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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Theater of the avant-garde, 1890-1950: a critical anthology /

edited by Bert Cardullo and Robert Knopf.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-300-08525-7 (cloth) - ISBN 0-300-08526-5 (pbk.)

I. Drama—20th century. 2. Experimental drama—History

and criticism. I. Cardullo, Bert. II. Knopf, Robert, 1961 -
P N 6 I I 2 . T 4 2 200I
808.82'9ll-dc2l 00-043891

A catalogue record for this book is available from the

British Library.

The paper in this book meets the guidelines for permanence

and durability of the Committee on Production
Guidelines for Book Longevity of the Council on
Library Resources.

3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Richard Gilman and Amo Selco
who taught us to love theater in all forms


Editors' Note xi

En Garde! The Theatrical Avant-Garde in

Historical, Intellectual, and Cultural Context 1

I . Franco-Russian Symbolism 41
Maurice Maeterlinck, Interior (1891) 45
Maurice Maeterlinck, "The Modern Drama" (1904) 55
Valery Briusov, The Wayfarer (1910) 64
Valery Briusov, "Against Naturalism in the Theater" (1902) 72

1 . Pataphysical Theater 77
Alfred Jarry, King Ubu (1896) 84
Alfred Jarry, "Theater Questions" (1897) 123

I * I n t i m a t e Theater/Chamber Drama 127

August Strindberg, The Ghost Sonata (1907) 134
August Strindberg, from Zones of the Spirit (1907) 161

4 . Correspondences 169
Wassily Kandinsky, The Yellow Sound (1909) 173
Wassily Kandinsky, "On Stage Composition" (1912) 180
5 . I t a l i a n Futurism 187
Umberto Boccioni, Genius and Culture (1915) 195
Francesco Cangiullo, Detonation (1915) 198
Filippo Marinetti, Feet (1915) 199
Filippo Marinetti, Emilio Settimelli, and Bruno Corra,
"The Futurist Synthetic Theater, 1915" (1915) 201

6 . German Expressionism 207

Reinhard Sorge, The Beggar (1912) 212
Yvan Goll, "Two Superdramas" (1918) 262

7 . Dada 265
|2 Tristan Tzara, The Gas Heart (1920) 272
Tristan Tzara, Dada Manifesto, 1918 (1918) 283

8 . The Yheater of Pure Form 291

♦ Stanisiaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, The Cuttlefish (1922) 297
.^ Stanisiaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, "On a New Type of
* Play" (1920) 321

9. French Surrealism 327

Roger Vitrac, The Mysteries of Love (1927) 335
Andre Breton, First Surrealist Manifesto (1924) 365

1 0 . The Theater of Cruelty 373

Antonin Artaud, The Spurt of Blood (1925) 378
Antonin Artaud, "No More Masterpieces" (1938) 382

I I • Russian Oberiu 389

Aleksandr Vvedensky, Christmas at the Ivanovs
(1938) 394
Daniil Kharms, Aleksandr Vvedensky, and others,
"The Oberiu Manifesto" (1928) 415
I I . American Dada and Surrealism 421
Gertrude Stein, Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights
(1938) 425
Gertrude Stein, "Plays" (1934) 450

1 1 . The Theater of the Absurd 467

Arthur Adamov, The Invasion (1949) 472
Martin Esslin, "The Theater of the Absurd" (1961) 499

General Bibliography 503

Index 515

Readers will find in the table of contents the titles of the plays and major
theoretical pieces included in the anthology. In addition, though, each part
contains biographies of the authors of those pieces, shorter critical excerpts
about their works, and select bibliographies of criticism. These briefer items
are not listed in the table of contents.
A few very minor changes have been made here to the pieces reprinted
from other sources, primarily for the sake of internal consistency of spelling
and for grammatical correctness.

We would like to thank Sarah Bay-Cheng and Kristen Tripp-Kelley for

their tireless devotion to, and invaluable work on, this project.
E n Garde! The Theatrical
Avant-Garde in Historical,
Intellectual, and Cultural Context

Bert Cardullo

The plays, biocritical prefaces, and historical documents presented here,

together with theoretical manifestos and bibliographies, are designed to
provide a history of genuinely avant-garde drama, as isolated from twentieth-
century developments in conventional veristic forms. The materials assem­
bled in Theater of the Avant-Garde, 1890-1950 are thus meant to contribute
to a revisionist history of modern drama, for many still persist in viewing
modern drama as moving from the realistic (yet formally neoclassical) plays
of Ibsen and the naturalistic plays of Strindberg to the socially, politically,
and psychologically oriented "problem plays" of the twentieth century,
even if occasionally influenced by "techniques" from aberrant avant-garde
Take, for example, Tennessee Williams' misguided homage to the as­
sorted unconventional techniques of Expressionism in his "Production
Notes" to the otherwise romantically realistic Glass Menagerie (1944). Or
consider the frequently misunderstood and overborrowed "alienation effect"
of Bertolt Brecht (really a defamiliarizing or distancing device, which is not
the same as an exclusively anti-illusionistic one). Brecht is excluded from
Theater of the Avant-Garde not only because his dramatic work is already
widely available in English translation but also because he was primarily a
social realist whose real objection to the theater of Realism and Naturalism
was its psychologization of human character, not its rendering of surface
reality. Indeed, Brecht wrote his two greatest Schaustiicke, The Life of Gali-
leo (1939) and Mother Courage and Her Children (1941), in an effort to
bridge, not to widen, the gap between the often numbing prosaism of the
modern social-problem play and the sometimes indulgent ethereality of
avant-garde drama. Using Expressionistic techniques this politically revolu­
tionary playwright created, one could say, an anti-Expressionistic drama that
evolved into mock-epic theater or faux-historical chronicle—with the cool,
detached style, direct presentation of character, and episodic plotting that
we have also come to recognize in related forms of narrative cinema.
|Jj It is time, and in fact late, to bring genuine dramatic Expressionism, and
* the major innovative tradition of twentieth-century theater to which it be-
O longs, into central focus. The problem in doing so has been that the plays
Z and documents of the tradition are hard to find. The writings of some of its
> major figures are scattered in out-of-print translations or have not been
j translated at all, and no comprehensive collection in English—or any other
u language, for that matter—gives adequate recognition to the place as well as
importance of the avant-garde in the development of a distinctive, freestand­
w ing theatrical sensibility and vocabulary. This anthology illuminates not
Z just a single national tradition or movement (as do Michael Benedikt and
w George Wellwarth's fine anthologies of French, German, and Spanish avant-
•" garde plays or Walter Sokel's important collection of Expressionist drama),
4 nor even one style or posture (such as "Absurd" or "Protest") that cuts across
national boundaries, but instead the astonishing variety and daring of the
writers in all Western countries and theatrical movements who since before
the turn of the twentieth century have wrenched dramatic art out of every
one of its habits, including the most fundamental of them. Represented in
Theater of the Avant-Garde are particular movements, such as French and
Russian Symbolism, Italian Futurism, German Expressionism, and Dada-
Surrealism, seminal figures like Alfred Jarry, August Strindberg, and Antonin
Artaud, and Gesamtkiinstler like Wassily Kandinsky.
In bringing together the works of such disparate yet fundamentally simi­
lar pioneers, we go beyond a purely historical accounting for this new drama
to suggest intellectual and aesthetic contexts for theater and drama even
broader than those which have already been proposed by critics and histo­
rians as an explanation for the avant-garde revolution. What becomes appar­
ent when these writers are assembled within a single volume is that the new
movements were fed by the other arts as much as they were provoked by
conventional drama itself. Poets, painters, filmmakers, musical composers,
circus performers, architects, choreographers, photographers, cartoonists,
sculptors—any but professional or commercial dramatists—were the models
and sources for the radical shift in the aesthetics of theater and drama.
To speak only of the movies, their presence was continually felt through­
out the vigorous theatrical experimentation of the 1920s. On the one hand,
the theater was seeking a new area of activity that the cinema—potentially
the most literally representational or documentary "real" of the arts—could
not usurp; on the other hand, the theater frequently tried to explore ways of
imitating and incorporating the fantastic or visionary capability of film form.
Throughout Europe, the dramatic avant-garde repeatedly expressed admira­
tion for the dreamlike fluidity of film, its power to convey interior states of
mind, and its possibilities as a truly proletarian and antibourgeois art. Par­
ticularly in France, the Surrealist theatrical experiments of such writers as
Andre Breton, Guillaume Apollinaire, Louis Aragon, and Antonin Artaud
were perhaps better suited to the screen than to the stage, assaulting as they
did the theater's traditional objectivity or exteriority and its bondage to con­
tinuous time and space. And a number of Surrealists did indeed move from
the theater to the cinema, most notably Jean Cocteau.
In Germany, film was one element among many of the influences that
led to the development of dramatic Expressionism, with German cinema
and theater freely borrowing from each other during the twenties. The debt
to the stage of such pictures as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) has often
been noted, and, to cite only one example, the characteristic roving spotlight
of the Expressionist stage was an obvious attempt to control audience atten­
tion in the manner of a movie director. The attempts of the Bauhaus group
to create a nonrepresentational, manifestly manufactured "total theater" in
fact involved the incorporation of film into the ultimate theatrical experi­
ence, as did the production experiments of Marinettfs "Futurist Variety
Theater" in Italy.
The shift of drama to so simultaneously mechanical, democratic, and
subjective a model as the cinema is intimately connected, of course, with the
concepts of modernity and modernism. "Modernity" refers to the network
of large-scale social, economic, technological, and philosophical changes
wrought by the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. "Modernism"
is usually used to denote that period of dramatic innovation in all the arts,
from around the end of the nineteenth century (beginning with Symbolism
and Aestheticism but going as far back as the Romantic movement) up to
World War II and its immediate aftermath (associated with Absurdism),
when the sense of a fundamental break with inherited modes of representa­
tion and expression became acute. Modernism relies on a distinctive kind of
imagination, one whose general frame of reference resides only within itself.
The modernist mind believes that we create the world in the act of perceiv­
ing it. Such a view is basically anti-intellectual, celebrating passion and will
over deliberate and systematic morality.
Most important, modernism implies historical discontinuity, social dis­
ruption, moral chaos, and a sense of fragmentation and alienation, of loss
and despair—hence, of retreat within one's inner being or private conscious­
ness. This movement rejects not only history, however, but also the society
of whose fabrication history is a record; modernism repudiates traditional
JjJ values and assumptions, then, in addition to dismissing the rhetoric by
* which they were once communicated; and in the process it elevates the
^ individual over the group, human beings' interior life over their communal
Z existence. In many respects a reaction against Realism and Naturalism and
> the scientific postulates on which they rest, modernism has been marked by
j persistent, multidimensional experiments in subject matter, form, and lan-
U g u a g e - These literary excursions revel in a dense, often free-form actuality as
opposed to a practical, regimented one, and they have been conducted by
poets and novelists as vital yet diverse as T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Wallace
Stevens, Stephane Mallarme, Arthur Rimbaud, Virginia Woolf, William
Faulkner, W. B. Yeats, W. H. Auden, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Rainer
Maria Rilke, and Thomas Mann.
Modernist or avant-garde, as opposed to modern, drama is similarly asso­
ciated, above all, with a pervasive, formal self-consciousness and inventive­
ness. The avant-garde thus becomes that element in the exercise of the
imagination that we call art which finds itself unwilling (unable, really) to
reiterate or refine what has already been created. Many would identify in the
avant-garde not merely a tendency to retreat from the maddening disorder of
the world for the purpose of creating, through art, an alternative, visionary,
eternal order but also a tendency to absorb the world's chaos into the work of
art itself. (The first tendency holds true for most writers of modernist fiction
and verse, as it does for the Symbolist Yeats. Among avant-garde playwrights,
however, most belong either in the second category —like Pirandello, the
Humorist of the Grotesque—or in both categories simultaneously, like Jarry,
the Pataphysician.)
It is possible, additionally, to identify in the avant-garde a thematic preoc­
cupation with the modern city and its technologies—and concomitantly
with the exhilaration of speed, energy, and rapid development, typical of the
Italian Futurists—as well as with the urban potential for physical, social, and
emotional dislocation. Renato Poggioli has described this avant-garde as a
culture of negation (1968, 107-8), and indeed its commitment to ceaseless,
radical critique—not only of the (bourgeois) art that went before it but
also, in many instances, of the sociopolitical institutions and instruments of
industrial-technological practice or power—may be seen as a prime instance
of the modernist emphasis on the creation of the new.
In a rhetorical gesture utterly typical of the avant-garde, however, the
Surrealist poet and playwright Robert Desnos lambasted the very notion of
the "avant-garde," associated as it was for him with the Impressionists and the
Aestheticism of Cocteau. The dynamic of "negation," then, is not restricted
to a criticism of mass culture by everything outside it but operates within the
field of avant-garde artistic practice as well. Nothing is more characteristic of
the avant-garde than disputes within its ranks about which subgroup is most
deserving of the epithet. On the surface, the avant-garde as a whole may
seem united in terms of what it is against: accepted social institutions and
established artistic conventions, or the tastes and values of the "general
public" as that represents the existing order. Yet any positive program tends
to be claimed as exclusive property by isolated and even mutually antagonis­
tic groupings. So modernist art appears fragmented and sectarian, defined as
much by manifestos as by creative work and representing the amorphous
complexity of postindustrial society in a multiplicity of dynamic but unstable
movements focused on philosophical abstractions. Hence the use of "-isms"
to describe them: Symbolism, Futurism, Expressionism, Dadaism, Surreal­
ism, and the like.
All these modernist "-isms" nevertheless react against the same common
enemy: the modern drama of Realism and Naturalism—that is, the social-
problem play as fathered by Ibsen (if it was not pioneered earlier by Friedrich
Hebbel). Such realistic and naturalistic drama was based on the conven­
tional, long-lived triad of psychology (or motivation), causality (or connec­
tion), and morality (or providential design), but these problem plays ban­
ished theology as well as autocracy from their paradigm of human action, in
this way deepening the dramatic role played by psychology, sociology, and
linearity or linkage. That is, in modern drama, the patriarchal relationship
between God and the individual soul has been replaced by the adversarial
relationship between a person and his or her own psychology, the will to
comprehend the self, even as the patriarchal relationship between ruler and
subject has been replaced by the adversarial relationship between the indi­
vidual and society, in the form of society's drive to marginalize all those it
cannot or will not homogenize. Thus the fundamental subject of almost all
serious plays of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—in other words, of
almost all of modern as well as modernist drama—becomes the attempt to
resurrect fundamental ethical or philosophical certainties without resurrect­
ing the fundamental spiritual certainty of a judgmental God or the funda­
mental political certainty of a mindful monarch.
Modernist, or avant-garde, drama, however, took modern drama a step
further, by demonstrating that a play's movement could be governed by
something completely outside the triad that links motive to act, act to logical
sequence of events, and logical outcome to divine or regal judgment. In
Maeterlinck's Symbolist play Pelleas and Melisande (1892), for instance, the
characters are led to the slaughter like sheep, but for reasons that are never
clear, either to them or to the audience. There is sequence but no causality—
w that is, one event follows another but is not caused by it. Even an otherwise
* representational work like Chekhov's hanov (1887) can intimate the avant-
9 garde by breaking down the connection between the psychology of its cen-
Z tral character and the causal pattern of his or her drama. There is a causal
> sequence leading to Ivanov's marital infidelity and suicide, but no sustained
j motive on his part—which is to say, one event is caused by another, but
U irrespective of this otherwise intelligent man's clear intent or wish.
Jf For the avant-garde, beginning in the late nineteenth century with Jarry,
|J if not earlier with such German visionaries as Ludwig Tieck, Georg Biich-
jE ner, and Christian Dietrich Grabbe, the nature of reality itself becomes the
!|j prime subject of plays because of a loss of confidence in the assumed model
for dramatizing human behavior and thinking about human existence: in
i other words, the representation onstage of the illusion of reality becomes
the demonstration of the reality of the illusion-making capacity, illusion-
projecting essence, or illusion-embracing tendency of the human mind.
Through the introduction of total subjectivity into drama—that mirror of a
supposedly external reality—the Symbolists, in particular, imagined a new
theatrical model, polyphonic in form and irreducible to rational analysis or
univocal interpretation, thereby opening the door for the subsequent avant-
garde movements that have dominated the stage in the twentieth century.
The world, which the realists and (to a lesser extent) the naturalists had
attempted to know fully and depict accurately, was revealed by the Symbol­
ists to be pure illusion—a veil of fleeting appearances behind which were
hidden deeper truths. It was what lay buried within the psyche and con­
cealed behind the mirror that this radical new poetics of drama proposed to
explore. Problems or issues of perception and epistemology thus subverted
prior certainties as the arena of artistic representation moved from outside
the human consciousness to within it. And the drama that emerged from
such an aesthetic was paradoxically more sacred—or sacrilegious—than sec­
ular, thus returning theater to its ritualistic origins. For its themes and tech­
niques, Symbolist performance happened to be drawn, as was Nietzsche's
Birth of Tragedy (1872), to church ritual, pagan rites, folklore, fairy tales,
popular superstition, and communal practices—in other words, to "primi­
tive" times before the advent of Realism. The locus of this visionary art was
not the here-and-now of daily life (as it was for the realists), not what can be
seen and experienced in our normal waking hours; rather, that locus was the
eternal bond of human beings to the unknown, to the mystery within them­
selves and within the universe as they journey toward ultimate extinction.
In striving to put onstage what common sense declared to be nondra-
matic and undramatizable, the Symbolists liberated playwriting from mech­
anistic notions of chronological time and Euclidean space; they enlarged
the frame of drama to include worlds and beings other than those inhabiting
the bourgeois theater—which, to more than one of its foremost practitioners
(among them Augustin Scribe, Emile Augier, and Alexandre Dumas /z/s),
had no need to be more than the echo of society's whispers. Moreover,
despite much adverse criticism, the Symbolists held firm in their conception
of the acting appropriate to the production of their plays, for they felt it
necessary to divert attention from external realism or representationalism to
the mysterious inner as well as outer forces that control human destiny. A
natural extension of this interest led the Symbolists to explore the possibili­
ties of puppet theater, which until then had been associated primarily with
crude, popular entertainment. Gordon Craig's vision of the ideal actor as an
Ubermarionette (itself influenced by Heinrich von Kleist's essay "On the
Marionette Theater" [1810]) was paralleled by Maeterlinck's belief that
puppets would be the most suitable performers for his early plays, and by
Aurelien Lugne-Poe's original intention of founding his Theatre de l'Oeuvre
as a puppet stage.
Indeed, marionette theater presents a natural Symbolist aspect. Because
marionettes are abstractions of the human form, individual experience does
not obtrude on our perception of them, as it inevitably does with a human
performer when the actor's personality comes into play; and their perception
or apprehension reaches full expression only subjectively, in the spectator's
mind, not objectively, on the stage. Symbolist designers took their own cue
from the puppet theater, and as a result of their subtly atmospheric or evoca­
tive efforts, theater artists became aware of the illogicality of too much literal­
ism in the procedure of a medium that is essentially make-believe. The
future, ideal stage of the Symbolists would thus be multiple, fluid, and
polyvalent: a point of departure for imaginary voyages into uncharted re­
gions. For such drama there were no fixed forms, prescribed rules, or conven­
tional models to follow. Disdainfully rejecting the theater of commerce with
all its practicalities, Symbolist poets wrote their plays for no existing audience
or playhouse, their works sometimes remaining unperformed for many years.
Nonetheless, Symbolism in the theater—as well as in poetry and paint-
ing—was a truly international movement and spread not only throughout
Europe but also to North and South America and parts of Asia. Only when
the Theatre de TOeuvre closed its doors in 1899 did Symbolism begin to stir
in Poland and particularly in Russia, where, in addition to Valery Briusov,
the movement included Aleksandr Blok, Andrei Bely, and Leonid Andreyev
"j among its dramatists. Likewise, in Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Ro-
J* mania, the Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, and India, Symbolist theater enjoyed
W a second life after having been declared dead in Paris. Furthermore, rather
Z than deriving from a reactionary, escapist tendency (as has often been de-
> picted), Symbolist drama in Eastern Europe, Ireland, and India was a pro-
_i gressive or liberating force, awakening a consciousness of national and cul-
u tural identity, opposing all forms of repression, and protesting against the
drabness of regimented modern life.
< Symbolism, then, battled against all restrictions and limitations, includ­
X ing those which isolated theater from the allied arts of painting, poetry, and
UJ music. Taking its cues from Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerk, on the one hand,
H and Mallarme's "theater of the mind," on the other, Symbolism aspired to be
♦ a total spectacle encompassing all of life. From our remove of more than a

hundred years, that assault on the objectivity of the dramatic form seems an
essential first step—perhaps none has been as important—in the series of
modernist (and postmodernist) revolutions that have transformed the art of
theater from the turn of the twentieth century to the present day.
Each of the revolutionary movements and coalitions had its distinctive
character. They were shaped by forces as varied as F. T. Marinetti's artistic
expansionism, which sought to colonize all modernist manifestations and
individual creators for the Futurist empire (hardly by accident, Futurism
labeled war the supreme, health-bestowing activity); the libertarian individ­
ualism of Tristan Tzara's Dada; or Andre Breton's zealous defense of Surreal­
ist purity. Both within and outside these movements, however, the specific
genius of individual avant-garde writers and artists flourished, the distinctive
trace left by such individuals serving to remind us that historical categories
and groupings are often suspect, reductive, or artificial. As we shall see,
between Marinetti's machine-age bombastics and Kandinsky's abstract spir­
ituality, for example, lies a world of difference.
Wassily Kandinsky, for his part, attempted to disrupt the concept of tradi­
tional theater as a reproductive or representational mechanism by advocat­
ing a synthetic, spiritualized art that would redirect people inside themselves
and reveal the depths and heights of the human soul. Kandinsky believed he
could synthesize music, dance, poetry, and painting into one monumental,
self-contained, and self-defined art form, or rather temple of art. Futurist
synthetic theater, by contrast, rejected such an inward-looking art. For the
Futurists, literature, painting, sculpture, theater, music, dance, morals, and
politics should all be inspired by the scientific and technological discoveries
that had changed the physical environment, and that should correspond­
ingly change human perceptions. Human beings should, in fact, become
like machines, abandoning the weaknesses and sentimentalities of the past.
Influenced by the superman of Nietzsche and D'Annunzio, the Futurists
wrote of their own godlike being, who was aggressive, tireless, courageous,
inhuman, and mechanical. Early heroes, accordingly, were those who had
direct contact with machines: car drivers, pilots, journalists, telegraph opera­
tors, and the like. Later heroes represented a fusion of man and machine,
assured of immortality because the parts were interchangeable.
The Futurists' theories centered on the industrial age, with its machines
and electricity, its urbanization, and the revolution in the means of transport
and communication. Futurists welcomed the products of industrial society
with an all-embracing optimism, for they saw them as the means by which
people would dominate the environment and be able to extend knowledge
indefinitely. The speed and change of the industrial age were also funda­
mental to the Futurists' love of the modern and their rejection of the static,
lethargic past. The effects of the speed of transport and communication on
modern sensibility were such that people were now aware not just of their
immediate surroundings but of the whole world. The limits of time and
space had been transcended; it was possible to live through events both
distant and near at hand—in fact, to be everywhere at the same time. Simul-
taneita (simultaneity) was the word used by the Futurists to describe these
extensions of perception. In their works, different times, places, and sounds,
both real and imagined, are juxtaposed in an attempt to convey this new
concept to the public.
The Futurist embrace of simultaneity was accompanied by a desire for
synthesis. The Futurists held that the speed of modern life called for a
corresponding speed of communication in contemporary art, which was
therefore—unlike the conventional theater—to convey the essence of an
emotion or a situation without resorting to lengthy explanation or descrip­
tion. The sintesi teatrali (theatrical syntheses), then, were works of extreme
brevity and concentration, in which the conventional three-act play was
replaced by attimi (moments) intended to capture the essence and atmo­
sphere of an event or emotion as it happened. Movement, gesture, sound,
and light became as important as the written word, and in some cases came
to replace words altogether. This reduction to what the Futurists regarded as
the essential part of the action was intended to create an immediate and
dynamic contact with the public, so that the audience would respond intu­
itively to a theater that was now synthetic, hypertechnological, dynamic,
simultaneous, alogical, discontinuous, autonomous, antiliterary, and unreal.
5 F. T Marinetti was determined from the outset to bring his movement to
< the attention of the greatest possible number of people. In common with
^ many other innovators in the arts of the time, he believed that art and
^ literature could have a determining influence on society, and he described
^ Futurism as the new formula of artistic action. The artist therefore became
^ the leader and promoter of the new ideas, and the forger of links between art
5i and action, art and society. The desire for ceaseless activity, the advocacy of
J- bravery and heroism, and the insistence on aggression, accordingly, led the
!" Futurists to go beyond mere theorizing. They involved themselves in a great
*~ deal of direct action, including their serate, or evenings, which usually con-
I sisted of readings from Futurist works of literature, and which often ended in
# a brawl. The serate doubtless gave the Futurists some general experience of
♦ the theater, whose importance for his movement Marinetti recognized, as
^ he did that of the spettacolo (performance) in particular.
Futurist performances became an ideal means of direct communication
with the public; the expectation was that audience members would react
directly and physically to what they saw and heard. Deliberate provocation of
the audience, partly for the sake of being aggressive, partly in order to break
down the barriers between audience and actors, became one of the impor­
tant techniques of the Futurist theater and influenced the staging of its plays.
The Futurists thus realized the polemical importance of theatrical tech­
niques very early on, and in this sense Italian Futurist theater represents
nothing less than the birth of the twentieth-century avant-garde. In its violent
rhetoric and actions, in its blatant self-promotion and willful disrespect for
the sacred cows of the (written) intellectual tradition, as well as in its all-
embracing (if prototypically Fascist) ideology, Futurism was the model or
stereotype for all the "-isms" to come.
Itself influenced by the Futurist synthetic theater, Dada had been
founded in 1916 by a group of expatriate artists in Zurich, but as practi­
tioners adopted the banner in Berlin, Cologne, and New York, the move­
ment became an international one. The Romanian poet Tristan Tzara, the
leader of the movement, moved to Paris, the major center for Dada, as it
would be later for the Surrealism that sprang from Dada's ashes. "Dada"
itself is a nonsense word, and as such is a clue to the nature of the move-
ment, which was anarchic, violently antitraditional, and vociferously anti-
bourgeois—at least in its rhetoric. Many of the Dada artists had been in­
volved in World War I, and the Dada movement has been understood as a
reaction of disgust toward a society that could sustain such a barbaric con­
flict. If the war was the end-product of a society supposedly built on the
principles of rationality espoused by Enlightenment philosophers, then the
means of protest against this society would have to be irrational.
As conscientious objectors in neutral Switzerland (the fount of the move­
ment), moreover, Dadaists were expected to desist from overt political pro­
test; Switzerland prohibited citizens or visitors from taking a strong vocal
stance on political occurrences beyond its borders, for fear that the country's
neutrality might be compromised. The Dadaists' impulses of frustration and
counteraggression had to manifest themselves in some way, yet if life had so
little meaning for a world that was organizing and sanctioning its own de­
struction, how could art matter? Hence the antisensical anarchy of Dada art,
whose pacifist authors wanted, not to escape from current events through
fantasy, but rather to reflect the chaos of their present to make the public cry
with laughter. Dada, in fact, struck out against all "-isms"—previous artistic
movements that had, in effect, exhaustively and systematically emphasized
the timeless and universal aspects of art without ever truly living in their own
particular moment.
This is the context in which Marcel Duchamp began to exhibit his
"ready-mades"—ordinary objects like bicycle wheels and the urinal he
named "Fountain," signed "R. Mutt," and presented as a sculpture. In doing
so, Duchamp offended against not only the assumption that art involves
creative effort but also the assumption that only certain things are appropri­
ate subject matter for art, which by definition would not include utterly
utilitarian objects. Indeed, the Dadaists maintained that the artistic act,
rather than the product, was first and foremost Dada; the tangible yield
developing from the imaginative act (the painting, poem, sculpture, or dra­
matic text) was merely a by-product of the real art. But best of all for the
antimaterialist Dada artists, the Dadaist use of language was not easily mer­
chandised. In the performance of a poem or a play, the Dadaists kept custody
of their work, letting only the experience of the language and its effects on
the listener stand as proof of its existence. Dadaists thereby succeeded not
only in creating a presence in society for the artist-as-performer (as opposed
to the actor-as-character) but also in keeping art out of the commodifying
hands of bourgeois marketeers, principally because the art itself was a matter
of heresay to those not fortunate enough to be present for the poetry reading
or theatrical event. Dada thus sought to radically short-circuit the means by
which art objects acquire financial, social, and spiritual value; in this man­
ner, the movement fulfilled one definition of the avant-garde, which is an
attack on the foundations of artistic institutions themselves.
And attack the avant-garde did, for the term "avant-garde" is, after all,
S military in origin—however synonymous with "esoteric" or "incomprehensi-
< ble" it may now be—referring to the "advance party" that scouts out the
ji terrain up ahead of the principal army. The expression was first used mili-
z tarily around 1794, to designate the elite shock troups of the French army,
> whose mission was to engage the enemy first in order to prepare the way for
the main body of soldiers to follow. The expression was first used meta-
ii phorically beginning around 1830, by members of French revolutionary
H political movements who spoke of themselves as being in the "vanguard."
j!j Used as early as 1825, in fact, by the Utopian socialist writer Olinde Rodri-
I" gues and later by Charles Fourier's disciple Gabriel Laverdant, the term
I "avant-garde" was applied to the "men of vision" of the coming society-
statesmen, philosophers, scientists, and businessmen—whose actions would
give direction to the future development of humanity. It was only during the
last quarter of the nineteenth century, however, that the metaphor was trans­
ferred wholesale from politics to literary and artistic activities. Mainly at­
tached to them ever since, the metaphor has been used to identify successive
movements of writers and artists who, within the larger cultural framework
of modernism, generated a vital tradition of formal innovation or experimen­
tation and sociopolitical radicalism.
Mikhail Bakunin, for example, titled the short-lived anarchist journal he
published in Switzerland in 1878 L'Avant-Garde, and his aim in revolu­
tionizing aesthetics was to pave the way for social revolution. More than fifty
years earlier, however, Claude-Henri de Saint-Simon had proclaimed in
Uartiste, le savant et Vindustriel that "it is we artists who will serve as your
avant-garde; the power of the arts is indeed the most immediate and the most
rapid. We have weapons of all kinds We address ourselves to the imagina­
tion and to the feelings of man; and we must always take the swiftest and the
most decisive action.... There is no more beautiful destiny for artists than to
exert a powerful influence on society—this is our true calling—and to thrust
ourselves into the fray with all our intellectual faculties, at the peak of their
development!" (210-11, 216; my translation). To Saint-Simon, the avant-
garde artist was a soldier-priest in the service of progress, and Saint-Simon's
multivolume Oeuvres, published between 1868 and 1878, promulgated this
belief with a vengeance. Hence, toward the end of the nineteenth century,
certainly, the use of the term "avant-garde" had been extended to encompass
the idea of social renewal through cultural challenge rather than by means
of overtly political activity.
The avant-garde mentality, in its most rabid form, thus belongs to the
past hundred years or so. But if we look at the matter in the context of French
literary history, it is possible to suggest that we are not dealing with an
absolutely new and separate phenomenon; it is, rather, the effect of a long
and extremely complicated process, which is, of course, the general change­
over from the static or cyclical view of human existence to the evolutionary
view. And evolutionism is, fundamentally, a scientific concept. Therefore, if
my suggestion is correct, the term "avant-garde" is not simply a military
metaphor, used first in politics and then transferred to literature and art; it is
basically connected with science and with what is sometimes called the
scientific revolution: the replacement of the medieval belief in a finished
universe by the modern, scientific view of a universe evolving in time. The
scientific view affected political and social thinking long before it penetrated
into literature proper and the fine arts, and that is the real reason the meta­
phor was political first and literary or artistic afterward.
In France, the first real signs of the modern evolutionary view occur in
the seventeenth century, at the time of the Quarrel of the Ancients and
Moderns. (This quarrel was fought from either an essentially conservative
position—the championing of the ancient Greeks and Romans, codification
of aesthetic rules, insistence on decorum and the purity of traditional literary
genres, subordination of art to moral or social concerns—or a liberal one—
the championing of the moderns, pragmatic and flexible treatment of all
classical precepts, perception of art as an end in itself.) But the beginnings
of the development can naturally be traced back to the Renaissance—to
Copernicus, Machiavelli, and Montaigne—and, beyond the Renaissance, to
ancient Greece, where most ideas existed at least in embryo.
In seventeenth-century France, the first pale dawn of the scientific view
seems to have had little or no effect on the aesthetic attitudes of creative
artists, or at least on attitudes that were part of these artists' conscious make­
up. The extraordinary flowering of French neoclassical literature that was
contemporaneous with the quarrel of the Ancients and Moderns owed al­
most nothing to it. Even those famous French thinkers of the earlier part of
the grand siecle, Descartes and Pascal (like their Italian contemporary Gali­
leo), were not looking toward the future in the modern manner. It is true
that, as they made their mathematical and scientific discoveries and tried to
put their conflicting ideas in order, they made explosive statements. But we
have no reason to believe that they themselves knew just how radically new
their thinking was.
In the eighteenth century, however, a dramatic change took place that
has often been commented upon. Although scientific evolutionism was not
yet fully established, the major thinkers of the French Enlightenment fore-
0 saw, or at least sensed, its implications. Montesquieu, Voltaire, Diderot, and
< Rousseau, all of whom had some knowledge of science, were in a sense
ji sociologists, trying to understand human life both as a dynamic process in
\ time and as a secular process that cannot be accounted for in religious terms,
< more especially not in the light of Christian revelation. These philosophes
^ were thus brought into conflict with orthodox Christian theology, which is
- based on the belief in a static relationship between human beings inside
h time and God outside time. The great controversy between science and
!{j religion, then—which was not to occur in England until the middle of the
*" nineteenth century, with Darwin's formulation of evolutionary theory—had,
1 for all intents and purposes, run its course in France by the end of the
+ eighteenth century.
♦ This historical situation is the fundamental reason for which the condi-
^ tions favoring the development of the avant-garde mentality were present
earlier in France than anywhere else. In France, by the end of the eighteenth
century, the modern evolutionary and secular view of the world had per­
vaded the consciousness of at least the intellectual elite. The situation that
Nietzsche would express so dramatically in the nineteenth century with the
phrase "God is dead" already existed before 1789. In fact, most of the great
nineteenth-century themes are already present in the French Enlighten­
ment: we can find intimations of Hegel and Marx in Montesquieu, Diderot,
and Rousseau; of Darwin and Freud in Diderot; of Freud and Sacher-
Masoch in Rousseau; and of Freud, Sacher-Masoch, and Nietzsche in the
Marquis de Sade. We might even say that the Marquis de Sade (himself an
antisentimental, even irrationalist dramatist in such works as Oxtiem, ou Les
Malheurs du libertinage [1791]) was the first great modern figure to go mad
over the death of God, and that this is why he has been revived with such
fervor over the past 175 years or so as the darling of successive avant-gardes.
In other words, the intellectual watershed, as I see it, is the Enlighten­
ment. In the two to three centuries since, many sincere, ingenious, and
elaborate attempts have been made to effect a compromise between the
modern scientific view of the universe and the old Christian view, and the
French themselves, from Auguste Comte and Hippolyte Taine to Henri
Bergson and Simone Weil, have been particularly active in this effort. But it
seems obvious that no reconciliation has been brought about. The two
different ways of looking at matters exist side by side, and the extremely
tangled aesthetic history—not to speak of the social and political history—of
the last 250 years or so can be seen in terms of the tensions between these
attitudes and of the growing predominance of the scientific worldview.
A crucial contribution of the Enlightenment was the concept of history
as the continuously unfolding tale of human life on earth, seen, of course,
against the backdrop of a much greater time scale—the evolutionary de­
velopment of the universe. This view presents human life as a process in
time, which we can illuminate to some extent as we look back, or speculate
about as we look forward, but which bears no definable relation to anything
that might exist outside time—that is, to eternity or God. This is what is
meant by "the death of God," and the implication is not only that no per­
sonal entity behind the universe provides us with a moral law, but also that
human life can be given meaning, if it has any at all, only within the flux of
history. And, if I may be allowed my largest generalization yet, the increasing
prevalence of avant-garde attitudes reflects the growing effect of this percep­
tion that we live only in time and have to find our values in time.
Avant-garde artists and thinkers sense the problem of finding values
within flux, and they are trying—often perhaps neurotically—to adapt to
what they see as the movement of history by anticipating the crest of the next
wave (la nouvelle vague); alternately, they may be trying to escape from the
dilemma of perpetual movement by finding some substitute for eternity—
that is, some God-substitute. Quite often they are trying to achieve both ends
at once, and that is why so many avant-gardes have both a progressive and a
nonprogressive aspect. Insofar as they are nonprogressive, the expression
"avant-garde" is a misnomer, because the movement is not forward but to
the side, or even backward in time to pre-Enlightenment attitudes. It occa­
sionally happens, for instance, that an avant-garde artist (like the Expres­
sionist Reinhard Sorge or the Symbolist Paul Claudel) is consciously re­
converted to or reconfirmed in Christianity, and usually to old-fashioned
Catholicism, because it offers the best escape from the cycle of change.
Nonetheless, during the first phase of the Enlightenment (which con­
tinued well into the nineteenth century), considerable optimism prevailed
about the possibility of arriving at the permanent truth concerning human
nature; it was thought that, in the search, art might be used as an instrument.
The French philosophes had looked back over history, had seen it as a record
of success or failure (but mostly failure), and had assumed that over time,
they and other thinkers would evolve a concept of humankind that would
allow them to correct the course of history. If history was such a record of
crime and injustice, this was because it had not played out in accordance
with human nature. Once that had been defined as a natural phenomenon
like other phenomena, without all the mythical accretions of the past, so­
ciety would right itself, and the generations of the future would find them-

