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RALEIGH WHITINGER The Ironic "Tick" in Goethe's Egmont: The Potentials and Limits of the Modern Heroic and Poetic Ideal This study focuses on how Goethe's Egmont makes a major theme of artistic activity in a way that imparts to that 1787 drama a dimension of irony that marks its seminal significance both for Goethe's own ensuing renewed interest in modern stories and forms and for modern German literature's further struggle with the dramatic portrayal of the historical hero. It will show how Egmont gives expression to a tension between history and poetry in a way that anticipates the "realistischer Tic" that Goethe later mentions in reference to his novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1796)—a tension that fosters an ironic awareness of how the idealistic visions created by the text and its figures relate to the reality that they poetically transform.1 This will also provide perspectives for linking Egmont to still further developments in modern German drama, its "ironic tick" anticipating, in addition to the Meister novel's irony, the tendency of subsequent dramas—by Heinrich von Kleist, for example, or Georg Büchner—to reflect still more subversively on the artful nature of heroic triumph. Of concern in this analysis is the efficacy of the efforts of hero and poet alike to face the horror of historical events and form visions of sense and tragic greatness. Goethe's text and its artistically active figures seem to offer an affirmative perspective on the heroic and poetic ideal, with hero and poet alike appearing to master chaos and catastrophe. In a fatal collision with political realities, both find a sense and greatness eventually validated by the basic historical facts.2 As the title hero goes to his death convinced that he is fostering the freedom of the Netherlands, the dramatist successfully guides his prosaic account of a dire historical turn towards a grandly poetic operatic close. At the same time, however, the many instances in which artistic activity accompanies or punctuates the events of the drama, and in which its figures discuss, cite, or imitate art works, all combine to give the drama a degree of ironic self-reflection that is also present in subsequent contributions to the drama—Kleists Prinz Friedrich von Homburg, for example, and Büchners Dantons Tod—that likewise, as they portray legendary title heroes caught up in their tragic struggle, also reflect on the limits of the hero's grasp and control of events and on the artful nature of his triumph.3 Goethe Yearbook XTV (2007) 130 Raleigh Whitinger An interplay between the complex facts of an esteemed individual's downfall and art's transformed version of them was intrinsic to the Egmont project from early on. Goethe conceived of his drama as part of a greater "composition "4 that was to embed the dramatic account of the protagonist's struggle to find sense and triumph in his political struggle in a musical score meant to highlight a victorious mood, a sense of conciliatory beauty overcoming conflict and loss. Musical scores accompanied the original text and its première in Mainz and Frankfurt (by Philipp Christoph Kayser) and the first performance of Schiller's adaptation in 1791 (by Johann Friedrich Reichardt). But Goethe's envisioned meld of music and text was not fully realized until 1810, when Beethoven supplied, in addition to the "Siegessymphonie" called for in the closing stage directions,s an overture, entre actes music, and two song scores.6 Between text and score critics have often noted a tension. Many see the closing "Siegessymphonie" enhancing what the text itself offers in the way of intimations of the larger victory born of Egmont's fall. Some claim that the music forces a "triumphant tone" on the dramatic text's often unheroic course of events,7 while one musical analysis suggests instead that elements of Beethoven's score subvert the "meaning" of Goethe's drama.8 Yet the drama's portrayal of artistic activity suggests that this tension perceived between drama and score resides in the text itself as it traces the development of Egmont's heroism, yet at the same time invites critical reflection on how the artistic activity...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-9087
Print ISSN
0734-3329
Pages
pp. 129-146
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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