The Reception of German Theater in Greece

Establishing a Theatrical Locus Communis: The Royal Theater in Athens (1901-1906)

by Michalis Georgiou (Author)
©2019 Thesis 314 Pages


The author examines the vigorous reception of the German theater in Greece, a phenomenon that took place along with the process of establishing in Athens, in 1901 the Royal Theater. The multiple aesthetic, social and political forms of this phenomenon provided a "locus of contact" with the German culture and accomplished a function, regarded as the instrument for the development of the bourgeois theater in Greece. This happened through the work of theater practitioners and intellectuals, as well as through the transfer of institutions, theatrical plays, and scripts of direction instructions, decorations, and props. The performances staged were the iceberg in the process of this reception, as they provided a strategy toward the revitalization of the Greek theater, realized in a productive way.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Acknowledgments
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • 1 Our “Today’s Theater”
  • 2 The “Brainchild of Europe” Should Be Modernized
  • 3 Reception and Renewal in European and Greek Theater
  • 4 The German-Speaking Theater during the 19th Century
  • Part I: The Reception of the German Theater during the 19th Century
  • 1. The German and the “Own” Theater
  • 1.1 Meeting the Forgotten “own”
  • 1.2 Meeting the Directors
  • 2. The Performance of Aeschylus’ Persians (1889)
  • 2.1 “With man and steed and chariot, so God crushed them”
  • 2.2 We Need a “hero”!
  • Part II: Defining the National House, the Director, and the Acting Style
  • 1. The Transfer of German Institutions
  • 1.1 The Establishment of the Royal Theater in Athens
  • 1.2 The Role of the Stage Director in the Royal Theater
  • 2. Thomas Oeconomo: Forming an Artistic Identity
  • 2.1 Early Life and Acting Studies
  • 2.2 The Career in German Theaters
  • 3. Agnes Sorma in Athens
  • 3.1 From Preserving the Personality to Entering into the Skin of the People
  • 3.2 The “negation of the theater in the theater”
  • Part III: Towards an Innovation of the Greek Theater
  • 1. Thomas Oeconomo, Director of the Royal Theater
  • 2. Repertoire Constitution, Translation, and Reception
  • 2.1 The Literarization of the Theater
  • 2.2 The Cooperation between Thomas Oeconomo and Konstantinos Chatzopoulos
  • 2.3 The Reception of German Drama Staged at the Royal Theater
  • 3. The Development of a New Acting Style
  • 3.1 “Can our actors with their knowledge of today, with their current habits, satisfy the requirements of a formal theater?”
  • 3.2 “…Truth. But then, what is this Truth?”
  • 4. The Materialization of the Stagecraft
  • 5. The Dispute over Thomas Oeconomo, the Conflict of an Epoch
  • Part IV: The Performances
  • 1. Drayman Henschel by Gerhart Hauptmann (1902)
  • 1.1 A “visual image of life”
  • 1.2 From Aesthetic to Social Provocation
  • 2. Oresteia, Adapted from Aeschylus Tragedy (1903)
  • 2.1 About “Ancient Drama and Modern Stage”
  • 2.2 The Problem of “squaring the circle”
  • 3. The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare (1903)
  • 3.1 The Marriage of Music and Poetry
  • 3.2 For a Well-Behaved Audience
  • 4. Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1904)
  • 4.1 A Mental Journey in “Europe in a theater in Munich or in Berlin”
  • 4.2 “A Viennese blasé”
  • Part V: Afterword
  • Illustrations
  • Sources and Bibliography
  • Index


1 Our “Today’s Theater”

On October 1907, the German-speaking director Thomas Oeconomo, who had resigned about a year ago from the Royal Theater in Athens, published in the Greek art journal Pinakothiki an article with the title Today’s Theater, in which he expressed his overall estimation for the inefficiency of Greek theater. In the first paragraphs of his article, Oeconomo wrote the following things:

The theater, the sacred temple of art of the ancients, the only school of education and development of all the civilized nations, came down to a commercial enterprise of a lesser category, like horse racings and cafes.

From the beginning it was abandoned to its fate, homeless for many years, unprotected and as a result its own pitiful future was prescribed, which is disappointing for everyone that really takes care about the Greek theater. Yet, once theater had virtue and was a powerful tool in the hands of those who knew how to handle it. The art of theater, which supported the medieval church, was a procurator and warrior of the great struggles for spiritual freedom today it fell into a pulpit where the daily issues are discussed. Our governments have, however, disregarded the high mission of the theater for civilizing, did not care about it, not even used it as a “pioneer of Panhellenism”, and instead of this, they simply raised taxes on it, directing it in a course and evolution as a “place of entertainment”.

