Ferdinand Jakob Raimund Essay - Critical Essays

Raimund, Ferdinand Jakob

Introduction

Ferdinand Jakob Raimund 1790-1836

(Born Ferdinand Jakob Raimann) Austrian dramatist, poet, and actor.

Raimund was an outstanding playwright of the golden age of the Alt-Wiener Volkstheater, the Old Viennese popular theater, in the 1820s and 1830s. A well-known actor in his day, Raimund composed a series of Zauberspiele, or "magic plays," ostensibly to create new comedic roles for himself, but which succeeded in elevating the genre of the magical farce by adding a moral dimension to these plays. His greatest stage triumphs came with the humorous, somewhat sentimental, and gently didactic Der Alpenkönig und der Menschenfeind (The King of the Alps and the Misanthrope; originally performed in 1828) and his final drama Der Verschwender (first performed in 1834 and later translated as The Spendthrift in 1949).

Biographical Information

Raimund was born to a craftsman, Jakob Raimann, and his wife in Vienna, Austria, on 1 June 1790. He grew up in Mariahilf, a suburban district of Vienna, and was educated in his youth at the school of St. Anna in that city. The death of his parents when he was fourteen years of age coincided with the beginning of his trade apprenticeship to a confectioner; but, unhappy with this profession and now able to ignore his father's counsel to avoid the life of the theater, Raimund made plans to become an actor. Unable to secure roles in Vienna because of a slight speech impediment that prevented him from pronouncing the letter 'r' correctly, he spent the years 1808 to 1814 touring with provincial theater companies. After gaining valuable acting experience on the road, Raimund returned to Vienna and began playing smaller comedic and villainous roles at the Josefstädter Theater. Exhibiting comic versatility on stage, he eventually made his way to the prestigious Theater in der Leopoldstädt by 1817, where his theatrical virtuosity and penchant for extemporaneous humor made him one of the most admired actors in Vienna. At this time Raimund performed in a variety of productions written by the city's most well-known and respected playwrights: Adolf Bäuerle, Josef Alois Gleich, and Karl Meisl. By late 1822, however, the actor had become increasingly dissatisfied with the roles these authors had provided for him and determined to write plays of his own. His first, Der Barometermacher auf der Zauberinsel (The Barometer-Maker on the Magic Isle), was performed in 1823 and proved to be popular with Viennese theater-goers. He followed this work with the even more successful Der Diamant des Geisterkönigs (The Diamond of the King of Spirits) the next year. Raimund continued to write and perform throughout the 1820s, but his Die gefesselte Phantasie (The Chained Fantasy or The Inhibited Imagination) and Moisasur's Zauberfluch (Moisasur's Magic Curse) had failed to win the same approval from critics and audiences at the Leopoldstädt as had Der Bauer als Millionär; oder, Das Mädchen aus der Feenwelt (The Peasant as Millionaire, or The Maiden from the Fairy World) and his first two plays. Meanwhile, Raimund—who had increasingly been subject to bouts of depression, severe headaches, and fits of hypochondria—began to experience a decline in his personal life. His 1828 production Der Alpenkönig und der Menschenfeind signaled a return to popularity, though it was followed by the critically panned Die unheilbringende Zauberkrone (The Mischief-Making Crown) in 1829. He wrote his final play, Der Verschwender, in 1834, and its success along with that created from many guest performances in Austria and Germany allowed him to purchase a country home in his beloved town of Gutenstein located outside Vienna, and to live there with his lover, Toni Wagner. It was while he was in Gutenstein in late August of 1836 that Raimund, after being bitten by a dog that he suspected was rabid, shot himself in the head with a pistol. He died seven days later on 5 September 1836.

