Who thinks Shakespeare is the poet of nature?

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Hugo von Hofmannsthal

Shakespeare and us

April 23, 1916

It is now a hundred and three years since Goethe published his essay Shakespeare and No End. In it he contrasts his view of Shakespeare "as a poet in general" and Shakespeare "as a theater poet", both of which he sharply distinguishes, with the enthusiastic efforts of the romantics led by Tieck to bring Shakespeare's works to the stage in their unabridged form. He emphatically praises the Schröder-style actors' adaptations, "who stick to what is effective all by themselves and throw away everything else," and calls it a prejudice that has crept into Germany, "that Shakespeare is word for word on the German stage have to perform, even if actors and listeners should strangle from it. " Finally, he points out the principles according to which "Romeo and Juliet" had been edited for the Weimar Theater, a play whose tragic content is almost completely destroyed by the two comic characters Mercutio and the wet nurse. “If you look at the piece very closely,” he continues, “you notice that these two characters, and what borders on them, appear only as comic intermezzists who, given our consequent consensus-loving way of thinking, must be unbearable on stage . «There is no need for wisdom to say that the greatest man here is contradicted by the taste of the nation, which from generation to generation has manifested itself more and more clearly to this day for the opposite direction. But what Goethe strove to preserve: the elevated and unmixed in the theater, a tendency of the audience has remained loyal to this in another way and has brought about the high status and popularity of the great or tragic opera, which Goethe himself, as creator and judge , was no less inclined, who, to be silent about the many singspiels and semi-operas [107] which occasionally came from his pen, took part as a poet in three epochs of great dramatic music when, for Gluck, he wrote the splendid, fragmentary "Proserpina" wrote, through the continuation of the "Magic Flute" Mozart presented himself post mortem as a lyricist and for his second part of "Faust" a man like Spontini or Meyerbeer was called in as an indispensable companion - if the work was to be on the theater. But putting this aside, on the reciting stage the mixed elements, as we confront them in Shakespeare, have come to undisputed dominance. From generation to generation the bearers of this conquering forward movement were undoubtedly the great actors, from those older ones, Schröder and Anschütz, down to those among us who, by transforming themselves into Lear or Falstaff, reveal something of their nature that was hidden from them and understand how to offer. [108] which, as a higher repertory, constitutes the existence of this German theater; Second, however, in that from individual to individual and from sex to sex he always attracted the highest of theatrical talent and at the same time gave German acting life a spiritual center with an indissoluble task. The French actor lives, one generation after the other, the social life of his people. Not so the German, for the nation itself has no distinctive character, and the more valuable poetic products do not come from this sphere. But in Shakespeare, German acting life has repeatedly risen up under constantly problematic conditions; here there is even a kind of continuity in what has been broken off on all sides and is always lacking in tradition. It is the actor who has ceaselessly expanded and deepened Shakespeare's rule in the German theater, and a man like Reinhardt, the actor-director, acts with historical consistency as well as out of his own passion, when he, as generations of actors, acts first in the Rivalry with Garrick and Kemble, then with Salvini and Rossi, who have incorporated German theater into its prime and thus to a temporary conclusion.

It is the actor who has gradually made this mixture acceptable to the audience, both within each play and within the characters; at first the comic next to the tragic, but then also the tragic in the comic, a figure like the fool in "Lear" for example, or the melancholy in "Falstaff". And only if this mixture is perceived as a pleasure, instead of alienating, can a piece like "Was ihr wollt" stand on stage, which the audience did in fact a hundred years ago, when the Romantics first brought it to the theater was, but now in Vienna, like a few years ago in Berlin, occupies the first place in the repertoire for a while. For its whole charm rests on such a mixture of coarse-comic, grotesque and very delicate [109] figures that are connected to form a group; a similar group is Prospero and Miranda, Ariel and Caliban.

The German theater, in that it surrendered to Shakespeare and served him, has again acted for its own highest benefit; the possibilities that lie here for the actor can hardly be exhausted and lead ever deeper and higher. The dramaturgical and other scholarly consideration went hand in hand with the theatrical undertaking; the individual pieces, what, with a grain of salt, can be called the idea of ​​each individual, looking at the figures in themselves and the relationships between the figures, Hamlet with Horatio, Brutus with Cassius, Antonio with Bassanio, the landscapes, which It is true that landscapes of the soul are landscapes of the soul, and what one could call the backgrounds and outlooks, all this has been brought to light, analyzed, collected and, in collection after collection, again viewed, compared, registered etc. in infinitum. Once this magical world suddenly approached individuals and the impression was overwhelming. That is the experience of Goethe. “The first page I read of Shakespeare made me his own for life, and when I finished the first play by him, I stood like a man born blind whose face was presented in an instant by a miraculous hand. I realized that I felt my existence expanded by an infinity. ”Ferdinand Raimund only got hold of Shakespeare as a mature man, which overturned him, and from then on dates an epoch in his life. The fortune to feel this world demonically break into one's own existence at the fateful moment must be dispensed with more and more by the following generations.

