The drama of the Hellenes was built up in a regular system of parts, so that between a completed introduction and the catastrophe, the climax came out powerfully, bound by means of a few scenes of the rising and of the falling action with the beginning and the end; within these limits was an action filled with violent passion, and elaborately finished. The drama of Shakespeare led an extensive action in a varied series of dramatic forces, in frequent change of finished scenes and accessory scenes, by steep ascent, up to a lofty height; and from this summit again downward, by stages. The whole passed before the spectator tumultuously, in violent commotion, rich in figures and sublime effects prominently brought forward. The German stage, on which since Lessing our art has blossomed, collected the scenic effects into larger groups, which were separated from each other by more marked boundaries. The effects are carefully prepared, the ascent is slow, the altitude which is attained is less lofty and of longer continuance; and gradually, as it arose, the action sinks to the close.
The curtain of our stage has had a material influence on the structure of our plays. The parts of the drama, which have been presented already, must now be disposed in five separate divisions; they possessed greater independence, because they were drawn farther apart from each other. The transition from the old way of dividing the action to our five acts, was, of course, long ago prepared. The meritorious method of binding together different moods, which the ancient chorus between the single parts of the action represented, failed already in Shakespeare; but the open stage, and the pauses, certainly shorter, made, as we frequently recognize in his dramas, breaks in the connection, not always so deep as does in our time, the close by means of the curtain, and the interval with music, or without it. With the curtain, however, there came also the attempt not only to indicate the environment of the person who entered, but to carry on the performance with more pretentious elaboration by means of painting and properties. By this means, the effects of the play were essentially colored, and only occasionally supported. Moreover, by this means, the different parts of the action were more distinctly separated than they were yet in Shakespeare’s time. For by means of change of decorations often brilliant, not only the acts, but the smaller parts of the action, became peculiar pictures which form a contrast in color and tone. Every such change distracts; each makes a new tension, a new intensifying, necessary.
Therefore little but important alterations were produced in the structure of the pieces. Each act received the character of a completed action. For each, a striking of chords to give the keynote, a short introduction, a climax in strong relief, an effective close, were desirable. The rich equipment for scenic surroundings compelled a restriction of the frequent change of place, which in Shakespeare’s time had become too easy, a leaving out of illustrative side scenes, and the laying of longer parts of the action in the same room, and in divisions of time following immediately upon one another. Thus the number of scenes became less, the dramatic flow of the whole more quiet, the joining of greater and lesser forces more artistic. One great advantage, however, was offered by closing up the stage. It would now be possible to begin in the midst of a situation, and end in the midst of a situation. The spectator could be more rapidly initiated into the action, and more quickly dismissed, without taking in the bargain the preparation and the solution of what had held him spell-bound; and that was no small gain which was possible five times in a piece, for the beginning and the end of the effects. But this advantage offered also a danger. The depiction of situations, the presentation of circumstances with less dramatic movement, became easier now; this painting especially favored, for the quiet Germans, the longer retention of the characters in the same enclosed room. On such a changed stage, the German poets of the last century produced their acts, till the time of Schiller, planning with foresight,—introducing with care,—all with a sustained movement of scenes and effects which corresponded to the measured and formal sociability of the time.
In the modern drama, in general, each act includes one of the five parts of the older drama; the first contains the introduction; the second, the rising action; the third, the climax; the fourth, the return; the fifth, the catastrophe. But the necessity of constructing the great parts of the piece in the same fashion as to external contour, renders it impossible that the single acts should correspond entirely to the five great divisions of the action. Of the rising action, the first stage was usually in the first act, the last sometimes in the third; of the falling action, the beginning and end were sometimes taken in the third and fifth acts, and combined with the other component parts of these acts into a whole. Naturally Shakespeare had already, as a rule, made his divisions in this manner.
This number of acts is no accident. The Roman stage long ago adhered to it. But only since the development of the modern stage among the French and Germans, has the present construction of the play been established in these countries.
