Municipal Theaters

Playwrights, since the 1770es, have established a new literature of dramas and comedies, in the vernacular, many based on history, increasingly on national history. Often critical of contemporary society, especially of remnants of feudalism and of inequality, they addressed basically an urban, educated public, a public which shared their criticism, and, increasingly, their nationalist sentiment.
G.E. Lessing, A. von Kotzebue (whose assassination caused Metternich to decree the Carlsbad Resolutions), J.W. Goethe, F. Schiller, H. Kleist wrote such dramas in German language, and by doing so contributed to the standardization of German orthography - Germany politically, after the Vienna Congress, was still divided in c.40 states, and regional dialects varied considerably. It was the playwrights-novelists, and later linguists (Grimm, Duden) who standardized Hochdeutsch (High German). A similar development took place in other languages.
In the 18th century, however, theatrical dramas were still a form of art associated with the ruler's court. Residence cities, and royal palaces, had theatres; the plots of dramas were often based on Greek mythology, and may have been staged in French, a language fashionable at the courts of Europe. Both the language and the background were little appealing to a wider audience in the cities.
The new literature, vernacular language stageplays based on national history, did appeal, but needed the infrastructure - stages where they could be performed. The early 19th century thus saw the emergence of the municipal theatre, financed and operated by the city.
Freiberg in Saxony claims the honour of having the oldest municipal theatre in the world, dating back to 1799 (purchased by the city a few years later). The institution quickly spread to other cities; in the city the theatre became the place for high society to meet, to see and to be seen, the best entertainment in town. It was an institution of the burghers; men dressed in suits, ladies in gowns; appropriate manners were expected, thus persons lacking wealth and/or education avoided the theatre, it had a certain flair of exclusivity. This exclusivity was all the more apparent in a bilingual environment - the municipal theatres in Prague (Bohemia) and Riga (Livonia, then a Russian province; the theatre was founded in 1780), were German, while a considerable segment of the population, the majority of them from the lower strata of society, were Czechs respectively Latvians. The German Theatre in Prague was the cultural center of the German community in the city, into the 20th century.

Die Geschichte des Freiberger Theaters (History of the Theater of Freiberg), from Mittelsächsisches Theater, in German
REFERENCE on the theatre in Riga : David Kirby, The Baltic World, 1772-1993, Harlow : Longman 1995, pp.55-56

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on October 1st 2003, last revised on November 16th 2004

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