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Dr. Kastan, the Freie Bühne, and Audience Resistance to Naturalism

  • Neil Blackadder


An acknowledged feature of the late nineteenth-century reinvigoration of theatre is the frequency with which new styles of writing – and, more often, innovative themes – affronted the public, both in print and performance. Yet the turbulent initial audience reactions to taboo- and ground-breaking plays have often been represented as self-evident confrontations between progressive creative artists and philistine theatregoers. By closely examining one apparently typical case of resistance to the new drama – the uproar at the 1889 premiere in Berlin of Gerhart Hauptmann's Before Sunrise – Neil Blackadder demonstrates the complex relationship between production and reception in the early modern theatre. He considers the behaviour of one offended spectator in particular, along with the response of the independent theatre society which staged the production, and a court's verdict on the validity of his protests. Beyond marking an important turning-point in the history of German theatre, the premiere of Before Sunrise encapsulates several key facets of the modern theatre during a period when its practitioners were becoming more bold and experimental, while changing norms of conduct were, paradoxically, rendering audiences more restrained. Neil Blackadder is Assistant Professor of the Practice of Drama at Duke University, curently visiting at Knox College. He is writing a book on modern theatre scandals.



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Notes and References

1. Curt Baake, review of Vor Sonnenaufgang (Haupt-mann), Berlin, Freie Bühne, Berliner Volksblatt, 22 10 1889, reprinted in BerlinTheater der Jahrhundertwende. Bühnengeschichte der Reichshauptstadt im Spiegel der Kritik (1889–1914), ed. Norbert Jaron, Renate Möhrmann, and HedwigMüller (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1986), p. 96–7. All translations are my own.

2. Heinrich, Cf. and Hart, Julius, ‘Das “Deutsche Theater” des Herrn L'Arronge’, Kritische Waffengänge, IV (1882), quoted in Norbert Jaron, Renate Möhrmann, and Hedwig Müller, ‘Zur Berliner Theatergeschichte’, introduction to Jaron, Möhrmann, and Müller, eds., op. cit., p. 2.

3. Brahm, Otto, ‘Der Naturalismus und das Theater’, in Kritiken und Essays, ed. Martini, Fritz (Zurich: Artemis, 1964), p. 411.

4. Schlenther, Paul, Wozu der Lärm? Genesis der Freien Bühne (Berlin: S. Fischer, 1889), p. 22.

5. Bab, Julius, Das Theater der Gegenwart: Geschichte der dramatischen Bühne seit 1870 (Leipzig, 1928), p. 56.

6. Schlenther, op. cit., p. 22.

7. Hauptmann, Gerhart, Vor Sonnenaufgang (Frankfurt: Ullstein, 1959), p. 32.

8. Hanstein, Adalbert von, Das jüngste Deutschland: zwei jahrzehnte miterlebter Literaturgeschichte (Leipzig: Voigtländer, 1901), p. 170.

9. Baake, op. cit., p. 96.

10. Cf. Isidor Landau, review of Vor Sonnenaufgang (Hauptmann), Freie Bühne, Berlin, Berliner Börsen-Courier, 20 Oct. 1889, reprinted in Jaron, Möhrmann, and Müller, eds., op. cit, p. 90.

11. Schlenther, op. cit., p. 28.

12. Ibid.

13. Regrettably, it is not now known exactly what cuts were decided upon for the production at the Freie Bühne: Schley, cf. Gernot, Die Freie Bühne in Berlin (Berlin: Haude und Spenersche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1967), p. 50. But Landau was mistaken in referring to ‘the woman giving birth, whom one could definitely hear sighing in her labour pains off stage’ (p. 90); Schlenther reported that this was one of the many details in the script which the Freie Bühne chose to cut (p. 28), and the court's decision corroborates his version (p. 134).

14. Osborn, Max, Der Bunte Spiegel: Erinnerungen aus dem Kunst-, Kultur- und Geistesleben der Jahre 1890 bis 1893 (New York: Friedrich Krause, 1945), p. 131.

15. Landau, op. cit., p. 90.

16. Quoted in Mendelssohn, Peter De, S. Fischer und sein Verlag (Frankfurt: Fischer, 1970), p. 109.

17. ‘Der Naturalismus vor Gericht’, Freie Bühne, I, No. 5 (Mar. 1890), p. 134.

18. Ibid., p. 133–4.

19. Cf. Baake, op. cit., p. 96.

20. ‘Der Naturalismus vor Gericht’, p. 134.

21. Ibid., p. 133.

22. Landau, op. cit., p. 90.

23. Jaron, Möhrmann, and Müller, op. cit., p. 31. This essay has provided me with much useful background information for this article.

24. Freytag, Gustav, Die Technik des Dramas, tenth ed. (Leipzig: S. Hirzel, 1905), p. 15.

25. ‘Der Naturalismus vor Gericht’, p. 134.

26. Ibid.

27. Landau, op. cit., p. 90.

28. ‘Der Naturalismus vor Gericht’, p. 133.

29. Ibid., p. 134.

30. Kastan, J., Berlin wie es war, second ed. (Berlin: Rudolf Mosse, 1919), p. 265. Kastan also alludes, rather abstrusely, to the role he played in the history of the theatre: ‘It is unnecessary to go into details about the life of the Freie Bühne organization, for reasons which are obvious to anyone in the know’.

31. De Mendelssohn, op. cit., p. 110.

32. Ibid., p. 109.

33. Schlenther, op. cit., p. 31, 32.

34. Osborn, op. cit., p. 131.

35. Cf. Jaron, Möhrmann, and Müller, op. cit., p. 35.


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