With Hegel in the theatre – Hegel’s anti criticism of Raupach’s comedy “Die Bekehrten”

Hegel was an avid theatre-goer and a connoisseur of dramatic literature. But in his aesthetics, drama is given a prominent position, not theatre. For Hegel, beautiful art is the “sensuous appearance of the idea.”1, but the sensuous appearance of the drama, the theatrical performance, is secondary for him. The drama is the “highest stage of poetry and of art in general.”2, but the art of acting is secondary and all elements of theatrical performance “gesture, action, declamation, music, dance and scenery” 3 are subordinate to speech. For Hegel, drama has the highest position in poetry because, as a dialogical art of words, it unites subjectivity and objectivity, and is thus closest to philosophy. 4. The performance of the drama, on the other hand, is only a necessary accessory5. Out of the staging trappings, movement, music, stage setting, the “poetic word” stands out as the “salient centre … in free domination”6.

Thus Hegel’s theory. This is not to say that Hegel was incapable of appreciating and enjoying a theatrical performance. There exists the curious document of a pages-long slating review by Hegel 7 – not of a theatre performance, but of a theatre criticism, published in 1826 in a journal called “Schnellpost”, edited by Hegel’s friend Moritz Gottlieb Saphir 8]. The subject of the criticised review was the premiere of the comedy “Die Bekehrten” by Ernst Raupach. Raupach is completely forgotten today, but was a much-played, highly decorated, highly paid playwright between 1825 and 18509.

In his comedy “Die Bekehrten”, a pair of lovers quarrel and separate. The lover’s uncle then marries the young woman as a sham to keep her in custody for his nephew and protect her from other suitors, fakes his death, obtains an annulment of his marriage and reunites the two formerly quarrelling lovers. The action of the play, however, begins with the pretend-married uncle, who has supposedly died, disguised as a monk, giving his former wife-in-custody advice and thus the opportunity to tell the back story.

This was too much of an improbable construction for the critic of the “Schnellpost”. The author of the review in “Schnellpost” accused Raupach of having rendered the plot implausible with coincidences that were too extra-essential (“außerwesentlich”) and an overscrewed task of violence (“überschraubte Gewaltsamkeit”). This outraged Hegel, especially since the audience had also reacted lukewarmly. Hegel, however, was enthusiastic. So he wrote a detailed exposition of the necessary role of chance in comedies. This is a salute to the drama, to Raupach’s text.

Berliner Schnellpost Titelseite

But at least in one sentence it becomes clear that Hegel’s fascination with this simple comedy had its reason in the performance.

For Hegel, the playwright has to fulfil the “main task” so that the actors can unfold and assert their capacity10. Hegel, as a connoisseur, brings a number of examples of this from performances he has seen and from actors and actresses whose “ability” he can judge 11.

Hegel first raves about the leading actress of “Alanghu”, another completely unsuccessful drama by Raupach12:

The play had “enabled the actress to unfold all sides of her talent, mind and spirit, and to bring before our souls the attractive painting of fiery, restless, active passion with naive, amiable youthfulness, the liveliest, most determined energy, fused with sensitive, witty gentleness and grace” (trsl. G.P.)13.

Auguste Stich

Hegel then describes how an actress, whom he had already admired as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet (it was Auguste Stich), plays the charming embarrassment („reizende Verlegenheit“) of a character called Klothilde in “Die Bekehrten” when she meets her lover Torquato again (Act II, Scene 5).

“Position and arms remain, the eye, which one is otherwise accustomed to see in lively movement, does not dare to look up at first, its muteness interrupts here and there a heaving of the breast that does not become a sigh, it dares a few furtive glances that fear to meet those of Torquato, but it presses upon him when his own eyes turn elsewhere. The poet is to be esteemed fortunate whose conception is executed by an artist who makes it superfluous for the narration of the content expressed by the language to indicate more than the features of the soulful eloquence of her gesture.” 14

Here, then, for Hegel, the silent play of the actress, the “eloquence of gesture”, makes language superfluous. Hegel knows what “appeals” and “attracts” in a theatre performance. It is not the word.

His aesthetic theory could not accommodate this independent function of theatre vis-à-vis drama; he had to acknowledge it in his theatre experience.

  1. „Das Schöne bestimmt sich dadurch als das sinnliche Scheinen der Idee.“ G.W.F.Hegel, Werke in zwanzig Bänden. Theorie Werkausgabe Bd. 13 Ästhetik I. Frankfurt/ M: Suhrkamp, 1970, p. 151
  2. „Das Drama muss, weil es seinem Inhalte wie seiner Form nach sich zur vollendeten Totalität ausbildet, als die höchste Stufe der Poesie und der Kunst überhaupt angesehen werden.“ Hegel, Bd. 15 Ästhetik III p. 474
  3. Ästhetik III, p. 510
  4. „Denn die Rede allein (ist) das der Exposition des Geistes würdige Element … die dramatische Poesie (ist) diejenige, welche die Objektivität des Epos mit dem subjektiven Prinzip der Lyrik in sich vereinigt.“ Ästhetik III, p. 474
  5. „fordert deshalb (…) die vollständige szenische Aufführung.“ ibid.
  6. „hervorstechender Mittelpunkt … in freier Herrschaft“, Ästhetik III, p. 505
  7. G.W.F. Hegel “Über Die Bekehrten”. in: G.W.F.Hegel, Werke in zwanzig Bänden. Theorie Werkausgabe, Bd. 11 Berliner Schriften 1818-1831, pp.72-82
  8. in three instalments: Berliner Schnellpost, 18. Jan. 1826 Nr. 8, 21. Jan. 1826, Nr.9 https://digitale-sammlungen.ulb.uni-bonn.de/periodical/pageview/1723191, https://digitale-sammlungen.ulb.uni-bonn.de/periodical/pageview/1723193 und Beiwagen zur Berliner Schnellpost, 23. Jan. 1826, Nr. 4 https://digitale-sammlungen.ulb.uni-bonn.de/periodical/pageview/1723203
  9. cf: Artikel „Raupach, Ernst Benjamin Salomo“ von Max Bendiner in: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, ed. by Historischen Kommission bei der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Band 27 (1888), S. 430–445, Wikisource https://de.wikisource.org/w/index.php?title=ADB:Raupach,_Ernst_Benjamin_Salomo&oldid=-
  10. „ihr Vermögen entfalten und geltend machen“, Bd. 11 Berliner Schriften, p. 73
  11. Eduard Devrient, from his own experience as an actor, also appreciates Raupach’s merit in the promotion of the art of acting: „(es ist) ganz bestimmt nachzuweisen, dass er die Talente {der Schauspielerinnen und Schauspieler} nicht nur benutzt und sich ihnen accomodirt, sondern durch seine Aufgaben ihre Entwicklung und Erweiterung entschieden gefördert hat.“ Eduard Devrient, Geschichte der deutschen Schauspielkunst. Neu-Ausgabe in zwei Volumes, Vol. II Berlin: Otto Elsner, 1905 {first 1848-1874} p. 281
  12. Devrient: “Seine dramatische Erzählung ‚Alanghu‘ wirkte nicht.“ p. 190
  13. Das Stück habe „die Schauspielerin in den Stand gesetzt, alle Seiten ihres Talents, Gemüts und Geistes zu entfalten und uns das anziehende Gemälde feuriger, unruhiger, tätiger Leidenschaftlichkeit mit naiver, liebenswürdiger Jugendlichkeit, der lebhaftesten, entschlossensten Energie, mit empfindungsvoller, geistreicher Sanftmut und Anmut verschmolzen, vor die Seele zu bringen“, Bd. 11, p.77
  14. „Stellung und Arme bleiben, das Auge, das man sonst in lebhafter Bewegung zu sehen gewohnt ist, wagt es zuerst nicht aufzusehen, seine Stummheit unterbricht hier und da ein nicht zum Seufzen werdendes Heben der Brust, es wagt einige verstohlene Blicke, die denen Torquatos zu begegnen fürchten, es drängt sich aber auf ihn, wenn die seinigen sich anderwärts hinwenden. Der Dichter ist für glücklich zu achten, dessen Konzeption von einer Künstlerin ausgeführt wird, die es für die Erzählung des Inhalts, der durch die Sprache ausgedrückt ist, überflüssig macht, mehr als die Züge der seelenvollen Beredsamkeit ihrer Gebärde anzugeben.“ Bd. 11. p. 79

