German Theater: Baroque and 18th Century


The religious propaganda of the Counter Reformation was contested on the front line by school and popular educational orders. The latter promoted in particular the performative implementation of the Marian cult in theatrical, festive and ritual acts and, through the novelty of the Good Friday processions with living images, the revitalization of forms of passion plays. The Protestant passion dramas that were still sporadically created in the Upper German confessional mixture served as a basis. The best-known case is the partial adoption of the schoolmaster’s work “… Passion… Christi” (1566) by S. Wild in the Urtext (1634) of the Oberammergau Passion Play. This village amateur play, staged every ten years following a plague vow, was revised several times and was the only one to survive the enlightened fight of the Bavarian government against the genre of the passion drama (general ban 1770). The high school theater, institutionalized as an educational instrument in the study regulations of the Jesuit Order, used for its neo-Latin confessional drama – among other things. J. Bidermann’s “Cenodoxus” (premiered in 1602) – and the imperial glory of the “Ludi Caesarei” of the Vienna Imperial Games not only the illusionary apparatus of the metamorphosis and operatic affect strategies. From its rhetorical tradition, it also gave birth to the first German theory of acting (Franciscus Lang [* 1654, † 1725], »De actione scenica«, 1727).

With C. Monteverdi’s “Orfeo”, the new Italian art form of opera had crossed the Alps for the first time in Salzburg in 1614. As part of the theater of representation and homage, which certified the dynastic, confessional and cultural supremacy of the House of Habsburg at the royal coronation in Prague in 1627, the Jesuit stage and ballet as a form of courtly self-expression, the audiovisual overwhelming through a “comedia in musica” was not missing. It was accompanied by the victory of the backdrop: “The boards were painted like trees and forest and placed one behind the other in a well-mannered perspective,” said an eyewitness (Zacharias Allert) as a diary note about a performance on the occasion of the royal coronation. This ensemble of baroque design patterns was joined by performances by Italian and English professional actors. From the first engagements of Commedia dell’Arte troops at the Bavarian court (1568–75), as evidenced by the frescoed staircases in Trausnitz Castle in Landshut, until the end of the 17th century, the Italian comedy mask remained a courtly divertissement that was mainly dependent on princely caskets.

The English comedians On the other hand, starting at the end of the 16th century with the development of large-scale sales routes, as heralds of professional theater and founders of the outpatient type of business in the German-speaking area, they worked towards an aesthetic consensus between courtly and bourgeois taste norms. Already in the first city-run theater, the Nuremberg Fechthaus (1628), they, their local imitators and the land-based sections of the show trade were destined to subsidize the communal poor relief through their taxes. In the course of the reception of Roman law, it was also discussed whether the Roman legal figure of infamy, which outlawed the display of the body for money as a form of prostitution, has modern validity. In fact, there was no flaw in making money from acting in the German legal area. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 had supported the political imperial society in its entirety. Confessional dissent rarely influenced the practice of privileges and permissions. The unprecedented continuity of the Saxon acting privilege with its economically important benefice, the Leipziger Messe, held the top spot in the reputation. It was the backbone of the labor migration of German comedians, which radiated to the north and east far beyond the borders of the Reich, and of the cultural transfer that they carried out in competition with foreign colleagues. There was a standing German court theater like in Innsbruck (1659–62) and Bohemian Krumau (1676–91) under the leadership of the doctorate principal J. Velten in the royal seat of the Electorate of Saxony, Dresden, too. Nonetheless, the accusation of infamy had profound effects on the intellectual climate of opinion through its involvement in the condemnation rhetoric that pietism had launched against all the stage business since the spectacular Hamburg opera controversy (1681–88). It was not for nothing that the defense of the principal Katharina Elisabeth Velten (* around 1650, † around 1715; “Testimony of Wariness”, 1701) was reissued in 1722 from among her successors.

18th century

Renewing the theater and giving it binding aesthetic and literary status was the central project of the 18th century. In the first decade, the funny person in German spoken theater, who was previously identical to »Pickelhering«, was split into two culturally separated types: the peasant Hanswurst, a Viennese creation by J. A. Stranitzky, and the harlequin imported from France as the front man of the Comédie italienne. In whose beam central axes epochal conflict between the improvised-coarse began impromptu game on the one hand and a fixed aesthetic rules subjected theater other.

In 1727/28, J. C. Gottsched initiated a poetologically conceived theater reform from Leipzig, which, under the auspices of the principal Friederike Caroline Neuber  - popularly known as “the Neuberin” – took on a moral educational mandate with the value categories of reason, order, purity and virtue. The first point of attack was the repertoire, a tried and tested selection from the play market of the dominant European cultures. The “inconsistency” – the result of the need for translation – owed it to his compensation, because there was hardly any drama in the German language that contributed to professional theater. From A. Gryphius to C. Weise she had worked in the school theater environment, among others. Spheres of amateur play moved. Now, for the first time, under the sign of a production-related poetics of effect, a dramatic artificial language was developed, rehearsed in adaptations of classic French sample works and finally crowned with original dramas. At the same time, there was the fight against the “unnatural” Italian comedy type, the marriage of which was still imminent when the Neuberin banished the harlequin from the stage in a history-making propaganda act in 1738. In 1750 it was finished. Her pupil G. E. Lessing was the first to prove that the literaryization of German theater created the conceptual standards for a national art drama.

The trend towards regionalization and longer-term localization of gaming operations characterized the second half of the 18th century in its friction with economic and regulatory obstacles. The prerequisite and consequence of extended dwell times was the mobilization of an expanded audience through an accelerated change in the repertoire structure.

Since the mid-1740s, the decoupling of the concession system from trade fairs and markets corresponded with the rapid growth of French comedies and vaudevilles in the repertoire. The sensational discovery of Shakespeare’s work on the stage and effective for audiences by the Hamburg actor and theater director F. L. Schröder (German premieres of “The Merchant of Venice”, 1777, and “King Lear”, 1778, at the Schauspielhaus am Gänsemarkt, among others) made a decisive contribution to the profitability of stationary stage institutes) and the reception career of the German Singspiel with Mozart as a fixed star.

But directors were still fighting to get rid of the economically ruinous Advent and Lent leave and to release Sundays and public holidays (e.g. in Hamburg all year round only since 1803). Constantly high performance frequencies that the triumvirate A. W. IfflandA. v. Kotzebue and F. Schiller became the backing and guarantor of the system of subsidized courtyard stages, entrepreneurial and share-based companies, which was largely established at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. The cultural unification project of a German national theater found itself after the fiasco of the corresponding project with the Theater am Gänsemarkt in Hamburg (1767-69) now under the patronage of the houses Wittelsbach and Hohenzollern institutionally canceled (Mannheim and Munich 1777/78, Berlin 1787).

German Theater - Baroque and 18th Century