Theater followed this way faithfully. Without receiving any encouragement [acting schools and amateur committees brought only confusion] Greek theater presented the last twenty years from boulevard theater and idillio to Bisson’s2 comedies. Only the troupes of Mr. D. Alexiadis and that of Tavoulari brothers vainly struggled against the Italian opera and the French operetta.

The noble efforts of the deceased D. Koromilas, Mr. Lekatsas attempts to introduce us Shakespeare and that of Mr. Pantopoulos to present Greek characters on stage, but mainly the strong influence of the deceased D. Vernardakis are the only bright cases.

We welcomed the Royal Theatre as a true Messiah and the Nea Skini as Baptist.

“A New age, a golden age will rise for the theater.” “The rise of a new high art.”

The above were expressed, and written and printed on luxurious paper.

Today, the time, this strict control denied these golden dreams.

No progress have been made through this institutions, which competed with one another in superficial luxury. Neither any literacy attainment, nor any artistic genius ←13 | 14→has been produced, but both of them are indirectly liable for the deplorable forfeiture of the current theater.3

Pinakothiki established since March 1901 by the journalist and author Dimitrios Kalogeropoulos, was one of the first artistic journals that have been released in Athens and its content included articles about music, poetry, theater, archeology, and painting. Oeconomo, in his article, expressed his indignation and resentment about the fact that although the art of theater originated in ancient Greece, in modern Greece, theater did not seek to defend its reputation as an educational, patriotic, and civilizing tool, but it descended into a medium of low entertainment. The independent Greek state had been recognized since 1832 in the Treaty of Constantinople and as soon as the issue about the development of the art of theater emerged in the newly formed public sphere, concerns were answered by the invitation of theatrical troupes from other European countries. In 1840, when the first theater of Athens, named Mpoukoura, was built it was inaugurated by an Italian troupe that staged the Italian opera Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti.4 The opera provided the citizens of Athens a popular form of European bourgeois entertainment. In the following decades, many troupes that staged operas and melodramas visited Greece and although they were confronted with enmity from some journalists and intellectuals, they received support from the governments as well as from the emerging bourgeoisie, whose aim was the Europeanization of the country.5 The performances of melodrama were particularly frequent in the city of Patras, as well as in the island of the Aegean Sea Syros, which was a commercial center linking Western Europe and the Mediterranean Sea to the East.6 Poetic and theatrical play Writing Contests with award committees had been established since 1862 and they intended ←14 | 15→to encourage writing of historical romantic dramas.7 These dramas, as well as political comedies constituted the repertoire of the Greek theatrical troupes by autodidact actors that toured the land. In order to help raising the professional level and reputation on the status of actors, the non-profit organization Music and Drama Association established in 1871 an Acting Academy in the music-theatrical institution Athens Conservatory, but was staffed only by the existing insufficient trained acting teachers. In the end of the 1880s, a new theatrical genre, the komidillio, was developed through the combination of elements of French theatrical genre comedie en vaudevilles and Greek comedies about folklore stories. Komidillio joined the repertoire of the troupes and rapidly received great success as it was attended by the folk audience in the province that until then did not have access in theatrical performances. Until the end of the 19th century, the traveling troupes performed at the open-air theaters, built in the mid-1870s in the center of Athens, but since they also toured, not much did change since the Independence. Indeed, as Oeconomo states in his article, the two most important companies belonging to the actors Dimosthenis Alexiadis and Dionysios Tavoularis were kept permanently on tour right up to the end of the 1880s, while the companies belonging to Dimitrios Kotopoulis, Aikaterini Veroni, and Evangelia Paraskevopoulou toured until the 1890s. The troupes drew an evening’s income for a few days in succession with performances served as a kind of public entertainment, while their high attendance was particularly reached during weddings and fetes.

