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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

260                  MODERN  GERMAN  LITERATURE

famous lady of many lovers whose own son has grown up without
knowledge of her and, when he sees her, falls madly in love with
her - it is not clear whether the mother is erlost or the son when
he stabs himself. But here we have practically the only approach
to modern psychology in Paul Ernst's plays: Ninon has the cold,
sexual, experimental curiosity of a man; hence her eternal youth,
because she does not give herself, but takes, or rather tastes.
Even she, however, is concerned with the metaphysical nature of
life. Probably the most interesting of the neo-classical tragedies
are Ernst's "Brunhild (1909) and Chriemhild (1910). Ernst had dealt
critically and suggestively with the dramatic possibilities of the
Nibelungenlied in his Die Nibelungen: Staff, Epos und Drama (1906),
which he incorporated in Der Weg <%ur "Form. The chorus-like
dialogue between retainers with which the acts open projects in
dignified language, in which Greek idiom is sporadically imitated,
the dramatist's illumination of the ensuing action. In the actual
drama the language, though for the most part programmatically
plain, is nevertheless outrageously undramatic because it plays
round the naive philosophical ideas on which Ernst (imitating
HebbePs Nibelungeri) bases the deeds of his protagonists. The Welt-
anschauung thus demonstrated is misty enough: the problem to the
reader is whether mBrmbzJdguilt and responsibility for one's deeds
are negated, because the individual does what his character makes
him do,1 or whether in great characters (like Siegfried) guilt is
necessary to distinguish them from gods, but must be expiated
in the Aristotelian way. The denial of right and wrong and the
attribution of all happenings to fate are of course classical in the
sense of the fate-drama; but in any case Paul Ernst has not made
even fate seem inevitable; and his reduction of Gunther to a whin-
ing coward and of Chriemhild to a vicious termagant is hateful,
while his final denunciation (in the mouth of Hagen) of the con-
ception of Treue as the source of the two catastrophes comes as a
surprise and is confusing. Ernst has, however, indicated that this
is symbolical: Gunther stands for the ex-Kaiser, while Hagen
and the other Nibelungen owe their sufferings to a ridiculous
and cowardly conception of duty to their lord; that is, to slave
morality. The trouble with Paul Ernst is that his dramas, for all

1 Gunther: Ja, icb bin feig. Docb wesbalb bin icb feig? \ Wesbalb ward icb ah
Siegfried nicbt geboren? - Hagen: Undjeder Menscb muss der seiny der er 1st, \ Drum
ist nr&btlicb Rieue; und die Scbuld \ 1st nur ein Wort, das mr im Traume sprecben.