yet declaring: "She is a worthless creature who is not ashamed to owe her whole happiness to the blind tenderness of a man." When he discovers that she bought his pawned ring, he angrily concludes that she releases him until she makes known that the ring he possesses was meant for his finger and that her poverty was a fiction meant to test him. Werner is also made happy by Franziska's hand in marriage and his departure to the war in Persia. "In ten years' time," he declares, "you will be a general's wife or a widow."
"Nathan the Wise"
Time: 12th century. Place: Jerusalem.
While Nathan was away at Babylon, a fire broke out at his 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 a visit from Al-Hafi, dervish and Saladin's treasurer, hired because, having known mendacity, he is able all the more to provide for beggars in the city. Meanwhile, 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 act as a spy. Friar Bonafides then asks him to consider murdering Saladin. Since Curd owes Saladin 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. To this, the dervish comments: "He never lends, so that he always has the means to give." Nathan meets Curd to thank him for saving his house. But after being harassed by his daughter's thanks, the knight dismisses speaking to him, aside from saying that he wearied of his life after deciding to save a mere Jewess. "Great and abominable!" Nathan comments on Curd's feat. Nevertheless, 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, even worse that Nathan will become his treasurer and thereby 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 find Recha. The young couple 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. When Saladin meets Nathan, he asks his opinion as to what is the best religion. Nathan answers him with the following fable: a man once possessed a ring and 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 about what the brothers should do, 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." Alone with Curd, Daja confides to him that Recha, unknown to herself, 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 that 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 of this threat, Benafides confides to Nathan he was the messenger who gave him Recha eighteen years ago, beseeching him to keep that secret for the sake of his safety. Despite the patriarch's opinion, Curd asks Nathan a second time for his daughter's hand. Nathan answers he now must ask that question to her brother. Meanwhile, Daja reveals to Recha her true origin. Recha admits to Sittah that she fears losing her father while on her way to plead for Saladin's intercession in the matter. 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 deduces that he himself is the uncle of Curd and Recha, so that Recha is at the same time a Christian, a Jewess, and an Arab.
Friedrich von Schiller
Also remembered with Goethe as a powerful dramatist is Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805) for "Maria Stuart" (Mary Stuart, 1800).
The play "is a magnificent study of two women, with Mary infinitely the finer character. Human, even sinful, intensely feminine, always courageous, she is represented at the end as having triumphed over earthly desires, whilst Elizabeth is shown as a shrewd politician, vain, spiteful, but with a streak of undeniable greatness. The play is not historically accurate, particularly as regards Leicester. Nor is it so severely simple as the works of Goethe’s later period. But there are no irrelevancies and the events are determined by the characters. Elizabeth’s hesitancy is wonderfully portrayed and there are few better scenes in drama than the one between the two women" (Wilson, 1937 p 132). Mary Stuart's "errors are represented as the result of youthful inexperience, and she lives to repent them bitterly. Of that which condemns her to death before the law she is really innocent, being only incriminated by the false witness of a former servant...The more Mary's character was exalted, the more her rival must be degraded. Everything in the outward course of the play turns on the incident of the signing of the death-warrant by Elizabeth. It is not human sympathy that makes her hesitate, but only fear of reproach. The group of statesmen around her is finely drawn; Burleigh is hard and unfeeling, desiring Mary's death for reasons of state policy; Leicester is miserably weak and faithless, loving Mary and wishing to save her, yet without sufficient courage for the deed, and at the last only concerned about his own safety. Jealousy and wounded pride finally persuade Elizabeth to the fatal step. In the scene with Mary in the garden of Fotheringay she feels herself lowered in Leicester's eyes, and this determines her. Under pretence of yielding to the importunities of the people, she signs the death-warrant, but in a form which will shield herself and throw the blame on her secretary" (Bates, 1903 vol 10 German drama pp 128-129).
