IMITATORS OF SCHILLER

This article was originally published in The German Drama of the Nineteenth Century. Dr. Georg Witkowski. Trans., L.E. Horning. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1909. pp. 22-4.

WITH the works of his last period Schiller had won his greatest triumphs, because he combined in ideal excellence suitable stage-technique with great thought-content, unerring judgment with inspiring flights of poetry. It did not seem difficult to appropriate this style which offered so many advantages. The preponderance of incident over characterization anticipated the delight of the public in external agencies, in stage effects. The action is under the guidance of a higher power outside the play. This exercises an inexorable influence over great characters who think themselves free and fight against it with all their might. And yet the individual case appears as a type of human destiny. In the characterization of his personages he preferred great and easily comprehended outlines and avoided everything complicated, inexplicable and disordered. His language is full of grand and brilliant metaphors which sacrifice pithiness to beauty and is rich in interpolations of generalized truths and aphorisms. The subjects are taken from the history of the Middle Ages or of modern times and offer plenty of occasion for varied and figure-filled canvases. The iambic pentameter seemed easy to master and gave dignity to the dialogue which, by help of the rhyme at the climaxes, attained increased melodious effect.

All these superficial qualities of Schiller's later dramas were copied faithfully for nearly a century by his imitators and they supposed that thereby they possessed a style in lofty drama which would hold good for all time. But they forgot in doing this that only Schiller's peculiar personality gave these forms their validity and disguised their lack of unity and modern consciousness. Schiller's great judgment in matters of history had comprehended in every case the true significance of the scenes he portrayed, his great genius had given form in brilliant language to an ideal, self-acquired world of thought. The power of his characterization had, in defiance of his own artificially constructed principles, almost everywhere revealed the inner just as fully as the outward causes of the destinies and deeds of his heroes. The breath of inspiration exhaled from his dramas carried all before it and corresponded to that ethical idealism which soon afterwards, disjoined from other ideas, became a mere phrase with later writers. It was a fateful error when it was generally believed that one coult not improve on Schiller and must strive for his effect and with his means.

Even in THEODOR KÖRNER these characteristics are conspicuous in his first dramas, Toni, Zriny, Hedwig, Rosamunde (all 1812). As a writer of comedies he followed Kotzebue, whom he also resembles in his rapid and frivolous methods of work. He possessed a decided sense for theatrical effects and would doubtless have given to the German stage a number of successful, even though inherently unimportant works, had not a heroic death for his country fallen to his lot.

Without the stage-skill of Körner, the noble LUDWIG UHLAND could not, with all his efforts, win any success as a dramatist, in spite of his higher poetic gifts. The only representatives of his numerous sketches which appeared in print, Ernst, Herzog von Schwaben (1818) and Ludwig, der Bayer (1819) brought no gain to the stage. The same thing happened to a number of dilettanti who expressed noble ideas in their dramas without the necessary mastery of technique, such as FRIEDRICH VON UCHTRITZ, EDWARD VON SCHENK, and MICHAEL BEER. Directors of theatres and actors, such as AUGUST KLINGEMANN and FRANZ VON HOLBREN, who with shrewd calculation understood how to employ Schiller's style gained a great public. The greatest success in this way was won by ERNST RAUPACH, a prosaic, cool, calculating, common sense writer, who for a time dominated the stage with his worthless tragedies and comedies.

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