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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

220                  MODERN   GERMAN  LITERATURE

primitive animal nature which the decency of custom merely
covers. What this in practice amounts to is that some strange
sexual act or frenzy is interpreted as human; and tragedy, instead
of being, in the Aristotelian sense, a purification of passion in the
spectator, is an exposure of the roots of passion and mental disease
in the protagonist. Thus tragedy is turned to a discussion of sex
pathology, the result being that the canon of 'tragic guilt' fades
out of the picture, for guilt is explained as the product of intro-
versions and repressions. The vogue of these pathological studies
probably owes something to the writings and example of Arthur
Schnit2ler, who as editor of the Internationale klinische Rundschau
discussed the theories of Krafft-Ebing,1 Freud,2 and Lombroso.3
Alkestis (1894) was written immediately after the essay on Swin-
burne. It reads the poet's preoccupation with death and the fear
of it into the tragedy of Euripides. The Fates have promised
Admetus that he shall be spared death, provided always that,
when the time comes, someone will offer to pass to the shades in
his place. The call comes; and none will make the sacrifice of life
except his beautiful young wife. His father, a walking shadow,
clings to the shred of life that remains to him. The handling of the
problem - why should death take those whose life is precious to
themselves and to others - seems amateurish if compared at a
glance with the rigid logic of the pre-Renaissance discussion of
the theme, Der Ackermann aus Bohmen: actually in Hofmannsthal's
version the effect is apt to be comical; for not logic but pathos is
the means of appeal. In Elektra (1904) there is perhaps more of
Oscar Wilde's Salome than of Sophocles: the imitations are in-
deed as glaring as they are in Vollmoeller's Katharina, Grafin von
Armagnac. There were several translations Q*s.Salomey one by Hed-
wig Lachmann; and as one of Max Reinhardt's gorgeously pic-
torial productions it held the stage for years.4 The influence of the
English play is shown in the concentration of the interest on the
ragged figure of Electra - she never leaves the stage - while
Orestes is reduced to a minor figure. The theme of both Salome
and Ekktra is the sexual repression of the heroine. In the drama of
Sophocles there is merely a hint of such a conception: the name

1 See p. 37.                     2 Studien fiber Hysterie (1895), Iraumdmtung (1900).

* La Donna Mnqwnte, la Prostituta e la Donna normah (1893).
4 The German picture of Salome may owe much to the description of
Gustave Moreau's painting in Huysmans' A rebours (1884).