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THE GERMAN THEATRE.

LECTURE XXX.

Origin of the German Theatre— Hans Sachs-Gryphius — The age of

Gottsched—Wretched Imitation of the French-Lessing, Goethe, and Schiller -- Review of their Works — Their influence on Chivalrous

Dramas, Affecting Dramas, and Family Pictures—Prospect for Futurity. In its cultivated state, the German theatre is much younger than any of those of which we have already spoken, and we are not therefore to wonder if the store of our literature in valuable original works, in this department, is also much more scanty.

Little more than half a century ago, German literature was in point of talent at the very lowest ebb; at that time, bowever, greater exertions first began to be made, and the Ger. mans have since advanced with gigantic strides. And if Dramatic Art has not been cultivated with the same success, and I may add with the same zeal, as other branches, tie cause must perhaps be attributed to a number of unfavourable circumstances rather than to any want of talents.

The rude beginnings of the stage are with us as old as with other countries*. The oldest drama which we have in manuscript is the production of one Hans Rosenpluet, a native of Nuremberg, about the middle of the fifteenth century. He was followed by two fruitful writers born in the same imperial city, Hans Sachs and Ayrer. Among the works of Hans Sachs we find, besides merry carnival plays, a great multitude of tragedies, comedies, histories both spiritual and temporal, where the prologue and epilogue are always spoken by the herald. The latter, it appears, were all acted withont any theatrical apparatus, not by players, but by respectable citizens, as an allowable relaxation for the mind. The carnival plays are somewhat coarse, but not unfrequently ex:

* The first mention of the mysteries or religious representations in Germany, with which am acquainted, is to be found in the Eulenspiegel. In the 13th History, we may see this merry, but somewhat disgusting trick, of the celebrated buffoon : “ How Eulenspiegel made a play in the Easter fair, in which the priest and his maid-servant fought with the boors." Eulenspiegel is stated to have lived towards the middle of the fourteenth century, but the book cannot be placed further back than the beginning of the fifteenth.

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tremely droll, as the jokes in general are; they often run out into the wildest farce, and, inspired by mirth and drollery, leave far behind the narrow bounds of the world of reality. Io all these plays the composition is respectable, and without round-about goes at once to the point: all the characters, from God the Father downwards, state at once in the clearest terms what they have at heart, and the reasons which have caused them to make their appearance; they resemble those figures in old pictures who have written labels placed in their mouths, to aid the defective expression of the attitudes. In form they approach most nearly to what was elsewhere called Moralities; allegorical personages are frequent in them. These sketches of a dramatic art yet in its infancy, are feebly but not falsely drawn; :nd if only we had continued to proceed in the same path, we should have produced something better and more characteristic than the fruits of the seventeenth century.

In the first half of this century, poetry left the sphere of common life, to which it had so long been confined, and fell into the hands of the learned. Opiz, who may be considered as the founder of its modern form, translated several tragedies from the ancients into verse, and composed pastoral operas after the manner of the Italians; but I know not whether he wrote anything expressly for the stage. He was followed by Andreas Gryphius, who may be styled our first dramatic writer. He possessed a certain extent of erudition in his particular department, as is proved by several of his imitations and translations; a piece from the French, one from the Italian, a tragedy from the Flemish of Vondel; lastly, a farce called Peter Squenz, an extension of the hurlesque tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe, in The Midsummer Night's Dream of Shakspeare. The latter was then almost unknown beyond his own island; the learned Morhof, who wrote in the last half of the seventeenth century, confesses that he had never seen Shakspeare's works, though he was very well acquainted with Ben Jonson. Even about the middle of the last century, a writer of repute in his days, and not without merit, has in one of his treatises instituted a comparison between Shakspeare and Andreas Gryphius, the whole resemblance consisting in this, that Gryphius, like Shakspeare, was also foud of calling up the spirits of the departed. He seenis rather to have had Vondel, the Fleming, before his eyes, a writer still

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GRYPUIUS-GOTTSCHED.

highly celebrated by his countrymen, and universally called by them, the great Vondel, while Gryphius himself has been consigned to oblivion. Unfortunately the metre in Gryphius's plays is the Alexandrine; the form, however, is not so confined as that of the French at an after period; the scene semetimes changes, and the interludes, partly musical, partly allegorical, bear some resemblance to the English masques In other respects, Gryphius possessed little theatrical skill and I do not even know if his pieces were ever actually brought out on the stage. The tragedies of Lohenstein, who in his day may be styled the Marino of our literature, in their etructure resemble those of Gryphius; but, not to mention their other faults, they are of such an immeasurable length as to set all ideas of representation at defiance.

