History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/German Pre-WWII
Pre-World War II German theatre was dominated by Expressionism, especially from 1912 to 1923 (Garten, 1964). Aside from the first plays of Brecht, German Expressionist drama holds no towering figure, but there are several playwrights of interest in work characterized by intense drama and black comedy. The dialogue tends to be farfetched or semi-poetical, the situations strange or dream-like, and persons struggle with deep inner turmoil that affects the environment they live in. In expressionism, the individual's mind affects the environment, in contrast to impressionism, in which the environment affects the individual's mind. Every dramatist of the 1910-1939 period shows variable degrees of this tendency. The movement derives from Strindberg, especially "To Damascus" (1898-1904) and "A dream play" (1907), "Although the essential autobiographical which makes Strindberg's dramas unique, could not be imitated, the confessional character of such unreserved, personal documents had a tremendous influence on the younger German dramatists, minding us of the effect of Rousseau's writings on the German Storm and Stress movement" (Burkhard, 1933 p 172). “Since consistency was not considered either a virtue or a necessity, the sequence of events was not always clear. Since the general style was usually strident or hysterical, the action abrupt or insistently repetitious, the tempo breathless, the dialogue frantic or monotonously telegraphic, expressionist plays tend to tax our nervous system” (Gassner, 1954b p 203).
Strindberg's “successors in expressionistic experimentation made a veritable cult of morbid introspection and emotionally disturbed pictures of external reality...The expressionist playwright dispensed with the middle-class clutter to be found in men’s minds and showed only the springs of passion…to present depersonalized characters, individuals transformed into stark symbols of allegorical types deprived of personal name...And the individual was likely to be placed in a truncated scene usually deprived of the padding of manners and small talk customary in cup-and-saucer living-room scenes. Only the dramatic moment was allowed to matter. This moment was given to the spectator without the familiar preparatory detail of 19th century realism...The expressionist, giving the reins to his own fancy and intensifying the character’s subjective states, felt free to history all manifestations of character and environment and to shuttle back and forth in time and space…Kaiser calls for the sudden transformation of a snow-laden tree to a skeleton in From Morn to Midnight” [when] the fantastic action and environment are dramatically related to the state of mind of an absconding cashier...Dialogue was subjected to weird abbreviations and distortions so that it became frequently violent, telegraphic, and enigmatic…especially true of German expressionism between 1912 and 1925” (Gassner, 1956 pp 118-121).
"Expressionism grew out of German neo-romanticism. With their frantic search for community, love, and vitality, however, the expressionists seem to represent a violent reaction against the estheticism, formalism, and social isolation of their predecessors" (Sokel, 1955 p 1). “The common denominator of all these works is their intensified social criticism, a rejection of the present state of society, and a longing for a change even if it became a storm that would cause destruction but would clear the air. Writers revolted against the cultural and political manifestations of their age, and with youthful enthusiasm, envisioned a regeneration of mankind and the building of a new world. This revolt against the old standards and values in politics and the arts was soon given the name Expressionism and was conducted by young artists most of whom were born around 1890...They expressed their concern about the problems of the day and, in contrast to Naturalism, tried to present answers and solutions, impractical and subjective though they be. Even if their criticism did not always include a program of how to combat society’s maladies, new social and ethical ideas were implied. With their visions of a doomed and destroyed world, the Expressionists wanted to shock the bourgeois citizen into an awareness of his shortcomings and the need for a new human community. In order to express their message, the young writers resorted to new art forms, since they sought a new beginning in art. They turned against Impressionism as being too esthetic and unrelated to life- and against Naturalism because it only portrays, but does not attack, the evils of society” (Schürer, 1971 pp 81-82).
- 1 Gerhart Hauptmann
- 2 Bertolt Brecht
- 3 Marieluise Fleißer
- 4 Ödön von Horváth
- 5 Reinhard Sorge
- 6 Carl Sternheim
- 7 Georg Kaiser
- 8 Ernst Barlach
- 9 Ernst Toller
- 10 Ferdinand Bruckner
Emerging from the previous century, Gerhart Hauptmann (1862-1946) continued to write dramas of the realist or naturalist type, notably "Die Ratten" (The rats, 1911).
“What makes 'The rats' particularly interesting as a contribution to 20th century theatre is that it is one and the same time a play about people, a social study, and a probing inquiry into the nature of modern drama...Linguistically, the range of the play is indeed enormous; it covers the whole of spoken drama from high tragedy to kitchen sink. Sociologically, it spans an equally wide spectrum, from the criminal underworld of big-city crime and drug abuse to Herr Hassenreuter’s much-vaunted aristocratic connections, appropriately invisible off stage” (Skrine, 1989 pp 58-59). “As Bruno is reporting to his sister in the fourth act...he comes to the climax of his story...one of the most understated accounts of murder, one would think, in all literature” (Sinden, 1957 pp 207-208). ”This near-masterpiece, vitiated somewhat by discoursiveness, is imaginatively reinforced by the double action maintained on a two-leveled stage. It consists of the comic plot of an old-fashioned stage director in conflict with a pupil...and the naturalistic tragic plot of a woman of the working classes whose obsessive desire for a child implicates her in the murder of an unmarried mother” (Gassner, 1968 pp 526-527).
“Spitta's dramaturgic code, as reflected in the diatribe of Hassenreuter in Hauptmann's 'The rats', sums up in briefest compass the spirit of contemporary dramaturgy: 'You deny the whole art of elocution, the value of the voice in acting! You want to substitute for both the art of toneless speaking! Further you deny the importance of action in the drama and assert it to be a worthless accident, a sop for the groundlings! You deny the validity of poetic justice, of guilt and its necessary expiation. You call all that a vulgar invention- an assertion by means of which the whole moral order of the world is abrogated by the learned and crooked understanding of your single magnificent self! Of the heights of humanity you know nothing. You asserted the other day that, in certain circumstances, a barber or a scrubwoman might as fittingly be the protagonist of a tragedy as Lady Macbeth or King Lear. [In response] Spitta (still pale, polishing his spectacles) retorts: 'Before art as before the law, all men are equal, sir’" (Henderson, 1914 p 262-263).
Time: 1910s. Place: Berlin, Germany.
Mrs Jette John, housekeeper to Harro Hassenreuter, an ex-theatre manager, scolds the pregnant but unmarried Pauline for wanting to return to a worthless lover intending to forget about her. Childless after having lost Adelbert, her own baby, three years ago, Jette proposes to take care of it herself despite being forced to live under conditions of "mildew an' insec'-powder". To help Jette out in this quest, Harro brings her a milk-boiler. After the baby's birth, Jette notices that the boy's hair is of the same color and shade as Adelbert's and so she gives him the same name and designs to keep the boy for herself. When Pauline returns to find out how her baby is, Jette is irritated, slapping her hard on the ear after an unwelcome comment. Regretting that gesture, she then slaps her own face. When Pauline asks to see the baby a second time, Jette casts looks of hatred at her. Pressured by her landlady who knows about the birth, Pauline informs the registrar's office about this matter and now a man from the guardian office will come over. Harro's daughter, Walpurga, loves her tutor, Erich Spitta, who has ambitions of becoming an actor and a dramatist. Unaware of Walpurga's attachment, Harro gives him acting lessons along with two other pupils in Schiller's "Bride of Messina". Harro quarrels with Erich concerning forms of dramatic art, the former favoring Schiller, the latter Lessing. "You are a rat, so to speak," Hassenreuter asserts. "One of those rats who are beginning, in the field of politics, to undermine our glorious and recently united German Empire. They are trying to cheat us of the reward of our labors. And in the garden of German art, these rats are gnawing at the roots of the tree of idealism." In his son's room, Pastor Spitta discovers a photograph of Walpurga and, unaware that she is his daughter, shows it to Harro. As a result, Harro warns his daughter to reject Erich, or else he will repudiate her. To keep Adelbert as her own, Jette steals a baby from Sidonie, an alcohol and morphine addict who has difficulties in taking care of it, and substitutes it in Adelbert's place while fleeing with Pauline's baby. Pauline returns and tells Harro that Jette has her baby, judged by the authorities to be neglected. A little later, Sidonie alerts the entire tenement by confusedly asserting that her own baby was stolen. On seeing her baby at Harro's, she exclaims: "I swear by the holy mother of God, by Jesus Christ, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, that I am the mother of this child." Pauline denies this, thinking it is her own. When Hassenreuter looks down at it, the baby is found to be dead. "It seems that invisible to us, one has been in our midst who has delivered judgment, truly according to the manner of Solomon, concerning the poor little passive object of all this strife," he comments. "Invent something like that, if you can, my good Spitta," he challenges the potential dramatist. Jette convinces her husband, Paul, that she has given birth while he was out of town at work as a foreman-mason and has taken the baby to his married sister's home in the country. A friend of his, Emil Quaquaro, informs him about the death of Sidonie's baby, along with the doings of Bruno, her brother. "They knows at the police station that Bruno was seen in company o' the Polish girl what wanted to claim this here child, first right outside o' the door here an' then at a certain place on Shore street where the tanners sometimes looses their soakin' hides," he reveals. "An' now the girl's jus' disappeared. I don' know nothin' o' the particulars, excep' that the police is huntin' for the girl." Meanwhile, Erich quarrels with his father about Walperga and they part company. When Erich encounters Jette, she expresses herself incoherently. "I was talking to the woman what was struck by lightenin' jus' a short time before," she rambles on. "An' she says- now listen to me, Mr. Spitta- if you takes a dead child what's lyin' in its carridge an' pushes it out into the sun ... but it's gotta be summer an' midday ... it'll draw breath, it'll cry, it'll come back to life!- You don't believe that, eh? But I seen that with my own eyes." When the bewildered Erich leaves, Jette and Paul receive a visit from Bruno. Paul loads his revolver as a warning never to come back and then leaves. To Jette's dismay, Bruno reveals that, instead of scaring her off as planned, he has murdered Pauline. She refused to yield her baby. "An' all of a sudden she went for my throat that I thought it'd be the end o' me then an' there," he says. "Like a dawg she went for me hot an' heavy! An' then ... then I got a little bit excited too- an' then, well ... that's how it come ..." When Erich returns to the John home, he glances at Jette sleeping on the couch. "Great drops of sweat are standing on her forehead." he reports to Walpurga. "Come here. Just look at the rusty old horseshoe that she is clasping with both hands." Knowing that Erich and Walpurga love each other, Teresa, Harro's wife, tries to intervene on their behalf before her husband. Recently appointed as manager of a theatre, he promises to express a more lenient view of the matter. He reveals to Jette that Sidonie's baby is dead, as well as the news how police officers have discovered that she never went with the boy to her husband's sister, having been seen by the park near the river. Paul is tired of living in a rat-infested house and decides to bring the baby over to his sister, but Jette reveals that the child is not his. Sidonie's daughter, Selma, arrives and informs them that the police have concluded that she brought down Pauline's baby from Harro's loft to her. Piece by piece, Paul discovers the truth about his wife's scheming. "So you bargained for that there kid someway an' when its mother wanted it back you got Bruno to kill her?" Mr John accuses his wife. "You ain't no husband o' mine. How could that be! You been bought by the police. You took money to give me up to my death. Go on, Paul, you ain't human even. You got poison in your eyes an' teeth like wolves'!" she counters. "Go on an' whistle so they'll come an' take me. Go on, I says. Now I see the kind o'man you is an' I'll despise you to the day o' judgment!" In a fit of rage and despair, Jette takes hold of the baby, but is prevented from leaving with him. She then blindly rushes out and before anyone can prevent it, kills herself in the middle of the street.
