History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Early German 18th

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing showed the difficulties encountered by intellectuals as well as their foibles. 1768 painting of the author by Anna Rosina Lisiewska (1713–1783)

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781) was the primary initiator of German theatre with two comedies: "Der Freigeist" (The freethinker, 1749) and "Der Junge Gelehrte" (The young scholar, 1748). In these early comedies, "the characters, situations, intrigues, and technique were derived by Lessing in the main from his reading of the French 'Théâtre Italien', Regnard, Marivaux, Destouches, and Holberg. Curiously enough, the influence of Molière is hardly discernible" (Thomas, 1909 p 227).

"The freethinker”...”reminds us of Lessing’s defence of comedy, on the ground that it might be used to ridicule those who despise religion. But Adrast, the freethinker, is not a ridiculous figure- he is highly virtuous in character, his faults are those of the head, and he is ultimately brought to see his errors by the spirit of self-sacrifice and benevolence exhibited by his Christian friends" (Rolleston, 1889 p 49). The play "is an indirect attack upon those people in Lessing’s time who regarded freethinking as an unforgivable heresy, but it is more a straightforward apology for free thought than an assault on the narrow-mindedness of religious bigots. This shift in emphasis has a very real bearing upon the tone of the comedy that results. The humor, which had formerly been a matter of primary interest, has now become of secondary importance. The characters are first made basically admirable. Then their noble qualities are expressed in exaggerated forms which seem ridiculous to the outside world. The point of the action is not to reform the characters, who are in no need of conversion, but to bring out the true excellence of their natures, which has been hidden under a deceptive exterior...The main plot of The Freethinker is concerned with Theophan’s attempts to gain Adrast’s friendship. Adrast is poor, as freethinkers in a religious community are apt to be. Theophan tries to reach the agnostic’s heart through his pocketbook. Theophan wishes his generosity to be anonymous, but Adrast ultimately learns the identity of his benefactor and imagines that Theophan is motivated by revenge, not kindliness. Theophan is furious at having his actions misinterpreted, completely loses all self-control, and tells Adrast what he honestly thinks of his selfishness. Then, for the first time, Adrast is willing to listen because, for the first time, he is convinced of the clergyman’s honesty. Ultimately, as each sees that the other’s point of view is not diametrically opposed to his own, the two apparent rivals become friends (Perry, 1939 pp 286-287). "The freethinker", "the great majority of critics...unite rather in viewing the resolution of the conflict as a triumph, after many rebuffs, of Theophan's nobility of spirit, of his forebearance and patience, of his generous goodheartedness and charity over the stubborn prejudice of Adrast. They prefer to emphasize the humanitarian rather than the religious implications of the Theophan-Adrast conflict by regarding the clergyman not primarily as a representative of any specifically religious attitude, but as the kind of human being that attracted Lessing's particular sympathy, that is to say: as a man of feeling...When Adrast himself finally reveals the reason for his rejection of Theophan, it becomes apparent that this is not traceable to the difference in their religious attitudes. During the course of one of their customary exchanges (V,iii), Adrast voices his familiar mistrust of Theophan's motives, and the latter again ascribes it to religious prejudice. At this point Adrast at last feels constrained to make completely clear to him the real reason for his antipathy...It is...jealousy [over] Julianne...The same thing may be said of Adrast's bitterness toward other members of the clergy. It does not in fact arise from the disparity in religious attitudes, but may be ascribed rather to his brooding over the injuries he has suffered at their hands...Among qualities usually associated in the public mind, the freethinker may exhibit not only anti-religious sentiments and scorn for its proponents, but may also engage in loose and unconventional thinking on a variety of topics quite apart from religion...In Lessing's comedy, these roles are admirably filled by Lisidor, Johann, and Henriette...Though Lessing is concerned to distinguish Adrast's particular form of bias from those prejudices in matters of religion conventionally ascribed to the the freethinker, he endows him with a degree of unwarranted bitterness toward certain fellow humans which is quite sufficient to bar him from the ranks of the second group, the 'model' freethinkers. Only when this prejudice has been dissipated in the climactic scene can he expect to join their favored number; only then is he completely free to think and act without bias. The necessity for a change in his attitude toward religion, however, is nowhere indicated...In the climactic scene...Theophan, who up to this point in the action has embodied only the gentler impulses of the heart, sweetness, charitableness, brotherly love, has been unable to bring about the desired change in Adrast; that with his overpowering uprightness he has been altogether too good in Adrast's eyes (and, we may safely assume, in Lessing's) to be true...Lessing apparently felt it necessary to provide a further motivation for Adrast's eventual acceptance of Theophan by 'humanizing' the clergyman, and chose to do so by introducing the element of contrast provided by his outburst of temper (in itself a natural, human, emotional reaction to Adrast's provoking behavior) after his previous gentle demeanor" (Brown, 1957 pp 188-199). “The women characters are completely passive. In their daily routine there is no occasion for them to be otherwise, for they lead a free enough existence; as long as they observe conventions, life flows pleasantly, with undisturbed evenness. When in the important matter of husbands they might be expected to make their own choice, they do not do so. Each praises and defends the other's fiancé, never admitting her true love, but obediently submitting to her father's decision. Lisidor, not the usual tyrant of his time, has merely acted in accordance with reason...However, when Adrast and Theophan confess to him their real feeling, assuring him that his daughters' inclinations coincide with theirs, he agrees to change his opinion because Juliane and Henriette [desire it]...Though the characterization of the two girls is quite generalized, it reveals that Lessing has broken with the traditional contrasting of the virtuous with the non-virtuous woman. Both girls have the good qualities expected of the model woman: generosity, intelligence, obedience. The distinction between them lies merely in differences of personality, the quiet, gentle disposition of Juliane juxtaposed with the vivacious, impudent attitude of Henriette. In another respect Lessing has outgrown to some extent the conventions and customs accepted and upheld by his predecessors and contemporaries. Lisidor, concerned for the happiness of his daughters, dis- regards wealth as a factor and seizes upon the love and good character of their suitors as the most commendable and desirable elements. Lessing gives weight to this point of view by allowing his two heroines to marry the men of their choice” (Schreiber, 1948 pp 152-153).