Attention – Experiences with online theatre premieres

Theatre streaming in the Corona pandemic results in an increase of the number of spectators, e.g. 10,000 instead of 600 for a live stream of “Zauberberg” at Deutsches Theater Berlin on 20/11/2020, 1. But what kind and what degree of attention do theatre performances get thereby?

The social trappings of presence theatre also work as an engine that increases attention. To watch two or even three hours silently, staring in one direction, with minimal shifts of gaze and attention, takes preparation. It takes collectivity. The mutual insinuation of expectation in the foyer brings our attention engine to operating temperature. You don’t do this alone.

Attention as a means of payment

By streaming performances, theatres enter the large attention market of the internet, where attention is billed as a means of payment 2. The scarcity of the commodity of users’ attention leads to competition for this scarce commodity. But it is not the commodity, the content of the media providers, that is devalued, but the means of payment, attention 3. It is faked, diluted, divided, dispersed. What can one do while streaming a video of a theatre performance: eat, drink beer, sleep, do gymnastics, make phone calls, write messages, browse through other applications, let the streaming image run along as a small picture.

Attention as a gift

A visit to the theatre is a collective gift of attention. You don’t get attention in return. It is not an exchange of equals and by no means always an exchange of equivalents. The thrill of thought and sense that a theatre performance produces in the audience is a gift in return, but of a different kind. This also true for streamed performances, but there, we give less. Somehow the gift of attention is tied to the physical presence of a human being. On the internet we are customers, we only give as much as we receive. In an auditorium, we are donors, we waste our attention. (At least temporarily, after that comes the theatre sleep for which the theatre critic Henning Rischbieter was famous).

The compulsion to sit for hours in narrow rows next to smelly neighbours, cramped behind towering ballerina knots or broad curly heads and confined to minimal movements, an imprisonment which so many young people cannot endure, results in a minimal gain in freedom: you can focus your attention as you like, left corner of the stage or right, this actor or that actress, that handsome back in row 5 or that enigmatic detail of the set. In a streamed performance, my gaze is directed. My body is freer, but my attention is constrained to a screen, directed by camera work, cuts and image editing.

Distributed attention

A theatre performance actually requires from the audience what is called distributed attention 4: it is best to have everything in view, to perceive everything: movement, light, language, music, speech. Concentrating exclusively on a screen, on the other hand, requires a “deepened concentration”, which in the 19th century was understood to be the root of mental illness, paranoia. We naturally resist this. We are trained in divided attention. We also apply this to the screen, cultivating and enhancing the ability to scattered perception of simultaneous events, which the city dweller has become accustomed to 5. But the intensity and duration of attention decreases. So it is only logical when Pınar Karabulut breaks up her online production of Marlowe/Palmetshofer’s “Edward II” for Schauspiel Köln into a six-part series. 20 to 30 minutes in front of the screen is enough 6. The collective, bodily presence of audience and actors, on the other hand, enables an increase in the duration and intensity of attention that cannot be achieved in other reception settings.

It is therefore wrong to ascribe an old-fashioned, deepened attention to theatre and a modern, disjointed attention to the streamed internet event. The theatre of physical co-presence encounters the same people with the same habits of perception as the video on screen. But physical co-presence and collectivity produce an increase in attention that cannot be achieved any other way. Bodies we pay attention to, pixels we pay nothing to. Bodies get our attention for free because we assume that they too can pay attention to us. We do this even if, as in the theatre of the fourth wall, the agreement is that they do not give us attention back but pay us back in another currency, the currency of mental-sensual stimulation.


According to Michael Tomasello, shared intentionality, the ability to adopt another’s perspective on something third, is a crucial prerequisite for the evolution of the human species compared to primates 7. This we-intentionality, the shared attention to the stage, this basic human disposition, is the reason for the pleasure of the collective theatre experience. Sitting next to others in a shared space and looking at the same thing with the same intention is an archetypal situation of humanity. This cannot be replaced by the freedom of movement in front of the home screen.

  1. cf. Sophie Diesselhorst, “Gekommen um zu bleiben”. in: Theater heute 5/2021 p. 27
  2. “The reduction of attention to a currency produces a kind of soul blindness.” (trsl. G.P.) Georg Franck, „Warum der Begründer der ‚Ökonomie der Aufmerksamkeit` immer noch goldrichtig liegt“. Interview with Klaus Janke, Horizont 24.10.2017. https://www.horizont.net/medien/nachrichten/Georg-Franck-Warum-der-Begruender-der-oekonomie-der-Aufmerksamkeit-immer-noch-goldrichtig-liegt-162087
  3. cf. Georg Franck, Ökonomie der Aufmerksamkeit. München: Hanser, 1998
  4. Petra Löffler, Verteilte Aufmerksamkeit. Eine Mediengeschichte der Zerstreuung. Zurich-Berlin: Diaphanes, 2014, e.g. pp 92-93
  5.  “Zerstreuung als notwendige Aufmerksamkeitstechnik” beim “Navigieren durch die moderne Signalwelt” Löffler, p. 332
  6. cf. G.P. “Im Irrgarten der Referenzen”, in: Theater heute 5/2021, pp. 54-56
  7. “Human cooperative communication is more complex than ape intentional communication because its underlying social-cognitive infrastructure comprises not only skills for understanding individual intentionality but also skills and motivations for shared intentionality.” Michael Tomasello, Origins of Human Communication. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2008, p.321

Theatre and political theology – The two bodies of the king

Review of the introduction to Peter W. Marx, Macht | Spiele. Politisches Theater seit 1919. Alexander Verlag Berlin 2020, 223 p.


With his new book “Macht | Spiele. Politisches Theater seit 1919.” Peter W. Marx shows how the various figures of thought (“Denkfiguren”) have developed, with which the changing relations between political power (“Macht”) and theatre (“Spiele”) since the end of the First World War have been considered, viewed and examined in German theatre performances. The relationship between theatre and power is reciprocal: power presents itself in public politics as on a theatre stage, and theatre presents power (and its self-staging) in fiction on the stage. Marx calls the “tension between the staging of power and politics and the theatrical-fictional reflections” 1 the basic axis („Grundachse“) of his presentation. Concentrating his study on these figures of thought and on a selection of exemplary productions is the great advantage of this book over other books on the history of theatre. 2. This concentrated way of presentation confirms Peter W. Marx’s understanding of theatre history as social history. And since it goes beyond the factual retelling of the past to depicting intellectual and political trends, it stimulates discussion.

