This analysis of The Weavers was originally published in The Continental Drama of Today. Barrett H. Clark. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1914. pp. 89-93.
As one of Gerhart Hauptmann's experiments in dramatic form, The Weavers is highly significant. Instead of a hero, he has created a mob; this mob is therefore the protagonist -- or chief character -- and if individuals emerge from the rank and file they are not thrust into the foreground to stay long. It is the weavers as a class that are ever before us, and the unity of the play is in them and in them alone; they are only parts of a larger picture which will take shape as the story advances, and are not intended to be taken as important individuals.
Hauptmann may be said to have created a new form of drama in The Weavers, and that form is what may be designated as the tableau series form, with no hero but a community. As the play is not a close-knit entity, the first act is casual, and might open at almost any point; and since it starts with a picture, or part of a picture, there is hardly anything to be known of the past. The result is that no exposition is needed. The audience sees a state of affairs, it does not lend its attention and interest to a story or the beginning of a plot or intrigue. This first act merely establishes the relation between the weavers and the manufacturers.
There is no direct hint given in the first act as to what is to come in the second; the first is a play in itself, a situation which does not necessarily have to be developed. It does, however, prepare for the revolt, by showing the discontent among the downtrodden people, and it also enlists the sympathy of the audience.
Act two is another picture, this time that of the homes of the weavers; the effect produced is one of blackest misery and unrelieved poverty. Two points should be noticed: first, the dramatist develops some characters, like Mother Baumert and Ansorge, but only to a certain extent, for fear of their overshadowing the chief business of the play, which is the presentation in concrete form of the oppression and struggles of the weavers; and second, the plot -- such as it is -- is started by Jaeger. But this plot is not permitted to absorb the interest of the audience, it is rather brought in almost as an incident, and does not attain to great proportions until a large number of the weavers participate, later on. And when that happens, the plot and characters have an equal claim upon our attention.
This act does look forward; it throws out tentacles of interest, for when Ansorge says, "We'll stand it no longer! We'll stand it no longer! Come what man," the audience knows that trouble is ahead, and wants to see its result.
The third act carries the plot forward, and gives a further picture of the life of the weavers, this time a little less sordid than in the foregoing acts. The change of scene is made primarily in order to give variety to the whole picture, and also to furnish a likely gathering place for the instigators of the rebellion. The end of the act brings the plot to a higher degree of development, and increases the suspense; Hornig's words, "It'll not surprise me if this ends badly," are clearly prophetic, and prepare for the next act.
Between the third and fourth acts the rebellion has come to a head, and the weavers start on their warpath of depredation. The contrast in setting is again good; this time we are in the luxuriously furnished home of the capitalist. Soon we are aware of the presence of the wild crowd outside, and know that the revolt is making quick headway. The entrance of Jaeger as a prisoner, his subsequent release by the mob, the evacuation of the house by its owners, the entrance of the weavers, the despoiling of the rich furnishings, all supply excellent dramatic action. By the end of the act, the weavers are like wild animals, whom nothing can curb. Here, then, is the culmination of the action: the climax.
What more is expected? Clearly, the result of what has happened. Will the weavers conquer?
The last act must terminate the rebellion, but the mere ending, in the defeat of the strikers, is not sufficient to fill an entire act; there must be something further. Hauptmann has therefore introduced an incident that will supply the need. The "reactionary" weaver is accidentally shot. The purpose of this is doubtless to drive home the irony of fate, in this case the uselessness of the revolt. This bit of action is very skilfully interwoven, and leaves us with a keen appreciation of the wrongs of the weavers, by reason of its vividness -- also because it is the last incident of the play. While it is true that we sympathize with the weavers as a class up to the last act, we lack the personal element. For example, we may read in a newspaper that five thousand people die of the famine, but until we see the mother dying in an effort to feed her child, or the father killing his family outright rather than see them starve -- until we see these things individually -- they will not touch us.
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