In "The young scholar", "the dialogue is vivacious, and the language excellent, in the terse laconic style then admired, but there is only a very superficial attempt at characterization, the incidents show little invention, and oddities of behaviour are insisted upon to monotony. But in Lessing’s portrayal of false learning and, by implication, of true, and in his hits at the literary theories of the day, there was a critical intelligence which Leipzig audiences would appreciate" (Rolleston, 1889 p 34). "Damis, in spite of his very un-Teutonic name, may be taken as a type, crude but not altogether untrue, of the Teutonic pedant of his day. Vanity forms the basis of his character ; he accepts as his due unmeasured flattery, and boasts of his acquirements without the smallest sense of shame. We soon become weary of his monotonous folly, but the tedium is occasionally relieved by a little flash of wit. This is the case when Lisette, the faithful maid of Juliane, the young lady whom Damon's father wishes him to marry, tries to induce him to decline the match. By means of wild flattery she wins his good opinion; she then pretends to malign Juliane, describing her with every fault it is possible for a woman to have. To her surprise, he is enchanted" (Sime, 1879 vol 1 p 52). "Damis figures as the conventionally obnoxious suitor of the heroine. His successful rival provides no standard by which to measure the young scholar’s limitations, but in the course of the intrigue various side lights are thrown upon Damis’ academic pretensions. He at first refuses to marry the girl of his father’s choice, because his only loves are Greek poetesses; then he is captivated by a mischievous maid when she flatters him on his great capacities and wide fame; at last he agrees to marry the heroine, because many famous wise men have had troublesome wives. When he learns that she is kind and good, he sticks to her because her stupidity will increase his glory; he struggles in vain to write a suitable epithalamion for their wedding, and only when he hears of the failure of his prize essay does he decide to give up his fiancee, his servant, and his ungrateful fatherland, to travel alone throughout the world. Damis is a failure in his profession, an indifferent lover, and a useless member of society, which he forswears of his own volition to seek fresh woods and pastures new. He is not ejected by the irate community or forced to reform, as was generally the case in Holberg’s comedies under similar circumstances. Lessing was too kind a person to have his characters suffer severely, but he did not hesitate to point out their absurd deviations from normal human conduct" (Perry, 1939 pp 281-282). “Juliane is...the completely passive heroine, insisting that she must sacrifice her happiness to the wish of her guardian...She is firm in doing whatever she sees as correct. It is true that the young author does not in any way make plausible her insistence on sacrificing her personal happiness and that of Valer to the avarice of her guardian, but the same defect in motivation can be found in all his predecessors and contemporaries. Virtue for its own sake, sacrifice for no apparent good, were admired and therefore expounded to the audience. Lessing believed with his age that the stage was a means of elevating the morals of the people. Juliane is a model woman of early Rationalism. We hear of her good upbringing; she is grateful to her guardian for rescuing her from a life of poverty and misery. This filial duty, especially on the part of women, is of first consideration in the ethical code of middle-class society. The girl's own love must be sacrificed if it conflicts with her parent's wish, no matter how unreasonable or selfish the latter may be” (Schreiber, 1948 pp 150-151).