In his “Introduction”, Marx presents the theoretical starting point for his investigations. Some comments:

The two bodies of the king

In order to understand the “forms of political communication” at the beginning of the 20th century, Marx relies on Ernst H. Kantorowicz’s historical analysis of the theory of the two bodies of the king 3. Marx finds in Kantorowicz the description of a “practice of the sensual doubling of the ruler body”. Kantorowicz actually shows this practice with many examples of pictures of rulers, coins, paintings, grave slabs, funeral processions 4. But the basis for these images is the argumentation of medieval legal experts, which Kantorowicz traces in many details. This theory, which played a role especially among the lawyers of Elizabethan England, is about the legal safeguarding of the continuity of the state. The imaginary doubling of the ruler’s body was a necessary stage in the development of awareness of what a state is, that an immortal state exists, and not just a mortal ruler.

The metaphor of the body for the abstract structure of the state, which consists of different institutions, legal concepts and people, has been used since the Romans 5. Kantorowicz shows how Christian theology made it possible to transfer this idea to the monarchs of Europe. Kantorowicz also shows that the continuation of this medieval theory in the Renaissance was limited primarily to England and emphasizes that this theory played no role in Germany. 6 The English historian Quentin Skinner regrets that Kantorowicz did not continue his investigations beyond the beginning of the 17th century, because then he would have he found the replacement of the theory of the two bodies with other justifications of statehood 7 But Marx transfers the theory of the two bodies of the ruler to the German Kaiser Wilhelm II. Accoding to Marx, he was concerned with the “generation of a virtual body politic“, with the ” media doubling of the imperial body ”8 . Marx therefore is interested in the visual representation of the ruler in the media. The “body politic” in the sense of the English theory of the state is, however, the entire state system, not just the visual presentation of a ruler by the media. Kantorowicz’s haunting picture of the two bodies is not suitable for analyzing the modern mechanisms of the representation of power. The medieval two-body-teaching cannot be equated with the modern distinction between the real bodies of the persons in government and their representation in the media. 9.

At the time of Wilhelm II, Germany was a rapidly developing nation with diverse, strong political currents, a highly developed bureaucratic apparatus, the modernity of which was only covered by the glittering feudal surface – a deeply hypocritical state structure 10, but not a medieval empire and not an absolutist monarchy. The theory that the state is a legal entity that “stands in and not above the law”, that is, a constitutional state in which the people are the last source of law and the monarch only an organ of this corporate body (“juristische Person”) had long been developed by Otto Gierke in German jurisprudence, but was not used in political reality. 11.

Marx illustrates his view with the well-known cover picture of a magazine published in 1919, which shows President Ebert and Interior Minister Noske in swimming trunks, and sums up “The nudity of the natural body disqualifies the new body politic.” 12 Marx comments on how the image of the bodies of the representatives of the state is used by their opponents in the public debate through the media. But the term body politic in the theory of the two bodies of the king was a legal metaphor for the “immortal” state as a whole.

From body to state and back again

Peter W. Marx refers to Hans Belting’s reception of the theory of the two bodies of the king presented by Kantorowicz. 13 Belting rightly shows that every human body is itself an image even before it is reproduced in an image 14. Belting’s summary of Kantorowicz’s chapter on “Effigies” also shows the terminological confusion. An “Effigies ” was a doll that wore the insignia of power in place of the dead ruler at the funeral of the king and was carried in addition to the coffin at the funeral procession. This practice was used first in England with Edward II, then in the 16th and 17th centuries it was common in France. Belting writes that there were “two bodies which were separated in an official person, first the natural body that was mortal, and then the official body which was transferred from one living bearer to the next and thereby attained immortality”  15. Kantorowicz explained in detail which different terms were in use for what Belting calls “official body”: “corpus mysticum”, “universitas”, “corona”, “body politic”. The term dignitas is used in connection with the effigies. 16 It is the “dignity of the office” (i.e. dignitas, “Amtswürde”) of the deceased king, which is transferred to the doll, the effigies, as Belting writes two sentences later. Kantorowicz himself resorts to the metaphor of “body politic” when he then writes “The two bodies united in the living body were visibly separated after his (the king’s) death.” 17 The increasingly diverse political community with its institutions was still tied to the person of the ruler. The abstract of the state had to be made visible in a human body, so “body” became the anthropomorphic term for this abstract community structure. Belting uses many historical and current examples to show the crisis of the body image and its reflection in art. The theory of the two bodies of the king, however, belongs to a long past phase in the history of the development of the concept of the state. The modern state is no longer embodied in one person. It only has representatives, elected people, whose body images in visual communication are subject to the general mechanisms of the image market.
In his chapter on female power figures in the theater (“Die Provokation des  Female Body Politic”) 18, Marx applies the term “body politic” to the external appearance of a person in power: it is about the hairstyles of Chancellors Schröder and Merkel. It is obvious that the representation of the body of politicians in the media of a democratic society plays a role in public debate. It is also obvious and regrettable that the depiction of the body of female politicians (and their self-portrayal) is exposed to the mechanisms of a patriarchal tradition. But politicians are not kings and politicians are not queens.

The career of a medieval theological concept, which was developed in the Renaissance by lawyers to distinguish between the ruler and the state, on the theatre is astonishing 19. The efforts of the lawyers to form clean legal terms from indistinct metaphors are traced back to their pictorial origin. This is an example of the crooked ways in which social communication has become visualized today.

Who answers Carl Schmitt?

Peter W. Marx contrasts Max Weber and Carl Schmitt as the two representatives of the political understanding of the state of the Weimar Republic. 20 Peter Marx also finds this contrast in the Bonn Republic and cites the well-known Böckenförde dictum that the state is based on conditions that he cannot guarantee 21. Böckenförde really did the trick of giving a liberal interpretation of Carl Schmitt’s theory of the political and his state theory and translating it into a liberal decision-making practice as a judge of the German supreme court (Richter am Bundesverfassungsgericht). 22 The famous Böckenförde dictum was primarily intended as an appeal to Christians to regard the preservation of freedom by the state as their own task 23. Böckenförde was also an social democratic politician (SPD). He was the rare case of a liberal Catholic constitutional judge who was also prepared to oppose the hierarchy of the Catholic church.


But Böckenförde’s dictum is less an “answer to Carl Schmitt” 24 as it is a continuation of Carl Schmitt under the conditions of the Bonn Republic. Böckenförde saw himself as a disciple of Schmitt. Of course, he only referred to Schmitt’s work in the early Weimar Republic, not to his Nazi tracts in the early years of the Third Reich. With Böckenförde, Schmitt’s brusque rejection of any kind of pluralism turns into the cautious reference to “relative homogeneity” as a prerequisite for the state 25. As an answer to Carl Schmitt, one can better understand Chantal Mouffe’s theory, which agrees with Schmitt in recognizing the need for homogeneity in a democracy (which she then calls “commonality” to distinguish herself from Schmitt). But for her, this homogeneity is the result of a process in a field of conflicting forces. 26. This theory is also often used to justify an agonistic concept of current political theatre, which tries to intensify hidden social conflicts 27.