Q selves in a social context that would allow the full, harmonious expression of
< their inherent possibilities.
li We now come to what I believe is the crux of the matter: in recent times
^ the Enlightenment hope of ameliorating the definition of human nature has
^ come to seem more and more illusory, at least to a great many important
^ thinkers and artists. When the philosophes assumed that it would be possible
ii to define human nature and create the perfect society, they imagined they
h were looking toward the future, but in fact they were falling back onto a
|jj static conception. The accumulation of knowledge has shown not only that
•" human beings are part of the evolutionary process but that they are, as the
I only animals with culture, an exceptionally changeable part. It is possible to
^ talk about the nature of the noncultural animals, such as the lion or the tiger,
♦ because that nature has not altered appreciably in the course of recorded
"-1 history. But the more we learn about human beings, the more we realize that
their so-called nature has included such a bewildering variety of customs,
attitudes, beliefs, and artistic products that it is impossible for any one person
to comprehend more than a very small part of the range. Moreover, we are
more aware than ever before of the complex and mysterious forces at work
within ourselves, forces that we do not wholly understand and therefore
cannot wholly control.
In other words, as some modern thinkers—in particular, French thinkers
such as Andre Malraux—are fond of putting it, the death of God is now being
followed by the death of Man (Temptation, 97). However much some people
may wish to reject the past, precisely because they find it so difficult to
contemplate, the knowledge of it weighs on them as an immense repository
of largely unassimilable data, while the future stretches ahead, a vista of
endless and ultimately meaningless change. The sheer fact of living in time
thus becomes a form of existential anguish, because history is no more than a
succession of moments, all in a way equally valid or invalid. Human nature,
having ceased to be a unifying concept, henceforth describes only the suc­
cession of human manifestations.
And of course this anguish of living in time is accompanied by the twin
anguish of contingency, the sensation that scientific law holds sway over
animate and inanimate nature, entirely without intelligible reference to
human consciousness and emotion. The result is a metaphysical dizziness or
nihilistic despair over the very concept of human nature, which combines in
all sorts of complicated ways with both the pastoral myth of original human
nature and the millennial myth of ultimate human potential. Let me now try
to indicate some of the consequences of all this for avant-garde art in general
and avant-garde drama in particular.
It is because people have been trying, since the Enlightenment, to un­
derstand matters rationally and scientifically that they face these dilemmas.
Hence the widespread, often fascinated, disgust with the idea of science,
which is taken as a further justification for the flight from reason. Hence also
the search for methods of producing a sensation of mystic depth—in other
words, an apparently meaningful, although ultimately incomprehensible,
relationship with the transcendent—namely, something beyond ordinary or
everyday existence. If nothing can be given a meaning in the general tran-
sitoriness of history, everything can be given a sort of mystic weight through
existentialist awareness, which may range from hysterical euphoria to re­
signed nausea. In its extreme form, this awareness even eliminates the need
to create a work of art. Anyone can be an artist, simply by picking up a stone
or a found object, or drawing a line around some fragment of the given world
and seeing it as an embodiment of mystery. This helps to explain collages,
cut-outs, and the cult of the object among Surrealists and other avant-garde
Such randomness is also connected with the dream, on the one hand,
and, in its more frantic manifestations, with madness, on the other. Both are
forms of unreason that have been much cultivated by different avant-gardes.
It is interesting that while medicine and psychiatry, which are scientific in
intention, try to interpret dreams and madness in rational terms, some avant-
gardes have reverted to the medieval attitude and accept the dream or the
madman's perception as a truth higher than that perceptible by the sane or
the waking mind. This inclination is particularly noticeable among the
Surrealists and their descendants, who have taken Rimbaud's prescription
about le dereglement de tous les sens (the disordering of all the senses) very
seriously and who find in Freud's work their justification for an enlightened
form of irrationalism.
Moreover, since language is normally the vehicle of articulate meaning,
it is in connection with language that the problem of meaning versus mean-
inglessness occurs most acutely among avant-garde writers. For some, all the
ordinary uses of language are too comprehensible, so these avant-garde
writers adopt various methods designed to break through language to a
mystery that is supposed to lie beyond it; or, in the interests of escaping from
mutability, they adopt imaginative ways of putting words together, yet, un­
like classical authors, avant-gardists ignore the purportedly changeless aspect
of human nature in their writing.
At one end of the scale are dramatists as different as Antonin Artaud and
5 Gertrude Stein, who dispense with their existing languages almost altogether
< and replace them with collocations of more or less onomatopoeic sounds.
^i (In rejecting cogency of plot and idea in favor of the sensuality or pure form
* of gesture and space as well as language, Stein was probably the first thor-
^ oughgoing American avant-garde dramatist.) These sounds could be in-
^ tended as a return to the voice of our original pastoral or primitive nature,
- like the barking of dogs or the mooing of cows, or perhaps they are supposed
H to make us feel that all language is futile, since no language provides the key
!|! to the meaning of the evolving universe. Then come those playwrights, like
*■ the Dadaist Tzara, who treat words as objects, like the objects of the avant-
I garde painter or sculptor, and try to dissociate them from the articulate
4 meanings they might have in a sentence.
♦ As a performance phenomenon and as dramatic art, Dada disposed of or­
ganic contexts by removing from language its readily recognizable character
of communication. The Dadaist poet hacked up words and rearranged their
syllables, exalting the outcome as new language whose meaning camped
sometimes in inflection, sometimes in the resemblance to other, fixed words.
Indeed, Dada poetry actively inconvenienced—or indeed eradicated—im­
mediate comprehension by aggrandizing language into art and then depriv­
ing that art of a clear and consistent aesthetic. Like Dada poetry, the Dada
stage was an experiment in language, meddling with the word in order to
reduce viewers' comprehension of theme, setting, and metaphoric meaning.
For the Dadaists believed that language, like other representational art forms,
required revivification if it was to escape from lifeless intellectualism. Lan­
guage, for them, had lost its artistic probity: as a tool, it was used to sustain
ideological power structures, in the form not only of overt political propa­
ganda but also of truistic everyday speech. When Tzara demanded a poetry
intentionally divorced from standard syntax and punctuation, he was not
only exercising anarchism against the tyranny of Realism and Naturalism in
the arts; he was, in addition, rebelling against both communication and the
possibility of communicating Dada creativity (as well as desperation) to the
rest of the world.
Of course, writers have always been aware of words as objects with a
shape, a rhythm, and a feel in the mouth, but traditional artists combined
this sense of words as tangible entities with the elaboration of more or less
coherent statements. Coherence had become such a despised characteristic
by the early twentieth century, however, that many dramatists tried to elimi­
nate it, just as the so-called literary or narrative element had been removed
from much painting and sculpture. The play was meant to be sheerly a
juxtaposition of words that did not allow the mind to pass through it in the
usual way and so slip back into the cycle of time. The normal comprehen­
sion of any sentence is necessarily an act in time, so that if you could halt
comprehension, the words would become or might appear to become ulti­
mate fragments of the universe, thereby producing a semblance of eternity.
Andre Breton took a militant stand against all procedures that tended to
destroy just such an approximation of eternity—and with it the enigma of
existence—by submitting the unknown aspects of human words and actions
to rational analysis. Breton's First Surrealist Manifesto (1924) therefore at­
tacked the psychological novel directly and, by implication, similar ap­
proaches to the drama. But Breton conceded that dialogue as verbal com­
munication was the most suitable channel for what he called automatic
writing. "It is to the dialogue that the forms of Surrealist language are best
adapted" (34), he declared. And in an effort "to restore dialogue to its abso­
lute truth" (35), Breton rejected the use of dialogue for polite or superficial
conversation. Rather, it was to be a confrontation of two streams of spoken
thought, neither particularly relevant to the other or having any inherent
sequential order, but each provoking a spontaneous response from its op­
posite number. As a psychic release in which the speakers dispensed with
decorum, Breton considered, such dialogue, when written down, was "auto­
matic" in the sense that it was as free as possible from the mental mechanism
of criticism or self-censorship on the part of the author(s). One of the first
pieces of writing acknowledged as "Surrealist," the play The Magnetic Fields
(1919), on which Andre Breton and Philippe Soupault collaborated, was just
such a form of dialogue: a juxtaposition of two soliloquies verbally bouncing
off each other.
Finally, language might be used to create a puzzle, a conundrum, or a
game, as Jarry did in Caesar-Antichrist (1895). This is not quite the same
thing as a sheer object, for it allows a kind of circular movement of com­
prehension within the terms of reference of the game itself. Here the writer
produces a construct according to his own arbitrary rules, or to rules founded
on the unexplained vagaries of his particular temperament, and we are
intended to enjoy it as a sort of metaphysical trompe-Yoeil. The game pre­
sents the appearance of meaning, for the language of which it is composed
conveys sense up to a point, but it is really a self-sufficient linguistic labyrinth
from which the mind is not intended to escape. Such a work offers no exit to
any reality other than its own and hence can be seen as a kind of antirealistic,
quasi-Absurdist statement unto itself. Its overdeliberate arrangement is,
in the last resort, equivalent to the randomness of some other avant-garde
Q works.
< A common denominator among most avant-garde movements, in par-
^1 ticular those which sprang up between 1910 and 1930, was skepticism about
^ earlier modes of perception—skepticism, that is, about the possibility of
^ articulating meaning through the logic of language or the language of logic.
^ Realism, together with its more complex descendant, Naturalism, had been
ii based on the assumption that material or positivistic reality can be dis-
\r covered and articulated through the systematic application of the scientific
j|j method to objective or observable phenomena. The resultant tendency to
■■ ignore subjective elements and the inner life led, in the view of avant-garde
1 artists, to an oversimplified view of the world. By contrast, as we have seen,
^ the Symbolists, Aesthetes, and neo-Romantics had sought truth in such
♦ abstractions as mystery, destiny, beauty, and the ideal, which is to say that
they placed ultimate reality outside our human ken. The dramatic move­
ments to come were as deeply concerned with truth and reality as their
predecessors had been but, finding the old definitions and formulations in­
adequate, they sought new ones. In this pursuit they were not antiscientific;
rather, they attempted to incorporate scientific discoveries into a more com­
prehensive vision of the world. And that revised vision was prompted as
much by World War I, as I have already suggested, as by anything else.
The assassination of the Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sara­
jevo on June 28, 1914, started a four-year period of slaughter and mutila­
tion. Among the victims was the well-made realistic play. Although the
nineteenth-century theater was not killed outright in the first of the great
world wars, it did receive a series of blows from which it would never fully
recover. The stable world of the prewar era, reflected in a theater that had
catered to a bourgeois audience and had held the mirror up to their iives,
manners, and morals, began to disintegrate. With a million killed at Verdun
and another million during the Russian offensive of 1916, with countries
appearing, disappearing, and reappearing on the map of Europe, what did it
matter whether Mme Duclos committed adultery with her husband's best
friend, or whether M. Dupont succeeded in marrying off his daughters?
After the horrors of mechanized war, the theatrical depiction of the material
and financial problems of the bourgeoisie seemed irrelevant, even obscene.
The realistic tradition and the well-made play were of course only maimed
and shell-shocked; they continue to drag out a senile existence in the rest
homes of our commercial theater.
The Surrealist writer and painter Andre Masson described the artistic
revolt of the twenties as having its origin in disgust with "the colossal slaugh­
ter" of World War I, with the "obscene 'brainwashing' that had been in­
flicted on civilians," with the "militant stupidity" and "sick society of the
years 'between the wars'" (81, 96, and passim; my translation). Angrily re­
jecting the past, avant-garde dramatists also rejected traditional ways of re­
garding and portraying reality; or they lost confidence, to repeat the phrase
used earlier, in the customary model for dramatizing human behavior and
thinking about human existence—the representational one. These play­
wrights created daringly experimental drama that reflected their new ways of
seeing people and the world. And if the Great War exploded old conventions
and preconceptions for these artists, then the Russian Revolution of 1917
(preceded by the dress rehearsal of 1905) showed them that the most sacred
structures were subject to violent change.
Indeed, the October Revolution and World War I go hand in hand, for
the former appeared to rescue the universal values of the French Revolution
of 1789 from the European ashes of Verdun in 1916. October 1917 restored
faith in the power of human agency (a power that would not be without its
significance in the theater) at a moment when the carnage on the Western
front seemed to prove that human beings were the helpless playthings of
historical forces. For the entire European Left, the Russian Revolution sym­
bolized the resumption of history's forward march—and so it was seen,
through thick and mostly thin, by many if not all leftists, until the counter­
revolution of 1989. Certainly neither international communism (with its
rhetoric of the enemy class) nor nationalist fascism (with its rhetoric of the
enemy race) would ever have become ruling creeds in the twentieth century
had bourgeois society not thrown itself into the abyss of 1914. It was World
War I that transformed both political "-isms" into agendas that spoke to
the resentment, exhaustion, and horror of the men who returned from the
Communism's own accomplishment, and the source of its appeal, was to
formalize the terms of the bourgeoisie's guilty conscience, its remorse at its
failure to practice what it preached: the idea of universality or action in the
public interest, as well as the equality of all citizens, ideals the bourgeoisie
claimed as its primary innovation and the foundation of democracy, but
each of which it constantly negated through the unequal distribution of
property and wealth perpetuated by the competition of its members. And
communism gave expression also to the aesthetic self-loathing of the bour­
geois, their secret belief that money twisted the soul and that they knew the
price of everything, yet the value of nothing. In this sense, the rise of commu­
nism was inseparable from the rise of Romanticism, the artistic rejection of
o all that was narrow, miserly, and vulgar about bourgeois capitalism.
< In Russia, such rejection, and the revolution that went with it, became
ll the starting point for the new, theatrically and cinematically as well as polit-
^ ically and economically, and it made the Soviet stage pre-eminent for
\ experimentation during the dozen years after Lenin's arrival at the Finland
^ Station. Pilgrimages to Moscow to see the productions of Evgeny Vakhtan-
y gov, Aleksandr Tairov, Vsevolod Meyerhold, Nikolai Akimov, and Schlomo
J- Mikhoels, and Sergei Eisenstein became mandatory for anyone interested in
!J! the future of the theater, or in the work of a Russian Futurist dramatist such
■■ as Vladimir Mayakovsky. As the pro-Marxist, pro-Soviet, yet artistically inno-
I vative Mayakovsky—whose Mystery-Bouffe (1918) enjoys the odd reputation
♦ of being both the greatest Bolshevik and the greatest Futurist drama—once
♦ wrote, the violence of World War I made a Futurist of everyone. As a result of
^ the war, all stability, and all expectation of what is normal or can be taken for
granted, were destroyed.
The Russians Daniil Kharms and Aleksandr Vvedensky belonged to the
Oberiuty, the last wave of postrevolutionary modernist writers able to express
the new sense of uncertainty and repudiation as well as eagerness for novelty
before being suffocated (like Mayakovsky before them) by Stalinist socialist
realism—which would permit no confusion or commingling of revolution­
ary politics with revolutionary artistic methods. While stressing their rejec­
tion of representationalism, the Oberiuty also wanted it understood that,
unlike some of the earlier twentieth-century avant-garde groups, such as the
more extreme Futurists and the Dada-Surrealists, their goal was not to di­
vorce art from life but only to reflect the illogicality, fragmentation, and
chaos of the life around them in a different, nonrepresentational way: by
jarring the perceptions with unexpected, disjointed configurations of reality
mixed with unreality; then by exploiting what such a collision of elements
could yield in the way of shock, upset, and humor.
If Westerners were unaware of the Russian Oberiuty at least until the
early 1970s, they were equally unaware during the twenties and thirties of a
lonely and misunderstood figure, the Polish painter-playwright-novelist-
philosopher Stanistaw Ignacy Witkiewicz. "Witkacy," who had recently re­
turned from the tsarist army and direct observation of the Revolution, was
creating in the third decade of the twentieth century a proto-Absurdist the­
ater and a theory of abstract drama based on an analogy with modern paint­
ing. In this theater, meaning would be defined solely through internal scenic
construction, the only logic would be that of pure form, and the only psy­
chology would be that of bizarre fantasy. In the West, German Expressionists
such as Ernst Toller and Georg Kaiser were themselves radically transform­
ing dramatic structure and staging, but, unlike Witkiewicz, Kharms, and
Vvedensky, with an impact that was soon felt across the Atlantic in the
United States. As a result—and partly on account of the United States' "S
increasing "globalization" after its successful participation in World War I— 9
American theater joined the international mainstream of experimentation §
for the first time, as it produced the avant-garde drama of the early Eugene 5
O'Neill, E. E. Cummings, and Gertrude Stein. .y
After World War I, France, which had enjoyed commercial rather than jj
artistic leadership in the field of drama as the nineteenth century marched in jf
lockstep from Pixerecourt and Scribe to Sardou and Labiche, immediately s:
regained its traditional importance in the avant-garde, and not only through ^
the theatrical innovations of Jacques Copeau and his students (Louis Jouvet, ♦
Charles Dullin, Gaston Baty, and Georges Pitoeff). The French also reas-
serted their prominence in drama through the avant-garde experiments of
such Surrealists as Philippe Soupault, Benjamin Peret, Louis Aragon, and
Roger Vitrac, who—in the wake of a world war both imperialist and mecha­
nized—portrayed the ambiguity and irrationality of existence with incon­
gruous juxtapositions, with nonsense and non sequitur, and with humor and
irony. (Guillaume Apollinaire was the first to use the term "Surrealism," in
the preface to his play The Breasts ofTiresias [1917]: "When man wanted to
imitate walking he created the wheel, which does not resemble a leg—and in
the same way he has created Surrealism unconsciously" [56].)
Artaud, whose radical insights bore fruit a generation later, himself be­
gan his work as playwright, actor, director, theorist—and prophet—during
this renaissance in the French theater. And though in Italy Pirandello had
shattered the traditional conceptions of representational theatrical illusion
and unified dramatic character, it was the French productions by Dullin and
Pitoeff that brought the Sicilian's dramatic vision to the rest of Europe and
America—so much so in our own country that Six Characters in Search of an
Author (1921) has surely become the most frequently anthologized, and
deservedly the most influential, of avant-garde plays. (For this reason, we felt
no need to anthologize it yet again here.)
Whether it was French or Italian, German or Russian, the theatrical
avant-garde of the post-World War I era was not revolutionary only in an
artistic sense, however; as I have noted, it was also revolutionary in a socio­
political sense, which was itself complemented by a psychological revo­
lutionism. The patron saints of the theatrical revolutionists of this period
happened to be an unlikely pair, Sigmund Freud and V. I. Lenin. (Coinci-
Q dentally, in the year before the Russian Revolution, Lenin lived directly
< across the street from the Cabaret Voltaire, the famous Zurich cafe that was
^ the birthplace of Dada.) Implosions and explosions, dreams and revolutions,
^ the conquest of the irrational and the triumph of the proletariat—these
< psychological and sociopolitical extremes lent form and substance to the
^ avant-garde theater of the teens and twenties.
ii Expressionism and Surrealism, the two major movements in painting
H and drama of the period, unite the subjective and the societal, dream and
i" revolution, with the aim of transcending and transforming reality by releas-
*" ing the subconscious and leveling all social barriers. In their rejection of the
I old society, the Surrealist heirs of Dada looked eastward, toward Moscow, for
♦ fraternity as well as inspiration and maintained a prolonged, if stormy and
vacillating, attachment to the French Communist Party and the Third
International—an attachment that thus privileged social or political revolu­
tion over the spiritual revolt of Artaud's theater of cruelty. Unlike the war­
mongering Italian Futurists, the German Expressionists, almost to a man,
were pacifists. Social change, for them, grows out of the dream of spiritual
rebirth, and the grimly realistic therefore moves with shocking rapidity in
their work toward the fantastic and the visionary.
The extremism and distortion of Expressionist drama derive precisely
from its closeness to the dream. Indeed, in its crude aspects, Expressionism is
nothing more than dramatized daydream or fantasy. In its subtler and more
interesting examples, however, Expressionism approaches the concealing
symbolism and subliminal suggestiveness of night dreams, if not nightmares.
Innovatively, Strindberg called the experimental plays he wrote when he
passed beyond Naturalism dream plays: namely, To Damascus (1888-1904),
A Dream Play (1902), and The Ghost Sonata (1907). In them the projection
and embodiment of psychic forces take the place of the replication of exter­
nal fact; and the association of ideas supplants the construction of plot based
on the logical connection of cause and effect. The old structural principle of
causal interrelations linking character, incident, and action thus gives way to
a new structural pattern, closer to music than to drama—the presentation of
a theme and variations.
Instead of being mimetic, the acting in Strindberg's dream plays, like that
in German Expressionist drama, would be "musical" as well. Rather than
seek to reproduce everyday behavior on the stage, the expressionistic actor,
according to Paul Kornfeld (in an epilogue appended to his play The Seduc-
tion [1913]), should combine passionate rhetoric with trancelike ecstasy,
and "not be ashamed of the fact that he is acting. . . . The melody of a great
gesture says more than the highest consummation of what is called natural­
ness. Let him think of the opera, in which the dying singer still gives forth a
high C and with the sweetness of his melody tells more about death than if
he were to crawl and writhe" (7-8).
Strindberg's dream plays in turn became the inspiration for German
Expressionists such as Georg Kaiser, Ernst Toller, Reinhard Sorge, and Wal­
ter Hasenclever. Unlike the French Surrealists of the twenties and thirties,
though, the Expressionists rarely reproduced actual dreams, with their shift­
ing planes of reality and gross distortion of the "laws" of time, space, and
causality. Instead, the structure of many of their plays resembled the formal
pattern or movement of the human mind in dream and reverie. Not by
accident, the influence of Strindberg coincided with that of psychoanalysis
(Freud's Interpretation of Dreams having appeared two years before A Dream
Play), and, in its Freudian form (as well as later in its Jungian one), psycho­
analysis had decisive significance for Expressionism. But even before Freud,
German philosophy from Schelling to Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, to­
gether with the intellectual atmosphere in Germany in the wake of Roman­
ticism, had offered intimations of the subconscious. Even those Expression­
ists who were not conversant with the actual works of Freud, then, were
undoubtedly familiar with the climate of thought that had given rise to
psychoanalysis in the first place.
In adopting an episodic dream structure, the German Expressionists not
only rejected the tradition of the well-made play and openly defied the ideal
of an objective recording of everyday life, on which "realistic" theater had
been based. In league, paradoxically, with the realists and naturalists, they
also turned against the disdainful aloofness from contemporary urban reality
that characterized those writers who sought to revive the Romanticism or
even the Neoclassicism of the past. Along with the dominant art of bourgeois
society, the Expressionists rejected, unmasked, and caricatured the mores,
precepts, and institutions that denatured its urban reality, whose prevail­
ing authoritarian temper—whether in Wilhelmine Germany or Hapsburg
Austria—they opposed. Thus, like the other avant-gardes of its time, Expres­
sionism constituted not merely an aesthetic revolt but also an ethical and
sometimes even a political one, closely allied with humanitarian principles
and socialist reform. However, since this revolt was in many cases neither
specific nor rational, but instead vague and emotional, the otherwise pacifis-
tic movement numbered among its members some who were afterward, in
an apparent about-face, to contribute their support to militant communism.
The Bolshevik Revolution and Freudian psychoanalysis, then, tore down
a both the external conventions of society and the internal walls of the self.
< No wonder the walls and conventions of the realistic theater were also
li demolished—walls between stage and auditorium, actor and audience, au-
^ thor and play, together with the conventions of illusion, character, and plot.
^ It had been demonstrated that reality, the basis for "realism," was neither
^ objective nor unchanging, neither absolute nor unified, but instead relative
SJ and fragmented. And with the loss of belief in objective, immutable truth
H understandably came the eclipse of illusionistic, representational playwrit-
j|j ing and staging. The human psyche, psychoanalysts showed, was a heap of
*" fragments, not an integrated whole; an entire society, the Bolsheviks proved,
I could be blown up, and with it every value that it had cherished, every belief
+ that it had promulgated.