While Kord (1994) complained that the two rival queens show women's inability to rule, Lokke (1990) argued that "for Schiller, pathos is the essence of the tragic, a pathos born of the conflict between body and soul, which for Schiller is the inevitable and painful tension between the physical and the moral...In order to fulfill his poetic aims, Schiller transforms the historical Mary, who, at death, was forty-four years of age, grey-haired and physically broken from eighteen years of captivity, into a ravishing beauty of twenty-five...Schiller's Mary rises to the moral challenge of death and violence at the hands of others despite her sex; Schiller the tragedian transcends his own previously expressed misogynistic stereotypes which would limit woman's spiritual strengths and capacities...Mary forgives her betrayer Leicester and her executioner Elizabeth and accepts her death as the will of God" (pp 128-129). "Throughout the play 'blood guilt pursues Mary' because of her role in letting her lover, Darnley, murder Rizzio, a deed that indirectly leads her to an England prison. She first must conquer this blood-guilt to defend herself effectively against Queen Elizabeth. She rejects Mortimer’s offer of killing the English queen to preserve her ‘pride and conscience’. She obtains a sort of spiritual freedom from murder, which Elizabeth does not, 'always the politician, the slave of circumstance and expediency...vindictive and unprincipled'” (Prudhoe, 1973 pp 133-136).
Other critics emphasize how both show shrewd attempts at manipulation of each other and men and Queen Elizabeth's greater ability to fight down her emotions for her subjects' perceived good. "Mary poses a genuine threat to Elizabeth. To be sure, she was not directly responsible for Babington and Parry's attempt to assassinate Elizabeth. Nevertheless, she is clearly guilty of creating an atmosphere in which such crimes are all but inevitable. She has refused to sign...a public refutation of her claim to the British throne. She will later admit that she has been in contact with any foreign power willing to help free her from prison (V,7). Meanwhile she is aware that Leicester sympathizes with her at Elizabeth's court and has just sent Mortimer to him with her letter and picture...In act three we find Mary attempting to mask her true feelings. Caught off guard by the news of Elizabeth's approach, she is consumed with hatred just when she needs her composure most...At this point rhetoric becomes sophistry, a calculated emotional appeal designed to manipulate Elizabeth, not to reveal essential truth...Elizabeth refuses to fall into the trap. She cannot forget that Mary has been directly or indirectly responsible for repeated attempts to murder her and overthrow the government. When Elizabeth stoops to personal insult, however, Mary can no longer contain herself...Act V begins with a reversal of the play's beginning, as Mary's royal possessions are carried back on stage. At that time the visual language of the theater suggested that Mary was being stripped of the symbols of monarchy to confront her mortal human essence...Now the accumulation of visually magnificent wealth contributes to the impression that she has accepted her impending death with heroic dignity; the royal pomp crowns individual achievement, not the accident of birth...Mary claims that God enables her to redeem her sinful past through her final sacrifice...[But] Her final speech to Leicester confirms the impression that she is not to be trusted...She not only humiliates her former admirer, but in doing so confirms what he had struggled so desperately to deny, namely, his continued love for her and his involvement in a treacherous plot to help her escape from prison. Thus exposed, Leicester has no choice but to flee the country in fear for his life...If she is 'reconciled to herself', then only in the sense that she remains vindictive and manipulative until the end. While Mary conceals her plans under the semblance of honesty, Elizabeth makes no secret of the fact that she lives in a world governed by appearance rather than reality...The pope has excommunicated her, the French are plotting against her, and the Spanish Armada threatens invasion (IV,10). Even worse, Elizabeth's own advisors betray her: the discovery of a letter from Mary to Leicester severely compromises his position, and he saves himself only by revealing Mortimer's treachery. Moreover, Elizabeth realizes that her authority depends completely on the willingness of the English subjects to grant that authority (IV,10). As Mary pointed out in the first act, the English have changed queens and religions four times in recent years; Elizabeth's position as queen is tenuous at best...Convinced that she must kill Mary, she is equally convinced that she has no moral or legal right to execute her fellow queen...Elizabeth's solution is both politically pragmatic and morally despicable: she secretly decides to kill Mary, and then banishes or orders the execution of those loyal servants who carry out her will...In the end Elizabeth stands isolated and exposed, but still in power and in control of herself" (Kontje, 1992 pp 91-96).
