Alarcos: Ein Trauerspiel; Historisch-kritische Edition mit Dokumenten by Friedrich Schlegel, ed. by Mark-Georg Dehrmann, with the assistance of Nils Gelker (review)
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Reviewed by
Friedrich Schlegel, Alarcos: Ein Trauerspiel; Historisch-kritische Edition mit Dokumenten. Ed. Mark-Georg Dehrmann, with the assistance of Nils Gelker. Hannover: Wehrhahn, 2013. 229 pp.

Should they be asked what they know about Alarcos, Friedrich Schlegel’s one and only completed drama, literary scholars will perhaps recall the scandal at its May 29, 1802, premiere in Weimar. Here Goethe, acting in his capacity as theater director, allegedly stood up and told the audience to cease their laughter following the lines announcing the death of the play’s tyrannical king upon the spectral appearance of Alarcos’s wife, whom her husband had murdered so that Alarcos might marry the king’s daughter: “*Aus Furcht zu sterben ist er *gar gestorben / Hat wüthend *so in Angst den Tod erworben” (48; on the asterisks, see below).

Whoever cannot say any more about Schlegel’s play is in good company. Nils Gelker observes in his assessment of the reception of Alarcos: “Gerade im [End Page 300] Schatten der theoretischen Texte Friedrich Schlegels bleibt es selbst der professionellen Leserschaft weitgehend verborgen” (211). To a large degree, such ignorance attests to the success of the polemics launched against Alarcos by opponents of the Schlegel brothers, such as Garlieb Merkel, Karl August Böttiger, and August von Kotzebue, as illustrated by the twelve reviews from the years 1802 and 1803 contained in this edition. For example, a friend of Friedrich Nicolai identified by Mark-Georg Dehrmann as Gerhard Anton Gramberg concludes his long and often maliciously perceptive comparison of Alarcos with passages from Hofmannswaldau, Lohenstein, Zesen, and other “Baroque” writers by pronouncing the following verdict on Schlegel’s efforts: “Aus Furcht zu sudeln hat er gar gesudelt, / Hat wüthend so in Angst das Ding verhudelt” (175)—a parody that Ludwig Ferdinand Huber cites in his own anonymous review of Gramberg’s pamphlet in the September 2, 1803, edition of Kotzebue’s Der Freimüthige (178). Likewise, the reviewer of Alarcos in Nicolai’s Neue allegemeine deutsche Bibliothek concedes that Schlegel’s drama does contain a large number of attractive rhyme assonances, but then observes: “desto seltener sind die Assonanzen für Verstand und Herz, und es ist wohl keine Frage, wohin es endlich mit unserer Poesie kommen müsse, wenn man jene kindische Spielereyen in Tragödien als glänzende Vorzüge rühmt” (114).

Thanks to Dehrmann, we are now in a position to make an informed and dispassionate assessment of Alarcos. Dehrmann proceeds from the original edition published by Unger in 1802 (Hans Eichner selected the final version of 1823 for volume 5 of the Kritische Friedrich-Schlegel-Ausgabe) and then provides an apparatus that includes not only the pagination and variants from the various editions of Alarcos between 1802 and 1823 but also the use of asterisks to indicate semantically significant variations. Thus, by the final version Schlegel emended the notorious lines cited above, to read: “Entsetzt zu sterben, ist er so gestorben / Hat wüthend sich in Angst den Tod erworben” (74; Eichner’s edition gives the spelling “wütend”—see KFSA 5:260).

In addition, Dehrmann and Gelker situate Alarcos within a literary-historical context that casts Schlegel’s play as a more suitable test case for its author’s early Romantic theory of poetry than the never-completed novel Lucinde (187–219). Of particular value in this regard is Dehrmann’s section on “‘Das Objective in der Form’—Metrik und Musikalität” (201–10). Even the play’s detractors could not overlook Schlegel’s systematic use of assonance, although they often ridiculed attempts by his defenders to see any significance in such usage (e.g., Gramberg 175). Dehrmann, by contrast, builds upon the numerous examples of the meaningful use of versification and word music provided in the enthusiastic 1803 review of Alarcos in the journal Apollon (115–45; here 131) to demonstrate “dass auch die Phonetik in Schlegels Konzeption eingebunden ist. Die in den Assonanzen und Reimen verwendeten Vokale sind auf die Affektlagen ihrer Sprecher abgestimmt” (205). The same applies to his analysis of the convergence of content and form in Schlegel’s (often artfully hidden) employment of Petrarchan sonnets, Dantesque terza rima, madrigal...