Shakespeare is always there for them. Expounded a thousand times, even if deeply unexplainable, these structures are exposed, the internal tensions and the radiations that emanate from them are recorded and tabulated. All aids to constant indulgence are prepared for the adolescent, and his shyness must be sacred when he rises to a higher than indulgent relationship. The theater calls him to Shakespeare, [110] to dissolve himself into nature like the actor dissolves himself; so unfortunately the always open music hall calls him to Beethoven. The wealth of infinite references, Hamlet and Ophelia, Macbeth and his wife, Coriolan and the rabble, Prospero and the spirits, Brutus and Caesar, all this lies in the day, is incorporated into the collective intellectual property of the nation. The concept of possession, however, becomes extremely problematic when it comes to spiritual things; indeed, according to its nature the spiritual cannot be included in everyday existence: because it wants and should abolish this existence. In this way an ambiguous relationship can arise, a slack and cloudy having and not having. But in youth, from generation to generation, there is a holy urge for the undefiled. Here the generations really have a different fate. The youth of 1770 wanted nothing but to come to themselves, and in Shakespeare they found themselves, the glowing world of the heart and the imagination. It is from this happy relationship that Goethe's above words are pronounced. Another time wanted to dissolve into the world, and Shakespeare's works were the most powerful solvent to it. We are grateful to this generation, the romantic one, of Schlegel's translation, in which the strange, colossal work is reborn for us from our own language.

Today there is no deeper urge than to get beyond yourself. The living feels overwhelmed by the violence of circumstances; wandering, indulgent enjoyment, he feels, is no way out, enjoyment only draws him deeper into slavery, and possession subjugates him. Towards the top, the idea of ​​freedom has disappeared into the ether, towards the inside the idea of ​​virtue has become empty and insubstantial. Concepts and names darken the paths of life more than they illuminate them; the action has become an occurrence. Where is a revelation from the Most High? Exactly where there is reality, the inner voice answers, which is unmistakable.

People, at all times, eagerly seek reality, everywhere. With the spirits and ghosts, under whose breath a new side of their self is revealed to them, in the crater of lust, even at the gaming table, as in prayer and in poetry. The reality of those who are living with us, even loved ones close by, is scarcely suspected, it remains veiled from the lazy gaze even in suffering, until it suddenly blows at us: A feeling that the unique is everything, nothing comes back, nothing is the same, everything is infinite at the moment , tremendously, without a concept, forever before God. This language is understood in passion, so in passion, not in the low but the high, lies the real consecration of individual existence. Only in the spiritual tension of passion does the individual, the unique, become essential: it is that of which the quietly living person is otherwise hardly aware. The world of Shakespeare is full of this singularity, nowhere are the inner tensions as in "Hamlet", "Macbeth", "Othello".

In each of his characters there is an unspeakable reference to himself, a gruesome and sublime concentration. The loneliness of these passionate people, each captured in their own world, this and no longer the wonderful variety of glowing events, not the romantic shorelessness of contradiction, banishes the gaze of a new youth who has to summarize and exalt themselves above all else. And when Goethe's Shakespeare is the spirit that pervades the world and does not keep any of its secrets, everything flows from its lips, what secretly whispers through the air in a great world event, what is hidden in the hearts of people in moments of tremendous events If a mind is fearfully hidden, another generation will be met by a mute Shakespeare, and he will be true again, as true as the one "who blurts out the secrets of the world spirit." Because where every word is in the most monstrous relation to itself, all words combine to form the rune that expresses the individual as the unique, shows nothing of the individual out into the world, into the sociability of concepts, there is something like muteness, and with this his inexplicable spirit banishes a new generation, like a previous one with the magic of unlimited eloquence. [112]

But how do I, by trying to hold Shakespeare and a new generation together in my thoughts, come to combining what generally appears dark and murky: passion and the pure structures of art? In passion as in art, the creative is active: that which sprung from the highest, first creator, derived, in the creatures, with which they defend themselves against chaos. [113]