  1. „Spannung zwischen den Inszenierungen von Macht und Politik und den theatral-fiktiven Reflexionen“ Marx, p.8
  2. cf. Siegfried Melchinger, Geschichte des politischen Theaters. Velber: Friedrich Verlag, 1971 or Manfred Brauneck, Die Deutschen und ihr Theater. Kleine Geschichte der „moralischen Anstalt“ oder ist das Theater überfordert? Bielefeld. transcript Verlag, 2018
  3. Ernst H. Kantorowicz, Die zwei Körper des Königs. Eine Studie zur politischen Theologie des Mittelalters. Munich: dtv, 1990. first engl. Princeton 1957
  4. see. the chapter “Le Roy est mort” at Kantorowicz pp. 405-432, which describes the funeral rites of the French kings
  5. Livius reports on the fable of Menenius Agrippa: “tempore quo in homine non ut nunc omnia in unum consentiant, sed singulis membris suum cuique consilium, suus sermo fuerit, indignatas reliquas partes sua cura, suo labore ac ministerio ventri omnia quaeri, ventrem in medio quietum nihil aliud quam datis voluptatibus frui; conspirasse inde ne manus ad os cibum ferrent, nec os acciperet date, nec dentes quae acciperent conficerent. Hac ira, dum ventrem fame domare vellent, ipsa una membra totumque corpus ad extremam tabem venisse. Inde apparuisse ventris quoque haud bless ministry esse, nec magis ali quam alere eum, reddentem in omnes corporis partes hunc quo vivimus vigemusque, divisum pariter in venas maturum confecto cibo sanguinem. Comparando hinc quam intestina corporis seditio similis eats irae plebis in patres, flexisse mentes hominum. ”Livius, Ab urbe condita 2, 32. https://www.thelatinlibrary.com/livy/liv.2.shtml. A. Koschorke, S. Lüdemann, T. Frank, E. Matala de Mazza, Der fiktive Staat. Konstruktionen des politischen Körpers in der Geschichte Europas. Frankfurt / M: Fischer, 2007. trace this development of political metaphor in detail.
  6. „Doch scheint es, dass der Begriff der ‚zwei Körper’ des Königs nicht von der frühen Entwicklung und der dauernden Triebkraft des Parlaments im englischen Verfassungsdenken und seiner Praxis zu trennen ist.“ and „Ein deutscher Fürst hatte sich in einem abstrakten Staat einzurichten. Jedenfalls fehlte die Theorie der ‚zwei Körper’ des Königs in all ihrer Kompliziertheit und manchmal skurrilen Konsequenz auf dem europäischen Kontinent so gut wie völlig.“ Kantorowicz p.440. Kantorowicz only refers to 20th century Germany in a single footnote. It is about the oath formula “pro rege et patria“, which combines feudal (rege) and state (patria) duties. Kantorowicz writes: „Die Formel pro rege et patria (Für König und Vaterland), die sich in der preußischen Armee bis in die jüngste Vergangenheit erhalten hat, brachte 1918 sich widersprechende Pflichten mit sich, als die Offiziere sich erst nach der Flucht Wilhelms II. nach Holland frei fühlten, der res publica zu dienen, nachdem ihre ‚feudalen‘ Treueide obsolet geworden waren. Eine ähnliche Situation entstand 1945, als der persönliche Eid sie der patria verpflichtete.“ p. 267, note 204
  7. „Kantorowicz trieb seine Erforschung der englischen Quellen nicht weiter als bis zu den letzten Jahrzehnten des ausgehenden 16. Jahrhundert. Angesichts seines im Vorwort angekündigten umfassenden Vorhabens, zu einem Verständnis der Ursprünge und der Mythologie des modernen säkularen Staates beizutragen, überrascht es allerdings, dass er gerade an diesem Punkt damit aufhörte. Hätte er seine Forschungen englischer Quellen noch über eine Generation weiter vorangetrieben, würde er in den englischsprachigen Diskussionen über das Verhältnis zwischen dem politischen Körper von Königen und dem corpus Politikum ihrer Untertanen auf einen epochemachenden Augenblick gestoßen sein. Er wäre an den Punkt gelangt, an dem man vielerorts damit begann, den Körper, von dem es hieß, dass Könige über ihn herrschen, erstmals als den Körper des Staates zu beschreiben.“ Quentin Skinner, Die drei Körper des Staates. Frankfurt: Wallstein, 2012, p.14. Skinner’s essay is based on his Kantorowicz Lecture from May 2011 at the Goethe University in Frankfurt. And this lecture goes back to Skinner’s British Academy Lecture in 2008 https://britishacademy.universitypressscholarship.com/view/10.5871/bacad/9780197264584.001.0001/upso-9780197264584-chapter-11.
  8. “Erzeugung eines virtuellen body politic” and “mediale Verdopplung des Kaiserlörpers“ Marx p.12
  9. Susanne Lüdemann makes it clear that this technique of governance was already in use at Machiavelli’s time and became important in the 17th century, and shows the differences and similarities between these two two-body-theories: „In gewisser Weise ist auch diese Dichotomie zwischen (zu verbergender) Wirklichkeit und (verbergendem) Schein eine politische Zwei-Körper-Lehre: nur dass an die Stelle des unsterblichen und symbolischen Körpers des Königs sein medialer und imaginärer Leib getreten ist.“ A. Koschorke e.a., p. 156
  10. see Fritz Stern „Geld, Moral und die Stützen der Gesellschaft“, in: Das Scheitern illiberaler Politik. Studien zur politischen Kultur Deutschlands im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert. Berlin: Ullstein Propylaea, 1974, first Engl. 1970
  11. Thomas Frank, “Der Staat als juristische Person”, in: Koschorke e.a. Part V, p. 374
  12. „Die Nacktheit des body natural disqualifiziert den neuen body politic.“ Marx, p. 14
  13. Marx, p. 12
  14. “The body itself is an image even before it is reproduced in images. The image is not what it claims to be, namely the reproduction of the body. In truth it is the production of a body image that is already given in the self-portrayal of the body.” (transl. G.P.) Hans Belting, „Das Körperbild als Menschenbild. Eine Repräsentation in der Krise“, in: H.B., Bild-Anthropologie. Paderborn: Fink, 2001, S.89
  15.  (transl. G.P.) „zwei Körper, die man in einer Amtsperson trennte, einmal um den natürlichen Körper, der sterblich war, und dann um den Amtskörper, der von einem lebenden Träger auf den nächsten übertragen wurde und dadurch Unsterblichkeit erlangte“ . Belting, p.96f
  16. Kantorowicz quotes the French lawyer Pierre Grégoire: “Nam ipse non est dignitas: sed agit personam dignitatis.” Kantorowicz S. 417
  17. transl. G.P., „Die im lebenden Körper vereinten zwei Körper wurden nach seinem (des Königs) Ableben sichtbar getrennt.“ Kantorowicz, p.418
  18. Marx, p.119-203
  19. see. e.g. Luise Vogt’s production of Shakespeare’s “König Lear” at Schauspiel Bonn 2019, https://www.nachtkritik.de/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=17734:koenig-lear-theater-bonn-luise-voigt-verdoppel- the-body-of-the-king-and-translates-shakespeare’s-most pessimistic-tragedy-into-a-sequence-stylized-events & catid = 38 & itemid = 40. Another reason for the extensive reception of Kantorowicz’s book in the theatres is probably that he first demonstrated the theory of the two bodies of the king in a drama, Shakespeare’s “Richard II“.
  20. As a sociologist, Max Weber was not at all Carl Schmitt’s adversary, but Hans Kelsen, the expert of constitutional law against whom Schmitt polemicized in his 1922 work “Politische Theologie“. To call Carl Schmitt’s justification of the political “transcendental” does not exactly fit his theory. In any case, Schmitt’s theory of the political has nothing to do with Kant’s concept of transcendentality, which means the conditions of the possibility of knowledge. Rather, one could call it an anthropological theory founded on the opposition of friend and foe.
  21. “Der freiheitliche, säkularisierte Staat lebt von Voraussetzungen, die er selbst nicht garantieren kann.” Böckenförde, p. 112
  22. see: Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde, „Der Begriff des Politischen als Schlüssel zum staatsrechtlichen Werk Carl Schmitts“ (first in 1988), in: E.-W.B., Recht, Staat, Freiheit. Studien zur Rechtsphilosophie, Staatstheorie und Verfassungsgeschichte. Frankfurt / M: Suhrkamp, 1991, pp. 344-366.
  23. Böckenförde, loc. cit. p.114
  24. “Antwort auf Carl Schmitt“ Marx p.16
  25. Böckenförde, p.346, 366
  26. Chantal Mouffe, “Schmitt and the Paradox of Liberal Democracy” (first 1997) in: The Democratic Paradox. London: Verso 2005, p.56
  27. see. Florian Malzacher, Gesellschaftsspiele. Politisches Theater heute. Berlin: Alexander Verlag, 2020, pp.12-14

