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Plebeians Rehearse the Uprising


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Coriolanus

Günter Grass (b. 1927) German novelist, poet, and dramatist

 

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A: Günter Grass Pf: 1966, Berlin Pb: 1966 Tr: 1967 G: Pol. drama in 4 acts; German prose and blank verse S: Theatre in East Germany, 17 June 1953 C: 24m, 2fThe ‘Boss’ (i.e. Bertolt Brecht) is preparing for a rehearsal of his own version of Shakespeare's Coriolanus, in which he will show the Plebeians to be ‘class-conscious enemies’ of the aristocratic hero, represented by a life-size puppet. During the rehearsal, news comes of workers' uprisings against the State's excessive demands for increased productivity. Some workers then appear in the theatre and demand that the Boss support their cause. He refuses to commit himself. Quoting Lenin, that ‘revolt, like war, is an art’, the ‘Boss’ recognizes the senselessness of the workers' uprising, which is an outburst of frustration and not a coherent political action, but he still cannot side with the rulers against them. Instead, he involves the workers in the Coriolanus rehearsals, recording on tape their comments. Half-jokingly, workers threaten to hang the Boss and his dramaturg, but these two, using Menenius' story of the body politic, manage to talk themselves free. An injured worker is brought in, and news comes that the uprising is being brutally suppressed. Finally, the Boss issues an ambiguous statement, mildly criticizing but ultimately supporting the government (‘pussyfooting’ as ‘Volumnia’ remarks). Everyone knows that only the last part of his statement will be made public, but the Boss's theatre will be safe. He withdraws into artistic isolation: ‘Guilty myself, I accuse you.’

A: Günter Grass Pf: 1966, Berlin Pb: 1966 Tr: 1967 G: Pol. drama in 4 acts; German prose and blank verse S: Theatre in East Germany, 17 June 1953 C: 24m, 2f

Grass, better known as a novelist, here wrote a searching examination of the role of the artist at a time of social upheaval, focusing on Brecht's ambiguous response to the 1953 uprisings in the German Democratic Republic. The play, by creating the rather improbable situation of workers getting involved in a theatre rehearsal while their fellows are marching in the streets outside, also explores the Situationists' recognition of the theatricality of political demonstrations.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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