Concerning Caroline’s remarks on Friedrich Hildebrand von Einsiedel’s
Theory of the Dramatic Arts (1797)
Because Caroline speaks with such approbation to Friedrich Hildebrand von Einsiedel himself about his theoretical piece on the dramatic arts, of which he sent her a complementary copy, Grundlinien zu einer Theorie der Schauspielkunst, nebst der Analyse einer komischen und tragischen Rolle, Falstaf und Hamlet von Shakespeare (Leipzig 1797), and since it can be argued that among all the art forms, her greatest affinity was precisely for the dramatic arts, it is worth examining in greater detail that portion of the piece to which she specifically refers.
In the expression “style of a role” (in her letter to Einsiedel on 18 October 1797 [letter 188a]), Caroline is referring broadly to Einsiedel’s discussion in chapters 1 (pp. 13–33) and 2 (34–45), though the fundamentals of that discussion with respect to “style” apply to subsequent use of the term in the book as well; she writes:
The individual things I did understand, and the piece’s overall style — both in the sense of how “the style of a role” is taken as well as often the extraordinary, beautiful manner of expression — exerted such an attraction on me that I was unable to refrain, as you can well see, from mentioning to you a bit about my own assessment.
In those initial chapters, Einsiedel addresses first some of the difficulties attaching to any attempt at drafting a theory of the dramatic arts, an art form so dependent on conventions of taste and on the individual manner of treatment unique to a given artist, and, moreover an art form too transitory to tolerate excessive license and whose subtlest laws often reveal themselves solely to the inner tempo of our inner sense.
In this latter respect, Einsiedel maintains that it is the actor whose art demands the highest degree of sensibility. That is, the actor must exert an influence on the ear through the sound of the spoken word, on the eye through creating tableaus that are, however, animated, ever-changing, progressive actions, much like the painter, and yet unlike the sculptor cannot use alien materials, but rather solely his or her own body as both artist and product of art. Einsiedel continues (16):
As regards the magic common to all the art forms, namely, deception, actors generate such by drawing from deeper sources than other artists, since their deception relies more on psychological than physical laws; by contrast, the other arts engage more the latter in trying to attain that magic through more sensual means.
A certain qualification must be noted in acknowledging the cooperation between actor and playwright. For actors as such possess merely the physical equipment to produce deception; it is the playwright who must produce the psychological element by providing for the former the object but not the mimic value of theatrical portrayal.
Exemplary masterpieces and careful exercises are doubtless of more value to actors than systems and standards, and the pure talent that marks actors as true artists can come only from the hands of nature herself.
Einsiedel focuses theoretically less on developing features that derive from pure talent than on providing a corrective for the insights and understanding actors must acquire concerning the purpose of their art. In this respect, he offers the following definition (18):
The art of acting is the application of intellectual and physical energy by means of which actors bring to sense experience and animate a dramatic poetic text through their own persons, that they might turn that text into a theatrical performance through pantomime and language.
In this sense, Einsiedel continues, actors are not merely imitators, but rather are themselves creators of the model guiding their mimic portrayal. He then spends several pages discussing the relationship between actors and the playwright, pointing out how actors are a work of art in their own turn quite apart from the text the playwright has produced such that (24)
the playwright provides the outline of the painting, and the actors, through their performance, provide the audience with everything the imagination of a reader would otherwise be inclined to impose, and do so in a pleasing fashion.
Einsiedel briefly mentions the actors’ various use of language (sometimes alone, i.e., in a more rhetorical fashion and without accompanying mimic action, in which case they are even more dependent on the playwright’s guidance), and of mime, countenance, and gestures (in which case they are less dependent on the playwright) in achieving this goal. It is in this context that he comes to discuss style and mannerism as such apply to the dramatic arts (28–31):
With respect to a work of art, style consists in the artistic attempt to portray through the senses the artist’s inner intention by drawing on the character or disposition most unique to the intention itself, that is, without resorting to analogous means.
Mannerism is the sensual rendering of that inner intention to the extent more distant, merely analogous means are used. . . .
Let me call mannerism a mere makeshift aid for art that relates to style as appearance relates to the thing itself; as a mere sign of reality, it possesses no unique character with respect to the work of art itself and as such represents a means that is subordinate to style, and if one must accept that even mannerism has a certain character, then it is merely that which the individuality of the artist involuntarily introduces into the production of a work of art.
Truth and nature are incorporated into a work of art through style, whereas mannerism lends it merely an element of probability and deception.
A work of art acquires the true element of deception when the artist’s inner intention concurs so strictly with the sensual rendering, in so living a fashion, that the exchange of appearance and truth, possibility and reality (regardless of how often such cannot but be generated in this sensual rendering by mannerism), never comes to expression in this execution as a mere means, nor ever becomes noticeable as such in any disconnected fashion. . . .
And yet artists must always take an inner intention as their point of departure. The mere imitation of this or that reality from nature will never produce a work of art.
Just as little is this name to be attributed to a product in which the inner intention nowhere comes to expression as style, being instead lost during execution amid merely that which is mannered.
This assertion is so true that portrait painters whose vocation has tethered them to a specific object in nature, can be called an artist only when they avoid merely grasping with the eye the externals of the object to be painted as a specific form and instead, guided by their inner sense, also manage to fathom the characteristic features of this object, and then take the purest, most unique and pleasing of those features as their inner intention in order thereby to elevate the restricted imitation of nature into a work of art.