The main dramatist in German-speaking theatre of the period before and during World World II is Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), whose major plays include "Die Dreigroschenoper" (The threepenny opera, 1928), "Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder" (Mother Courage and her children, 1939), "Der gute Mensch von Sezuan" (The good person of Szechwan, 1943), and "Der kaukasische Kreidekreis" (The Caucasian chalk circle, 1945), plays co-written by the unacknowledged help from Elisabeth Hauptmann, Magarete Steffin, and Ruth Berlau (Bloom, 2005 p 224). Brecht promoted an "epic theatre" where alienation is sought, "the very opposite of the technique of illusion which has been traditionally employed on the Western stage, where the principal aim of the playwright was always to draw the spectator into the world created in the play...On the contrary, Brecht tries to break the magic of the theater...into realization that he is attending only a performance, looking at actors, witnessing parables from which he should draw dispassionate conclusions" (Alter, 1964 p 61-62). “Brecht’s plays are picaresque, poetic narrations for the stage. They are based on brief episodes of concentrated action- most of them almost complete in themselves- each of which makes a simple, sharp point essential to the understanding of the play’s idea as a whole. The intellectual approach is tersely factual, the tone ironic, crisp and detached” (Clurman, 1966 p 52).
“The threepenny opera” originates from John Gay's "The beggar's opera" (1728) but differs from the earlier play in several ways. Gay’s Macheath is a dashing cavalier and Polly is the semblance of a lady, so that rogues and whores appear like the higher classes. By contrast, Brecht’s Mack the Knife is meant to seem like a businessman and indeed says to Polly he considers himself as one, so that rogues and whores appear like the middle classes. To her he says his condition is being 'ruined by large concerns backed by banks'. In terms of robbery, the middle class has him beaten: 'What is the robbing of bank compared with the founding of bank?' he asks ironically. By sending out his band of derelicts, his business partner, Peachum, exploits Christian charity, in league with capitalism, by recognizing that the rich 'create misery but cannot bear to see it'. Mack is also in cahoots with the police chief, Tiger Brown. While Mack betrays some criminals over to him, Tiger provides him with protection. Bentley (1982) underlined that the play's "enemy was the same element in the population that had opposed The Beggar's Opera two hundred years earlier...Bertolt Brecht changed the characters of The Beggar's Opera rather more than the story, eliminating Lockit altogether in order to make of Lucy's father an entirely new character, Tiger Brown, Sheriff of London...In John Gay's text the arch-criminal had been Peachum, to whom was assigned the notorious and ultimate crime of the historical Jonathan Wild: that he did not respect even 'honor among thieves', but turned in his own men to the authorities. That was 'peaching'. In the Brecht version, Macheath 'peaches' and so is deprived of any moral superiority to his competitors and colleagues: the point would seem to be that the whole world of Three-penny is without ethics. Polly, who had been an innocent in the Gay, is here at best ignorant, losing not innocence but ignorance as the action proceeds...Where does The Threepenny Opera diverge most widely from its predecessor? In...its characterization of Peachum [and the] songs. The 'shock value' in Gay's Peachum lay in the circumstance that one whom we expected to be only a receiver of stolen goods in fact goes on from there to 'peach'um'...Since in Threepenny everyone is bad in a bad world, if Peachum stands out, it has to be for something other than pure wickedness...'He regards misery as a commodity': his brainstorm is that poverty can be wealth" (pp 19-20).
“Mother Courage and her children” comprises "the picture of a world in which the very victims of the war are trying to profit by it and share the social responsibility, venality, and confusions intrinsic to the social situation” (Gassner, 1954b p 87). "The protagonist is only courageous in her tenacity. She courageously breached the lines during the bombardment at Riga only to prevent some loaves of bread to become mouldy. She epitomizes the sufferings of the nameless masses in the cataclysm of war" (Garten, 1964 p 123) but “always chooses the most selfish, ignominious, and profitable course” (Brustein, 1964 pp 269). “In the loss of the tree children- whom Mother Courage’s sleazy, haggling, cold-eyed selling of supplies to the army from her wagon is precisely designed to protect and preserve- we are shown the immense irony of the way in which making a living destroys life, how the process of preservation brings about the ruin of that human substance which is being preserved” (Gilman, 1971 p 42). “She is not an image of ‘the indestructibility of a vital person afflicted by the inequities of war’ (Brecht quote) but almost wholly the opposite: one of the destructibility of humanity within the prevailing system, no matter how tenacious, sinewy, and energetic a particular person might be...She is exemplary not in being a survivor but in being one at a terrible cost; her virtues thus function dramatically not as attributes to be admired but as annihilated possibilities to be mourned” (Gilman, 1999 pp 227-229). "Courage not only proves herself unable to prevent her children's deaths, but demonstrates her deep complicity by profiting from the very acts of war that lead to them. This complicity is made especially obvious in the case of the younger son, who dies because Courage attempts to haggle down his executioner's bribe even though she has enough money to pay the asking price for his life...Whereas the brothers die as bewildered, dumb victims of the war, revealed in death to have been the pawns of arbitrary, anonymous forces beyond their knowledge and control, the play frames Kattrin's death as a heroic triumph- not an abject fall but a willed, purposeful end, claimed by Kattrin in her final, self-sacrificing act of resistance and used by her so that even her death comes to serve and safeguard life...During each set of events that lead to the death of her brothers, Kattrin proves unable to deliver an urgent, vital message that would save their lives if it were recognized by its intended recipients...Kattrin's voicelessness makes concretely manifest an underlying history of...traumatic violence and it is this silencing message...that the characters... refuse to hear." In particular, when Kattrin is assaulted, her mother declines to hear what happened (Vork, 2013 pp 32-43). “Swiss Cheese is executed because Courage haggles too long over the amount of a bribe...Swiss Cheese has been captured because he lacks the very qualities that lead Courage to haggle...This...suggests a fatalistic view of human action...When a temporary peace finally comes, Courage cries out against it, since it will be bad for business. It is also bad for Eiliff, who is arrested and destined to be executed for an act which won him praise as a hero during the fighting. In a sense, then, peace is as destructive to Courage’s children as war” (Calarco, 1969 p 167).