♦ The avant-garde writers of the twenties and beyond investigated dramatic
form precisely for the purpose of expressing this shattered reality; instead of
holding a mirror up to nature, creating an illusion of reality, or reflecting the
surface of the world, they smashed that mirror, imagined illusions within
illusions, and generated apocalyptic visions. It was in order to depict human
society and human nature in constant, often violent, upheaval and disin­
tegration, to uncover subterranean faultlines in politics as well as people,
that the new playwrights adopted the fluidity of dreams and the chaos of
revolutions as dramatic devices. Avant-garde drama between the world wars
thus reflects not the private domestic life of that period, but rather its gross
communal instability: its shifting planes of reality, changing perspectives
on society, drastic transpositions of time and space, and manifold takes on
Many of the new movements placed considerable emphasis on multiple
images of personality, for example, through their exploration of the sub­
conscious—probably because Freud's theories provided a semiscientific ex­
planation for forces that the Symbolists had relegated to the realm of fate,
mysticism, or the supernatural. Through the subconscious, the subjective
and the objective worlds could be brought into logical relation onstage that
synthesized the views of both the realist-naturalists and the Symbolists. And
through the psychological probing of the Surrealists, the vast realms of the
mind offered material for new explorations in performance, apart from any
concern for objective representation. Freud's theories were given new di­
mensions, moreover, by the work of Carl Jung. Beginning with Psychology of
the Unconscious (1912), he argued that Freud's description of the structure
of the mind is incomplete; to its three divisions of id, ego, and superego
should be added a fourth, the "collective unconscious"—a division beyond
the reach of psychoanalysis, for "by no analytical technique can it be brought
to conscious recollection, being neither repressed nor forgotten" (319).
The collective unconscious, according to Jung, is "nothing more than a
potentiality... which from primordial times has been handed down to us in
the specific form of mnemonic images, or expressed in anatomical forma­
tions in the very structure of the brain" (319), incorporating "the psychic
residua of innumerable experiences of the same type" (320). In this manner,
Jung pushed the concept of the unconscious one step further and suggested
an explanation for psychological responses not accounted for by Freud. He
went on to declare that there are essentially two kinds of art: the kind based
on the personal unconscious and that based on the collective unconscious.
The first is limited by the author's personal vision, but the second is more
significant because it captures (through archetype, myth, and symbol) expe­
riences embedded in the collective unconscious, which are the ones best
suited to compensate for what is missing from our lives in the present. From
the point of view of avant-garde dramatists, Jung, in so extending Freud's
conception of the unconscious, was implicitly arguing for a reality that is far
more complex than surface appearance would suggest.
New developments in physics were to prove as far-reaching as those in
psychology. Beginning in 1905, Albert Einstein began formulating his the­
ory of relativity, which constitutes the most revolutionary, precise statement
of perceptions of time and space that have greatly influenced not only
twentieth-century science but art and literature as well. The theory is revolu­
tionary precisely because, in formulating it, Einstein sought to incorporate
both spatial and temporal dimensions. Newtonian physics had depicted
space as static and absolute by treating both time and point of view as fixed;
starting with Einstein, space came to be seen by contrast as relative to a
moving point of reference. To the three spatial dimensions, he added the
fourth dimension of time, in the form of movement; and the faster the
movement, the greater are the changes in the perceived dimensions of both
time and space.
Even though Einstein saw mass, length, time, and simultaneity as rela­
tive, he never doubted the orderliness of the universe, and he sought to
harmonize the variables through mathematical formulas. Less scientifically
oriented minds, however, were more attracted to the idea of relativity itself
and elevated it as a principle by which they could not only question the
linear progression of time or the related principle of inexorable, determinis­
tic causality but also postulate the purely subjective nature of human percep­
tion. For many the possibility of firm or absolute truth had vanished forever,
5 in the same way that it had disappeared around a century before for the
< German Romantics in consequence of Kant's notion that "pure reason"
jj. cannot penetrate the essence of things, that the intellect cannot determine
*j what is truth and what merely appears to be truth, that all perception is
^ finally subjective. (This idea was expressed in his Critique of Pure Reason
[1781] but later qualified—like Einstein's theory of relativity—and recon-
- ciled with a belief in God's moral law in both his Critique of Practical Reason
K [1788] and his Critique of Judgment [1790].)
jjj Kant's notion—which for Kleist shattered his Enlightenment belief in
•" the power of reason to comprehend the universe and to perfect life on
I earth—lay at the heart of German Romanticism. Henceforth, the outer
world was abandoned in favor of the inner, reality was created by the imagi­
nation, higher consciousness was gained through the unconscious, and the
generally valid was reached by way of the most individual. But whereas
Romantics like Tieck and Grabbe escaped from objective reality into a
world of fairy-tale fantasy, literary satire, or nationalistic folklore, Kleist in­
corporated the obduracy of that reality into such dramas as Penthesilea
(1808) and Prince Friedrich of Homburg (1811) and in this sense showed
some affinity for the classicism of Goethe and Schiller (themselves erstwhile
Sturmer-und-Dranger)y which had attempted to reconcile spirit and matter
by harmonizing the inner and outer worlds.
As a result of Einstein's work, however, the changed conceptions of time
and space were soon evident on the surface of artistic forms (in addition to
being manifest at their spiritual core)—particularly in their organizational
patterns. Space in painting, for example, had since the Renaissance been
conceived as fixed, and objects had been shown from a single point of view at
a specific instant in time. In fact, the entire logic of perspective painting was
based on this convention, which was grounded in Newtonian physics. The
first major break with tradition came in the late nineteenth century when
Paul Cezanne began to include in one painting objects that could be seen
only from different "eye-points." But it was Cubism (usually said to have
begun in 1907 and to have reached its height just before World War I) that
first systematically introduced into a single painting several points of view,
no one of which had more authority than the others. The Cubist paint-
ers, among whom Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque were the leading fig­
ures, sought not only to break down objects semigeometrically, into cubes,
spheres, cylinders, and cones, but also to provide several views of the same
object simultaneously. Cubism thus represented an attempt to deal analyt­
ically with space and to incorporate the dimension of time into painting.
Similar attempts were made in drama, where time has traditionally been
treated as linear (and events occur in proper succession from beginning to
middle to end) rather than as simultaneous or relative. Just as fixed space had
governed most painting, the orderly or sequential passing of time had gov­
erned drama, with most plays being unified through a cause-and-effect ar­
rangement of incidents that mimicked Newton's own theory of causality
(according to which every thing or occurrence in the universe has its cause
or origin). Less often, an overriding thought, theme, or thesis had been used
to unify otherwise seemingly random, disjointed incidents (as in Aristopha­
nes' comedies and the medieval mystery plays). Nearly all nonrealistic dra­
matists have adopted some variation on this method, for most have orga­
nized their works around some central idea or motif, although the specific
form of organization—musical, say, as in the case of Strindberg's Ghost
Sonata, mentioned earlier, Mayakovsky's "bouffe" (comic opera) of a mys­
tery play, or, even later, Sam Shepard's Suicide in B-Flat (1976)—depends in
large part on the assumptions the playwright has made about reality.
Before the modern period most dramatists had assumed, of course, that
ours is a logical universe presided over by a just God; behind any apparent
chaos, therefore, lay ultimate harmony and justice. But as I have tried to
make clear, avant-garde drama was directly affected by the new god of
science—by new scientific discoveries and the advanced technologies of the
machine age, in their constructive as well as destructive capacities. For this
reason, the plays of the Expressionists, Futurists, and Surrealists have an
essentially new tempo or rhythm that mirrors the fast pace of industrial life,
the thrilling speed of the airplane, the automobile, and the motorcycle, and
the quick cuts of edited film. Such drama overwhelms the spectator with its
abrupt images and movement more in keeping with the sports arena and the
movie screen than with the predictable pace of bourgeois, boulevard, or
Broadway theater or even the Symbolist temple of art (where earthly dis­
continuity, illogicality, and obscurity could still be absorbed, reconciled,
or overruled in a transcendent, ideal realm). Furthermore, avant-garde
drama playfully calls attention to itself as drama, to its own artifice and
spectacle (as realist or naturalist plays never would), and exuberantly com­
bines esoteric art with popular culture—with the circus, the cabaret, even
the jazz of the twentieth century—in a way not seen since the two apogees of
Western theater: those of ancient Greece and Elizabethan England.
All the playfulness and exuberance ended, however, with the rise of
fascism and the arrival of World War II, as an entire generation of artists was
geographically displaced, politically silenced, morally co-opted, or simply
5 executed (the fate of the sometime Surrealist Federico Garcia Lorca). State
< repression of the avant-garde was most conspicuous, of course, under the
li totalitarian regimes of the Soviet Union and Germany, in which, respec-
^ tively, avant-garde practice was denigrated as "formalist" and "degenerate."
^ In both cases, avant-gardism was stamped out because it conflicted with, or
merely failed to serve, official government policy. The dramatic decline of
ii the European avant-garde in the 1930s is thus connected with a paradoxical
J- feature of the avant-garde ethos: avant-garde artistic practice can flourish
jjj only under liberal political regimes, which are willing to tolerate vigorous
*" expressions of dissent against the state and society. In this respect the avant-
I garde bites the hand that feeds it, or conversely, in Poggioli's words, it pays
4 "involuntary homage" to the bourgeois liberal democracies it attacks (106).
♦ World War II was thus a turning point not only in the individual lives of a
great many artists and intellectuals but also in the history of the avant-garde
as a whole. Avant-garde drama written after World War II, like the drama
produced between the two world wars, was to be affected by new scientific
discoveries and the advanced technologies of the machine age, but in this
case those which made possible the splitting of the atom and the demented,
conveyor-belt efficiency of gas chambers—which is to say, technologies
whose immediate effect was overwhelmingly negative—indeed, incompre­
hensibly catastrophic. The horrors of World War II, especially the systematic
displacement and extermination of vast numbers of people, created a crisis of
conscience among many of the world's artists and intellectuals. Traditional
values and morals seemed incapable of coping with such dilemmas as the
American dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan, or the Holocaust perpe­
trated by the Nazis against European Jewry (not to speak of the Soviet
GULAG stretching from the Urals to the Pacific). Conventional values and
morals, as a result, no longer seemed to rest on any solid foundation.
As the full implications of a godless universe at last became evident, the
search for absolute values or essential truths gave way to fundamental ques­
tions about human beings' existence and place in the universe. As Martin
Esslin put it, "The decline of religious faith was masked until the end of the
Second World War by the substitute religions of faith in progress, national­
ism, and various totalitarian fallacies. All this was shattered by the war. By
1942, Albert Camus was calmly putting the question why, since life had lost
all meaning, man should not seek escape in suicide" (5). Camus, of course,
was a leading exponent of existentialism, perhaps the most compelling force
in postwar thought. (Although it can be traced as far back as the ancient
Greeks, existentialism remained a relatively minor strain in philosophy until
the mid-nineteenth century, where we find it beginning with Kierkegaard.)
Whereas an essentialist philosopher might inquire into what it means to
be human—what the essential human traits are—the existentialist begins by
asking, "What does it mean 'to be' or 'to exist?" Existentialists like Albert
Camus argued that human beings are, individually, responsible for making
themselves what they are, and that without making a free and conscious
choice before taking action, one cannot truly be said "to exist" as a human
being. This philosophical movement thus sought to free the individual from
external authority as well as from the authority or weight of the past and to
force him or her to discover within the self the grounds for choosing and
doing. (Hence the difference between traditional, expository characters who
are victims of the past, and unconventional, existentialist characters who live
in—and act out of—the eternal present.) Understandably, existentialism
struck a responsive chord during and after World War II, for the world had
seemingly gone mad, as personal choice was abdicated in favor of blind
adherence to national leaders and policies, even when such obedience en­
tailed condoning almost unbelievable cruelties or crimes against humanity.
Existentialism also struck a responsive chord in the theater. Albert Camus
and Jean-Paul Sartre wrote such plays as Caligula (1945) and The Flies
(1943) to dramatize the tenets of their philosophy. These plays, along with
those by Giraudoux, Anouilh, and Salacrou, create what could be called a
form of aesthetic dissonance, however, for they posit, in Esslin's words, the ul­
timate "senselessness of life [and] the inevitable devaluation of ideals, purity,
and purpose" (6). Yet the plays themselves are logical constructs that depend
for their effect on ratiocinative devices, discursive thought, and consistent or
coherent character. In this sense, existentialist playwrights have something in
common with dramatists that went before them—Goethe, Schiller, and
especially Kleist, a harbinger of the avant-garde. These Germans had at­
tempted to harmonize Romanticism—and its focus on the turbulent, inter­
nal life—with Neoclassicism, which emphasized the controlled, external
world. Camus, Sartre, and company tried to express irrational content—that
is, the theme of the irrationality of the human condition—in rational form.
(Sartre and Camus were to be followed, in the late 1990s, by Tom Stoppard
and Michael Frayn, whose Arcadia and Copenhagen, paradoxically, explore
in conventional dramatic form, respectively, the way in which Werner
Heisenberg's uncertainty principle exploded the traditional concept of cau­
sality, thus opening the door to "chaos theory.")
The dramatists of the Theater of the Absurd, by contrast, strive to express
their sense of metaphysical anguish at the senselessness of the human condi-
0 tion in a form which mirrors that meaninglessness or ultimate lack of pur-
< pose. Therefore, Absurdists like Samuel Beckett, Eugene lonesco, Jean
ii Genet, and Arthur Adamov abandon the cause-and-effect relationship that
* traditionally governs the incidents in a play—the progression of exposition,
^ complication, turning point, climax, and denouement—or reduce reliance
^ on that pattern to an absolute minimum. Rather than chronicling the con-
y nective quality of events in a linear narrative, the action in plays like Waiting
H for Godot (1952), The Bald Soprano (1950), The Maids (1947), and The
jij Invasion (1949) tends to be circular or ritualistic, as it concentrates on ex-
I- ploring the texture of a static situation or condition. In such drama, prob-
1 lems or dilemmas are seldom resolved, and characters tend toward the typi-
^ cal or archetypal rather than the specific or the individual. Often they even
♦ exchange roles or metamorphose into other characters, and some are given
only generic or numerical designations.
Moreover, time for these characters is flexible, as it is in dreams, just as
place is generalized: the dramatis personae of Absurdist plays most often find
themselves in a symbolic location, or in a void cut off from the concrete
world as we (think we) know it. And in this dramatic limbo, language itself is
downgraded. Although the characters frequently talk as volubly as do the
figures of conventional theater, they usually recognize that they are indulg­
ing in a word-game that ridicules the very use of language by distorting it or
making it as mechanical as possible. To compensate for this downgrading of
language as a means of communication, Absurdist plays emphasize the met­
aphorical aspect through their scenery. Their poetry tends to emerge, ac­
cording to Esslin, "from the concrete and objectified images of the stage
itself. . . . What happens on the stage transcends, and often contradicts, the
words spoken by the characters" (7).
What happens, moreover, never takes place in the context of traditional
dramatic genres: instead, the somber often becomes the grotesque (as in the
precursory esperpentos of Ramon Maria del Valle-Inclan from the twenties),
and the comic frequently takes on tragic overtones (as in the anarchic farces
of Joe Orton). The world is "neutralized," even turned on its head, by these
writers' deriding of everything that in the past was taken seriously, or by their
transforming of what most people have considered to be ludicrous into
something ominous, powerful, and affecting. Despite such rejection of for-
mal purity, structural logic, integrated character, and linguistic cohesive-
ness, Absurdist drama is ultimately conceptual, for in the end it too seeks to
project an intellectualized perception—however oblique or abstruse—about
the human condition.
The difference between such drama and earlier nonrealistic plays, from
Symbolism onward, is precisely that perception or vision, rather than its
techniques. Although the Absurdists were especially attuned to as well as
inclined to imitate the work of Jarry, Artaud, Pirandello, the Futurists, the
Dadaists, and perhaps above all the Surrealists, their subject becomes peo­
ple's entrapment in an irrational and hostile or impersonal and indifferent
universe, an existence in which the search for truth is an exercise in futility.
(This attitude, incidentally, does not seep into American drama, with Jack
Gelber's The Connection [1959] and Edward Albee's The American Dream
[ 1961 ], until postwar euphoria wears off, the Korean War erupts in the midst
of the Cold War, and the Vietnam debacle looms on the horizon. The
American avant-garde, however, is rooted more in performance than in text,
in a radical performative technique that dismantles and then either discards
or refashions the overwhelmingly "well-made" drama of the American stage,
as the work of the Wooster Group, the Living Theater, the Open Theatre,
the Bread and Puppet Theatre, Mabou Mines, and Ping Chong will attest.)
The Theater of the Absurd, that is, gives up the search for a dramatic
model through which to discover fundamental ethical or philosophical cer­
tainties about life and the world—something even the Surrealists attempted
in their probing of the unconscious. To paraphrase Malraux, if the mission of
the nineteenth century was to get rid of the gods, the mission of the twentieth
century was to replace them with something—until we get to the Absurdists,
who replace "something" with nothing or nothingness. The only certainty
about human reality, in Ionesco's words, is that, "devoid of purpose . . . cut
off from his religious, metaphysical, and transcendental roots, man is lost; all
his actions become senseless, absurd, useless" (quoted in Esslin, 5). And this
"certainty," as I have already indicated, is reflected in the viciously cyclical
nature of Absurdist dramatic form.
Theater of the Avant-Garde does not go beyond 1950 and the inception of
the Absurd, but not because avant-garde drama has ceased to be written. One
need only witness from the 1970s, for example, the Austrian Peter Handke's
Ride Across Lake Constance (1971), which demolishes even the remnants of
mimesis through a relentless scrutiny of the semiotics of language and expe­
rience that allows for no progression of events, no resolution, no character­
ization, and hence no correspondence between behavior and language; the
Frenchman Michel Vinaver's Overboard (1973), whose many discontinuous
and seemingly unrelated scenes ultimately suggest that everything from the
corporate world to the world of myth interconnects; the American Robert
Wilson's three-hour speechless epic Deafman Glance (1971), which created
a combination Theater of Silence-and-Images not unlike that of silent experi­
mental film; and the work of another American, Charles Ludlam, whose sav-
5 agely nihilistic Ridiculous Theater parodied familiar genres and the absurdi-
< ties of life as well as art, in plays like Bluebeard (1970) and Camille (1971).
What has happened, however, is that since the late 1960s or so, we have
entered the era of postmodernism (a term first used in architecture), during
which two developments occurred to stop the "advance" of the avant-garde.
^ The first was the embrace by postmodern dramatists of a stylistic plural-
- ism, an eclectic and often self-reflexive mixing of different styles from dif-
H ferent time periods. Under modernism, the argument goes, a variety of styles
!" had flourished, but within any one (such as Expressionism or Surrealism)
*■ the artist sought unity by adhering consistently to the set of conventions
I associated with that mode. The problem with this definition of modernism,
4 at least as it is extended to the history of drama, is that the mixing of radically
different styles—and the playwrights' propensity to call attention to the pro-
cess of artistic creation—was already evident in the work of avant-gardists
from the 1920s, not to mention earlier, in the experimental plays of Strind-
berg. A more sophisticated version of the postmodern argument claims that
it is not the mere presence of eclecticism and self-referentiality that distin­
guishes postmodernism, but rather their different cultural positioning and
use within a postmodern context. Within an avant-garde ethos the self-
conscious mixing of styles constituted a typical attempt to occupy the posi­
tion of "most advanced and subversive trend," whereas self-reflexive plural­
ism in postmodern culture marks an exhaustion of the subversive energies
and ambitions once associated with the avant-garde.
Over the past century, artists, chastened by what they saw happening
in the world, have ceased believing in the efficacy of revolutionary art to
change the world; yet they still mouth slogans about transforming the order
of society and go through the motions of producing art designed to do just
that. The ideologies and techniques of earlier avant-gardes are still conve­
niently lying around, ready to be picked through and recycled, though the
heirs no longer see themselves as belonging to a single movement at all. (The
quintessential example, in form as well as content, of the resulting drama is
Tony Kushner's Angels in America: Millennium Approaches [1992].)
What had begun before World War I, then, as a burgeoning involvement
by artists in the future of their societies—if only as outcasts who believed (like
Artaud) that some day they would be regarded as prophets—had subsided by
the decade of the 1970s into an acknowledgment that progressive artistic pro­
grams would never be adopted and experienced by the vast majority of any
country's citizens. To paraphrase Fredric Jameson, all that is left is to imitate
dead styles, to speak through the masks and with the voices of the styles in the
imaginary museum of the past. Or, as Ihab Hassan has put it, only indeter-
minacies—"discontinuity, heterodoxy, pluralism, randomness, perversion"—
and deformations—"disintegration, deconstruction, displacement, disconti­
nuity, disjunction, decomposition, demystification, delegitimization"—can
be identified as central to postmodernism (269).
The avant-garde remains with us today as a sanctioned aesthetic predilec­
tion. Struggling within the confines of a self-reflexive formal orientation and
against an ill-defined social context of liberal and diffuse pluralism, that
avant-garde bears curious witness to an ambiguous state of mind. It attempts
to display a creative and critical vitality yet raises only minimal expectations.
It countenances an active and often aggressive assertion of individual will yet
betrays an uneasy acquiescence and resignation. Its most significant efforts
do continue to involve the self-conscious exploration of the nature, limits,
and possibilities of drama and theater (the most naturally reflexive of art
forms) in contemporary society; but the vision of the future—of the avant-
garde's future as well as that of society and culture in general—provided by
such work is tentative and unclear, as if the avant-garde could not move
beyond doubt and distrust toward an inspired vision.
Reworking the military metaphor underpinning the notion of avant-
gardism, one could argue that we have entered a period in which the culture
of negation has been replaced by a demilitarized zone, flanked by avant-
garde ghosts on the one side and a changing mass culture on the other. The
once subversive styles of the avant-garde have been assimilated by mass
culture, that is, so that the gap between nominally avant-garde products and
popular, mass-cultural ones, such as Julie Taymor's Lion King on Broadway
or television's MTV and "The Larry Sanders Show," is greatly reduced. If the
historical avant-garde once consisted of wave after wave of antibourgeois,
mostly left-leaning, angry yet visionary artists pouring onto a hostile shore (a
beachhead, to continue the military metaphor), then each successive wave
has been soaked up by the society it apparently hated and opposed—has
been co-opted and made fashionable, turned into a style in competition with
other styles, by the once and future enemy (the official culture's dogmathi-
cally imposed system of values and beliefs).
The avant-garde, as a result, can today do little more than impotently
express disenchantment with its own ideals, while popular culture is en­
chanted to assume the once radical posture of inventiveness, daring, and
"difference." Indeed, in what could be the ultimate indignity, the very phrase
"avant-garde" has itself become a marketing device, and now even the name
of a new line of deodorant in Great Britain. Moreover, the objects of the
5 avant-garde have become useful investment commodities for the "Establish-
< ment," in the form of paintings, sculptures, and even theatrical posters that
li adorn the walls of major corporations—purportedly in the name of culture,
z education, and refinement.
The second development to stop the "advance" of the avant-garde was,
^ and remains, the deification of postmodern performance, through the merg-
- ing of author and director into a single "superstar" like Peter Brook or Jerzy
l- Grotowski, Andrei Serban or Peter Sellars, Tadeusz Kantor or Robert Le-
j|! page, as well as through the breaking down of boundaries between dramatic
forms and performance styles, between styles and periods, and between the
I arts
arts themselves.
themselves. Again,
Again, however,
however, we
we see
see the
the presence
presence particularly
particularly of
of the
the latter
^ breakdown within modernism: in the synesthesia of the Symbolists, for in­ in-
♦ stance, or in the writing of plays by artists from different media or accord-
ing to the dictates of a different artistic medium. (Among these works can
be counted Henri Rousseau's Visit to the Paris Exposition of 1889 [1889],
Arnold Schonberg's Lucky Hand [1913], Jean Cocteau's Parade [1917],
Guillaume Apollinaire's Color of Time [1918], Ernst Barlach's Poor Cousin
[1919], Oskar Schlemmer's Figural Cabinet I and II [1922-23], and Pablo
Picasso's Desire Caught by the Tail [ 1941 ].) When we see something like this
breakdown after World War II, in the "happenings" of the painter Allan
Kaprow from the late fifties (the original "performance art," in the sense that
visual art was "performed" by objectified human bodies), we also begin to
see the cultivation of performance as art unto itself, apart from or superior to
any a priori text.
First, attempts were made by artists other than Kaprow to move drama
outside the confines of traditional, or text-based, theaters and into more
accessible, less formal surroundings. Second, emphasis was shifted, in the
"happenings," from passive observation to active participation—from the ar­
tistic product to the viewing process. Each spectator, in becoming the partial
creator of a piece, derived any meaning that might be desired from the
experience, thus downplaying the artist's intention or even existence. (So
much for the work of such postmodern authors as Caryl Churchill and
Heiner Muller.) Third, simultaneity and multiple focus tended to replace
the orderly sequence of conventionally, or even unconventionally, scripted
drama; no pretense was maintained that everyone at such a multimedia
event could see and hear the same things at the same time or in the same
order. Many of these ideas were carried over into "environmental theater," a
term popularized by Richard Schechner for something in between happen­
ings and traditional productions.
In this kind of theater, among other things, all production elements
speak their own language rather than being mere supports for words, and a
text need be neither the starting point nor the goal of a production—indeed,
a text is not even necessary, and therefore there may be none. In other words, "S
fidelity to the text, that sacred tenet which had so long governed perfor- *?
mance, has become irrelevant: postmodernism, both as critical inquiry and %
as theater, continues to challenge whether any text is authoritative, whether 5
a dramatic text can be anything more than a performance script—whether, M
in fact, the play exists at all before it is staged. In Blooded Thought, Herbert |
Blau concedes that "so far as performance goes, the Text remains our best jf
evidence after the fact, like the quartos and folios of the Elizabethan stage." -c
But what, he asks, is "the nature of the Text before the fact?" The answer, he +
suggests, is that "the idea of performance has become the mediating, often ♦
subversive third term in the on-again off-again marriage of drama and the- °°
ater" (37). And performance groups such as Mabou Mines and Grand
Union, for their part, have become concerned less with what they are say­
ing—with content—than with form and formal experiment: with the means
of communicating, the places where theatrical events take place, the persons
employed as performers, and the relationship of performers, and perfor­
mance, to the audience.
Enter "performance art" of the kind so loosely defined in this country
that all the following qualify as, or have called themselves, "performance
artists": Madonna, Karen Finley, Anna Deavere Smith, Amy Taubin, Eric
Bogosian, Ann Magnuson, Martha Clarke, Stuart Sherman, Chris Burden,
Linda Montano, Laurie Anderson, Jack Smith, Holly Hughes, Vito Acconci,
Winston Tong, Meredith Monk, Spalding Gray, Rachel Rosenthal, Tim
Miller, John Fleck, John Leguizamo, John Kelly, Joan Jonas, Gilbert and
George, Deborah Hay, Bill Irwin, Bob Berky, David Shiner, the Kipper Kids,
Michael Moschen, Avner ("the Eccentric") Eisenberg, and the Flying Ka-
ramazov Brothers. Anything can be called "art," in other words, as long as it
is consecrated by performance—preferably of the narcissistic self.
Yet even "performance art," especially in its original incarnation as Ka-
prow's "happening," harks back to ideas first introduced by the Futurists,
Dadaists, and Surrealists. Impatient with established art forms, they turned
first to the permissive, open-ended, hard-to-define medium of performance,
with its endless variables and unabashed borrowings from literature, poetry,
music, dance, drama, architecture, cinema, sculpture, and painting. Alfred
Jarry's investiture of a new personality, or performative self, for himself;
Oskar Kokoschka's manufacture of and formal marriage to a life-sized doll;
5w the proto-Expressionist Frank Wedekind's enthusiastic participation in cir-
< cus life, together with his practice of nudism, eurythmics, "free love," even
li onstage masturbation and urination; the Bateau-Lavoir's celebrated banquet
^ in honor of le douanier Rousseau; the Dadaists' first program, which ended
^ in riot at the Cabaret Voltaire in February 1916; Eisenstein's production of
^ Sergei Tretyakov's Gas Masks (1923-24) in the Moscow Gas Factory—all
- these by turns playful and impassioned, casual and programmed, serious and
H childlike events could be called, by today's definition, "performance art."
j" But avant-gardists tellingly termed them fumisteries (figuratively, practi-
*~ cal jokes or mystifications), and the aesthetic motif that they embodied
I fumisme. Which is to say that these events were simultaneously the smoke­
screens and cannon shots through which the avant-garde initiated its frontal
assault on the art of previous centuries. Fumisteries were never intended to
be, as "performance art" is, the thing in itself. They were the products of
artists who, when their creative rhythms were most accelerated, when their
most pugnacious breakthroughs in aesthetic method and concept were oc­
curring, equated their roles as much with those of the carnival barker, circus
clown, music-hall magician, or religious charlatan as with those of the sage
and prophet. To put it another way, they had some perspective on what they
were doing, or enough self-doubt not to take themselves too seriously, which
is one of the reasons we can take them so seriously today. In word as well as
deed, avant-gardists embodied the relativity, subjectivism, or tumult of their
age—not the fragmentation, flattening, and solipsism of the one to follow.


Apollinaire, Guillaume. Preface to The Breasts ofTiresias: A Surrealist Drama. Trans.

Louis Simpson. In Modem French Theatre: The Avant-Garde, Dada, and Surrealism;
An Anthology of Plays, ed. Michael Benedikt and George E. Wellwarth, 56-62. New
York: Dutton, 1964.
Blau, Herbert. Blooded Thought: Occasions of Theatre. New York: PAJ Publications, 1982.
Breton, Andre. Manifestoes of Surrealism. Trans. Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane.
Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1972.
Esslin, Martin. The Theatre of the Absurd. 1961. Rev. ed. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor/
Doubleday, 1969.
Hassan, Ihab. "Postface 1982: Toward a Concept of Postmodernism." In Hassan, The
Dismemberment of Orpheus: Toward a Postmodern Literature, 259-71. 1971. Madison:
University of Wisconsin Press, 1982.
Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham,
N.C.: Duke University Press, 1991.
Jung, C. G. "On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry" (1922). In The Portable
Jung, ed. Joseph Campbell; trans. R. F. C. Hull, 301-22. New York: Viking, 1971.
Kornfeld, Paul. "Epilogue to the Actor." Trans. Joseph Bernstein. In Anthology of Ger-
man Expressionist Drama: A Prelude to the Absurd, ed. Walter H. Sokel, 6-8. Garden
City, N.Y.: Anchor/Doubleday, 1963.
Malraux, Andre. The Metamorphosis of the Gods. Trans. Stuart Gilbert. New York: Dou-
bleday, 1960.
. The Temptation of the West. Trans. Robert Hollander. 1961. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1991.
Masson, Andre. La memoire du monde. Geneva: Albert Skira, 1974.
Poggioli, Renato. The Theory oftheAvant-Garde. Trans. Gerald Fitzgerald. Cambridge,
Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968.
Saint-Simon, Claude-Henri de. Oeuvres (facsimile reprint of the 1868-78 Paris edition).
Vol. 5. Geneva: Slatkine, 1977.
Schechner, Richard. Environmental Theater. New York: Hawthorn, 1973.
Franco-Russian Symbolism

™ ^ ^ / ^ aurice Maeterlinck, playwright, essayist, theorist, and

W W I poet, was born on August 29, 1862, in Ghent, Belgium,
^ b i b ^ k where he was educated in the law, a profession he prac-
ticed during the early stages of his writing career. He joined the Parisian
Symbolists in 1886 but did not relocate to France until 1897, following
the success of his early plays—Princess Maleine (1889), The Intruder
(1890), The Blind (1890), and Interior (1894)—which represent his pri-
mary contribution to avant-garde drama. In these plays, Maeterlinck
sought to achieve a form of "total theater" that would harness all the
elements of production in the creation of an overwhelming mood dom-
inated by pessimism, loneliness, and fear of death. The characters in his early
plays speak a language that seems to emanate from their souls, as if these figures
exist in another dimension. His dialogue, emphasizing the repetition of words
and sounds, helps create the ritualistic musicality of his plays. By allowing tone
and atmosphere to dominate the structure of his early plays, he created what he
termed a static drama, in which mood-images replace linear action, and silence
and pauses reveal as much as, if not more than, dialogue does about the inner
state of the characters as well as the outer state of the universe.
In his major theoretical work, The Treasure of the Humble (1896), Maeter-
linck argued that drama should seek to transcend reality; he even proposed
the use of marionettes as one way of preserving the mystical atmosphere he
sought in his early plays. In "The Modern Drama," from The Double Garden
(1904), Maeterlinck, when he stated that "the sovereign law of the stage, its
essential demand, will always be action" seemed to put forward a view of the-
ater incompatible with his earlier, "static" one. But he was really talking about
action or conflict of the internal kind, which enables us to penetrate deeper into
the human consciousness—the very kind of action one finds in the quasi-
Symbolist plays of Ibsen and Hauptmann around the turn of the century, and that
represents a happy compromise between Maeterlinck's own drama of stasis and
traditional dramatic plotting.
Aurelien Lugne-Poe directed Maeterlinck's early work at the Theatre d'Art
and the Theatre de I'Oeuvre, capturing Maeterlinck's atmospherics through the
use of dim lights as well as the actors' monotone vocal delivery and slow or
measured movements. Claude Debussy composed the opera version of Pelleas
and Melisande (1892), and in 1909 Konstantin Stanislavsky produced the Moscow
z£ premiere of Maeterlinck's last significant work for the theater, The Blue Bird
0 (1908). Yet following Maeterlinck's acceptance of the Nobel Prize for literature
* in 1911, his influence waned. Perhaps under the adverse influence of his own
>- essay "The Modern Drama," his plays became more optimistic, or in any event
z more accessible, as they began to conform to dramatic convention. Never-
< theless, his early Symbolist dramas influenced a wide range of playwrights, in-
jj eluding Strindberg, Wilde, Yeats, and Synge, in addition to serving as distant
jj precursors of the Theater of the Absurd. He died on May 6, 1949, in Nice,
Q France.