In passing, it may be remarked that the five parts of the action will bear contracting into a smaller number of acts, with lesser subjects of less importance and briefer treatment. The three points, the beginning of the struggle, the climax, and the catastrophe, must always be in strong contrast; the action allows then of division into three acts. Even in the briefest action, which may have its course in one act, there are five or three parts always recognizable.
But as every act has its significance for the drama, so it has also its peculiarities in construction. A great number of variations is possible here. Every material, every poetic personality demands its own right. Still, from a majority of works of art at hand, some frequently recurring laws may be recognized.
The act of the introduction contains still, as a rule, the beginning of the rising movement, and in general, the following moments or forces: the introductory or key note, the scene of the exposition, the exciting force, the first scene of the rising action. It will therefore be in two parts, as a general thing, and concentrate its effects about two lesser climaxes, of which the last may be the most prominent. Thus in Emilia Galotti, the prince at his work-table is the key-note; the interview of the prince with the painter is the exposition; in the scene with Marinelli lies the exciting force, the approaching marriage of Emilia. The first ascent is in the following short scene, with the prince, in his determination to meet Emilia at the Dominicans’. In Tasso, the decking of the statues with garlands by the two women indicates the prevailing mood of the piece; their succeeding conversation and the talk with Alphonso is the exposition. Following this, the decking of Tasso with wreaths by the princess is the exciting force; the entrance of Antonio and his cool contempt for Tasso is the first stage of the rising action. So in Mary Stuart, the forcing of the cabinets, the confession to Kennedy, the entrance of Mortimer, and the great scene between Mary and the emissaries, follow after each other. In William Tell, where the three actions are interwoven, there stands after the situation near the beginning, which gives the key-note, and after a short introductory colloquy of country people, the first exciting force for the action of Tell,—Baumgarten's flight and rescue. Then follows as introduction to the action of the confederated Swiss, the scene before Stauffacher's house. After this, the first rising action for Tell ; the conversation before the hat on the pole. Finally, for the second action, the exciting force, in the conversation of Walter Fürst and Melchthal; the making of Melchthal’s father blind; and as finale of the first ascent, the resolution of the three Swiss to delay at Rütli.
The act of the ascent has for its duty in our dramas, to lead up to the action with increased tension, in order to introduce the persons in the counter-play who have found no place in the first act. Whether this contains one or several stages of the progressing movement, the hearer has already received a number of impressions; therefore in this, the struggles must be greater, a grouping of several in an elaborate scene, and a good close to the act, will be useful. In Emilia Galotti, for instance, the act begins, as almost every act in Lessing does, with an introductory scene, in which the Galotti family are briefly presented, then the intriguers of Marinelli expose their plan. Then the action follows in two stages, the first of which contains the agitation of Emilia after the meeting with the prince; the second, the visit of Marinelli and his proposition to Appiani. Both great scenes are bound together by a smaller situation scene which presents Appiani and his attitude toward Emilia. The beautifully wrought scene of Marinelli follows the excited mood of the family as an excellent close. The regular construction of Tasso shows in two acts just two stages of the ascent: the approach of Tasso to the princess, and in sharp contrast, his strife with Antonio. The second act in Mary Stuart, in its introduction leads forward Elizabeth and the other counter-players; it contains the rising action, Elizabeth’s approach to Mary, in three stages: first, the strife of the courtiers in favor of Mary and against her, and the effect of Mary’s letter upon Elizabeth; further, the conversation of Mortimer with Leicester, introduced by the conversation of the queen with Mortimer; finally, Leicester’s inducing Elizabeth to see Mary. Tell, finally, compasses in this act the exposition of its third action, the Attinghausen family; then, for the confederated Swiss, a climax in an elaborate scene: Rütli.