In "The good person of Szechwan", "it is impossible to be good, in the traditional sense of altruistic, gentle, loving, in a world that lives by egoism, rapacity, and hate. A Christian might argue: 'you can't change the world. All you can do is to exercise the Christian virtues in your own small circle.' Brecht replies: 'This is topsy-turvy reasoning. Your small circle is no circle but a segment of a large circle. The segment has no independence. It can move only when the whole circle moves. Only by altering the world can goodness become practical.' Shen Te wished to be kind. But on one occasion she finds herself allowing an old couple to be ruined because she does not pay her debt to them. On another occasion she will not help a poor man to find redress for an injury willfully inflicted by the Barber Shu Fu because at the time she is trying to win Shu Fu's lucrative hand. In order to survive, the good girl needs the assistance of the brutal exploiter. And when she appeals to the gods she receives as answer: 'are we to confess that our laws are lethal? Are we to repudiate our laws? Never! Is the world to be changed? How? By whom? No: everything is all right'" (Bentley, 1955 p 224). "The split of the good person into Shen Te and Shui Ta appears, thus, to be a theatrical model for the division of middle-class man into a private, and a business, self. Through ‘being bad’, the business self guarantees the possibility that the private self can be good" (Fischer-Lichte, 2002 p 322). Hodge (1963) compared "The good person of Szechwan" to Wilder's "The skin of our teeth" (1942). "In the Wilder [play], man is blind and foolish but means well; he tries to profit from the past; he loses faith, manages to escape disasters by the skin of his teeth, helped by the practical common sense of women, picks up, and struggles on. Brecht's man is not drawn on such a wide, historical scale. He is mean, petty, lost. In his blindness and idealism he destroys his fellow man as quickly with soft handouts as he does with ruthless exploitation. Man's existence lies somewhere between these extremes, and man can change the world only by gradually achieving this median good. There is even a similar scene in the two plays as Mr Antrobus in Wilder's play and Shen Te in Brecht's deal with the problems of what to do with the poor and homeless. And both plays use the theatrical devices of direct address to the audience, interruptions for speeches or songs, overt philosophical statements by either gods or philosophers. Both use the physical stage not as an exact place, but as a suggested reality" (p 84). One can specify that in the Brecht play it is not so much man who is "mean, petty, lost" but the social environment man has created, and so the social structure must change so that man can change. "But the gods decree otherwise. Since they have found Shen Te in Shui Ta again, they declare their search for a good person at an end and are satisfied that the world should continue unchanged" (Fischer-Lichte, 2002 p 322). "Shui Ta...pleads that there must be something wrong with a world which penalises kindliness and favours rapacity. The gods, however, are not disposed to listen to a plea which strikes at the root of the existing world order. They prefer to turn a blind eye to the activities of the hard-hearted cousin, or to trivialise them; talking in pious clichés, they deliberately blur the issue, sidestepping the problem of guilt and sin. Nor are they prepared to give the heroine any help or guidance for the future. They consider that their mission on earth is accomplished, and they blandly assure Shen Te that in their heavenly abode beyond the stars they will gladly remember the Good Woman of Szechwan, who by her goodness witnesses here below to the gods' existence and to the sanctity of their commandments. And when she insists that she will not be able to manage without her cousin, they compromise with sin by telling her that she must not fall back on her cousin's help too often: once a month will be enough. Whereupon they are borne up to heaven on a rose-coloured cloud, smiling benignly and waving as they ascend, leaving all the heroine's problems unsolved. In his closing scene, Brecht presents a marxist parody of divine judgment. As usual, he invites his audience not to identify themselves emotionally with any of the characters but to view the events on the stage with 'alienated' detachment, and to draw their own conclusions" (Witte, 1968 p 11).
In "The caucasian chalk circle", “Brecht wrote a parable on the question: how is it possible to be a decent human being under the pressures and corruptions of a world of exploiters and exploited? In the playwright’s quizzical view of the human condition, it is not only difficult to be good and to do good in the world, it is incongruous and therefore comic...[The play] was bound to encounter resistance on the Broadway stage, since American optimism would normally reject the ‘good person as fool’ theme as cynical...Not only does goodness find itself betrayed by those it is willing to help, but it betrays itself...by being practical, for its practicality is indistinguishable from ruthlessness” (Gassner, 1960 pp 264-265). The conclusion “is a modern parable in that it is told not to exemplify a doctrine but rather to reveal a paradox: Grusha’s sacrifice is recognized as superior to the natural ties which bind the governor’s wife to her own child” (Politzer, 1965 p 64). "The servant Grusha gets the child, not because she took upon herself such great privations on its account and for this reason might perhaps present her merits as a claim to its possession, but because she is willing to keep it 'until it knows all words', i.e. because she is useful to the child, which needs the guidance and help of a mother in order to become a useful member of society. The governor's wife, whose biological rights are uncontested, and to whom the judge would perhaps restore the child if this decision were good for the child, does not want the child for its sake but for her own, for the inheritance is bound up with the child...And just as Judge Azdak by means of the chalk-circle test merely finds out exactly whether he has sufficient grounds for the correctness of his verdict, so the assembly of the two villages in the Prologue takes place in order to produce the certainty that no new and more important arguments have been overlooked, or, otherwise, to discuss the existing arguments in common...In the chalk-circle story, the one party loses and the other gains. In the decision between the two villages this is only seemingly the case. In reality both gain, because both acknowledge the social order in which they live...Whereas, however, Azdak has to prove his progressiveness in defiance of the prevailing social order, in the dispute of the two villages it is the progressive social order which not only justifies this mode of action but promotes it" (Bunge, 1959 pp 59-63). Alter (1964) underlined alienation effects abounding in "The caucasian chalk circle", for example "an ironshirt corporal berates his subordinate, not as one would expect for acts of brutality that he committed, but for not having enjoyed them! Obviously such a remark comes as a jolt, awakens the spectator, and makes him suddenly aware that he is witnessing the display of the wit of the playwright and not a real incident. It also makes him reflect on the implications of the military mind. Similarly, when Azdak demonstrates quite logically that justice, like meat, should be bought at a price, the spectator is shocked, stops identifying with the advocate of such subversive ideas, but nonetheless is encouraged to re-examine the nature of justice. In fact, all of Azdak's paradoxical pronouncements disturb the average spectator's worldview" (p 63). "Brecht's judge consistently favours the lower classes. He uses the authority of his office to counteract the effects of social inequality, aiming, not at justice-according-to-law, nor at moral justice, but at what he conceives to be social justice" (Witte, 1968 p 13).
"The threepenny opera"
Time: 1837. Place: London, England.
Peachum, head of a large section of London beggars and robbers, makes sure that those under his area of influence pay him earnings in exchange for protection. When he notices his daughter, Polly, under the influence of the robber, Macheath, he is determined to hinder their relation. Macheath prepares to marry Polly, though with no vows exchanged and no priest present. The chief of police, Tiger Brown, intervenes, not to arrest Macheath but rather to continue their amiable and fruitful relations. Polly defies her parents by announcing her marriage, though inadvertently revealing Brown's connection with Macheath. Warned by Polly of her declaration, Macheath prepares to leave London, but stops at his favorite brothel on his way to see another girlfriend, Jenny, but unfortunately bribed by Mrs Peachum to betray him. Although Brown apologizes, he is forced this time to arrest Macheath. Another among Macheath's lovers, Lucy, Brown's daughter, quarrels with Polly over who should win Macheath. Lucy succeeds in helping him escape from prison. When Peachum finds out, he threatens Brown by saying he will let loose his beggars to ruin the queen's coronation, likely costing him his position. When Jenny arrives for her pay, Mrs Peachum refuses to give it to her. Meanwhile, Macheath hides at Suky Tawdry's house. Brown receives confirmation of the reality of Peachum's threat, so that he is again forced to arrest Macheath. To avoid execution, Macheath desperately tries to raise a sufficient bribe for Brown, but none can or wish to to help. As the gallows are assembled, a messenger arrives to announce that Macheath has received the queen's pardon in the general jubilation.
"Mother Courage and her children"
Time: 17th century. Place: Germanic territory.
During the course of the Thirty Years War, canteen woman, Mother Courage, and her three children, Eilif, Kattrin, and Swiss Cheese, trade with Protestant soldiers to survive. Kattrin is mute as a result of an object having been placed in her mouth. While she negotiates with a sergeant for wares, his recruiting officer secretly leads Eilif away with him. Two years later, Eilif is praised by a general for killing peasants and slaughtering their cattle. For taking such risks that could have been avoided, Mother Courage scolds her son and slaps his face. Three years later, Swiss Cheese works as an army paymaster and hides the regiment's paybox before the arrival of Catholic troops, but before he can escape they capture him. Although Mother Courage negotiates to free him, he is shot to death for theft. She is forced not to acknowledge him as he is unceremoniously plunged into a grave. By force of circumstances, she plies her trade on the Catholic side. As General Tilly's funeral service is about to start, the chaplain asks Mother Courage to marry him, but she refuses. One day, she finds Kattrin disfigured after obtaining some piece of merchandise. As Mother Courage departs for yet another town, Eilif is dragged in by soldiers and executed for killing peasants, without her even knowing about it. By another force of circumstances, Mother Courage returns to the Protestant side. She finds a cook to help start a new business at an inn in Utrecht, but he wants nothing to do with the disfigured Kattrin and so she is forced to refuse his offer. When the Catholic army is ready to attack the Protestant town of Halle with her mother away, Kattrin climbs on the roof and beats on a drum to warn the townspeople. As a result, she is shot to death by the soldiers. Mother Courage sings to her daughter's corpse and then hitches herself alone to the cart, much lighter now with her children dead and the little merchandise left to her.
"The Caucasian chalk circle"
Time: 1940s and Medieval. Place: Caucasus, Russia.
