THE PEOPLE'S THEATER
tues put into practice"—the poet of the Ode to Joy (1785), drunk with liberty, heroism, and fraternal love.
"The theater," declared Mercier, "is the most potent and direct means of strengthening human reason and enlightening the whole nation."
So thought the Revolution. It appropriated Rousseau's two ideas: popular festivals and education through the theater. The idea of a People's
- ↑ Goethe kept much farther aloof from the Revolutionary spirit, although one can trace its influence in Egmont (1788) where the dying hero says: "People, defend your rights! In order to save what you hold dear, die joyfully. I give you an example!" But the man who preferred injustice to disorder, he who could parody the Revolution in Der Burgergeneral (1793) and Die Aufgeregten (1793), was evidently unable to understand art for the people.
And yet, toward the end of his life, he began to have some ideas on the subject. We find traces of them in his Conversations with Eckermann. "A great dramatic poet, if he is at the same time productive, and is actuated by a strong noble purpose which pervades all his works, may succeed in making the soul of his pieces become the soul of the people. I should think that this was something well worth the trouble. … A dramatic poet who knows his vocation should therefore work incessantly at its higher development, in order that his influence on the people may be noble and beneficial." (April 1, 1827.)
And I notice in certain of Goethe's writings, for instance Wilhelm Meister (II, III, and following), short descriptions of people's performances. In a mountainous district (Hochdorf) some factory workers have converted a barn into a theater; there they act a comedy full of movement, but without characters: two rivals abduct a young girl from her guardian, and quarrel over her. A little farther on, he describes a sort of improvised popular production out-of-doors: a dialogue between a miner and a peasant.