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Bürgerliches Trauerspiel

A bourgeois tragedy is a form of the drama, and consequently a thater genre, which was mainly the result of the Enlightenment (see Literaturepochen). It is essential for the bourgeois tragedy which shows the destiny of people who are bourgeois. This development was considered to be particularly important because, in the baroque period, the state clause prohibited citizens from being the protagonists of a tragedy, which is why it was reserved for the nobility. Bourgeois substances were shown above all in comedy (cf. play). In bourgeois tragedy the tragic conflict was then triggered by the strong antagonism of the social classes, which in turn overcame certain privileges of the estates, but their existence was strengthened to the same extent. This solving from the classical image of tragedy was also evident in the language. Instead of in verse, as usual in tragedy, the bourgeois tragedy was written in prose.

The term is composed of the adjectival bourgeoisie and the nouns of the trauerspiel. This concept is a form of drama. The European drama emerged in the fifth century BC, In the time of antiquity. In the following century the philosopher Aristotle divided the drama into tragedy and comedy.

Tragedy means a piece that shows the fatal conflict of its main character, which ends in catastrophe (see Peripetia), where the comedy is a dramatic work with amusing action, which usually ends happily (see Happy End).

The terms “traitor’s game” and “game play” are regarded as the German counterparts of tragedy and comedy. Thus the tragedy is regarded as tragic, whereas the play is a cheerful form. The bourgeois tragedy is, in this sense, a tragedy that shows the fateful conflicts of the bourgeoisie on stage.

At the time of its formation, the concept was considered an oxymoron, since the terms bourgeois and traitorous play were mutually exclusive and contradictory in this connection. This is due to the dramenpoetic principle of the clause of the estates. In tragedy only the destinies of kings and princes, or of high standing, should be represented. The assumption was that the life of the bourgeois was lacking in significance and the dramatic portrayal of their persons, therefore, at the height of the fall in order to be perceived as tragic in the event of conflict.

Characteristics of bourgeois mourning
Overview: The essential features at a glance
The bourgeois tragedy was created at the time of the Enlightenment, in the 18th century. There were already similar approaches in England at the end of the sixteenth century (cf. Renaissance), but they were not very successful, and they received little attention (see Domestic tragedy).
The essential feature of this genre is that for the first time the citizen and the bourgeois are brought to the center of the tragedy. These roles were formerly reserved for the nobles, the high classes, where the destinies of the bourgeoisie were treated only in comedy.
This was due to the principle of the status clause. The point is that the tragic should be reserved for the high estates, since only in these cases is a social and social fall height which makes the failure of the actors at first tragic.
Through the change of the protagonists, of course, also change the play venues. If the tragedies of the elderly, especially the life at the court and a court environment as well as the world of politics and the state, the lives of private individuals are shown in their surroundings. The setting is emphasized bourgeois and unambiguously distinguished from the court.
The structure of the bourgeois tragedy is usually identical with that of the classical drama. It consists, therefore, of five acts, typically of an induction (cf. exposition), of an increase in tension (cf excitatory moment), of a climax (cf peripetia), a delay to build up tension (cf. ultimately the disaster (see also: stress curve).
The bourgeois tragedy can be divided into three phases in terms of its development. The first works mainly showed the conflicts between the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy or the problems of an absolutist arbitrariness, and thus directly dealt with the differences between the states. Examples are Lessing’s Emilia Galotti and Schiller’s Kabale and Liebe. In the second phase the conflict arises in the bourgeois self. The individual becomes the victim of society and has to fight against petty bourgeois morality, as shown in Hebbel’s Mary Magdalene. The last phase transforms the bourgeois tragedy through the influence of naturalism into social poetry, which criticizes the self-satisfied bourgeoisie and lends a voice to the demands of the rightless workers. Examples are the naturalist dramas of Gerhart Hauptmann and Henrik Ibsens.
This criticism, which sprouted up in the third phase in particular, almost became a caricature of the bourgeois tragedy in the following years, which is especially evident in the expressionist and surrealist works of Wedekind, Schnitzler, and Brecht. At this time the genre loses more and more relevance and a distinction is no longer appropriate, especially in modern drama.

History of bourgeois tragedy
The essential feature of the genre is that the actors of the tragedy stem from the bourgeoisie and the work shows their conflicts. Such tendencies existed before the Enlightenment. Above all in England there are such tendencies in the past, but also in the German Middle Ages.

In mediaeval Europe, the town’s citizens were given a number of smaller plays for high festivals. In most cases biblical scenes or moral pieces were shown. Even the reformer, Martin Luther, encouraged the performance of such plays and gave them a moral doctrine.

These scenes are reminiscent of the bourgeois tragedy, since they were not located at the court or were concerned with the noble or courtly life. An important example of this period is Jörg Wickrams (1505 – 1555/1560) novel Der Jungen Knabenspiegel (1554), which was often worked on for the theater.

Excursion: The boy boy mirror (click!)
In England, where the state clause did not go through and thus did not necessarily have to be applied in the drama, the so-called domestic tragedies, a theater genre, circulating around murders and criminal cases in bourgeois families, appeared at the end of the 16th century. Examples are the anonymous pieces of Arden of Feversham (1591) and A Yorkshire tragedy (1606).

These pieces, however, scarcely found imitators, and are in no way the cause of later bourgeois mourning. Nevertheless, they are worth mentioning because here, too, the bourgeois comes to the center of the tragic conflict. But even in Germany before the Enlightenment there are isolated cases, such as in Andreas Gryphius’ Cardenio and Celine (1649), which is settled in the bourgeois milieu. However, with few exceptions, there is no latitude effect.