Text at http://www.archive.org/details/parablesfortheat00brec https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.186884 http://www.socialiststories.com/writers/bertolt-brecht https://archive.org/details/dli.bengal.10689.16645
A group of villagers settle their dispute about territories in the post-war period and then sit together to watch a play entitled: "The Caucasian chalk circle", concerning events in the medieval period when a band of princes revolt against their arch-duke, killing his appointed governor, so that his wife, Natella Abaschvili, must flee at once. In the hurry of securing her dresses, she forgets to bring her baby along with her. The baby is found by a kitchen servant, Groucha, who decides to care for him as if he were her own. She and Simon intend to marry, though for now he must leave as a soldier in the civil war. On her way to safety, Groucha experiences hard times. She must negotiate exorbitant prices for milk with a peasant, is rejected from a company of ladies because of her hands, obviously a domestic's, hits from behind a suspicious police-sergeant looking for the governor's son, and crosses a dangerous bridge on her way to her brother, who, for the sake of appearances, in view of her carrying around an infant, advises her to marry a dying man, Youssup. But, to everyone's surprise, Youssup regains his health and so she is stuck with him. When Simon returns from war, he is disappointed to find her married. She explains the baby is not hers, but, when a soldier arrives to ask her who the baby is, she is forced to say it is hers after all. Unwilling to hear more, Simon leaves her, while the other soldier, believing the boy to be the governor's son, takes him from her. In the new regime, a village scrivener named Azdak is appointed judge. He is a drunkard, as well as outrageously incompetent and unjust. Sitting before a dispute between Groucha and Natella, who wants her boy back, he first demands money from both sides and then listens to a separate case at the same time. Unnerved that the richer Natella has two lawyers on her side and Groucha none so that that the odds seem stacked against her, Groucha calls Azdak a "wine sponge" and curses his style of justice. Azdak proposes to find the truth on the affair by drawing a chalk circle, outside which Natella and Groucha are to pull the child towards them. Afraid to hurt the child, Groucha almost immediately lets go while Natella pulls hard, whereby Azdak, at last showing Solomon-like wisdom, considering Groucha the true mother, awards him to her.
"The good person of Szechuan"
Time: 1940s. Place: Szechuan province, China.
A water merchant scrambles to find a lodging for three gods descended on earth to examine the doings of humanity. After many refusals, he finds one who accepts, Shen Te, a prostitute, whom the gods reward with money for her kindness, which enables her to open a tobacco shop. But because of her goodness, she is quickly taken advantage of by a family of eight, who, after being lodged for free, destroy or steal a good part of her merchandise. Before Shen Te settles in definitely in her new lodging, Mi Tsu, the owner of the building, requires from her a letter of reference. She chooses a cousin of hers, Shui Ta, a man with a much different type of personality, who rids her of the lodgers, enabling her to start business on a better footing. Shen Te befriends Yang Sun, an airplane pilot out of work who needs money to take advantage of a job offer in Peking. To pay her rent, Shen Te borrows money from a rug merchant next door, but then gives the money to Sun. In financial trouble again, Shen Te receives an offer from Mi Tsu to sell her shop. Sun wants that sum of money, too, but Shui Ta prevents that from happening. Shen Te decides to marry Sun, who insists on waiting for her cousin to get the rest of the money. But since the cousin never shows up, he leaves her. Impressed by her many charitable works, a barber gives Shen Te a large sum of money, with which she pays the rug merchant, but it is too late, his properties having been seized. A pregnant Shen Te needs help from her cousin again, this time to manage the barber's money, thanks to which the homeless find shelter, though with rotten floors, and the jobless a job, though grossly underpaid. Learning about Shen Te's pregnancy, Sun comes back and is given a post as superintendent. He proves himself to be a particularly exacting one. Shui Ta's ambitions increase to the point of wanting to open 12 tobacco shops, but neighbors becomes suspicious of Shen Te's prolonged absence. Shui Ta is thus arrested on the suspicion of having murdered her and taken to court with the three gods acting as judges. Shui Ta is defended by the rich and accused by the poor and eventually forced to reveal himself as the disguised Shen Te. The gods wonder about their commandments to be good in such a society: "Is it possible that our commandments are murderous?" they ask themselves.
Of note as well is Marieluise Fleißer (1901-1974) with "Fegefeuer in Ingolstadt" (Purgatory in Ingolstadt, 1926), based on her short story "The thirteen years" (Kord, 1989 p 59). The theme of victimized youth echoes Wedekind's "Spring awakening" (1891).
In "Purgatory in Ingolstadt", “the aggressive tactics used to cut one another down to size are a more significant aspect...than the subjects they talk about...None of the characters show great finesse in directing the flow of talk nor are they adept at anticipating the responses of their conversation partners...Each character feels obliged to respond to other characters who have initiated exchanges...Family rivalries are not aired in front of outsiders...It is a tug of war where no one gets anywhere...Gossip and slander are pervasive...and are weapons in the struggle for status. The readiness with which they use religious phraseology may, in fact, indicate a generally uncritical stance toward all traditional ideologies and explanations” (Hoffmeister, 1983 pp 25-41).
"The outcasts from the pack are Roelle and Olga. Roelle, hydrophobic, attention-seeking, and subject to society's contempt, asserts his influence on Olga, who, because of her education and her unwanted pregnancy, is also ostracized by the community. When Pepe leaves Olga for Hermine, Olga loses all hope for a secure status in society. Here, Roelle sees an opportunity to make Olga dependent. She defends him in front of Protasius, who appears to her as a representative of the community, and she seems to admire Roelle's position outside of society, possibly even outside of humanity...Roelle, however, seeks readmission into society, not on the same footing as its other members, but rather as the outsider above the community. By pretending superiority in the form of religious enlightenment, he attempts to define himself as a 'sanctified outsider', and tries to elevate Olga to the same level...For Olga, it is imperative that her fellow outcast profess himself superior to society, since the alliance with him is all she has to replace her lost position in the community. Accordingly, she rewards assertive declarations from Roelle with supportive remarks...When Olga disavows her alliance with Roelle, she has the choice of either attempting to return to society or of establishing complete independence from both society and Roelle. She does not, however, consider the possibility of independence seriously. She discusses it in terms of escapism, regards complete anonymity as the only possible freedom, and admits that even this hypothetical form of escape cannot be accomplished without male assistance...Since there is no third choice, her break with Roelle, the fellow outcast, necessitates Olga's attempt to rejoin society. Consequently, she joins society in its contempt of Roelle...But her attempts to escape, whether through Roelle or America, are doomed"(Kord, 1989 pp 59-61). "Fleißer's 'Purgatory in Ingolstadt' is an indictment of the Catholic establishment. The drama explores the indoctrination of young people of both sexes and the destruction in the lives of women caused by the internalization of the traditional religious concepts" (Lorenz, 1993 p 121).
"Purgatory in Ingolstadt"
Time: 1920s. Place: Ingolstadt, Germany.
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Peps asks his girlfriend, Olga, whether she has had her abortion yet. She answers no. "Do what you must," he threatens, "or else you'll know who I am." One of her acquaintances, Protasius, requests her to use her influence on their mutual friend, Rolle. He wants Rolle to continue submitting his body to a doctor who engages in secret human experimentations. Despite her boyfriend's threat, Rolle convinces her to keep the child. As a safeguard to her reputation, he proposes to fund her stay at a countryside house. When schoolmates learn that Rolle has been spreading rumors that he receives the visits of angels from heaven, they tease him and strike his head with stones. Rolle informs Olga he has obtained the money she needs for the abortion, but she refuses to accept it after finding out he stole it from his mother. Olga's sister, Clementine, in love with Rolle, complains that he always used to follow her but now only follows Olga. Amid a drunken rout of teenagers, Clementine and other schoolmates remove Rolle's clothes and throw him in a basin of water. Their cruel games are interrupted by Olga and her father. When Olga confesses she is pregnant, the father falls on the ground in a grieving stupor. Not knowing what to do, Olga attempts to drown herself in the Danube, but is saved by Rolle. To keep the high-school students off his back, he must pay protection money. Hearing about the rumors concerning he and Olga, the students surround and threaten them. He mitigates their anger by declaring that he is not the father of her unborn child. When they let Rolle and Olga go, he takes out a knife and asks her to stab him, but she refuses. Considering the fact that Olga has waylayed her son, Rolle's mother curses her, though she denies having done so. When Rolle confesses to his mother he stole her money as protection against his fellow students, she moans and looks about for a priest to guide her. Rolle also seeks guidance, but on reading a religious tract on confessions, in frustration he starts eating the paper.
Ödön von Horváth
German Expressionism also includes the works of Hungarian dramatist, Ödön von Horváth (1901–1938), notably for "Geschichten aus dem Wiener wald" (Tales of the Vienna woods, 1931) and "Kasimir und Karoline" (Casimir and Caroline, 1932).
