Theatre Database
Home | Ancient Theatre | Medieval Theatre | 16th Century | 17th Century | 18th Century | 19th Century | 20th Century


a "dream-poem" in two parts by Gerhart Hauptmann
Originally published in 1893

This analysis of Hannele was originally published in The Continental Drama of Today. Barrett H. Clark. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1914. pp. 93-6.

Hannele is described by the author as a "dream-poem." With that description in mind, as well as the text which is prefixed to the beginning of the printed edition -- "Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not. For of such is the Kingdom of Heaven" -- there should be no difficulty in adopting, as it were, a sympathetic method of attack.

The play deals with the "assumption" of Hannele Mattern; everything is subsidiary therefore to the character of and circumstances concerning the child. This centralizing process, whereby the interest is directed to and fixed upon a single figure, is the exact contrary to that employed in The Weavers, where an entire community is the "hero."

Whereas in The Weavers no character was developed to the detriment of the others and to the picture as a whole, in Hannele there is nothing -- no incident or character -- which does not contribute to the delineation and eventual development of the little girl.

The division into two acts is unusual; the first is concerned with one part of Hannele's illness, the last with her "assumption." The so-called "acts," or parts, have no well-defined unity, but serve the purpose of balancing and dividing the action.

Using your knowledge of the principles of act division ... put Hannele into three acts, then four, then five. What is the most satisfactory of these arrangements?

The patent purpose of the sordid scene with which the play opens is to provide variety; by this means constrast between the squalor of the alms-house and the purity and innocence of the child's vision is more striking. This contrast is most effective when Hannele first appears upon the scene, Gottwald protecting her; while Hanke, Hete, and Seidel quarrel among themselves. And at the end of the play there is a contrast, a bold relief to the sordidness of Hannele's entire existence: the triumph of the poetic, the highest ideal of the purity of childhood, summed up in the Stranger's Song.

William Archer calls attention to the fact that Hannele has no "conflicting wills," and yet is a "moving drama." The English critic undertakes to disprove the theory formulated by the French critic Brunetière, that "the theater in general is nothing but the place for development of the human will, attacking the obstacles opposed to it by destiny, fortune, or circumstances." Archer admits that this struggle of human wills against obstacles is one of the essentials of drama, but that it is not a necessary factor. In support of his statement, he cites As You Like It, Ghosts, and Hannele, in which the struggle, if there is one, is of but minor importance. Of what, then, does the "moving" quality in this play consist? It is the result of the keenly sensitive touch which is felt to be the spirit of the work, one of sweetness created by the character of Hannele, and the triumph of her soul over her sordid environment. It is therefore the poet and the psychologist in Hauptmann, and not primarily the dramatic artist, that have risen above the rules and regulations, so that in this play at least Brunetière's statement is hardly less capable of application in spite of the apparent contradiction.

The above discussion leads naturally to the question whether those qualities in Hauptmann, which have stood him in such stead in default of technical skill, could not have been used to better advantage in a story or a poem or a novel, where they would not have been subjected to the ever-changing interpretations of the actor and the more or less brutal realism of the mechanics of the stage. This is the crux of the matter: [Did] Hauptmann [choose] the right medium? Is Hannele a play at all?

Back to Gerhart Hauptmann