"Careful consideration of the plot reveals that it would not be much affected by the removal of Mortimer altogether. The subplot of which Mortimer is the center is almost entirely without consequence. Elisabeth's attempt to employ him to murder Maria is merely the repetition of a motif already explicit. Although the conspiracy of which Mortimer is the head precipitates the catastrophe of the attempted assassination of Elisabeth, this happens without Mortimer's knowledge or approval and thus does not require him as a character" (Sammons, 1973 p 155). Although criticized by some as being sententious, the play, an instance of abstract moralizing, [the sententious element] emerges naturally from the dialogue” (Guthrie, 2009 p 137).
Time: 1580s. Place: Fotheringay and London, England.
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 declares. "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 counsels Mary to hope for nothing 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 executioner. 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 accuses him of treachery. "You have treacherously overstepped the bounds of your commission," she declares, ordering him to be conducted to the tower. However, Shrewsbury, together with Burleigh and Leicester, intervenes on his behalf to avoid this injustice.
Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz
Also of note in this period: Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz (1751-1792) for the middle-class drama, "Der Hofmeister" (The tutor, 1778). Lenz also wrote a lesser drama: "The soldiers" (1776) in which Marie is betrothed to Stolzius, a cloth-merchant, but subjugated by Baron Desportes who flirts with her and then abandons her when his debts run too high. To prevent Marie from interacting with her son and helping to recover her reputation, Countess de la Roche offers to keep her as her daughter's companion, but when she discovers her flirting late at night with Lieutenant Murray, she dismisses her. As a result, Marie runs away to find Desportes, but is intercepted by his game-keeper. Stolzius enters into Murray's service. When he overhears Desportes say that the girl is fair game for his game-keeper, Stolzius poisons his soup and his own. Marie is left without means and alone and is eventually discovered begging on the road by her father.
In "the tutor", Lenz “handles with equal consistency the major’s tirades, the cranky homilies of the schoolmaster, the energetic preaching of the privy councillor, the rumbustious slang of the students, the school-girlish effusions of Gustchen with her sudden descents into the idiom of the hobbledehoy, and the mincing speech of Rehaar (Yuill, 1972 p 14). "At no time is Lauffer given the liberty to confront his master directly, nor is he allowed to emerge victoriously in the contest which develops between them...His sullen displeasure toward his position, disguised as hypocritical subservience, suggests that private tutorship cannot be advantageous either for the pupil or for the tutor...A second scene in the Hofmeister where gestures are more revealing than discourse is IV.V, which depicts Gustchen's reunion with her father after her near-suicide. In this encounter, the major employs his usual blustering, boisterous and often irrational speech. Gustchen has just been saved from drowning, is reclining on the stage ostensibly still recovering from her nearly fatal leap into the pond, and she must now listen to her father's ranting...[The] attitude expressed by the words of this father toward his daughter is highly ambivalent. On the one hand, his words reveal the major to contain elements of the bourgeois drama's father-figure whose primary concern is the protection and safekeeping of his daughter's virtue. On the other hand, the major is a distortion of the supportive and genteel father familiar from 'Miss Sara Sampson', or the more volatile but equally devoted father of 'Emilia Galotti'. The major is a Storm and Stress father, head of a family riddled with inconsistencies, whose members are caught in the intolerable ambivalence of its several roles. His tangled emotions are quite clearly expressed by his words: simultaneously, he reaches out for and rejects his daughter, demonstrating the familial turmoil expressed in Storm and Stress drama. We cannot, however, ignore his gestures. Except in one instance where the major threatens to return to the pond and reiterates the verbal assault by swinging Gustchen in that direction, his gestures reveal tenderness and concern. First of all, it is he who has saved his daughter from drowning. He then carries her onto the stage and, at the end of the scene, away from it, kneels beside her, wrings his hands when he realizes she has fainted, and finally presses her against his heart...The old authoritarian patriarchal order [appears to be] still intact, with a forgiving father sustaining and controlling his errant but repentant daughter...[But depicted in the final scene] is the absence of the biological father of the child the major is holding in his arms. The child's father, a victim of self-castration, is condemned to spend his days in enforced unproductivity, permanently excluded from a natural relationship with his child" (Madland, 1984 pp 551-552).
Time 1770s. Place: Prussia and Saxony.
Text at ?
