Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Exploration of Ancient Greek Tragedy to Express Modern Spiritual Struggles

  Looking at the life creations of the famous Austrian poet and playwright Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929), what is striking is that after 1900, he gradually developed from poetry and lyrical dramas. Turning to stage performing arts such as popular theatre, pantomime and opera. For him, whether it is tragedies, religious dramas and political dramas that express heavy themes, relatively light-hearted comedies full of humor, or musicals and pantomimes that rely more on music and body gestures, these stage performance art forms are all It is a branch of dramatic art. According to Hofmannsthal, everything that happens on the theatrical stage is itself a manifestation of life. This way of communicating with the public is direct and simple. Different characters bring more visual and psychological touches to the audience through language, posture, music and stage props. “Drama is the only preserved art form that connects all the joys, sorrows, sorrows and joys of us humans.” ① It combines human joy, curiosity, laughter, as well as emotional desire, excitement and festivals, spanning the ages. and racial boundaries are deeply ingrained in culture over thousands of years. He believed that the more and more deeply a writer understood the nature of drama, the more likely he was to escape the limitations of his own time. Drama is different from poetry and novels. It is more of a perceptible and appreciable re-creation based on real life. It is more mysterious than what is usually called spirituality, but the audience’s acceptance of it is more intuitive and emotional. From this, Hofmannsthal’s exploration and experimentation of dramatic art went one step further, turning to the search for grand forms in order to surpass the previous small genre of poetic drama: “I had an eager desire at the time, trying to master (Grand) dramatic form – rather than poetic drama.” ② This attempt prompted him to actively face ancient mythology. First of all, he regarded the ancient Greek tragedy Sophocles as a model for his contemporaries. While inheriting cultural heritage, he It also gives mythical characters new significance of the times. This is his effective attempt to deal with the language crisis and consciousness crisis that emerged between himself and the times.
  1. The connotation of grand form
  Hofmannsthal proposed the concept of grand form, which originated from his profound accumulation of classical literature and world literature, as well as his pursuit of total artistic works (Gesamtkunstwerk) and his desire for a grand cosmology. First, the mere literal meaning of the concept of grand form illustrates the poet’s deliberate pursuit of artistic form. The so-called grandness refers to the grandeur and enormity of things; the so-called form must refer to the art form here, and specifically to drama, it refers to the type and form of drama. Taking into account the era in which the poet lived, it is more appropriate to understand this concept as a “drama” (or art drama). The so-called drama is a modern drama that embraces a variety of artistic means, expresses psychological and emotional conflicts, and focuses on the inner emotions and thoughts of the characters, thereby downplaying the dramatic plot. It is referred to as modern psychological drama. At the same time, with the development of the times and the poet’s own artistic pursuit, the grand form is, to a certain extent, the absorption, absorption and utilization of classical literature and foreign culture/literary materials. In this sense, Hofmannsthal’s pursuit of grand forms means his exploration and experimentation of artistic drama in a new creative stage. In addition, for him, grand forms can only be realized in myths, because myths can transcend the limitations of time and space, breaking down the boundaries between individuals and collectives, past and present, “Only the horizon surrounded by myths can encompass all Cultural movements condense into a unified whole”③. Only in the context of myth is it possible to connect the contradictions and oppositions in real society into a close whole. The grand form also means the expansion and expansion of the scale of one-act plays – his early verse plays were all one-act plays, the extension of plot time, and the expansion of layout, that is, from short verse plays to a true dramatic form.
