An analysis of the play by Herman Sudermann

This analysis of Honor was originally published in The Continental Drama of Today. Barrett H. Clark. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1914. pp. 107-9.

HONOR is of considerable historical importance: the first of Hermann Sudermann's plays, it was among the first to be produced in the new German Free Theater (Freie Bühne) in 1889, and, together with Hauptmann's Before Dawn (1889), ushered in the new dramatic movement of "Youngest Germany."

The naturalist movement in literature, in which Tolstoy, Zola, Ibsen, and Strindberg were leaders, bore fruit in France with the Théâtre Libre, founded by André Antoine in 1887, and in the German theater above mentioned. The new movement aimed at two things: the delineation of character in as truthful a manner as possible, and the presentation of problems and theses directly affecting the society of the day. These ideas were by no means new, but the combination of greater adherence to external details -- usually "unpleasant" and often brutally shocking -- and "purposefulness" was decidedly novel.

As nearly every literary work is the result of its influences, it is pertinent to inquire into Sudermann's first dramatic experiment. Emile Augier, together with Alexandre Dumas fils, were the originators of the modern "social" play: The Son of Giboyer, Madame Caverlet, and The House of Fourchambault are pictures of middle-class life as well as social documents, each carrying with it a definite thesis or "moral." The Demi-Monde, Claude's Wife, and Madame Aubray's Ideas, of Dumas fils, were written primarily to prove a thesis, preach a social sermon.

Sudermann's Honor, therefore, is not original in treatment or idea, but the fact that his play was written and produced in Germany in the late eighties was of national importance. The German drama at that time was at nearly its lowest ebb, and the infusion of new blood was greeted with more friendly criticism than the inherent value of the play merited.

Honor was the subject of his story. Ibsen once said, "If, in placing upon the stage certain persons whom I have known or seen, certain facts of which I have been a witness or which have been related to me, and, in throwing an atmosphere of poetry over it all, I happen to awaken a soul within them, various ideas will take root in the minds of the different characters: that is the point of departure. I cannot help it if in my own brain, as I write, various ideas come to me. That is merely accessory; the first principle of a play is action, life." (From a conversation quoted by Prozor, the French translator of Ibsen.)

Is Sudermann more interested in the thesis than in the play as a dramatic entertainment? Did he write Honor as a stage piece, or did he write it in order to promulgate his ideas on honor? The text will reveal his intentions.

Is Honor a thesis play in the same sense that Magda is? Which is the better art, and why? Compare the two plays.

Trast is the "Raisonneur" of the piece. He exposes the author's ideas. How does he do this? Does he accomplish the author's ends skilfully, or not? In his words and acts, does he gently insinuate the conception of honor which Sudermann wished the audience to get, or does he deal it out in long speeches sections, as it were, of a tract? Compare the "Raisonneurs" in The Great Galeotto, Magda, and There Are Crimes and Crimes, with Trast. To how great an extent may a dramatist legitimately project himself and his ideas through the agency of a "Raisonneur"?

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