The situation described above displeased Oeconomo. In his article, he only expresses his appreciation to four people, who tried to improve the theatrical life in Greece: the first one is Dimitrios Koromilas, the editor of the first Athenian daily newspaper, Efimeris, who had published since 1873 many theatrical plays. Koromilas was familiar with the European culture, as he had studied literature in France and Germany and because of this King George I of Greece appointed him later as responsible for the great ease of realizing the project of the establishment of the Royal Theater in Greece.8 The second is Nikolaos Lekatsas, who came from England, where he had studied the art of acting and staged in Athens some of Shakespeare’s dramas. He provided a new, more realistic style of acting, but he ←15 | 16→did not succeed in creating a permanent theatrical company or in transforming the existing theatrical system.9 The third one is the actor Evangelos Pantopoulos, who in the beginning of his career cooperated with Alexiadis and Dionysios Tavoularis, he then staged Henrik Ibsen and also afforded great importance to the realistic representation of characters on stage. And finally, Oeconomo paid tribute to the German-speaking intellectual Dimitrios Vernardakis, who had studied philosophy in Berlin and Munich and was since 1865 professor of history at the University of Athens. Influenced by German idealism and romanticism, Vernardakis authored romantic dramas and used Goethe’s Rules of Actors, which contain strictly defined theatrical instructions for posture and diction, as a textbook for the direction of his plays.10

At this time of theatrical stagnation, because of the lack of repertoire for spiritual reflection and at the same time the lack of a stable theatrical organization in the city of Athens, innovation and renewal according to European theater was pursued by two different but parallel projects, which aimed for the amelioration of theatrical art according to European standards. The first one was pursued by the intellectual Konstantinos Christomanos. Christomanos left Athens in 1888, in order to study philosophy in Vienna, where he later worked as a lecturer of Greek language at the University. While in Vienna, he worked as a journalist, and in 1891, he was invited by the Imperial Court to teach Greek and accompany the Empress Elisabeth of Austria to Greece. He reached Athens in 1901 where, in a short period of time, he established the troupe of the Nea Skini. On the 27th of February, 1901, he invited a group of playwrights and intellectuals to the ancient Theater of Dionysos, where he presented his founding “manifesto” of the Nea Skini and urged them to contribute to the “renaissance” of Greek dramatic art. Although Christomanos had no practical theatrical experience, the fact that he established a permanent theatrical organization and the repertoire he presented constituted by Shakespeare, Leo Tolstoy, Ibsen, Anton Chekhov, Gabriele D’Annunzio, and Maurice Maeterlinck made the Nea Skini to be considered as a pioneering stage.11 The second project that was also fulfilled was the ←16 | 17→establishment of the Royal Theater in Athens that opened its gates in 1901. It was established as the Greek palace had made the decision to improve theatrical art according to the German theatrical model. This innovation was aimed at providing a counter model to the Greek theater which was felt to have been developing in the wrong direction because of the “system” of strolling players and the outmoded melodrama theater. In place of traveling troupes and performances that served as a kind of public entertainment, the palace and members of the intelligentsia sought to promote the idea that national theater was an important facet of the nation’s life. It was hoped that such a theater would provide performances directed by a professional artist, whose control over rehearsals would improve the acting style of the Greek actors. Furthermore, it would serve as a moral institution for a middle class audience that would educate people and ultimately validate the qualifications of the nation, putting it on par with its European fellows. To this extent, the model of the organization of the German court theaters was transferred to Greece, as well as the role of the stage director, and for this position Oeconomo, born in Vienna, was employed by the palace, because he had studied the art of acting in Germany and had worked in various German theaters.12 Nevertheless, these “golden dreams” did not last a lot. Nea Skini faced economic difficulties and because of this Christomanos ceased to operate his actions in 1906. The same year Oeconomo, as I already said, resigned from the Royal Theater, because of artistic disputes with the palace. These negative developments forced him to consider that no real theatrical progress has been realized and therefore he expressed his indignation.

The aim of my study is to examine the intense reception of German theater, which took place along with the process of realization of the innovative project of the Royal Theater, as well as during its function as a “locus of contact” with German culture. I argue that despite the fact that the theater faced difficulties ←17 | 18→and was closed and despite Oeconomo’s disappointment, expressed in his article the content of which I will analyze in more detail in a following chapter, the efforts should not be regarded as unproductive or that they did not result in real progress. But in order to prove my thesis, firstly I need to go back in time and investigate the function and the meaning of the reception of the German theater in Greece in the second half of the 19th century, because the intellectuals that contributed to this phenomenon and to the creation of the first professional ancient Greek performances in Greece worked as forerunners, created the necessary networks, and even worked actively for the establishment of a permanent “national theatrical house” in the beginning of the 20th century. At this point, let me note that my definition about the Greek intelligentsia of that period is based on Gramsci’s one about the professionals that have in society the function of the intellectual.13 They are educated people that have accumulated cultural capital and most of the time they are members of the middle classes or of the upcoming bourgeoisie. Their professions include journalists, authors, academics, and artists and because of their function, the potential they have to put forward their ideas, they shape the culture of the society, and they can also be engaged in politics. Therefore, let me raise next more analytically some necessary historical data and methodological presuppositions.