The act of the climax must strive to concentrate its forces about a middle scene, brought out in strong relief. This most important scene, however, if the tragic force comes in here, is bound with a second great scene. In this case, the climax scene moves well back toward the beginning of the third act. In Emilia Galotti, the entrance of Emilia is the beginning of this highest scene, after an introductory scene in which the prince explains the strained situation, and after the explanatory announcement regarding the attack. The prostration of Emilia and the declaration of the prince are the highest point in the piece. The outbursting rage of Claudia against Marinelli follows this closely, as a transition to the falling movement. In Tasso, the act begins with the climax, the confessions which the princess makes to Leonora of her attachment to Tasso. Following this, comes as first stage of the falling movement, the interview between Leonora and Antonio, in which the latter becomes interested in Tasso and resolves to establish the poet at court. In Mary Stuart, the climax and the tragic force lie in the great park scene, which is in two parts; following this and connected with it by a little side scene, is the outburst of Mortimer’s passion to Mary, as beginning of the falling action; the dispersion of the conspirators forms the transition to the following act. The third act of Tell consists of three scenes, the first of which contains a short preparatory situation scene in Tell’s house,—Tell’s setting out; the second, the climax between Rudenz and Bertha; the third, the greatly elaborated climax of the Tell action,—the shooting of the apple.
The act of the return has been treated by the great German poets, with great and peculiar carefulness since Lessing’s time, and its effects are almost always regular and included in a scene of much significance. On the other hand, among us Germans, the introduction of new roles into the fourth act is much more frequent than in Shakespeare, whose praiseworthy custom it was, previously to intertwine his counter-players in the action. If this is impracticable, still one must be on his guard not to distract attention by a situation scene, which a piece does not readily allow in this place. The newcomers of the fourth act must quickly take a vigorous hold of the action, and so by a powerful energy justify their appearance. The fourth act of Emilia Galotti is in two parts. After the preparatory conversation between Marinelli and the prince, the new character, Orsina, enters as accomplice in the counter-play. Lessing understood very well how to overcome the disadvantage of the new role, by giving over to the impassioned excitement of this significant character, the direction of the following scenes to the conclusion of the act. Her great scene with Marinelli is followed by the entrance of Odoardo, as the second stage. The high tension which the action receives by this, closes the act effectively. In Tasso, the return has its course in just two scenes: Tasso with Leonora, and Tasso with Antonio; both are concluded by Tasso's monologues. The regular fourth act of Mary Stuart will be discussed later. In William Tell, the fourth act for Tell himself contains two stages for the falling action; his escape from the boat, and Gessler’s death. Between these, stands the return action for the Attinghausen family, which is interwoven here with the action of the Swiss confederation.
The act of the catastrophe contains almost always, besides the concluding action, the last stage of the falling action. In Emilia Galotti, an introductory dialogue between the prince and Marinelli begins the last stage of the falling action, that great interview between the prince, Odoardo and Marinelli, hesitation to give back the daughter to her father, then the catastrophe, murder of Emilia. The same in Tasso; after the introductory conversation of Alphonso and Antonio, the chief scene; Tasso’s prayer that his poem be restored to him; then the catastrophe, Tasso and the princess. Mary Stuart,—otherwise a model structure in the individual acts—shows the result of using a material which has kept the heroine in the background since the middle of the piece, and has made the counterplayer, Elizabeth, chief person. The first scenegroup, Mary—s exaltation and death, contains her catastrophe, and an episodical situation scene, and her confession, which seemed necessary to the poet, in order to win for her yet a slight increase of sympathy. Closely following her catastrophe, is that of Leicester, as connecting link to the great catastrophe of the piece, Elizabeth’s retribution. The last act of Tell, in two parts, is only a situation scene, with the episode of Parricida.
Of all German dramas, the double tragedy of Wallenstein has the most intricate construction. In spite of its complexity, however, this is on the whole regular, and combines its action firmly with Wallenstein’s Death, as well as with The Piccolomini. Had the idea of the piece been perceived by the poet as the historical subject presented it,—an ambitious general seeks to seduce the army to a revolt against its commander, but is abandoned by the majority of his officers and soldiers and slain,—then the idea would, of course, have given a regular drama for rising and falling action, a not insignificant excitement, the possibility of a faithful reconstruction of the historical hero.
