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Toller


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A: Tankred Dorst Pf: 1968, Stuttgart Pb: 1968 Tr: No pub. trans. G: Hist. drama in 30 scenes; German prose S: Various locations in Munich, 1919, and USA, 1939 C: 28 actors, playing over 50 rolesIn the political vacuum following the defeat of Germany in the First World War, the revolutionary poet Erich Mühsam proclaims the establishment of a Councils' Republic in Bavaria on 6 April 1919. The Central Council comprises a motley collection of intellectuals, workers, and peasants, and appoint as its chairman Ernst Toller, a young Jewish playwright and poet. Eugen Leviné, a Russian Communist, opposes the romantic and non-violent aspirations of the Council (characterized by an extract from Toller's Masses and Men) and wants to place it under the control of the Communist Party. Because most of the leading Council members are Jewish, they face anti-Semitic ridicule. On 13 April, Mühsam is arrested by government forces, and Leviné takes over the Council, insisting to the reluctant Toller on the use of force. In 1939 Toller is seen reading his memoirs to an audience of American ladies. Back in 1919, as the Communists proceed with arrests and shootings, government forces prepare to march on Munich. As the Council faces defeat, Leviné prepares to escape to Switzerland. Members of the Central Council are arrested, and Toller goes into hiding with an aristocratic friend. Toller is brought to trial on 16 July, and while he delivers an impassioned speech in defence of the revolution, workers are led away to be shot. Toller, the harmless poet, is merely sentenced to five years' imprisonment.

A: Tankred Dorst Pf: 1968, Stuttgart Pb: 1968 Tr: No pub. trans. G: Hist. drama in 30 scenes; German prose S: Various locations in Munich, 1919, and USA, 1939 C: 28 actors, playing over 50 roles

In 1968, the year of student revolts across Europe, Dorst's play explored the role of the intellectual in a revolutionary context and confronted the sombre recognition that successful revolutions had to be achieved and maintained by force and not through the unrealistic idealism of a writer like the Expressionist Toller. The intricacies of the political situation are represented by a sequence of skilfully composed scenes covering the whole spectrum of those involved, from government to workers, making this one of the most significant post-Brechtian political plays of European theatre.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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