Evolution of European "Drama of the Interior"
r^—m M Int&rieur (1891) Maeterlinck created a powerful and haunting
la^^ J stage image to express his sense of the strangeness of ordinary
r|^^ ^ k human life and the mysteries which we usually prefer not to con-
template. He makes us look with new eyes at a quite ordinary family of
I M F ' father, mother, and three children by the simple, brilliant device of
placing them behind glass in their commonplace house, so that we see but never
hear them. Our viewpoint is that of an Old Man and a Stranger who stand in a
corner of a garden looking into the lighted, curtainless room where the family
are sitting, noting every small movement and waiting for the moment when the
Old Man will have courage to go into the room and break the tragic news that
one of their daughters has been found drowned. We are involved, so to speak, in
a godlike position, seeing the pathos of the family's ignorant happiness, their
unawareness of the pitying and curious eyes upon them and of the future that is
already formed for them. Maeterlinck calls for a dreamlike effect in the move­
ments of the mute family; they should appear "grave, slow, apart, and as though
spiritualised by the distance, the light, and the transparent film of the window-
pane." He builds up subtle metaphysical implications through the situation of
watching and being watched. The eavesdroppers watch the parents, who are
watching their youngest child sleeping: they muse on the strangeness of this
recession and are prompted to reflect, "We too are watched." At such moments
the audience themselves, those other watchers, are drawn into the experience;
it may cross their minds to wonder whether in some other sense it might be said
of them also, "We are watched."
Although the people in the interior are so enclosed and separated, so un-
hearing and unseeing, they are allowed occasionally to have intuitions of what
lies in the dark outside. When the Old Man and the Stranger are speaking of the
drowned girl's hair pathetically floating on the water, her two sisters move
uneasily in the room, their hair seeming to "tremble," while at another moment
they are drawn to the window, where they stand looking into the garden as if
they had a sense of someone there. "No one comes to the middle window," says
one of the watchers, and surely then we feel a shudder of apprehension, as
though a shadowy figure might slowly form there, the wraith of the drowned girl.
Although the family do not learn the news until the Old Man goes into the house
at the end of the play, delicate movements such as I have described suggest that,
as Maeterlinck might say, the soul is responding to invisible pressures on it; that
the interior can never be totally sealed off.
The play ends, indeed, with the family plucked out of the safe, lighted interior.
We see—though we do not hear—the Old Man breaking the news and the family
leaving the room by a door at the back of the stage. They will find there the body

Excerpted from Katharine Worth, "Evolution of European 'Drama of the Interior': Maeterlinck,
Wilde, and Yeats," Maske und Kothurn: Internationale Beitragezur Theaterwissenschafi 15.1-2 (1979):
of the dead girl, but Maeterlinck supplies a stage direction which calls for an
unexpected view. W h e n the door is thrown open, what we see is a moonlit sky
with a lawn and fountain bathed in light; the moment of apprehending death is
associated not with darkness but with emergence into the light. The effective­
ness of this subtle ending depends entirely upon stagecraft, and especially light­
ing, for its realisation. Maeterlinck is in this sense a pioneer of "total theatre"
techniques. Interieur is a poetic demonstration of how the physical resources of
theatre can be used to transmute ordinary reality and draw a mysterious patina
over the surface of things, so making us realise that it is only a surface. Seen in the
lighted frame, silently moving about their everyday business, unaware that they
are being watched from their garden by a messenger bringing tidings of death,
the characters of Interieur do indeed seem to inhabit some other dimension—
which is the essence of the Symbolist aesthetic or enterprise in drama.
3 Select Bibliography on Maeterlinck
JJJ Halls, W D. Maeterlinck: A Study of His Life and Thought Oxford: Oxford University Press,
w I960.
y Knapp, Bettina L Maurice Maeterlinck. Boston: Twayne, 1975.
^ Konrad, Linn Bratteteig. Modern Drama as Crisis: The Case of Maeterlinck. New York: Pe-
♦ ter Lang, 1986.
^ Mahony, Patrick. Maurice Maeterlinck, Mystic and Dramatist 2d ed. Washington, D.C.: In­
stitute for the Study of Man, 1984.
Worth, Katharine. "Maeterlinck in the Light of the Absurd." In Around the Absurd: Essays
on Modern and Postmodern Drama, ed. Enoch Brater and Ruby Cohn, 19-32. Ann
Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990.
. Maeterlinck's Plays in Performance (book and slide set). Cambridge, England:
Chadwyck-Healey, 1985.

See also Daniels; Deak; Lambert; Lilar; Mallinson; McFarlane; and Rose, in the General

Maurice Maeterlinck


In the Garden—
MARTHA Granddaughters
MARY oftheOldMan
In the House—

The interval that elapses between the occurrence of a disaster and the
breaking of the news to the bereaved is one full of tragedy; and here the
pathetic ignorance of the drowned girls family and the painful knowledge of
the reluctant bearers of the evil tidings provide material for a touching little
play—slight material to all appearance, but in the hands of M. Maeterlinck
sufficient for the display of a wealth of kindly wisdom and sympathetic knowl-
edge of human nature.

An old garden planted with willows. At the back, a house, with three of the
ground-floor windows lighted up. Through them a family is pretty distinctly

Reprinted from The Nobel Prize Treasury, ed. Marshall McClintock; trans. William Archer
(New York: Doubleday, 1948), 203-9.
visible, gathered for the evening round the lamp. The FATHER is seated at the
chimney comer. The MOTHER, resting one elbow on the table, is gazing into
vacancy. Two young girls, dressed in white, sit at their embroidery, dreaming
and smiling in the tranquillity of the room. A child is asleep, his head resting
on his mothers left arm. When one of them rises, walks, or makes a gesture, the
movements appear grave, slow, apart, and as though spiritualized by the
distance, the light, and the transparent film of the windowpanes.
THE OLD MAN and THE STRANGER enter the garden cautiously.

THE OLD MAN. Here we are in the part of the garden that lies behind the
house. They never come here. The doors are on the other side. They are
closed and the shutters shut. But there are no shutters on this side of the
* house, and I saw the light... Yes, they are still sitting up in the lamplight.
z It is well that they have not heard us; the mother or the girls would
J perhaps have come out, and then what should we have done?
£ THE STRANGER. What are we going to do?
|£ THE OLD MAN. I want first to see if they are all in the room. Yes, I see the father
£ seated at the chimney corner. He is doing nothing, his hands resting on
t his knees. The mother is leaning her elbow on the table .. .
co THE STRANGER. She is looking at us.
THE OLD MAN. NO, she is looking at nothing; her eyes are fixed. She can­
not see us; we are in the shadow of the great trees. But do not go any
nearer . . . There, too, are the dead girl's two sisters; they are embroider­
ing slowly. And the little child has fallen asleep. It is nine on the clock in
the corner . . . They divine no evil, and they do not speak.
THE STRANGER. If we were to attract the father's attention, and make some
sign to him? He has turned his head this way. Shall I knock at one of the
windows? One of them will have to hear of it before the others...
THE OLD MAN. I do not know which to choose . . . We must be very careful.
The father is old and ailing—the mother too—and the sisters are too
young . . . And they all loved her as they will never love again. I have
never seen a happier household . . . No, no! do not go up to the window;
that would be the worst thing we could do. It is better that we should tell
them of it as simply as we can, as though it were a commonplace occur­
rence; and we must not appear too sad, else they will feel that their sorrow
must exceed ours, and they will not know what to do . . . Let us go round
to the other side of the garden. We will knock at the door, and go in as if
nothing had happened. I will go in first: they will not be surprised to see
me; I sometimes look in of an evening, to bring them some flowers or
fruit, and to pass an hour or two with them.
THE STRANGER. Why do you want me to go with you? Go alone; I will wait
until you call me. They have never seen me—I am only a passerby, a
stranger. ..
THE OLD MAN. It is better that I should not be alone. A misfortune announced
by a single voice seems more definite and crushing. I thought of that as I
came along . . . If I go in alone, I shall have to speak at the very first
moment; they will know all in a few words; I shall have nothing more to
say; and I dread the silence which follows the last words that tell of a
misfortune. It is then that the heart is torn. If we enter together, I shall
go roundabout to work; I shall tell them, for example: "They found her
thus, or thus . . . She was floating on the stream, and her hands were
clasped. .."
THE STRANGER. Her hands were not clasped, her arms were floating at her
THE OLD MAN. You see, in spite of ourselves we begin to talk—and the
misfortune is shrouded in its details. Otherwise, if I go in alone, I know
them well enough to be sure that the very first words would produce a
terrible effect, and God knows what would happen. But if we speak to
them in turns, they will listen to us, and will forget to look the evil tidings
in the face. Do not forget that the mother will be there, and that her life
hangs by a thread . . . It is well that the first wave of sorrow should waste its
strength in unnecessary words. It is wisest to let people gather round the
unfortunate and talk as they will. Even the most indifferent carry off,
without knowing it, some portion of the sorrow. It is dispersed without
effort and without noise, like air or light.. .
THE STRANGER. Your clothes are soaked and are dripping on the flagstones.
THE OLD MAN. It is only the skirt of my mantle that has trailed a little in the
water. You seem to be cold. Your coat is all muddy . . . I did not notice it
on the way, it was so dark.
THE STRANGER. I went into the water up to my waist.
THE OLD MAN. Had you found her long before I came up?
THE STRANGER. Only a few moments. I was going toward the village; it was
already late, and the dusk was falling on the riverbank. I was walking
along with my eyes fixed on the river, because it was lighter than the
road, when I saw something strange close by a tuft of reeds . . . I drew
nearer, and I saw her hair, which had floated up almost into a circle
round her head, and was swaying hither and thither with the c u r r e n t . . .
(In the room the two young girls turn their heads towards the window.)
THE OLD MAN. Did you see her two sisters' hair trembling on their shoulders?
THE STRANGER. They turned their heads in our direction—they simply
turned their heads. Perhaps I was speaking too loudly. (The two girls
resume their former position.) They have turned away again already . . . I
went into the water up to my waist, and then I managed to grasp her hand
and easily drew her to the bank. She was as beautiful as her sisters...
THE OLD MAN. I think she was more beautiful . . . I do not know why I have
lost all my courage . ..
THE STRANGER. What courage do you mean? We did all that man could do.
She had been dead for more than an hour.
THE OLD MAN. She was living this morning! I met her coming out of church.
She told me that she was going away; she was going to see her grand­
mother on the other side of the river in which you found her. She did not
know when I should see her again . . . She seemed to be on the point of
asking me something; then I suppose she did not dare, and she left me
abruptly. But now that I think of it—and I noticed nothing at the time!—
she smiled as people smile who want to be silent, or who fear that they
will not be understood . . . Even hope seemed like a pain to her; her eyes
were veiled, and she scarcely looked at me.
THE STRANGER. Some peasants told me that they saw her wandering all the
* afternoon on the bank. They thought she was looking for flowers . . . It is
2 possible that her death . . .
^ THE OLD MAN. No one can t e l l . . . What can anyone know? She was perhaps
[I! one of those who shrink from speech, and everyone bears in his breast
JJ more than one reason for ceasing to live. You cannot see into the soul as
£ you see into that room. T h e y are all like that—they say nothing but trivial
t things, and no one dreams that there is aught amiss. You live for months
oo by the side of one who is no longer of this world, and whose soul cannot
^ stoop to it; you answer her unthinkingly; and you see what happens.
They look like lifeless puppets, and all the time so many things are
passing in their souls. They do not themselves know what they are. She
might have lived as the others live. She might have said to the day of her
death: "Sir, or Madam, it will rain this morning," or, "We are going to
lunch; we shall be thirteen at table," or "The fruit is not yet ripe." They
speak smilingly of the flowers that have fallen, and they weep in the
darkness. An angel from heaven would not see what ought to be seen;
and men understand nothing until after all is over . . . Yesterday evening
she was there, sitting in the lamplight like her sisters; and you would not
see them now as they ought to be seen if this had not happened . . . I seem
to see her for the first time . . . Something new must come into our
ordinary life before we can understand it. They are at your side day and
night; and you do not really see them until the moment when they depart
forever. And yet, what a strange little soul she must have had—what a
poor little, artless, unfathomable soul she must have had—to have said
what she must have said, and done what she must have done!
THE STRANGER. See, they are smiling in the silence of the room . . .
THE OLD MAN. They are not at all anxious—they did not expect her this
THE STRANGER. They sit motionless and smiling. But see, the father puts his
fingers to his lips . . .
THE OLD MAN. He points to the child asleep on its mother's breast...
THE STRANGER. She dares not raise her head for fear of disturbing it. ..
THE OLD MAN. They are not sewing any more. There is a dead silence . ..
THE STRANGER. They have let fall their skein of white silk . . .
THE OLD MAN. They are looking at the child .. .
THE STRANGER. They do not know that others are looking at them . . .
THE OLD MAN. We, too, are watched . . .
THE STRANGER. They have raised their eyes . . .
THE OLD MAN. And yet they can see nothing . . .
THE STRANGER. They seem to be happy, and yet there is something—I cannot
tell what.. .
THE OLD MAN. They think themselves beyond the reach of danger. They have
closed the doors, and the windows are barred with iron. They have
strengthened the walls of the old house; they have shot the bolts of the
three oaken doors. They have foreseen everything that can be foreseen...
THE STRANGER. Sooner or later we must tell them. Someone might come in
and blurt it out abruptly. There was a crowd of peasants in the meadow 5
where we left the dead girl—if one of them were to come and knock at S
the d o o r . . . «£
THE OLD MAN. Martha and Mary are watching the little body. The peasants J
were going to make a litter of branches, and I told my eldest granddaugh- o
ter to hurry on and let us know the moment they made a start. Let us wait
till she comes; she will go with me. . . . I wish we had not been able to
watch them in this way. I thought there was nothing to do but to knock at
the door, to enter quite simply, and to tell all in a few phrases. . . . But I
have watched them too long, living in the lamplight.... (Enter MARY.)
MARY. They are coming, grandfather.
THE OLD MAN. IS that you? Where are they?
MARY. They are at the foot of the last slope.
THE OLD MAN. They are coming silently.
MARY. I told them to pray in a low voice. Martha is with them.
THE OLD MAN. Are there many of them?
MARY. The whole village is around the bier. They had brought lanterns; I
bade them put them out.
THE OLD MAN. What way are they coming?
MARY. They are coming by the little path. They are moving slowly.
THE OLD MAN. It is time .. .
MARY. Have you told them, grandfather?
THE OLD MAN. YOU can see that we have told them nothing. There they are,
still sitting in the lamplight. Look, my child, look: you will see what life
MARY. Oh! how peaceful they seem! I feel as though I were seeing them in a
THE STRANGER. Look there—I saw the two sisters give a start.
THE OLD MAN. They are rising . . .
THE STRANGER. I believe they are coming to the windows.
(At this moment one of the two sisters comes up to the first window, the other to
the third; and resting their hands against the panes they stand gazing into the
THE OLD MAN. No one comes to the middle window.
MARY. They are looking out; they are listening . ..
THE OLD MAN. The elder is smiling at what she does not see.
THE STRANGER. The eyes of the second are full of fear.
THE OLD MAN. Take care: who knows how far the soul may extend around the
± body. . . . (A long silence, MARY nestles close to THE OLD MAN'S breast and
2 kisses him.)
J MARY. Grandfather!
|U THE OLD MAN. Do not weep, my child; our turn will come. (A pause.)
UJ THE STRANGER. They are looking long. . . .
THE OLD MAN. Poor things, they would see nothing though they looked for a
i hundred thousand years—the night is too dark. They are looking this
o way; and it is from the other side that misfortune is coming.
THE STRANGER. It is well that they are looking this way. Something, I do not
know what, is approaching by way of the meadows.
MARY. I think it is the crowd; they are too far off for us to see clearly.
THE STRANGER. They are following the windings of the path—there they
come in sight again on that moonlit slope.
MARY. Oh! how many they seem to be. Even when I left, people were coming
up from the outskirts of the town. They are taking a very roundabout
THE OLD MAN. They will arrive at last, nonetheless. I see them, too—they are
crossing the meadows—they look so small that one can scarcely dis­
tinguish them among the herbage. You might think them children play­
ing in the moonlight; if the girls saw them, they would not understand.
Turn their backs to it as they may, misfortune is approaching step by step,
and has been looming larger for more than two hours past. They cannot
bid it stay; and those who are bringing it are powerless to stop it. It has
mastered them, too, and they must needs serve it. It knows its goal, and it
takes its course. It is unwearying, and it has but one idea. They have to
lend it their strength. They are sad, but they draw nearer. Their hearts are
full of pity, but they must advance....
MARY. The elder has ceased to smile, grandfather.
THE STRANGER. They are leaving the windows....
MARY. They are kissing their mother. . . .
THE STRANGER. The elder is stroking the child's curls without wakening it.
MARY. Ah! the father wants them to kiss him, too.. ..
THE STRANGER. Now there is silence.. ..
MARY. They have returned to their mother's side.
THE STRANGER. And the father keeps his eyes fixed on the great pendulum of
the clock . . .
MARY. They seem to be praying without knowing what they d o . . . .
THE STRANGER. They seem to be listening to their own souls.... (A pause.)
MARY. Grandfather, do not tell them this evening!
THE OLD MAN. You see, you are losing courage, too. I knew you ought not to
look at them. I am nearly eighty-three years old, and this is the first time
that the reality of life has come home to me. I do not know why all they
do appears to me so strange and solemn. There they sit awaiting the
night, simply, under their lamp, as we should under our own; and yet I
seem to see them from the altitude of another world, because I know a
little fact which as yet they do not k n o w . . . Is it so, my children? Tell me,
why are you, too, pale? Perhaps there is something else that we cannot
put in words, and that makes us weep? I did not know that there was
anything so sad in life, or that it could strike such terror to those who look
on at it. And even if nothing had happened, it would frighten me to see
them sit there so peacefully. They have too much confidence in this
world. There they sit, separated from the enemy by only a few poor panes
of glass. They think that nothing will happen because they have closed
their doors, and they do not know that it is in the soul that things always
happen, and that the world does not end at their house-door. They are so
secure of their little life, and do not dream that so many others know
more of it than they, and that I, poor old man, at two steps from their
door, hold all their little happiness, like a wounded bird, in the hollow of
my old hands, and dare not open them . ..
MARY. Have pity on them, grandfather....
THE OLD MAN. We have pity on them, my child, but no one has pity on us.
MARY. Tell them tomorrow, grandfather; tell them when it is light, then they
will not be so sad.
THE OLD MAN. Perhaps you are right, my child.... It would be better to leave
all this in the night. And the daylight is sweet to sorrow. . . . But what
would they say to us tomorrow? Misfortune makes people jealous; those
upon whom it has fallen want to know of it before strangers—they do not
like to leave it in unknown hands. We should seem to have robbed them
of something.
THE STRANGER. Besides, it is too late now; already I can hear the murmur of
MARY. They are here—they are passing behind the hedges. (Enter MARTHA.)
MARTHA. Here I am. I have guided them hither—I told them to wait in the
road. (Cries of children are heard.) Ah! the children are still crying. I
forbade them to come, but they want to see, too, and the mothers would
not obey me. I will go and tell them—no, they have stopped crying. Is
everything ready? I have brought the little ring that was found upon her.
I have some fruit, too, for the child. I laid her to rest myself upon the
bier. She looks as though she were sleeping. I had a great deal of trouble
with her hair—I could not arrange it properly. I made them gather
marguerites—it is a pity there were no other flowers. What are you doing
here? Why are you not with them? (She looks in at the windows.) They
are not weeping! They—you have not told them!
THE OLD MAN. Martha, Martha, there is too much life in your soul; you
* cannot understand.. ..
Z MARTHA. Why should I not understand? (After a silence, and in a tone ofgrave
-* reproach.) You really ought not to have done that, grandfather....
jtl THE OLD MAN. Martha, you do not know.. ..
< MARTHA. I will go and tell them.
THE OLD MAN. Remain here, my child, and look for a moment.
♦ MARTHA. Oh, how I pity them! They must wait no longer....
$ THE OLD MAN. Why not?
MARTHA. I do not know, but it is not possible!
THE OLD MAN. Come here, my c h i l d . . . .
MARTHA. How patient they are!
THE OLD MAN. Come here, my c h i l d . . . .
MARTHA (turning). Where are you, grandfather? I am so unhappy, I cannot
see you any more. I do not myself know now what to do. . . .
THE OLD MAN. Do not look any more; until they know all.. ..
MARTHA. I want to go with you
THE OLD MAN. No, Martha, stay here. Sit beside your sister on this old stone
bench against the wall of the house, and do not look. You are too young,
you would never be able to forget it. You cannot know what a face looks
like at the moment when Death is passing into its eyes. Perhaps they will
cry out, too . . . Do not turn round. Perhaps there will be no sound at all.
Above all things, if there is no sound, be sure you do not turn and look.
One can never foresee the course that sorrow will take. A few little sobs
wrung from the depths, and generally that is all. I do not know myself
what I shall do when I hear them—they do not belong to this life. Kiss
me, my child, before I go. (The murmur of prayers has gradually drawn
nearer. A portion of the crowd forces its way into the garden. There is a
sound of deadened footfalls and of whispering.)
THE STRANGER (to the crowd). Stop here—do not go near the window. Where
is she?
A PEASANT. W h o ?
THE STRANGER. The others—the bearers.
A PEASANT.They are coming by the avenue that leads up to the door, (THE
OLD MAN goes out. MARTHA and MARY have seated themselves on the bench,
their backs to the windows. Low murmurings are heard among the crowd.)
THE STRANGER. Hush! Do not speak. (In the room the taller of the two sisters
rises, goes to the door, and shoots the bolts.)
MARTHA. She is opening the door!
THE STRANGER. On the contrary, she is fastening it. (A pause.)
MARTHA. Grandfather has not come in?
THE STRANGER. No. She takes her seat again at her mother's side. The others
do not move, and the child is still sleeping. (A pause.)
MARTHA. My little sister, give me your hands.
MARY. Martha! (They embrace and kiss each other.)
THE STRANGER. He must have knocked—they have all raised their heads at
the same time—they are looking at each other.
MARTHA. Oh! oh! my poor little sister! I can scarcely help crying out, too.
(She smothers her sobs on her sister's shoulder.)
THE STRANGER. He must have knocked again. The father is looking at the
clock. He rises....
MARTHA. Sister, sister, I must go in too—they cannot be left alone.
MARY. Martha, Martha! (She holds her back.)
THE STRANGER. The father is at the door—he is drawing the bolts—he is
opening it cautiously.
MARTHA. Oh!—you do not see the . . .
MARTHA. The bearers...
THE STRANGER. He has only opened it a very little. I see nothing but a corner
of the lawn and the fountain. He keeps his hand on the door—he takes a
step back—he seems to be saying, "Ah, it is you!" He raises his arms.
He carefully closes the door again. Your grandfather has entered the
room . . . (The crowd has come up to the window, MARTHA and MARY half
rise from their seat, then rise altogether and follow the rest toward the
windows, pressing close to each other, THE OLD MAN is seen advancing into
the room. The two SISTERS rise; the MOTHER also rises, and carefully settles
the CHILD in the armchair which she has left, so that from outside the little
one can be seen sleeping, his head a little bent forward, in the middle of the
room. The MOTHER advances to meet THE OLD MAN, and holds out her
hand to him, but draws it back again before he has had time to take it. One
of the girls wants to take off the visitor's mantle, and the other pushes
forward an armchair for him. But THE OLD MAN makes a little gesture of
refusal The FATHER smiles with an air of astonishment, THE OLD MAN
looks toward the windows.)
THE STRANGER. He dares not tell them. He is looking toward us. (Murmurs in
the crowd.)
THE STRANGER. Hush! (THE OLD MAN, seeing faces at the windows, quickly
averts his eyes. As one of the girls is still offering him the armchair, he at
last sits down and passes his right hand several times over his forehead.)
THE STRANGER. He is sitting down.... (The others who are in the room also sit
down, while the FATHER seems to be speaking volubly. At last THE OLD MAN
opens his mouth, and the sound of his voice seems to arouse their attention.
But the FATHER interrupts him. THE OLD MAN begins to speak again, and
little by little the others grow tense with apprehension. All of a sudden the
y MOTHER starts and rises.)
? MARTHA. Oh! the mother begins to understand! (She turns away and hides
tc her face in her hands. Renewed murmurs among the crowd. They elbow
H each other. Children cry to be lifted up, so that they may see too. Most of
< the mothers do as they wish.)
THE STRANGER. Hush! he has not told them yet.... (The MOTHER is seen to be
i questioning THE OLD MAN with anxiety. He says a few more words; then,
2J suddenly, all the others rise, too, and seem to question him. Then he slowly
makes an affirmative movement of his head.)
THE STRANGER. He has told them—he has told them all at once!
VOICES IN THE CROWD. He has told them! he has told them!
THE STRANGER. I can hear nothing.... (THE OLD MAN also rises, and, without
turning, makes a gesture indicating the door, which is behind him. The
MOTHER, the FATHER, and the two DAUGHTERS rush to this door, which the
FATHER has difficulty in opening, THE OLD MAN tries to prevent the
MOTHER from going out.)
VOICES IN THE CROWD. They are going out! they are going out! (Confusion
among the crowd in the garden. All hurry to the other side of the house and
disappear, except THE STRANGER, who remains at the windows. In the
room, the folding door is at last thrown wide open; all go out at the same
time. Beyond can be seen the starry sky, the lawn, and the fountain in the
moonlight; while, left alone in the middle of the room, the CHILD continues
to sleep peacefully in the armchair. A pause.)
THE STRANGER. The child has not wakened! (He also goes out.)

T h e Modern Drama

Maurice Maeterlinck

When I speak of the modern drama, I naturally refer only to those regions of
dramatic literature that, sparsely inhabited as they may be, are yet essentially
new. Down below, in the ordinary theatre, ordinary and traditional drama is
doubtless yielding slowly to the influence of the vanguard; but it were idle to
wait for the laggards when we have the pioneers at our call.
The first thing that strikes us in the drama of the day is the decay, one
might almost say the creeping paralysis, of external action. Next we note a
very pronounced desire to penetrate deeper and deeper into human con­
sciousness, and place moral problems upon a high pedestal; and finally the
search, still very timid and halting, for a kind of new beauty that shall be less
abstract than was the old.
It is certain that, on the actual stage, we have far fewer extraordinary and
violent adventures. Bloodshed has grown less frequent, passions less tur­
bulent; heroism has become less unbending, courage less material and less
ferocious. People still die on the stage, it is true, as in reality they still must
die, but death has ceased—or will cease, let us hope, very soon—to be re­
garded as the indispensable setting, the ultima ratio, the inevitable end, of
every dramatic poem. In the most formidable crises of our life—which, cruel
though it may be, is cruel in silent and hidden ways—we rarely look to death
for a solution; and for all that the theatre is slower than the other arts to follow
the evolution of human consciousness, it will still be at last compelled, in
some measure, to take this into account.

Reprinted from Maurice Maeterlinck, The Double Garden, trans. Alfred Sutro (New York:
Dodd,Mead, 1904), 115-35.
When we consider the ancient and tragical anecdotes that constitute the
entire basis of the classical drama, the Italian, Scandinavian, Spanish, or
mythical stories that provided the plots, not only for all the plays of the
Shakespearian period, but also—not altogether to pass over an art that was
infinitely less spontaneous—for those of French and German Romanticism,
we discover at once that these anecdotes are no longer able to offer us the
direct interest they presented at a time when they appeared highly natural
and possible, at a time, when, at any rate, the circumstances, manners, and
sentiments they recalled were not yet extinct in the minds of those who
witnessed their reproduction.

^ To us, however, these adventures no longer correspond to a living and actual
3 reality. Should a youth of our own time love, and meet obstacles not unlike
{jj those which, in another order of ideas and events, beset Romeo's passion, we
t need no telling that his adventure will be embellished by none of the fea-
^ tures that gave poetry and grandeur to the episode of Verona. Gone beyond
# recall is the entrancing atmosphere of a lordly, passionate life; gone the
♦ brawls in picturesque streets, the interludes of bloodshed and splendour, the
8 mysterious poisons, the majestic, complaisant tombs! And where shall we
look for that exquisite summer's night, which owes its vastness, its savour, the
very appeal that it makes to us, to the shadow of an heroic, inevitable death
that already lay heavy upon it? Divest the story of Romeo and Juliet of these
beautiful trappings, and we have only the very simple and ordinary desire of
a noble-hearted, unfortunate youth for a maiden whose obdurate parents
deny him her hand. All the poetry, the splendour, the passionate life of this
desire, result from the glamour, the nobility, tragedy, that are proper to the
environment wherein it has come to flower; nor is there a kiss, a murmur of
love, a cry of anger, grief, or despair but borrows its majesty, grace, its hero-
icism, tenderness—in a word, every image that has helped it to visible form—
from the beings and objects around it; for it is not in the kiss itself that the
sweetness and beauty are found, but in the circumstance, hour, and place
wherein it was given. Again, the same objections would hold if we chose to
imagine a man of our time who should be jealous as Othello was jealous,
possessed of MacbeuYs ambition, unhappy as Lear; or, like Hamlet, restless
and wavering, bowed down beneath the weight of a frightful and unrealis-
able duty.

These conditions no longer exist. The adventure of the modern Romeo—to
consider only the external events which it might provoke—would not pro­
vide material for a couple of acts. Against this it may be urged that a modern
poet who desires to put on the stage an analogous poem of youthful love is
perfectly justified in borrowing from days gone by a more decorative setting,
one that shall be more fertile in heroic and tragical incident. Granted; but
what can the result be of such an expedient? Would not the feelings and
passions that demand for their fullest, most perfect expression and develop­
ment the atmosphere of today (for the passions and feelings of a modern poet
must, in despite of himself, be entirely and exclusively modern), would not
these suddenly find themselves transplanted to a soil where all things pre­
vented their living? They no longer believe, yet are charged with the fear and
hope of eternal judgement. In their hours of distress they have discovered
new forces to cling to, that seem trustworthy, human and just; and behold
them thrust back to a century wherein prayer and the sword decide all!
They have profited, unconsciously perhaps, by every moral advance we have
made—and they are suddenly flung into abysmal days when the least gesture
was governed by prejudices at which they can only shudder or smile. In such
an atmosphere, what can they do; how hope that they truly can live there?

But we need dwell no further on the necessarily artificial poems that arise
from the impossible marriage of past and present. Let us rather consider the
drama that actually stands for the reality of our time, as Greek drama stood
for Greek reality, and the drama of the Renaissance for the reality of the
Renaissance. Its scene is a modern house, it passes between men and women
of today. The names of the invisible protagonists—the passions and i d e a s -
are the same, more or less, as of old. We see love, hatred, ambition, jealousy,
envy, greed; the sense of justice and idea of duty; pity, goodness, devotion,
piety, selfishness, vanity, pride, etc. But although the names have remained
more or less the same, how great is the difference we find in the aspect and
quality, the extent and influence, of these ideal actors! Of all their ancient
weapons not one is left them, not one of the marvellous moments of olden
days. It is seldom that cries are heard now; bloodshed is rare, and tears not
often seen. It is in a small room, round a table, close to the fire, that the joys
and sorrows of mankind are decided. We suffer, or make others suffer, we
love, we die, there in our corner; and it were the strangest chance should a
door or a window suddenly, for an instant, fly open, beneath the pressure of
extraordinary despair or rejoicing. Accidental, adventitious beauty exists no
longer; there remains only an external poetry that has not yet become poetic.
And what poetry, if we probe to the root of things—what poetry is there that
does not borrow nearly all of its charm, nearly all of its ecstasy, from elements
that are wholly external? Last of all, there is no longer a God to widen, or
master, the action; nor is there an inexorable fate to form a mysterious,
solemn, and tragical background for the slightest gesture of man; nor the
sombre and abundant atmosphere that was able to ennoble even his most
contemptible weaknesses, his least pardonable crimes.
There still abides with us, it is true, a terrible unknown; but it is so diverse
and elusive, it becomes so arbitrary, so vague and contradictory, the moment
we try to locate it, that we cannot evoke it without great danger; cannot even,
without the mightiest difficulty, avail ourselves of it, though in all loyalty, to
raise to the point of mystery the gestures, actions, and words of the men we
pass every day. The endeavour has been made; the formidable, problematic
enigma of heredity, the grandiose but improbable enigma of inherent jus­
tice, and many others beside, have each in their turn been put forward as a
substitute for the vast enigma of the Providence or Fatality of old. And it is
curious to note how these youthful enigmas, born but of yesterday, already
seem older, more arbitrary, more unlikely, than those whose places they took
in an access of pride.

3 Where are we to look, then, for the grandeur and beauty that we find no
2 longer in visible action, or in words, stripped as these are of their attraction
5H and glamour? For words are only a kind of mirror which reflects the beauty
^ of all that surrounds it; and the beauty of the new world wherein we live does
4 not seem as yet able to project its rays on these somewhat reluctant mirrors.
♦ Where shall we look for the horizon, the poetry, now that we no longer can
28 seek it in a mystery which, for all that it still exists, does yet fade from us the
moment we endeavour to give it a name?
The modern drama would seem to be vaguely conscious of this. Incapa­
ble of outside movement, deprived of external ornament, daring no longer to
make serious appeal to a determined divinity or fatality, it has fallen back on
itself, and seeks to discover, in the regions of psychology and of moral prob­
lems, the equivalent of what once was offered by exterior life. It has pene­
trated deeper into human consciousness but has encountered difficulties
there no less strange than unexpected.
To penetrate deeply into human consciousness is the privilege, even the
duty, of the thinker, the moralist, the historian, the novelist, and to a degree,
of the lyrical poet; but not of the dramatist. Whatever the temptation, he
dare not sink into inactivity, become mere philosopher or observer. Do what
one will, discover what marvels one may, the sovereign law of the stage, its
essential demand, will always be action. With the rise of the curtain, the high
intellectual desire within us undergoes transformation; and in place of the
thinker, psychologist, mystic, or moralist there stands the mere instinctive
spectator, the man electrified negatively by the crowd, the man whose one
desire it is to see something happen. This transformation or substitution is
incontestable, strange as it may seem; and is due, perhaps, to the influence
of the human polypier, to some undeniable faculty of our soul, which is
endowed with a special, primitive, almost unimprovable organ, whereby
men can think, and feel, and be moved, en masse. And there are no words so
profound, so noble and admirable, but they will soon weary us if they leave
the situation unchanged, if they lead to no action, bring about no decisive
conflict, or hasten no definite solution.

