Ferdinand Raimund Analysis
Ferdinand Raimund entered the theater as an actor, and he became a playwright almost unintentionally. His plays must be seen as an attempt to synthesize the Viennese Popular Theater with the classical German drama of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century. John Michalski (Ferdinand Raimund, 1968) observes that Raimundobtained his effects by means of a picturesque, sometimes melancholy idiom, which combines the delightfully musical Viennese dialect with standard High German. Allegorical figures and characters from the Viennese milieu speak and act in a manner that suggests no division between the worlds of reality and imagination. The action . . . is frequently treated from the vantage point of a naïve, almost child-like human being.
It has been suggested that Raimund’s suicide in 1836 was not only brought on by his hypochondria, but that it was also prompted by a change in theatrical taste, which threatened to take him out of the limelight very soon. Ever since the success of Der böse Geist Lumpazivagabundus (the evil spirit Lumpazivagabundus) in 1833, the star of Johann Nestroy had risen brighter and brighter on the theatrical skies of Vienna. Raimund’s ability—and willingness—to adapt, to accommodate changing tastes, was in question. Raimund was disturbed by what he saw happening on the stage, and when he went to see Nestroy’s play, he was horrified. The title alone had offended him with its suggestions of low life, drunkenness, and slovenliness. In a letter to Toni Wagner, Raimund observed that Viennese audiences had been led astray by charlatans. Honest talent was being subverted through “the cabals of these theatrical bushrangers.” He ended by stating that “my physical and moral life is inseparable from my honor.”
Raimund’s plays were the product of a political age of innocence; his success as an actor and a playwright fell into a time when the final defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Congress of Vienna had brought peace to the troubled city. Prince Metternich attempted to maintain peace and prosperity by means of espionage, censorship, and the repression of liberal ideas, and the populace sought distraction in the theater. Here one could catch concealed allusions to the real political conditions interwoven with fantastic fairy tales or harmless farces. Nevertheless, the moral of most plays was that, however exciting other places around the world might be, Vienna was still the most delightful abode.
The Barometer-Maker on the Magic Island
This is exactly the sentiment expressed in Raimund’s first play, The Barometer-Maker on the Magic Island. Raimund’s authorship was disputed at first, forcing him to state publicly that he had indeed written the play. The music was composed by Wenzel Müller, with whom Raimund collaborated on several of his later plays, notably Mountain King and Misanthrope. Raimund played the lead of Bartholomäus Quecksilber in the premier performance at the Leopoldstädter Theater on December 18, 1823.
The Barometer-Maker on the Magic Island depicts the conflict between the Viennese wit and trickster Bartholomäus Quecksilber and the cunning princess Zoraide of the enchanted isle. Bartholomäus has obtained three magical gifts from the fairy Rosalinde, who must dispense them once every one hundred years. One by one, Zoraide succeeds in stealing these gifts from him, but she is forced to return them in the end when Bartholomäus appears at her court with figs that produce enormous noses on everyone who eats them, and for which only he holds the antidote. The fig magic was nothing new; it had appeared in a number of baroque court operas and also was a well-known motif in fairy tales. Zoraide’s father, King Tutu, seems to be a soul mate of Georg Büchner’s famous King Peter in his Leonce und Lena (wr. 1836, pb. 1850; Leonce and Lena , 1927), and critics did not fail to notice his resemblance to the ruling Austrian emperor, Francis I. In all events, the play contained...
(The entire section is 2,796 words.)