Horvath's "popularity today among intelligent, discriminating theatergoers is partially explainable by the pervasiveness of kitsch in his plays...omnipresent [in] consumer society, where it has taken on new well as cultural and philosophical overtones. Kitsch is reactionary beccause it is always imitative. It thrives in eclectic eras. Although intended by its creator to seem authentic, it strikes one as being false, insipidly sentimental, and superficial...Marianne and the other characters move in an artificially perpetuated fairy tale...More often than not [Horvath] employs music for ironic effect, to reinforce the artificiality of a situation or the dissonance between characters. An amusing example of the first use is found in the scene at the engagement picnic. Oskar, the unloved fiancé, sings a romantic ballad...while his betrothed is preparing to run off with a complete stranger...The Latin, French, Italian, and English expressions, liberally sprinkled throughout the speeches of various characters, are designed by them to impress others with their superior education and savoir faire...The characters in their language display a fondness for citing authoritative sources...[an] illusion...Horvath portrays his characters in the process of debasing all the meaningful aspects of life by sentimentalizing the moment and nursing obsolete values...Horvath's satire on the insipid chauvinism of the Viennese Kleinbürger is presented as graphically at Maxim's where some titillating "porno-kitsch" is introduced. He records here the commercial exploitation by the entertainment industry of mythopoetic techniques which permit sexually repressed individuals to enjoy pornography by giving it a supposedly 'artistic' or 'cultural' content...Closely linked with the cult of Heimatliebe is another favourite source of kitsch: religion...Oskar is the prime example of the religious hypocrite. The pious platitudes that he continually utters have no foundation in reality. When he discovers that Alfred has deserted Marianne, he hesitates to take her back as long as little Leopold is still alive. He veils his desire for the baby's death in religious bromides...Another character in the last scene who exploits bereavement for his own advantage is Alfred. His immediate response to the news of his child's death is to throw his arms around Valerie, Marianne's successor. He ignores Marianne completely...It should be apparent that Horvath believes that dependence on socially prescribed or acceptable postures, directed at achieving an effect rather than at conveying a conviction, leads to the transformation of all genuine emotional responses into artificial ones"(Genno, 1972 pp 311-321). “The veneer of respectability concealing the predatory nature of business relations is well-nigh transparent in ‘Tales of the Vienna woods’...Drained by the exigencies of social hypocrisy, [Marianne] finally agrees to fulfill her father’s wishes and marry Oskar. Her last defiant gesture before she allows to be sacrificed on the altar of respectability and the convenience of others...is...meaningless..as Leopold, her child, is dead” (Best, 1980 pp 119-121).
In "Casimir and Caroline", love appears like a reaction that comes and goes, in the fairgrounds among the freaks, love and life "turn out to be numbers on a wheel of fortune"...The love of Casimir and Caroline is destroyed by the emptiness in which they live and from which they cannot escape. The unhappy part of it is that these people do not recognize this void, because their thought processes are, as it were, too primitive and underdeveloped to enable them to form a picture" (Loram, 1967 p 26). Moreover, remarks are often followed by awkward pauses, which mark the emptiness in which the speakers are enveloped" Weisstein (1960 p 347). “Caroline...has not learnt from her suffering. Casimir, for his part, finds consolation with Erna, a former servant-girl. They too have no illusions about their bleak future that awaits them beyond the fairground, and in the penultimate scene of the play...Casimir and Erna can only declare their feeling for each other through proverbs” (Best, 1980 p 123).
"Tales of the Vienna woods"
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Alfred tells his mother that he renounces the option of steady ordinary work, because in his view "work is no longer profitable". Instead, he wants to make a living at placing bets on horse-races on behalf of Valerie, a fifty-year-old owner of a tobacco-shop. During an excursion in the Vienna woods, Alfred meets Marianne, who works in her father's toy-shop and confesses without knowing why to an almost complete stranger that she does not love her betrothed, a man named Oscar, owner of a butcher's shop, whose point of view is that "tradition is the only thing that matters". When Oscar senses her lack of enthusiasm for their relation, he brutally tries out a jiu-jitsu move on her before a company of friends. Farther off in the woods, Valerie, after quarreling with Alfred, flirts with Roimage, Marianne's father. Reflecting on her advancing age, she comments: "What does a man know of woman's tragedy?" She timidly asks whether she can be permitted to place her head on his knees. "Nature knows no sin," Roimage reponds. Their conversation is interrupted by his nephew, Eric. When Roimage leaves, she flirts with him. Beside the banks of the blue Danube, Alfred encounters Marianne a second time. They kiss. "You fell on me like thunder, splitting me," she declares. They are surprised in a compromising position by her father in front of the rest of the company. In defiance, she throws her engagement ring on Oscar's face and flees with Alfred, which leaves Oscar depressed for an entire year. During that course of time, Alfred eventually becomes bored with her. He arranges for Marianne to accept a position at a ballet company in the hope of eventually ridding himself of her. His grandmother, who raises Alfred and Marianne's baby, proposes that if he succeeds in ridding himself of her, she will lend him even more money than she has already, despite his having failed to pay back the previous sum. Meanwhile, an old-world major, a customer at the butcher's shop, quarrels with Eric. The major suggests that they spend an evening at Maxim's nightclub, having seen Marianne work there. After consuming a large portion of salami, Eric leaves the nightclub in ill humor with everyone, while Valerie flirts with a gentleman from America, a childhood friend of the major's brother. Valerie is shocked to find Marianne perched half-naked on top of a golden ball, and disturbs the show, at which the irritated gentleman from America punches her on the breast. Marianne pleads with her father to leave the place, but he refuses to hear. She is arrested for clumsily trying to rob the gentleman from America. Alfred returns to his grandmother's house after having wasted her money at the races. Marianne gets out of jail on bail money and then accuses the grandmother of deliberately pushing her baby's landau in a draft after opening two windows to make him catch cold. Marianne eventually receives a suspended sentence and, out of funds, is forced to ask Valerie for food. Since Roimage is unable to continue in his business affairs without his daughter's help, Valerie attempts a reconciliation between them and succeeds. Marianne also becomes reconciled with Alfred as do Valerie with Oscar. When Marianne returns at the grandmother's house, she discovers that the landau has disappeared, a sign that her baby is dead. The neighbors suspect that the baby's death was caused by the grandmother's negligence. In frustration, Marianne tries to hit her grandmother with her zither. In return, the grandmother hits her on the face. Crying, Marianne swears revenge. Now that her baby is dead, Oscar wishes to take her back. And the blue Danube continues to flow...
"Casimir and Caroline"
Time: 1930s. Place: Munich region, Germany.
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Casimir and Caroline quarrel during a Beerfest. He is particularly touchy, because having recently lost his job, the case of many during the economic crisis, he expects Caroline to leave him. Walking out, he sees a zeppelin in the sky. "When we see that, we think we are also flying," he comments, "but our lot is shoes with holes in them and a table border to break our jaw on." Casimir's friend, Franz, tries to cheer him up, but without success. When Caroline meets a man named Schürzinger, they amuse themselves in amusement-park rides. Among other customers, there is Rauch, head of a company, along with his friend, Speer, who peek at the underclothes of women sliding down toboggans. Afterwards, they join Caroline and Schürzinger. By chance, Casimir encounters Caroline in the company of these three strangers. When asked what is she doing, she replies that she hopes to reach a higher social level. In a freak-show, the public is entertained by a man with a bulldog face who cannot open his mouth and a gorilla-woman "with all internal parts like those of an animal". Schürzinger warns Caroline about Rauch and Speer, who seem like disreputable fellows, but she ignores him. Sensing trouble, Schürzinger leaves her with them. Meanwhile, Franz suggests to Casimir that they should embark on some illegal activities to supplement their meager income, but he refuses. Caroline continues to amuse herself in the company of Rauch and Speer. She accepts Rauch's proposal to leave the park in his car after he quarrels with Speer, who accosts two women for the purpose of engaging in sexual favors. Rauch suffers an epileptic seizure in the car, so that Caroline takes him to an infirmary. Despite her kind gesture, he rejects her after being treated. Back in the park, a huge melee ensues after two young persons object to Speer taking the two women along with him, in the midst of which he suffers a fractured jaw. Franz is arrested. Casimir ends the evening with Franz' girlfriend, Jenny, though they do not have much to say to each other.
"Der bettler" (The beggar, 1912) by Reinhard Sorge (1892-1916) is another example of expressionist theatre.
“The beggar” “is an extremely significant beginning for the [expressionist] movement because it is not only the epitome of self-centered drama but also a plea for a new kind of theater. Sorge is himself the hero of his own drama, the plot of which concerns the poet’s efforts to find a theater willing to produce his play...for all humanity instead of a ‘little heap of intellectuals’” (Wellwarth, 1986 p 27).
One of the main themes of expressionist drama is the father-son conflict, particularly prominent in "The beggar" (Garten, 1964 p 116) The play reflects "the malaise of alienation brought on by industrialization, urbanization, militarization...The most conspiciuous testimony of the play's oppositional character is Sorge's subject: the poet who resists and is ultimately crushed through his absolute alienation in the age of the culture industry. The young, ambitious playwright stubbornly refuses to allow his art to be commodified. Desiring nothing more than to have his plays produced in the public sphere, not merely because they were his own works, but because they would serve to fulfill his dramatic mission, which was to break the control of the theater establishment, he vehemently insists that a theater be placed at his disposal in order that he may be able personally to see his work brought to its unadulterated fruition" (Shearier, 1988 pp 228-231).
Time: 1910s. Place: Germany.