  Throughout the development history of Western drama, Western drama has experienced an evolution process from the tragedy of fate in ancient Greece, to the tragedy of character after the 15th century, to the psychological tragedy of the modern period, and finally to contemporary abstract drama and absurd drama. Ancient Greek tragedy is considered the origin of Western drama and enjoys a lofty status. In view of the limitations of the development of social and historical conditions at that time, ancient Greek dramatists attributed personal suffering to the teasing of fate. Tragic conflicts are mainly manifested in conflicts caused by the protagonist (usually a hero) fighting against fate. But at the same time, they also show lofty and serious tragic themes in the conflict between human free will and destiny, so as to explore the ultimate destiny of human beings and give people the courage to face life positively. Starting from about the 14th century, in order to break through the obstruction and suppression of medieval feudal theology, the emerging bourgeois intellectuals began to look for new ways of their own development. After unremitting efforts, they finally discovered the new world in the long-submerged ancient Greek and Roman culture, and thus launched a Renaissance movement with far-reaching influence on the European continent. During this ideological revolution, the art form of drama has also experienced unprecedented innovation and development.
  At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, with the advancement of science and technology and the development of the economy, people gradually became slaves of machines and money, losing their personal value and dignity, losing the ability to feel beautiful things, and their hearts became increasingly distorted and deformed. In the midst of a deep faith/spiritual crisis. The contradictions and conflicts between people and themselves, people and society, as well as people and society, have become increasingly obvious. People’s own survival issues have become the theme of many playwrights’ creations. At the same time, this was also a period when the influence of psychoanalysis was growing. It is in this context that modern Western psychological tragedy emerged. Such a kind of tragedy focuses on expressing fundamental issues such as human psychology, destiny, spirit, survival predicament and existential value, regards tragedy as the original background of life, and endows human beings with noble and beautiful values. In addition, modern writers believe that tragedy is caused by the inherent characteristics of human nature. Such tragic characters all show a deformed and morbid psychological state. Such modern psychological tragedies reflect the playwright’s exploration of the soul of modern people and their concern for their spiritual plight.
  Looking at the overall development trend of Western literature, from the heroic themes (love, hate) in the classical period (ancient Greece and Rome), to modern character themes (emotions), to modern psychological themes, and contemporary irrational themes , has gone through an evolution process of introversion; its aesthetic principles have gradually evolved from the artistic taste of elegance as beauty in classical literature to the artistic taste of truth as beauty since modern literature. The evolution of its artistic forms mostly depends on a certain the influence of aesthetic principles. Western modernist literature mainly uses techniques such as suggestion, symbolism, deformation, and imagery to explore the psychological world of modern people. Most of them express the characteristics of consciousness such as absurdity, chaos, obscenity, evil, ugliness, decline, decadence, and despair. Vienna Modernism is no exception. The objects of expression are nothing more than decadence, decline, inner conflicts, spiritual loss, etc., but they adopt an aesthetic form. The theme of Hofmannsl’s creation is the loss and decadence expressed by modern people wandering between the contradiction between ideal and reality. However, as a scholar-poet with profound experience, he wanted to carry out artistic innovation in the form of classical beauty. He first had to draw nutrients from classical drama art, so he highlighted the characteristics of pure art. In short, Hofmannsthal’s works show the characteristics of introversion, decadence and aestheticism. Although he has experienced modern life, he shows a tendency to repair tradition.
  2. Mythological elements of grand form
  The various contradictions and conflicts in modern society at the turn of the century, the collapse of traditional values, and the crisis of personal subjectivity prompted Hofmannsthal to turn to the classics, that is, ancient Greek mythology and ancient Greek tragedy, in order to seek spiritual guidance. He also tried to use mythology To realize the possibility of continuing the tradition through reshaping. As a result, Greek drama became the product of his pursuit of grand form, reflecting his enthusiastic attempt to recreate ancient mythological art at the turn of the century. For him, grand form means researching and learning excellent literary traditions and using them for his own use. Among them, the most popular traditional eras are ancient Greece, Renaissance and Baroque literature. As a result, he has created many works based on Drama and opera of ancient Greek mythology. This phenomenon of seeking creative materials in historical heritage was also the choice of many writers around 1900, such as the Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949), the British writer Oscar Wilde (1862-1949), 1854-1900) and the Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler, etc. Hofmannsthal especially showed a preference for ancient Greek mythology. Nietzsche once discussed in “The Birth of Tragedy” published in 1872: “Without myth, every culture will lose its healthy and creative natural force: only the horizon surrounded by myth can condense all cultural movements into a unified The whole.”④ Hofmannsthal’s understanding of myth is undoubtedly affected by this. In the context of myth, everything may become a closely connected whole. In The Book of Friends (Buch der Freunde, 1922) Hofmannsthal wrote: “Myths are all imaginary things in which you, as a living being, take part. Each thing in a myth has two contradictory layers. Meaning: Death = life, fighting with snakes = embracing love. Therefore, everything in myth is in a state of balance.”⑤ It can be seen that in Hofmannsthal’s eyes, myth has the function of resolving conflicts, and he intended to use this An ideal art form to respond to the social reality full of contradictions and conflicts after the turn of the century.
