Skip to main content

Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

See other formats

HUGO  VON   HOFMANNSTHAL                      223

the surrender of his wife, and his wife's acquiescence in the sur-
render, are incredible dramatic faults. There are, however, fine
descriptive passages, coloured and sensuous, and even good dra-
matic moments. Moreover, Otway's blank verse is rendered into
a loosely running metre which often gathers the tirades into long
loops with the vital words flung where the breath pauses - a
notable contrast to the controlled undulating flow of Hofmanns-
thaPs usual dramatic measure.

With Jedermann (1912) Hofmannsthal began a revival of the
medieval morality or mystery play. He had been preceded by
another Viennese poet and scholar, Richard von Kralik (1852-
1934; Weihnachtsspiel, 1893; Qsterspiel, 1894-5), and he was fol-
lowed by Max Mell, another Austrian. The success of these re-
juvenations of an apparently extinct species was astonishing: Max
Reinhardt's production of Jedermann before the portals of Sakburg
Cathedral was a theatrical sensation, Vollmoeller's Mirakel (1911)
was produced all over the world, Wilhelm von Scholz's Das Her%-
nfunder (1918) was a great success, and one of Max MelTs religious
playlets has been broadcast from London. The imitation in Jeder-
mann of the metrical, syntactical, and glossarial form of Hans Sachs
is an experiment which, though technically skilful, lacks the sap
and freshness of Goethe's assimilation of the cobbler poet's style;
in ]edermann the metrist's shaping fingers are always perceptible.
The rendering of Everyman is pretty close, but certain elements of
Hans Sachs's Protestant adaptation (Komodie vom sterbenden reichen
Manne) are taken over. Thematically the handling is not happy:
what the play unintentionally demonstrates is the comic idiocy of
redemption by repentance. Catholic elements are specifically elim-
inated because the poet was eager to make the old play once more
the 'living possession' of the German people: thus Confession
fades out, and with her the doctrine of penance. But Jedermann is
not anti-Catholic: indeed, the hero follows the silent figure of the
monk who has been shadowing the background; the play rather
represents the transition from the epicurean paganism of Der Tor
und der Tod to the conventional Catholicism of Das Sak^burger
Grosse Welttheater (1922). HofmannsthaFs own drift to conversion
is indicated in these three variations of the medieval Dance of
Death: Claudlo has no use for the crucifix which should bring
down flame to the supplicant but remains icily cold to the tips of
its bleeding ivory feet, and he follows Death with no hint of sal-