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Before Dawn


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AT: Before Daybreak; Before Sunrise A: Gerhart Hauptmann Pf: 1889, Berlin Pb: 1889 Tr: 1909 G: Drama in 5 acts; German prose S: A village in Silesia, 1880s C: 10m, 9fA young Socialist, Alfred Loth, comes to a mining district in Silesia to study the condition of the miners. He visits his old friend Hoffmann, a now unscrupulous engineer in charge of the mines. Hoffmann has married Martha, the daughter of Krause, a peasant grown rich from the coal on his land. Loth falls in love with her sister Helene, the only family member untainted by their suddenly acquired wealth. Helene reciprocates his love, seeing him as her only chance of escaping from her miserable existence. Old Krause is an alcoholic, and it turns out that Martha is an alcoholic too. Her first child died at the age of 3, and her next baby is stillborn, while her cousin, hearing her screams, jeers: ‘Are you slaughtering a pig in there?’ Hoffmann, fearing that Loth will stir up the underpaid miners, urges him to leave. Loth resists until the family doctor warns him that no offspring of Krause would be free from inherited degeneration and alcoholism. Believing that physical and mental health are essential ‘before the dawn’ of a new life, Loth leaves secretly. The desperate Helene commits suicide with a hunting knife.

AT: Before Daybreak; Before Sunrise A: Gerhart Hauptmann Pf: 1889, Berlin Pb: 1889 Tr: 1909 G: Drama in 5 acts; German prose S: A village in Silesia, 1880s C: 10m, 9f

This remarkable first play for a then unknown 27-year-old writer launched Hauptmann on a wave of controversy to become the leading figure of German naturalism. Before Dawn is innovative in its unflinching depiction of degraded lives, and also offers a new vision of the dramatic protagonist. In the past young idealists fail because of their unyielding idealism; here the unbending (and dangerously proto-Nazi) idealism of Loth is treated as priggish but commendable. He does not fail; the world fails him.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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