Supplement to “On personal identity”. Three references

harari, Runciman & Macfarlane

On personal identity

Analyses of the dwindling ability of people to understand themselves as a unitary, self-consistent person abound. Here are three examples:

Disaggregated personhood

First, David Runciman’s political diagnosis in the dispute with Derek Parfit1:

„Derek Parfit has argued that our attachment to the illusion of a single identity over time is one of the things that stifles our moral and political imaginations.2 We instinctively believe that we have more in common with the person we will be in twenty years’ time than with the person sitting next to us right now. Parfit thinks that is wrong: we are as disconnected from our future selves as if there were physical space between us. I am not the me I will be in future. The two of us are essentially separate people.
If only we could see that, we might start to reconfigure our moral priorities. First, we would be more solicitous of our neighbors and of people further away, given the time we currently spend worrying only about ourselves. Second, we would do more to guard against doing harm to people who don’t yet exist (for example, by squandering natural resources). It it is wrong to hurt the person sitting next to me, it is also wrong to hurt my or your future self. Disaggregated personhood should make us better and more responsible people than we are at present.
So far, there is little sign that information technology is having this effect. Parfit was writing in the mid-1980s, before the digital revolution had got going. His arguments assumed a backdrop of relative political stability: under conditions of calm philosophical reflection we should be able to see the things owe to each other and to our future selves. In other words: first we stabilize, then we take our identities apart, then we put our moral universe back together again. At the moment that process is being played out in reverse: first we take our identities apart, then we destabilize, then we see what if anything is left of the moral universe we built. Our personalities are getting fractured in little ways, piece by piece – health data over here, WhatsApp over there, Twitter chattering away in the background – with our anything to give us a shared perspective on what’s happening. This is not taking place in a philosophy seminar. It is lived human experience, which makes calm reflection almost impossible. For now, technology is fraying us more that it is liberating us.“

These “disaggregated selfs” will be second-rate victims of a technocratic elite. That is one of the dangers that will come after the demise of democracy, according to Runciman.

You are not a story

Yuval Noah Harari provides an even more fundamental criticism of the idea of a unified subject who can tell his or her own story to himself or herself3:

„In order to understand our selves, a crucial step is to acknowledge that the ‚self‘ is a fictional story that the intricate mechanisms of our mind constantly manufacturing, update and rewrite. There is a story-teller in my mind that explains who I am, where I am coming from, where I am heading to, and what is happening right now. Like the government spin doctors who explain the latest political upheavals, the inner narrator repeatedly gets things wrong but rarely, if ever, admits it. And just as the government builds up a national myth with flags, icons and parades, so my inner propaganda machine builds up a personal myth with prized memories and cherished traumata’s that often bear little resemblance to the truth. (…)

Hence if you really want to understand yourself, you should not identify with your Facebook account or the inner story of the self. Instead, you should observe the actual flow of body and mind. You will see thoughts, emotions and desires appear and disappear without much reason and without any command from you, just as different winds blow from this or that direction and mess up your hair. And just as you are not the winds, so also you are not the jumble of your thoughts, emotions and desires you experience, and you are certainly not the sanitised story you tell about them with hindsight. Your experience all of them, but you don’t control them, you don’t own them, and you are not them. People ask ‚Who am I‘ and expect to be told a story. The first thing you need to know about yourself, is that you are not a story.“

Harari also offers a provisional solution: meditation is the way to assure oneself of the working of one’s own mind, before the algorithms understand us better than we ourselves.

Robert Macfarlane offers a different solution: contact with the untamed nature4. However, this is more a yearning scenario than a practicable socio-psychological recipe:

Disembodiment and dematerialization

„We are, as a species, finding it increasingly hard to imagine that we are part of something which is larger than our own capacity. We have come to accept a heresy of aloofness, a humanist belief in human difference, and we suppress wherever possible the checks and balances on us – the reminders that the world is greater than us or that we are contained within it. In almost every front, we have begun a turning away from a felt relationship with the natural world.
The blinding of the stars is only one aspect of this retreat from the real. In so many ways, there has been a rising away from place, an abstraction of experience into different kinds of touchlessness. We experience, as no historical period has before, disembodiment and dematerialization. The almost infinite connectivity of the technological world, for all the benefits that it has brought, has exacted a toll in the coin of contact. We have in many ways forgotten what the world feels like. And so new maladies of the soul have emerged unhappinesses which are complicated products of the distance we have set between ourselves and the world. We have come increasingly to forget that our minds are shaped by the bodily experience of being in the world – its spaces, textures, sound, smells and habits – as well as by genetic traits we inherit and ideologies that we absorb. A constant and formidably defining exchange occurs between the physical world around us, and the cast of our inner world of imagination. The feel of a hot dry wind on the face, the smell of distant rain carried as a scent stream in the air, the touch of a birds sharp foot on one’s outstretched palm: such encounters shape our beings and our imaginations in ways which are beyond analysis, but also beyond doubt. There is something uncomplicatedly true in the sensation of laying hands upon sun-warmed rock, or watching a dense mutating flock of birds, or seeing snow fall irrefutably upon one’s upturned palm.“

Even though these analyses are very different from each other – dissipation by digital media, ignorance of the working of one’s own mind, loss of contact with body and nature – the mode of complaint about a lost stability of self-understanding is common. The presentation of stable fictitious or historical identities responds to this vague sense of loss. The more brutal the social system, the more hardened the identity of the resisters must be. Today, few want to resist, but many want to escape the general uneasiness of identity diffusion. Perhaps this can explain the boom of dramatised resistance novels on the German theatres.