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. Despite these criticisms, 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 loves her cousin, the councillor's son, Fritz, and they promise to remain true to each other 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, tells the councillor that he is scandalized about his son's drop in salary to a paltry 100 ducats. The major justifies the decrease by saying that his son does not accomplish much as a tutor 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 even lower 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 wolf-skin coat in blazing summer heat. Back home, the tutor's salary drops to 40 ducats. With her lover away, Gustchen wastes 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 into 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 that 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 over a 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, Läuffer is unable to reveal the whereabouts of his daughter. She is groping among the bushes nearby. Under the impression that her father died of grief for her sake, she dives into a pond, but is saved from drowning by her pursuing 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 his face, much to Fritz' disapproval, who intends to fight his friend on the musician's behalf. In the schoolhouse, Läffner gives a coin to the begging Martha; then, looking down at her arms, faints after discovering Gustchen's baby. 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 offers to marry Rehaar's daughter, a proposal accepted by Rehaar. Meanwhile, 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!" he exclaims. 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 becomes reunited with Gustchen, Pätus with his wife, and Pätus' father with his son and mother, Martha.
August Wilhelm Iffland
Another notable drama includes "Die Mündel" (The ward, also known as The nephews, 1784) by August Wilhelm Iffland (1759-1816).
Time: 1780s. Place: Germany.
Chancellor Fleiffel advises Ludwig Bach, a suitor for his daughter’s hand, that his guardian, Drave, should give an account of his guardianship to him and his older brother, Philipp, liable to defame Ludwig because of his liberal spending habits. Philipp is motivated to do so because a clause in their dead father’s will states that should one of the two brothers be proven to be a prodigal, the other would become his tutor, heir to his fortune, from which a large sum of the inheritance was handed over to Johan Frederick Rose, a banker, to invest. A tutor was deemed necessary because an uncle of the wards was declared insane by the chancellor himself, unjustly so, though the uncle has recently escaped from his captors. In particular, Chancellor Fleiffel encourages Ludwig to request an inventory of Drave’s possessions. Drave complains to his wife that the chancellor is at him again to pay Ludwig’s debts. He refuses to pay. He also refuses to bring him his accounts, given that the chancellor requests money for himself as payment of a loan to Ludwig given at exorbitant interest. His wife informs him that Ludwig is loved by their daughter, Augusta. Although surprised and hurt by Augusta’s lack of confidence in informing him of this, he promises to accede to her wishes. When Chancellor Fleiffel’s son, Samuel, a city counselor, comes over, Drave requests him to forbear henceforth from visiting his house in view of the counselor’s interest in marrying his daughter. At this curt refusal, Counselor Samuel leaves angrily. Mother and daughter next receive the visit of Philipp, who, to their surprise, declares his love of Augusta. In an afflicted tone of voice, Augusta reveals she loves his brother. Chancellor Fleiffel smiles when his clerk informs him that Drave gave security for the sum of money invested by Johan on behalf of his wards. To plague Drave even more for his accusations against him, the chancellor convinced Ludwig to protest against his tutor for an illegally drawn-up inventory of his goods. Meanwhile, Philipp informs Drave that he bribed his uncle’s captors to free their prisoner and sent men to meet him, but they missed him and so the old man is gone he knows not where. When Phillipp meets Ludwig, the brothers coldly agree that a reconciliation is necessary. After his brother leaves, Ludwig flirts with Drave’s servant, Lisette, and kisses her as Augusta enters to witness the scene. Afflicted by such a sight, she grieves even more to hear of her lover’s cynicism at the existence of true love. When Ludwig informs Drave of his intention to marry, the father is overjoyed until he discovers that the woman Ludwig wants to marry is not his daughter but the chancellor’s. The afflicted Drave receives even worse news from Johan Rose, ruined after the bankrupty of a bank in Amsterdam, so that Drave must now compensate for the loss of his wards’ fortune with his own money. While a magistrate examines Drave’s properties, his daughter asks to see Samuel, begging him to take pity on her father by allowing him to pay gradually, not all at once. But he declines to help and matters deteriorate further when Drave strikes the magistrate for his insolence and is arrested. Ludwig is shocked after Samuel informs him that seals are put on Drave’s