But whence is it that action arises in the consciousness of man? In its first
stage it springs from the struggle between diverse conflicting passions. But
no sooner has it raised itself somewhat—and this is true, if we examine it
closely, of the first stage also—than it would seem to be solely due to the
conflict between a passion and a moral law, between a duty and a desire.
Hence the eagerness with which modern dramatists have plunged into all
the problems of contemporary morality; and it may safely be said that at this
moment they confine themselves almost exclusively to the discussion of
these different problems.
This movement was initiated by the dramas of Alexandre Dumas fils, -g
dramas which brought the most elementary of moral conflicts onto the :=
stage; dramas, indeed, whose entire existence was based on problems such as $
the spectator, who must always be regarded as the ideal moralist, would £
never put to himself in the course of his whole spiritual existence, so evident ^
is their solution. Should the faithless husband or wife be forgiven? Is it well ♦
to avenge infidelity by infidelity? Has the illegitimate child any rights? Is §
the marriage of inclination—such is the name it bears in those regions-
preferable to the marriage for money? Have parents the right to oppose a
marriage for love? Is divorce to be deprecated when a child has been born of
the union? Is the sin of the adulterous wife greater than that of the adulterous
husband? etc., etc.
Indeed, it may be said here that the entire French theatre of today, and a
considerable proportion of the foreign theatre, which is only its echo, exist
solely on questions of this kind, and on the entirely superfluous answers to
which they give rise.
On the other hand, however, the highest point of human consciousness
is attained by the dramas of Bjornson, of Hauptmann, and, above all, of
Ibsen. Here we touch the limit of the resources of modern dramaturgy. For,
in truth, the further we penetrate into the consciousness of man, the less
struggle do we discover. It is impossible to penetrate far into any conscious­
ness unless that consciousness be very enlightened; for, whether we advance
ten steps, or a thousand, in the depths of a soul that is plunged into darkness,
we shall find nothing there that can be unexpected, or new; for darkness
everywhere will resemble only itself. But a consciousness that is truly en­
lightened will possess passions and desires infinitely less exacting, infinitely
more peaceful and patient, more salutary, abstract, and general, than are
those that reside in the ordinary consciousness. Thence, far less struggle—or
at least a struggle of far less violence—between these nobler and wiser pas­
sions; and this for the very reason that they have become vaster and loftier;
for if there be nothing more restless, destructive, and savage than a dammed-
up stream, there is nothing more tranquil, beneficent, and silent than the
beautiful river whose banks ever widen.

Again, this enlightened consciousness will yield to infinitely fewer laws,
admit infinitely fewer doubtful or harmful duties. There is, one may say,
scarcely a falsehood or error, a prejudice, half-truth or convention, that is not
capable of assuming, that does not actually assume, when the occasion
presents itself, the form of a duty in an uncertain consciousness. It is thus
that honour, in the chivalrous, conjugal sense of the word (I refer to the
^ honour of the husband, which is supposed to suffer by the infidelity of the
^ wife), that revenge, a kind of morbid prudishness, pride, vanity, piety to
j certain gods, and a thousand other illusions have been, and still remain, the
S5 unquenchable source of a multitude of duties that are still regarded as abso-
£ lutely sacred, absolutely incontrovertible, by a vast number of inferior con-
^ sciousnesses. And these so-called duties are the pivot of almost all the dramas
4 of the Romantic period, as of most of those of today. But not one of these
♦ sombre, pitiless duties that so fatally impel mankind to death and disaster
§ can readily take root in the consciousness that a healthy, living light has
adequately penetrated; in such there will be no room for honour or ven­
geance, for conventions that clamour for blood. It will hold no prejudices
that exact tears, no injustice eager for sorrow. It will have cast from their
throne the gods who insist on sacrifice, and the love that craves for death. For
when the sun has entered into the consciousness of him who is wise, as we
may hope that it will some day enter into that of all men, it will reveal one
duty, and one alone, which is that we should do the least possible harm and
love others as we love ourselves; and from this duty no drama can spring.

Let us consider what happens in Ibsen's plays. He often leads us far down
into human consciousness, but the drama remains possible only because
there goes with us a singular flame, a sort of red light, which, sombre, capri­
cious—unhallowed, one almost might say—falls only on singular phantoms.
And indeed nearly all the duties which form the active principle of Ibsen's
tragedies are duties situated no longer within, but without the healthy, il­
lumined consciousness; and the duties we believe we discover outside this
consciousness often come perilously near an unjust pride, or a kind of
soured and morbid madness.
Let it not be imagined, however—for indeed this would be wholly to
misunderstand me—that these remarks of mine in any way detract from my
admiration for the great Scandinavian poet. For, if it be true that Ibsen has
contributed few salutary elements to the morality of our time, he is perhaps
the only writer for the stage who has caught sight of, and set in motion, a
new, though still disagreeable poetry, which he has succeeded in investing
with a kind of age, gloomy beauty, and grandeur (surely too savage and
gloomy for it to become general or definitive); as he is the only one who owes
nothing to the poetry of the violently illumined dramas of antiquity or of the
But, while we wait for the time when human consciousness shall recog­
nise more useful passions and less nefarious duties, for the time when the
world's stage shall consequently present more happiness and fewer tragedies,
there still remains, in the depths of every heart of loyal intention, a great duty
of charity and justice that eclipses all others. And it is perhaps from the
struggle of this duty against our egoism and ignorance that the veritable
drama of our century shall spring. When this goal has been attained—in real
life as on the stage—it will be permissible perhaps to speak of a new theatre, a
theatre of peace, and of beauty without tears.
.-^—^ ^ _ _ alery Briusov, playwright, poet, novelist, critic, and translator,
lb^* ^ 7 ^ was born on December 13, 1873, in Moscow. As the editor of
TW/F* w^ several anthologies of Russian Symbolist poetry in the mid-
18905, Briusov was responsible for bringing this artistic work to a
E H P * wider audience. By the early 1900s, he had become a central figure and
mentor to a new generation of Symbolists. Briusov began writing plays around
1893. The first, a comedy called Country Passions, was banned at the time and
remains unpublished. His drama The Earth (1905) captures a negative Utopian
vision of the future, in which society's technological overdevelopment results in
the complete isolation of human beings from nature. The Wayfarer (1910), a one-
act with two characters, only one of whom speaks, is an example of mono-
drama—a genre favored by the Russian Symbolists for its mystical or "inner"
possibilities and given a theoretical foundation by Nikolai Evreinov in his Introduc-
tion to Monodrama (1909). In his theoretical writings on drama, Briusov argued
against the Naturalism of the Moscow A r t Theater, which, he believed, failed to
challenge the ingrained and complacent viewing habits of Russian audiences. In
his opinion, which followed the French Symbolist models of Verlaine, Mallarme,
and Rimbaud, the author's task is to evoke moods and reveal essences through
intimation or suggestion, rather than to present a total representational picture
through the precise recording of surface appearances. Briusov also translated
several plays into Russian, including works by Moliere, Maeterlinck, and Wilde.
Following the October Revolution, he tried to write plays that embraced the
Revolution, but he failed to recapture the success and influence of his Symbolist
period. He died on October 9, 1924, in Moscow.
Yalery Briusov, Russian Symbolist
-.^^ ^ L he projection of a single consciousness and its inner workings,
lk^* I The Wayfarer is a play about the insurmountability of human
fMf"' % / loneliness. In her solitude and anguish, Julia is a dreamlike charac-
ter in contact with the netherworld. Invoking the presence of the mute
y^F Wayfarer, she creates imaginary lives for him and for herself in a desper­
ate attempt to know something other than the self and to break out of intoler­
able human isolation. For Julia, there is no fixed boundary between the real
world and the imaginary one, between dreaming and waking, life and fantasy. By
penetrating deeper and deeper into the kingdom of her visions, at the same time
as she speaks directly to the audience, Julia implicitly posits that what we com­
monly consider imaginary may be the highest reality, and that the reality ac­
knowledged by everyone may be the most frightful delirium. Briusov's mode in
this work, as well as its meaning, is thus thoroughly Symbolist: The Wayfarer's
drama is both internalized within the mind of the dreamer and externalized
within the mystery of the universe.

Select Bibliography on Briusov

See Borovsky; Gerould, Doubles, Demons, and Dreamers; Green; Kalbous; and Segal,
Twentieth-Century Russian Drama, in the General Bibliography.

Excerpted from Daniel Gerould, "Valerii Briusov, Russian Symbolist," Performing Arts Journal 3.3
(Winter 1979): 8 5 - 9 1 . Johns Hopkins University Press. Reprinted by arrangement with PAJ.
T h e Wayfarer
A Psychodrama in One Act

Valery Briusov


JULIA, the daughter of a forester

WAYFARER, a nonspeaking character

A room in the foresters house. A wet, stormy night. The windows are closed and
shuttered. The howling of the wind and the beating of the rain can be heard.
The room is dimly lighted by a kerosene lamp. The stove is burning. Knocking
at the gate. A dog barking.

JULIA:(At the window, trying to peer through a gap in the shutter.)

Who's there?
I cannot let you in: I am alone.
Go to the miller's, along the path, to the left,
Across the brook . . . But, look, youVe got to stop
That knocking now. You'll simply hurt your hands!
The door is strong, you'll never break it in.
There's not a chance I'll open up. And we've got
A vicious dog. Be on your way in peace.
The miller's place is less than two miles off.
They'll let you in . . .
(Aside.) But he can really bang!
(She moves away from the window. The knocking continues. The dog barks.)
Reprinted from Doubles, Demons, and Dreamers: An International Collection of Symbolist
Drama, ed. and trans. Daniel Gerould (New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications, 1985),
191-200. © 1985. Reprinted by permission of PAJ Publications.
JULIA: (She comes back to the window, but still does not open the shutters.)
Listen, whatever your name is! You hear me talking:
I am a young girl, and alone in the house,
I do not know you. Then judge for yourself
Whether I can let you in. What would
The neighbors have to say about me if
You spent the night with me! Out of the question!
And, when he left, my father ordered me
Not to let anyone in. And what's so bad
About your walking two miles under the pines?
Well, rain is rain! You really won't get soaked.
(Silence. Knocking at the gate. The dog barks.)
JULIA: (To herself.)
He just stands there and knocks . . . He looks so tired,
And perhaps he's even sick. Since wedging himself
Against the door-frame, he hasn't moved away,
And, like a robot, beats the board with his hand.
Just look, the poor boy's drenched right through. He's dressed
In city clothes—he's young and pale—or so
It seems to me, in the dark. He mustn't be
From here, he doesn't know his way through the woods...
Well, should I let him in?
(Aloud.) Listen! Tell me,
Where are you from? Where are you going? Just what
Do you want here? Do answer me! How can
I let a total stranger into the house!
What's wrong with you? Has the cat got your tongue?
If you're planning to keep silent, t h e n -
Adieu, you've seen the last of me! Stay there.
Keep on knocking till sunrise! Nothing on earth
Will make me open.
(She moves away from the window.)
Thinks he's someone grand!
Some prince or other! Doesn't want to talk,
Well, then, get drenched.
(Silence. Knocking at the gate.)
Good heavens! He won't give
Me any peace all night long. Or he'll die
On my doorstep—that would be the last straw!
A city boy in fancy clothes, got lost
While walking, spied the house—and now won't leave.
Afraid of wolves in the forest. The cursed nuisance!
What can you do with him?
(She goes to the window once again.)
Look here—what's wrong with you?
Passer-by prince! Be so kind as to show
That you don't have a weapon with you. Open
Your overcoat! Now raise your hands, that's right. ..
Well, fine! I'm sorry for you. I'm opening up.
{She runs out Sound of a bolt being slid back. A dog barking. Enter Julia and
the Wayfarer, thoroughly drenched.)
The dog is on the chain, don't be afraid.
Well, didn't you get soaked! Right through! Take off
Your coat and boots. There's a lap robe on the b e n c h -
Take it, use it. Slippers are under the b e n c h -
Yes, put them on. That's good. Now just sit down,
And warm yourself, I'll throw some wood in the stove.
> WAYFARER: {He takes off his overcoat and boots, puts on the slippers, and wraps
</> himself up in the lap robe. Julia tosses logs into the stove.)
5 JULIA: Want a little vodka? Well, go ahead!
{She brings out the bottle and pours him a small glassful.)
♦ WAYFARER: {He nods his head as a sign of appreciation and drinks.)
CD JULIA: But there's nothing to eat, not even any bread.
WAYFARER: {He shakes his head negatively, indicating that he is not hungry.)
Well, listen to me. For the night I'll give
You this room here. The sofa's comfortable,
Lie down, and sleep until tomorrow morning.
And I will go to bed behind that partition.
I've got a gun there, and if you come near
The doorway, I shall instantly and with
Unerring aim put a bullet through your head.
And Polka will not let me be abused!
You understand? Well then, we're friends for now.
WAYFARER: {He nods his head.)
JULIA: But why don't you say anything? Answer me!
WAYFARER: {He makes a sign with his hand.)
JULIA: What does that mean?
WAYFARER: {He makes the same sign again.)
I do not understand.
Or are you mute?
WAYFARER: {He makes a sign that is neither affirmative nor negative.)
I don't believe it. That's
Your way of trying to make fun of me!
Hey, watch out! I won't let you abuse me!
WAYFARER: {He grabs Julia's hand and kisses it respectfully.)
Well, that's enough, I didn't do a thing.
So then you're mute? Now it's all clear to me.
That's why you kept so silent all the while.
But you're not deaf?
WAYFARER: {He shakes his head negatively.)
JULIA: You u n d e r s t a n d m e , d o n ' t you?
WAYFARER: {He nods his head affirmatively.)
Oh, oh, poor boy, poor boy! Come now, forgive me.
You see: my father left for town this morning; g
Tomorrow he'll come back. The miller's two *fe
Miles off, t h e village beyond t h e river, a n d n o o n e ^
In t h e whole house. Just m e a n d Polka. It's obvious -c
W h y I was afraid to let a m a n in. 4
But you're completely different, dear. W h y , you're ♦
So pale a n d thin, a n d weak a n d sickly-looking. g
You must b e quite u n h a p p y .
WAYFARER: {He nods affirmatively.)
But then, tell me:
Are you really from town? Do you live there?
WAYFARER: {He shakes his head negatively.)
JULIA: N o t in t h e town? T h e n where? Far, far away?
WAYFARER: {He nods his head affirmatively.)
And what's your n a m e ? Sergei? Ivan? or Peter?
Nikita? Nikolai? or Alexander?
WAYFARER: {He shakes his head negatively.)
Well, what does it matter! I am Julia.
I'll call you Robert. That's a name that I
Have always liked a lot. So tell me, Robert,
Where were you going? To the mill? Or further,
To Otradnoye village? Or to the estate,
To the Voznitsins'? Or even further still?
WAYFARER: {He shakes his head negatively and covers his face with his hands.)
JULIA: D o n ' t want to tell m e ? W h a t is it—a secret?
WAYFARER: {He nods his head affirmatively.)
A secret? Oh, that's what! Like in a novel?
I've read quite a few. Two years ago
There was a lady living in Otradnoye
Who used to give me books. I still have two
Of them now: The Scullery-Maid Who Became Countess
And The Black Prince. Have you read them?
WAYFARER: (He shakes his head negatively.)
Too bad.
Fve read them eight times each at least, and still
Whenever I come to the touching scenes,
Right off I start to cry—I can't help it!
A Gypsy stole the countess's baby daughter,
> She didn't know she was herself a countess,
2 Grew up like a poor beggar, had to work,
2 And suddenly . . .
10 But then, I won't describe it a l l . . . Sometimes
♦ The idea suddenly strikes me: what if
* Instead of being a forester's daughter,
^ I too am a countess! Just don't laugh. That's all
Pure nonsense. Well, if you want to, drink some vodka.
(She offers him a glass.)
WAYFARER: (He shakes his head negatively.)
Robert, you know, I am very unhappy!
I've spent all of my life here in the forest.
My mother died long ago. My father's surly,
Always tramping through the woods, for days
On end, out hunting, or on business. Guests
Come here but rarely—and then who? The sexton,
The gardener from the Voznitsins', and the miller . . .
It's only in summer that ladies and gentlemen visit
Otradnoye—but how can I go up to them?
I'm so ashamed; I don't know how to speak
Their language; they laugh at me; I'm not at all
Well educated . .. But I simply cannot
Live this life any more! I'm bored, I'm bored!
I feel the need of something else. I like
Nice clothes and luxury. I want to go
To theaters and to balls. I want to chat
In drawing rooms. I'm sure I would know how
To seem no sillier than any countess.
Really, I am quite beautiful! My eyes
Are large, my ears are small, and I have legs
That are elegant and a body smooth as marble!
Fd hold my own with any other countess
With all her airs and ingratiating ways!
Fd quickly learn to play the pianoforte
And dance all of the latest dances. Fve
An innate sense of elegance. But here
Who is there to see me? Pine trees, birds,
My father, and the peasants! And what do I hear?
Barking, swearing, shooting, and the howling of wolves
As they come running toward us through the snow . . .
Fd like to lean back in an easy chair
And, with a tea cup casually in hand, g
Listen to amorous whisperings in French . . . *£
But no—J have to sweep the floors, prepare s£
The dinner, do the wash, and bring the water ij
For our horse, and to think that for all eternity ^
There is nothing else Fll ever know! ♦
(The charcoal in the stove goes out) <o
Well, Fll get married soon. To whom? A forester
Of course! Or even worse, it may well be
A miller! And then I shall put on weight,
Count bags of meal, and all night long hear
The wheels creak as the water makes them turn .. .
My unloved husband will kiss me on the cheeks
And lips—with his gross, over-heavy lips;
Sometimes he'll pet me roughly, with a sneer,
Sometimes, when he's half-drunk, he'll pull my braids!
Once children come, Fll wash their hands and cut their hair,
Cook them porridge, whip them with willow switches...
And slowly Fll forget my girlish dreams
Like the ends of candles that have burned out!
Oh, no! Fve not the strength to think of it!
Robert! You think that, living in the forest,
Like all the country wenches, I did not
Preserve my virtue? Now by all that's holy,
I swear to you: until this moment no one
Has ever kissed me, and there is no one
To whom Fve spoken words of love. I am
Pure, as the summer sky, as water from the spring,
I would not shame the royal bed of a king.
The most malicious slanderer could not
Speak ill of m e ! . . . What am I waiting for?
I do not know. Perhaps I am waiting to
Find out that I'm the daughter of a count,
Waiting for some prince to come to my country
And tell me: I have been looking for you throughout
The world, and now I have found you, come with me
To my sumptuous palace and be the tsarina!
I am waiting, the years pass, I am alone,
There is no joy, nor will there be, that's clear!
And, if I tell the truth, yes, there are times
I am ashamed that I have been so chaste!
(Silence. It grows darker and darker in the room.)
But perhaps I am complaining without cause,
> And the day that I was waiting for has come,
O And Robert, you're the one who has been sent
3 To me to answer all my prayers! I did
* Expect the prince to come in a golden coach,
+ With throngs of servants, followed by his retinue,
♦ But he came on foot, alone. I did expect
*> He would be wearing velvet and brocade,
And he appeared in a jacket and overcoat!
I had imagined that on bended knee
He would express his love for me eloquently
In a long speech, full of passionate compliments,
But he is mute! .. . Well, still! Isn't it clear
That he's the one! How odd! Robert, answer! Did
You know that you were sent to me by Fate?
You are the one that I was waiting for!
You are the one the Lord ordained for me!
My betrothed! My beloved! My sweetheart!
Yes! I recognize your eyes, your sad
And wistful look, the slender, delicately
Bent fingers of your beautiful hands!
Robert! Robert! Tell me that I'm the one!
WAYFARER: (He makes no response at all.)
Well, no matter, listen! Whoever you are,
The one or not the one, what matter to us?
I won't find something better, and where will you
Ever meet another girl like me?
You think I'm beautiful? And young? Till now
I've never kissed a man! All of the strength
Of my virginal tenderness I'll give to you!
To you I'll give my innocence, as if
You were my fiance, my husband, my master!
Fm going to believe that you're some prince,
Traveling in disguise, who has lost his throne,
And must in the meantime conceal his name!
I shall serve you like a faithful servant,
And, like a tsarina, caress and care
For you! Believe in me! Stay here with me!
You'll spend this night as in a fairy tale!
And even you'll believe we live in a castle,
That above our bed there hangs a canopy
Of gold brocade, and that hundreds of servants
Wait zealously outside the door, that all
We do is say the word—the hall will blaze
With fire, and a chorus of musicians burst out! £
Oh, how I am going to adore you, *£
And fondle and caress you! Your every wish ^
I shall fulfill! I will be passionate, -c
Submissive, tender, whatever you want me to be! 4
Upon awaking in the morning, you ♦
Will see the daughter of a forester, £
Bustling about the house. She'll offer you
Some milk. And you will think you dreamed a strange
Dream. You'll say thanks, put on your overcoat,
And go away, leaving these parts forever,
And, if you want to, you'll forget about me . . .
Robert! My prince! My lord and master! Take
Me, as though I were some precious pearl
Cast at your feet from the depths of the sea!
Take me, as the gift of a nameless fairy,
Who caught sight of you in the thick of the forest!
Take me! Possess me! I am yours, all yours!
{She throws herself at the Wayfarer.)
Let me squeeze against you! Give me your lips,
To press mine against yours! Give me your hands,
To put them around my waist! . . . Why don't you want to?
{She stares fixedly at him and suddenly recoils in horror.)
Robert! Robert! It cannot be! He's dead!
{Once again she bends over the Wayfarer sitting immobile in the armchair,
then in fright rushes to the window.)
He's dead! Who's there! You people! Help me! Help!

A g a i n s t Naturalism in the

Valery Briusov

It is three years now that the Art Theater has been with us in Moscow.
Somehow it was an immediate success with everyone—the public, the press,
the partisans of the new art and the defenders of the old. Not long ago, it was
the custom to cite the Maly Theater as the model of the Russian stage; these
days people only laugh at its routine. And this same Maly Theater and
another Moscow theater—Korsh's—have begun to adopt the new methods.
For Muscovites the Art Theater has become a kind of idol; they are proud of
it, and it is the first thing they hasten to show off to the visitor. When the Art
Theater visited Petersburg, it performed here to packed houses, arousing
universal interest. The Art Theater ventured to stage plays that had failed in
other theaters—Chekhov's Seagull, for example—and was successful. Most
surprising of all, it was the Art Theater's experimental spirit, its innovations
in decor and acting, its daring choice of plays, that won the sympathy of the
What is the Art Theater, then? Is it really the theater of the future, as
some have called it? Has it made a step toward the spiritualization of art,
toward the overcoming of the fatal contradictions between the essence and
the surface of art? Simple probability says no. If the Art Theater has set itself
such tasks, it would hardly have won universal acclaim so quickly. Success
attests that what the Art Theater offers its audience is not the genuinely new,
but the old refurbished, that it offers no threat to the deep-rooted habits of
the theatergoer. It has only achieved with greater perfection what other
theaters, including its rival the Maly, have aimed at. Together with the entire
European theater, with insignificant exceptions, it is on a false path.

Reprinted from "Unnecessary Truth," in The Russian Symbolist Theatre: An Anthology of Plays
and Critical Texts, ed. Michael Green (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1986), 25-30.
Modern theaters aim at the utmost verisimilitude in their depiction of
life. They think that if everything on the stage is as it is in reality, then they
have worthily fulfilled their function. Actors endeavor to speak as they would
in a drawing room, scene painters copy views from nature, costume de­
signers work in accordance with archaeological data. In spite of all this,
however, there remains much that the theater has not succeeded in counter­
feiting. The Art Theater has set itself the aim of reducing this "much." The
actors there have begun to sit with their backs to the audience without
constraint; they have begun to talk to each other instead of "out" to the
audience. In place of the usual box set has appeared the room placed at an
oblique angle: other rooms are visible through the open doors, so that an
entire apartment is presented to the viewer's gaze. The furniture is arranged
as it usually is in people's homes. If a forest or a garden is to be represented,
several trees are placed on the forestage. If the play requires rain to fall, the
audience is made to listen to the sound of water. If the play is set in winter,
snow can be seen falling outside the windows. If it is windy, curtains flutter,
and so on. §
First of all, one has to say that these innovations are very timid. They are -=j
concerned with secondary matters and leave the essential traditions of the **
theater undisturbed. And until these traditions, which comprise the essence ♦
of any stage production, are changed, no alteration of detail will bring the £2
theater closer to reality. All theaters, including the Art Theater, try to make
everything on stage visible and audible. Stages are lit by footlights and strip
lights, but in real life light either falls from the sky or pours in through
windows or is cast by a lamp or a candle. If there is a night scene, the Art
Theater has ventured to leave the stage in greater darkness than is customary,
although it has not dared to extinguish all the lights in the theater; however,
if it were really night on stage, the audience would obviously be unable to
see anything. Similarly, the Art Theater is at pains to ensure that all stage
conversation is audible to the auditorium. Even if a large gathering is repre­
sented, only one actor speaks at a time. When a new group begins to speak,
the previous one "moves upstage" and begins gesticulating energetically—
and this a quarter of a century after Villiers de ITsle Adam in his drama Le
nouveau monde bracketed two pages of dialogue with the direction "Every­
body speaks at once!"
But even if the Art Theater were more daring, it would still fall short of its
purpose. To reproduce life faithfully on the stage is impossible. The stage is
conventional by its very nature. One set of conventions may be replaced by
another, that is all. In Shakespeare's day a board would be set up with the
inscription "forest." Not so long ago we used to be content with a backdrop of
a forest with side wings depicting trees with branches incomprehensibly
intertwined against the sky. In time to come, forests will be constructed from
artificial three-dimensional trees with foliage and rounded trunks, or even
from living trees with roots hidden in tubs under the stage... And all this, the
last word in stage technique, will, like the Shakespearean inscription, be for
the audience no more than a reminder, no more than a symbol of a forest.
The modern theatergoer is not in the least taken in by a painted tree—he
knows that a particular piece of lathe and canvas is intended to stand for a
tree. In much the same way, a signboard meant "forest" to an Elizabethan
audience and a stage sapling will mean a tree growing naturally to the
audience of the future. The set is no more than a pointer to the imagination.
In the Greek theater, an actor playing someone who had just returned from
foreign parts would enter from the left. At the Art Theater, the actor is
admitted to a small vestibule where he divests himself of sheepskin and
galoshes as a sign that he has come from afar. But who among the audience
is likely to forget that he arrived from the wings? In what way is the conven­
tion by which an actor removes his sheepskin more subtle than the one by
which it is understood that if he enters from the left he is coming from
foreign parts?
Not only the art of the theater, but art of any kind cannot avoid formal
O convention, cannot be transformed into a re-creation of reality. Never, in
D looking at a picture by one of the great realist painters, will we be deceived
* like the birds of Zeuxis into thinking that before us are fruits or an open
^ window through which we may glimpse a distant horizon. By infinitesimal
♦ gradations of light and shade, by the most elusive signals, the eye is able to
c£ distinguish reality from representation. Never will we bow to the marble bust
of an acquaintance. It is unheard of that someone, on reading a story in
which the author recounts in the first person how he came to commit
suicide, should order a mass to be sung for the repose of his soul. And if there
do exist reproductions of people and things that deceive the eye, such, for
example, as bridges in a painted panorama or wax figures so convincing that
they frighten children, we have difficulty in recognizing these creations as
works of art. Not a single one of the spectators sitting in the orchestra and
paying three or four rubles for his seat is going to believe that he is really
looking at Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, and that in the final scene the prince
lies dead.
Each new technical device in art, be it that of the theater or another,
arouses only curiosity and suspicion in the spectator. A certain contempo­
rary artist has, it is said, painted a new series of pictures in which the effect of
moonlight is strikingly conveyed. When we see them, our first thought will
be: How did he manage to do that? And then we will captiously seek out
every discrepancy with reality. Only when we have satisfied our curiosity will
we start looking at the picture as a work of art. When an avalanche of
wadding descends on the stage, the members of the audience ask each other:
How was that done? If Rubek and Irene simply walked off into the wings [in
Ibsen's When We Dead Awaken], the audience would believe more readily in
their destruction than it does now, when before their eyes two straw-stuffed
dummies and armfuls of wadding go rolling over the boards. "It faded on the
crowing of the cock," someone says of the Ghost in Hamlet, and this is
enough for the audience to imagine the crowing of the cock. But in Uncle
Vanya the Art Theater has a cricket chirping. No one in the audience will
imagine that the cricket is real, and the more lifelike the sound, the less
convincing the illusion. In time, audiences will become used to the devices
they now find so novel and will cease to notice them. But this will not come
about because the audience will take wadding for snow in real earnest, or the
rope that tugs at the curtains for wind, but because these devices will simply
be numbered among the usual theatrical conventions. Would it not then be
better to abandon the fruitless battle against the invincible conventions of
the theater, which only spring up with renewed strength, and rather than
seeking to eradicate them, attempt to subjugate, to tame, to harness, to
saddle them?
There are two kinds of convention. One kind arises from the inability to
create successfully. A bad poet says of a beautiful woman: "She is as fresh as a
rose." It may be that the poet really understood the vernal freshness of the
woman's soul, but he was unable to express his feelings, substituting cliche
for genuine expression. In the same way, people want to speak on the stage as >
they do in life but are unable to, stressing words unnaturally, pronouncing 8
endings too emphatically and so on. But there is another kind of conven- jg
tion—that which is deliberately applied. It is a convention that statues of ^
marble and bronze are left unpainted. They could be painted—at one time ♦
they even were—but it is unnecessary, since sculpture is concerned with ^
form, not color. An engraving in which leaves are black and the sky striped
observes certain conventions, but it nevertheless affords pure aesthetic en­
joyment. Wherever there is art, there is convention. To oppose this is as
absurd as to demand that science would dispense with logic and explain
phenomena other than by their causal relationship.
It is time that the theater stopped counterfeiting reality. A cloud depicted
in a painting is flat, it does not move or change its form or luminiscence—but
there is something about it that gives us the same feeling as a real cloud. The
stage must provide everything that can most effectively help the spectator to
re-create the setting demanded by the play in his imagination. If a battle is to
be represented, it is absurd to send on stage a couple of dozen—or even a
thousand—extras waving wooden swords: perhaps the audience will be bet­
ter served by a musical picture from the orchestra. If a wind is called for,
there is no need to blow a whistle and tug at the curtain with a rope: the
actors themselves must convey the storm by behaving as people do in a
strong wind. There is no need to do away with the setting, but it must be
deliberately conventionalized. The setting must be, as it were, stylized.
Types of setting must be devised that will be comprehensible to everyone, as
a received language is comprehensible, as white statues, flat paintings, and
black engravings are comprehensible. Simplicity of setting will not be equiv­
alent to banality and monotony. The principle will be changed, and there
will be ample scope in particulars for the imagination of Messrs. the set
designers and technicians.
Dramatists too must in some degree perfect their artistic method. They
are sovereign artists only when their work is read; on the stage their plays are
only forms into which the actors pour their own content. Dramatists must
renounce all superfluous, unnecessary, and ultimately futile copying of life.
Everything external in their work must be reduced to a minimum because it
has little to do with the conduct of the drama. The drama can convey the
external only through an intermediary—through the souls of the dramatis
personae. The sculptor cannot take soul and emotion in his hands; he has to
give the spirit bodily incarnation. The dramatist, on the contrary, should
make it possible for the actor to express the physical in the spiritual. Some­
thing has already been achieved in the creation of a new drama. The most
interesting attempts of this kind are the plays of Maeterlinck and the latest
dramas of Ibsen. It is noteworthy that it is in the staging of these plays that the
modern theater has shown itself to be particularly ineffectual.
The ancient theater had a single permanent set—the palace. With slight
alterations it was made to represent the interior of a house, a square, the
O seashore. Actors wore masks and buskins, which forced them to put aside any
D thought of imitating everyday life. The chorus sang sacred hymns around
* the altar and also intervened in the action. Everything was at once thor-
4 oughly conventionalized and utterly alive; the audience devoted its attention
♦ to the action and not to the setting, "for tragedy," says Aristotle, "is the imita-
r8 tion not of men, but of action." In our day, such simplicity of setting has been
preserved in the folk theater. I chanced to see a performance of [Aleksei
Remizov's] Tsar Maximilian given by factory workers. The scenery and
props consisted of two chairs, the tsar's paper crown and the paper chains of
his rebellious son Adolph. Watching this performance, I understood what
powerful resources the theater has at its disposal and how misguided it is in
seeking the aid of painters and technicians.
The creative urge is the only reality that exists on earth. Everything
external is, in the poet's words, "only a dream, a fleeting dream." Grant that
in the theater we may be partakers of the highest truth, the profoundest
reality. Grant the actor his rightful place, set him upon the pedestal of the
stage that he may rule it as an artist. By his art he will give content to the
dramatic performance. Let your setting aim not at truth, but at the sugges­
tion of truth. I summon you away from the unnecessary truth of the modern
stage to the deliberate conventionalization of the ancient theater.
Pataphysical Theater

" ^
a 1
Ifred Jarry, novelist and playwright, was born on September 8,
1873, in Laval, France. As a fifteen-year-old schoolboy, he be-
gan writing his most influential play, the five-act satirical farce
King Ubu. Jarry originally performed King Ubu with marionettes, and
I M F * over the next eight years he continued to revise the play. As the assis-
w-^^m tant to Aurelien Lugne-Poe, the director of the Theatre de POeuvre in
" ^ Paris, he succeeded in securing a production there of King Ubu in 1896.
n ^ * This premiere, with designs by Bonnard, Vuillard, and Toulouse-Lautrec,
_ caused a riot in the theater (comparable to the one caused by the
U w ^ staging of Victor Hugo's Hernani in 1830, during the heyday of Romanti-
cism) because of Jarry's use of profanity and mangled diction, as well as on
account of the enormity of the characters' greed and cruelty.
Jarry championed the use of puppets in place of actors long before Gordon
Craig proposed the Ubermarionette; the use of masks, which Jarry wanted for
King Ubu but did not get, would have been the first step toward his desired
depersonalization of the performer. He thus shared Maeterlinck's preference for
an abstract theater rather than a realistic one, and the violent, absurd vision of
the world captured in his plays and in his invention of "pataphysics"-—"the sci-
ence of imaginary solutions," which bears much the same relation to the scien-
tific or rational way of analyzing and describing the world as Jarry's anti-theater
does to conventional drama—influenced the Surrealists and Dadaists of the
1920s, Antonin Artaud, and the Theater of the Absurd. The sequels to King
Ubu—Ubu Cuckolded (1888) and Ubu Bound (1900)--were not published or pro-
duced until long after Jarry's death. In the last years of his life he gave in to his
addictions to absinthe and ether, and began to live life as the character of Ubu.
He died on November 1, 1907, in Paris.