But with this conception of the idea, what is best is wanting to the action. For a deliberate treason, which was firmly in the mind of the hero from the beginning, excluded the highest dramatic task,—the working out of the conclusion from the impassioned and agitated soul of the hero. Wallenstein must be presented as he is turning traitor, gradually, through his own disposition, and the compulsion of his relations; so another conception of the idea, and an extension of the action became necessary,—a general is, through excessive power, contentions of his adversaries, and his own pride of heart, brought to a betrayal of his commanding officer; he seeks to seduce the army to revolt, but is abandoned by the majority of his officers and soldiers, and slain.
With this conception of the idea, the rising half of the action must show a progressive infatuation of the hero, to the climax,—to the determination upon treason; then comes a part,—the seduction of the army to revolt,—where the action hovers about the same height; finally in a mad plunge, failure and destruction. The conflict of the general and his army had become the second part of the play. The division of this action into the five acts would be about the following: First act, introduction, the assembling of Wallenstein’s army at Pilsen. Exciting force; dispatching of the imperial ambassador, Questenberg. Second act, rising movement; Wallenstein seeks, in any case, the cooperation of the army, through the signatures of the generals; banquet scene. Third act, through evil suggestions, excited pride, desire of rule, Wallenstein is forced to treat with the Swedes. Climax: Scene with Wrangel, to which is closely joined, as the tragic force, the first victory of the adversary, Octavio; the gaining of General Buttler for the emperor. Fourth act, return action, revolt of the generals, and the majority of the army. Close of the act, a scene with cuirassiers. Fifth act, Wallenstein in Eger, and his death. In the broad and fine elaboration which Schiller did not deny himself, it was impossible for him to crowd the material so rich in figures and in forces, so full of meaning, into the frame of five acts.
Besides, the character of Max very soon became exceedingly important to him, for reasons which could not be put aside. The necessity of having a bright figure in the gloomy group created him; and the wish to make more significant the relations between Wallenstein and his opponents, enforced this necessity.
In intimate relation with Max, Friedland’s daughter grew to womanhood; and these lovers, pictures characteristic of Schiller, quickly won a deep import in the soul of the creating poet, expanding far beyond the episodical. Max, placed between Wallenstein and Octavio, pictured to the eye of the poet a strong contrast to either; he entered the drama as a second first hero; the episodical love scenes, the conflicts between father and son, between the young hero and Wallenstein, expanded to a special action.
The idea of this second action was: A high minded, unsuspecting youth, who loves his general’s daughter, perceives that his father is leading a political intrigue against his general, and separates himself from him; he recognizes that his general has become a traitor, and separates himself from him, to his own destruction and that of the woman whom he loves. This action presents, in its rising movement, the embarrassment of the lovers and their passionate attachment, so far as the climax, which is introduced by Thekla's words, “Trust them not; they are traitors!” The relations of the lovers to each other, up to the climax, are made known only by the exalted frame of mind with which Max, in the first act, Thekla in the second, rise above and are in contrast with their surroundings. After the climax, follows the return, in two great stages, both of two scenes, the separation of Max from his father and the separation of Max from Wallenstein; after this the catastrophe: Thekla receives the announcement of the death of her lover, again in two scenes. With the illumination of two such dramatic ideas, the poet concluded to interlace the two actions into two dramas, which together formed a dramatic unit of ten acts and a prelude.
In The Piccolomini, the exciting force is a double one, the meeting of the generals with Questenberg, and the arrival of the lovers in the camp. The chief characters of the piece are Max and Thekla; the climax of the play lies in the interview of these two, through which the separation of the guileless Max from his surroundings is introduced. The catastrophe is the complete renouncing of his father by Max. The passages which are brought into this play from the action of Wallenstein’s Death, are the scenes with Questenberg, the interview of Wallenstein with the faithful ones, and the banquet scene; also, a great part of the first, second, and fourth acts.
In Wallenstein’s Death, the exciting force is the rumored capture of Sesina, closely connected with the interview between Wallenstein and Wrangel; the climax is the revolt of the troops from Wallenstein,—farewell of the cuirassiers. But the catastrophe is double; news of the death of Max, together with Thekla’s flight, and the murder of Wallenstein. The scenes interwoven from the action of The Piccolomini are the interview of Max with Wallenstein and with Octavio, Thekla over against her relatives, and the separation of Max from Wallenstein, the messenger scene of the Swedish captain, and Thekla’s resolve to flee; also one scene and conclusion of the second act, the climax of the third, the conclusion of the fourth act.
