« AnkstesnisTęsti »
SHAKESPEARE AND THE MODERN GERMAN STAGE.
stage in the two countries are widely different. As the decadence of our stage lies not so much with the players as with the public, so here, too, Shakespeare's popularity in the land of his adoption is explained by the higher artistic demands of the German playgoer in respect of the theatrical fare set before him.
this blind subjection of art to the power of gold is its own destruction. Melpomene and Thalia should not imperceptibly and gradually be transformed into Phryne who goes achaffering with her charms."
"The old argument," the English actor-manager will say, with a shrug of his shoulders. "I know all about that," will be the reflection of the English playgoer, "but I don't think I should care for X. as Macbeth"; and he will telephone for a box for the 500th performance of "The Merry Widow." Yet this argument is not quoted from a treatise on the decadence of our English stage, however appropriate it may sound, but from an introductory note to a German translation of Mr. Sidney Lee's scholarly essay on "Shakespeare and the Modern Stage" which recently appeared in the Berlin Kreuz-Zeitung. We are so accustomed to having the German representation of Shakespeare held up to our theatre as a model that, as is our English way where foreign affairs are concerned, we accept the judgment of the few for the verdict of all, without looking closer into the bases for such an assumption or into the actual conditions on both sides.
It would be idle to attempt to deny that Shakespeare has come into his own in Germany, so that our great Englishman fulfils his purpose-since a dramatist cannot achieve his aim until his plays are represented-in a wider measure on foreign soil than in the land of his birth. It is true that the artistic taste and piety with which Shakespeare is approached by the German stage should make us not only reflect, but act-in both senses of the word. Yet one must not lose sight of the fact that the conditions of the
Generally speaking, the key to the situation is the National Theatre. The various Royal or municipal theatres with which the German Empire is so liberally provided. can, with their ample subsidies, easily afford to keep Shakespeare in regular rotation on their repertoire, and, moreover, cast adequately those minor Shakespearean characters which our actor-managers, with one eye on their own prominence and the other on their pockets, so grievously neglect. With an enormous free list, which in the larger cities and Residenzstaedte includes nightly the officers' corps of the different regiments of the garrisons, the ministries and the friends of the considerable permanent staff (management, actors and stage hands), there is no difficulty about filling the great subsidized theatres and giving the English visitor a deep impression of the intellectual culture of the German playgoer.
For the purpose of a comparison between the English and German Shakespeare, then, the subsidized theatres must be temporarily eliminated from the discussion. As a matter of fact, the citing of the repertoire of any State theatre as an indication of the popularity of a dramatic author is misleading. As an instance of the truth of my contention I would cite the Prussian Royal theatres, which stand under the immediate control of the Emperor. The Assyrian ballet "Sardanapalus," in which the German Em
peror took an absorbing personal interest, and which cost an enormous sum to produce, was received in dead silence at the première, yet is still occasionally performed. The same is true of much of the verbose rubbish which the annual "Festspiele" at Wiesbaden, and gala performances on national anniversaries in Berlin, produce in the guise of patriotic drama.
Let us turn, therefore, to a more reliable source, the independent theatres. Here the popularity of Shakespeare strikes home at once. Last autumnthe principal German theatrical season is from September to Christmas-those ingenious advertisement pillars, which stand at the street corners in every German city and give the names of the plays and players at the theatres, offered a wonderful object-lesson to the English playgoer visiting Berlin. For there on several evenings throughout the winter he might read with amazement and incredulity that no less than five of Shakespeare's plays were being given in Berlin and suburbs simultaneously, compared with none in London. There was one or other of the Shakespeare repertoire at the Theatre Royal, "King Lear" at the Deutsches Theatre, "Julius Cæsar" at the Neues Schauspielhaus and the Schiller Theatre (Nord), and "The Taming of the Shrew" at the Schiller Theatre (Charlottenburg)! That means that four independent theatres find it a sound commercial undertaking to keep Shakespeare on their regular repertoire, verily a most convincing proof of the German playgoer's fidelity to the Bard.
Germany's educational system holds the secret of the Teutonic love for Shakespeare. The "Deutsche Shakespeare Gesellschaft," with its essay competitions and regular Shakespeare birthday celebrations, and the dozens of performances of the poet's plays given nightly in theatres throughout
the Empire, would undoubtedly serve to keep the flame of the Shakespeare cult brightly burning, supposing it showed any tendency to flicker and expire. Of that, however, there is no fear. For the love of Shakespeare is planted in the bosom of the young German at his splendid Gymnasien and Realschulen, which impress our Shakespeare into service as literary aid to assist in the formation of the young mind as much for the Bard's reasoned outlook on life and his sane, sweet philosophy as for the beauty of his thought or the glory of his language.