A vicious satire of Jarry's despised physics teacher, King Ubu parodied in the
process not only Shakespearean tragedy, most evidently Macbeth, but also all the
turn-of-the-century thematic and stylistic expectations of serious drama. This
was parody that went beyond the literary, however, for King Ubu is a disparaging
attack against the fundamental concepts of Western civilization, specifically as
they are embodied in bourgeois aims, attitudes, and practices. The grossly fat
and loathsome Ubu is the ugly personification of the baser instincts and antiso­
cial qualities—rapacity, cruelty, stupidity, gluttony, cowardice, conceit, vulgarity,
treachery, and ingratitude—all of which he inspires as well in the people who
surround him, particularly those who are esteemed as honorable, heroic, al­
truistic, patriotic, idealistic, or simply socially conventional.
iu Thus Ubu, who at his wife's urging murders the unsuspecting Wenceslas, king
< of an imaginary Poland, himself reduces kingship to gorging on sausages and
j wearing an immense hat; economic competition to a kicking, struggling race;
■" social reform to slaughter motivated solely by envious cupidity; the waging of
< war to boastful brawling; and religious faith to fearful superstition, manipulated
- by the unscrupulous for their own benefit. In other words, a figure symbolizing
>- all that bourgeois morality condemns is accepted as the representative and
o. mainstay of bourgeois society, which then stands condemned by its own princi-
f? pies. The creation of such a character as the apocalyptic twentieth century was
£ dawning—a character spawned, in essence, by the bourgeoisie—was gruesomely
♦ prophetic, particularly since the Ubus survive the Polish revolt (led by both the
♦ Russian tsar and the only surviving son of King Wenceslas) and sail off at the end
i> to comfortable exile in France. Ubu's tyrannical savagery, which was seen by
many as the creation of a deranged mind, seems tame indeed when compared
with the massacres, genocides, and holocausts of subsequent generations.
Jarry and the Modern Theatre
_ ^ ^ H H bu Ro' stands at a turning point in the evolution of the mod­
ish* | ^ ern theatre. In an age in which the traditional distinction
f}^m ^ ^ f c between poetry and prose was breaking down (with the in­
vention of the vers fibre) and painting was taking its first steps in the
I M F * direction of abstraction, it was only natural that the theatre should
attempt to follow a similar path of self-examination and redefinition. Jarry him­
self was in the forefront of such developments (all the more so as he was him­
self fully abreast of similar movements in the fields of poetry and painting and had
close personal links with many of those most responsible for them): his work in
the theatre sets out to revolutionize that genre in respect of its language, of
its forms of expression, and of the underlying purpose and function of the
theatre itself.
The starting point of Jarry and of a host of subsequent playwrights is an effort
to break once and for all with the principles and traditions of the Realist and
Naturalist theatre, with its attempt to create on the stage an illusion of the
"real" world (or what its practitioners took to be the "real" world) outside the
theatre. The first significant parallel lies therefore in the efforts to create, in
opposition to such conventions, a theatre based on the principles of deliberate
stylization and simplification, and on the adoption of purely "schematic" modes
of representation. Jarry's endeavours in this domain were echoed to some ex­
tent by those of the Symbolist theatre, and by the ideas of theatrical reformers
and visionaries of his own time and of the early years of this century such as
Adolphe Appia and Edward Gordon Craig. Today, of course, an element of
simplification and stylization is an accepted part of production methods in the
modern theatre even in relation to plays written in a traditional Realist or
Naturalist mode. But the real revolution in our time has been widespread total
abandonment of this mode by a string of major playwrights, who see the true
force of the theatre as lying in the adoption of conventions diametrically op­
posed to those of Realism.
The second feature of the theatre of his time rejected by Jarry in which he
can again be seen as a precursor is its essentially narrative and psychological
function. The theatre, he argues, is not the proper place for "telling a story" or
for the portrayal and analysis of psychological conflicts, which belong more
properly to the novel. Nor is it the place for dealing with social issues or
problems. Whether or not there is a necessary relationship between a theatre
which, thematically, is oriented towards the expression of social issues and
problems and the Realist mode of expression, the fact remains that historically
the two have been closely linked. The inevitable corollary is the desire to create
a theatre which will be concerned with a portrayal of "situations" and "types," or
more exactly archetypes, and with the expression of the universal and eternal
rather than purely with historically limited social issues and themes. Jarry thus

Excerpted from Keith Beaumont, "Jarry and the Modern Theatre," "Ubu Roi": A Critical Guide
(London: Grant and Cutler, 1987), 86-95.
implicitly looks forward to the call of Artaud for a "metaphysical" theatre which
will be concerned with the portrayal of aspects of an unchanging "human condi­
tion," a conception fully realized in the work of playwrights such as Beckett,
lonesco, or (in his early plays) Adamov. He also implicitly anticipates Artaud's call
for a theatre of "myth," in the sense of a creation of universal and archetypal
images. What after all is Ubu but a "myth" in this sense, an archetypal image of
mankind as seen by Jarry?
The creation of such a theatre has profound implications for the portrayal of
character on the stage, and here a further parallel can be found. To reject the
UJ portrayal of psychological conflicts is also to reject psychological complexity, and
< implicitly to advocate a deliberately simplified and schematic presentation of
j human character—a presentation which, at its most extreme point of develop-
*" ment, finds its outward expression in the use of masks or the portrayal of human
< beings in terms of mere puppets. And this too is not only a central feature of the
- work of Jarry but has been a significant (though certainly not universal) trend in
>- the theatre of the twentieth century, most strikingly in evidence in the work of
o. lonesco, particularly in his early one-act plays or in a highly stylized later work
fj* such as Macbett With this simplification of character goes also on occasion an
^ abandonment of psychological coherence and motivation, which in turn can have
♦ a profound effect upon the plot and action of the play. The unpredictability of
♦ Ubu's behaviour—his sudden and unexpected changes from resolution to cow-
oo ardice or his apparently gratuitous acts of cruelty—indicates in such instances an
absence of coherence and logical motivation which looks forward in embryonic
form to the topsy-turvy world of, for example, those same early plays of
lonesco. A similar absence of logic in the relationship between events can be
found in certain plays of Arrabal, whilst discontinuity is a fundamental feature of
the theatre of Beckett.
Such a portrayal of character points also to the sources of inspiration of the
above playwrights and others, which indicate a further parallel between Jarry and
his successors. In all intended revolutions, whether political or artistic, men tend
to turn back, in order to create something radically different from the present or
from that which immediately preceded it, to a more distant past for inspiration.
Jarry's attempt to revitalize the theatre of his time by a return to the "simpler"
and more "naive" art of the mime and the puppet theatre has been echoed by
many since. Directors and theoreticians of an earlier generation such as Craig
and Gaston Baty have exalted the expressive possibilities of marionettes, and
playwrights such as Ghelderode, lonesco, and Arrabal have spoken of their child­
hood delight in the guignol, which has been a source of inspiration in their own
work. In the work of Jarry as of these and other playwrights, moreover, the
figure of the puppet provides more than simply a source of inspiration but takes
on a functional significance also, providing an image of man himself and his situa­
tion in the world and forming an essential part of the playwright's own vision.
"Simplification," in both characterization and themes, does not, however, as
Jarry understood it, mean mere simplicity, but rather a condensation or synthe­
sis of complexity. Thus the figure of Ubu is simple only in the sense that he
synthesizes and implicitly embodies a multiplicity of different potential meanings.
Hence Jarry's invitation to the audience at the premiere of Ubu Roi to place its
own interpretation upon the play, a statement that looks forward to the concept
of the "openness" of the work of art. Such a concept is central to Jarry's whole
literary aesthetic and underlies his reflections on the possibility of an "abstract"
theatre, in which the play would constitute no more than a kind of abstract
framework into which the members of the audience would be invited to project
their own meaning—thereby participating actively, he maintains, through the
exercise of the imagination, in the process of creation itself. It is this urge
towards abstraction which explains the nature of the setting of Ubu Roi—its
Nowhere/Everywhere achieved by a canceling out of mutually contradictory
elements—and to which there corresponds a similar imprecision in the work of
such playwrights as lonesco (anonymous but archetypal provincial town), Vian
(block of flats in an unnamed town), Arrabal (mythical desert island), or Beckett
(deserted country road).
A sixth parallel, of a quite different nature, can be found in the deliberate
provocation of Jarry's flouting of the linguistic and theatrical conventions of his
time, in his calculated attack upon both the moral and aesthetic susceptibilities
of his audience. The original production of Ubu Roi provides in this respect an
outstanding example of theatrical aggression which has been followed by many
directors and playwrights since, from Artaud to Peter Brook and Charles Mar-
owitz, and from the Dadist and Surrealist theatre to certain of the works of
Weingarten (the first performance of whose Akara in 1948 was likened by critics
to the opening night of Ubu Ro/), Genet, lonesco (whose first play was provoca­
tively subtitled "Anti-piece"), Vauthier, and Arrabal.
Where, however, it was the linguistic and moral aspect of that aggressiveness
which had most impact on Jarry's contemporaries, from our point of view today
its most significant feature was its artistic subversiveness, Jarry's creation of
forms of deliberate incoherence and logical contradiction which can be seen
implicitly to call into question the very nature and existence of the work of art
itself. There is in fact present in Jarry a dual impulse, a desire to create radically
new artistic forms which exists alongside and simultaneously with a secret wish
to subvert all forms of art from within. The tension resulting from these two
conflicting impulses was in fact never resolved in his work, and can be seen in his
theatre, in much of his poetry, and in such novels as Messaline and Le surmale,
where the apparent reality of the narrative is secretly undermined from within.
This subversive intention is not, however, restricted to Jarry (though he was
among the first of modern writers to manifest it), but it is shared with a number
of modern playwrights and novelists and is in fact characteristic of the intensely
self-conscious and introspective age in which we live. It expresses itself at times,
as in Jarry, in the inclusion within a work of deliberately contradictory details,
and at times also, in the theatre, through the presence within the play itself of
elements of dialogue or action whose function is to remind us that what we are
watching is a "fiction," a "play" in the primary sense of the word. No modern
playwright so fully exemplifies this conception of what has been called "the self-
conscious stage" as Beckett, in whose plays the affirmation of the essentially "fic­
tional" and "theatrical" nature of what we are watching is a recurrent feature.
Jarry can also be seen as a precursor in his creation and exploitation of a
form of humor to which contemporary audiences totally failed to respond (or
responded with bewilderment and hostility) but which has become widespread
in our own time, a humour based on the deliberate exploitation of incongruity
or of outright logical contradiction in both action and word—a form of humour
which can legitimately be described as "absurd" humour. The clash of conflicting
elements in the set for Ubu Roi in 1896, no less than the clock of lonesco's La
cantatrice chauve which strikes successively seven, three, naught, five, and two
times in the course of the first scene, or Ubu's statement that "I am going to light
ui a fire while I'm waiting for him to bring some firewood," lonesco's demonstra-
< tion in the same play that when a doorbell rings it means that "sometimes there
j is somebody, at other times there is nobody" and Clov's statement in Fin de
*" partie that "If I don't kill that rat, it is going to die," all provide examples of a form
< of humour which deliberately flies in the face of the laws of logic or causality. Not
- only, moreover, is this form of humour widely accepted and exploited in our own
>- age, but it seems to have a particular appeal to those of an intellectual bent,
o. through the provision of a much-needed liberation from the constraints of logic
f* and the processes of reasoning. It is also, finally, a decidedly subversive and
Jj destructive form of humour, sweeping all before it in a total derision of rational
♦ values, anticipating and responding to Artaud's call for a rediscovery of "the
anarchic power of dissociation in laughter," which, along with a true sense of the
oo tragic, Western civilization had lost.
Lastly, Jarry in Ubu Roi brought to the theatre—or more exactly restored to
it—the spirit of childhood which had been a part of the medieval theatre, but
which had been proscribed by the dominant rationalism of the intervening cen­
turies. The vision which presided at the creation of Ubu Roi, with its crude
exaggeration, its violence, its frequent absence of logical relationships and co­
herent motivation of action, is that of a child's conception of the world; and the
character of Ubu himself is nothing more than that of an overgrown child,
displaying a primeval innocence, but one which is no less terrifying and brutal for
all that. It was a vision which Jarry alone among his school fellows had the insight
and the artistic sense to preserve, but which looks forward to playwrights such
as lonesco, Vian, and Arrabal, whose work at times either focuses on similarly
childlike figures or portrays in other ways an equally terrifying or disturbing
innocence. Even more important than this vision itself, however, is the spirit
which informs Jarry's play, and which expresses itself in a spontaneous and
innocent love of nonsense, of wordplay and linguistic distortion, and of sheer
absurdity. To laugh at such "absurd" forms of humour requires a willingness to
suspend the normal habits of rational thinking characteristic of the adult mind,
and to enter once again, at least momentarily, into the spirit of childhood. And
insofar as we are able to do this today, we are all heirs of Jarry.
In all of these ways, then, Jarry can be seen as a precursor of the modern
theatre, or at least of one major current in it. That current is a sufficiently
important and widespread one to make of Jarry, as result of the extensive
parallels outlined above, a major figure in the emergence of modern culture, and
to make of Ubu Roi an archetype for our own time.
Select Bibliography on Jarry
Beaumont, Keith. Alfred Jarry: A Critical and Biographical Study, 86-119. Leicester, England:
Leicester University Press, 1984. New York: St. Martin's, 1984.
Church, Dan M. "Pere Ubu: The Creation of a Literary Type." Drama Survey 43 (1965):
LaBelle, Maurice Marc. Alfred Jarry: Nihilism and the Theatre of the Absurd. New York: New
York University Press, 1980.
Lamont, Rosette C. "Ubu Roi: A Collage." Dada 4 (1974): 17-26.
Lobert, Patrick. "Ubu Roi, Jarry's Satire of Naturalism." French Literature Series 14(1987):

See also Braun; Innes, Avant Garde Theatre; Schumacher, Alfred Jarry and Guillaume Apolli-
naire; and Shattuck, in the General Bibliography.

Alfred Jarry

Then Father Ubu shakes

his peare, who was afterwards
yclept SHAKESPEARE by the
Englishe, and you have from
him in his own hand manie
lovely tragedies
under this name.


FATHER UBU: Casual gray suit, a cane always stuffed in his right-hand pocket,
bowler hat. A crown over his hat at the beginning of Act II, Scene 2.
Bareheaded at the beginning of Act II, Scene 6. Act HI, Scene 2, crown
and white hood, flaring to a royal cape. Act III, Scene 4, cloak, cap pulled
down over his ears; same outfit, but with bare head in Scene 7. Scene 8,
hood, helmet, a sword stuck in his belt, a hook, chisels, a knife, a cane
still in his right-hand pocket. A bottle bounces at his side. Act IV, Scene
5, cloak and cap but without above weapons or stick. In the sailing scene
a small suitcase is in Father Ubu's hand.
MOTHER UBU: Concierge's clothes or a toiletries saleswoman's ensemble.
Pink bonnet or a hat with flowers and feathers and a veil. An apron in the
feasting scene. Royal cloak at the opening of Act II, Scene 6.
CAPTAIN BORDURE: Hungarian musician's costume, very close-fitting, red.
Big mantle, large sword, crenelated boots, feathery hat.

Reprinted from Modem French Theatre: The Avant-Garde, Daday and Surrealism; An Anthology
of Plays, ed. Michael Benedikt and George E. Wellwarth; trans. Michael Benedikt and George E.
Wellwarth (New York: Dutton, 1964), 1-54.
KING WENCESLAS: Royal mantle and the crown Ubu wears after murdering
QUEEN ROSEMONDE: The mantle and crown Mother Ubu later wears.
BOLESLAS, LADISLAS (sons of King Wenceslas and Queen Rosemonde): Gray
Polish costumes, heavily frogged; short pants.
BOUGRELAS (the youngest son): Dressed as a child in a little skirt and bonnet.
GENERAL LASCY: Polish costume, with an admiral's hat with white plumes,
and a sword.
STANISLAS LECZINSKY: Polish costume. White beard.
THE TSAR, EMPEROR ALEXIS: Black clothing, enormous yellow sword, dagger,
numerous military decorations, big boots. Huge frill at the throat. Hat in
the form of a black cone.
THE PALOTINS (GIRON, PILE, COTICE): Long beards, fur-trimmed greatcoats,
shitr-colored; or red or green if necessary; tights beneath. a
CROWD: Polish costume. *£,
NOBLES: Polish costume, with cloaks edged with fur or embroidery. *
ADVISERS, FINANCIERS: Swathed in black, with astrologers' hats, eyeglasses, {g
pointed noses.
PEASANTS: Polish costume.
THE POLISH ARMY: In gray, with frogging and fur trimmings: three men with
THE RUSSIAN ARMY: Two horsemen: uniform like that of the Poles, but green,
with fur headgear. They carry cardboard horses' heads.
A RUSSIAN FOOTSOLDIER: In green, with headgear.
MOTHER UBTJ'S GUARDS: Polish costume, with halberds.
A CAPTAIN: General Lascy.
THE BEAR: Bordure in bearskin.
THE PHYNANCIAL HORSE: Large wooden rocking horse on casters, or else
cardboard horse's head, as required.
THE CREW: Two men in sailor suits, in blue, collars turned down, and so on.
THE CAPTAIN OF THE SHIP: In a French naval officer's uniform.
* Jarry did not include suggestions for the costuming of these two characters in these notes,
which were published from manuscript by the College de Tataphysique in 1951.

Large Bass
Flageolets Transverse Flutes
Little Bassoon Big Bassoon
Triple Bassoon Little Black Cornets
Shrill White Cornets
Horns Sackbuts Trombones
Green Hunting Horns Reeds
Bombardons Timbals
Drum Bass Drum
>■ Grand Organs

<£> SCENE 1
Father Ubu, Mother Ubu.
FATHER UBU: S h i t r !
MOTHER UBU: Well, that's a fine way to talk, Father Ubu. What a pigheaded
ass you are!
FATHER UBU: I don't know what keeps me from bouncing your head off the
wall, Mother Ubu!
MOTHER UBU: It's not my head you ought to be cracking, Father Ubu.
FATHER UBU: By my green candle, I don't know what you're talking about.
MOTHER UBU: What's this, Father Ubu, you mean to tell me you're satisfied
with the way things are?
FATHER UBU: By my green candle, shitr, madam, certainly I'm satisfied with
the way things are. After all, aren't I Captain of the Dragoons, con­
fidential adviser to King Wenceslas, decorated with the order of the Red
Eagle of Poland, and ex-King of Aragon—what more do you want?
MOTHER UBU: What's this! After having been King of Aragon you're satisfied
with leading fifty-odd flunkies armed with cabbage-cutters to parades?
When you could just as well have the crown of Poland replace the crown
of Aragon on your big fat nut?
FATHER UBU: Ah! Mother Ubu I don't know what you're talking about.
MOTHER UBU: You're so stupid!
FATHER UBU: By my green candle, King Wenceslas is still very much alive;
and even if he does die he's still got hordes of children, hasn't he?
MOTHER UBU: What's stopping you from chopping up his whole family and
putting yourself in their place?
FATHER UBU: Ah! Mother Ubu, you're doing me an injustice, and I'll stick
you in your stewpot in a minute.
MOTHER UBU: Ha! Poor wretch, if I were stuck in the pot who'd sew up the
seat of your pants?
FATHER UBU: Oh, really! And what of it? Don't I have an ass like everyone
MOTHER UBU: If I were you, I'd want to install that ass on a throne. You could
get any amount of money, eat sausages all the time, and roll around the
streets in a carriage.
FATHER UBU: If I were king I'd have them build me a big helmet just like the
one I had in Aragon which those Spanish swine had the nerve to steal a
from me. ^
MOTHER UBU: You could also get yourself an umbrella and a big cape which g
would reach to your heels. +
FATHER UBU: Ah! that does it! I succumb to temptation. That crock of shitr, *
that shitr of crock, if I ever run into him in a dark alley, I'll give him a bad °°
fifteen minutes.
MOTHER UBU: Ah! Fine, Father Ubu, at last you're acting like a real man.
FATHER UBU: Oh, no! Me, the Captain of the Dragoons slaughter the King of
Poland! Better far to die!
MOTHER UBU (aside): Oh, shitr! (Aloud.) So, then, you want to stay as poor as
a churchmouse, Father Ubu?
FATHER UBU: Zounds, by my green candle, I'd rather be as poor as a starving,
good rat than as rich as a wicked, fat cat.
MOTHER UBU: And the helmet? And the umbrella? And the big cape?
FATHER UBU: And what about them, Mother Ubu?
He leaves, slamming the door.
MOTHER UBU (alone): Crap, shitr, it's hard to get him started, but, crap, shitr,
I think I've stirred him up. With the help of God and of myself, perhaps
in eight days I'll be Queen of Poland.


A room in Father Uhus house, with a splendidly laid table.

Father Ubu, Mother Ubu.
MOTHER UBU: So! Our guests are very late.
FATHER UBU: Yes, by my green candle, Fm dying of hunger. Mother Ubu,
you're really ugly today. Is it because company's coming?
MOTHER UBU (shrugging her shoulders): Shitr!
FATHER UBU (grabbing a roast chicken): Gad, Fm hungry; Fm going to have a
piece of this bird. It's a chicken, I think. Not bad at all.
MOTHER UBU: What are you doing, you swine? What will be left for our
FATHER UBU: There will be plenty left for them. I won't touch another thing.
Mother Ubu, go to the window and see if our guests are coming.
MOTHER UBU (going): I don't see anything.
Meanwhile, Father Ubu takes a piece of veal
Ah, here come Captain Bordure and his boys. What are you eating now,
Father Ubu?
FATHER UBU: Nothing, a little veal.
y MOTHER UBU: Oh! the veal! the veal! The ox! He's eaten the veal! Help, help!
ec FATHER UBU: By my green candle, Fll scratch your eyes out.
— The door opens.

Father Ubu, Mother Ubu, Captain Bordure and his followers.
MOTHER UBU: Good day, gentlemen; we've been anxiously awaiting you. Sit
CAPTAIN BORDURE: Good day, madam. Where's Father Ubu?
FATHER UBU: Here I am, here I am! Good lord, by my green candle, I'm fat
enough, aren't I?
CAPTAIN BORDURE: Good day, Father Ubu. Sit down, boys.
They all sit.
FATHER UBU: Oof, a little more, and Fd have busted my chair.
CAPTAIN BORDURE: Well, Mother Ubu! What have you got that's good today?
MOTHER UBU: Here's the menu.
FATHER UBU: Oh! That interests me.
MOTHER UBU: Polish soup, roast ram, veal, chicken, chopped dog's liver,
turkey's ass, charlotte russe . . .
FATHER UBU: Hey, that's plenty, I should think. You mean there's more?
MOTHER UBU (continuing): Frozen pudding, salad, fruits, dessert, boiled
beef, Jerusalem artichokes, cauliflower a la shitr.
FATHER UBU: Hey! Do you think Fm the Emperor of China, to give all that
MOTHER UBU: Don't listen to him, he's feeble-minded.
FATHER UBU: Ah! I'll sharpen my teeth on your shanks.
MOTHER UBU: Try this instead, Father Ubu. Here's the Polish soup.
FATHER UBU: Crap, is that lousy!
CAPTAIN BORDURE: Hmm—it isn't very good, at that.
MOTHER UBU: What do you want, you bunch of crooks!
FATHER UBU (striking his forehead): Wait, Fve got an idea. I'll be right back.
He leaves.
MOTHER UBU: Let's try the veal now, gentlemen.
CAPTAIN BORDURE: It's very good—I'm through.
MOTHER UBU: To the turkey's ass, next.
CAPTAIN BORDURE: Delicious, delicious! Long live Mother Ubu!
ALL: Long live Mother Ubu!
FATHER UBU (returning): And you will soon be shouting long live Father Ubu.
(He has a toilet brush in his hand, and he throws it on the festive board.) a
MOTHER UBU: Miserable creature, what are you up to now? ^
FATHER UBU: Try a little. g
Several try it, and fall, poisoned. t
Mother Ubu, pass me the roast ram chops, so that I can serve them. <r>
MOTHER UBU: Here they are.
FATHER UBU: Everyone out! Captain Bordure, I want to talk to you.
THE OTHERS: But we haven't eaten yet.
FATHER UBU: What's that, you haven't eaten yet? Out, out, everyone out! Stay
here, Bordure.
Nobody moves.
You haven't gone yet? By my green candle, I'll give you your ram chops.
(He begins to throw them.)
ALL: Oh! Ouch! Help! Woe! Help! Misery! I'm dead!
FATHER UBU: Shitr, shitr, shitr! Outside! I want my way!
ALL: Everyone for himself! Miserable Father Ubu! Traitor! Meanie!
FATHER UBU: Ah! They've gone. I can breathe again—but I've had a rotten
dinner. Come on, Bordure.
They go out with Mother Ubu.


Father Ubu, Mother Ubu, Captain Bordure.

FATHER UBU: Well, now, Captain, have you have a good dinner?
CAPTAIN BORDURE: Very good, sir, except for the shitr.
FATHER UBU: Oh, come now, the shitr wasn't bad at all.
MOTHER UBU: Chacun a son gout.
FATHER UBU: Captain Bordure, Fve decided to make you Duke of Lithuania.
CAPTAIN BORDURE: Why, I thought you were miserably poor, Father Ubu.
FATHER UBU: If you choose, Fll be King of Poland in a few days.
CAPTAIN BORDURE: You're going to kill Wenceslas?
FATHER UBU: He's not so stupid, the idiot; he's guessed it.
CAPTAIN BORDURE: If it's a question of killing, Wenceslas, Fm for it. Fm his
mortal enemy, and I can answer for my men.
FATHER UBU (throwing his arms around him): Oh! Oh! How I love you,
CAPTAIN BORDURE: Ugh, you stink, Father Ubu. Don't you ever wash?
FATHER UBU: I'll stamp on your toes.
£ MOTHER UBU: Big shitr!
right, Bordure, that's all for now; but, by my green candle, I
4 swear on Mother Ubu to make you Duke of Lithuania.
* MOTHER UBU: B u t . . .
FATHER UBU: Be quiet, my sweet child
They go out.


Father Ubu, Mother Ubu, a messenger.

FATHER UBU: Sir, what do you want? Beat it, you're boring me.
THE MESSENGER: Sir, the king summons you.
He leaves.
FATHER UBU: Oh, shitr! Great Jumping Jupiter, by my green candle, Fve
been discovered; they'll cut my head off, alas! alas!
MOTHER UBU: What a spineless clod! And just when time's getting short.
FATHER UBU: Oh, I've got an idea: I'll say that it was Mother Ubu and
MOTHER UBU: You fat Ubu, if you do that. ..
FATHER UBU: I'm off right now.
He leaves.
MOTHER UBU (running after him): Oh, Father Ubu, Father Ubu, Fll give you
some sausage!
She leaves.
FATHER UBU (from the wings): Oh, shitr! You're a prize sausage yourself.

The palace.
King Wenceslas, surrounded by his officers; Captain Bordure; the king's
sons, Boleslas, Ladislas, and Bougrelas; and Father Ubu.
FATHER UBU (entering): Oh! You know, it wasn't me, it was Mother Ubu and
KING WENCESLAS: What's the matter with you, Father Ubu?
KING WENCESLAS: So was I, this morning.
FATHER UBU: Yes, I'm potted, because I've drunk too much French wine.
KING WENCESLAS: Father Ubu, I desire to recompense your numerous ser­
vices as Captain of the Dragoons, and I'm going to make you Count of
Sandomir today.
FATHER UBU: Oh, Mr. Wenceslas, I don't know how to thank you.
KING WENCESLAS: Don't thank me, Father Ubu, and don't forget to appear D
tomorrow morning at the big parade. .?
FATHER UBU: I'll be there, but be good enough to accept this toy whistle. (He #
presents the king with a toy whistle.) ♦
KING WENCESLAS: What can I do with a toy whistle at my age? I'll give it to S
BOUGRELAS: What an idiot Father Ubu is!
FATHER UBU: And now I'll scram. (He falls as he turns around.) Oh! Ouch!
Help! By my green candle, I've split my gut and bruised my butt!
KING WENCESLAS (helping him up): Did you hurt yourself, Father Ubu?
FATHER UBU: Yes, I certainly did, and I'll probably die soon. What will
become of Mother Ubu?
KING WENCESLAS: We shall provide for her upkeep.
FATHER UBU: Your kindness is unparalleled. (He leaves.) But you'll be slaugh­
tered just the same, King Wenceslas.


Father Vbus house.

Giron, Pile, Cotice, Father Ubu, Mother Ubu, Conspirators and Soldiers,
Captain Bordure.
FATHER UBU: Well, my good friends, it's about time we discussed the plan of
the conspiracy. Let each one give his advice. First of all, I'll give mine, if
you'll permit me.
CAPTAIN BORDURE: Speak, Father Ubu.
FATHER UBU: Very well, my friends, I'm in favor of simply poisoning the king
by slipping a little arsenic in his lunch. At the first nibble he'll drop dead,
and then Fll be king.
ALL: How base!
FATHER UBU: What's that? You don't like my suggestion? Let Bordure give
CAPTAIN BORDURE: Fm of the opinion that we should give him one good
stroke of the sword and slice him in two, lengthwise.
ALL: Hooray! How noble and valiant.
FATHER UBU: And what if he kicks you? I remember now that he always puts
on iron shoes, which hurt a great deal, for parades. If I had any sense Fd
go off and denounce you for dragging me into this dirty mess, and I think
he'd give me plenty of money.
MOTHER UBU: Oh! The traitor, the coward, the villain, and sneak.
ALL: Down with Father Ubu!
^ FATHER UBU: Gentlemen, keep calm, or Fll get mad. In any case, I agree to
J£ stick out my neck for you. Bordure, I put you in charge of slicing the king
< in half.
t CAPTAIN BORDURE: Wouldn't it be better to throw ourselves on the king all
^ together, screaming and yelling? That way we might win the troops to
our side.
FATHER UBU: All right, then. I'll attempt to tread on his toes; he'll protest, and
then I'll say, SHITR, and at this signal you'll all throw yourselves on him.
MOTHER UBU: Yes, and as soon as he's dead you'll take his scepter and crown.
CAPTAIN BORDURE: And I'll pursue the royal family with my men.
FATHER UBU: Yes, and be extra sure that you catch young Bougrelas.
They go out
(Running after them and bringing them back.) Gentlemen, we have for­
gotten an indispensable ceremony: we must swear to fight bravely.
CAPTAIN BORDURE: How are we going to do that? We don't have a priest.
FATHER UBU: Mother Ubu will take his place.
ALL: Very well, so be it.
FATHER UBU: Then you really swear to kill the king?
ALL: Yes, we swear it. Long live Father Ubu!