Prototype of the bourgeois tragedy
It was only with the strengthening of the bourgeoisie, which became more self-assured in the course of time and was proud of its status, that there was also the need to bring the conflicts and problems of this class to the stage. Not only in the ridiculous representations offered by comedy, but also as a serious and serious dramatic matter.

The first tendencies can be found in England. Here, a strong and emancipated bourgeoisie can be spoken of early. This was evident in George Lillos The London Merchant (UA: 1731). Ebendie’s work is a prototype of the bourgeois tragedy and was translated by Henning Adam von Basewitz in 1752 as the merchant of London into German. George Lillo uses a bourgeois hero in his drama and justifies the fact that a drama that a bourgeoisie wants to reach also needs a bourgeois hero.

The merchant of London became a success in Germany and numerous playmakers played and showed it to an enthusiastic audience. Critics spoke an immense effect to the play, namely, that it was captivating, triggering great emotions, as well as pity and emotion among the audience.

In France, a similar genre developed: the comédie larmoyante (German: touching comedy). This also involved the staff in the drama. However, one did not approach the classical tragedy, as the previous examples did, but the comedy. In this, the non-aristocratic figures were now placed in serious situations, which could no longer seem ridiculous or invite them to lie.

Consequently, the Comédie larmoyante can be regarded as a mixed form which also passes over the status clause. The comedy form is thus enriched by serious elements. This is done, for example, through themes such as parenthood or childhood, ie, themes that are not tied to the stand and can affect any audience, since they are general human experiences (cf. Sensitivity).

One example is the Die särtlichen Schwestern (1747) by Christian Fürchtegott Gellert. Gellert notes in his treatise Pro comoedia commovente (1751) that there are virtues in the private sphere, which can not be disregarded, even if they are not of the nobility, but of bourgeois righteousness.

The bourgeois tragedy
The bourgeois tragedy, which originates in Germany, has its roots in all these previous forms, although it was distinguished from the French tragedy and was oriented on the English model. Consequently, English has a great influence.

This proximity to English becomes clear in Lessing’s Miss Sara Sampson (1755), who is settled in an English milieu. The work is regarded as the first bourgeois tragedy of modern German literature and shows a touching family picture that led to numerous imitations in German literature. Lessing, however, not only expanded the tragedy staff around the bourgeoisie, but also rejected the stand clause with his Minna of Barnhelm (1767), which shows the nobility in a comedic environment.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, however, was the author of the bourgeois tragedy. Emilia Galotti (1772), for the first time, showed the tragic conflict between the bourgeoisie and the nobility, and thus introduced the first climax of the genre, generally referred to as the first phase. Emilia Galotti begins in a touching family environment, which is ultimately placed in a larger context and leads to political and social problems as well as the tragic death of Emilias.

This tradition is now being continued through numerous works, especially in storm and urge. It is always about the noble, who apparently arbitrarily influences or destroys the life of the commoners. Such social lines are found, for example, in Lenz and Klinger, and form their absolute climax in Friedrich Schiller’s Kabale und Liebe (1783), which also lays the groundwork for language and dramatic implementation. This is why this work – also in German lessons – is a prime example for the genre.

Note: In essence, the above section shows the way to bourgeois mourning, as it is usually understood and treated in the classroom. In the following epochs (see Classicism, Romanticism) the bourgeois tragedy is at best a rendezvous, and also the efforts by the young Germany to revive the genre are more likely to fail and are not successful. Consequently, it is above all the first phase, which is meant by the term. Nevertheless, the genre continued to develop.
Second and third phase
Nearly a century later, the second phase of the genre is launched. As a second phase, it is therefore called because the content of the works changed. While the bourgeoisie, which has to contend with the nobility, is now the conflicting problems of the bourgeoisie itself.

By way of example, Friedrich Hebbel’s Maria Magdalena (1844) can be named, which is also regarded as the last bourgeois tragedy. The conflict arises here from the own stand, whereby the protagonist Klara leads to a tragic suicide due to a pedantic ambition within the bourgeoisie. The individual thus becomes a victim of society and of his own class. This change in content is also made clear by the final words in Hebbel’s work, which the father says after the death of his daughter: “I do not understand the world anymore.”

The bourgeois grievances are now becoming less and less important in the literary landscape. The bourgeoisie had emancipated itself as a state of its own, and the problems faced with it were becoming smaller or were not problems that arose from the bourgeoisie. Thus, above all, pieces were created which dealt with the role of the individual and showed their failure in the social circumstances. This third phase describes rather the overcoming of the genre and no further development.

The bourgeois tragedy becomes a social poetry, with the demands of the right-wing workers standing against the bourgeoisie. The poets of realism (Friedrich Hebbel, Gottfried Keller, Theodor Storm, Theodor Fontane) recognize the exploitation of the lowest class and want to depict the reality unpainted. In naturalism it is then, for example, Gerhart Hauptmann (Der Weber and Vor Sonnenaufgang), whereby the individual finally becomes a product of social conditions. 

Note: The end of bourgeois mourning is marked by Hebbel’s Mary Magdalene. Later works, which emerge from the genre, can rather be conceived under the terms social drama or social poetry. In addition, the genre in modern drama loses its relevance only because there are no more classical stands.
Miss Sara Sampson (1755), Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
Lucie Woodvil (1756), Johann Gottlob Benjamin Pfeil
Emilia Galotti (1772), Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
The child murderer (1776), Heinrich Leopold Wagner
The soldiers (1776), Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz
Romeo and Julie (1776), Christian Felix Weiße
Düval and Charmille (1778), Christiane Karoline Schlegel
Kabale und Liebe (1784) and Friedrich Schiller
Maria Magdalena (1844), Friedrich Hebbel
Woyzeck (1879), Georg Büchner (predecessor of the Social Drama)
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