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Grotesque and Sublime

February 8 & 10, 2016

•  No clear definition possible: A reaction against
something rather than a movement for something.
•  Counter-Enlightenment attitudes
•  Artistic Exploration
•  Embodied most strongly:
- in the visual arts, music, and literature,
- with major impact on Historiography, Education
and Natural History.
•  Rise of Popular Theatre
•  Sturm und Drang movement = prized intuition and
emotion over sentiments and reason
Liberty Leading the People (1830)
Eugene Delacroix
 Women of Algiers in their Apartment (1834)
The Third of May (1808)
Francisco Goya
•  strong emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic
experience, (trepidation, horror, terror, and awe)
•  Imagination: Mental process involving several
> Sensory impressions
> Creation of coherent vision
> Feelings and responses
•  Making sense of and giving meaning to the external
world through emotions
•  Understanding and Experience
•  Love > Union with nature and universe> God or the
Universal Being
è Romanticism was a departure from the Age of Reason
•  It replaced REASON with IMAGINATION as the chief
faculty of the human mind
•  Rejected the NEWTONIAN depiction of the universe as
clockwork, substituting a dynamic, unknowable universe
•  It placed the individual outside the social structure
•  Mood and feelings
•  Influence of Shakespeare

è The appeal of Romanticism was emotional rather than

logical, and its power came largely through its disruption of
accepted theatre values
•  Success = Scandal > Consider the battle of Hernani in
February 1830
The French Revolution fragmented European literate
opinion into four major political-cultural camps:
-  Liberals clung to Enlightenment principles of rationality
and hoped for a return to moderation;
-  Conservatives rejected the rationalistic excesses of the
Revolution and looked to national traditions for stability;
-  Radicals, believed the Revolution had not gone far
enough. They continued to work against despotic regimes;
- Reactionaries rejected all aspects of the Revolution and
yearned for a return to a Catholic and absolutist Europe
Romanticism and Historiography
•  Enlightenment thinkers looked at history in the eighteenth
century to deduce universal principles about human behavior
from the past for application to all nations in the present and
•  Romantic historian Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803,)
denied this possibility. In his Ideas on the Philosophy of the
History of Mankind (1784) -- Every historian’s understanding of
the past was necessarily compliant to a Volksgeist, the spirit of a
national people. – The history of each national people was
unique, said Herder.
•  Herder’s legacy animated historians and others to search for the
origins of their nation’s Volksgeist, to explore what they took to
be unique features of their “imagined community”, and to
celebrate their own national heroes.
•  National Consciousness of History – Many of Herder’s ideas
continue to be influential today.
•  The mix of romanticism, historicism, and nationalism
inspired by Herder played out primarily in conservative
ways in many countries in nineteenth-century Europe.
•  In England, theatre artists began working with historians to mount more
accurate productions of national historical plays, principally the
dramas of Shakespeare.
-  Antiquarianism aimed to immerse spectators in the spirit of past and
exotic cultures through an accurate rendering of their details.
-  Shakespearean productions became a means of honoring the genius of
the national poet and a conservative understanding of the national
past. This began with Charles Kimble’s production of King John in 1824.
-  James Robinson Planché (1796-1880), a leader in antiquarianism,
costumed subsequent Shakespearean productions with attention to
historical detail and provided managers with extensive information on the
banners and insignia of medieval heraldry.
-  William Charles Macready (1793-1873), who dominated the English
stage from the 1830s into the early 1840s, popularized the goals of
antiquarianism by aiming consistently for historical accuracy in
costuming, props, and painted scenery for his major productions.
•  In France, romantic revolutionaries staged nationalistic,
open-air festivals to celebrate the victory of the people in
the 1790s. Napoleon, however, revived neoclassicism and
the theatrical institutions of the old regime soon after he
became emperor.
-  After 1815, with the return of the monarchy, reactionaries
blocked the rise of Romanticism in France.
-  By 1830, Victor Hugo had announced the goals of a
Romantic theatre in his preface to his historical play
Cromwell in 1827, and Romantic productions had already
achieved some success at the Comédie française.
-  The French reactionaries took their stand in 1830 at the
Comédie’s production of Hugo’s Hernani.
-  Hugo put together an alliance of conservatives and liberals
to support his Romantic Hernani, which intentionally
violated many of the rules of Neoclassicism.
•  In Germany, several groups and individual wrote
plays to celebrate, what they believed, was their
people’s unique culture and glorious past. The
tradition began with the Hamburg National Theatre
in 1765.
-  Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) – celebrated historian,
playwright, and director, was the most ambitious,
complex, and talented of the early German cultural
-  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) – director
of Weimar Court Theatre
-  National Theatres – Attempts to establish national
theatres and write national history plays
The Battle for Hernani