  1. David Runciman, How Democracy Ends. London: Profile Books, 2018. Kindle ed. Pos. 2670
  2. Derek Parfit, *Reasons and Persons* (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), part 3. Conclusion. Annotation by Runciman
  3. Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. Part V: „Resilience“, Ch. 20 „Meaning“,„The supermarket a Elsinore“. London: Jonathan Cape, 2018
  4. Robert Macfarlane, The Wild Places. London: Granta, 2007, p. 203

Hegel and the Theatre

The editors of the special issue “Drama, Theatre, and Philosophy” of the journal Anglia1 call Hegel’s aesthetics a suitable starting point for their collection of essays. To this they quote Hegel’s formula of drama as the “the highest stage of poetry and of art generally” 2. This formula is occasionally distorted and related to the theatre instead of drama 3. The editors of the special issue of Anglia, of course, quote correctly, and add Hegel’s suggestion that drama, “therefore demands a complete scenic production in order to give real life to the whole work of art.” 4.
However, they do not mention that Hegel demands the subordination of all elements of the scenic performance to the spoken word. Thus he writes about the art of acting:

“In principle, it consists in calling on the aid of gestures, action, declamation, music, dancing, and scenery, but in giving overwhelming preponderance to speech and its poetic expression. ” 5

Of „the art of the theatre more independently of poetry” 6 he has no good opinion. Either the actor makes himself independent of the poet, but only the “insignificant and in fact downright bad productions” 7 of German playwrights give him opportunity for that, or it is opera, „whose visible magnificence (always a sign, it is true, of the already growing decadence of genuine art) there corresponds, as the most appropriate subject-matter, what is utterly devoid of any intel­ligible connection“,8 or it is ballet, where „we threaten to see more and more disappearing from modern ballet what alone could lift it into the free realm of art. 9.
If one wanted to take Hegel as a starting point for a discussion of the relationship between philosophy and the theatre, one would also have to accept Hegel’s definition of the purpose of art:

“All art aims at the identity, produced by the spirit, in which eternal things, God, and absolute truth are revealed in real appearance and shape to our contemplation, to our hearts and minds.”10.

Theatre as a form of art is the revelation of truth to our hearts and minds for our contemplation, – that would be a Hegelian definition of the theatre. 11

  1. David Kornhaber / Martin Middeke, “Drama, Theatre, and Philosophy: An Introduction”. in: Anglia. Journal of English Philology. Journal of English Philology. Special Issue Drama, Theatre, and Philosophy. Vol.136 (2018), 1, pp.1-10
  2. G.W.F. Hegel, Aesthetics. Lectures on Fine Art. Volume II. Translated by T.M. Knox. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975, p. 1158; all quotations from Hegel refer to this edition. available on the internet
  3. Acting school Athanor (Passau): “The theatre {sic!}, because it forms its contents as well as its form to the most perfect totality, must be regarded as the highest level of poetry and art in general.“ https://www.athanor.de. (transl. G.P.)
  4. p. 1158
  5. p. 1185f
  6. p. 1190
  7. p. 1190
  8. p. 1191
  9. p. 1192
  10. p. 1236
  11. see also my comment “With Hegel in the theatre” https://theatermarginalien.com/en/2021/05/10/with-hegel-in-the-theatre/(öffnet in neuem Tab)

Who owns the theatre? How C.P. von Maldeghem once was offered to become artistic director of Schauspiel Cologne and resigned

Suddenly everything is over again. On February 1, Carl Philip von Maldeghem announced by press release that he would not take up the directorship of the Schauspiel Köln, for which he had been chosen by the city administration 1. What remains is the discrediting of the city administration of Cologne, in particular of its head of cultural affairs, Susanne Laugwitz-Aulbach, who had still defended the election of Maldeghem on 31. 1. with the argument that he stood “for a free and innovative concept of culture”. 2. Maldeghem summarizes the way his plans were criticized in Cologne as follows: “A ‘theatre of participation’, which caters ‘without aesthetic and artistic scissors in mind to the widest possible audience’ does not seem to have been wanted in Cologne.” 3. The following commentary was essentially written before Maldeghem’s withdrawal.

The decision to establish Carl Philip von Maldeghem, previously artistic director of the Landestheater Salzburg, as future artistic director of Schauspiel Köln from the season 2021/22 on is not as surprising as most commentators think. It joins a series of decisions by the city administration to appoint directors from smaller theatres to Cologne, like Klaus Pierwoß (1985-1990 who came from Tübingen) and Marc Günther (2001-2006 who came from Bolzano). Pierwoß had an outstanding team of dramaturgs (including Joachim Lux, later to become head of Thalia Theater Hamburg), he managed to keep the audience stable, but he achieved little national attention. The employment of Frank Castorf for his first production in the West was an achievement only in retrospect. Although Marc Günther could come up with a bunch of interesting young directors, they all delivered their worst work in Cologne and disappeared again. And in directing his own productions, Günther failed catastrophically.

Probably the interest of the city administration, which after all was advised by the well-experienced Rolf Bolwin (former director of Deutscher Bühnenverein, the association of all German theatres), was less directed to the director than to the solid organizer and administrator Maldeghem. The examples of his predecessors in Cologne show that a non-directing theatre manager must be able to promote a creative and cooperative atmosphere in his house and to achieve this, he must pursue artistic goals himself. As a director, Maldeghem seems above all to have experience in entertainment theatre (Schauspielbühnen in Stuttgart, musical productions in Salzburg). This will be of little use to him in Cologne, where Schauspiel Köln has a more demanding audience.

Maybe Maldeghem would be in better hands in Bonn, where the city is trying to shrink its theatre so that they can – after the model of Salzburg – finance a sumptuous Beethoven festival. From Mozart to Beethoven, that would at least be a chronologically obvious development.

OB Reker’s justification of the election Maldeghem

What is amazing about the choice of Maldeghem above all is the reasoning of the city administration. Mayoress Reker justified her decision for Maldeghem by saying that “the theatre does not belong to politics, and certainly not to the city leaders, but to the people of Cologne.” 4. What kind of criterion for choosing a director is that? Does that mean there are directors who think theatre is owned by politicians? Or rather, are there directors who think the theatre is theirs? What idea of politics is this? What kind of understanding of local self-government? How could politics own something? Or how could a local institution belong to the city’s top politicians? Is not the Mayoress elected by the people of Cologne to act for them?

Negating the populist criticism of representative democracy only promotes its affirmation. The pattern of thinking that politicians own the state is also confirmed in its negation because no other pattern is offered. No one dares to say that the city’s theatre serves the good of all the citizens of the city, even if not everyone goes there. The “belonging”, the concept of property, is completely wrong for determining the relationship between citizen and state. One needs the concepts of representation and delegation of power to characterize this relationship.

A citizens’ stage for Cologne

One of Maldeghem’s few statements about his future plans for Schauspiel Köln is that he wants to set up a citizens’ stage. With such a stage Cologne would only catch up with a development which has evolved in many theatres since Volker Lösch’s staging of Hauptmann’s “Die Weber” in Dresden in 2001. Wilfried Schulz has also established such a citizens’ stage in the neighbouring city of Düsseldorf. Understandably, the theatres want to create audience loyalty with such an opportunity for everyone to play a role in professional theatre, because the Stadttheater is in a crisis of legitimacy and suffers from loss of viewership (which is masked only by overproduction, the increase of projects of the “Fifth Division”) [2nd see. Thomas Schmidt, Theater, Krise und Reform. Eine Kritik des deutschen Theatersystems. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 2017, p. 40], but this format also fits in with the social development which leads to populism in politics.

In a society in which the theatre competes with a variety of entertainment and educational media, each of which develops its own marketing strategies, the theatre must also do marketing. Of course, the Stadtheater can use the appeal of playing a role on a professional stage (but then it should also go beyond a therapy for vitalizing pensioners). The fact that there is always an oversupply of actors in the theatre in the face of a lack of viewers is probably due to the deep anthropological roots of the need to play a role before others. Acting was never an understaffed profession. But the justification of these citizens’ stage projects often goes beyond satisfying this need, which originally was catered to by the many amateur theatre groups, and disparages the spectator. In the presentation of the citizens’ stage of Volkstheater Rostock e.g., it states: “The aim is to regard the citizens of a city not only as spectators, but to include them as co-designers and discussion partners at eye level in the artistic work.” The “not only” obviously carries a derogatory meaning, because the “co-designer” of the Bürgerbühne will be honoured as a partner at “eye level”. The spectator does not really look the actor in the eye. The spectator squints,  as is insinuated by this formulation, from a frog’s perspective to the stage as a submissive subject.

