Caroline’s Review of Three Plays 1797

Caroline’s Review of Three Plays 1797
Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1797) 189 (Thursday, 15 June 1797) 691–94

Schleswig: Röhfs. Erich und Abel, Könige von Dänmark. Ein vaterländisches Trauerspiel in 5 Aufzügen, by Carl August Rüdinger. 1796. VII and 246 pages. 8vo. (16 gr.)

Vienna and Leipzig. Der Vicekanzler: Ein Schauspiel in fünf Aufzügen, by Kratter. 1797. 110 pages. 8vo. (6 gr.)

Nürnberg: Pech. Ahnenstolz und Edelsinn: Ein dramatisirtes Familien-Gemälde in sechs Acten. 1796. 24 and 399 pages. 8vo. (20 gr.)

The subject matter of no. 1 is a fratricide. The play drags laboriously forward up to the catastrophe and resembles more our dialogical historical novels than a concentrated dramatic whole. Despite the considerable effort put into hair-raising scenes, the author nonetheless never manages to generate a sense of the tragic, but rather only an eerie or uneasy feeling. And even this feeling is generated more by the nocturnal anxiety at the approach of the enemy rather than by the two apparitions, which remain utterly ineffectual. Neither does Saint Wenceslaus, who journeys from Bohemia to Schleswig, provide even the slightest element of fright, though the author does gain the intended advantage that the reader is just as little puzzled by him.

The clerics, who in their customary vestments appear here as the villains, are especially naive, for they themselves speak the lines of sarcasm directed against themselves. A conversation between two superstitious chambermaids, treated in the same manner, sounds similarly as if they themselves are parodying their own characters.

In a word, the adornments the author adds are unlikely to generate any interest, and it is only in the fatherland itself that the precise historical details he follows might compensate for the other shortcomings.

Number 2 begins immediately with the cassation of the vice-chancellor, then moves quickly to the exposure of the villains who toppled him, and ends with his reinstatement with all rights and titles. One knows this by heart. This time Herr K. seems to have followed another popular playwright rather than his own genius. The newer elements in his concept, however, do not seem to be coherently drawn.

The vice-chancellor has put one of his daughters in a hospital, a young girl who has lapsed into a quiet mental breakdown after losing a ring that she wanted to put to charitable use. The author has him commit this cruel act so that a prince can more conveniently visit the daughter there, encounter her sister there as well, and so that the latter can then be suspected of having arranged a secret meeting.

A ring the prince shows to the poor sick girl heals her on the spot. She receives it as a gift, and later it should extricate the family from a predicament in which they are being ensnared from all sides; but one of the villains steals it. It would probably have been better had the girl’s melancholy been connected with the story of her heart rather than with the ring, since now the melancholy appears quite disadvantageously as a merely physical ailment.

The young man’s magnanimous gesture of advising his beloved to rescue her father by marrying the father’s malicious adversary (who, by the way, also intends to poison his nephew) does not exactly enhance our opinion of his presence of mind, or rather makes us doubt the presence of any mind in him in the first place. Hence we can hardly be moved by the farewell scene or by the ensuing deep sigh he sends after his beloved on p. 83: “This has torn my soul from my heart with white-hot tongs.” — “Virtue,” we read there, “you, too, like the tyranny of some idol, sometimes demand inhuman sacrifices.” But virtue that understands and believes in itself does not do that.

The final popular uprising in front of the chancellor’s house, during which “with raging shouts” windows are smashed from outside, one hears stones “raining down, sabers rattling,” and sees “smoke and flames rising up” — introduces and element of theatrical noise that would be inappropriate and unpleasant even in the portrayal of a public event.

Every humanitarian cannot but praise the author of no. 3 in his attempt to balance prejudices and promote a reasonable union between the various parts of our usual states of mind. [Frontispiece:]


For this reason, the art critic would rather not be bound to say anything about the execution. The play’s bombastic style, the useless accumulation of violent expressions, and the emotional distortions throw into peculiar relief the otherwise moderate disposition intimated in the preface. Because a complete enumeration of supporting examples for this assertion would be as long as the play itself, we will provide merely a selection.

On p. 37, a young girl entreats death: “With abiding intimation, Creator, do I yearn for the primal origin of my material being.”

On p. 49 we read: “Duke, you have never stuck your fingers into the deep, bleeding wounds struck by the insurrection of children against well-intentioned patriarchal advice of paternal love etc.”

On p. 54: “I love your daughter limitlessly, but with the love that the seraph’s hymn extols.”

On p. 195: “The ungenerous cleft that creates idols, it also created you — unnatural father.”

On p. 396: “Gott fashions true love.”

On p. 256 a brother, with the following words among others, expresses his suspicion that his sister was conspiring with his father to separate him from his beloved: “Ida — my Ida could plunge me down into the insatiable maws of devouring monsters, delight in the grisly smiles of the spirits of hell at the dreadful and bloody scene — O, God! and you could behold that — did not cause the horrific image of veiled eternity to come between her and her abominable deed — frightened her not away, as a voice of nature were unable to dissuade her from fratricide?”

The stage directions for the actor or for evoking such scenes for the reader, since, after all, this play can probably not really be performed, are rarely more sparsely composed than “as if struck by lightning,” “tumbling backward in fright,” “lengthy, dreadful silence,” “with a breaking voice,” “shudders quietly”; etc. Is there really no other means for bettering human beings than to ruin their taste?