Major Works

Raimund's literary output consists primarily of the eight popular dramas he wrote in the 1820s and 1830s for the Wiener Volkstheater, Der Barometermacher auf der Zauberinsel, his first Zauberposse, or "magic farce," concerns a somewhat inept Viennese barometer-maker, Bartholomäus Quecksilber. Determined to find success outside Vienna, Quecksilber departs by sea only to become shipwrecked on a magical island inhabited by fairies, where he humorously continues to live his life in the manner of a Viennese petit-bourgeois. Der Bauer als Millionär; oder, Das Mädchen aus der Feenwelt features Raimund's comical musings on the fleeting nature of wealth and material possessions. Its hero, Fortunatus Wurzel, a peasant made into a millionaire by the allegorical spirit Envy, loses all of his money and the love of his fairy-daughter when he refuses to let her marry a poor fisherman. Raimund moved further into allegory and began to dramatize the conflict of good versus evil with Die gefesselte Phantasie and Moisasur's Zauberfluch. The first features a chained fairy of inspiration called Fantasy, and the second offers a comic study of avarice set into motion by the demon Moisasur's magical curse. With Der Alpenkönig und der Menschenfeind, Raimund dropped allegorical representation in favor of individual characterization, with much popular and critical success. In this play, Astragalus, the King of the Alps, creates a mirror image of the misanthropic Rappelkopf in order to help the rattle-brained fellow reform his misguided ways. The tight-fisted main character of Raimund's final play, Der Verschwender, is named Julius von Flottwell. Though his beloved, the fairy Cheristane, attempts to cure him of his greed by showing him what he will become by the age of fifty—a destitute beggar—he refuses to alter his path. In addition to his comic and moralistic Zauberspiele, Raimund also composed a handful of verse, including two notable poems entitled "An Gutenstein." In these works Raimund revealed the darker and melancholy qualities of his personality, including his general dislike of society and his desire to escape its confines in exchange for the more peaceful, and well-ordered world of nature.

Critical Reception

As an actor and playwright in early nineteenth-century Vienna, Raimund was immensely popular. His theatrical versatility and comical folk-plays earned him a considerable reputation in German-speaking Europe, until the appeal of his at times sentimental and moralizing pieces was supplanted on the Viennese stage by the witty, satirical, proto-Realist comedies of his chief rival, Johann Nepomuk Nestroy. In the years since, critics have observed that Raimund transfigured the genre of the magical/romantic farce by imbuing it with allegorical and moral significance, and later by more fully exploiting the techniques of individual characterization in his works. The limitation of Raimund's literary contribution to stage comedy in the late Baroque and early Romantic periods, however, has since been questioned by some contemporary scholars, who see in his poetry a capacity to dramatize the tragic dimension of human life. As some critics have maintained, Raimund's talent extended beyond mere local parody and confronted issues of wider concern, such as loneliness, artistic creativity, and pessimistic determinism.

Principal Works

*Sämmtliche Werke. 4 vols. (dramas and poetry) 1837

Dramatische Meisterwerke (dramas) 1869

Ferdinand Raimunds Liebesbriefe (letters) 1914

Sämmtliche Werke: Historisch-kritische Säkularausgabe. 6 vols. (dramas, poetry, and letters) 1924-34

*First publication of Raimund's eight dramas, which were originally performed in the 1820s and early 1830s: Der Barometermacher auf der Zauberinsel [The Barometer-Maker on the Magic Isle]; Der Diamant des Geisterkönigs [The Diamond of the King of Spirits]; Der Bauer als Millionär; oder, Das Mädchen aus der Feenwelt [The Peasant as Millionaire, or The Maiden from the Fairy World]; Die gefesselte Phantasie [The Chained Fantasy or The Inhibited Imagination]; Moisasur's Zauberfluch [Moisasur's Magic Curse]; Der Alpenkönig und der Menschenfeind [The King of the Alps and the Misanthrope]; Die unheilbringende Zauberkrone [The Mischief-Making Crown]; and Der Verschwender [The Spendthrift].

Criticism

John Firman Coar (essay date 1903)

SOURCE: "Régime Metternich," in Studies in German Literature in the Nineteenth Century, Macmillan, 1903, pp. 79-104.

[In the following excerpt, Coar describes the relationship between Raimund's artistic achievement and the contemporary social and political atmosphere in early nineteenth-century Austria.]

When the Congress of Vienna ushered in the so-called Restoration, princely diplomacy and selfish fear robbed the people of the fruits of their struggle. Patriots like Arndt, Gneisenau, Scharnhorst, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Stein, and so many others were made to feel the heavy hand of royal displeasure for insisting upon the fulfilment of royal promises. The notorious...

(The entire section is 3295 words.)

Henry Ten Eyck Perry (essay date 1939)

SOURCE: "Sentimental and Fantastic Comedy: Lessing and Raimund," in Masters of Dramatic Comedy and Their Social Themes, Harvard University Press, 1939, pp. 275-313.

