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Ride across Lake Constance


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A: Peter Handke Pf: 1971, Berlin Pb: 1971 Tr: 1973 G: Drama in 1 act; German prose S: Elegant room with large staircase at rear, indeterminate period C: 3m, 6fEmil Jannings is dozing in a chair, while a woman vacuum-cleans the room and removes dust covers. He is joined by Heinrich George, and the two converse cryptically. Down the staircase comes the beautiful Elisabeth Bergner, followed by Erich von Stroheim and Henny Porten. Jannings and George miscount the steps as Porten and von Stroheim descend, and they stumble. Bergner glides down and takes tea. Von Stroheim treats Porten like a doll. George coughs, and Jannings kicks him. Porten falls forward as though kicked. Porten buys a whip from George. Bergner and Porten dance. They all conduct disconnected semi-philosophical discussions, interrupted by songs, slapstick routines, guitar playing, etc. Alice and Ellen Kessler arrive, apparently entering the play by accident. They first duplicate each other's moves, then undo what the other has done. Finally, the cleaning woman returns with a destructive doll. Everyone sits motionless, as the stage darkens.

A: Peter Handke Pf: 1971, Berlin Pb: 1971 Tr: 1973 G: Drama in 1 act; German prose S: Elegant room with large staircase at rear, indeterminate period C: 3m, 6f

The title refers to a legendary horseman who, without knowing it, rides across the frozen Lake Constance. When he learns what he risked, he dies of fright – not from any real cause but as a result of his mental processes. This is reflected in Handke's play: people in a dream, people in a film, living at one remove from reality, isolated from one another, constantly misinterpreting one another's signals, both verbal and gestural. Even their identity is arbitrary: named for German stars of the 1920s, Handke requires that ‘the characters should bear the names of the actors playing the roles’. In his rejection of conventional characterization and narrative, and in his meticulous choreography and deconstructed dialogue, Handke anticipates postmodernist experimentation.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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