Not so the English way with boys. There are "exams" to be passed, and Theobald and the First Folio are of more immediate importance to the examiners, and consequently to the crammers, than any "impracticable" musings on Shakespeare's world, that Utopia into which his divine humor and inspired passion transformed a universe humdrum three centuries ago as it is humdrum to-day. In Germany, theatre and school can work hand in hand in the task of popularizing Shakespeare. His plays are always on the repertoire, and the German boy, whom the system has taught to reason with himself about the play he is reading in class, can, and does, go to see Shakespeare with a mind open to consider the play in question as unfolded in all its beauty by the theatre, to weigh his impressions, and to correct or confirm his original judgment.
Yet the old order is changing, and the appetite for Shakespeare in the German playgoer, whetted early, although it still survives, has to be promoted by artificial means. It is quite wrong to suppose that Shakespeare holds his own on the modern German stage by the sole fascination of his muse. The German stage-manager, while forced by the high literary standard of public opinion to approach
the Bard with all piety, does not hold magnificent staging and the employment of every art of modern stagecraft to be incompatible with a serious presentation of the master's works. And if the practice of animating our own decadent stage to a larger appreciation of the national treasure which the Swan of Avon has left it has fostered the belief that the Shakespeare of the German stage most nearly corresponds to that of "The Lord Chamberlayne hys Servantes," it is well to contradict this legend most emphatically in this place.
Audi et alteram partem. So general has become the tendency of the modern German stage to present Shakespeare with the same degree of historical accuracy and lavish display in the mounting that a strong movement is on foot to revert to simple conditions, not perhaps to the primitive simplicity of the Elizabethan stage, but at least the conditions which will prevent the stage-manager's art from being regarded as the indispensable aid of the actor.
theatres in Berlin and Vienna, as well as in other cities-one might almost say, throughout Germany-with the exception of the former ShakespeareBühne at Munich, have become converted to principles of staging which Mr. Sidney Lee energetically combats. Indeed, it may be said of recent years, and approximately during the past decades, that Shakespeare is mounted in Vienna and Berlin, and also in other cities theatrically prominent, absolutely after the pattern of the London West-End theatres-that is to say, with every device of the most lavish and expensive scenery. It may be admitted that on the German stage it is done with intelligence and taste; nay, frequently with exquisite ingenuity. Yet these attributes cannot rectify what to my mind is a wrong system. It is therefore to be joyfully acclaimed that, for all this, the German stage is beginning to show signs of a new movement favorable to the reform and simplification of scenery."
In the introductory note to Mr. Sidney Lee's essay, referred to at the opening of this article, the translator, Herr Jocza Savits, known in Germany as the initiator of the Shakespeare Reformbühne at Munich, and as one of the most untiring champions of the "ideal stage," says: "Mr. Sidney Lee remarks that in Berlin, Vienna, and in all the chief German-speaking towns of Europe Shakespeare's plays are produced constantly and in all their variety, for the most part, in conditions which are directly antithetical to those prevailing in the West-End theatres of London. This can only refer to representations of Shakespeare's works on the German stage which took place long before 1900. Because for a considerable time leading and prominent
It will be noted that the German critic does not even except, like the writer, the subsidized theatres from his charges. But these houses, besides occupying, as has been shown, a different plane from the independent theatres, do not, for all the richness and display of their stage settings, take liberties with Shakespeare. The other theatres are becoming increasingly prone to take their lead from the Deutsches Theatre in Berlin, against which the charge of tampering with Shakespeare can be sustained with equal justice, to my mind, as against our English stage.
We are continually being told that the difference between the German and the English theatre-goer is that the former goes to the play for his instruction, the latter for his amusement. It is doubtful whether this axiom applies with as much force as
formerly as far as the Teuton is concerned.
The modern German resembles his country in so far that he is a creature in being. The state of flux in which he lives extends also to his relations with the theatre. Formerly, it is true, he went to the play in a spirit somewhat approximating to that of the ancient Greeks, seeking pabulum for his intellect, matter to reason and ponder over in his logical German mind. Yet German theatrical tradition says nothing of his being content to forego the aid of stagecraft to complete the illusion of the theatre. The introduc tion of Shakespeare to the German stage, indeed, occurred at a moment when the development of scenic magnificence was at its height. (One excepts the visit to Germany in Shakespeare's day of those English players who passed across the stage of history for a moment to be lost for ever in the "wings" of time.)
Dr. Georg Altman, of the Mannheim Court Theatre, says: "Even at the end of the seventeenth century the theatre was lavish of its scenic wonders, and tried to be a greater stagesetter than Mother Nature herself: nixies and devils, indeed the whole heavens and the jaws of Hell, soared across the stage, and when a prince deigned to occupy a box an eagle would fly down from the proscenium and present him with a programme (without advertisements!)."
