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Transcript of Woyzeck themes
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Woyzeck has low status and wealth so therefore has to suffer whatever is dealt out to.
No one cares for him; Marie is unfaithful, he has no friends (Andres doesn’t listen to him, shows little concern over Marie’s infidelity and refuses to help him). Even Margaret treats Marie like a whore.
Most of the minor characters, such as the Drum Major, the Doctor and the Captain are egotistical – they represent the evils of society, with no care for anyone but themselves.
The Grandmother’s fairy tale sums up this view of life, with its concentration on loneliness, with no hope anywhere else on Earth.
Buchner blames most of the suffering in the play on the results of poverty. Woyzeck points this out when talking to the Captain, ‘We poor folk – you see, Captain, it’s money, money, when you’ve got none. You can’t set a fellow like me in the world on just morals, a man is flesh and blood as well’.
Marxist views (e.g. strong communist views – no class system, everyone is seen to be equal in terms of status, money and knowledge) - Buchner outlines the fate of the poor and the inequalities of life at the time.
Woyzeck is a soldier, one of the most lowly paid of all trades at the time. As the army barber, Woyzeck is at the mercy of the Captain, who taunts him over the lack of morals. Woyzeck argues that poor people cannot afford virtue. It is for money to give Marie and the child that he sells himself to the Doctor for the ridiculous scientific experiment. His situation increases the idea of Woyzeck as a christ figure, but without the ability to hope and feel.
Symbolism - Heat
Heat and sweat are associated with the idea of poverty and hard work.
Scene 4 - the child is described as ‘There are beads of sweat on his forehead. Nothing but work under the sun. We even sweat in our sleep. We poor folk’.
Scene 10 - Woyzeck describes Marie’s sin as ‘such a sin (…) you’d think the stink of it would bring the angels tumbling out of heaven’.
Social rank and order - Woyzeck is at the very bottom of the social hierarchy, a simple soldier who is unskilled.
The range of social status is clearly shown through the authority of the Doctor, the Captain and the Drum Major. They all consider themselves as important and use their authority in cruel and egotistical ways. Above all, they show no compassion for the poor below them in rank. This is all part of Buchner’s view on poverty and the way the poor are treated in society.
The play rejects all Christian expectations. (e.g. Woyzeck And Marie have a child outside of wedlock) Woyzeck can be argued to be this Christ-like figure, who has done no harm to anyone, and who has been abused in his role as a soldier by his superiors. His attempts to wash away his sins (Marie’s blood) have no success.
Woyzeck is more innocent than almost anyone in the play but is treated worse than others. He is driven to murder, largely because of his paranoia. Some of his lines are from the book of Revelations and show this idea of the world’s guilt and evil.
Marie could be argued to be the Virgin-Mary, with her son, and Mary Magdalene, fallen when tempted by gifts from the Drum Major but desperate to repent.
Symbolism - The Bible
Scene 1 - Woyzeck’s hallucinations are linked to the Bible, with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (the fire travelling across the sky and the din of trumpets, ending in silence as if the world were dead).
Scene 4 - Marie decides ‘(This world) It’s going to hell, all of it and us with it’
Scene 5 - Woyzeck is accused by the Captain of having a child without the blessing of the church, Woyzeck quotes ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me’.
Scene 10 - Marie becomes Mary Magdalene when Woyzeck accuses her of ‘a big fat sin’.
Scene 12 - the first journeyman’s speech is a mock sermon.
Scene 18 - Marie assumes the role of Mary Magdalene again when she tries to pray for forgiveness and wishes she could anoint Christ’s feet.
Woyzeck’s madness is attributed to the scientific movement sweeping Europe at the time, exploring aspects of the human body. (Grave robbers became very profitable at this time). He is paid to live on peas only, so that the doctor can share the conclusions with his students, not worrying about the consequences on Woyzeck. The result was a chemically-induced schizophrenia, presented to us at the beginning of the play in Woyzeck’s hallucinations and visions.
The paranoia and visions increase as the play progresses as does the use of sound and song, until the fateful moment when he believes the earth is telling him to stab Marie.
Symbolism - Heat
Woyzeck’s growing madness is characterised by bouts of heat and dizziness, emphasising its physical origins. Heat is linked to apocalyptic visions of fire (scene 1 ‘smoke coming from the land like an oven’.)
Scene 6 - Woyzeck ‘When the sun is at its highest point in the sky and it is as if the whole world is on fire – that’s when a terrible voice spoke to me’.
Man is constantly being compared with animals (see the scenes with showman/horse and the doctor/cat). Man is shown to be dishonourable – we are more capable than animals but we use this capability in evil and destructive ways. Animals are more innocent but are still treated like the lowest man
Scene 1 - the head that he hallucinates is likened to a hedgehog and Andres’ song is about hares.
