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'VERLORENE TÖCHTER': RETICENCE AND AMBIGUITY IN GERMAN DOMESTIC DRAMA IN THE LATE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

Edward McInnes

T he emergence of domestic tragedy around the middle of the eighteenth century in England, France and Germany marks a transforming development in the history of European drama. The commitment of influential playwrights to this new realistic, psychological mode brought with it a powerful impetus to innovate and experiment, a will to engage new concerns and explore new dramatic forms which renewed the drama and opened it to the tensions of contemporary experience. In this paper I would like to suggest that the attempts of the leading exponents of domestic drama in Germany to grasp the possibilities of this new mode carried them further than they were themselves aware: that their quest for radical kinds of psychological realism repeatedly forced them to contradict their explicit dramatic aims and to subvert some of their deepest moral and artistic convictions. Over and over again the impetus of their creative preoccupations drew them to probe, covertly and obliquely, areas of experience they were unwilling or unable to confront and to touch levels of awareness beyond the reach of their rational understanding.

The development of domestic tragedy as a serious, critically acknowledged form reflected, as its advocates repeatedly claimed, the individual's deepest emotional and moral experience.1 Despite the fact that the new genre was called tragédie bourgeoise in France and das bürgerliche Trauerspiel in Germany its supporters in both countries -- most notably Diderot and Marmontel in France and Lessing in Germany -- consistently pointed out that this was not a mode which represented the outlook or aims of a particular social

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