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Hauptmann's Hannele: Naturalistic Fairy Tale and Dream Play DAVID NICHOLSON Central to the criticism offairy-tale plays is the question ofhow the fairy world relates to reality. Playwrights as well as critics have taken up the question; A Midsummer Night's Dream illustrates Shakespeare's interest in it at the very beginnings of the genre. Hermann Hettner, commenting on the Marchenlustspiel in Das moderne Drama (1852), points to Shakespeare's fairy playas an example ofthose whichjuxtapose a real world and a spirit world so as to portray the latter as the source of superior truth. I Such plays posit the existence of a numinous idealistic realm essentially to criticize social reality or the limitations of a rationalistic view of life. This opposition to reality we find everywhere in fairy tales. Structuralist critics insist that fantasy has no meaning or function apart from the real world which it reflects. "Fairyland is the world inverted, the other side of the mirror, the opposite"; its "architecture of inversions" reacts upon reality to provide a deeper vision ofit.2 Thus, while the fairy tale easily serves writers for purposes of romantic escape, at the same time it can be a means of protest and criticism, possibly even revolutionary in implication. Such was its covert meaning for the German Romantics,3 who exploited the genre in both narrative and drama. On the stage the dualism at the heartoffairy tale is reinforced by the dualistic nature of theatre, that same equivocation between make-believe and reality which enables Shakespeare to suggest, at the end of A Midsummer Night's Dream, that the audience has "but slumb'red herelWhile these visions did appear" (V.i. 414-15). Dramas that set a real world and fairy world side by side are merely making explicit an opposition that is always implied in the fairy tale, whatever form it takes. Hettner's prescription reflects the historical truth that premodern dramatists have generally used fairyland as Shakespeare did, to comment on the real world. When we come to modem realism, however, we shall have to revise this notion to take account of the superior truth of reality. The positivistic premises Hauptmann's Hannele of realism rule out the existence of a fairy world altogether, except as ironical figure of speech. In the case of naturalistic drama, which denies freedom and the possibility of transcendence (both essential in the fairy tale), Hettner's formulation, it seems, would prove even more awkward to apply.4 In considering Hauptmann's Hanneles Himmelfahrt (The Assumption of Hannele, 1893) as a fairy play, therefore, we have to start with the question, how does a naturalist approach a poetic form like the fairy tale, which seems so radically alien to a naturalistic point of view? The example of Strindberg suggests the obvious answer, that such a playwright ceases to be a naturalist. Hauptmann, in his most famous fairy play, The Sunken Bell (1896), does indeed create a wholly self-contained symbolic universe peopled with creatures from Germanic myth.5 But Hannele he sets firmly within a harsh and brutalizing environment like that of The Weavers (1892), his naturalistic masterpiece, in which one must struggle merely to survive. Noting the similarities oftheir worlds, one critic has called HanneIe "the second part of ., . [The Weavers].,,6 There can be no question here of achieving a fairy-tale-like transcendence and living happily ever after. The very idea ofa naturalistic fairy tale seems a paradox.7 Such a play, ifit could exist at all, would have to reverse Hettner's prescription, showing the superior truth of reality by annihilating the fairy world altogether. How could two such antagonistic realms be artistically integrated? Following Shakespeare, Hauptmann achieves unity in Hannele by means of the dream. Theseus's famous lines in A Midsummer Night's Dream (V. i. 2-22) may be taken to explain the play: like the lunatic, the lover, and the poet, poor Hannele dreams (or, more accurately, hallucinates) her fairy tale. Her seething brain "bodies forth/The forms ofthings unknown" and so gains for her what she never had in reality, a secure place at the center of attention of loving and powerful protectors. Reassuring images from...


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pp. 282-291
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