Skip to main content

Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

See other formats

NEC-CLASSICISM                                 259

Germany in the War and the effect at home. Der Schat^ />// Morgen-
brofsthal (1926) and Das Chick ron L.autenthal (1931) also depict
Germany in the distress of a post-War period and hold out the
hope of a miraculous recovery; the Thirty Years War is no doubt
a symbol of contemporary conditions.

Paul Ernst's neo-classical tragedies have been criticized as being
'cold', 'stiff\ 'anaemic', 'pseudo-classical'. He does, it is true, elim-
inate verbal magic; but it is part and parcel of his programme that
greatness of dramatic style can only be achieved by austere restric-
tion to the bare lines of the action: *Es ist Grosse (Stilgrosse),* he
says, *n>enn ein Kimstler es vermag^ slch aufdie Haupflinien %tt beschranken
und alle \ebensachen, auch die bluhendsten, duftigs ten > aus^ischliessen?
This would seem to mean: let the dramatist stick to his plot and
keep the poetry out. His first neo-classical tragedy in his own sense
is Demetrios (1905), yet another attempt to master the problem of
the pretender which Schiller planned in his Warbeck and both
Schiller and Hebbel left uncompleted in the Demetrius of each. It
is quite in keeping with the neo-classic manifestos that Ernst
removes the problem from comparatively modern history to a
mythical period; it is thus easier for the dramatist to eliminate
milieu and coukur locale and confine himself to the stark ethical out-
lines. His Demetrios is a slave in Sparta in the second century
before Christ; he establishes himself for a time as the son of the
former king, who has been slain by a usurper. Demetrios has been
brought up as a helot, and as King the problem for him is (in the
terms of today) how to raise the standard of living among the
masses; he finds, as other initially Socialist dictators have done,
that he can only rule as a tyrant; and his tyranny leads to the proof
that he is an impostor in so far as he is not the legitimate son of
the tyrant of whom he is the very image, but merely this tyrant's
bastard begotten on a slave girl. Canossa (1908) begins with a nar-
ration of the horrors of war which is lifted bodily from the begin-
ning <&Simplhyssimus. The ethics are prophetic of Nazi doctrine:
the 'higher life' lived by the hero covers the assumption that
tyranny as the function of a hero's life is justified. Ariadne auf
Naxos (1912) marks the transition to a more or less new type of
Ernstian play: 'dasErlosmgsdrama*. The Erlosungsdramen - the others
are Manfredund'Beatrice (1912), Preussengeisf(i^i4)^ Kassandra(i<)i 5),
York (1917) - stress the idea that the hero is saved from suffering
by overcoming it. In Ninon de FEncIos (1910) - the heroine Is the