Now, however, such an interweaving of two actions and two pieces with each other would be difficult to justify, if the union thus produced, the double drama, did not itself again form a dramatic unity. This is peculiarly the case; the interwoven action of the whole tragedy rises and falls with a certain majestic grandeur. Therefore, in The Piccolomini, the two exciting forces are closely coupled; the first belongs to the entire action, the second to The Piccolomini. The drama has likewise two climaxes lying in close proximity, of which, one is the catastrophe of The Piccolomini, the other the opening part of Wallenstein’s Death. Again, at the close of the last drama, there are two catastrophes, one for the lovers, the other for Wallenstein and the double drama.
It is known that Schiller, during his elaboration of the play, laid the boundaries between The Piccolomini and Wallenstein’s Death. The former embraced, originally, the first two acts of the latter, and the separation in spirit of Max from Wallenstein. This was, of course, an advantage for the action of Max. But with this arrangement, the scene with Wrangel, i.e.[,] the portentous deed of Wallenstein, and besides this Buttler’s apostacy [sic] to Octavio, i.e., the first ascent of Wallenstein’s Death, and the first return of the entire drama, fell into the first of the two pieces; and this would have been a considerable disadvantage; for then the second drama would have contained, with such an arrangement, only the last part of the return, and the catastrophe of the two heroes, Wallenstein and Max; and in spite of the magnificent execution, the tension would have been too much lacking to this second half. Schiller concluded, therefore, rightly, to make the division farther back, and to end the first play with the great conflict scene between father and son. By this division, The Piccolomini lost in compactness, but Wallenstein’s Death gained in an indispensable order of construction. Let it be noticed that Schiller made this alteration at the last hour, and that he was probably governed less by his regard for the structure of the parts, than by regard for the unequal time which the two parts would take for representation according to the original division. The action did not form itself in the soul of the poet, as we, following his thought in the completed piece, might think. He perceived with the sureness of deliberation, the course and the poetic effect of the whole; the individual parts of the artistic structure took their places in the whole according to a certain natural necessity. What was conformable to laws, in the combination, he has in nowise made everywhere so distinct, through conscious deliberation, as we are obliged to do, getting our notion from the completed masterpiece. Nevertheless we have the right to point out what follows a law, even where he has not consciously cast it in a mould, reflecting upon it afterward as we do. For the entire drama, Wallenstein, in its division, which the poet adopted, partly as a matter of course, when he first planned it, and again for individual parts at a later date, perhaps for external reasons, is an entirely complete and regular work of art.19
It is much to be regretted that our theatrical arrangements render it impossible to represent the whole masterpiece at one performance; only in this way would be seen the beautiful and magnificent effects, which lie in the artistic sequence of parts. As the pieces are now given, the first is always at the disadvantage of not having a complete close; the second, of having very numerous presupposed circumstances, and of its catastrophe demanding too much space—two acts. With a continuous representation, all this would come into right relations. The splendid prologue, “The Camp,” the beautiful pictures of which one only wants more powerfully condensed through an undivided action, could hardly be dispensed with as an introduction. It is conceivable that a time may come when it will be a pleasure to the German to witness his greatest drama in its entirety. It is not impracticable, however great the strain would be upon the players. For even when both pieces are given, one after the other, no role exacts what would overtax the powers of a strong man. The spectators of the present, also, are, in the great majority of cases, not incapable on special occasions of receiving a longer series of dramatic effects than our time allotted to a performance offers. But, indeed, such a performance would be possible, if only as an exception, at a great festival occasion, and if only in another auditorium than our theaters. For what exhausts the physical strength of both player and spectator in less than three hours is the unearthly glare of the gaslight, the excessive strain upon the eyes, which it produces, and the rapid destruction of the breathable air, in spite of all attempts at ventilation.