Shakespeare and the Berliners (Shakespeare und die Berliner)

Die Fackel

»Max Reinhardt produced ›Macbeth‹ in the German Theater… The director gave free reign to his talents… For example, the stage was divided into three, with the middle strip having a special symbolic significance. The main theme, which recurred in countless variations, was blood. The colours and lighting were attuned to blood, and as the Macbeths hatched out the murder plan, their necks were encircled by blood-red stripes, projected by a spotlight. A blood-stained curtain descended as the murder was committed…«

The question when Herr Reinhardt would be excluded, not from some theatrical society or other, but from every self-respecting living room, is unfortunately not on the agenda as long as the world war lasts. Neither was it before the world war, otherwise it would not have broken out. The connection is obvious. Only a political perspective could be blind to the intellectual prospects of a nation whose ludi magister is a misled banker, and whose high aristocracy are just extras at the private balls of the bloated theater entrepreneur who has become a dictator. But even if this wonderful mechanical world, whose entire circulation is the Daily News of the end of the world, is now barren, there is still that real Summernight’s Dream meadow, mown daily fresh from nature, with which Herr Reinhardt has long served Shakespeare’s cause. There is a relationship between the lively hackneyed plays of contemporary German theatre, and the surrogates of contemporary German life, which has as little trouble substituting meat as it does intellect, and whose science, if necessary, will also provide homunculus reserves. This way of life even has a philosophical justification. It is the goatee of George Bernard Shaw, the tireless jester, whose wisdom is intellectually paradoxical, and of whose services no Shakespearian king would avail himself for even an hour. Comforting himself from time to time by calling out that his compatriots are the true trading nation, he belongs completely in the mincer of a culture out of whose terrible mixture, prepared by Reinhardt’s witches, the idea of making sandwiches with bombs could emerge. Trebitsch who has been so well translated into English, recently had the idea to give Berlin the honour of celebrating the 300th  anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. They didn’t wait to be asked twice, and quick as you like, projected blood-red stripes onto Macbeth’s neck.The English, jealous as ever, saw in this trademark that well-known Made in Germany which for so long had pretended to be English until it was forced to admit its German origins[1]. But now even the Germans have realized that blood is thicker than the water with which they often cooked[2] in better times. It was supposed to be decorative, not like with poor people. It used to be so that only heroes out of whose throats the words of the bard came without their betraying any trace of dramatic intention, played. When they left the stage, a curtain which showed nothing more than a landscape with goddess holding a lyre in, fell. And the interval was still full of the horror of what Macbeth had done. Herr Reinhardt is not bold enough to let the Shakespearean actors, like those of Offenbach, appear in the audience, to warn every sales executive about the murder which is about to be committed, but what he does do, and the more intelligent among Berlin’s movers and shakers will get the message, is to lower a blood-stained curtain, so that the shocked Goldberger whispers to the lady who is sharing his pleasure, the words: »That’s magnificent. Now you just watch, Trude, you’ll see how that Makbet murders sleep!« Only the Berliners are worthy to celebrate Shakespeare; when they perform him, he dies for the three-hundredth time. »It was as though I heard someone call: Sleep no longer. Reinhardt is murdering Shakespeare, the holy Shakespeare, the strongest nurturer of life’s celebration. All through the building the call: Sleep no longer…« It is certainly a practical idea to give such warnings and hints to a hostile reception, to paint the devil, which the public don’t recognize even when he has got them by the collar, on the wall, for an audience whose idea of an honest theatre curtain is limited to the expectation of a tasteful foot care advert. The stage has always in lots of ways been an accurate gauge of vitality. The frightening similarity between a Reinhardt production, and the direction of the current real blood-letting is undeniable. Don’t they both derive their inspiration from quantity and technology, from bystanders and activism? And it is probably no coincidence that respectable society avoided actors as long as they were vagabonds, jugglers and characters, but today tarted-up stars graciously bestow their favours on it from on high. But no, where world history talks about the victory of the Judeo-Christian spirit is just a misprint. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could wake up one morning from this nightmare, and realize that it had all just been a theatrical illusion, and that actually a real blood-bath would be produced on the German stage, in front of a finally sobered and enthusiastic audience, and that all the blood in the real world had just been projected by a spotlight?


[1] When British goods had a better reputation: before Germany caught up in industrialization.

[2] Refers to a German saying, “They only cook with water as well”, meaning, “They are no better than anyone else.”

Author: Karl Kraus

Published in:

Die Fackel Die Fackel KrausWeltgericht1 Kraus Judgement Day I KrausV&WGrosseZeit Kraus VW Great Times

krauskokoschka Kraus Essays

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