property. He wants to reverse such a drastic step, but Samuel tells him he cannot, all the more so because that step will help his case with Augusta. “Reduced to poverty, she must thank me for my protection,” Samuel says. “I will procure her a situation with my aunt at Bonn.” Ludwig refuses to accept such a business, as does his brother who directly confronts Chancellor Fleiffel, who informs him that the plaintiff against Drave is his brother. Philipp wants to provide bail for the prisoner, but cannot, since he is under age. He accuses the chancellor of unjustly taking away his uncle and is arrested in turn. As Philipp is led away by constables while calling for his brother, he tosses him a pocket-book, but the chancellor intercepts it. Distressed at the turn of events, Ludwig promises to restore the Drave’s fortune once he comes of age in two years, but fails to console Mrs Drave, who tears the paper containing his promises and astonishes him by revealing that her husband gave security for his sake. She also casts doubt on his assertion that Philipp intended to accuse him of being a prodigal to become his tutor. A shaken Ludwig confronts Samuel and demands to see Philipp’s papers, particularly the pocket-book. The counselor yields some of them and tries to secure others, but Ludwig discovers the trick and, after discovering a confession by the bribed doctor who falsely declared his uncle as being insane, draws his sword to force him to write to his father. “Tell him the family will make some discoveries,” he commands. “I will have him in my power to prevent his schemes and dictate my will to him.” As both men leave, Mrs Drave and Augusta are surprised by the visit of a bewildered man asking for charity, Uncle Bach released from bondage as Ludwig discovers. The chancellor arrives as Mrs Drave embraces her husband, freed from prison by a warrant on his part, extorted by Ludwig’s threats. But the chancellor has discovered Uncle Bach’s whereabouts and promises to send Drave back to prison. However, Phillip arrives to say that he has convinced the minister to suspend all activities on the basis of written proof of the chancellor’s crimes. Keen on forwarding his daughter’s happiness, Drave encourages Ludwig to continue as her suitor.
August von Kotzebue
August von Kotzebue (1761-1819) is one of the originators of melodrama, achieving distinction with "Menschenhass und Reue" (The stranger, more precisely Misanthropy and repentance, 1789).
“What a curious play this is, and how it triumphs over law and custom, and the actors, and the audience, and the critics, and the writer himself! For he was but ill suited to the noble task of teaching a humanity above the letter. He has made a young woman quit, for a villain, not only her husband, but her children too. The villain bribed her with promises of having more money to spend, and she is persuaded to be unfaithful by the paltry device of a forged letter, which pretends to convict her husband of infidelity. Her husband too, by her own confession, was far superior to the seducer in every respect. In short, it was out of vanity and mortification that she became faithless; out of narrowness of heart, and not any overflowing of it; out of antipathy to the man she had just been loving, and not out of sympathy with him she proposed to love: and yet notwithstanding this most gross of all the cases of infidelity, her penitence restores her in all our eyes” (Hunt, 1894 edition pp 175).
"The first period of Kotzebue's writing (during the years 1785 until roughly 1798) is marked by a conservative defence of the sentimental and gentile nobility as a spiritual force in social affairs. Like the Stürmer und Dränger, he is severely critical of the narrow bourgeois world, and admires the aristocracy for their tone and bearing...Although Kotzebue increasingly attacked the nobility, he treats deficiencies among members of the bourgeoisie in a similar manner. Bittermann, the agent of the count in Menschenhass und Reuee, might serve as an example. Kotzebue, politically speaking, took no class stand. He was satisfied with the existence of class differences, as long as they were flexible enough. He criticized unworthy actions by all classes and sought an adjustment of privilege and responsibility commensurate with the character and abilities of the individual" (Kahn, 1952 pp 635-637).
"Misanthropy and repentance"
Time: 1780s. Place: Germany.
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, known only as "the stranger" beholds Tobias pray. The stranger's servant, Francis, says fo this activity: "Hope is the nurse of life." "And her cradle is the grave," the stranger retorts. 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 returns to 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 asks whether she had ever 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 indeed Mrs Haller. When the baron comes over to the stranger's house to thank him for the rescue, he discovers that the stranger 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 another woman, Mrs Haller offers him a written acknowledgment of her guilt, but he tears up the paper. On his side, he offers her money, which she also 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, approach, and embrace.