Skip to main content

Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

NEO-CLASSICISM                                253

thus in Paul Ernst's Demetrios Greek helot and tyrant symbolize
the Socialist and the dictator of today, while in his Chrkmhild
Gunther is a symbol for Wilhelm II.

But if, demonstrably, the neo-classic tragedy is based on Hebbel
in the case of Paul Ernst, and on Hebbel and Maeterlinck in the case
of Wilhelm von Scholz, what is there actually 'new' or 'classical'
in the movement? Hebbel is only classical in the sense that his
most mature plays are in blank verse and in five acts; his handling
of problems ranges him as the forerunner of Ibsen and G. B. Shaw.
There is nothing new in this sense in the neo-classic dramas, and
one is bound to say - and this amounts to condemnation perhaps -
that their main interest is in their form; that is to say, in their
attempt to show that the form actually of Racine is, by proof of
logic and experience, the only proper form of modern tragedy,
the only concession being that modern philosophy or modern
social or political problems must be read into the ancient myth or
the slice of history that is presented. Paul Ernst himself, in his
preface to Scholz's Meroe, maintains that "classicism* is a wrong
term for the aims of the neo-classicists, and that they seek, in the
form they consider most fit for contemporary drama, merely to
reach the level of the classics: 'nicht Klassi^ismus erstreben #f/r, son-
dern Klassi^ifaf. Their justification is, they think, that they mark
a return to the highest ideal of classic art: to represent life in its
highest possible manifestations; they would bring tragedy back
from the shallows into which naturalists and impressionists had
dragged it down by their denial of the irrefragable laws of tragedy
as established by Greek and academic criticism.

Wilhelm von Scholz; in his Gedanken %ttm Drama (1914) bases his
system on the idea that the action of a tragedy concentrates feel-
ings in the mind of the spectator and that the catastrophe results
in a violent discharge of these accumulated forces: the competence
of the dramatist is in the measure of the skill with which he mani-
pulates this gradual tension and happy release. The eyes of the
spectator are thus fixed by the outer magic of the drama on the
events which unroll the tragedy, and the inner magic of its sug-
gestion gives him the illusion that he is himself the actor. Thus
there are in the theatre two wills: the will of the tragedy to com-
plete the action, and the will of the spectator to follow the action
and to identify himself with it. Where Schok seems to differ
radically from the academically defined Aristotelian doctrine is