  Hofmannsthal first mentioned in his diary on January 18, 1894, that he would re-create Euripides’ play “Alkestis” (438 BC), and in a subsequent This was described in the retrospective article as “a preliminary attempt to recreate ancient mythology”⑥, which shows his strong pursuit of dramatic stage effects. Even before this, Hofmannsthal had shown a special preference for theater and stage performance. In early 1892, for example, he wrote two reviews of performances by actress Eleonora Doucet, in which he emphasized the celebration of theater as a Dionysian festival: “This week in Vienna we have thousands of People who plan on living a happy life are like celebrating the Dionysian festival in Athens.” ⑦ From this, it is not difficult to understand that this young poet repeatedly emphasized the ecstatic Dionysian moment in his early works, and tried hard to find a way to A creative way to participate in stage arts. His adaptation of Euripides’ plays not only created an opportunity for him to study dramatic art techniques and explore stage practices, but also gave him deeper thinking on major themes such as the relationship between life and death. “Alkestis” is not Hofmannsthal’s first attempt to explore dramatic forms. Even earlier, he had already trained his dramatic skills in lyric dramas based on the grand dramatic forms of the ancients. At the same time, he also regards these rich dramatic materials as fertile soil for his own creation.
  Nietzsche once pointed out the archetypal characteristics of myth, and Freud’s psychoanalytic theory further clarified the basic characteristics of myth. In the process of analyzing the causes of tragedy, Nietzsche used mythological characters to illustrate human psychological factors: the primitive, barbaric, violent, and ecstatic passion of Dionysus, the god of wine, and the normative, elegant, and clear temperament of Apollo, the sun god. ; At the same time, his theory of attributing the poet’s creation to dreams also involved the scope of psychology, which had a great influence on the literary and artistic thought circles at that time. In addition, Freud’s psychoanalytic theory also uses mythical archetypal characters (Oedipus, Electra) to explain human psychological characteristics. This kind of exploration and discovery of people’s own psychology and subconscious realm is the result of the progress and development of natural science and humanities in the late 19th century, and undoubtedly reflects the characteristics of the times in the turning period of the Western century. From this level, it is obvious that Hofmannsthal accepted the influence of Nietzsche and Freud on the psychological theories. The man at the turn of the century recognized himself in culture, especially through myth, as, as Hofmannsthal put it, “a man who lived in dreams, fears, confusions, and longings, and because of his Humble and ugly people never dare to openly explain all this as instinct”⑧. Since his early drama creation, Hofmannsthal has paid more and more attention to people’s inner life. His Greek tragedies express the identity issues of contemporary people, and also reveal his acceptance of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory. Freud described myth as an expression of repressed desires in the process of cultural development, and compared the formation of collective myths with the production of individual dreams, pointing out that adults’ dreams mainly draw material from childhood experiences, while Myths are the product of the childhood stage in human history. According to this assertion, Freud wanted the psychoanalytic doctrine as originally conceived to be understood as “a rational and conscious discussion of the irrational”⑨. “Like dreams, myth is also a material for psychoanalytic enlightenment, with the help of which a dark and chaotic language is turned into a transparent and reasonable language.” ⑩ In 1922, Hofmannsthal in his second The “Vienna Letter” makes a clear distinction between the poetic analysis of myth and the psychoanalysis: Freud, like the poets before him, had a key to unlocking great secrets, although he used the explorer’s boldness and Fanaticism gave full instructions for the use of this key, but poets were forbidden to use it except in a particularly secretive way. In fact, Hofmannsthal repeatedly introduced psychoanalytic theory in his dramatic works, especially in his tragic creations, which fully expressed the origin of modern consciousness.
