Karl Gutzkow’s life-work was a struggle for freedom and truth. We recognize in the web of his serious argument familiarity with the best thought of the poets, theologians, and philosophers of his own day and of the eighteenth century. In religion a pantheist, he believed in the immortality of the soul, had unshaken confidence in the tendency of the world that “makes for righteousness,” and recommends the ideal of “truth and justice” as the best central thought to guide each man’s whole life. He shares in an eminent degree, with other members of the group known as Young Germany, a significance for the subsequent development of German literature, far transcending the artistic value of his works. People are just beginning to perceive his genetic importance for the student of Ibsen, Nietzsche, and the recent naturalistic movement in European letters.
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KARL FERDINAND GUTZKOW
SWORD AND QUEUE (1843)
TRANSLATED BY GRACE ISABEL COLBRON
The essence of the comic is self-contradiction, contrast. Even professional estheticians must acknowledge that by the very nature of its origin the following comedy answers this definition.
A king lacking the customary attributes of his station; a royal court governed by the rules that regulate any simple middle-class household—surely here is a contradiction sufficient in itself to attract the Comic Muse. And it was indeed only when the author was well along in his work that he felt any inclination to introduce a few political allusions with what is called a “definite purpose,” into a work inspired by the principles of pure comedy.
Ever since the example set by those great Greeks, AEschylus and Aristophanes, the stage has claimed the right to deal with extremes. He who, sinning and laden with the burden of human guilt, has once fallen a victim to the Eumenides, cannot, as a figure in a drama, go off on pleasure trips, nor can he go about the usual business of daily life. Fate seizes him red-handed, causes him to see blood in every glass of champagne and to read his warrant of arrest on every chance scrap of paper. And the Comic Muse is even less indulgent. When Aristophanes would mock the creations of Euripides, which are meant to move the public by their declining fortunes, he at once turns the tragedian into a rag-picker.
Comedy may, tragedy must, exaggerate. The exaggerations in Sword and Queue brought forth many a contemptuous grimace from the higher-priced seats in the Court Theatres. But it needs only a perusal of the Memoirs of the Markgravine of Baireuth, Princess of Prussia, to give the grotesque picture a certificate of historical veracity. Not only the character-drawing, but the very plot, is founded on those Memoirs, written in a less sophisticated age than our own, and the authenticity of which is undisputed.