"The freethinker"

Adrast's freethinking is mitigated while courting a Juliane who defends religion. Picture of pansies, a sign of freethinking, by Eugène Henri Cauchois (1850-1911

Time: 1740s. Place: Germanic territory.

Text at https://archive.org/details/dramaticworksge00lessgoog https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.95812

Adrast loves Juliane but arrives too late to ask for her hand in marriage, because she is betrothed to Theophan, a clergyman who pleads for Adrast's friendship despite the latter's freethinking tendencies, but is yet unable to obtain it. Adrast intends to settle for her sister, Henriette. But despite the two sisters' vows of marriage, Henriette shows signs of preferring Theophan and Juliane of preferring Adrast. One day, Theophan receives the visit of his cousin, Araspe, to whom Adrast owes money without being able to pay. Although Araspe knows he may lose his money, he intends to pursue his unpaid bond rather than let the freethinker marry. Theophan dissuades him from that purpose by proposing to pay the bond himself. Araspe agrees provided his cousin pays the sum after his death. When Adrast learns the bond is in Theophan's keeping, he refuses to accept the deal out of pride. In reply, Theophan tears it up. An ill-humored Adrast greets Henriette coldly, specifying that he wishes her to be more modest, like her sister, Juliane. Henriette retorts that he in turn should be more amiable, like Juliane's lover, Theophan. Adrast next tells Juliane that he does not love Henriette, mainly because of her outspokenness. She retorts that her sister appears so only since knowing him. "That woman pays me a bad compliment who looks on me as a fool, pleased with no manner but his own, and who would wish to see on every side faint copies and imitations of himself," Adrast replies. He adds that although he himself is a freethinker, he deplores her own lack of religion, an adorment in womankind. Affronted, Juliane specifies that it should be an adorment to all. Adrast is enraptured at her defense of religion and kneels to her with passion. Henriette overhears this conversation and reports it to Theophan. They are yet uncertain about Juliane's feelings for Adrast. The sisters' servant, Lisette, proposes that to draw them out, Henriette should pretend to love Theophan and Theophan should pretend to love Henriette. After hearing that Adrast's banker refuses him a loan to pay his debts, Theophan convinces the banker to loan him the money based on his security. However, when the banker hears Adrast denigrate Theophan, he reveals the truth of their transaction and everything remains as it was. For his part, Theophan proposes to Adrast that should Juliane prefer him, he will resign his claim on her. Theophan also reveals his love of Henriette, not Juliane, and suspects that Juliane loves him. They agree to tell the sister's father the truth, who agrees with the new matches as readily as his daughters.

"The young scholar"

Damis prefers to study books than women. Painting of a 1740 scholar by Antoine Pesne (1683-1757)

Time: 1740s. Place: Germanic territory.