The palace.
King Wenceslas, Queen Rosemonde, Boleslas, Ladislas, and Bougrelas.
KING WENCESLAS: Mr. Bougrelas, you were very impertinent this morning
with Mr. Ubu, knight of my orders and Count of Sandomir. That's why
I'm forbidding you to appear at my parade.
QUEEN ROSEMONDE: But, Wenceslas, you need your whole family around
you to protect you.
KING WENCESLAS: Madam, I never retract my commands. You weary me
with your chatter.
BOUGRELAS: It shall be as you desire, my father.
QUEEN ROSEMONDE: Sire, have you definitely decided to attend this parade?
KING WENCESLAS: Why shouldn't I, madam?
QUEEN ROSEMONDE: For the last time, didn't I tell you that I dreamed that I
saw you being knocked down by a mob of his men and thrown into the
Vistula, and an eagle just like the one in the arms of Poland placing the
crown on his head?
QUEEN ROSEMONDE: On Father Ubu's. 5
KING WENCESLAS: What nonsense! Count de Ubu is a very fine gentleman g>
who would let himself be torn apart by horses in my service. 2
QUEEN ROSEMONDE and BOUGRELAS: What a delusion! t
KING WENCESLAS: Be quiet, you little ape. And as for you, madam, just to eg
show you how little I fear Mr. Ubu, I'll go to the parade just as I am,
without sword or armor.
QUEEN ROSEMONDE: Fatal imprudence! I shall never see you alive again.
KING WENCESLAS: Come along, Ladislas, come along, Boleslas.
They go out. Queen Rosemonde and Bougrelas go to the window.
QUEEN ROSEMONDE and BOUGRELAS: May God and holy Saint Nicholas
protect you!
QUEEN ROSEMONDE: Bougrelas, come to the chapel with me to pray for your
father and your brothers.


The parade grounds.

The Polish Army, King Wenceslas, Boleslas, Ladislas, Father Ubu, Captain
Bordure and his men, Giron, Pile, Cotice.
KING WENCESLAS: Noble Father Ubu, accompany me with your companions
while I inspect the troops.
FATHER UBU (to his men): On your toes, boys. (To the king.) Coming, sir,
Ubu s men surround the king.
KING WENCESLAS: Ah! Here is the Dantzick Horseguard Regiment. Aren't
they magnificent!
FATHER UBU: You really think so? They look rotten to me. Look at this one.
(To the soldier.) When did you last shave, varlet?
KING WENCESLAS: But this soldier is absolutely impeccable. What's the mat­
ter with you, Father Ubu?
FATHER UBU: Take that! (He stamps on his foot)
FATHER UBU: Shitr! Come on, men!
CAPTAIN BORDURE: Hooray! Charge!
They all hit the king; a Palotin explodes.
KING WENCESLAS: Oh! Help! Holy Mother, I'm dead.
BOLESLAS (to Ladislas): What's going on? Let's draw.
FATHER UBU: Ah, I've got the crown! To the others, now.
CAPTAIN BORDURE: After the traitors!
The princes flee, pursued by all.

i Queen Rosemonde and Bougrelas.

2£ QUEEN ROSEMONDE: At last I can begin to relax.
BOUGRELAS: You've no reason to be afraid.
A frightful din is heard from outside.
Oh! What's this I see? My two brothers pursued by Father Ubu and his men.
QUEEN ROSEMONDE: Oh, my God! Holy Mother, they're losing, they're los­
ing ground!
BOUGRELAS: The whole army is following Father Ubu. I don't see the king.
Horror! Help!
QUEEN ROSEMONDE: There's Boleslas, dead! He's been shot.
BOUGRELAS: Hey! Defend yourself! Hooray, Ladislas!
QUEEN ROSEMONDE: Oh! He's surrounded.
BOUGRELAS: He's finished. Bordure's just sliced him in half like a sausage.
QUEEN ROSEMONDE: Alas! Those madmen have broken into the palace;
they're coming up the stairs.
The din grows louder.
QUEEN ROSEMONDE and BOUGRELAS (on their knees): Oh, God, defend us!
BOUGRELAS: Oh! That Father Ubu! The swine, the wretch, if I could get my
hands on him . . .


The same. The door is smashed down. Father Ubu and his rabble break
FATHER UBU: So, Bougrelas, what's that you want to do to me?
BOUGRELAS: Great God! I'll defend my mother to the death! The first man to
make a move dies.
FATHER UBU: Oh! Bordure, I'm scared. Let me out of here.
A SOLDIER {advancing): Give yourself up, Bougrelas!
BOUGRELAS: Here, scum, take that! {He splits his skull)
QUEEN ROSEMONDE: Hold your ground, Bougrelas; hold your ground!
SEVERAL {advancing): Bougrelas, we promise to let you go.
BOUGRELAS: Good-for-nothings, sots, turncoats! {He swings his sword and
kills them all)
FATHER UBU: I'll win out in the end!
BOUGRELAS: Mother, escape by the secret staircase.
QUEEN ROSEMONDE: And what about you, my son? What about you?
BOUGRELAS: I'll follow you. 3

FATHER UBU: Try to catch the queen. Oh, there she goes. As for you, you ^
little . . . {He approaches Bougrelas.) J
BOUGRELAS: Great God! Here is my vengeance! {With a terrible blow of his +
sword he rips open Father Ubus paunch-protector.) Mother, I'm coming! ♦
He disappears down the secret staircase. °>


A cave in the mountains.

Young Bougrelas enters, followed by Queen Rosemonde.
BOUGRELAS: We'll be safe here.
QUEEN ROSEMONDE: Yes, I think so. Bougrelas, help me! {She falls to the
BOUGRELAS: What's the matter, Mother?
QUEEN ROSEMONDE: Believe me, I'm very sick, Bougrelas. I don't have more
than two hours to live.
BOUGRELAS: What do you mean? Has the cold got you?
QUEEN ROSEMONDE: How can I bear up against so many blows? The king
massacred, our family destroyed, and you, the representative of the most
noble race that has ever worn a sword, forced to flee into the mountains
like a common brigand.
BOUGRELAS: And by whom, O Lord, by whom? A vulgar fellow like Father
Ubu, an adventurer coming from no one knows where, a vile blackguard,
a shameless vagabond! And when I think that my father decorated him
and made him a count and that the next day this low-bred dog had the
nerve to raise his hand against him.
QUEEN ROSEMONDE: Oh, Bougrelas! When I remember how happy we were
before this Father Ubu came! But now, alas! All is changed!
BOUGRELAS: What can we do? Let us wait in hope and never renounce our
QUEEN ROSEMONDE: May your wish be granted, my dear child, but as for me,
I shall never see that happy day.
BOUGRELAS: WhaFs the matter with you? Ah, she pales, she falls. Help me!
But Fm in a desert! Oh, my God! Her heart is stilled forever. She is dead?
Can it be? Another victim for Father Ubu! (He hides his face in his hands,
and weeps.) Oh, my God! How sad it is to have such a terrible vengeance
to fulfill! And Fm only fourteen years old! (He falls down in the throes of a
most extravagant despair.)
Meanwhile, the souls ofWenceslas, Boleslas, Ladislas, and Queen Rose-
monde enter the cave. Their ancestors, accompanying them, fill up the
cave. The oldest goes to Bougrelas and gently awakes him.
Ah! WhaFs this I see? My whole family, all my ancestors . . . how can this be?
THE SHADE: Know, Bougrelas, that during my life I was the Lord Mathias of
Konigsberg, the first king and founder of our house. I entrust our ven­
geance to your hands. (He gives him a large sword.) And may this sword
which I have given you never rest until it has brought about the death of
the usurper.
All vanish, and Bougrelas remains alone, in an attitude of ecstasy.


The palace.
Father Ubu, Mother Ubu, Captain Bordure.
FATHER UBU: No! Never! I don't want to! Do you want me to ruin myself for
these buffroons?
CAPTAIN BORDURE: But after all, Father Ubu, don't you see that the people
are waiting for the gifts to celebrate your joyous coronation?
MOTHER UBU: If you don't give out meat and gold, you'll be overthrown in
two hours.
FATHER UBU: Meat, yes! Gold, no! Slaughter the three oldest horses—that'll
be good enough for those apes.
MOTHER UBU: Ape, yourself! How did I ever get stuck with an animal like you?
FATHER UBU: Once and for all, Fm trying to get rich; Fm not going to let go of
a cent.
MOTHER UBU: But we've got the whole Polish treasury at our disposal.
CAPTAIN BORDURE: Yes, I happen to know that there's an enormous treasure
in the royal chapel; we'll distribute it.
FATHER UBU: Just you dare, you wretch!
CAPTAIN BORDURE: But, Father Ubu, if you don't distribute money to the
people, they'll refuse to pay the taxes.
FATHER UBU: Is that a fact?
MOTHER UBU: Yes, of course!
FATHER UBU: Oh, well, in that case I agree to everything. Withdraw three
million, roast a hundred and fifty cattle and sheep—especially since I'll
have some myself!
They go out


The palace courtyard full of people.

Father Ubu crowned, Mother Ubu, Captain Bordure, flunkies carrying
PEOPLE: There's the king! Long live the king! Hooray!
FATHER UBU: {throwing gold): Here, that's for you. It doesn't make me very
happy to give you any money; it's Mother Ubu who wanted me to. At 3
least promise me you'll really pay the taxes. 5
ALL: Yes! Yes! .|
CAPTAIN BORDURE: Look how they're fighting over that gold, Mother Ubu.
What a battle! ♦
MOTHER UBU: It's really awful. Ugh! There's one just had his skull split open. o>
FATHER UBU: What a beautiful sight! Bring on more gold.
CAPTAIN BORDURE: How about making them race for it?
FATHER UBU: Good idea! {To the people.) My friends, take a look at this chest
of gold. It contains three hundred thousand Polish coins, of the purest
gold, guaranteed genuine. Let those who wish to complete for it assem­
ble at the end of the courtyard. The race will begin when I wave my
handkerchief, and the first one to get here wins the chest. As for those
who don't win, they will share this other chest as a consolation prize.
ALL: Yes! Long live Father Ubu! What a king! We never had anything like
this in the days of Wenceslas.
FATHER UBU {to Mother Ubu> with joy): Listen to them!
All the people line up at the end of the courtyard.
One, two, three! Ready?
ALL: Yes! Yes!
They start, falling all over one another. Cries and tumult.
CAPTAIN BORDURE: They're coming! They're coming!
FATHER UBU: Look! The leader's losing ground.
MOTHER UBU: No, he's going ahead again.
CAPTAIN BORDURE: He's losing, he's losing! He's lost! The other one won.
ALL: Long live Michael Federovitch! Long live Michael Federovitch!
MICHAEL FEDEROVITCH: Sire, I don't know how to thank your Majesty
FATHER UBU: Think nothing of it, my dear friend. Take your money home
with you, Michael; and you others, share the rest—each take a piece
until they're all gone.
ALL: Long live Michael Federovitch! Long live Father Ubu!
FATHER UBU: And you, my friends, come and eat! I open the gates of the
palace to you—may you do honor to my table!
PEOPLE: Let's go in, let's go in! Long live Father Ubu! He's the noblest
monarch of them all!
They go into the palace. The noise of the orgy is audible throughout the
night The curtain falls.


Jj The palace.
< Father Ubu, Mother Ubu.
t FATHER UBU: By my green candle, here I am king of this country, I've already
QQ got a fine case of indigestion, and they're going to bring me my big
MOTHER UBU: What's it made out of, Father Ubu? Even if we are sitting on
the throne, we have to watch the pennies.
FATHER UBU: Madame my wife, it's made out of sheepskin with a clasp and
with laces made out of dogskin.
MOTHER UBU: That's very extraordinary, but it's even more extraordinary that
we're here on the throne.
FATHER UBU: How right you are, Mother Ubu.
MOTHER UBU: We owe quite a debt to the Duke of Lithuania.
FATHER UBU: Who's that?
MOTHER UBU: Why, Captain Bordure.
FATHER UBU: If you please, Mother Ubu, don't speak to me about that buf-
froon. Now that I don't need him any more, he can go whistle for his
MOTHER UBU: You're making a big mistake, Father Ubu; he's going to turn
against you.
FATHER UBU: Well, now, the poor little fellow has my deepest sympathy, but
I'm not going to worry about him any more than about Bougrelas.
MOTHER UBU: Ha! You think you've seen the last of Bougrelas, do you?
FATHER UBU: By my financial sword, of course I have! What do you think that
fourteen-year-old midget is going to do to me?
MOTHER UBU: Father Ubu, pay attention to what I'm going to say to you.
Believe me, you ought to be nice to Bougrelas to get him on your side.
FATHER UBU: Do you think Fm made of money? Well, Fm not! You've
already made me waste twenty-two million.
MOTHER UBU: Have it your own way, Father Ubu; hell roast you alive.
FATHER UBU: Fine! You'll be in the pot with me.
MOTHER UBU: For the last time, listen to me: Fm sure that young Bougrelas
will triumph, because he has right on his side.
FATHER UBU: Oh, crap! Doesn't the wrong always get you more than the right?
Ah, you do me an injustice, Mother Ubu, Fll chop you into little pieces.
Mother Ubu runs away, pursued by Father Ubu.


The Great Hall of the palace.

Father Ubu, Mother Ubu, Officers and Soldiers; Giron, Pile, Cotice, Nobles
in chains, Financiers, Magistrates, Clerks.
FATHER UBU: Bring forward the Nobles' money box and the Nobles' hook D
and the Nobles' knife and the Nobles' book! And then bring forward the .c?
Nobles. *
Nobles are brutally pushed forward. ♦
MOTHER UBU: For goodness' sakes, control yourself, Father Ubu. o
FATHER UBU: I have the honor to announce to you that in order to enrich the
kingdom I shall annihilate all the Nobles and grab their property.
NOBLES: How awful! To the rescue, people and soldiers!
FATHER UBU: Bring forward the first Noble and hand me the Nobles' hook.
Those who are condemned to death, I will drop down the trap door.
They will fall into the Pig-Pinching Cellars and the Money Vault, where
they will be disembrained. (To the Noble.) Who are you, buffroon?
THE NOBLE: Count of Vitebsk.
FATHER UBU: What's your income?
THE NOBLE: Three million rixthalers.
FATHER UBU: Condemned! (He seizes him with the hook and drops him down
the trap door.)
MOTHER UBU: What vile savagery!
FATHER UBU: Second Noble, who are you?
The Noble doesnt reply.
Answer, buffroon!
THE NOBLE: Grand Duke of Posen.
FATHER UBU: Excellent! Excellent! Fll not trouble you any longer. Down the
trap. Third Noble, who are you? You're an ugly one.
THE NOBLE: Duke of Courland, and of the cities of Riga, Reval, and the
FATHER UBU: Very good! Very good! Anything else?
THE NOBLE: That's all.
FATHER UBU: Well, down the trapdoor, then. Fourth Noble, who are you?
THE NOBLE: The Prince of Podolia.
FATHER UBU: What's your income?
THE NOBLE: Fm bankrupt.
FATHER UBU: For that nasty word, into the trapdoor with you. Fifth Noble,
who are you?
THE NOBLE: Margrave of Thorn, Palatin of Polack.
FATHER UBU: That doesn't sound like very much. Nothing else?
THE NOBLE: It was enough for me.
FATHER UBU: Half a loaf is better than no loaf at all. Down the trapdoor.
What's the matter with you, Mother Ubu?
MOTHER UBU: You're too ferocious, Father Ubu.
FATHER UBU: Please! Fm working! And now Fm going to have MY list of MY
* property read to me. Clerk, read MY list of MY property.
< THE CLERK: County of Sandomir.
t FATHER UBU: Start with the big ones.
o THE NOBLE: Princedom of Podolia, Grand Duchy of Posen, Duchy of Cour-
land, County of Sandomir, County of Vitebsk, Palatinate of Polack, Mar-
graviate of Thorn.
FATHER UBU: Well, go on.
THE NOBLE: That's all.
FATHER UBU: What do you mean, that's all! Oh, very well, then, bring the
Nobles forward. Since Fm not finished enriching myself yet, I'm going to
execute all the Nobles and seize all their estates at once. Let's go; stick
the Nobles in the trapdoor.
The Nobles are pushed into the trapdoor.
Hurry it up, let's go, I want to make some laws now.
SEVERAL: This ought to be a good one.
FATHER UBU: First Fm going to reform the laws, and then we'll proceed to
matters of finance.
MAGISTRATES: We're opposed to any change.
FATHER UBU: Shitr! To begin with, Magistrates will not be paid any more.
MAGISTRATES: What are we supposed to live on? We're poor.
FATHER UBU: You shall have the fines which you will impose and the prop­
erty of those you condemn to death.
A SECOND: Infamy!
A THIRD: Scandal!
A FOURTH: Indignity!
ALL: We refuse to act as judges under such conditions.
FATHER UBU: Down the trapdoor with the Magistrates!
They struggle in vain.
MOTHER UBU: What are you doing, Father Ubu? Who will dispense justice
FATHER UBU: Why, me! You'll see how smoothly it'll go.
MOTHER UBU: I can just imagine.
FATHER UBU: That's enough out of you, buffroonness. And now, gentlemen,
we will proceed to matters of finance.
FINANCIERS: No changes are needed.
FATHER UBU: I intend to change everything. First of all, I'll keep half the taxes
for myself.
FINANCIERS: That's too much.
FATHER UBU: Gentlemen, we will establish a tax of 10 percent on property,
another on commerce and industry, a third on marriages and a fourth on
deaths—fifteen francs each.
FIRST FINANCIER: But that's idiotic, Father Ubu.
THIRD FINANCIER: It's impossible.
FATHER UBU: You're trying to confuse me! Down the trapdoor with the Fi­
The Financiers are pushed in.
MOTHER UBU: But, Father Ubu, what kind of king are you? You're murdering
FATHER UBU: Oh, shitr!
MOTHER UBU: No more justice, no more finances!
FATHER UBU: Have no fear, my sweet child; I myself will go from village to
village, collecting the taxes.


A peasant house in the outskirts of Warsaw. Several peasants are assembled.

A PEASANT (entering): Have you heard the news? The king and the dukes are
all dead, and young Bougrelas has fled to the mountains with his mother.
What's more, Father Ubu has seized the throne.
ANOTHER: That's nothing. I've just come from Cracow where I saw the
bodies of more than three hundred nobles and five hundred magistrates,
and I hear that the taxes are going to be doubled and that Father Ubu is
coming to collect them himself.
ALL: Great heavens! What will become of us? Father Ubu is a horrible beast,
and they say his family is abominable.
A PEASANT: Listen! Isn't somebody knocking at the door?
A VOICE (outside): Hornsbuggers! Open up, by my shitr, by Saint John, Saint
Peter, and Saint Nicholas! Open up, by my financial sword, by my finan­
cial horns, I'm coming to collect the taxes!
The door is smashed in, and Father Ubu enters, followed by hordes of tax


FATHER UBU: Which one of you is the oldest?

A peasant steps forward.
What's your name?
THE PEASANT: Stanislas Leczinski.
FATHER UBU: Fine, hornsbuggers! Listen to me, since if you don't, these
>- gentlemen here will cut your ears off. Well, are you listening?
* STANISLAS: But your Excellency hasn't said anything yet.
"* FATHER UBU: What do you mean? I've been speaking for an hour. Do you
i think I've come here to preach in the desert?
o STANISLAS: Far be it from my thoughts.
FATHER UBU: I've come to tell you, to order you, and to intimate to you that
you are to produce forthwith and exhibit promptly your finances, unless
you wish to be slaughtered. Let's go, gentlemen, my financial swine,
vehiculize hither the phynancial vehicle.
The vehicle is brought in.
STANISLAS: Sire, we are down on the register for a hundred and fifty-two
rixthalers which we paid six weeks ago come Saint Matthew's Day.
FATHER UBU: That's very possible, but I've changed the government and run
an advertisement in the paper that says you have to pay all present taxes
twice and all those which I will levy later on three times. With this
system, I'll make my fortune quickly; then I'll kill everyone and run away.
PEASANTS: Mr. Ubu, please have pity on us; we are poor, simple citizens.
FATHER UBU: Nuts! Pay up.
PEASANTS: We can't, we've already paid.
FATHER UBU: Pay up! Or I'll stick you in my pocket with torturing and
beheading of the neck and head! Hornsbuggers, I'm the king, aren't I?
ALL: Ah! So that's the way it is! To arms! Long live Bougrelas, by the grace of
God King of Poland and Lithuania!
FATHER UBU: Forward, gentlemen of Finance, do your duty.
A struggle ensues; the house is destroyed, and old Stanislas flees across the
plain, alone. Father Ubu stays to collect the money.
A dungeon in the Fortress of Thorn.
Captain Bordure in chains, Father Ubu.
FATHER UBU: So, Citizen, that's the way it is: you wanted me to pay you what I
owed you; then you rebelled because I refused; you conspired and here
you are retired. Horns of finance, Fve done so well you must admire it
CAPTAIN BORDURE: Take care, Father Ubu. During the five days that you've
been king, you've committed enough murders to damn all the saints in
Paradise. The blood of the king and of the nobles cries for vengeance,
and their cries will be heard.
FATHER UBU: Ah, my fine friend, that's quite a tongue you've got there. I have
no doubt that if you escaped, it would cause all sorts of complications,
but I don't think that the dungeons of Thorn have ever let even one of the
honest fellows go who have been entrusted to them. Therefore I bid you ^
a very good night and I invite you to sleep soundly, although I must say two
the rats dance a very pretty saraband down here. 2
He leaves. The jailers come and bolt all the doors. t

The Palace at Moscow.

The Emperor Alexis and his court, Captain Bordure.
ALEXIS: Infamous adventurer, aren't you the one who helped kill our cousin
CAPTAIN BORDURE: Sire, forgive me, I was carried away despite myself by
Father Ubu.
ALEXIS: Oh, what a big liar! Well, what can I do for you?
CAPTAIN BORDURE: Father Ubu imprisoned me on charges of conspiracy; I
succeeded in escaping and I have ridden five days and five nights across
the steppes to come and beg your gracious forgiveness.
ALEXIS: What have you got for me as proof of your loyalty?
CAPTAIN BORDURE: My honor as a knight, and a detailed map of the town of
Thorn. (Kneels and presents his sword to Alexis.)
ALEXIS: I accept your sword, but by Saint George, burn the map. I don't want
to owe my victory to an act of treachery.
CAPTAIN BORDURE: One of the sons of Wenceslas, young Bougrelas, is still
alive. I would do anything to restore him.
ALEXIS: What was your rank in the Polish Army?
CAPTAIN BORDURE: I commanded the fifth regiment of the dragoons of Vilna
and a company of mercenaries in the service of Father Ubu.
ALEXIS: Fine, I appoint you second in command of the tenth regiment of
Cossacks, and woe to you if you betray me. If you fight well, you'll be
CAPTAIN BORDURE: I don't lack courage, Sire.
ALEXIS: Fine, remove yourself from my sight.
He leaves.


Ubus Council Chamber.

Father Ubu, Mother Ubu, Phynancial Advisers.
FATHER UBU: Gentlemen, the meeting has begun, and see that you keep your
ears open and your mouths shut. First of all, we'll turn to the subject of
finance; then well speak about a little scheme I've thought up to bring
good weather and prevent rain.
AN ADVISER: Very good, Mr. Ubu.
MOTHER UBU: What a stupid fool!
FATHER UBU: Take care, madam of my shitr, I'm not going to stand for your
idiocies much longer. I'd like you to know, gentlemen, that the finances
are proceeding satisfactorily. The streets are mobbed every morning by a
crowd of the local low-life, and my men do wonders with them. In every
direction you can see only burning houses, and people bent under the
weight of our finances.
THE ADVISER: And are the new taxes going well, Mr. Ubu?
MOTHER UBU: Not at all. The tax on marriages has brought in only eleven
cents so far, although Father Ubu chases people everywhere to convince
them to marry.
FATHER UBU: By my financial sword, hornsbuggers, Madame financieress,
I've got ears to speak with and you've a mouth to listen to me with.
Shouts of laughter.
You're mixing me up and it's your fault that I'm making a fool of myself!
But, horn of U b u ! . . .
A messenger enters.
Well, what do you have to say for yourself? Get out of here, you little
monkey, before I pocket you with beheading and twisting of the legs.
MOTHER UBU: There he goes, but he's left a letter.
FATHER UBU: Read it. I don't feel like it, or come to think of it perhaps I can't
read. Hurry up, buffrooness, it must be from Bordure.
MOTHER UBU: Right. He says that the tsar has received him very well, that he's
going to invade your lands to restore Bougrelas, and that you're going to
be killed.
FATHER UBU: Oh! Oh! Fm scared. Fm scared. I bet Fm going to die. Oh, poor
little man that I am! What will become of me, great God? This wicked
man is going to kill me. Saint Anthony and all the saints, protect me, and
Fll give you some phynance and burn some candles for you. Lord, what
will become of me? (He cries and sobs.)
MOTHER UBU: There's only one safe course to follow, Father Ubu.
FATHER UBU: What's that, my love?
ALL: Great heavens! What a noble idea!
FATHER UBU: Yes, and I'll be the one to get hurt, as usual.
FIRST ADVISER: Hurry, hurry, let's organize the army.
SECOND: And requisition the provisions.
THIRD: And set up the artillery and the fortresses.
FOURTH: And get up the money for the troops. 3
FATHER UBU: That's enough of that, now, you, or I'll kill you on the spot. I'm ^
not going to spend any money. That's a good one, isn't it! I used to be J
paid to wage war, and now it's being waged at my expense. Wait—by my 4
green candle, let's wage war, since you're so excited about it, but let's not ♦
spend a penny. o
ALL: Hooray for war!


The camp outside Warsaw.

SOLDIERS and PALOTINS: Long live Poland! Long live Father Ubu!
FATHER UBU: Ah, Mother Ubu, give me my breastplate and my little stick.
Fll soon be so heavy that I won't be able to move even if I'm being
MOTHER UBU: Pooh, what a coward!
FATHER UBU: Ah! Here's the sword of shitr running away first thing and
there's the financial hook which won't stay put!!! (Drops both.) I'll never
be ready, and the Russians are coming to kill me.
A SOLDIER: Lord Ubu, here's your ear-pick, which you've dropped.
FATHER UBU: I'll kill you with my shitr hook and my gizzard-saw.
MOTHER UBU: How handsome he is with his helmet and his breastplate! He
looks just like an armed pumpkin.
FATHER UBU: Now Fll get my horse. Gentlemen, bring forth the phynancial
MOTHER UBU: Father Ubu, your horse can't carry you—it's had nothing to eat
for five days and it's about to die.
FATHER UBU: That's a good one! I have to pay twelve cents a day for this sway-
backed nag and it can't even carry me. You're making fun of me, horn of
Ubu, or else perhaps you're stealing from me?
Mother Ubu blushes and lowers her eyes.
Now bring me another beast, because I'm not going to go on foot,
An enormous horse is brought out.
I'm going to get on. Oops, better sit down before I fall off.
The horse starts to leave.
Stop this beast. Great God, I'm going to fall off and be killed!!!
MOTHER UBU: He's an absolute idiot. There he is up again; no, he's down
FATHER UBU: Horn of Physics, I'm half dead. But never mind, I'm going to
the war and I'll kill everyone. Woe to him who doesn't keep up with me!
I'll put him in my pocket with twisting of the nose and teeth and extrac-
y tion of the tongue.
^ MOTHER UBU: Good luck, Mr. Ubu!
^ FATHER UBU: I forgot to tell you that I'm making you the regent. But I'm
♦ keeping the financial book, so you'd better not try and rob me. I'll leave
o you the Palotin Giron to help you. Farewell, Mother Ubu.
MOTHER UBU: Farewell, Father Ubu. Kill the tsar thoroughly.
FATHER UBU: Of course. Twisting of the nose and teeth, extraction of the
tongue and insertion of the ear-pick.
The army marches away to the sound of fanfares.
MOTHER UBU (alone): Now that that big fat booby has gone, let's look to our
own affairs, kill Bougrelas, and grab the treasure.


The Royal Crypt in the Cathedral at Warsaw.

MOTHER UBU: Where on earth is that treasure? None of these slabs sounds
hollow. I've counted thirteen slabs beyond the tomb of Ladislas the Great
along the length of the wall, and I've found nothing. Someone seems to
have deceived me. What's this? The stone sounds hollow here. To work,
Mother Ubu. Courage, we'll have it pried up in a minute. It's stuck fast.
The end of this financial hook will do the trick. There! There's the gold
in the middle of the royal bones. Into the sack with it. Oh! What's that
noise? Can there still be someone alive in these ancient vaults? No, it's
nothing; let's hurry up. Let's take everything. This money will look better
in the light of day than in the middle of these graves. Back with the stone.
What's that! There's that noise again! There's something not quite right
about this place. I'll get the rest of this gold some other time—I'll come
back tomorrow.
A VOICE (coming from the tomb of John Sigismund): Never, Mother Ubu!
Mother Ubu runs away terrified, through the secret door, carrying the
stolen gold.


The Main Square in Warsaw.

Bougrelas and his men, People and Soldiers.
BOUGRELAS: Forward, my friends! Long live Wenceslas and Poland! That old
blackguard Father Ubu is gone; only that old witch Mother Ubu and her
Palotin are left. I'm going to march at your head and restore my father's
house to the throne.
ALL: Long live Bougrelas!
BOUGRELAS: And we'll abolish all taxes imposed by that horrible Father Ubu.
ALL: Hooray! Forward! To the palace, and death to the Ubus!
BOUGRELAS: Look! There's Mother Ubu coming out on the porch with her
MOTHER UBU: What can I do for you, gentlemen? Ah! It's Bougrelas.
The crowd throws stones.
FIRST GUARD: They've broken all the windows.
SECOND GUARD: Saint George, I'm done for.
THIRD GUARD: Hornsass, I'm dying.
BOUGRELAS: Throw some more stones, my friends.
PALOTIN GIRON: Ho! So that's the way it is! (He draws his sword and leaps into
the crowd, performing horrible slaughter.)
BOUGRELAS: Have at you! Defend yourself, you cowardly pisspot!
They fight.
GIRON: I die!
BOUGRELAS: Victory, my friends! Now for Mother Ubu!
Trumpets are heard.
Ah! The Nobles are arriving. Run and catch the old hag.
ALL: She'll do until we can strangle the old bandit himself!
Mother Ubu runs away pursued by all the Poles. Rifle shots and a hail of


The Polish Army marching in the Ukraine.