2 The “Brainchild of Europe” Should Be Modernized

Modernity is the cornerstone on which the building of the modern Greece, “the historical brainchild of nineteenth-century Philhellenist Europe”14 was based, which led to development of the state, the economy, the language, the culture, as well as the theater.15 Modernity refers to the first developed in Europe economic ←18 | 19→and social project formulated in the 18th century, during the Enlightenment, aftermath of the rise of capitalism and the nation state that led to an advancing technological and scientific innovation, as well as industrialization that brought changes in social, philosophical, and art conditions, as logic started gradually challenging irrationality.16 Of course, this project had internal contrasts and was constituted by various components like that of creating collective identities and nationalism, growing demands of democratization, social movements like political action, syndicalist, socialism, etc., while no homogenized model of modernity exists, and because of this, I consider that Greece is an example within those of “multiple modernities”, according to Eisenstadt’s term,17 with its own characteristics. Besides, for the establishment of the Greek state, the critical help of the Great Powers (Britain, France, Russia) was needed, as they undertook the role of its “protector” seeking to develop their control over the Mediterranean region. The second son of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, Otto, although he was still a minor, ascended to the newly created throne in 1832. As the economic historian Kostas Kostis argues, the aim was the formation of a European state, which was to be organized and prosper according to the Bavarian standards, as Bavarian Regents imposed German ideas of government and laid the foundations of a Greek administration and army, as well as judicial and educational systems.18 Thus, modernity aimed at maintaining progress and was connected with the adoption of “western” patterns, which were considered the opposed country’s Ottoman past. However, Greece was differentiated to the most developed European capitalist states, in the way that its economy was in a pre-capitalist stage, mainly agricultural, with feudal elements, based on the primary sector, with an absence ←19 | 20→of industrialization and thus its citizens never had the urban habits, behavior and culture of its European “protectors”.19

The other component of modernity was that of nationalism which dominated the politics and was reflected in the fact that although the Independence has been restored, many Greeks still lived in the multiethnic Ottoman society under the Sultan’s rule. Thus, the vision that prevailed was that of the liberation of the Greek-speaking areas in order for a great land to be established, a restored Byzantine Empire, something that was called the Great Idea. Besides, in the meantime, the Eastern Question rose as a major European issue, as the European states sought to reduce the political control of the Ottoman Empire over the Balkans, but at the same time Russia tried to take control over the latest, and this competiveness gave rise to diplomatic and political contrasts. European Enlightenment’s dynamic was so high that the Ottoman Empire had been influenced as well, despite the resistance of the conservative Muslimism, as the Tanzimat reforms, which began in 1839 under Sultan Mahmud II, attempted to modernize the Empire through new institutions and to ensure its territorial integrity against the emergent internal nationalist movements and Russia’s external political views.20 Moreover, the Hatt- i hümayuns (The Rescript of Reform) reforms of 1856 promised religion and civic duties, equality in education, justice, and public security to non-Muslim populations in the multinational Empire. This came as a result of the increase in penetration of United Kingdom’s and France’s business firms, which was manifested by the assistance of the Ottoman Empire against the Russians during the Crimean War (1853–1856) that ended with the peace negotiations and the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1856.21 Nevertheless, when King Otto attempted to expand Greece by entering the Crimean War against the Ottoman Empire, he was blockaded by the British Royal Navy. This was considered to be his own near miss, which combined with the fact that he ruled as an absolute monarch decreased his popularity, and after the outburst of a military rebellion, he was forced to leave the country in 1862.