Text at https://archive.org/details/dramaticworksge00lessgoog https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.95812

Chrysander wants his son, Damis, to marry his foster-daughter, Juliane, but he prefers to immerse himself in private studies. Since her father died, Juliane has no fortune of her own, but may obtain one when her father's former lawsuit is considered. "Now a certain document has fallen into my hands for which he long sought in vain and which puts the whole business in another light," Chrysander informs his son's tutor, Anton. "It is only necessary for me to give enough money to recommence the lawsuit." Although Juliane learns the truth from her servant, Lisette, and although she loves Valer, Damis' rival, she refuses to marry him out of gratitude for Chrysander. To help her mistress and obtain a dowry Valer promised her so that she can marry Anton, Lisette denigrates her before Damis, calling her silly, quarrelsome, vain, and warning that she will ruin him with extravagant parties and feasts, all which he considers trifles, rather an opportunity to write a good book about a bad wife, and willing to submit to his father. Still seeking to help her mistress, Lisette writes a fraudulent letter to Chrysander on the part of his lawyer, stating that the lawsuit is not worth pursuing. The plot works except that when Juliane learns of it, she divulges it to Chrysander, who now wants her to marry Valer. Damis wants to keep her until he discovers his failure to win a literary prize long sought after. Out of spite, he leaves the country.

Johann Elias Schlegel


A second early 18th century German dramatist of note includes Johann Elias Schlegel (1719-1749) with "Der Triumph der guten Frauen" (The triumph of good women, 1749). In 1743, Johann Elias Schlegel went to Copenhagen as secretary...of the Saxon legation...His comedies...treated in the main of small incidents in everyday life and they are, no doubt, a faithful reflection of life in the Copenhagen of the the time" (Eaton, 1928 pp 28-38).

The Triumph of Good Women “is a play of intrigue, and, contrary to the customary pattern, the plotting here is instigated and carried through by a virtuous woman who wishes to effect the return of her erring husband...Of the three women in the play, Hilaria is outstanding. She is not a passive heroine. It is true that she waited ten years before she did anything to end her intolerable state of semi-widowhood. When she finally undertakes the task she proves herself to be a clever, witty, resourceful person, well able to help herself and attain what she set out to do and yet at the same time remain a charming, desirable woman...She is faithful to her husband, continuing to love him though no one knows why, least of all Nikander…Hilaria motivates her actions towards Nikander by telling him that licentiousness is preferable to tyranny, a feeble reason...Juliane is a close sister to Hilaria. She too is the faithful and obedient wife of a man who is not worthy of her care and affection...Both women in this play are devoted wives. But both of them submit only temporarily to the shameful and degrading treatment of their husbands...Hilaria finds it unusual that Nikander did not take her money away when he left her; Agenor can leave his wife without any funds at all, if he wishes, though she has money of her own which now belongs to him. Obviously he denies her the money only to humiliate her, because at the same time he offers a goodly sum to Kathrine if she will accept him as her lover. Both Hilaria and Juliane are clever, intelligent, and virtuous. Yet there is a difference between them. Hilaria, as pointed out before, is no patient, unresisting heroine. Taking fate into her own hands, she sets out to find and win back her husband, as Minna von Barnhelm does some two decades later without the aid of disguises. Resolute and possessing a great deal more insight and understanding than her hus- band, Hilaria can easily outwit him. And there is no doubt that she will be able to hold him. Juliane is far more passive. She bemoans the change in Agenor, but does nothing to end the intolerable situation, submitting to his demands without revolt. This submissiveness is to reappear in some of Gellert's plays as the precursor of the Gretchentype of character...Juliane is well educated; her mental faculties and abilities are well developed. She talks well, she is witty, she can successfully put her two ardent suitors, Nikander and Philinte, in their place. Schlegel emphasizes the love the women have for their husbands and the suffering they are willing to endure because of this love. Both married the men they loved...The third woman character in the comedy is the servant Kathrine. As in Der Geheimnisvolle, [The secret], she plays a double role, as confidante to Hilaria and then, in order to help her, to Juliane. These maids are in some respects replicas of their mistresses. T h o u g h they lack the refinements of their heroines, they match their wit and cleverness...The ideal women in Schlegel's comedies embody the qualities which the new bourgeois class deemed so eminently desirable. All are capable and resourceful, their temperaments so well balanced that no problem ever daunts them, and they carry all their undertakings to a successful end. They are honest and devoted, obedient but possessed of spirit and imagination. They can forgive and overlook the shortcomings of changed. All are self-sacrificing, placing the happiness of others above their own. They are loving, but not sentimental. Their poise, their clarity of vision, their power of analysis, their ready wit and their humor make them the superior personages they are. They are a composite of good physical and intellectual traits. They are typically the product of rationalistic thinking. Their optimism, their attainment of harmony in life despite their problems, are in accord with the ideals of early Rationalism” (Schreiber, 1948 pp 108-114).