[In the following excerpt, Perry compares Raimund's fairy-world comedies and observes that his last play, Der Verschwender, "is probably his artistic masterpiece. "]

The libretto of Mozart's The Magic Flute, which Tieck had complimented in The Booted Cat, is one of the best-known survivals of the light drama which flourished for many years beside the Danube. With its clownish Hanswurst and its rough horseplay, its supernatural machinery and its incidental music, this kind of comedy...

(The entire section is 3349 words.)

Fred Krügel (essay date 1968)

SOURCE: "Ferdinand Raimund's Gutenstein Poems," in Essays on German Literature in Honour of G. Joyce Hallamore, edited by Michael S. Batts and Marketa Goetz Stankiewicz, University of Toronto Press, 1968, pp. 128-51.

[In the following essay, Krügel explores the imagery of Raimund's Gutenstein poems and studies reflections of the tragic quality of the dramatist's life in these works.]

Many critics have shown how the essential optimism of Ferdinand Raimund's dramas is weakened by tragic undertones.1 Politzer suggests that the Baroque theatre, from which Raimund's plays derive their metaphysical framework, may be seen as the expression not only of belief in a...

(The entire section is 8985 words.)

Dorothy James Prohaska (essay date 1969)

SOURCE: "Raimund's Contribution to Viennese Popular Comedy," in The German Quarterly, Vol. XLII, No. 3, May, 1969, pp. 352-67.

[In the following essay, Prohaska surveys Raimund's plays, noting that his greatest contribution to popular drama was the creation of convincing comic characters.]

When Ferdinand Raimund the actor was engaged to play major comic roles at the Leopoldstadt theatre in 1817, he joined one of the most successful groups of popular entertainers who have ever trodden the European stage. Night after night, year after year, they played to a full house in this little suburban theater. Tireless local playwrights constantly replenished the vast repertoire...

(The entire section is 6817 words.)

Dorothy Prohaska (essay date 1970)

SOURCE: "The Shifting Scene," in Raimund and Vienna: A Critical Study of Raimund's Plays in Their Viennese Setting, Cambridge University Press, 1970, pp. 53-84.

[In the following essay, Prohaska studies Raimund's use of local color in his early dramas. She summarizes, "Raimund was completely the master of local parody but in his search for a form in which he could express his more ambitious concepts, he sometimes allowed his vision to blind him. "]

I

The popular dramatist in Vienna did not use local colour in his plays in order to present a realistic picture of the society in which he lived. He did, however, use it extensively to create the...

(The entire section is 12730 words.)

Laurence V. Harding (essay date 1974)

SOURCE: "Language," in The Dramatic Art of Ferdinand Raimund and Johann Nestroy: A Critical Study, Mouton, 1974, pp. 130-68.

[In the following excerpt, Harding examines Raimund's use of language, imagery, imaginative humor, and sound in his dramas.]

The Local Element

Exceptional variety of technique and a high degree of skill characterize Raimund's language in all his plays. The poet inherited a tendency to mix formalized stage German with the folk language. One finds the Alexandrine, blank verse, the Knittelvers, and the distich in close proximity to prose passages in Viennese dialect. Stately and somber poetry is followed by the rough...

(The entire section is 6185 words.)

Roger Crockett (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: "Raimund's Der Verschwender: The Illusion of Freedom," in The German Quarterly, Vol. 58, No. 2, Spring, 1985, pp. 184-93.

[In the following essay, Crockett investigates Raimund's use of fate in Der Verschwender, arguing that the play illustrates the workings of deterministic forces in a manner similar to that of his earlier magic plays.]

It has been a popular contention in Raimund scholarship that Der Verschwender, the author's last play and one of his most successful ones, represents a break with traditional Baroque determinism. While in earlier dramas a hierarchy of supernatural beings intervened repeatedly to rescue mortal...

(The entire section is 5005 words.)

Calvin N. Jones (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: "Ferdinand Raimund and Ödön von Horváth: The Volksstück as Negation and Utopia," in The German Quarterly, Vol. 64, No. 3, Summer, 1991, pp. 325-38.

[In the following excerpt, Jones probes the ideological undercurrents of Raimund's Der Alpenkönig und der Menschenfeind, maintaining that the play negates the possibility of social unity in early nineteenth-century Austria and instead strives toward a Utopian solution.]

Plays by a number of different authors of the past two centuries have been treated in literary studies as examples of the Volksstück.1 Although there are many that could be examined in terms of the validity of...

(The entire section is 6462 words.)