The emancipated  spectators of Cologne

The justification of such concepts of participatory theatre often refers to Jacques Rancière’s essay “The Emancipated Spectator,” because emancipation of the spectator is described there as “the blurring of the boundary between those who act and those who watch” 5. It is overlooked that Rancière does not mean that the audience should become actors. He describes three tendencies of contemporary theatre: 1. the total work of art, 2. the hybridization of the means of art, both lead to “stupidity”. Rancière advocates 3. : the spectator as an “active interpreter”. He wants to equate the theatre stage with “telling a story, reading a book or looking at a picture”. “It takes viewers to play the role of active performers who work out their own translation to appropriate the ‘story’ and make it their own story.” 6. This is perhaps a justification of the theatre of Laurent Chétouane, but not of a civil stage 7.

During the artistic directories of Karin Beier and Stefan Bachmann, the audience of Schauspiel Köln had many opportunities to emancipate themselves in this sense. Hopefully, it will stay that way.

  1. see Nachtkritik, the commentary by Dorothea Marcus, Kölner Stadt Anzeiger, Press Release Salzburg
  2. Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger 1.2.2019
  3. KStA 1.2. 2019
  4. quoted by Andreas Rossmann, in: FAZ, 25.1.2019, p.9; Andreas Wilink quotes Reker with the even flatter version “The theatre belongs to the people”. see nachtkritik.de
  5. Jacques Rancière, Der emanzipierte Zuschauer. Wien: Passagen, 2nd edition 2015, p. 30
  6. p.33
  7. Even Juliane Rebentisch’s statement that Rancière does not want to rehabilitate the “aesthetic fiction” or the “traditional box set” does not change the fact that Rancière’s theory cannot be used as a justification for the concept of the citizens’ stage. Rebentisch believes that aesthetic experience can emerge above all “where participation becomes reflexively thematic through artistic intervention.” (Juliane Rebentisch, Theorien der Gegenwartskunst, Hamburg: Junius, 2013, p. 89) Rebentisch refers to performative practices in which the audience observes the performance while at the same time being part and medium of the performance. But that is not the case with the usual concepts of the Bürgerbühne. Citizens’ stages cannot be justified aesthetically, but only socially, either as therapeutic social work or as a marketing measure of audience building.

An exploratory drilling into the history of theatre – Peter W. Marx on „Hamlet“ in Germany

Peter W. Marx, Hamlets Reise nach Deutschland

Peter W. Marx, Hamlets Reise nach Deutschland. Eine Kulturgeschichte. Berlin: Alexander Verlag, 2018, 435 S. ISBN 978-3-89581-490-7, 35,- €

Theatre as a transient art has a special relationship with memory. Theatre is not only the art form of the absolute present, of the simultaneity of performance and reception, it is also the art form of memory. Without memory no critical discourse of the theatre, without discourse no art. 1. Even the casual chat after a visit to the theatre (“How did you like it?”) requires memory. And theatre criticism is also memory aid. German theatre studies, on the other hand, try rather to run ahead of current theatre practice than to chase the theatre of the past. Theatrical history seems to be something for pensioners. It is all the more astonishing that Peter W. Marx, a professor of theatre studies in Cologne, has come up with a large-scale, readable study of theatrical history: the history of German-language “Hamlet” productions 2.

German nostrification of Hamlet

At the latest since the German translation of Shakespeare by the Romantics August Wilhelm Schlegel and Ludwig Tieck, Germany claims a special relationship to Shakespeare. That he was British is dismissed as an unfortunate coincidence. That he is an author of world fame, does not interest. Shakespeare is ours! In the 19th century, fantasies about Shakespeare’s “Germanic nature” are already in vogue 3. Even in the nationalist turmoil of the First World War, Germans hold fast to the “Nostrification“ of Shakespeare. 4. And Hamlet is the decisive figure because he represents a “call for self-identification” 5. “Hamlet” is a „play of yearning“ for the Germans 6.

Peter W. Marx undertakes an exploratory drilling into German history. With “Hamlet”, which has been present on the German stages since the travelling actor groups of the early 17th century, you can drive a core into the sediments of German mentalities. What does the soil sample show?

One sees how, in the early eighteenth century, the question of the hereafter, the metaphysical “remnant of need” [“Bedürfnisrest“] of the Enlightenment, was fixed on the appearance of the ghost of Hamlet’s father. A few decades later, this question will be answered quite differently: It is no longer about the ghost itself, but about the human being, the authenticity of the actor’s physical reaction to the ghost, the relationship between the inside and the outside of man. In the 19th century, the image of a heroically desperate Hamlet or the yearning for a princely hero prevails. Freiligrath’s mocking bêtise “Germany is Hamlet” suddenly is understood as praise of German heroism, and Hamlet becomes a figure representing the nation’s yearning for a young leader. After the contrasting politicization of the figure in the Weimar Republic (Jessner) and Nazi-Reich (Gründgens), Hamlet becomes the icon of timeless art (still Gründgens), and then come the postheroic Hamlets (Zadek, Heyme), settling the accounts with the generation of their Nazi-fathers. This process leads to Steemann’s Hamlet (Hannover 2001) 7, in which this 68-generation, who were keen on taking revenge on their fathers, are fathers in power themselves and their offspring do not stand any chance to oppose because of their parents’ overarching benevolent understanding. Up to the „To be or not to be“ reciting Youtubers, as examples of the games of the information society, which no longer need spectators, only participants.

Contextualization of „Hamlet“ productions

Marx always places the individual productions in a framework, politically and culturally. Time and again, historical figures flit through the picture: Lichtenberg, Goethe, Nietzsche, Wilhelm II, Göbbels. Again and again, scenes of historic events are briefly set up: the French revolution, World War I, the fall of the Berlin Wall – and torn down again in the next chapter. So the background appears, at least sketchily, to which the productions refer. Marx also casts sideways glances at the changing popularity of other Shakespeare plays: he explains why “Coriolanus” instead of “Hamlet” becomes interesting for the early GDR and “King Lear” for the late Bonn Republic.

Even on productions well-known in the history of theatre, such as Leopold Jessner’s Berlin “Hamlet” production of 1926 8 Marx can shed new light by placing them in a wide social and intellectual context. Fritz Kortner’s blonde wig, which was mocked at in a theatre review as an „idiot’s roof” 9 caused such indignation in 1926 because it fitted into the scheme of the deceiving Jew. Marx quotes Oskar Panizza, Friedrich Nietzsche and Arnold Zweig in support of his view and refers to the insults of the Polish-Jewish Hamlet-actor Bogumil Dawison. The assimilated Jew was the worst Jew for the anti-Semites of the Weimar Republic because he was seen as a liar.