The pitiful condition of the theatre in Germany at the end of the seventeenth and during the first third part of the eighteenth century, wherever there was any other stage than that of puppet-shows and mountebanks, corresponded exactly to that of the other branches of our literature. We have a standard for this wretchedness, in the fact that Gottsched actually once passed for the restorer of our literature; Gottsched, whose writings resemble the watery beverage, which was then usually recommended to convalescent patients, from an idea that they could bear nothing stronger, which, however, did but still more enfeeble their stomachs. Gottsched, among his other labours, composed a great deal for the theatre; connected with a certain Madam Neuber, who was at the head of a company of players in Leipsic, he discarded Punch (Hunswurst), whom they buried solemnly with great triumph. i can easily conceive that the extemporaneous part of Punchy of which we may even yet form some notion fron the puppetshows, was not always very skilfully filled up, and that many platitudes were occasionally uttered by him; but still, on the whole, Punch had certainly more sense in his little finger than Gottsched in his whole body. Punch, as an allegorical personage, is immortal; and however strong the belief in his death may be, in some grave office-bearer or other he still pops up unexpectedly upon us almost every day.

Gottsched and his school pow inundated the German theatre, which, under the influence of these insipid and diffuse translations from the French, was hereafter to become reguiar.

Heads of a better descriptiou began to labour for the

GELLERT-ELIAS SCHLEGEL.

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stage; but, instead of bringing forth really original works,
they contented themselves with producing wretched imita-
tions; and the reputation of the French theatre was so great,
that from it was borrowed the most contemptible mannerism
no less than the fruits of a better taste. Thus, for example,
Gellert still composed pastoral plays after bad French models,
in which shepherds and shepherdesses, with rose-red and
apple-green ribands, uttered all manner of insipid compli-
ments to one another.

Besides the versions of French comedies, others, translated from the Danish of Holberg, were acted with great applause. This writer has certainly great merit. His pictures of manners possess great local truth; his exhibitions of depravity, folly, and stupidity, are searching and complete; in strength of comic motives and situations he is not defective; only he does not show much invention in his intrigues. The execution runs out too much into breadth. The Danes speak in the highest terms of the delicacy of his jokes in their own language; but to our present taste the vulgarity of his tone is revolting, though in the low sphere in which he moves, and amidst incessant storms of cudgellings, it may be natural enough. Attempts have lately been made to revive his works, but seldom with any great success.

As his principal merit consists in his characterization, which certainly borders somewhat on caricature, he requires good comic actors to represent him with advantage.

A few plays of that time, in the manners of our own country, by Gellert and Elias Schlegel, are not without merit; only they have this error, that in drawing folly and stupidity the same wearisomeness has crept into their picture which is inseparable from them in real life.

In tragedies, properly so called, after French models, the first who were in any degree successful were Elias Schlegel, and afterwards Cronegk and Weisse. I know not whether their labours, if translated into good French verse, would then appear as frigid as they now do in German. It is insufferable to us to read verses of an ell long, in which the style seldom rises above watery prose; for a true poetic language was not formed in German until a subsequent period. The Alexandrine, which in no language can be a good metre, is doubly stiff and heavy in ours. Long after our poetry had again begun to take a higher flight, Gotter, in his translation

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GOTTER-HOLBERG-LESSING.

of French tragedies, made the last attempt to ennoble the Alexandrine and procure its re-admission into Tragedy, and, it appears to me, proved by his example that we must for ever renounce the idea. It serves admirably, however, for a parody of the stilted style of false tragical emphasis ; its use, too, is much to be recommended in some kinds of Comedy, especially in small afterpieces. Those earlier tragedies, after the French model, notwithstanding the uncommon applause they met with in their day, show how little hope there is of any progress of art in the way of slavish imitation. Even a form, narrow in itself, when it has been established under the influence of a national way of thinking, has still some significance; but when it is blindly taken on trust in other countries, it becomes altogether a Spanish mantle.

Thus bad translations of French comedies, with pieces from Holberg, and afterwards from Goldoni, and with a few imita tions of a public nature, and without any peculiar spirit, constituted the whole repertory of our stage, till at last Les sing, Goethe, and Schiller, successively appeared and redeemed the German theatre from its long-continued mediocrity.

Lessing, indeed, in his early dramatic labours, did homage to the spirit of his age. His youthful comedies are rather insignificant; they do not already announce the great mind who was afterwards to form an epoch in.so many departments of literature. He sketched several tragedies after the French rules, and executed several scenes in Alexandrines, but has succeeded with none: it would appear that he had not the requisite facility for so difficult a metre. Even his Miss Sara Sampson is a familiar tragedy in the lachrymose and creeping style, in which we evidently see that he had George Barnwell before his eyes as a model. In the year 1767, his connexion with a company of actors in Hamburgh, and the editorship of a periodical paper dedicated to theatrical criticism, gave him an opportunity of considering nuore closely into the nature and requisitions of theatrical composition. In this paper he displayed much wit and acuteness; his bold, nay, (considering the opinions then prevalent,) his · hazardous attacks were especially successful in overthrowing the usurpation of French taste in Tragedy. With such success were his labours attended, that, shortly after the publication of his Dramaturgie, translations of French tragedies, and German tragedies modelled after them, disappeared altogether from the stage.

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