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Luther


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John Osborne (1929—1994) playwright and autobiographer

 

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A: John Osborne Pf: 1961, Nottingham Pb: 1961 G: Hist. drama in 3 acts S: Erfurt; Juterbög [ = Jüterbog], Wittenberg, Augsburg, and Worms, Germany, and Magliana [ = Magliano], Italy, 1506–30 C: 13m, 1f, extrasMartin Luther, witnessed by his father, a prosperous merchant, is received into the Augustinian Order in Erfurt. His father is sceptical about the vision which called his son to be a monk, but, despite chronic constipation, Luther performs menial tasks and flagellates himself. Only when alone does he reveal doubts about his vocation. While the notorious Dominican monk Johann Tetzel hawks indulgences to the gullible faithful, Luther furiously criticizes this commercialism and superstition, and, despite his growing reputation as a scholar, has to be reprimanded by his superiors. Luther responds by becoming even more rebellious, preaching against indulgences and in 1517 nailing his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg. When he refuses to retract these, he is excommunicated by Pope Leo X. Scornfully, Luther burns the Pope's decree and denounces him as Satan's lackey. Luther, summoned to the Diet of Worms in 1521, refuses to recant: ‘Here I stand: God help me; I can do no more.’ In 1525, after the peasants' revolt at Bundschuh and its brutal suppression, Luther is blamed for stirring unrest. However, he insists that he is only bringing the word of God to the common people, an achievement praised even by the vicar-general of the Augustinians. At the end, Luther is seen living in domestic harmony with his wife and children in a vacated cloister in Wittenberg.

A: John Osborne Pf: 1961, Nottingham Pb: 1961 G: Hist. drama in 3 acts S: Erfurt; Juterbög [ = Jüterbog], Wittenberg, Augsburg, and Worms, Germany, and Magliana [ = Magliano], Italy, 1506–30 C: 13m, 1f, extras

Although Osborne's Luther has some elements in common with Brecht's historical plays, especially its epic construction in a series of short scenes in different locations and its undramatic ending, there is little political analysis. Osborne instead relates Luther's rebellion to his historically documented constipation, which makes him an anal compulsive out of joint with the world.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights) — Literary Studies (20th Century onwards).


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