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Mary Magdalene


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A: Friedrich Hebbel Pf: 1846, Leipzig Pb: 1844 Tr: 1914 G: Trag. in 3 acts; German prose S: Medium-sized German town, 1830s C: 7m, 2f, 2 children (1m, 1f)The master-carpenter Anton has two children, Klara and Karl. Klara has lost her virginity to an unscrupulous young man, Leonhard, and the two find themselves facing marriage without any love between them. Karl is arrested on suspicion of stealing jewellery, and the shock kills his mother. Leonhard uses this shameful development as an excuse to break off his engagement to Klara. Anton makes his daughter swear that she will never bring shame on the house, and says that he will cut his throat if she ‘loses her honour’. The Secretary, a former beloved of Klara, offers her his hand in marriage, but leaves when she tells him that she is no longer a virgin. In desperation she begs Leonhard to marry her, but he is furthering his ambition by wooing the mayor's hunchbacked niece. Karl is acquitted of his alleged crime, and the Secretary kills Leonhard in a duel but is himself mortally wounded. Klara commits suicide by throwing herself into a well, and it is left to the dying Secretary to point out that all their troubles stemmed from the unyielding attitude of Anton.

A: Friedrich Hebbel Pf: 1846, Leipzig Pb: 1844 Tr: 1914 G: Trag. in 3 acts; German prose S: Medium-sized German town, 1830s C: 7m, 2f, 2 children (1m, 1f)

Although most of his plays are historical tragedies, Hebbel here takes up the tradition of the bourgeois tragedy in order to show that ‘in the most limited circles a devastating tragedy is possible’. Ibsen was surprised at his success in Germany, when they had ‘their own Hebbel’, and clearly he was influenced by the realism of this tragedy. In the 20th century Mary Magdalene (the title presumably a reminder that Christ forgave penitent sinners) was Hebbel's most frequently performed play.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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