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A poet encounters difficulties in having his plays accepted in the theatre. A friend advises him to ask his patron for a lump sum in living expenses, which will permit him to write in tranquillity. Instead, the poet boldly requests his own theatre. The patron refuses. "You have killed your last opportunity," his friend cries out. The conversations between the two are overheard by a girl interested in meeting the poet. She leaves the attending nurse in charge of taking care of her illigimate baby to accost him. "I must speak to you, wondrous stranger," she starts by saying. Since first meeting this girl, the poet gradually becomes more secretive towards his mother. He deplores the fact that his father's sister has forced his mother to nurse his demented father at home instead of an institution. During the night, the father beats a drum. Having dreamt of canal-building on Mars, he considers himself on the road to recovery with detailed blueprints in hand. "And my brain was like a gigantic spider," he enthuses, "embracing Mars and inserting his proboscis into it, a sharp pointed sting, and sucking out all its secrets, all." His life-work done and the earth about to be fertilized, he requests poison from his son. The girl succeeds in obtaining a position, but, with her meager salary and following her uncle's advice, she feels obliged to give up the baby to adoption. The poet thinks this move may be a mistake, but she argues that without that tie she is now free to love him exclusively. "I fear your matricide," the poet counters, who thinks she should love both of them. "Fear is past and gone," she retorts. In despair over his own condition, the father throws the blueprints in a fire and burns his head. After recovering, he nails the blueprints on the trunk of a beech tree and requests red ink to cover them, but he cannot obtain ink because the stores are closed on Sunday. He notices a fledgling bird on the ground after falling from the nest and pierces its body with a compass to use its blood as the ink he needs. Distressed at his father's condition, the poet pours poison into his wine and leaves. The father drinks half the glass. By mistake the mother also picks it up. When the poet returns, he is confused at seeing broken glass at her feet. The father covers the blueprints with bird-blood while the mother lies contented as both lay dying. "For a long time, I have been wishing myself into the grave," she wearily confesses. To make ends meet, the poet accepts a position at a newspaper but soon quits. He at last accepts that the girl abandon her previous child when she is pregnant with his.
Still in the Expressionist vein but more domestically oriented, Carl Sternheim (1878-1942) wrote two notable dark comedies: "Die Hose" (The bloomers, 1911) and "Die Kassette" (The strongbox, 1912).
In "The bloomers", "Theobald Maske...has been married to the beautiful Luise for one year, but because his civil service position provides them with only modest means, they cannot afford any children and therefore abstain from sex. Ironically, Luise's innocent sexuality gives Maske the opportunity to add to his income. During an imperial parade, the visible disarray of her underclothing affects two bystanders so much that they eagerly rent rooms from Maske, in order to court the embarrassed Luise. But Luise's frustrations give way to excitement; she sees in the boarders two potential lovers, and both Scarron and Mandelstam are soon competing for her affections. Luise welcomes the opportunity for freedom and adventure, but, alas, the passions of the potential lovers prove to be empty. The pseudo-Romantic Scarron prefers to write verse while Luise offers herself to him, and Mandelstam, the second potential lover-boarder, becomes totally preoccupied with his own hypochondria. Finally, however, there is a response to Luise's effort to achieve gratification, but it is the measured, controlled, and economically determined sexuality of Maske, which has successfully exploited the two boarders" (Gittleman, 1976 p 27). “With his limited intellectual curiosity, his sole interest in petty comfort, his ostentatious non-understanding of man’s higher aspirations, the philistine Maske has seemed to most critics to be an object of bewilderment, satirical derision, and disgust...Sternheim’s comedies demonstrate the incongruity between the cherished ideals of the middle classes and the real but suppressed psychic drives of their individual members...Making the most of things...is the goal which entirely determines Maske’s actions...His assets as well as his security lie within his own four walls and in an appearance of utter mediocrity and normality...Theobald reduces ideas and cultural values to their lowest possible meaning. Nietzsche’s glorification of strength is a triviality for someone who used to bully his schoolmates; education is to be obtained through a visit to the zoo, its goal is to make one familiar with nature’s oddities...All that counts is its usefulness in daily life...He is thoroughly hedonistic and will never decline a pleasure if it can be had without further obligations” (Dedner, 1982 pp 30-40). “Mandelstam, as Theobald quickly realizes, has no marrow, and Scarron’s will is sapped. Instead of coming to sweep Louise off her feet as he has promised, he ends up drunk and incapable in the arms of a common prostitute. The ‘decisive turning point’ in Louise’s life is lost. Hence the only people who really get what they want are, first of all, Fräulein Deuter, who is endowed with a ‘tremendous lust for life’ despite her plain exterior, and Theobald, whom she has quickly identified as the true giant. The heroes are not the great thinkers, poets, painters and musicians. The heroes are the Theobalds who achieve complete freedom within their own sphere, a freedom which is lost if the world pays any attention to them. Their insignificance is the cloak under which they can indulge their inclinations, their innermost natures, unhindered. By the end of the play, all the spiritual forces are in disarray and life lived on the basis of reality is triumphant” (Ritchie, 1970 p 18).
In "The strongbox", "gradually, Krull's will is worn away by the attraction of the strongbox. He loses all interest in Fanny and transfers his sexual appetite to the money container itself...Elspeth cleverly allows him to take possession of the strongbox. As he carries it into bed with him, Heinrich speaks to the object of his economic greed the way he once spoke to the object of his sexual drive" (Gittleman (1976 p 28). Garden (1964) appreciated the irony that Krull neglects wife and daughter for the strongbox when all the while it is bequeathed to the church. “The question as to the best use to be made of money is central to the play. For Elsbeth, the answer is obvious...the power...over other people...[For Krull, the thought of the box distracts him from his wife’s breasts]...Krull’s self-stylization as a medieval hero and despot and his perception of the box are entirely on the same level. The box can exert its influence on him only because it feeds the very fantasies after which Krull has fashioned his existence all along...Krull gradually realizes that...the bonds...remain abstractions...to the elements of an anarchic system...Krull exchanges the position of deluded victim for that of realistic master. His victim is Seidenschnur, whom he has accepted as son-in-law because he ‘smacks of romaticism’” (Dedner, 1982 pp 42-49).
"These two plays make a strong case for a tragic view of Sternheim's women. Their primary tyrants are men who are incapable of a genuine, sustained eroticism" (Gittleman, 1976 p 29).
Time: 1900s. Place: Germany.
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Theobald beats his wife, Louise, with a stick then knocks her head against the kitchen table for accidently dropping her bloomers in public view. The dropped underclothes attracted the notice of a gentleman, Scarron, who professes himself enchanted by the sight and wishes to rent two rooms in the couple's apartment to be near her. Mrs Deuter, her neighbor, is thrilled by this new development, promising to fit her so that underneath she will be "a white dream, with a few brightly colored bows in memory of this day". Theobald receives a visit from Mandelstam, a barber and another renter in their house. As Mandelstam secretly whispers to Louise's disgust, he professes to be another admirer of her bloomers. The couple agree on taking both. In view of Louise's negative reaction to his own person, Mandelstam threatens to expose Scarron. "Why should that fop concern me?" she retorts. Yet after Louise's friend, Mrs Deuter, shows her material she may use for new bloomers, she tells Scarron: "I am yours." The two are interrupted by Mandelstam's arrival. With little provocation, she slaps his face, then notices a pointed thing showing from his pocket, a drill, with which he intends to pierce a hole in the wall to spy into Scarron's room. A disciple of Nietzsche, Scarron challenges Theobald by rhetorically demanding the following question: "Should not the presence of a noble woman at your side inspire you to the greatest achievements?" But, as a civil servant, Theobald has a different view. "My freedom is lost if the world pays any particular attention to me," he says. A discussion on the effects of illness causes acute discomfort in Mandelstam's disposition, who ties a scarf around his neck and complains about the north-east position of his room, attracting ironic remarks from Louise when they speak apart. Did he not say he would remain with her whatever the consequences? Nevertheless, he negotiates his rent with her husband. Mrs Deuter arrives with the new bloomers and shows them to Theobald, at the sight of which he begins to court her. The two go off together in his room. Meanwhile, Scarron waxes enthused by his encounter with a whore on the previous evening. He pays Theobald a year's rent for the room but chooses to head toward the whore's apartment. "Unheard of pleasures may await me," he suggests. He is replaced by a lodger of a more serious aspect as Theobald and Louise settle down quietly to married life again.
Time: 1910s. Place: Germany.
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When Heinrich Krull, a schoolmaster, and his second wife, Fanny, return from their honeymoon, he learns from a female servant that in their absence a heavy strongbox was taken up by his wealthy and unmarried Aunt Elspeth and has since disappeared. Dissatisfied about the quality of photographs taken of her person, partly because of Fanny's criticisms, Aunt Elspeth asks Heinrich to inform the photographer, Alphonse, a tenant in their house, that she refuses to pay for them. When he hesitates, she insists on it and promptly adds: "Rest assured, the report on what takes place determines the decision in regard to my last will and testament." Elspeth resents Fanny's presence in the house. Putting her ear on the bedroom door of husband and wife, she spits in disgust. Fanny unexpectedly comes out and, noticing Elspeth's position at the door, complains of her to Heinrich, who merely pretends to scold his aunt. He feels all the more his conflicting situation on being shown the strongbox, laden with state bonds and then reading her will in his favor. On seeing Alphonse distraught at the news of the rejected pictures, Lydia, Heinrich's daughter by his first wife, proposes to pay for them. "Even if I were finally to get my fee," Alphonse asks rhetorically, "how could I make up for the story of the rejected pictures around town?" Lydia then proposes to have her own pictures taken by him. Alphonse accepts, but, in view of the risk involved in exciting the aunt's ire, specifies it must be done secretly. After taking the pictures, Alphonse and Heinrich agree, all the easier in that the former wishes to marry Lydia and enjoy part of the contents of the aunt's riches. But when Elspeth discovers that her nephew removed the pictures from her private drawer to give them to Alphonse, she is offended and wants them back. They exchange angry words. Heinrich feels obliged, despite Alphonse's reputation as a philanderer, to ask his wife to get them back for him. Pretending to be reconciled, Elspeth gives him the strongbox, but, unknown to everyone, changes the will in favor of the local pastor of the church. Late at night, Alphonse swears to Lydia he loves her but soon flirts with Fanny. He is caught in a compromising position by Heinrich and asks for his daughter's hand. Soon after their honeymoon, Lydia is miserable, certain that her husband is already cheating on her. Since Heinrich refuses to give Alphonse an allowance necessary for him to become a painter, he consoles himself by flirting with Fanny, who seems willing to pursue the matter.
