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Machine Wreckers


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A: Ernst Toller Pf: 1922, Berlin Pb: 1922 Tr: 1923 G: Drama in 5 acts and a prologue; German prose and verse S: The House of Lords and Nottingham, 1812–16 C: 26m, 7f, 5 children, extrasDespite Lord Byron's support for the weavers, a bill is passed in Parliament making destruction of machinery a capital offence. In Nottingham misery reigns, as women and children work for a pittance at the new steam looms, while the male weavers starve. When Jimmy Cobbett, an idealistic rebel, becomes leader of the discontented men, his brother Henry, fearing for his job as foreman, plots with the treacherous weaver John Wible to get rid of Jimmy. Jimmy tries to persuade the mill owner Ure to employ his machines for the benefit of all, but Ure hides behind a Darwinian concept of survival. Wible incites the men to destroy the machines. When Jimmy tries to hold them back, he is beaten to death. The weavers defiantly march off to be arrested, while only an old weaver is left to mourn Jimmy's passing.

A: Ernst Toller Pf: 1922, Berlin Pb: 1922 Tr: 1923 G: Drama in 5 acts and a prologue; German prose and verse S: The House of Lords and Nottingham, 1812–16 C: 26m, 7f, 5 children, extras

Owing much to Hauptmann's The Weavers, Toller's play on the Luddites goes beyond the familiar depiction of misery and starvation of the weavers. He suggests instead that there should be a positive response to the introduction of machinery, which can ‘lift the Scriptural curse of toil’, if only employed for the good of all. The play was given a spectacular premiere in Reinhardt's ‘Theatre of Five Thousand’ in Berlin, with a functional steam loom, the realism of which however militated against the poetic Expressionism of the piece.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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