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Madman and the Nun


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AT: There Is Nothing Bad Which Could Not Turn into Something Worse A: Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz W: 1923 Pf: 1924, Toruń Pb: 1925 Tr: 1968 G: Drama in 3 acts; Polish prose S: Cell in a lunatic asylum, 1920s C: 6m, 2fAlexander Walpurg, a handsome but dishevelled 29-year-old poet, is a patient in a lunatic asylum, diagnosed with dementia praecox ‘stemming from a forgotten incident in his past’. Sister Anna, a beautiful 22-year-old nun, is assigned to him to bring this to light. Anna entered a convent after her fiancé shot himself, while Walpurg tormented his lover to death. The two are instantly attracted to each other, and, after Anna has released Walpurg from his straitjacket, they become lovers. The following morning, Walpurg feels a changed man, ready to begin a new life with Anna and to start writing poetry again. Two doctors visit him: the psychiatrist Dr Grün is overjoyed at Walpurg's progress, while the brain-surgeon Dr Bidello so enrages Walpurg that he stabs him to death with a pencil. Grün imagines that he has now ‘resolved his complex’, but Anna is horrified. That evening, Anna comes to Walpurg again, and they are surprised in a passionate embrace by Grün and the Mother Superior. Grün orders that Walpurg be tied up, but Walpurg hangs himself from his window frame. Shortly afterwards, Walpurg enters, immaculately dressed, followed by Bidello, carrying a new dress for Anna, who leaves with them. Grün, his assistants, and the Mother Superior find themselves locked in the cell. They begin to fight like madmen.

AT: There Is Nothing Bad Which Could Not Turn into Something Worse A: Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz W: 1923 Pf: 1924, Toruń Pb: 1925 Tr: 1968 G: Drama in 3 acts; Polish prose S: Cell in a lunatic asylum, 1920s C: 6m, 2f

What begins as a psychological and realist drama suddenly launches into unreality with the arrival of the two people we have witnessed die on stage. At the end, Grün wails: ‘I don't know what the hell is going on here!’ The audience are similarly mystified as Witkiewicz kicks away rationality, making us share the Mother Superior's insight: ‘I cannot tell any more who is mad.’

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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