- "Taceat Mulier in Theatro":Guntram, Schopenhauer, and the Female Voice
Arthur Schopenhauer, in what is perhaps the most stridently misogynist text of the nineteenth century, describes how women ruin a man's concertgoing experience by "continuing their chatter" [ihr Geplapper fortsetzen] even "during the most beautiful passages of the greatest masterworks" [unter den schönsten Stellen der größten Meisterwerke]. This terrifying vision of man's masterworks disrupted and destroyed through feminine chatter moves Schopenhauer to make a modest proposal:
Wenn wirklich die Griechen die Weiber nicht ins Schauspiel gelassen haben; so thaten sie demnach recht daran; wenigsten wird man in ihren Theatern doch etwas haben hören können. Für unsre Zeit würde es passend sein, dem taceat mulier in ecclesia ein taceat mulier in theatro hinzuzufügen oder zu substituiren, und solches mit großen Lettern etwan auf den Theatervorhang zu setzen.1
[If it is true that the Greeks did not admit women into their theaters, they were right; at least it would have been possible to hear something in their theatres. For our own times it would be proper to add to the taceat mulier in ecclesia a taceat mulier in theatro, or to substitute it and put it in large letters on the curtain of the theatre.]2
It was not Schopenhauer's self-proclaimed disciple Richard Wagner who made good on the philosopher's proposal—there was no such command emblazoned on the curtain at Bayreuth. Rather, it was the young Richard Strauss who purged the theater of irritating feminine chatter, if only onstage. Where Schopenhauer envisions a theater that allots a voice only to men, Strauss's first opera, Guntram, populates the stage almost exclusively with men, only to then winnow down the remaining number of women to one, who spends the opera's climactic scene standing on the stage in perfect silence.
It is of course not accidental that Guntram (for which Strauss served as both composer and librettist) is also deeply indebted to the philosophy of Schopenhauer, to the point that it can be (and has been) read as a downright [End Page 230] illustration of Schopenhauer's doctrine of the "self-negation of the will" [Selbstverneinung des Willens]. While Strauss, like Wagner, turned to Schopenhauer as the anchor of an operatic-aesthetic program, his opera is nevertheless quite anti-Wagnerian. As Charles Dowell Youmans has argued, Guntram's debt to Schopenhauer emerges from a situation in which a young Wagnerian realized that Wagner and his crowd had consistently distorted and misread the philosopher and had perverted his philosophy for their own aesthetic ends.3
This article reads Guntram's exorcism of the female voice in terms of the opera's debt to Schopenhauer. Of course, the Schopenhauer Strauss was responding to was not the curmudgeon of "Ueber die Weiber," but the master thinker of The World as Will and Representation. Nevertheless, there is enough of Schopenhauer's "taceat mulier in theatro" in Guntram: sexuality and voice, theatricality and silence come to define the sexual politics in the opera's climactic scene. This scene indeed features the silent woman Schopenhauer fantasizes about—but in the process, silence becomes a multifarious and rather mysterious quality.
Guntram tells the story of a minstrel, a member of a secret sect called the Champions of Love [Streiter der Liebe] that seeks to transform humanity through love. In the opera's first scene, Guntram becomes acquainted with the effects of the villainous rule of the evil Duke Robert. Guntram saves an unknown woman from committing suicide, only to discover that the mystery woman is in fact Robert's wife, Freihild. The two fall in love. At her urging, and in keeping with his mission, Guntram sings a song to convince Robert to mend his ways, but the duke accuses Guntram of sedition. Robert attacks Guntram, who kills him by accident. While imprisoned for what is universally presumed to be a regicide, Guntram is visited by his mentor, who enjoins him to submit to the jurisdiction of the Champions of Love. Guntram rejects this counsel and proclaims that "No group may punish me, for the group punishes the deed! Only my will...