←20 | 21→

After this, a young Danish Prince, George I, supported again by the Great Powers became King and adopted a more democratic constitution, enabling the parliamentary process to develop greatly. Mainly during the last two decades of the 19th century as well as in the beginning of the 20th century, radical economic and cultural changes took place that changed the traditional patterns of perception and styles of thinking, while also affecting the language. The liberal reformist Prime Minister Charilaos Trikoupis promoted the industrialization of the country, the construction of roads, railways, and ports, all of which created new conditions of life, as internal communication improved. The most important economic centers of the region up to then, Patra and Syros, were downgraded, while Athens emerged as the economic capital. The country gradually varied from the past as the primary sector of the economy decreased and the secondary sector gradually developed, as well as merchant shipping.22 The small industries started being transforming into bigger ones, a phenomenon that resulted in the formation of a working class.23 Moreover, Trikoupis’ politics expanded education and encouraged the rise of newspapers as a mass medium which responded to the demands of the middle class public. By 1893, there were 131 newspapers employing many intellectuals and thus critical practice and linguistic debates developed.24 The feeling of national unity had been enforced as a result of the modernization of the Greek state constitutions and parliamentary politics. Intellectuals articulated the idea that Greek society carried an image of itself as a nation, with the unifying factors being genetic descent and a common history, ideas that were a general sociopolitical European phenomenon expressing national aspirations.25 Part of this phenomenon was the publication of the research of the professor of the history at Athens University, Konstantinos Paparrigopoulos, About the Emigration of Slav tribes in Peloponnese, contradicting the theory of the Tyrolean ethnographer Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer that modern ←21 | 22→Greeks’ background was traced to the Slavs, having no racial relation with the ancient ones.26 Besides, Paparrigopoulos’ main work was the History of the Greek Nation where he sought to prove the unity and history of the Greek nation in terms of continuity and cohesion. In fact, the concept of the Great Idea expressed the vision of the growing bourgeoisie and intellectuals for extending the country’s borders. In order to enhance the arguments that provided the culture and the traditions of the nation and favored this goal, Nikolaos Politis, who had studied in Germany, as a student of Byzantinist Karl Krumbacher, initiated the science of folklore. His Study of the Culture of the Modern Greeks was based on collections of folk songs, tales, proverbs, and proverbial phrases and resulted in the recognition of the traditional popular culture as being associated with the ancient past and that of the colloquial language as natural development of the ancient Greek one.

These proceedings were reflected in the fundamental changes brought about in letters by the so-called “1880s’ generation”. Representatives of the “1880s’ generation” were the authors Kostis Palamas, Georgios Drosinis, and Georgios Vizyinos, who promoted the use of the colloquial demotic language seeking its prevalence in literature. In the same period, naturalism was associated with the translation of Emile Zola’s novel Nana by Ioannis Kampouroglou, published in 1880, which strongly influenced the Greek literary writing. The intellectual Agisilaos Giannopoulos wrote the prologue to this translation proposing the study of Zola and generally the connection with the European linguistic and philosophical debates, considering them as productive for the development of Greek literature. According to Giannopoulos, the main characteristics of the European intellectual movement were the scientific advances and their aftermath, namely the decline of religious belief and humans turning to materialism and nature.27 Generally, there was a growing interest in naturalism, which sought to replicate reality and was promoted by the journalist and playwright Grigorios Xenopoulos. This new generation of intellectuals was opposed to the use of the archaic katharevousa language, which had been conceived by the humanist scholar Adamantios Korais, during the establishment of the modern Greek state, as a compromise between the ancient Greek and the demotic language ←22 | 23→and the one that prevailed in the institutions, as it revived the request that education should be based on the ancient Greek grammatology.28 A milestone in the prevalence of katharevousa had been Panagiotis Soutsos’ study, the New School of Written Language, published in 1853, which proposed the “re-entering” of typical elements of the ancient one, arguing that the ancient and the modern Greek language are one and the same.29 In the 1880s, the supporters of the katharevousa used the same argument, which from now on took the form of an “extreme cleaning” of the language, as they considered that the latest has been evolved from the ancient Greek one and should have no foreign influences. On the opposite side, the French philologist of Greek origin, Ioannis Psycharis, who became the leading figure of the demoticist movement, formulated rules of a common language based on the demotiki and used it in his novel, My Journey, published in 1888.30 My Journey could in some way be characterized as a nationalist demoticist manifesto based on the theory of evolution, as it provided the domination of the existent spoken language, while its resonance triggered the splitting of the intellectuals into the two opposing language camps,31 whose confrontations often, as we will see next, became excessively acidic.32 The advocates of the demoticist movement expressed the argument of a vision of a “new Greece” that turns its interest to the present, instead of being, according to them, non-productive attached to the antiquity. They considered the predominance of the demotic language as the fundamental precondition for broader social changes, related to the improvement of education that could also result in the development of the national economy as well.33 Thus, the demotiki was reconciled with the general popularized national orientation which aimed to bind ←23 | 24→the nation together34 into what Benedict Anderson defines as a single, unified, and homogenous imagined community.35

