History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/German Pre-WWII
Pre-World War II German theatre was dominated by Expressionism, 1912-1923 (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 the German Storm and Stress movement." (Burkhard, 1933 p 172)
- 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
Gerhart Hauptmann (1862-1946) continued to write dramas of the realist or naturalist type from the previous century, notably "Die Ratten" (The rats, 1911).
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).
“The threepenny opera” differs from John Gay's "The beggar's opera" (1728) 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.
In “Mother Courage and her children”, the protaganist 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. As Garten (1964) observes, "she epitomizes the sufferings of the nameless masses in the cataclysm of war" but as Brustein (1964) observes, “she always chooses the most selfish, ignominious, and profitable course.”
In "The good person of Szechwan", "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) as follows. "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 argue that in the Brecht play it is not so much man who is "mean, petty, lost", it is 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).
"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. 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.
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).
"Purgatory in Ingolstadt"
Time: 1920s. Place: Ingolstadt, Germany.
Text at ?
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 should include the Hungarian dramatist, Ödön von Horváth (1901–1938), with "Geschichten aus dem Wiener wald" (Tales of the Vienna woods, 1931) and "Kasimir und Karoline" (Casimir and Caroline, 1932).
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) noted. (p 347)
"Tales of the Vienna woods"
Text at ?
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.
Text at ?
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. One of its main themes is the father-son conflict, particularly prominent in "The beggar" (Garten, 1964 p 116.)
Time: 1910s. Place: Germany.
Text at ?
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.
Carl Sternheim (1878-1942) wrote two notable dark comedies: "Die Hose" (The bloomers, 1911) and "Die Kassette" (The strongbox, 1912).
In "The strongbox", Garden (1964) appreciates the irony that Krull neglects wife and daughter for the strongbox when all the while it is bequeathed to the church.
Time: 1900s. Place: Germany.
Text at ?
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.
Text at ?
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 figure of German Expressionism includes Georg Kaiser (1878–1945), whose main work "Von morgens bis mitternachts" (From morn to midnight, 1912).
"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 "Der blaue Boll" (Squire Blue Boll, 1926). In this play, the mystical is mingled with the grotesque (Garten, 1964 p 110). The "robust country squire" is transformed into a spiritual being who, though confused, wants to "give birth to a new Boll".
"Squire Blue Boll"
Time: 1920s. Place: Sternberg, Germany.
Text at ?
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).
"Hoppla, we're alive!"
Time: 1919 and 1927. Place: Germany.
Text at ?
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.
Text at ?
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.