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Marriage, Gender, and Desire in Early Enlightenment German Comedy

Marriage, Gender, and Desire in Early Enlightenment German Comedy

Edward T. Potter
Volume: 112
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 212
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  • Book Info
    Marriage, Gender, and Desire in Early Enlightenment German Comedy
    Book Description:

    J. C. Gottsched, who reformed early Enlightenment German theater, claimed for comedy the ability to transform morality. The new literary comedies of the 1740s, among the other moral goals that they pursued, propagated a new sentimental discourse promoting marriage based on love while devaluing its traditional socioeconomic foundations. Yet in comedies by well-known dramatists of the period such as Gottsched, Gellert, J. E. Schlegel, Lessing, and Quistorp, alternative gender roles and sexual behaviors call the primacy of marriage into question: there are women who refuse to be integrated into marriage, episodes of cross-dressing that foreground the culturally constructed aspects of gender roles, instances of male same-sex desire, and allusions to female same-sex desire. Edward T. Potter examines this marital discourse in close readings of these authors' plays, uncovering the ambiguity of eighteenth-century comedy's stance on marriage and highlighting its resistance to the emerging discourse of the sentimental marriage. In addition to excavating the connections between the texts and norms regarding gender roles and sexual behavior, Potter also examines how these comedies self-reflexively perform their own reception in plays-within-plays that reflect upon early Enlightenment comedy, poetics, and pedagogical aesthetics and thereby comment on the efficacy of theater as a means of propagating such norms. Edward T. Potter is Associate Professor of German at Mississippi State University.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-824-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction: Comedy, the Sentimental Marriage, and Modes of Resistance
    (pp. 1-14)

    Johann Christoph Gottsched , the prominent reformer of early Enlightenment German theater, claimed for comedy the ability to transform morality. The new literary comedies of the 1740s — the satirical Saxon comedy, the sentimental comedy, and the revitalized pastoral play — were involved in the construction of a new sentimental discourse promoting the concept of marriage based on love, mutual compatibility, and free partner choice, while devaluing traditional socioeconomic considerations as a foundation for marriage. Comedies by well-known contemporary dramatists such as J. C. Gottsched, Christian Fürchtegott Gellert, Johann Elias Schlegel, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, and Theodor Johann Quistorp nonetheless display moments in...

  6. 1: Promoting the Sentimental Marriage in Theory and in Practice
    (pp. 15-35)

    The great reformer of eighteenth-century German theater Johann Christoph Gottsched claimed for comedy the ability to transform morality by means of ridiculing moral failings. As the dominant German literary figure of the first half of the eighteenth century, Gottsched had an immense influence on the dramatists of the period. He set out to make the German theater into a vehicle for the moral improvement of the audience. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, German theater represented a variegated landscape. Court theater was dominated by French and Italian acting troupes performing plays and operas in their own languages. The baroque...

  7. 2: The Virgin Huntress Tamed: J. C. Gottsched’s Atalanta and the Erasure of Female Autonomy
    (pp. 36-63)

    Early enlightenment German comedy viewed the figure of the unmarried woman who insisted upon her independence, a figure that could also be described as a marriage resister, as a serious challenge to the concept of the sentimental marriage. Although the sociohistorical situation of the mid-eighteenth-century “spinster” belies this view, since an unmarried woman of the period possessed little social prestige and had great difficulty eking out a living, the literary texts that form the focus of the next two chapters of this study are involved in the construction of the marriage resister as a challenge to the concept of the...

  8. 3: Marriage Brokering at the Expense of Economics: C. F. Gellert’s Die zärtlichen Schwestern
    (pp. 64-86)

    Christian Fürchtegott Gellert (1715–69) exerted a tremendous influence on his contemporaries throughout eighteenth-century Europe, reaching into many levels of society, and at his death, Leipzig authorities had to declare his grave off-limits to visitors, as the sheer number of his mourners had begun to take a toll on the cemetery and Gellert’s enthusiastic fans had taken to filling reliquaries with earth from his grave site.¹ Gellert’s sentimental comedy Die zärtlichen Schwestern (The tender sisters, 1747) was influential as well. The play was published in five editions throughout the eighteenth century, translated into four European languages, and performed many times...

  9. 4: The Clothes Make the Man: J. E. Schlegel’s Der Triumph der guten Frauen
    (pp. 87-113)

    Der Triumph der guten Frauen (The triumph of the good women, 1748), one of the comedies of Johann Elias Schlegel (1719–49), constructs gender roles and promotes a sentimental conception of marriage based on love, mutual compatibility, and free choice of partners, all via the practice of female cross-dressing. Schlegel’s text highlights the culturally constructed aspects of gender by placing the performance of gender roles at the very center of the play. By staging a successful performance of male gender, the female character Hilaria reintegrates two wayward husbands into the institution of the sentimental marriage. Disguised as Philinte, Hilaria gains...

  10. 5: Cross-Dressing and Gender Performance in G. E. Lessing’s Der Misogyne
    (pp. 114-142)

    Although written in 1748, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s (1729–81) one-act comedy Der Misogyne (The misogynist) first appeared in print in 1755 in the sixth volume of G. E. Leßings Schrifften (G. E. Lessing’s writings). This one-act version was expanded to three acts in 1767 and published (as Der Misogyn ) in the first volume of Lustspiele von Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (Comedies by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, 1767, 2nd ed. 1770). The following analysis bases itself primarily on the one-act version composed in 1748 but also draws upon the revised, three-act version when it illuminates the text’s construction of gender roles, desire,...

  11. 6: Sickness Masks Desire in Th. J. Quistorp’s Der Hypochondrist
    (pp. 143-175)

    The subject of this chapter is the dust-covered work of a nowforgotten dramatist: Der Hypochondrist (The hypochondriac, 1745) by Theodor Johann Quistorp (1722–76). In thematizing hypochondria, this comedy places itself squarely at the crossroads of medical, literary, and popular discourse on this “fashionable” eighteenth-century ailment. Quistorp’s text is significant, however, in that it articulates hypochondria both as a means of resisting the sentimental marriage or, indeed, marriage in general, and as a mask for male same-sex desire, a textual strategy that has not been recognized in critical opinion on this comedy up until now. This chapter first establishes this...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 176-178)

    This study has examined various subgenres of early Enlightenment German comedy and has demonstrated the ways in which these comedic texts are involved in the propagation of the new concept of the sentimental marriage, each to a greater or lesser extent. The satirical Saxon comedy, the sentimental comedy, and the pastoral play were involved in constructing their own symbolic universe, in which marriage functioned differently than it did in the contemporary cultural context, where socioeconomic factors retained at least some degree of importance in matrimonial considerations. The literary texts of the Gottschedian stage constructed concepts of alternative modes of resistance...

  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 179-192)
  14. Index
    (pp. 193-198)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 199-199)