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Murderer, Hope of Womankind


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AT: Murderer, Hope of Women/Women's Hope A: Oskar Kokoschka Pf: 1909, Vienna Pb: 1910; rev. 1913, 1917 Tr: 1963 G: Drama in 1 act; German prose S: Battlefield with tower and cage, in the mythical past C: 1m, 1f, 2 choruses (m and f)The Man, a warrior in ancient times, has defeated the Woman and her band of Amazonians. To seal his victory, he attempts to brand her with his sign, but she breaks free and wounds him in the side with a knife. He is taken to the tower and imprisoned in a cage, while his warriors mate with the women in an orgiastic frenzy. The Woman taunts him, pressing her body to the bars of the cage. When she releases him to couple with him, he treats her like a mother figure, seeking peace with her. She is frightened, because this appeal to her maternity saps her strength. She collapses, and the Man strides away, killing all in his path. In the 1917 version, a flame tears the tower open from top to bottom.

AT: Murderer, Hope of Women/Women's Hope A: Oskar Kokoschka Pf: 1909, Vienna Pb: 1910; rev. 1913, 1917 Tr: 1963 G: Drama in 1 act; German prose S: Battlefield with tower and cage, in the mythical past C: 1m, 1f, 2 choruses (m and f)

This curious piece has regularly been identified as one of the forerunners of Expressionism, although in fact its mythical setting and elemental conflicts belong more to neo-Romanticism. The violent confrontation between the sexes echoes the work of Strindberg, but is here taken from a domestic context to a universal plane, between the male principle of Eros (Love) and the female Thanatos (Death). The piece is intensely theatrical: it is unintelligible without the stage directions, and the dialogue is mere word-music that amplifies the visual elements. It thus fulfilled the great designer and director Craig's demand for a play that was ‘incomplete anywhere except on the boards of a theatre’. Hindemith wrote an operatic version in 1921.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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