Derivations of the Hamlet cult

Not only the highlights are mentioned, but also almost forgotten versions like Felicitas von Vestvali’s female Hamlet (1913), a strangely modernized film version “The Rest is Silence” from 1959 or Heyme / Vostell’s Media-„Hamlet” in Cologne (1977). Epiphenomena of the Hamlet cult are also included, such as Gerhart Hauptmann’s annotated text edition (1928), published together with Edward Gordon Craig, Harald Schmidt’s talk show “Hamlet” (2001) or Katie Mitchell’s performance “Ophelia’s Room” (2015). While the purely text-oriented productions of the last decades (Grüber Berlin 1982 10, Steckel Bochum, 1995 11, Gosch Düsseldorf 2001 12, Bachmann Cologne 2016 13) are passed over.

Marx also opens up new sources, such as Heyme’s notes to his “Hamlet” in Cologne. Already 40 years ago, Heyme noted: “that historically fixed art or theatre work can only be experienced as filtered through the media. Everything else is a lie. Whereby this truth is, in consequence, a deadly and fatalistic one – completely un-utopian, and our yearning can of course only be aimed at […], THEATER AGAINST the media which are clinging to us and of which we consist in part.“ 14 There is nothing to add to that today.


The difficulty of every historiographical enterprise lies in the contradiction between the individuality of the productions, which one has to do justice to, and the great zigzag line, for which one undertakes all the historical mining work. Marx is guided by Hans Blumenberg’s concept of “reshuffling” [„Umbesetzung“]. He wants to show how “different statements“ can be understood „as answers to identical questions” 15. Marx thinks that “Hamlet” can be understood as a “metaphor“, in the sense of Blumenberg. That provides a field for the “trial and error process” 16 and offers answers to an underlying question. For Marx, this question which provides continuity is that of the collective identity of Germans. “Hamlet” productions are not themselves the answers, but metaphors that provide the material for testing and discarding answers to this question.

Hamlet as a collective figure of thought

This embedding of the “Hamlet” productions into the “collective figures of thought“ of their time settles the claim of writing not only a history of theatre that mentions productions for the sake of completeness but a cultural history 17. Gründgens’ post-war productions are discussed against the background of Hannah Arendt’s criticism of the claim of a collective guilt of Germans and Mitscherlich’s analysis of post-war Germany as a fatherless society. Heiner Müller’s “Hamlet” of 1990 is placed in the context of the situation of the intellectual in the GDR and its dissolution.

Peter W. Marx’s narrative model is contextualist, his narrative attitude largely ironic, but in the end, it becomes a story of decay with a warning. The culmination of every analysis of cultural history is their final look at the present. In 2018 Peter W. Marx finds hidden references to the imagery and intellectual tradition of „Hamlet” in such diverse figures as Frank-Walter Steinmeier18, Christian Lindner19, Marc Jongen 20, Simon Strauss21 and Philipp Ruch22: he interprets these references as an “awareness of crisis in a society that is saturated in a wrong way“ 23 as a dangerous self-empowerment to overcome the existing conditions in an “intoxicated desire to act” 24

No knowledge can be gained without memory anyway. If theatre represents a supra-individual consciousness and the history of the theatre a collective memory, then the history of theatre can make us see things that we could not see before, not only in the theatre but in society as a whole.

This review is the extended version of a text that appeared in the December 2018 issue of “Theater heute”.

  1. Marvin Carlson has set this out in a detailed study. „We are able to ‚read’ new works – whether they be plays, paintings, musical compositions, or, for that matter, new signifying structures that make no claim to artistic expression at all – only because we recognize within them elements that have been recycled from other structures of experience that we have experienced earlier. {…} The primary tools for audiences confronted with new paintings, pieces of music, books, or pieces of theatre are previous examples of these various arts they have experienced.“ Marvin Carlson, The Haunted Stage. The Theatre as Memory Machine. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001, pp.4, 5.
  2. Peter W. Marx has already made an encyclopaedic contribution to „Hamlet“-research with the publication of the „Hamlet Handbook“, which goes far beyond the reception in Germany. Some material from the manual has also been included in the monograph. Peter W.Marx, Hamlet Handbuch. Stoffe, Aneignungen, Deutungen. Stuttgart: Metzler, 2014
  3. „urgermanische Natur“, Koberstein 1865, quoted by Marx S. 108
  4. Wilhelm Hortmann, Shakespeare und das deutsche Theater im XX. Jahrhundert. Mit einem Kapitel über Shakespeare auf den Bühnen der DDR von Mark Hamburger. Berlin: Henschel, 2001, p.19
  5. „Aufforderung zur Selbst-Identifikation“ Marx, p. 9
  6. „Sehnsuchtsstück“, Marx, p. 10
  7. see. my short critique in: Berliner Festspiele (ed.), Theatertreffen -Journal 2002, p.29
  8. See Hortmann a.a.O., p.75f; Günther Rühle (Hg.), Theater für die Republik 1917-1933 im Spiegel der Kritik. Frankfurt/M: S.Fischer 1967 p.763-773; Hugo Fetting (Hg.), Von der freien Bühne zum politischen Theater. Drama und Theater im Spiegel der Kritik 1917-1933. Bd. 2. Leipzig: Reclam, 1987 p. 314-332; Günther Rühle, Theater in Deutschland 1887-1945. Seine Ereignisse – seine Menschen. Frankfurt/M: S. Fischer, 2007 p. 503-505
  9. „Idiotendach“, Alfred Polgar cit. at Marx p.130
  10. see Hortmann, op. cit., pp. 321-325
  11. see my review in Theater heute 8 / 1995, pp. 22-25
  12. see my review in Theater heute 7/2001, p.28-30
  13. see my review in Theater heute 11 / 2016, pp. 20-23
  14. „dass historisch-fixierte Kunst bzw. Theaterarbeit schlechthin nurmehr durch Medien gefiltert erfahren werden kann. Alles andere ist Lüge. Wobei diese Wahrheit in Konsequenz eine tödliche und fatalistische – gänzlich unutopische ist, und die Sehnsucht natürlich nur darauf abzielen darf {…}, THEATER GEGEN die uns umklammernden und z.T. ausmachenden Medien zu erfahren.“ quoted by Marx, p.291f
  15. Blumenberg cit. at Marx p.14. See also: „Umbesetzung meint ebenden Prozess der Ersetzung einer epochal nicht länger befriedigenden Antwort durch eine neue. Die Frage fungiert dabei als konstantes, Zeitabschnitte oder Epochen übergreifendes Moment, das die Tiefenstruktur der Umbesetzungsvorgänge bildet. {…} Das ‚Verfahren‘ nimmt seinen Ausgang von einer als Antwort verstandenen Theorieformation, deren zugrunde liegende Frage in regressiver Analyse zu ermitteln ist.“ Herbert Kopp-Oberstebrink, „Umbesetzung“, in: Robert Buch & Daniel Weiden (Hg.), Blumenberg lesen. Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2014, p.359
  16. „Prozess des Erprobens und Verwerfens“, Marx p.16
  17. Marx also explicitly refers to Fischer-Lichte, who warns against a “purely chronologically proceeding factography” and postulates “In jedem Fall lässt sich Theatergeschichte nur mit einer problemorientierten Vorgehensweise betreiben.“ Erika Fischer-Lichte, Kurze Geschichte des deutschen Theaters. Tübingen: Francke, 1993, p.8f
  18. President of the Federal Public of Germany
  19. chairman of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), the German liberal party
  20. right wing intellectual, member of the German parliament for the Alliance for Germany (AfD)
  21. theatre critic for Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
  22. founder of the activist group Centre for Political Beauty (Zentrum für politische Schönheit)
  23. „Krisenbewusstsein einer falsch saturierten Gesellschaft“
  24. „rauschhafte Tatensehnsucht“, Marx pp.377, 380f