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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

HUGO  VON   HOFMANNSTHAL                      219

scene is an old town in Persia; the time evening and night after
the marriage of a rich old merchant to Sobeide. She tells him,
when left alone with him, that she loves Ganem, the carpet-dealer's
son. She has married the old merchant because her father in his
impoverished state is in debt to him. The merchant, a wise old
man, tells her she is free to go, wherever she wishes. She goes to
the house of Ganem's father, and there finds that Ganem loves a
loose woman, his father's mistress; after witnessing revolting
scenes she throws herself down from a tower in her husband's
garden. Sobeide has seen love in its loathliest aspects, and she
dies a virgin, to cleanse her body of the contamination. But the
action is not convincing; for if these filthy creatures, who take the
bloom from Sobeide's virgin fancies, are loathsome, true lovers
are not. The dramatic effect of the play is in the shudder at the
spectacle of wild vice. There is in this play - and in this respect it
is true to the type of the neo-romantic play - something of the
fantastically evolved sensationalism of the more theatrical Eliza-
bethans; but the horrors are not, as with the Elizabethans as a rule
they are, organic: the tints of rottenness are so to speak painted
on to a flimsy canvas, not woven into a fabric that will bear the
critic's rending hands.

This livid sensationalism is sicklied o'er with HofmannsthaPs
fatigue of spirit, from which he tried to escape by modernizing the
plays of vigorous dramatists of old time. There is some evidence
that these revivals of old plays are influenced (distantly perhaps)
by the poet's admiration for Swinburne's Atalanta in Calydon\ in
his essay on Swinburne he refers to its 'wunderbare Verlebendlgung
des erstarrten Mytbos9 and adds: 'nicht das %ur beherrschten Klarheit und
tan^enden Gra^/e emporge^pgene Griechentum atmete darln^ sondern das
orphisch ursprungliche, leidenschaftlich umwolkte\ HofitnannsthaPs recipe
for such modernizations (cf. Gerhart Hauptmann's Greek Plays,
pp. 41-2) would thus seem to be that the poet should plunge back
beyond the (to him too humanized) classical Greek tragedy or the
romanticized humanity of the Elizabethans to reveal the ultimate
springs of the passion by piercing through the cloud which hid,
even to the old dramatists with their keen insight into psychology,
what set the action going. More or less this will mean that psy-
chology yields to the exposure of physical states, and that the
dramatist of today dissects complexes which, though apparently
abnormal, he proves to be normal because they show forth that