  The eternal power of Greek mythology overcomes the distance of time and space, allowing the fate of ancient heroes to be directly and vividly displayed on the contemporary stage, and unveiling the veil of human destiny from the depths of life. According to Nietzsche, under the magic of Dionysus, the boundary between the personal and the universe is blurred, as if the veil of the Maya is torn, only shining in front of the mysterious original identity (Ureinen). Hofmannsthal felt that this myth-based Dionysian wisdom clearly emerged in the process of blending with the fate of the hero. It also became the reason why he turned to Greek tragedy and tried to bring people’s reverence for life and life through tragic art. An important reason for uncertainty to come to the stage.
  3. The tragic spirit of grand forms.
  The reason why Hofmannsthal chose to explore grand forms in ancient Greek tragedy is because the theme itself contains grand and noble themes of life, and he is committed to pursuing an eternal spiritual realm. . In addition, tragedy must be precisely conceived and cleverly laid out in its creative form, and cannot be a collection of free and loose inspiration and gorgeous rhetoric. Through tragedy, the audience can more easily recognize the truth about the hardships of life. However, ancient Greek tragedy has a powerful spiritual power, which allows the audience to gain the courage to affirm life and resist cruel reality, thereby achieving a tragic aesthetic effect of psychological balance.
  In order to better explain why Hofmannsthal sought grand forms in tragedy, we must first understand the origins of ancient Greek tragedy. According to Nietzsche’s theory on tragic art, ancient Greek tragedy originated from two natural artistic tendencies in Greece, namely the Apollonian spirit and the Dionysian spirit. The former is the sun god in Greek mythology, representing quiet beauty, a spirit that observes the world calmly and rationally, and is mostly presented as plastic arts in artistic form; the latter is the god of wine, representing the vitality of life, expressing All non-plastic arts. When the two spirits unite, Greek tragedy occurs. Therefore, Greek tragedy is a synthesis of beauty and power. It contains both the dreamy beauty of Apollo and the drunken power of Dionysus, thus creating a purifying power that turns decay into magic. The original Dionysian spirit is actually an excess of life force, which is unrestricted by any restrictions and manifests as unbridled indulgence, and the result of indulgence is pain. The carnival after ancient sacrifices was a manifestation of this kind of indulgence. And when the drunken power of Dionysus gained the beautiful image of Apollo’s dream world, it was controlled; at the same time, the spirit of Apollo also gained Dionysian vitality. At this point, the two complement each other and reach a state of unity. In this way, Greek tragedy has a life-affirming tragic spirit.
  Looking back at Western history in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it is not difficult to find that the rapid development of natural science and industrial technology promoted social civilization and progress, and also brought about industrial progress, which in turn created a prosperous mechanical civilization. Modern people living in a rapidly developing civilization advocate knowledge, advocate utilitarianism, and pursue material enjoyment. Everything is aimed at practical utility, but they lack ideals in life, and they lack a spirit to create life in the face of suffering and sorrow. It can be said that the spirit of Dionysus in the tragedy has been killed by the rational hand that pursues practical utility, leaving only the calmness and reason of Apollo. Hofmannsthal’s re-adaptation of ancient Greek tragedies from more than two thousand years ago is obviously not to revive the harmonious beauty of ancient Greece, but to use the image of modern subjects to explore the long-lost tragic spirit, and this kind of tragedy The spirit exists in the grand form of ancient Greek tragedy. Karl Kraus, a well-known writer, language and cultural critic at the time, once satirized Hofmannsthal as “an author engaged in adaptation, plucking the noble fur of animal corpses in order to bury suspicious corpses among them.” In this regard, Hofmannsthal does not deny that his “creative intentions are completely lacking in piety”, but he “hopes that his works can have an impact on people of our time” and believes that his new work “will be of great significance to future readers.” It will definitely bear the characteristics of the period of its creation – the beginning of the 20th century. To me, ancient Greek characters seem to be eternal vessels, in which new writers can always hold new soul content.”