Although modern dramatic art was in its infancy, scenic art in opera had been brought to Germany a hundred years before Friedrich Ludwig Schröder's versions introduced Shakespeare to the German playgoer. The Hamburg Opera House, which was the scene of those scenic marvels described by Dr. Georg Altman, and which had enjoyed, as such, a wide reputation for decades, was the first permanent theatre to be erected in
Germany, and was Shakespeare's dramatic cradle. Schröder's acting editions of Shakespeare were doubtless hewn to taste, to lend themselves as much to the prevailing love of scenic display as to suit the primitive dramatic demands of the contemporary theatre audience.
Although the writings of Schlegel and Lessing were able soon after this to bring public opinion round to a correct appreciation of the English dramatist's works, they were never able to enforce the adoption of Elizabethan stage conditions. And that the aid of scenery and stage-craft to heighten the illusion was congenial to German sen. timent was overwhelmingly proved a century later by the rapturous acclamation of the famous Meining players, who presented Shakespeare with a perfection of acting, scenery and stage management which the world had never seen, and who, in their subsequent triumphal tour of the chief European capitals, left their mark wherever they appeared. Their influence is traceable, more or less, in every Shakespeare production of the present day, and is particularly noticeable at the Berlin Theatre Royal. For it was but yesterday that Ludwig Barnay, the memorable Mark Antony of the Meininger, resigned the reins of management at the Königliches Schauspielhaus, and Paul Lindau, erstwhile stage manager of the troupe and Duke George's faithful aide, is at present the Dramaturg, and a very active one, for all his years.
"Was ist der deutsche Rhein?" asks the song, and "What is the German Shakespeare?" is a question which the above reflections may prompt. Allow an English playgoer, who loves our English Shakespeare, and who has the interests of our English stage truly at beart, to reply that the German
Shakespeare is what its name implies: a German adaptation of the English poet, very pious, very intelligent, very artistic, but standing to the spirit of the Master not even as close as the sterling German translation stands to the English text.
A Shakespeare play in German is the highest tribute to Shakespeare's greatness which the stage has probably ever paid. In the presence of these German figures one realizes, perhaps for the first time, that Shakespeare created, not characters or types, but human beings, who, though denuded of their nationality, preserve their personality intact, and offer the same opportunities to the good actor to excel and to the bad actor to fail as the parts do on their native stage.
Shakespeare came to the Germans. to quote their own pregnant phrase, "ein unbeschriebenes Blatt." They had not the English theatrical tradition, verbal and written, to go upon; they knew nothing of the requirements of the "platform stage" for which the dramatist wrote, and accordingly they set about the interpretation of this dramatic meteor in their own thorough German way. The critiques of Mr. Beerbohm Tree's performances of Shakespeare in Berlin made fascinating reading, for there we had, in black and white, the full confession of the principles which guide the presentation of Shakespeare on the German stage.
The declamatory style of the English Shakespearean actor appeared forced and stilted to them, wotting nothing of the acting conditions of the Elizabethan stage, when the actor spoke his lines to the semi-circle of a horseshoe auditorium. Such interpolated scenes as the return of Antony in "Antony and Cleopatra," or the game of bowls in "Richard II." shocked the German critics as much as they do our English Shakespeare
orthodoxy, and the incidental music played from in front of the stage Irritated them furiously. In "Twelfth Night" they voted Malvolio and his tormentors too grotesque, their humor too restrained and quiet. For the German Andrew Aguecheeks, Toby Belches and Festes roar and bang through their parts, and thus throw the delicate comedy of the Malvolio scenes out of all perspective. Such criticism as this makes one wonder what manner of strange incongruity Shakespeare's masque became when garnished with the nixies and devils of the Hamburg Opera House.
The fact is simply that the German accepts Shakespeare as a German poet, and acts his plays unhampered by tradition other than that of the stage "business." The speeches are treated almost purely as dialogue, with the result that, while the dramatic effect is enhanced, the beauty of the language is very often missed. Take, as an instance, the opening scene of "Hamlet." In the production of the tragedy at the Berlin Theatre Royal the most is made of the dramatic conditions in which the ghost appears. One sees the snow-covered ramparts looking over a fitful, moaning sea, which, with its bold sweep of skyline, somehow, perhaps intentionally, suggests the Lange Linie along the harbor at Copenhagen. A tower, a huge amorphous mass, stands out black against the star-lit firmament, with a twinkling eye of light denoting the castle hall where Claudius keeps wassail. All is cold, silent and melancholy, like a presage of the tragedy to be enacted. The guards and Horatio converse in hoarse, hurried whispers, which are interrupted by the apparition of the dead king. The eloquence of Horatio's speeches goes by the board, but the horror of the situation is increased,
Following out this idea, the Ger