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Captain of Köpenick


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A: Carl Zuckmayer Pf: 1931, Berlin Pb: 1930 Tr: 1932 G: Com. in 3 acts; German prose S: Berlin and environs, 1910 C: 43m, 11f, 2 children (f)Wilhelm Voigt is a 46-year-old cobbler in the working-class district of Köpenick in Berlin. Because he has been imprisoned for 15 years for a minor forgery, he is unable to obtain a residence permit and also has problems getting papers to allow him to leave Prussia. Observing how an army captain is treated with disrespect by the police because he is not wearing his uniform, Voigt becomes aware of the importance of military dress in a state like Prussia. After the death of a little child he read stories to, Voigt decides to be pushed around no longer and buys a captain's uniform from a second-hand clothes dealer. Suddenly, he is treated with respect. Aware of the power his uniform gives him, he goes to the town hall and has the mayor arrested and helps himself to municipal funds. After a drunken spree, he learns that there is a reward for the arrest of the ‘Captain of Köpenick’, and offers to give himself up in return for a passport. Ready to return to prison, he entertains the police with an account of his deception. Invited by the Chief of Police to don the uniform once more, Voigt looks at himself in the mirror and laughs until he cries.

A: Carl Zuckmayer Pf: 1931, Berlin Pb: 1930 Tr: 1932 G: Com. in 3 acts; German prose S: Berlin and environs, 1910 C: 43m, 11f, 2 children (f)

The Captain of Köpenick was based on an actual case in Berlin in 1906. Although film adaptations and some English versions emphasize only the jolly romp of Voigt's impersonation of an officer (with the reassuring outcome that the Kaiser himself is amused by Voigt's antics), Zuckmayer's original play offers, beneath the comedy, a serious warning to the German nation, urgent enough in 1930, about the danger of allowing military hierarchies to determine the structure of society.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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