Another important figure of German Expressionism includes Georg Kaiser (1878–1945), whose main work is "Von morgens bis mitternachts" (From morn to midnight, 1916), possessing "a savage, biting humor, cynical perhaps, but lighted by horrible flashes of truth" (Crawford, 1922 p 342).
“Symmetry is a major element in the structure of [the play]. The formal austerity of the bank in the first scene is balanced by the noisy vitality of the Salvation Army hall at the end to a voluble confession. Similarly, the celebration of naïve eroticism in the painting by Cranach and the lady’s modest rejection of the cashier’s advances contrast with the commercial sexuality of the night club scene” (Patterson, 1981 p 64).
“The unnamed cashier becomes aware suddenly of the dehumanized life around him. He rises from the grave of bourgeois conformity and stagnation to a new life of freedom...Although the cashier searches for meaning and value in life, he fails to undergo a spiritual transformation...The cashier appears as a modern Everyman whose flawed yet nonetheless heroic search for life’s meaning acquires universal, mythical significance...The cashier is guilty because he misuses the opportunity to discover his true identity to gain power over others and to demonstrate his sexual potency, thus enhancing his self-esteem. His crime of theft is a means to this end...The impulse for the cashier’s sudden transformation from respectable bourgeois to criminal is the sexual desire aroused in him by an exotic Italian lady. Like this first encounter with Eros, all his subsequent efforts to satisfy his sexual appetite lead to disappointment...In the first type of reading, the cashier is a new nan, a tragic rebel, even a martyr. The second approach yields an ironic view of the protagonist: he is a sexually frustrated, power-hungry bourgeois who fails to understand the world in which he functions” (Willeke, 1995 pp 81-86). Critics exaggerate in describing the cashier’s working conditions, the “suffocatingly repressive, life atmosphere of the bank with its mechanical obscenity”, a tendency which serves to mitigate the crime of grand larceny. Yet “Kaiser demonstrates with powerful theatrical effect that deeds performed in the name of togetherness, happiness, Eros, the life principle, and humanity in fact issue in chaos and death” (Chick, 1984 pp 87-88). Other critics have a more negative view of the cashier. “The more the cashier attempts to progress towards meaning and enlightenment the more he gets lost in the dark. He appears to be sexually deprived in the sense of meaningful physical intimacy, otherwise his accidental contact with the beautiful lady would not have triggered grand larceny. He seeks some definition of reality in a home which can provide warmth, succor, and refuge. He finds it in a prison instead of a retreat from the rigors of life. He looks for stimulation in athletic contests, in and of themselves, a healthy and important part of one’s social life, and instead ends up corrupting the event and focusing on the sexual aspects of crowd behavior. He searches for sex in a bordello, hardly a place for meaningful interpersonal relationships” (Elwood, 2004 p 84).
After embezzling, the woman proves to be respectable, and so “the clerk is disappointed in his first attempt to experience a life he had never known: that of the senses...He sets out in quest of a multitude of lost opportunities and of the soul that had been stunted by a soulless society...On the first stage of his new life...the clerk returns home, but now he sees [the family] through new eyes; his slavery to work has been slavery to them...The runaway clerk tries to satisfy vicariously the passion pent up by offering huge sums as stakes in the 6-day bicycle races...but again the clerk is cheated in the fulfillment of his wish...and further disillusioned in the sensuous pleasures that can be had for money...In a Salvation Army hall...each sin forms a part of the clerk’s own guilt...a practice often used by Expressionist dramatists to give concrete form to the complex inner life of the characters...Over this final disillusionment...the mad circle in which he has rushed from morn to midnight closes” (Kenworthy, 1957 pp 25-29).
“The cashier, who has become a silent and perfectly functioning machine in his many years of service, takes [the woman to be one] of easy virtue and is suddenly sexually aroused...She pleads with him to return to work, but he has destroyed his past and continues on his reckless course...In the next Expressionist scene, the cashier is in a snowfield covering his tracks. Suddenly the sun is hidden and a storm sweeps across the field. The snow forms a skeleton which beckons him to follow. But he is not ready to come along...He wants to purchase a new lease on life...He is on his way...His first visit is to his family...They do not comprehend the changes he has undergone. Their lives revolve around their daily meals, needlework, and the playing of music by Wagner...So habit ridden is the mother that the shock of hearing her son leave before lunch kills her...In an arena watching a 6-day bicycle race...he offers a prize...not interested in the sport itself but only in the ecstatic reactions of the audience...The crown prince enters, the national anthem is played, everybody stands at attention, tradition proves stronger than passion...The third station is a cabaret where the cashier has his first taste of the high life...He tries to win the most beautiful girls [but is deceived]. In the Salvation Army hall...the cashier realizes that their sins are his own...He...denounces himself...throws the bills in the hall...but the girl...betrays him...for the reward...He shoots himself [after having failed to reach] a full life...He remains imprisoned by his past...’From morn to midnight’ is a prime example of the Expressionist play of [failed regeneration]...The characters of the play are not fully developed personalities but abstract types or figures. They stand for all people engaged in the same function or profession or in a similar relationship...Designated as Director, Mother, Son, or Policeman, they are not antagonists of the cashier and no dramatic struggle develops. They either function as examples of a life which the cashier rejects, or they serve as his foils. In contrast to the factual language of most of the figures, the cashier uses metaphors and imagery in his monologues. His speech is highly symbolic” (Schürer, 1971 pp 83-86).
"From morn to midnight"
Time: 1910s. Place: Germany.
A lady wishes to withdraw 3,000 marks from a bank, but the manager informs her she must wait for confirmation that this sum is available from her Italian bank. "Please tell me, would it be possible for me to leave you the letter of credit for the whole sum, and to receive an advance of 3,000 in part payment?" she pleads the bank-teller. "I should be willing to deposit my diamonds as security, if required." As an added attraction, she leans on the counter and puts her hand on the cashier's. With no one looking, he crams his pockets with 60,000 marks and leaves as the manager comes in with the confirmation. The lady's son wants the 3,000 marks to buy Lucas Cranach's painting of Adam and Eve. When the bank-teller arrives at her hotel to take her away with him, she hangs back. "Unless I am to consider the whole thing a joke, you gave way to a foolish impulse," she says. "Listen. You can make good the loss. You can go back to your bank and plead a passing illness- a lapse of memory. I suppose you still have the full amount." She takes no further interest in the matter when the bank confirms she may pick up her money. At his house, the bank-teller's talk begins to meander. "The dead lie at the usual depth- three yards," he tells himself. "The living keep on sinking deeper and deeper." When about to leave before his chops are fried, his mother's arms beat the air as she falls and dies. "For once in his life, a man goes out before his meal and that kills her," he wrily comments. The bank-manager has not yet pressed charges, refraining to make the matter public in the hope that his employee will come to his senses and return. Instead, the employee enters a velodrome. In a steward's box, he offers prize money at the rate of 1,000 marks, then augments the sum to 50,000 marks, but when the king arrives, he withdraws the offer. In a private supper room of a cabaret, the teller leads in a woman masked like a moth. She falls asleep. He wakes her up by throwing champagne on her face. He then proposes a beauty context between two other masked women, but when they show their faces, he pushes them out. He next leads in a woman in a Pierrette costume and asks her to "spin her bags of bones". But she has a wooden leg. "I'll water it for you," he proposes. "We'll make the buds sprout." Thinking he is mocking her, she exits angrily. He eventually leaves the place after depositing 1,000 marks for the bill. But to the waiter's despair, customers pounce on the money. "The champagne- the supper- the private room- nothing paid for. Five bottles of Pommery, two portions of caviar, two special suppers- I have to stand for everything." the waiter complains. "I've a wife and children. I've been four months out of a place on account of a weak chest. You won't see me ruined, gentlemen?" They do. He threatens to throw himself into the river. Led by a lass in the hall of the Salvation Army and after hearing different people on the penitent bench, the bank teller confesses his crime and throws bank-notes at the crowd, whereby a skirmish ensues. At least the Salvation Army lass remains with him, until she opens the door. "There he is! I've shown him to you! I've earned the reward," she cries out to the people. "From morn to midnight, I rage in a circle...and now your beckoning finger points the way...where?" the teller asks himself. At the end of his tether, he shoots himself in the breast in public view, but the event goes unnoticed because of a power failure.
Ernst Barlach (1870–1938) wrote a mystifying play, "Der blaue Boll" (Squire Blue Boll, 1926) in which the mystical is mingled with the grotesque. The 'robust country squire' is transformed into a spiritual being who, though confused, wants to 'give birth to a new Boll'" (Garten, 1964 p 110).
