FRIEDRICH SCHILLERfS KABALE UND LIEBE
This play is, of course, gein bürgerliches Trauerspiel.h It is interesting to compare it with Lillofs George Barnwell, a work whose influence can clearly be seen. Personally, while accepting that such sentimentality fitted the mood of 1730s England – and the age in which a play is written or a law enforced should always be given due consideration – I find it difficult to stomach Lillofs play. However, Kabale und Liebe arouses my interest and enthusiasm; the style is certainly outmoded, but it seems perfectly appropriate to the German language. This language cries out for loud and vehement pronunciation, for teeth-gnashing and wide-mouthed declamation. This, and the playwrightfs skill, ensure that Schillerfs work ascends to a much higher plain than its immensely popular, but somewhat transpontine, forerunner. Yet I would not wish to criticise George Barnwell too severely, for it was a pioneering work; it helped, probably more than any other single play, to establish the genre of domestic tragedy; and I find that, on occasions, the first works in new fields have a freshness and vitality which their successors cannot emulate; whereas at other times, they leave considerable scope for improvement (and some works, such as Die Räuber, fall into both categories). We must also remember that these pioneering works have a tendency to date, whereas bland art remains relatively ageless; we were not around to enjoy the sensation they produced on first appearance.
To return to Kabale und Liebe: in what way is it a tragedy? Is it a tale of lost love? Do we look to Ferdinand and Luise?
do not think so. Luise is certainly
a tragic figure, and this is emphasised most strongly in her acceptance of the
unavoidable – the ultimate heroic gesture, as when
Luisefs relationship with her family will be touched upon here and dwelt upon later. She refuses to elope because she does not wish to have the curse of Ferdinandfs father; she writes the fatal letter for the sake of her family (although there are limits to her self-sacrifice – she is not, for instance, prepared to sleep with the Duke); and, when she tears up her suicide-note, she is placing her father before Ferdinand.
is in nowise a tragic figure. He is
incapable of renouncing Luise, not because his love is stronger than hers, but
because he is such a passionate, unthinking, jealous, selfish character. He plays the injured lover, complaining
of gkalte Pflicht gegen feurige Liebeh; yet his forcible rejection of
rashness and stupidity – the word naïvety is wasted on him – are amply
illustrated in the preconceptions he has formed of
A symbolic action of great significance occurs when Ferdinand attempts to play the violin, fails, and breaks it. He is a man of extremes, an individual (who cannot associate with the court) rather than a lover – how can true love turn to hatred? How could anyone plan the murder of a loved one? Yet he does this, having resort to specious and fallacious reasoning in the attempt to justify his conduct. Rage is, apparently, a great stimulant to Ferdinand – it provokes him to threaten his father with discovery of his secret, and is thus obviously a more powerful motivator than conscience.
Yet, like Luise, Ferdinand loves his father. In his fury, he may threaten to reveal all, but he does not attack the Präsident. A sign of love – and a sign of his selfish nature, for he resembles his father in many ways; not merely in his reluctance to accept responsibility for his deeds, but in his general temperament. Does the tragedy lie here? The play does, after all, end with these two – the penitent, forgiving, dying son and the condemned, contented father. The answer is a resounding no; these characters are simply not sympathetic enough.
When bearing in mind the similarity between father and son, it is interesting to consider the Präsidentfs view of Luise, succinctly captured in the paraphrasis: eIf she gets pregnant, transport her!f It may sound like cynicism, but it is much nearer the truth than his sonfs protestations; and would an old Ferdinand not speak in this way? Yet there is no old Ferdinand, nor will there ever be; he does not lack his fatherfs intelligence – Wurm supplies most of the brains – but he lacks his savoir-faire and experience. He is unadulterated emotion.
Although the Präsident possesses the above-mentioned savoir-faire, he does not know how to handle individuals. His experience is confined to the court, where souls are mechanical and wedding nights cause the bride no physical pain; an environment represented most typically by the Hofmeister, who appears to be more caricature than character until one remembers that one has actually met modern-day equivalents; there actually are people as shallow and superficial as this lisping fop.
Nor does Wurm, the councillor with something infernal an sich, handle the matter with skill. He is cunning at making plans, but he is unable to foresee the consequences; the circumstances are mightier than the characters who set the (snow)ball rolling. The effect of this theatrical device can be either comic – as in The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro – or distinctly tragic, as in Richard III, Hamlet and Don Carlos.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Fate is too powerful for even the wisest; this leads not only to the setting of a moral tone when the wisdom is of a Machiavellian persuasion, but also to surprise, excitement and tension. It could perhaps be said that the characters suffer in this type of theatre (here I am, of course, thinking of Sturm und Drang rather than Shakespeare); reading the plays of Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles etc., in which the events are already known to the audience and the emphasis is on the playwrightfs treatment of the characters and themes, certainly tends to confirm this view. But why compare the two? One approach has the primary purpose of making the audience think, whereas the other aims to make them feel. Both are equally valid; what matters is the skill with which they are accomplished by the individual playwright.
examine the question of necessity/ free will/ freedom/ responsibility, so
central to Schillerfs work, more closely.
Firstly, the point must be made concerning restrictions on playwrights
at the time; Kabale und Liebe was
banned from performance in
theme of flight appears throughout, yet those who mention it do not have the
conviction to – or have the prudence not to – select it, with the exception
Dramatic irony is one of the playwrightfs basic tools for emphasising the subservience of characters to the acts of a higher power – whether divine or human. The major victim of this device in Kabale und Liebe is Miller, the gplumper gerader teutscher Kerl.h In the opening scenes, he comes across as very cynical; but he is later proven to have ample grounds for cynicism. He also appears to be very passionate, even tempestuous; but this is merely his way of showing his love and concern for his daughter. it is this love which leads him to accept the gold, although he had earlier remarked that he would not sell his daughter. He also takes Ferdinandfs letter to the Präsident, thus leaving Luise alone with the man she really does not wish to be alone with, telling her, gDu bist allein, und es ist finstre Nacht, meine Tochter.h And this is the tragedy of the play: Miller and his daughter. After all, Kabale und Liebe was originally titled Luise Millerin. But if there are any doubts as to where the tragedy lies, Act 5 Scene 1 will efface them. All I can say is: read it carefully, and note the silence with which it begins. This is easily the most moving scene in the play, featuring its two most sympathetic characters; and once Miller has stormed off stage in the final scene, and we are left with Ferdinand and the Präsident, it is difficult to really care whether the two are reconciled or not.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> The motivator in the last-named work being the unconvincing Posa. A critic in a national newspaper described this as Schillerfs best play – was he being serious?