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Woyzeck


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Georg Büchner (1813—1837)

Alban Berg (1885—1935) Austrian composer

Dantons Tod

 

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A: Georg Büchner W: 1836–7 Pf: 1913, Munich Pb: 1875 Tr: 1927 G: Fragmentary trag.; German prose S: A small town in Germany, early 18th c. C: 10m, 3f, extrasJohann Woyzeck is a simple-minded soldier, who earns some extra cash by doing odd jobs, cutting sticks and shaving the Captain, and by acting as a guinea pig for scientific experiments for the obsessive Doctor. He needs the extra money to support his common-law wife Marie and their child. He takes her to the fair, where she meets the glamorous Drum Major, who seduces her. Taunted by the Captain, and haunted by voices in his head, Woyzeck is driven to desperation. When he sees Marie dancing with the Drum Major, he is on the verge of breaking down. After being beaten by the Drum Major, Woyzeck buys a knife, takes Marie into the woods, and stabs her to death. Returning to the tavern, he dances wildly and is questioned about the blood on his hand. He tries to hide the knife in the waters of a pond. A character comments on the quality of the murder.

A: Georg Büchner W: 1836–7 Pf: 1913, Munich Pb: 1875 Tr: 1927 G: Fragmentary trag.; German prose S: A small town in Germany, early 18th c. C: 10m, 3f, extras

It is one of the tragedies of world drama that one of the greatest playwrights, acknowledged by writers as diverse as Artaud and Brecht to be the father of modern theatre, died at the age of 23, leaving only Danton's Death, a comedy Leonce and Lena, and this unfinished masterpiece. Woyzeck is remarkable in many respects. Its episodic structure formed a model for the fragmentary, kaleidoscopic depiction of reality beloved of modernist theatre. Its terse, highly charged poetic language showed how effective minimal dialogue can be. Above all, focusing a tragedy on a simple working-class figure opened up the possibility, especially for naturalist drama later in the century, of showing that ordinary people could be something more than comic characters. The play lay for decades as a neglected fragment, and even its title was initially misread as Wozzeck (as in Alban Berg's opera of 1925). It is uncertain how Büchner intended to order the scenes and to end the play, whether with Woyzeck's suicide (as in the opera) or with his trial (as in the historical case on which the play is based). What is clear is that Büchner's sympathies are with the simple-minded downtrodden Woyzeck, compared with the complacent, unimaginative, and unnamed figures of authority. Because of its fragmentary nature, Woyzeck has attracted many adventurous theatrical treatments, for example, by Robert Wilson (2002).

Subjects: Literature.


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