"Johann Elias Schlegel... meant most for the future development of German poetry...his comedies (Die Stumme Schönheit, Der Triumph der guten Frauen) the best to be seen on the German stage before Lessing" (Robertson, 1911 pp 109-110). In "The triumph of good women", when Hilaria appears disguised as a man (Philinte) before the husband who abandoned her (Nicander) because he wanted his freedom back, “her ideas reflect his...[But] it remains unclear whether Hilaria is expressing her own views or is merely attempting to find favor with Nicander by echoing his views” (Potter, 2012 p 92).

August Wilhelm Schlegel (1846) complained that in the comedies of his namesake "in drawing folly and stupidity, the same wearisomeness has crept in their picture which is inseparable from them in real life" (p 509), as if realism were a fault.

"The triumph of good women"


Time: 1740s. Place: Copenhagen, Denmark.

Text at ?

Nicander left his wife, Hilaria, ten years ago, to pursue other women, including Julie, wife of Agenor. To win him back, Hilaria disguises herself as a man and pretends to court Julie. Viewing the disguised Hilaria as a competitor and unaware of her sex, Nicander threatens his own wife to a duel, but she refuses to fight. When Agenor arrives, he talks to his wife apart from Hilaria to rid himself of her presence. After Hilaria leaves, Agenor declares that since their marriage he is unhappy about her behavior. According to him, Julie is too flighty and does not regulate her conduct according to his wishes. He especially does not want her to attend a ball she wishes to go to. Julie unhappily submits. She asks the help of her servant, Catherine, to obtain money from her husband because of a debt incurred to Hilaria in a matter concerning her husband's honor. When Catherine asks Agenor for household money, he gives her some to spy on his wife. He then kisses the servant but when she cries out, he is forced to desist from going further. Catherine is next accosted by Nicander, who readily admits loving both her and her mistress. To win Julie, though unconscious of what had just occurred, he requests Catherine to say that Agenor tried to seduce her while he works on his friend's jealousy by speaking against Hilaria. Instead of keeping the money, Catherine hands it over to her mistress, specifying that it is a gift Agenor does not want to hear mentioned. But when Agenor sees Julie with a happier demeanor than usual, he becomes suspicious and insists on knowing why. She admits it is because of the gift. He counters that it is no gift of his but from one of her admirers. Convinced of his honesty, Agenor encourages Nicander to remind Julie of her duties towards her husband. Instead, Nicander encourages Julie to betray her husband and thereby get the upper hand on him. She declines, intending instead to speak to her husband against Nicander. But when she hears her husband speaking heatedly with Catherine, she decides to spy on them, thereby discovering how the money was obtained and Agenor's desire to seduce their servant. When Julie comes out of hiding, Catherine quickly realizes she has heard everything and reveals this to Hilaria, who considers the matter of small importance but yet encourages Julie to avenge herself by betraying her husband. Julie refuses. Meanwhile, Nicander is pursued by creditors, but, to his surprise, is saved from debtor's prison by Hilaria. Feeling grateful towards his new-found friend, Nicander reveals to Hilaria what she already knows, that he is married to a woman named Hilaria. Because Catherine refuses to cooperate with his designs, Agenor fires her and justifies the action to Julie by saying it is because she carries gifts from her admirers. But Julie reveals she overheard his conversation with their servant and knows of his attempt at seducing her. Nevertheless, Agenor is adamant. To aid Julie's plight and promote Hilaria's pretended love-interest, Nicander proposes that Hilaria disguise herself as her new-found servant. Instead, Hilaria presents herself to Nicander as her own sister but still disguised in such a way that he fails to recognize his own wife, though charmed by her manners and conversation in such a way as to seem to fall in love with her a second time. As a favor, Hilaria requests him to obtain letters from her banker, to which he agrees. When Julie enters, Hilaria presents herself as her disguised male friend. Julie turns away Catherine's replacement and now fears her husband's reaction. Hilaria proposes to take her away from him. "I fear much less my husband: he works merely against my peace, while you work against my virtue," she replies. Agenor suddenly enters and, finding Hilaria at his wife's feet, threatens to kill her imagined seducer. To his astonishment, Hilaria reveals her true sex. When Nicander returns, she further reveals herself to be his estranged wife. Touched at her persistence in trying to win him back, Nicander readily returns to her while an abashed Agenor promises to amend his domestic tyranny.