Boll “has been forced into a certain role in society which till now he has played well, enjoying the physical pleasures of his position to the full. Squire Boll is called blue because of the blood pressure and attacks of dizziness brought on by his excesses. He is the glutton and lecher his position has made him...At first Boll towers up himself arrogantly, but the episode in the room halfway up the tower undermines his self-confidence. The confrontation in the room with the witch Greta who is also obsessed with the problem of the flesh marks the parting of the ways for Squire Boll. He can either plunge down from the tower in quick suicidal change of direction or he can go upward to a new life. It is the latter choice which is eventually his, helped towards his final decision in one way or the other by all the characters of the play who are all involved in the process of change...The play is full of strikingly grotesque characters, incidents and situations...Is the gentleman really a force for good who brings about Boll’s regeneration? He seems to drive Otto to death and Boll to the brink of suicide. Doris the demon-woman on the other hand seems to become a kind of earth mother who can take all the sins of the world upon herself, thereby purifying Greta the witch” (Ritchie, 1980 pp 20-21).
"Squire Blue Boll"
Time: 1920s. Place: Sternberg, Germany.
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Grüntal is looking for his wife, Greta, who has abandoned him and their three children. Squire Boll, a landowner, hides her in a tower, where she asks him to find poison for her children, to free them from the influence of the flesh. Despite promising to do so, he does not. Holtfreter the shoemaker looks for a missing leg and thinks to have discovered it on a unnamed gentleman, who goes off to drink with him, Boll, Boll's wife, Martha, and his cousin, Otto. Holtfreter is led to think that this unnamed gentleman is God. "I accept the name 'Lord', in the sense I may be a weak and humble reflection out of eternity, a faint, scarcely perceptible shadow of God," he says, to which Otto, considering this gentleman an impostor, replies: "I always pictured God quite differently," "From this morning on, becoming has been proceeding quite gloriously in our city," Holtfreter affirms. Moreover, Otto advises Boll to "renounce the state of all change" and to "stand fast in the state of no-responsibility". Greta turns up at the 'Devil's Kitchen Inn', greeted by the proprietor, Elias, and his large wife, Doris. She is under the delusion that Elias is prepared to place her children's feet inside a cauldron filled with hot coals, but then the couple calm her down. Three dead men suddenly show up to speak with her. "We must move off again right away with the children," one of them says, to which she replies: "For you to keep- and then they must turn to apparitions, too, in your fine company- and you must be starving, too, you lot, you've lost a lot of flesh and your hollowed-eyed look certainly means hunger." After they leave, Greta sees Blue Boll standing in the hot cauldron, while the children play with a golden ball. As Boll walks away, she follows him, waking up the following morning in his company inside a church, where he says the children played with the ball all the way back home. While Greta prays, Martha weeps because Otto has had a stroke. Unexpectedly, Otto returns, affirming strange views such as "The new Boll has triumphed" and that "becoming is fulfilled out of time." Boll wonders what to do next. "Boll must? Must? I will," he muses.
Ernst Toller (1893–1939) leaned more towards leftist principles than most German Expressionists, particularly in "Hoppla, wir leben!" (Hoppla, we're alive! 1927).
“Albert Kroll, Eva Berg, Mutter Meller, and the rest are contrasted with those would-be reformers who like to play with preposterous and crankish schemes of reform which they haven’t the courage to put into practice and which, though they think of them as progressive, are, in fact, deeply reactionary, betraying the unregenerate feeling that actually inspired them. Thus, at a meeting held, revealingly enough, in a room in the Grand Hotel, Philosopher X puts forward eugenics as the cure for the ills of society...Karl Thomas...may have more insight than do the others into what society is like, but his proposals as to what to do about it are most emphatically wrong. At first he wants to escape, to flee with Eva Berg away from it all...Thomas’ second plan is to assassinate Kilman...Its futility...is underlined by Toller’s making Thomas’ plot coincide with that hatched by the extreme nationalists...In his exchange with Karl Thomas, Albert Kroll comes off best...whose arguments make sense only if a revolution is coming” (Pittock, 1979 pp 121-124).
“The characterization of Kilman is quite subtle. We see him in the prologue as...reprehensible...able to affect great indignation when the 6th prisoner asks to see a priest before his execution...When we see Kilman at work, however, in the second scene, it is obvious he is extremely competent...yet...shows all the more clearly the bankruptcy of his revisionist philosophy...Thomas is to be seen as an exemplar of the revolutionary who has not learned from experience, and thus doomed to ineffectuality, whereas Kroll, Meller and Berg have drawn the necessary conclusions and altered their tactics to fit the post-revolutionary circumstances...Karl’s planned assassination...will not serve as a torch...The scene in the grand hotel indicates at least that [Kilman] cannot be bribed. And when...Pickel asks the...question ‘What will become of the world?’, Kilman, obviously plagued by conscience, evades the question...What Kilman has learned...is total abandonment of principle, deceit and corruption under the guise of striving for the betterment of workers...Karl’s...plan to assassinate Kilman is obviously chimerical if only because the presuppositions for a successful revolution [in 1927] are no longer present as they were in 1918/1919” (Ossar, 1980 pp 141-145).
"Hoppla, we're alive!"
Time: 1919 and 1927. Place: Germany.
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Five prisoners are condemned to death for left-wing revolutionary activities. They try to escape, but are unable to. At the last moment, all are reprieved and sent to an internment camp, except Wilhelm. Bursting into unrestrained laughter, Karl is sent into a mental asylum. The other prisoners are unaware that Wilhelm was judged to be involved in the group against his will and set free. When Karl is freed from the asylum 8 years later, he visits Wilhelm and is astonished to learn that his friend is now a minister of the state. He is even more astonished to learn that the minister has repudiated their revolutionary principles. Karl and Eva, an ex-prisoner along with them, are lovers, but she wants him to quit his revolutionary activities and find a job. She also repudiates their revolutionary principles, although active on the subject of workers' rights. Karl explains his principles to the landlady's children, who consider them stupid. Eva loses her job because she sympathized with a group of women on strike. Karl then learns from Albert, another ex-prisoner, that Wilhelm prevented workers on strike from voting. Beginning to feel discouraged, Karl asks himself: "What does it matter?" Wilhelm is re-elected in his ministerial position. After sleeping with Wilhelm's wife, and distressed by his re-election, Count Lande tries to assassinate him with the help of a disgruntled student for political reasons. Half-submitting to Eva's view, Karl obtains a job as a waiter in a restaurant, but yet also intends to kill Wilhelm. The student succeeds in killing Wilhelm in the restaurant and runs into Karl. When the student tells Karl he did it because he considered Wilhelm a Bolshevik selling out the country to Jews, Karl shoots at him but misses. The police find Karl with a gun and conclude he is the minister's killer. A magistrate sends him back to the asylum, where he is examined and sent back to prison, where he finds Eva and Albert. When the prisoners try to communicate with each other, Karl's cell remains silent.
Ferdinand Bruckner (1891-1958), Austrian playwright, wrote "Die verbrecher" (The criminals, 1928).
Time: 1920s. Place: Vienna, Austria.
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Josef Berlessen warns Alfred to stop courting his mother as a lodger at her house. Alfred is offended but does not deny the charge or retaliate. Ernestine, a cook at the Berlessen apartment, tries to dissuade Olga, a secretary, to work so hard at her typing during the eight month of pregnancy, being especially concerned about the baby's health, since the two agreed that the mother will relinquish it to her. Alfred is unable to reveal to Frank, his best friend and Josef's brother, about the nature of his troubles, but to Ottfried, a fellow homosexual, he reveals to be in danger of being called to testify in a case of blackmail and homosexuality, fearing the case might lead to his own culpability. The accused, Imanuel, is blackmailing him in exchange for not calling him as a witness. Moreover, Frank sent a compromising letter to a man named Oskar that may lead to further blackmail. To help him, Ottfried promises to find the letter. Ernestine discovers a watch inadvertently left by her lover, Gustav, an unemployed waiter, in the back-room of a bar. Seized in a fit of violent jealousy against the bar-owner, Karla, Ernestine strangles her to death. Meanwhile, Ottfried's mother receives the unwelcome visit of her dead husband's wealthy brother, Dietrich, who, before leaving for South America, gave her for safe keeping a chest of costly jewels. She sold them to pay for the education of her son and daughter. In only three days of knowing each other, the uncle and her daughter decide to marry. After Karl's murder, Ernestine bursts into Olga's room to say that she and her lover, Kummerer, may now keep the baby for themselves. Olga faints in distress at the loss of her expected money. After delivering the baby, Olga seeks to drown herself with it, but while in the water, she changes her mind and reaches shore. However, the baby dies and she is accused of murder. After hearing her testimony, the authorities also accuse her of attempting to sell the baby and investigate the role of Kummerer in both crimes, but he is eventually released. Police inspectors discover that the watch in Karla's room belongs to Gustav, who, unaware of Ernestine's guilt, is accused of murder. Imanuel is declared innocent, Olga condemned to 8 years in prison, and Gustav unjustly condemned to death. Frank is still worried about being accused of homosexuality, but Ottfried is unable to help. Alfred suggests that they leave together, but Frank says he must first see Oskar. Soon after, Frank is arrested. After hearing about Gustav's condemnation, Ernestine, in the throes of remorse, commits suicide.