This situation underwent a number of vital changes in the last decade of the 19th century. On the way of the modernization of the state, Greece had woefully over-borrowed and went bankrupt in 1893. After this, a gradual anemic economic recovery occurred in the frame of the organization of the revival of the Olympic Games in 1896, which proved a great success. Nevertheless the next year, the first war effort in which political and military leadership forced Greece took place since the Greek War of Independence in 1821. The Greco-Turkish War started by the beginning of 1897, when Greek troopships landed on the Crete Island, which was under Turkish domination and union with Greece was proclaimed. The Ottoman army was far superior, as it had recently been reorganized under German supervision and as a result, the Greek troops were defeated. After this, the Turkish forces started to advance into Greek territory from Thessaly and the war ended, for the good fortune of Greece, only after the Great Powers intervened. The defeat led to a precipice of the Greek state as the economy was tattered and the army totally disorganized. In addition to this, Greece was forced to pay heavy reparations, came under international supervision and thus in the public sphere this situation was received as a great defeat, even a humiliation that resulted in the breaking down of the Great Idea.36

Nevertheless, this negative economic and political environment reiterated again the request for the development and the Europeanization of institutions and cultural values. The growth of a bourgeois society through the further urbanization was accompanied by the intellectuals’ intense interest in the European literary, philosophical, and theatrical field and particularly those of the European North, something that resulted in the formulation of new art concepts. The intense reception of the literature of Northern Europe has been characterized as “voreiomania” (worship of the north) and “ibsenogermanism”, terms that appeared for the first time in the theatrical field after the performance ←24 | 25→of Ibsen’s Ghosts in Athens in October of 1894 by a theatrical company directed by the actor Eftychios Vonanseras.37 Xenopoulos prefaced the performance by suggesting the need for the resurrection of Greek drama according to Ibsen theatrical plays.38 The publishing of the journal Techni by the German-speaking intellectual Konstantinos Chatzopoulos in 1898 and its later successors, Dionysos by the theatrical writer Giannis Kampysis and To periodiko mas by the journalist Gerasimos Vokos, promoted the art and style of the Northern European literature in Greece and mostly that of Germany. Kampysis contributed to this through his articles named German Letters published in the journal Techni, introducing to the Greek public, authors like Gerhart Hauptmann and Stefan George.39 The German intellectuals Karl Krumbacher, Karl Dieterich, and the Austrian Karl Federn collaborated with the journal Techni as well. Moreover, both of these journals promoted the reception of Friedrich Nietzsche, whose philosophical understanding of the ancient world, as we will see, became intrinsically connected with a collective consciousness of “Greekness”.40 Germany became in some way, “fashionable” in the literary field, while at the same time German influence in the political and economic fields expanded.41 In particular, Germany’s Ostpolitik during this period was based on the idea of creating an anti-Slavic, Balkan alliance between Greece, Turkey, and Romania, which would restrict Russian influence and would propel Germany’s hegemonic plans in the Balkans, as well as in the Near East, while Austria also pursued something similar. This was in favor of Greece’s foreign policy, as it was unleashed by the isolation caused by the Greco-Turkish war, and promoted by German policy, it joined the Triple Alliance.42

←25 | 26→

It was this field of dialectic between economic and political constraints and aesthetic norms, which pursued the improvement of the theatrical art in Greece according to the German model through the establishment of the Royal Theater in Athens. In my research, I am interested in one-way cultural transfers that took place between Germany and Greece. These are what I define as “one-way loans”43 and will be described more as an import, rather than a cultural invasion, because, as I will show during this period, “Germanophilia”, raised by Greek intellectuals, was cultivated. The realization of the spiritual activities are determined by the intermediation of persons and because of this, social actions will be taken into account while examining the cultural transfers.44 Besides, as Thomas Keller has mentioned, cultural transfer can be defined as a transfer of people, knowledge, and goods not between compact, closed cultural spaces or national cultures, but between groups, individuals, institutions, and media (such as magazines). These interactions build upon social networks, into which individuals and their biographical context, as well as texts and discourses, set the foreground.45