Luise Gottsched

Luise Gottsched explored the psychology of two sisters with opposite attitudes about their aunt’s health. Portrait of the author by Elias Gottlob Haussmann (1695-1874)

Another comedic dramatist of the period, Luise Gottsched (1713-1762), shone most brightly with "Das Testament" (The testament, 1745).

Luise Gottsched translated five comedies of Molière, Dufresny, and Destouches mocking the ills of society and "her own comedies were fashioned after the work of these French playwrights", The Testament being a work poking fun at greed (Brown, 2008 p 1041).

“Karoline…has the characteristics of the rationalistic pattern. A girl of great independence, truthful to the point of imprudence, she has the clearness of vision to see through her scheming and corrupt sister and brother. She attacks them and treats them with scorn, but never with contempt, for she earnestly desires that they should desist from their evil way of life and become honest and respectable, worthy of their kind and generous aunt. On the other hand, her brother wants money only for his gambling and profligate ways, and Amalia's ambitions extend no further than marriage. Although Karoline might have exposed them to her own advantage, she never resorts to such means. Her honest and unselfish nature demands rather that she criticize them face to face. Hence her reproof of Amalia for wanting money to attract suitors…A striking feature of Das Testament, though not its theme, is the great contrast between the classes. This is abundantly documented in legal and other records of the time, in contemporary memoirs and correspondence, and has been stressed by all historians of German culture in this period…This background is essential to an understanding of Amalia's desire to find a husband, in fact it even makes it possible to comprehend her attitude, for girls of the upper classes could not possibly face so dreadful a fate as spinsterhood. This was tolerable only among the middle and lower classes. By censuring Amalia for her behavior, Karoline puts herself above such petty ideas and thereby represents a step forward in the emancipation of woman's spirit from the shackles of tradition and iron-clad custom. Frau Gottsched protested against marriages of convenience, or marriage without love, as an escape from spinsterhood. In general, however, the scorn and even the contempt of society was the sorry lot of the unmarried. And so girls tried to attain the goal of wed- lock, no matter what the price. The limited, humdrum life of women in the early eighteenth century made the problem of husband and marriage the important one for all of them. There was practically noth- ing a woman of the aristocracy or the bourgeoisie could do except marry. If for some reason marriage was impossible for a woman, it was only one of great fortitude who could achieve a contented and purposeful life… When her aunt intimates that the defense of her scheming brother and sister is dishonorable, she replies: ‘Would you trust me more if I had maligned my sister and brother?’ This candidness causes Frau von Tiefenborn great anxiety for Karoline's future; but Karoline persists: ‘May God keep me from every penny which I might get through falsity and calumny.’ Cleverness, sound judgment, and capability are the characteristics demanded again and again from women by all writers who devoted time to a discussion of feminine virtues. Th e moral weeklies often contain lengthy passages given over to a delineation of the ideal woman as well as to the flaying of feminine vices. The character of Karoline does not, then, show anything original or startling. Her characterization rather falls into line with the general trends and aspirations of the time. But by incorporating into a play the principles so generally accepted, Frau Gottsched translated her ideals into human form and was thus able to enforce her moral purpose under an agreeable and entertaining guise. A product of her time, Karoline is dominated in her actions by her reason, even though Frau von Tiefenborn does refer to her ‘good heart’." It is her reason which enables her to understand Amalia's behavior, her reason which dictates her answer to Herr von Kreuzweg, her sister's suitor, who wants to transfer his affections to her after he hears that it is she who has inherited the money and not Amalia. Her self-sacrifice, another quality essential in the popular heroine of the day, is determined rather by her reason than her emotions. Karoline's answer to Herr von Kreuzweg as to why she will not marry him is not just an excuse: ‘Now my gratitude demands of me that I should redouble my services to my aunt, and I surely will not think of marriage as long as she lives.’ Of the three women characters in this play, Frau von Tiefenborn is the least clearly drawn. Her behavior seems revolting to Frau Gottsched and is treated satirically. She shows good common sense for the most part, but she is affected by some conventions of the day and becomes at times a ridiculous figure. She wants to get married yet feels that this is not proper for a woman of her age. She therefore welcomes the assurances of her brother-in-law that she still is charming and young enough to marry. In fact, she invites such flattery and so loses her dignity and our respect, so that one has to laugh at her folly… Amalia is the foil for Karoline's virtues. She represents the covetous, stupid girl who will not let anything stand in her way. Thus, she does not hesitate to malign her sister and brother when she believes that this will further her own aims. She tells Dr Hippocras, one of the doctors treating Frau von Tiefenborn's illnesses, that Karoline is dishonest and false, feigning sincerity. When Hippocras seems to deny these accusations because they conflict with his own observations of Karoline, Amalia insists that her sister is such a clever trickster that people think her good and honest. Amalia's attitude is not shared even by her worthless brother. When her designs fail and she receives no legacy from her aunt, she complains loudly. This enables our author to rub the moral lesson into her audience. Frau von Tiefenborn, to whom Amalia's greed and duplicity are now clear, tells her that she does not deserve any consideration because of her false and evil heart, her ingratitude and hypocrisy. The aunt can well be vehement for she has proof of a really diabolical plot contrived by her niece. Frau von Tiefenborn's fiancé has been introduced to the family as Dr Schlagbalsam, one of several physicians who come to treat and cure the "illnesses" which she feigns in order to test her nieces and nephew. Amalia has suggested to Schlagbalsam that they do away with her aunt; that since Frau von Tiefenborn has so many different kinds of pills and cures it might be easy to substitute one of fatal potency. As the play progresses Amalia's wickedness becomes more and more pronounced and she stands at last as a guilty and fully exposed hypocrite.The conclusion is in truly rationalistic vein. Instead of condemning Amalia, Frau von Tiefenborn offers her an opportunity to redeem herself: Amalia may stay with her aunt as heretofore; further, if she mends her ways, she may even receive money from her. Whereas Amalia had formerly awaited Frau von Tiefenborn's death with eagerness, she must now just as earnestly desire a long life for her. Frau von Tiefenborn's appeal to Amalia's reason rather than her good heart, her firm belief in the possibility of her niece's regeneration, are further examples of our author's rationalistic attitude” (Schreiber, 1948 pp 53-58).