In chapter 2, Einsiedel applies these considerations to the art of acting (33–45, here 33–39), and it is more narrowly to this section that Caroline seems to be referring:
That which with respect to the formative arts we called the artist’s inner intention, is with respect to the dramatic arts the element of interest that the playwright incorporates into such composition as an effect. Every person who is to be portrayed on stage has a certain style, one I would call the spirit or character of a role; whatever in the way of mannerism may occasionally enter into the portrayal of that role refers solely to the analagous element that a given actor’s individuality brings along, albeit in a somewhat arbitrary fashion, in addition to but always commensurate with that style.
The ground of that effect resides in this element of interest, and the degree of interest determines the degree of effect; and since both are to be commensurate with a poetic goal, so also must both be attained in a poetic, i.e., ideal fashion. For the goal of art is to elevate and perfect reality, something it does by arraying the analogies of that reality in a more beautiful, more refined harmony. It produces such a powerful effect on our feelings and emotions because it is able through those combinations to focus on a single point and for a single purpose various impressions of various individuals.
Actors must correctly grasp the spirit of the character of their role (which continually stands in a connection with the overall dramatic composition) in order to shape the style of their performance accordingly and in order to bring to bear the influence of their own individuality merely as an analogous means of mannerism, as often, that is, as the spirit of the role does not unconditionally obligate them to render that role sensually through style.
To that end, they must not only constantly keep sight of the playwright’s goal with respect to such interest and effect, as well as the path on which the playwright is trying to attain that goal, doing so through a study of the role itself, but also constantly pursue that goal in their own turn by rendering the roll through an intense effort that borders on self-deception.
Although actors draw on the dramatic composition as a corrective to their performance of a given role, they must also draw on nature to complement the guidance they receive in an incomplete fashion from the playwright with respect to style.
I refer to this guidance as incomplete because the playwright’s portrayals are at most merely descriptions rather than pictorial, visible renderings, and hence, as signs of reality, are through words — i.e., through a distant, merely analogous means — communicated in mannerism. This is the reason why actors must first assemble, from disparate fundamental features, the model that is to guide them, and, having united those features into a whole, come to an intellectual, graphic, plastic understanding of that model.
The individuality of actors never collides with that of the playwright with respect to style, which is simple and more specific. It is only with respect to mannerism that a considerable denial is required on the part of the individuality of actors it they are to identify with the playwright in this respect and correctly fathom the more hypothetical element of mannerism in the playwright’s portrayal and incorporate that into their own performance.
The most subtle and difficult part of studying the actor’s art is learning to assess correctly that which must be treated as style in a given role, on the one hand, and how rarely, on the other, mannerism alone should be engaged in rendering that role in performance.
Quite apart from the guidance the playwright provides actors concerning the manner of treatment for the execution, in performing the role itself actors must also have nature in mind, for the playwright, as such, provides actors with nothing more than — the material, leaving the form of the work of art to the artist. For actors, this study of nature mentioned earlier is restricted to human nature, more specifically to the individual characteristics and personality of the person to be portrayed in the role they are to render on stage.
Imitating nature according to a single individual in a role merely amounts to presenting a copy by means of another copy.
Actors must have abstracted many different models and standards from their observations of many individuals, from which they then choose that particular model as the standard most closely approximating the personality of their role with respect to its classification and situation. If they are to portray a hero, statesman, father of the house, dandy, miser, hypocrite, etc., they must keep in mind from the specific class of such types of human beings a form that clearly characterizes or describes the most unique characteristic of that type, a form that then becomes the ideal of their inner intention, and it is on this form that actors as artists are to base every rendering.
One is tormented so frequently by empty schoolmaster prattle concerning the theory of the fine arts, in which neither art nor philosophy is advanced, that it is a genuine pleasure to encounter an independent thinker who endeavors to elevate his own observations into specific, applicable principles, a thinker who penetrates ever more deeply into his object without getting lost in quibbling dissection.
The title alone together with the modest girth of this piece already show that one can expect less extended instruction here than subtle hints, an overview of the whole, and the disclosure of new vistas; and yet precisely this concentrated brevity is extraordinarily fruitful, and even practiced, well-versed readers will have difficulty putting the book down without having been prompted to engage variously in further reflection themselves and without having experienced not a few instances of illumination. . . .
The concepts of style and mannerism are of such undeniable importance for all performing arts, and simultaneously surrounded by such obscurity, that they cannot be illuminated and discussed often enough from their various sides. Here one can see that the author has gone quite his own way, albeit without taking refuge in borrowed terminology. The recent transfer of the doctrine of style and mannerism, which in fact was originally at home in the formative arts, to poesy is doubtless a not insignificant step forward in the theory of these concepts, though a step that cannot be brought completely to bear in its entire scope as long as the contextually related, erroneous principles of imitiation and deception haunt the discussion.
The application of precisely these concepts to the acting arts (namely, with respect to the individual to be portrayed and the individual doing that portraying, since the notion of mimic national mannerisms has already often enough been discussed, albeit not with this terminology), as far as this reviewer knows, constitutes a new and, it seems, extremely ingenious notion. The author does not use the expression mannerism in the statements above [Wilhelm has cited part of Einsiedel’s text] in the sense that labels it something as completely objectionable, or as an illegitimate admixture of the subjective that ultimately destroys the work of art (such is, however, what he calls that which is mannered, e.g., “amid merely that which is mannered“); instead, he refers to mannerism as an aid that complements a portrayal, something that unavoidably enters a performance when objective means of demonstration do not suffice. . . .
We do not doubt for a moment that the attentive among the cultured public will summon the author, whom we are permitted to identify here Herr Kammerherr von Einsiedel in Weimar, to move forward from this draft to the completion of a more comprehensive work, one whose general usefulness will be enhanced if he will focus especially on clarity when dealing with more difficult material so that the book might be accessible not only to connoisseurs, but also to the students themselves of the theater arts.
Translation © 2014 Doug Stott