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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

222                  MODERN   GERMAN   LITERATURE

the slayers of her father, on whom her mind and senses dwell with
the pitilessness of a Freudian complex. Thus, too, Wilde's Salome
turns vampire lusting for the blood of John the Baptist, who is
ice to her sexual flame. In Elektra as in Salome the paramour is
depraved and degenerate, man turned brute, while Herodias and
Clytemnestra, both animal women (Herodias with her love of big
men and Clytemnestra with her diseased liver and livid face with
the swollen eyelids over her scarlet gown), are haunted by the
fear of vengeance; and as in Wilde's play the moon turns red when
Salome dances so inElektra the rays of the moon fall aslant on the
courtyard through the boughs of a fig-tree and cling like blood-
stains round the feet of Electra. Interesting are certain analogies
with the discredited fate-play: thus, though Aegisthus is not slain
with the axe that slew Agamemnon, Electra has hidden it for that
purpose in the ground, and Orestes, when he comes, finds her
digging out the "fatal requisite' with her nails. Odipus unddie Sphinx
(1906) is by tradition the model of the fate-tragedy in the reputed
sense, but Hofmannsthal varies the Greek conception by giving
Odipus foreknowledge of what is to happen. It ^///happen because
it is in the stream of his blood. His ancestors roll through his blood.
The oracle has said that he shall marry his mother - and he loves
the mother he knows; and therefore he will not return home. He
is haunted by the mother-complex as Electra is haunted by the
father-complex. The thrill with which the play ends is typically
decadent: Odipus has overcome the sphinx, and descends the
mountain amid acclaims with Jokasta holding his hand in hers;
and the spectators know that they are passing on to incest. In Das
geretMe Venedig (1905), his modernization of Otway's Venice Pre-
served (a theme which tempted Schiller), Hofmannsthal improves
the motivation of his original by providing a more apparent justi-
fication for the treachery of the hero - who nevertheless remains
a spineless decadent - in the utter rottenness of Venice at the time
of the action, brought out by the introduction of such corrupt
characters as the old roue Senator Dolfin, as a type of the Venetian
signoria, and by bringing the secondary characters into prominence.
The motivation depends, however, on the surrender by Jaffeir of
his wife, as a pledge of his reliability, to the cut-throat conspirators,
and when one of them attempts to violate her he betrays the plot.
He has good reason to abandon his confederates - if he can; but
the very fact that he joins them proves his lack of judgment; while