  As an aesthetic category, the essence of tragedy is to use negative forms such as disaster, pain, destruction, death, etc. to indirectly affirm the freedom of human creation. Although tragedy can bring people heavy and depressing feelings, people can also express themselves through tragedy. Reflect on oneself, so as to continuously move from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom in practical activities. At the same time, tragedy embodies the lofty spirit, whether it is the spirit of resistance represented in classical tragedy, the ethical significance embodied by the protagonist in modern tragedy, or the spiritual fervor of modern people for free survival and complete personality displayed in modern tragedy. Desire and pursuit all reflect the noble aesthetic connotation contained in tragedy, that is, the noble spirit of human beings resisting fate. As a poet with delicate emotions and keen sensibility, Hofmannsthal wanted to inspire and alert his contemporaries in the ancient Greek tragedy classics at the turn of the century, so that he could live in a godless temple. Modern people can not only see the limitations, alienation, shortcomings, loneliness and imperfection of human beings, but also be able to muster the courage to create infinity in the limited, and create the value of life in the meaningless.
  Since the Renaissance, Westerners have been holding high the banner of rationality and pursuing human independence and freedom. However, as time goes by, people have gradually fallen into value relativism and existential nihilism. People’s over-respect for rationalism leads to the forgetfulness of one’s own existence and the loss of the meaning of life. As a result, modern people gradually encounter various spiritual and psychological difficulties and crises. In modern society at the turn of the century, the contradictions between individuals and alienated society, and between sensibility and rationality, have become increasingly acute. Hofmannsthal’s adaptation of ancient Greek tragedy vividly reflects the mental pain, confusion, anxiety and loneliness encountered by modern people. For example, the protagonist Oedipus in the play “Oedipus and the Sphinx”, as a free individual, has free will. He originally had many choices, but the conflict that his final choice may cause is an inevitable tragedy. As a poet and playwright who was one of the outstanding representatives of Vienna Modernism, Hofmannsthal used modern dramatic forms to reinterpret ancient Greek tragedy, giving new historical connotations to the original tragic characters and revealing the struggle of human nature in the early 20th century. status and modern people’s affirmation and persistence of self-worth. This creative method of using ancient metaphors to describe the present reflects his attempt to explore grand forms, and uses it to express modern people’s thinking and exploration of the real survival dilemmas they face. It shows that the poet maintains a consistent view of the real world. A critical consciousness and a rebellious spirit.
  To sum up, Hofmannsthal was touched by the social reality at that time, and under the influence of modern humanities (Mach’s sensory theory, Freud’s psychoanalysis, Nietzsche’s philosophy, etc.), he used ancient ideas The artistic resources of Greek tragedy have created works that express the spiritual confusion of modern people. He is a poet with great awareness of traditional culture. He considers himself responsible and obliged to carry forward traditional culture, so he earnestly learns from the great literary ancestors. For him, the grand form is not a lyrical drama that deliberately pursues formal perfection, breaks down the traditional plot structure, and has aesthetic characteristics, but focuses on expressing the life emotions of modern people on the basis of inheriting and developing the themes and forms of classical tragedy. Therefore, most of the grand forms he advocates include the ancient mythological materials and artistic expressions of art dramas such as classical tragedies, and they also significantly endow the plot and characters with the color of this era.

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