"Frau Gottsched's comedies are didactic enough to satisfy the neo-classical theorists and sentimental enough to appeal to the middle class to which they were directed. Each of these comedies depicts the unpleasant consequences of actions which did not conform to contemporary middle-class morality. Her comic protagonists personify deviations from the accepted norms of behavior, and the laughter they evoke is derisive and scornful, similar to that precipitated by Ben Jonson's bitter comedies. Rather than condone or emulate such reprehensible behavior which would make him the object of ridicule, the thoughtful spectator would adhere to the ethos of middle-class Wohlanständigkeit (decorum). The watchwords of these dramas, then, are reason and virtue, involving self-control, integrity, tolerance, thrift and patriotism. The incidents of the plots, with one exception, are episodically arranged as exempla of particular moral precepts, such as the undesirability of inter-class marriage, the folly of Gallomania, or the pitfalls of excessive pride in intellectual attainment. The Testament, easily the best of Gottsched's comedies, follows a cause-to-effect arrangement of dramatic incidents which results in a comic reversal...Gottsched's best work. This comedy of intrigue depicts the schemes of two unscrupulous young people who wish to inherit their aunt's fortune. Their machinations are recognized by the aunt early in the play, and the remainder of the drama is devoted to her turning the tables on the plotters. Unlike Gottscheld's other comedies, The Testament consists of causally arranged incidents leading to a comic reversal, thus creating the theoretically best kind of comic plot. Suspense is engendered and the expectations of the audience are fulfilled as the schemers are thwarted in their designs. Normalcy is reestablished when the aunt exposes her newly-written will, through which the plotters are disinherited and a faithful niece receives the aunt's legacy. The story illustrates the triumph of virtue over vice, of honesty and decency over treachery. For the first time, however, Gottsched does not fall into excessive moralizing. the main characters are not plaster-cast models of reason and folly; more than Gottsched's other dramatic agents, they are imbued with a warmth and individuality, albeit limited, which make them dramatically interesting. Both the pomposity of The Mixed Marriage and the coarseness oí The Governess are lacking in The Testament which amuses without offending" (Bryan and Richel, 1977 pp 193-197).