3 Reception and Renewal in European and Greek Theater

A history of the Greek culture no longer appears acceptable without lighting the multifarious European interrelations in economics, politics, science, philosophy, and art. Besides, in recent research, what was considered to be a true born of the “own” culture often is being reviewed as it has been imported through contact networks, whereas nations are no longer approached as “autonomous” or “impermeable” entities, but as “areas” dynamically interacting with each other.46 This concerns the art of theater, which in some aspects constitutes an international phenomenon, and in most countries, it did not originate in isolation, ←26 | 27→but in cultural relationships of exchange with the theaters of other cultures.47 For example, in the 16th century the commedia dell’ arte emerged in Venice by translinguistic exchanges between Venice, Bologna, and Spain and it crossed the local boundaries from the very beginning by troupes traveling to Spain, France, England, Germany, and the Netherlands.48 Generally, as a result, of a general increase in transnational travel and trade development even in the early modern period, theater represented various kinds of exchange by means of the transmission of theatrical troupes and ideas between actors and authors as well as that of printed dramas across national borders.49 It also showed up exchanges in German-speaking countries through touring not only of Italian, but also of English and Dutch troupes. The reception of foreign theatrical traditions or elements had always been an alteration and renewal factor in the history of theater. In England, Shakespeare wrote some of his dramas, like the A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by using literary conventions, structures, and stories of Italian dramas,50 printed in England either in the original or translated.51 On the other side of the English Channel, Moliere, who had a particular interest in Italian comedy, utilized elements from the commedia erudita as well as from the commedia dell’ arte in order to develop new kinds of types for the French farce.52 English troupes traveling in the Czech lands received motifs and character modules which they included in their own movable theatrical spectacles, like the central conceit of Dr. Faustus combined with magician motifs of the figure of the clown from Czech folklore.53 Moreover, later Goethe in Weimar proclaimed a theater that would perform the most important dramas of all cultures and ←27 | 28→nations. In order to renew the repertoire of the German theater, he developed a repertoire consisting of masterpieces from different epochs including Sophocles’ Antigone, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Pierre Corneille’s Cid, Moliere’s The Miser, and others by adapting and directing them in a new way that was closer to the attitudes of the public in Weimar.54 Besides, even after the founding of Germany as a unified national state, there had been an ongoing exchange of actors, directors, designers, and plays between the theaters of the federal states, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Swedish one.55 Moreover, as Willmar Sauter argues, in Sweden, throughout the 19th century, plays, technologies, styles, and productions were transferred from abroad and mainly from Paris, to such an extent that the performances staged in this country could be characterized as “foreign”.56 In the 20th century, this phenomenon became even more intense, as theaters from widely different cultures received elements of foreign theatrical traditions. The directors Vsevolod Meyerhold, Edward Gordon Craig, and Jacques Copeau turned to the sources of the traditional musical Japanese Noh theater. Max Reinhardt experimented with hanamichi of the Japanese kabuki theater and Bertolt Brecht turned to Chinese theater, in order to develop his epic theater and the “distancing effect”. Besides, the most important aim of the avant-garde theater was to move away from naturalism. Later, Jerzy Grotowski, Peter Brook, and others who attempted to restore a ritualistic theater turned to Oriental theater as well. On the other side, in China since the 1970s, after the Cultural Revolution many attempts were made to combine Chinese and Western theatrical traditions. I do not extend my analysis further, because the characteristics of this phenomenon go beyond the limits of this research.57 Instead of this, ←28 | 29→I will return to the European location, where the persistent transnational phenomenon of exchange and reciprocity was found in the Balkans as well.

