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Woyzeck Context

A brief look into the contextual background of Georg Buchner and his infamous play, 'Woyzeck'.
by

Duane Brooks

on 29 May 2014

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Transcript of Woyzeck Context

Woyzeck Context
Key Dates

The Three Different Contexts:

Circa 1836 - WRITTEN

1878 - PUBLISHED

1913 - PERFORMED

Written:
Circa 1836
Buchner was influenced by the
'Sturm und Drang'
Movement
(“Storm & Stress)
which was prevalent in 18th Century Germany.

Sturm und Drang:
Young male writers concerned with the trials and tribulations of the common, ordinary man/everyman.
<--- Exam Definition

Form/Structure:
‘stations’ of isolated action replaces the usual linear development of ‘the well made play’ ...(anticipating Brecht's Epic Theatre).

Published:
1878
First published by Karl Emil Franzos as ‘Wozzeck’

Modernism: a developing form of theatre in Europe which explored
"the inner psyche of the human being".
Writers wanted to get into the heads of their characters.

A triumph of Modernism at the time was Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House where the first four acts followed the pattern of ‘the well made play’, yet the final act does not present an unraveling/answer but rather presents a discussion.

Politically, it is about a common, everyman, rather than a traditional hero. It is also Marxist in its views on class and society. It is comic as well as tragic, because of Woyzeck’s position in society and the way he is treated by others. It is also a psychology of a medical kind e.g. it deals with Woyzeck’s diet-induced schizophrenia.
Germany: 1830 - 1890
Two unsuccessful revolutions
Huge farming culture
Undeveloped transport system
Germany broken down into confederation of 39 small states - Passport System implemented as a result - apply for separate passports for trips to two destinations 5 or 10 miles apart.
People were confined to their local areas/affairs – only soldiers, the students and journeymen provided an intermittent link with other parts of the country
Dominated by strict hierarchies
Gap between rich and poor, rich as oppressors, working class should achieve liberation by rising up – an idea of Communism.

Buchner & Communism
Buchner clearly a big fan of Communism and Revolutionary Ideas!

His political beliefs centered around the idea that everyone should be equal (Socialist Utopia) and to get to this society, the working class should overthrow their oppressors aka business owners ....
(ideas of Karl Marx – Communist Manifesto 1818 – 1883)

Communism in Woyzeck
Upper classes exploit lower classes (Doctor & Captain)

Upper classes are shown in a bad light as they are the ones who cause much of Woyzeck’s issues
(No money/Poverty = Experiments = Marie forced to leave = Woyzeck reaction)

Working class are the ones we sympathize with, whilst the higher class are shown as morally defiant
Performed:
1913
First performed in the Residenztheatre, Munich.
Sumptuously adorned theatre built between 1750 - 1755.
Quoted as a
"royal building decorated in Rococo Style"

(Edexcel Student Book, 2009)
Era of huge commercial expansion in German Theatre

While Büchner's play didn't reach the stage until 1913, it had been claimed by both
Naturalists
and
Expressionists
.
Naturalism
VS.
Expressionism

“Woyzeck appears to point towards both movements,

being both a ‘modern’ piece of social realism that argues that our lives are determined by social and environmental circumstance,
whilst also acknowledging the tragedy of existence - dramatizing the suffering of the protagonist.”
Epic Theatre
Naturalism
Naturalism was developed throughout the mid to late 19th Cent. So, considering that Woyzeck premiered only a year before WW1 began (1914), it is no surprise that the themes of the dehumanizing effects of poverty, class and cruelty between people are connected to Buchner and the Naturalist movement – depicting life realistically, accentuating its harsh details.
Expressionism
“dramatization of the main characters spiritual awakening / suffering.”
“Bucnher's play acknowledges the tragedy of existence - dramatizing the suffering of his protagonist, Woyzeck.”
(Exam Definitions!)

Developed in the early 20th Century
Key Directors: Georg Kaiser & Ernst Toller
Characteristics include: simplification of characters - unnamed types; declamatory dialogue; heightened performance intensity.
The form/structure adopted by Buchner in Woyzeck also anticipates Brecht’s Epic Theatre.

The episodic nature does not unravel the the plot which you would find in most ‘traditional’/naturalistic drama, but leaps from moment to moment and in many cases interchangeable in their sequence.
Woyzeck is, therefore, called
the

first ‘modern’ play.

Woyzeck is a victim of social/economic forces. First working class hero!
Other Early Performances
Acording to Stern, J. (1964) who writes in his text: '
A World of Suffering: Georg Buchner'
, the first performances of Woyzeck "can never be considered true representations of his work."
Why?

Nov 8th 1913:
a tragic success which 'moved' the audience. (Directed by Killan @ Kammerspiele, Munich)

Dec 1st 1913:
leading Expressionist, Barnowsky, directs in Berlin. Elaborate Expressionist sets resulted in long scene changes which left audiences frustrated.
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