"The testament"

Aunt Veronika warns her niece against marrying a Freemason. Sign of Freemasonry

Time: 1740s. Place: Germany.

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Caroline remonstrates with her elder sister, Amalie, for showing obvious signs of being impatient to obtain their widowed aunt’s money after her death, a woman who has harbored them in her house as orphans since childhood. Amalie is itching to know how much money she will inherit to augment the number of her suitors so that she can marry. She wants Aunt Veronika’s attending physician, Dr Hippokras, to declare that her health is worse than it is, but Carolina promises to contradict such notions if proven false. “I think her ladyship will never get well if she does not write her will today,” the elder sister states. The hypochondriac Aunt Veronika considers to have slept badly when Carolina, spending the night at her bed-side, assures her she slept soundly. Though pretending to be in cahoots with Amalie, Dr Hippokras reveals to his patient that her niece wishes him to diagnose her as sicker than she is so that the will may be written. The two sisters’ dissolute brother, Torpetus, is angry after learning that one of the servants allowed one of his aunt’s letter to reach Kreuzweg, a possible suitor for one of the sister’s hand in marriage, because Torpetus wants to control all her letters. He is even angrier after learning that, without his permission, the servants let in Magistrate Ziegendorf, his aunt’s brother-in-law, who reports that his letters to her have been intercepted by her nephew. In league with her brother-in-law in an emerging plot, Aunt Veronika requests Dr Hippokras to report her as being sicker than she is and informs him that she will be attended by an additional doctor. Amalie and Torpetus rejoice that their aunt is sicker. Amalie invites Captain Wagehals over as a possible suitor, but her aunt turns the dissolute soldier away. A frustrated Amalie abruptly leaves the room, pretending to have a nosebleed. Dr Hippokras welcomes the new doctor, Dr Schlagbalsam, and leaves to announce him to his sister-in-law as Amalie and Torpetus enter. When Dr Schlagbalsam declares that he will do his best to make her aunt well again, Amalie is taken aback. “Judging from her condition, there would probably be nothing better for her than if she went to her eternal rest,” she responds. He pretends to cooperate with their scheme, promising not to give her any injurious medication but at least some that do nothing. Despite her brother’s disapproval, Amalie invites Captain Wagehals in, who bluntly informs her that he needs money immediately to outfit him for a military campaign about to start. In turn, she informs him that she expects her aunt to leave the capital with her and set aside some money to her brother and sister. The captain is even blunter by asking Aunt Veronika how much money she intends leaving Amalie in view that she wants to marry him. The aunt responds that she hates Freemasons and would disinherit her if her niece made “so evil a choice.” Kreuzweg reappears as a witness to the declaration of the will. Amalie attempts to sound him out as to whether he would like to marry her, but he does not commit himself, specifying that “it all depends on the will". Aunt Veronika enters with her notary to reveal her testament to all. She bequeaths a considerable sum and one of her estates to Caroline, but her principal heir is her future husband, Dr Schlagbalsam, revealed as Ziegendorf’s brother with whom she has been secretly corresponding. Wagehals exits sulking, Amalie kisses her hand and leaves sadly, Torpetus leaves with a promise that she will do her utmost to obtain for him a post as an ensign in the army. When Kreuzweg turns to Caroline to propose marriage, she laughs outright at him.