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Spring's Awakening


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AT: The Awakening of Spring; Spring Awakening A: Frank Wedekind Pf: 1906, Berlin Pb: 1891 Tr: 1909 G: Trag. in 3 acts; German prose S: Small German town, 1890s C: 30m, 7f, extrasWendla Bergmann is dismayed at having to wear a long dress now she is 14. She has friends who are also troubled by adolescence: Moritz Stiefel, who is desperate to pass his exams, and Melchior Gabor, whose mother is more liberal than most. Melchior offers to explain ‘the facts of life’ to Moritz, but the latter insists on studying hard. Melchior and Wendla meet in the woods, and their erotic attraction gets out of hand when she begs him to beat her. For Moritz's benefit, Melchior puts into writing the facts of sex. When Wendla asks her mother to explain where babies come from, the mother evades her questions. Melchior has sex with Wendla in a hay loft. Hänschen Rilow masturbates on the toilet. Moritz fails his examinations and, terrified at his parents' reaction, rejects the advances of the uncomplicated Ilse, a prostitute, and then shoots himself. The teachers meet and, spending more time discussing whether or not to open a window, expel Melchior, because they identify his letter about sex as the cause of Moritz's death. Melchior is sent to a reform school, where the boys entertain themselves by seeing who can ejaculate furthest. When Wendla's mother discovers that the unsuspecting Wendla is pregnant, she calls in an abortionist, who brings about Wendla's death. By contrast, Hänschen and another boy are seen enjoying an idyllic homoerotically charged meeting in the countryside. Melchior, having escaped from the reformatory, goes to the graveyard where Moritz and Wendla are buried. Moritz rises from his grave, his head under his arm, and urges Melchior to join him in death. The Man-in-the-Mask intervenes and persuades Melchior to opt for life.

AT: The Awakening of Spring; Spring Awakening A: Frank Wedekind Pf: 1906, Berlin Pb: 1891 Tr: 1909 G: Trag. in 3 acts; German prose S: Small German town, 1890s C: 30m, 7f, extras

Although it took 15 years for Spring's Awakening to reach the stage, when it was offered, with predictable omissions, in a chamber performance by Max Reinhardt, the play became the most frequently performed German play of the 20th century. Its exploration of nascent sexuality and the hypocrisy of adults for the first time opened up in the theatre the taboo subject of sex (and even today it would still be hard to imagine performing the full text on national television without eliciting a public outcry). Moreover, this was the first play, subtitled ‘A Children's Tragedy’, where contemporary action is seen from the perspective of children. In terms of theatrical development, almost everything prefigures Expressionism: youth in revolt against their repressive elders; the optimistic conclusion in Melchior's decision to prefer life to suicide; the economy of language; the episodic structure; the grotesque caricatures, especially of the absurdly named teachers; and the symbolic figure of the Man-in-the-Mask (played originally by Wedekind himself). Thus Wedekind provided a link in the chain from Büchner to modernist playwriting.

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Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights) — Music Theatre.


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