In particular, in the 16th century, the theatrical genre of the Italian Renaissance tragedy and that of the commedia erudita were received in the theater in Dubrovnik, then part of the Ottoman Empire, while during the 17th century Italian melodrama and operas had been staged in Zagreb.58 Like most of the Balkan cultures, the shape of the Greek culture has been based on the specificity of its geographic location between East and West, two “contact zones” of cultural influence. Moreover, modern Greek theater has contributed to shape Greek cultural identity,59 whereas Greek culture was produced not only in the area that was later defined as the territory of the Greek state60 but was also active in large cities of other European countries such as Venice, Istanbul, Smyrna, as well as in the countries bordering the Danube, where the existence of Greek people was intense. As a result, Greek theater cannot be analyzed without taking into account the greater international phenomenon that contributed to its development, as well as the fact that its history instead of moving in a straight line, it is characterized by many rifts, ruptures, and external loans.61 The most important eastbound theatrical tradition that was received by the Greek culture was that of the shadow play called Karagöz and Hacivat, which was widespread throughout the Ottoman Empire. Karagöz and Hacivat was received as Karagiozis and Hadjiavatis by interpreting stereotypical Greek personalities. This tradition thrived throughout Greece during the 19th century as popular entertainment.62 ←29 | 30→The connection between the Greek culture and the European one in theater has its roots in the 16th century in Crete, where performances of the commedia dell’ arte were performed in festivals.63 Moreover, during the period of Carnival, Italian comedies were staged in Crete.64 This connection with Italy favored cultural exchanges.65 Many Italians used to buy Greek manuscripts from Crete and also studied the Greek language, while some Cretans studied at the University of Padua. The Cretan theater was developed through this cultural contact, as theatrical plays such as Erophile and Katsourbos by Georgios Chortatzis, King Rodolinos by Ioannis Andreas Troilos, and Fortounatos by Markos Antonios Foskolos were written, which adapted the Italian tradition in a more or less creative way.66 These writers were Shakespeare’s, Miguel de Cervantes’, and Lope de Vega’s contemporaries and some of the main representatives of the school of literature in the vernacular Cretan dialect that flourished in the period under Venetian rule. Moreover, their theatrical plays were staged by amateur actors in wedding ceremonies or in carnival festivals according to the Italian tradition.67 Theater in this form, based on a structured text, declined from the moment the Ottomans conquered Crete in 1669, after the siege of Candia. After this, many Greek Cretans fled with their properties, including theatrical manuscripts to other regions of the Republic of Venice. In the 17th century, the theater of Crete was transferred to Zakynthos Island, which was under Venetian Rule. There, ←30 | 31→the mixture of the theater of Crete with the Italian commedia dell’ arte resulted in the development of the homilies, a theatrical genre written in 15 syllables that was mainly staged in open areas and generally performed on Carnival day. After the first decade of the 18th century, in Greek-speaking communities of the Ottoman world up to Danube, Greek Phanariot commanders were appointed by the Sublime Porte, the government of the Empire. Many of them built houses in Phanar in Istanbul where the Ecumenical Patriarchate is located and was not only the spiritual, but the secular leader of the Orthodox subjects as well. The Phanariotes preserved and promoted the cultivation of the Greek letters, education, printing, and theater art where they held various administrative posts in the Danubian principalities of Bucharest, Vlachia, Moldavia, and Odessa. Performances were given there, particularly during the first two decades of the 19th century and were inspired by the European dominant spirit of the “Age of Enlightenment”68 and were presented similarly to French and German performances, while sometimes Greek troupes used similar decorations as European troupes.69

In 1865, the famous Italian actress Adelaide Ristori staged in Athens Ernest Legouve’s Medea, Paolo Giacometti’s Giuditta, Jean Racine’s Phedre, and Vittorio Alfieri’s Mirra. These performances gave the opportunity to Greek actors to adhere to the virtuoso style of acting by attending Ristori’s performances, who was one of the most influential virtuoso actresses in the 19th century.70 The first ancient tragedy after the liberation from the Ottomans was staged in Athens in 1867, as part of the royal wedding festivities in King George I’s and Olga Constantinovna’s of Russia wedding, and it was Sophocles’ Antigone following Ludwig Tieck’s adaptation staged in Potsdam in 1841 with Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s music.71 In April of 1894, the theatrical genre revue that combined comical sketches, lyrics, and dance and had been very popular in Europe was ←31 | 32→staged for the first time in Athens by the Italian theatrical company Gonsalez. The company was invited with the aim to refresh the Greek theatrical repertoire and staged the Spanish revue La Gran Via by Federico Chueca and Joaquin Valverde, a play that had already received great success in Spain and abroad. Actually the performance was a mixture of comic fantasy, social comments, as well as political satire and was accompanied by music, dance, and songs. The performance of revue was so successful that afterwards many Greek theatrical companies started interpreting parts of it during their performances. That same year, the Greek theatrical company Proodos directed by the actor Dimitrios Kotopoulis staged the first Greek revue with the title Some of All written by Michail Lampros based on La Gran Via’s model. During that year, the theatrical company Menander directed by Dionysios and Spyridon Tavoularis staged the revue Hypaethral Athens by Ilias Kapetanakis and Nikolaos Laskaris.72


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (April)
Modernity Germanism networks direction history national theater cultural transfers
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 314 pp., 8 fig. b/w

Biographical notes

Michalis Georgiou (Author)

Michalis Georgiou studied Theatrology at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. He received his PhD from the Institute of Theater Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin with scholarships awarded by the State Scholarships Foundation in Greece and the InterArt Studies, Freie Universität Berlin.


Title: The Reception of German Theater in Greece
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314 pages