Scene 2 - Marie sees the Drum Major as a ‘lion’.
Scene 3 - the fairground scene, when the monkey is dressed as a soldier, ‘the lowest form of humanity’. There is also an ‘astronomical horse’. When the Drum Major and the Sergeant speak of Marie in this scene, it is in terms of ‘foaling a cavalry regiment out of her’ - the sexual is always on an animal level
Scene 3 - the horse is extremely important, cautioned by the Showman ‘to put human society to shame’. It is used as satire on the worst in humans and a comment on the stupidity of fighting.
Scene 6 - The Doctor scolds Woyzeck for ‘pissing against the wall like a dog’. Woyzeck begins to refer to Woyzeck as ‘bitch’.
Scene 7 - where Marie and the Drum Major meet alone is presented in purely bestial terms: ‘ Chest like a bull, beard like a lion’ and ‘ we’ll set up a stud farm for drum majors’. The Drum Major calls Marie a ‘wild animal’.
Scene 8 - When the Doctor shows Woyzeck to his students to demonstrate the success of his experiment, the cat is presented as superior to Woyzeck. Woyzeck is made to wiggle his ears and that he is turning into a donkey. The cat can run away, Woyzeck can’t.
Scene 12 - the inn scene, watching Marie dance with the Drum Major, Woyzeck argues against fornication: ‘Flesh, filth, man, woman, human, animal. – They all do it in the open day, do it on the back of a hands like flies’.
The Human Condition
Politics and Poverty
All Woyzeck’s hallucinations are connected with violence and worldwide destruction.
Most characters are guilty of violence; the Captain and the Drum Major. The violence/madness in Woyzeck’s mind increases to the point where he is forced to act.
Violence appears in other ways – Woyzeck being beaten up by the Drum Major.
It could be argued that Woyzeck, though the murderer, is the innocent victim of violence.
Scene 1 - Andres and Woyzeck are cutting wood with knives - connected with Woyzeck’s hallucinations and foreshadow the murder of Marie with a knife.
Scene 5 - Woyzeck uses a razor to shave the Captain, where he is being abused and made fun of.
Scene 10 - Marie tells him, when he discovers her affair with the Drum Major. ‘Put a knife in my guts if you want but not your hand on mine’, foreboding the future.
Symbolism - The Knife
Scene 13 - Woyzeck begins to fall into the madness that leads him to kill Marie - ‘Stab, stab the bitch’ is his automatic reaction. From this point onwards he is determined to stab her with a knife.
Scene 17 - he buys the knife from the Jew - jokes made about it being an ‘economical’ death.
Scene 21 - the murder of Marie is concentrated on the stabbing by the number of times he stabs her and ensures that she is dead. The final glimpses of Woyzeck are his attempts to reclaim the knife and conceal it by throwing it into the water, only to find that it isn’t deep enough to conceal it.
Symbolism - The Knife
Woyzeck is mad in the play, but sexuality is portrayed as another kind of madness who loses sight of reason. Woyzeck himself, probably because of his diet, no longer seems sexually involved with Marie, though we know that he has past relationship with her.
Marie is mad with desire for the Drum Major, for his status, money (earrings) and his manliness. She realises her own madness and guilt over the affair when she tries to repent. Sexuality is linked to heat (Marie’s hot lips) and heat also symbolizes Woyzeck’s madness.
The Drum Major is given all the attributes of a beast. He is a cockerel, a stallion, a lion who wants nothing more than physical sex.
Scene 21 - Where he kills Marie ‘Are you cold, Marie? And yet you’re so warm. What hot lips you’ve got. Hot whore’s breath…Are you cold? When you’re cold you won’t feel cold anymore. The morning dew won’t make you feel cold’.
When he reaches the inn after the murder, he tells Margaret that he is hot.
Symbolism - Heat
Woyzeck is very much a reflection of the growth of interest in scientific theory in Buchner’s time. Buchner is not completely opposed to it but he is opposed to the exploitation of the poor. People like the Doctor will gain fame and reputation at Woyzeck’s expense. You can suggest the scientific exploitation of his character is responsible for his plunge into madness.
Red and black - Woyzeck’s visions of fire are red, linked to the later descriptions of blood. Red is also symbolic of the sin of sexual lust, with Marie identified as the scarlet woman and her attempts to repent through her reading of the bible.
Marie is described as the ‘weight of all that black hair would drag her down’. It is Marie’s ‘red mouth’ that symbolises her guilt for Woyzeck. Echoes of Macbeth ripple through Woyzeck’s last words. ‘Am I still bloody? I must wash. There’s one stain. And there’s another’.
Gold - the earrings emphasises the fact that poor people can never become rich in a moral way. They are associated with guilt and she even makes the baby hide his eyes from them – scene 4.
Symbolism - Colour