That this did not appear, that for all the greatness of Shakespeare the Teutonic drama never quite shook off the spell of misunderstood convention, was the consequence of blind faith in the authority of Aristotle. What might not have come out of Baroque drama had it remained under the impression of the knightly epic and the Gothic Easter-play and Mystery, in the near neighbourhood of Oratorios and Passions, without ever hearing of the Greek theatre! A tragedy issuing from the spirit of contrapuntal music, free of limitations proper to plastic but here meaningless, a dramatic poetry that from Orlando Lasso and Palestrina could develop – side by side with Heinrich Schütz, Bach, Händel, Gluck and Beethoven, but entirely free – to a pure form of its own: that was what was possible, and that was what did not happen; and it is only to the fortunate circumstance that the whole of the fresco-art of Hellas has been lost that we owe the inward freedom of our oil-painting.


The unities were not sufficient for the Attic drama. It demanded, further, the rigid mask in lieu of facial play, thus forbidding spiritual characterization in the same spirit as Attic sentiment forbade likeness-statuary. It demanded more-than-life-sized figures and got them by means of the cothurnus and by padding and draping the actor till he could scarcely move, thus eliminating all his individuality. Lastly, it required monotonous sing-song delivery, which it
ensured by means of a mouthpiece fixed in the mask.

The bare text as we read it to-day (not without reading into it the spirit of Goethe and Shakespeare and of our perspective vision) conveys little of the deeper significance of these dramas. Classical art-works were created entirely for the eye, even the physical eye, of Classical man, and the secrets reveal themselves only when put in sensuous forms. And here our attention is drawn to a feature of Greek tragedy that any true tragedy of the Faustian style must find intolerable, the continual presence of the Chorus. The Chorus is the primitive tragedy, for without it the ἦθος would be impossible. Character one possesses for one’s self, but attitude has meaning only in relation to others.

This Chorus as crowd (the ideal opposite to the lonely or inward man and the monologue of the West), this Chorus which is always there, the witness of every “soliloquy,” this Chorus by which, in the stage-life as in the real life, fear before the boundless and the void is banished, is truly Apollinian. Self-review as a public action, pompous public mourning in lieu of the solitary anguish of the bedchamber, the tears and lamentations that fill a whole series of dramas like the “Philoctetes” and the “Trachiniæ,” the impossibility of being alone, the feeling of the Polis, all the feminine of this Culture that we see idealized in the Belvedere Apollo, betrays itself in this symbol of the Chorus. In comparison with this kind of drama, Shakespeare’s is a single monologue. Even in the conversations, even in the group-scenes we are sensible of the immense inner distance between the persons, each of whom at bottom is only talking with himself. Nothing can overcome this spiritual remoteness. It is felt in Hamlet as in “Tasso” and in Don Quixote as in Werther, but even Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzeval is filled with and stamped by the sense of infinity. The distinction holds for all Western poetry against all Classical. All our lyric verse from Walther von der Vogelweide to Goethe and from Goethe to the poems of our dying world-cities is monologue, while the Classical lyric is a choral lyric, a singing before witnesses. The one is received inwardly, in wordless reading, as soundless music, and the other is publicly recited. The one belongs to the still chamber and is spread by means of the book, the other belongs to the place where it is voiced.

The Classical vase-painting and fresco – though the fact has never been remarked – has no time-of-day. No shadow indicates the state of the sun, no heaven shows the stars. There is neither morning nor evening, neither spring nor autumn, but pure timeless brightness. For equally obvious reasons our oil-painting developed in the opposite direction, towards an imaginary darkness, also independent of time-of-day, which forms the characteristic atmosphere of the Faustian soul-space. This is all the more significant as the intention is from the outset to treat the field of the picture with reference to a certain time-of-day, that is, historically. There are early mornings, sunset-clouds, the last gleams upon the sky-line of distant mountains, the candle-lighted room, the spring meadows and the autumn woods, the long and short shadows of bushes and furrows. But they are all penetrated through and through with a subdued darkness that is not derived from the motion of the heavenly bodies. In fact, steady brightness and steady twilight are the respective hall-marks of the Classical and the Western, alike in painting and in drama; and may we not also describe Euclidean geometry as a mathematic of the day and Analysis as a mathematic of the night?

Change of scene, undoubtedly regarded by the Greeks as a sort of profanation, is for us almost a religious necessity, a postulate of our world-feeling. There seems something pagan in the fixed scene of Tasso. We inwardly need a drama of perspectives and wide backgrounds, a stage that shakes off sensuous limitations and draws the whole world into itself. In Shakespeare, who was born when Michelangelo died and ceased to write when Rembrandt came into the world, dramatic infinity, the passionate overthrow of all static limitations, attained the maximum. His woods, seas, alleys, gardens, battlefields lie in the afar, the unbounded. Years fly past in the space of minutes. The mad Lear between fool and reckless outcast on the heath, in the night and the storm, the unutterably lonely ego lost in space – here is the Faustian life-feeling! From such a scene as this it is but a step to the inwardly seen and inwardly felt landscapes of the almost contemporary Venetian music; for on the Elizabethan stage the whole thing was merely indicated, and it was the inner eye that out of a few hints fashioned for itself an image of the world in which the scenes – far-fetched always – played themselves out. Such scenes the Greek stage could not have handled at all. The Greek scene is never a landscape; in general, it is nothing, and at best it may be described as a basis for movable statues. The figures are everything, in drama, as in fresco. It is sometimes said that Classical man lacked the feeling for Nature. Insensitive to Faustian Nature, that of space and of landscape, Classical man certainly was. His Nature was the body, and if once we have let the sentiment of this sink into us, we suddenly comprehend the eye with which the Greek would follow the mobile muscle-relief of the nude body. This, and not clouds and stars and horizon, was his “Living Nature.”

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