The play opened at La Comédie Française in Paris on February 25,

•  The auditorium became a spectacular battlefield.
•  Performances sparked near-riots between opposing
camps of French letters and society: Romantics vs.
Classicists, Liberals vs. Conformists, and
Republicans vs. Royalists.
•  Romanticism grew increasingly politicized – It
would liberate the arts from the constraints of
•  The Battle of Hernani helped consolidate a youth
movement against the conservatives of the day.
Only five months later, Charles X’s regime fell in
what is known as the "three glorious days" of the
July Revolution.
•  Edmund Burke's A Philosophical Enquiry into the
Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful
- The sublime and the beautiful = mutually
•  Victor Hugo’s Preface to Cromwell (1827) as a
Manifesto of Romanticism – Opposition to Burke:
-  Sublime—quality of greatness or vast
magnitude, whether physical, moral, intellectual,
metaphysical, aesthetic, spiritual or artistic.
-  Grotesque – Strange Creatures (creepy)
•  Victor Hugo’s Beauty and the Beast (La belle
et la bête)
•  Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame
(Notre Dame de Paris)
•  Lewis Carroll’s Alice in the Wonderland
è The Romantic Hero: Two ways of understanding
à Confident or successful hero – Accepted his/her
social condition and enjoyed his solitude
- Established his own principles of behaviors and
adhered to them regardless of consequences
à Romantic hero could not withstand the
emotional despair in his life
- He wandered the world in search of stability,
acceptance, or permanence
- Social outcast who knew he could never find peace
in this life, but he could not help feeling cheated
nonetheless – Thus search truth and revenge
è Some examples of the Romantic Hero:
•  Edmond Dantès in Alexandre Dumas, Father’s
The Count of Monte Cristo (1844)
•  Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables
•  Hernani in Victor Hugo’s Hernani (1830)
•  William Tell in Schiller’s William Tell (1804)
•  Mary Stuart in Schiller’s Mary Stuart (1800)
Major Playwrights
•  Victor Hugo (1802-1885) – Cromwell (1827), Hernani (1830), Marion
Delorme (1831), Ruy Blas (1838), The King Amuses Himself (1832), Don
Juan de Marana (1835)

•  Alexandre Dumas père (1802-1870) – Henry III and His Sons (1829),
Christine (1829), Mademoiselle de Belle-Isle [The Great Lover] (1834)

•  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) – Faust (1808 & 1831)

•  Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805) – Mary Stuart (1800), William Tell


•  Georg Büchner (1813-1837) – Danton’s Death (1836), Woyzeck (1836)

•  Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) – The Cenci (1819), Prometheus

Unbound (1820)

•  George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) – Manfred (1817), The Two

Foscari (1821)
Victor Hugo’s Preface to Cromwell (1827)
Some Statements

•  The grotesque of the ancients is timid and always seeking to hide

itself. One senses that it is not on familiar ground because it is
not in its natural surroundings. It is hidden as much as possible.
•  The beautiful has only one type; the ugly has thousands. The
fact is that the beautiful, in human terms, is merely form
considered in its simplest aspect, in its most absolute symmetry,
in its most perfect harmony with our constitution.
•  Nature then! Nature and truth! – And here, for the purpose of
demonstrating that new ideas, far from destroying art, only wish
to reconstruct it solidly and soundly, let us try to indicate what is
the impassable limit, which, in our opinion, separates the reality
of art from the reality of nature.
•  The theatre is an optical point. All that is found in the world, in
history, in life, in man, can and ought to be reflected in it, but
under the magic wand of art.
Romantic Critics
à August Wilhelm Schlegel (1767-1845),
-  Shakespearean dramatic form was organic – it germinated and
flowered from within, like a plant.
-  In contrast, neoclassical plays achieved unity externally and
à Influence on a whole generation of English romantic critics,
including Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) – He advanced
the concept of organic unity and dismissed the neoclassical
unities of time and place.
-  Coleridge – “willing suspension of disbelief for the moment that
constitutes poetic faith”
à Victor Hugo (1802-1885) emphasized Schlegel’s belief that
dramatic genres are primarily distinguished by their distinctive
•  Hugo claimed that romantic plays combined sublime with
grotesque moods
Alice in the Wonderland
Arent van Bolton (1604)
Alps - Awe
Goose and Man
Quentin Messys’ The Ugly Duchess (1530)