GHDI logo

Theodor Fontane on Changing Public Tastes in Theater (1878-1889)

page 2 of 8    print version    return to list previous document      next document

Enough about the performance though. Might a few words also be said about the play itself? There is already a whole body of literature on Ibsen, and particularly on the content of Ghosts. It was inevitable that a heated controversy would by sparked by the lesson contained within it – that the sins of the father will be visited upon the children – and by the idea that hereditary disease in its most dreadful manifestation is the constant companion of original sin. I am all the more reluctant to rejoin this debate, because I would only be able to repeat what I have said before. Where would we be if the law had been in effect from the very beginning? Waiting for the freezing-over point would not have been necessary, since we would have been ruined by “moral decline” a long time before then. Moreover, if Ibsen’s play nevertheless had a great impact again yesterday, the reason must be something else. [ . . . ] In the quarrel with the realistic school, critics nowadays frequently point to the writings of a previous literary epoch, to a golden age, one that, while stressing the ideal, was capable of creating greater things and making people far happier. The question remains whether this is true. If it is true, however, then it is equally true that these great creations – which are even regarded as such by the advocates of the opposing trend – have basically stopped sparking lively interest among the humanity “whose turn it is now.” Performances of classic plays have functioned as the pendant to empty churches for some time now. The pomp accompanying performances is a sad stop-gap measure. And in this desperation, realism came into being, seeking artistic salvation in the opposite direction. If it could no longer be paradise, it was going to be a garden of life instead. On the path toward this destination, there were many places where people stopped, though it might have been better just to pass by. In the end, though, after many an odyssey, I am convinced that beauty will be found on this path, and once it is, it will find a sharper portrayal because the eye will have learned to see more keenly in the meantime. [ . . . ]

The next performance (October 20) will bring us Gerhart Hauptmann’s socio-critical drama Vor Sonnenaufgang (Before Daybreak). May the staging of this second play have an equally promising start, something that will surely be the case if the artists and theater directors continue to support the cause of the “Freie Bühne” as they have done in the past! This might be rather difficult under the circumstances. But the extraordinary interest with which the audience – incidentally, I could not imagine a better or more understanding audience – followed yesterday’s performance must also be an incentive for supporters of the project to overcome all of their difficulties with delight.

first page < previous   |   next > last page