FATHER UBU: Hornsass, godslegs, cowsheads! We're about to perish, because
we're dying of thirst and we're tired. Sir Soldier, be so good as to carry our
financial helmet, and you, Sir Lancer, take charge of the shitr-pick and
the physic-stick to unencumber our person, because, let me repeat, we
are tired.
The soldiers obey.
PILE: Ho, my Lord! It's surprising that there are no Russians to be seen.
FATHER UBU: It's regrettable that the state of our finances does not permit us
to have a vehicle commensurate with our grandeur; for, for fear of de­
molishing our steed, we have gone all the way on foot, leading our horse
by the bridle. When we get back to Poland, we shall devise, by means of
our physical science and with the aid of the wisdom of our advisers, a way
of transporting our entire army by wind.
COTICE: Here comes Nicholas Rensky, in a great hurry.
FATHER UBU: What's the matter with him?
RENSKY: All is lost. Sir, the Poles have revolted, Giron has been killed, and
Mother Ubu has fled to the mountains.
FATHER UBU: Bird of night, beast of misery, owl's underwear! Where did you
hear this nonsense? What won't you be saying next! Who's responsible
for this? Bougrelas, I'll bet. Where'd you just come from?
RENSKY: From Warsaw, noble Lord.
FATHER UBU: Child of my shitr, if I believed you I would retreat with the
whole army. But, Sir Child, you've got feathers in your head instead of
brains and you've been dreaming nonsense. Run off to the outposts, my
child; the Russians can't be far, and we'll soon be flourishing our arms,
shitr, phynancial and physical.
GENERAL LASCY: Father Ubu, can't you see the Russians down there on the
FATHER UBU: It's true, the Russians! A fine mess this is. If only there were still
a way to run out, but there isn't; we're up here on a hill and we'll be
exposed to attack on all sides.
THE ARMY: The Russians! The enemy!
FATHER UBU: Let's go, gentlemen, into our battle positions. We will remain
on top of the hill and under no circumstances commit the idiocy of
descending. I'll keep myself in the middle like a living fortress, and all
you others will gravitate around me. I advise you to load your guns with
as many bullets as they will hold, because eight bullets can kill eight
Russians and that will be eight Russians the less. We will station the
infantry at the foot of the hill to receive the Russians and kill them a little,
the cavalry in back of them so that they can throw themselves into the
confusion, and the artillery around this windmill here so that they can
fire into the whole mess. As for us, we will take up our position inside the
windmill and fire through the window with the phynancial pistol, and
bar the door with the physical stick, and if anyone still tries to get in, let
him beware of the shitr-hook!!!
OFFICERS: Your orders, Lord Ubu, shall be executed.
FATHER UBU: Fine, we'll win, then. What time is it?
GENERAL LASCY: It's eleven o'clock in the morning.
FATHER UBU: In that case, let's have lunch, because the Russians won't attack
before midday. Tell the soldiers, my lord General, to take a crap and
strike up the Financial Song.
Lascy withdraws.
SOLDIERS and PALOTINS: Long live Father Ubu, our great Financier! Ting,
ting, ting; ting, ting, ting; ting, ting, ta-ting!
FATHER UBU: Oh, how noble—I adore gallantry!
A Russian cannonball breaks one of the arms of the windmill
Aaaaah! I'm frightened. Lord God, I'm dead! No, no, I'm not. 3

The same, a Captain and the Russian Army. i
A CAPTAIN (entering): Lord Ubu, the Russians are attacking. o
FATHER UBU: All right, all right, what do you want me to do about it? I didn't
tell them to attack. Nevertheless, gentlemen of Finance, let us prepare
ourselves for battle.
GENERAL LASCY: Another cannonball!
FATHER UBU: Ah! That's enough of that! It's raining lead and steel around
here, and it might put a dent in our precious person. Down we go.
They all run away. The battle has just begun. They disappear into the
clouds of smoke at the foot of the hill.
A RUSSIAN (thrusting): For God and the tsar!
RENSKY: Ah! I'm dead.
FATHER UBU: Forward! As for you, sir, I'll get you because you've hurt me, do
you hear? You drunken sot, with your popless little popgun.
THE RUSSIAN: Ah! I'll show you! (He fires.)
FATHER UBU: Ah! Oh! I'm wounded, I'm shot full of holes, I'm perforated,
I'm done for, I'm buried. And now I've got you! (He tears him to pieces).
Just try that again.
GENERAL LASCY: Forward, charge, across the trench! Victory is ours!
FATHER UBU: Do you really think so? So far my brow has felt more lumps
than laurels.
RUSSIAN KNIGHTS: Hooray! Make way for the tsar!
Enter the tsar, accompanied by Captain Bordure, in disguise.
A POLE: Great God! Every man for himself, there's the tsar!
ANOTHER: Oh, my God, he's crossed the trench.
ANOTHER: Bing! Bang! Four more chopped up by that big ox of a lieutenant.
CAPTAIN BORDURE: So! The rest of you won't surrender, eh? All right, your
time has come, John Sobiesky! (He chops him up.) Now for the others!
(He massacres Poles.)
FATHER UBU: Forward, my friends! Capture that rat! Make mincemeat of the
Muscovites! Victory is ours! Long live the Red Eagle!
ALL: Charge! Hooray! Godslegs! Capture the big ox.
CAPTAIN BORDURE: By Saint George, they've got me.
FATHER UBU: Ah! it's you, Bordure! How are you, my friend? I, and all the
company, are very happy to welcome you again. I'm going to broil you
over a slow fire. Gentlemen of the Finances, light the fire. Oh! Ah! Oh!
I'm dead. I must have been hit with a cannonball at least. Oh! My God,
forgive my sins. Yes, it's definitely a cannonball.
CAPTAIN BORDURE: It was a pistol with a blank cartridge.
FATHER UBU: Oh, you're making fun of me! All right, into the pocket you go!
(He flings himself upon him and tears him to pieces.)
GENERAL LASCY: Father Ubu, we're advancing on all fronts.
FATHER UBU: I can see that. But I can't go on any more, because everyone's
been stepping on my toes. I absolutely have to sit down. Oh, where's my
GENERAL LASCY: Go get the tsar's bottle, Father Ubu!
FATHER UBU: Ah! Just what I had in mind. Let's go. Sword of Shitr, do your
duty, and you, financial hook, don't lag behind! As for you, physical stick,
see that you work just as hard and share with the little bit of wood the
honor of massacring, scooping out, and imposing upon the Muscovite
emperor. Forward, my Phynancial Horse! (He throws himself on the tsar.)
A RUSSIAN OFFICER: Look out, Your Majesty!
FATHER UBU: Take that! Oh! Ow! Ah! Goodness me. Ah! Oh, sir, excuse me,
leave me alone. I didn't do it on purpose! (He runs away, pursued by the
tsar.) Holy Mother, that madman is coming after me! Great God, what
shall I do? Ah, I've got that trench ahead of me again. I've got him behind
me and the trench in front of me! Courage! I'm going to close my eyes!
(He jumps the trench. The tsar falls in.)
THE TSAR: God, I've fallen in!
THE POLES: Hooray! The tsar has fallen in!
FATHER UBU: I'm afraid to turn around. Ah! He fell in. That's fine; they've
jumped on him. Let's go, you Poles; swing away; he's a tough one, that
swine! As for me, I can't look. But our prediction has been completely
fulfilled: the physical stick has performed wonders, and without doubt I
would have been about to have killed him completely, had not an inex­
plicable fear come to combat and annul in us the fruits of our courage.
But we suddenly had to turn tail, and we owe our salvation only to our
skill in the saddle as well as to the sturdy hocks of our Phynancial Horse,
whose rapidity is equaled only by its solidity and whose levitation makes
its reputation, as well as the depth of the trench which located itself so
appropriately under the enemy of us, the presently-before-you Master of
Phynances. That was very nice, but nobody was listening. Oops, there
they go again!
The Russian dragoons charge and rescue the tsar.
GENERAL LASCY: It looks like it's turning into a rout.
FATHER UBU: Now's the time to make tracks. Now then, gentlemen of Po­
land, forward! Or rather, backward!
POLES: Every man for himself!
FATHER UBU: Come on! Let's go! What a big crowd, what a stampede, what a J
mob! How am I ever going to get out of this mess? (He is jostled.) You ^
there, watch your step, or you will sample the boiling rage of the Master g
of Phynances. Ha! There he goes. Now let's get out of here fast, while ♦
Lascy's looking the other way. ♦
He runs off; the tsar and the Russian Army go by, chasing Poles. 2


A cave in Lithuania. It is snowing.

Father Ubu, Pile, Cotice.
FATHER UBU: Oh, what a bitch of a day! It's cold enough to make the rocks
crack open, and the person of the Master of Phynances finds itself se­
verely damaged.
PILE: Ho! Mr. Ubu, have you recovered from your fright and from your
FATHER UBU: Well, I'm not frightened any more, but, believe me, I'm still
COTICE (aside): What a turd!
FATHER UBU: Well, Sire Cotice, how's your ear feeling?
COTICE: As well as can be expected, sir, considering how bad it is. I can't get
the bullet out, and consequently the lead is making me tilt.
FATHER UBU: Well, serves you right! You're always looking for a fight. As for
me, I've always demonstrated the greatest valor, and without in any way
exposing myself I massacred four enemies with my own hand, not count­
ing, of course, those who were already dead and whom we dispatched.
COTICE: Do you know what happened to little Rensky, Pile?
PILE: A bullet in his head.
FATHER UBU: As the poppy and the dandelion are scythed in the flower of
their age by the pitiless scythe of the pitiless scyther who scythes pitilessly
their pitiful parts—just so, little Rensky has played the poppy's part: he
fought well, but there were just too many Russians around.
PILE and COTICE: Hey! Sir Ubu!
AN ECHO: Grrrrr!
PILE: What's that? On guard!
FATHER UBU: Oh, no! Not the Russians again! Fve had enough of them. And,
anyway, it's very simple: if they catch me Fll just put them all in my pocket.


The same. Enter a bear.

COTICE: Ho! Master of Phynances!
FATHER UBU: Oh! What a sweet little doggie! Isn't he cute?
PILE: Watch out! What a huge bear! Hand me my gun!
FATHER UBU: A bear! What a horrible beast! Oh, poor me, Fm going to be
eaten alive. May God protect me! He's coming this way. No, he's got
Cotice. I can breathe again!
The bear jumps on Cotice. Pile attacks him with his sword. Ubu takes
refuge on a high rock.
COTICE: Save me, Pile! Save me! Help, Sir Ubu!
FATHER UBU: Fat chance! Get out of it yourself, my friend; right now I'm
going to recite my Pater Noster. Everyone will be eaten in his turn.
PILE: Fve got him, I'm holding him.
COTICE: Hold him tight, my friend, he's starting to let me go.
FATHER UBU: Sanctificetur nomen tuum.
COTICE: Cowardly lout!
PILE: Oh! It's biting me! O Lord, save us, I'm dead.
FATHER UBU: Fiat voluntas tua!
COTICE: Fve wounded it!
PILE: Hooray! It's bleeding now.
While the Palotins shout, the bear bellows with pain and Ubu continues to
COTICE: Hang on, while I find my exploding brass knuckles.
FATHER UBU: Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie.
PILE: Haven't you got it yet? I can't hold on any longer.
FATHER UBU: Sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris.
COTICE: Ah! I've got it.
A resounding explosion; the bear falls dead.
PILE and COTICE: Victory!
FATHER UBU: Sed libera nos a malo. Amen. Is he really dead? Can I come
down now?
PILE (with disgust): Just as you like.
FATHER UBU (coming down): You may be assured that if you are still alive and
if you tread once more the Lithuanian snow, you owe it to the lofty virtue
of the Master of Phynances, who has struggled, broken his back, and
shouted himself hoarse reciting paternosters for your safety, and who has
wielded the spiritual sword of prayer with just as much courage as you
have wielded with dexterity the temporal one of the here-attendant Pal-
otin Cotice's exploding brass knuckles. We have even pushed our devo­
tion further, for we did not hesitate to climb to the top of a very high rock,
so that our prayers had less far to travel to reach heaven.
PILE: Disgusting pig!
FATHER UBU: Oh, you beast! Thanks to me, you've got something to eat. .§
What a belly he has, gentlemen! The Greeks would have been more ^
comfortable in there than in their wooden horse, and we very barely 2
escaped, my dear friends, being able to satisfy ourselves of his interior ♦
capacity with our own eyes. *

PILE: I'm dying of hunger. What can we eat? ^

COTICE: The bear!
FATHER UBU: My poor friends, are you going to eat it completely raw? We
don't have anything to make a fire with.
PILE: What about our flintstones?
FATHER UBU: Ah, that's true. And it seems to me that not far from here there is
a little wood where dry branches may be found. Sire Cotice, go and fetch
Cotice runs off across the snow.
PILE: And now, Sir Ubu, you can go and carve up the bear.
FATHER UBU: Oh, no. It may not be completely dead yet. Since it has already
half-eaten you, and chewed upon all your members, you're obviously the
man to take care of that. I'll go and light the fire while we're waiting for
him to bring the wood.
Pile starts to carve up the bear.
Oh! Watch out! It just moved.
PILE: But Sir Ubu, it's stone cold already.
FATHER UBU: That's a pity. It would have been much better to have had him
hot. We're running the risk of giving the Master of Phynances an attack of
PILE (aside): Disgusting fellow! (Aloud.) Give me a hand, Mr. Ubu; I can't do
everything myself.
FATHER UBU: No, I'm sorry I can't help you. I'm really excessively fatigued.
COTICE (re-entering): What a lot of snow, my friends; anyone would think this
was Castile or the North Pole. Night is beginning to fall. In an hour it'll
be dark. Let's make haste while we can still see.
FATHER UBU: Did you hear that, Pile? Get a move on. In fact, get a move on,
both of you! Skewer the beast, cook the beast—I'm hungry!
PILE: Well, that does it! You'll work or you'll get nothing, do you hear me,
you big hog?
FATHER UBU: Oh! It's all the same to me; I'd just as soon eat it raw; you're the
ones whose stomachs it won't agree with. Anyway, I'm sleepy.
COTICE: What can we expect from him, Pile? Let's cook dinner ourselves.
We just won't give him any, that's all. Or at most we'll throw him a few
PILE: Good enough. Ah, the fire's catching.
FATHER UBU: Oh, that's very nice. It's getting warm now. But I see Russians
everywhere. My God, what a retreat! Ah! (He falls asleep.)
COTICE: I wonder if Rensky was telling the truth about Mother Ubu being
dethroned. It wouldn't surprise me at all.
PILE: Let's finish cooking supper.
COTICE: No, we've got more important problems. I think it would be a good
idea to inquire into the truth of the news.
PILE: You're right. Should we desert Father Ubu or stay with him?
COTICE: Let's sleep on it; we'll decide tomorrow.
PILE: No—let's sneak off under cover of darkness.
COTICE: Let's go, then.
They go.

FATHER UBU (talking in his sleep): Ah, Sir Russian Dragoon, watch out, don't
shoot in this direction; there's someone here. Oh, there's Bordure; he
looks mean, like a bear. And there's Bougrelas coming at me! The bear,
the bear! He's right below me; he looks fierce. My God! No, I'm sorry I
can't help you! Go away, Bougrelas! Don't you hear me, you clown?
There's Rensky now, and the tsar. Oh, they're going to beat me up. And
Mother Ubu. Where did you get all that gold? You've stolen my gold, you
miserable witch; you've been ransacking my tomb in Warsaw Cathedral,
under the moon. I've been dead a long time; Bougrelas has killed me and
I've been buried in Warsaw next to Ladislas the Great, and also at Cracow
next to John Sigismund, and also at Thorn in the dungeon with Bordure.
There it is again. Get out of here, you nasty bear! You look like Bordure.
Do you hear, you devilish beast? No, he can't hear me, the Salopins have
cut his ears off. Disembrain them, devitalize them, cut off their ears,
confiscate their money and drink yourself to death, that's the life of a
Salopin, that's happiness for the Master of Phynances. (He falls silent and


It is night. Father Ubu is asleep. Enter Mother Ubu, without seeing him. The
stage is in total darkness.
MOTHER UBU: Shelter at last. Fm alone here, which is fine, but what an awful
journey: crossing all Poland in four days! And even before that, every­
thing happened to me at once! As soon as that fat fool left, I went to the
crypt to grab what I could. And right after that, I was almost stoned to
death by that Bougrelas and his madmen. I lost the Palotin Giron, my
knight, who was so stricken by my beauty that he swooned whenever he
saw me, and even, Fve been told, when he didn't see me, which is the
height of passion. He would have let himself be cut in two for my sake,
the poor boy. The proof is that he was cut in four, by Bougrelas. Snip,
snap, snop! I thought Fd die. Right after that, I took to flight, pursued by
the maddened mob. I flee the palace, reach the Vistula, and find all the
bridges guarded. I swim across the river, hoping to escape my persecu­
tors. Nobles come from every direction and chase me. I die a thousand
deaths, surrounded by a ring of Poles, screaming for my blood. Finally I
wriggle out of their clutches, and after four days of running across the
snow of my former kingdom, I reach my refuge here. I haven't had a
thing to eat or drink for four days. Bougrelas was right behind me. . . .
And here I am, safe at last. Oh, Fm nearly dead of cold and exhaustion.
But Fd really like to know what's become of my big buffroon—I mean my
honored spouse. Have I fleeced him! Have I taken his rixthalers! Have I
pulled the wool over his eyes! And his starving phynancial horse: he's not
going to see any oats very soon, either, the poor devil. Oh, what a joke!
But alas! My treasure is lost! It's in Warsaw, and let anybody who wants it
go and get it.
FATHER UBU (starting to wake up): Capture Mother Ubu! Cut off her ears!
MOTHER UBU: Oh, my God! Where am I? Fm losing my mind. Good Lord,
God be praised
I think I can see
Mr. Ubu
Sleeping near me.
Let's show a little sweetness. Well, my fat fellow, did you have a good
FATHER UBU: A very bad one! That was a tough bear! A fight of hunger against
toughness, but hunger has completely eaten and devoured the tough­
ness, as you will see when it gets light in here. Do you hear, my noble
MOTHER UBU: What's he babbling about? He seems even stupider than when
he left. What's the matter with him?
FATHER UBU: Cotice, Pile, answer me, by my bag of shitr! Where are you?
Oh, I'm afraid. Somebody did speak. Who spoke? Not the bear, I sup­
pose. Shitr! Where are my matches? Ah! I lost them in the battle.
MOTHER UBU (aside): Let's take advantage of the situation and the darkness
and pretend to be a ghost. We'll make him promise to forgive us our little
FATHER UBU: By Saint Anthony, somebody is speaking! Godslegs! I'll be
MOTHER UBU (deepening her voice): Yes, Mr. Ubu, somebody is indeed speak­
ing, and the trumpet of the archangel which will call the dead from dust
and ashes on Judgment Day would not speak otherwise! Listen to my stern
voice. It is that of Saint Gabriel who cannot help but give good advice.
FATHER UBU: To be sure!
MOTHER UBU: Don't interrupt me or I'll fall silent, and that will settle your
FATHER UBU: Oh, buggers! I'll be quiet, I won't say another word. Please go
on, Madame Apparition!
MOTHER UBU: We were saying, Mr. Ubu, that you are a big fat fellow.
FATHER UBU: Very fat, that's true.
MOTHER UBU: Shut up, Goddammit!
FATHER UBU: Oh my! Angels aren't supposed to curse!
MOTHER UBU (aside): Shitr! (Continuing.) You are married, Mr. Ubu?
FATHER UBU: Absolutely. To the Queen of Witches.
MOTHER UBU: What you mean to say is that she is a charming woman.
FATHER UBU: A perfect horror. She has claws all over her; you don't know
where to grab her.
MOTHER UBU: You should grab her with sweetness, Sir Ubu, and if you grab
her thus you will see that Venus herself couldn't be as nice.
FATHER UBU: Who did you say has lice?
MOTHER UBU: You're not listening, Mr. Ubu. Try and keep your ears open
now. (Aside.) We'd better get a move on; it's getting light in here. Mr.
Ubu, your wife is adorable and delicious; she doesn't have a single fault.
FATHER UBU: Ah, you're wrong there: there isn't a single fault that she doesn't
MOTHER UBU: That's enough now. Your wife is not unfaithful to you!
FATHER UBU: I'd like to see someone who could stand making her unfaithful.
She's an absolute harpy!
MOTHER UBU: She doesn't drink!
FATHER UBU: Only since Fve taken the key to the cellar away from her. Before
that, she was drunk by seven in the morning and perfumed herself with
brandy. Now that she perfumes herself with heliotrope, she doesn't smell
so bad any more. Not that I care about that. But now Fm the only one
that can get drunk!
MOTHER UBU: Stupid idiot! Your wife doesn't steal your gold.
FATHER UBU: No, that's peculiar.
MOTHER UBU: She doesn't pinch a cent!
FATHER UBU: As witness our noble and unfortunate Phynancial Horse, who,
not having been fed for three months, has had to undergo the entire
campaign being dragged by the bridle across the Ukraine. He died on the
job, poor beast!
MOTHER UBU: That's all a bunch of lies—you've got a model wife, and you're
a monster.
FATHER UBU: That's all a bunch of truth. My wife's a slut, and you're a
MOTHER UBU: Take care, Father Ubu!
FATHER UBU: Oh, that's right, I forgot whom I was talking to. I take it all back.
MOTHER UBU: You killed Wenceslas.
FATHER UBU: That wasn't my fault, actually. Mother Ubu wanted it.
MOTHER UBU: You had Boleslas and Ladislas killed.
FATHER UBU: Too bad for them. They wanted to do me in.
MOTHER UBU: You didn't keep your promise to Bordure, and moreover, you
killed him.
FATHER UBU: I'd rather I ruled Lithuania than he. For the moment, neither of
us is doing it. Certainly you can see that I'm not.
MOTHER UBU: There's only one way you can make up for all your sins.
FATHER UBU: What's that? Fm all ready to become a holy man; I'd like to be a
bishop and have my name on the calendar.
MOTHER UBU: You must forgive Mother Ubu for having sidetracked some of
the funds.
FATHER UBU: What do you think of this: I'll pardon her when she's given
everything back, when she's been soundly thrashed, and when she's
revived my phynancial horse.
MOTHER UBU: He's got that horse on the brain. Ah, Fm lost, day is breaking!
FATHER UBU: Well, I'm happy to know at last for sure that my dear wife steals
from me. Now I have it on the highest authority. Omnis a Deo scientia,
which is to say: omnis, all; a Deo, knowledge; scientia, comes from God.
That explains this marvel. But Madame Apparition is so silent now!
What can I offer her to revive her? What she said was very entertaining.
But, look, it's daybreak! Ah! Good Lord, by my Phynancial Horse, it's
Mother Ubu!
MOTHER UBU (brazenly): That's not true, and I'm going to excommunicate
FATHER UBU: Ah, you old slut!
MOTHER UBU: Such impiety!
FATHER UBU: That's too much! I can see very well that it's you, you half-witted
hag! What the devil are you doing here?
MOTHER UBU: Giron is dead and the Poles chased me.
FATHER UBU: And the Russians chased me. So two great souls meet again.
MOTHER UBU: Say rather than a great soul has met an ass!
FATHER UBU: Fine, and now it's going to meet this little monster.
(He throws the bear at her.)
MOTHER UBU (falling down crushed beneath the weight of the bear): Oh, great
God! How horrible! I'm dying! I'm suffocating! It's chewing on me! It's
swallowing me! I'm being digested!
FATHER UBU: He's dead, you gargoyle! Oh, wait, perhaps he's not. Lord, he's
not dead, save us. (Climbing back onto his rock.) Pater noster qui e s . . .
MOTHER UBU (disentangling herself): Where did he go?
FATHER UBU: Oh, Lord, there she is again. Stupid creature, there's no way of
getting rid of her. Is that bear dead?
MOTHER UBU: Of course, you stupid ass, he's stone cold. How did he get here?
FATHER UBU (bewildered): I don't know. Oh, yes, I do know. He wanted to eat
Pile and Cotice, and I killed him with one swipe of a Pater Noster.
MOTHER UBU: Pile, Cotice, Pater Noster? What's that all about? He's out of
his mind, my finance!
FATHER UBU: It happened exactly the way I said. And you're an idiot, you
MOTHER UBU: Describe your campaign to me, Father Ubu.
FATHER UBU: Holy Mother, no! It would take too long. All I know is that
despite my incontestable valor, everybody beat me up.
MOTHER UBU: What, even the Poles?
FATHER UBU: They were shouting: Long live Wenceslas and Bougrelas! I
thought they were going to chop me up. Oh, those madmen! And then
they killed Rensky!
MOTHER UBU: I don't care about that! Did you know that Bougrelas killed
Palotin Giron?
FATHER UBU: I don't care about that! And then they killed poor Lascy!
MOTHER UBU: I don't care about that!
FATHER UBU: Oh, well, in that case, come over here, you old slut! Get down
on your knees before your master. (He grabs her and throws her on her
knees.) You re about to suffer the extreme penalty.
MOTHER UBU: Ho, ho, Mr. Ubu!
FATHER UBU: Oh! Oh! Oh! Are you all through now? I'm just about to begin:
twisting of the nose, tearing out of the hair, penetration of the little bit of
wood into the ears; extraction of the brain by the heels, laceration of the
posterior, partial or perhaps even total suppression of the spinal marrow
(assuming that would make her character less spiny), not forgetting the
puncturing of the swimming bladder and finally the grand re-enacted
decollation of John the Baptist, the whole taken from the very Holy
Scriptures, from the Old as well as the New Testament, as edited, cor­
rected, and perfected by the here-attendant Master of Phynances! How
does that suit you, you sausage? (He begins to tear her to pieces.) a
MOTHER UBU: Mercy, Mr. Ubu! 2>
A loud noise at the entrance to the cave. 2

SCENE 2 05

The same, and Bougrelas, who rushes into the cave with his soldiers.
BOUGRELAS: Forward, my friends. Long live Poland!
FATHER UBU: Oh! Oh! Wait a moment, Mr. Pole. Wait until IVe finished
with madam my other half!
BOUGRELAS (hitting him): Take that, coward, tramp, braggart, laggard, Mus­
FATHER UBU (countering): Take that! Polack, drunkard, bastard, hussar, tar­
tar, pisspot, inkblot, sneak, freak, anarchist!
MOTHER UBU (hitting out also): Take that, prig, pig, rake, fake, snake, mis­
take, mercenary!
The soldiers throw themselves on the Ubus, who defend themselves as best
they can.
FATHER UBU: Gods! What a battle!
MOTHER UBU: Watch out for our feet, Gentlemen of Poland.
FATHER UBU: By my green candle, when will this endlessness be ended?
Another one! Ah, if only I had my Phynancial Horse here!
BOUGRELAS: Hit them, keep hitting them!
VOICES FROM WITHOUT: Long live Father Ubu, our Great Financier!
FATHER UBU: Ah! There they are. Hooray! There are the Father Ubuists.
Forward, come on, you're desperately needed, Gentlemen of Finance.
Enter the Palotins, who throw themselves into the fight.
COTICE: All out, you Poles!
PILE: Ho! We meet again, my Financial sir. Forward, push as hard as you
can, get to the exit; once outside, well run away.
FATHER UBU: Oh! He's my best man. Look the way he hits them!
BOUGRELAS: Good God! I'm wounded!
STANISLAS LECZINSKI: It's nothing, Sire.
BOUGRELAS: No, I'm just a little stunned.
JOHN SOBIESKI: Fight, keep fighting—they're getting to the door, the knaves.
COTICE: We're getting there; follow me, everybody. By couseyquence of the
whiche, the sky becomes visible.
PILE: Courage, Sire Ubu!
FATHER UBU: Oh! I just crapped in my pants. Forward, hornsbuggers! Killem,
bleedem, skinnem, massacrem, by Ubu's horn! Ah! It's quieting down.
COTICE: There are only two of them guarding the exit!
* FATHER UBU (knocking them down with the bear): And one, and two! Oof!
< Here I am outside! Let's run now! Follow, you others, and don't stop for
+ anything!


The scene represents the Province of Livonia covered with snow. The Ubus and
their followers are in flight
FATHER UBU: Ah! I think they've stopped trying to catch us.
MOTHER UBU: Yes, Bougrelas has gone to get himself crowned.
FATHER UBU: I don't envy him that crown, either.
MOTHER UBU: You're quite right, Father Ubu.
They disappear into the distance.


The bridge of a close-hauled schooner on the Baltic. Father Ubu and his entire
gang are on the bridge.
THE CAPTAIN: What a lovely breeze!
FATHER UBU: We are indeed-sailing with a rapidity which borders on the
miraculous. We must be making at least a million knots an hour, and
these knots have been tied so well that once tied they cannot be untied.
It's true that we have the wind behind us.
PILE: What a pathetic imbecile!
A squall arises, the ship rolls, the sea foams.
FATHER UBU: Oh! Ah! My God, we're going to capsize. The ship is leaning
over too far, it'll fall!
THE CAPTAIN: Everyone to leeward, furl the foresail!
FATHER UBU: Oh, no, don't put everybody on the same side! That's impru­
dent. What if the wind changed direction—everybody would sink to the
bottom of the sea and the fish would eat us.
THE CAPTAIN: Don't rush, line up and close ranks!
FATHER UBU: Yes, yes, rush! I'm in a hurry! Rush, do you hear! It's your fault
that we aren't getting there, brute of a captain. We should have been
there already. I'm going to take charge of this myself. Get ready to tack
about. Drop anchor, tack with the wind, tack against the wind. Run up
the sails, sun down the sails, tiller up, tiller down, tiller to the side. You
see, everything's going fine. Come broadside to the waves now and every­
thing will be perfect.
All are convulsed with laugher; the wind rises.
THE CAPTAIN: Haul over the jibsail, reef over the topsail!
FATHER UBU: That's not bad, it's even good! Swab out the steward and jump
in the crow's-nest.
Several chose with laughter. A wave is shipped.
Oh, what a deluge! All this is the result of the maneuvers which we just
MOTHER UBU and PILE: What a wonderful thing navigation is!
A second wave is shipped.
PILE (drenched): But watch out for Satan, his pomps and pumps.
FATHER UBU: Sir boy, get us something to drink.
They all sit down to drink.
MOTHER UBU: What a pleasure it will be to see our sweet France again, our
old friends and our castle of Mondragon!
FATHER UBU: We'll be there soon. At the moment we've passed below the
castle of Elsinore.
PILE: I feel cheerful at the thought of seeing my dear Spain again.
COTICE: Yes, and we'll amaze our countrymen with the stories of our won­
derful adventures.
FATHER UBU: Oh, certainly! And I'm going to get myself appointed Minister
of Finances in Paris.
MOTHER UBU: Oh, that's right! Oops, what a bump that was!
COTICE: That's nothing, we're just doubling the point of Elsinore.
PILE: And now our noble ship plows at full speed through the somber waves
of the North Sea.
FATHER UBU: A fierce and inhospitable sea, which bathes the shores of the
land called Germany, so named because the inhabitants of this land are
all cousins-german.
MOTHER UBU: That's what I call true learning. They say that this country is
very beautiful.
FATHER UBU: Ah! Gentlemen! Beautiful as it may be, it cannot compare with
Poland. For if there were no Poland, there would be no Poles!



Theater Questions

Alfred Jarry

What conditions are indispensable to the theater? I do not think we need

give any more thought to the question of whether the three unities are
necessary or whether the unity of action alone will suffice, and if everything
revolves around a single character, then the unity of action has had its due.
Nor do I think that we can argue either from Aristophanes or Shakespeare if
it is the public's susceptibilities that we are supposed to respect, since many
editions of Aristophanes have footnotes on every page stating: "The whole of
this passage is full of obscene allusions," and, as for Shakespeare, one only
has to reread certain of Ophelia's remarks, or the famous scene (nearly
always cut) in which a Queen is taking French lessons.
The alternative would appear to be to model ourselves on Messieurs
Augier, Dumas fils, Labiche, etc., whom we have had the misfortune to read,
and with profound tedium: it is more than likely that the members of the
younger generation, though they may have read these gentlemen, have not
the slightest recollection of having done so. I do not think there is the
slightest reason to give a work dramatic form unless one has invented a
character whom one finds it more convenient to let loose on a stage than to
analyze in a book.
And anyway, why should the public, which is illiterate by definition,
attempt quotations and comparisons? It criticized Ubu Roi for being a vulgar
imitation of Shakespeare and Rabelais, because "its sets are economically
replaced by a placard" and a certain word is repeated. People ought not to be
unaware of the fact that it is now more or less certain that never, at least never

Reprinted from Ubu Roi, Selected Works ofAlfred Jarry, ed. Roger Shattuck and Simon Watson
Taylor; trans. Barbara Wright (New York: Grove, 1965), 82-85, © 1961, by permission of New
since Shakespeare's day, have his plays been acted in any other way than
with sets and on a relatively perfected stage. Furthermore, people saw Ubu as
a work written in "old French" because we amused ourselves by printing it in
old-style type, and they thought "phynance" was sixteenth-century spelling. I
find so much more accurate the remark of one of the Poles in the crowd
scenes, who said that in his opinion "it's just like Musset, because the set
changes so frequently."
It would have been easy to alter Ubu to suit the taste of the Paris public by
making the following minor changes: the opening word would have been
Blast (or Blasttr), the unspeakable brush would have turned into a pretty
girl going to bed, the army uniforms would have been First-Empire style,
Ubu would have knighted the Czar, and various spouses would have been
cuckolded—but in that case it would have been filthier.
I intended that when the curtain went up, the scene should confront the
public like the exaggerating mirror in the stories of Mme Leprince de Beau­
mont, in which the depraved saw themselves with dragons' bodies, or bulls'
horns, or whatever corresponded to their particular vice. It is not surprising
that the public should have been aghast at the sight of its ignoble other self,
which it had never before been shown completely. This other self, as M.
Catulle Mendes has excellently said, is composed "of eternal human im­
becility, eternal lust, eternal gluttony, the vileness of instinct magnified into
tyranny; of the sense of decency, the virtues, the patriotism and the ideals
peculiar to those who have just eaten their fill." Really, these are hardly the
constituents for an amusing play, and the masks demonstrate that the com­
edy must at the most be the macabre comedy of an English clown, or of a
Dance of Death. Before Gemier agreed to play the part, Lugne-Poe had
learned Ubu's lines and wanted to rehearse the play as a tragedy. And what
no one seems to have understood—it was made clear enough, though, and
constantly recalled by Ma Ubu's continually repeated: "What an idiotic
man! . . . What a sorry imbecile!"—is that Ubu's speeches were not meant to
be full of witticisms, as various little ubuists claimed, but of stupid remarks,
uttered with all the authority of the Ape. And in any case the public, which
protests with bogus scorn that it contains "not a scrap of wit from beginning
to end," is still less capable of understanding anything profound. We know,
from our four years' observation of the public at the Theatre de l'CEuvre, that
if you are absolutely determined to give the public an inkling of something,
you must explain i t . . . beforehand.
The public does not understand Peer Gynt> which is one of the most
lucid plays imaginable, any more than it understands Baudelaire's prose or
Mallarme's precise syntax. [People] know nothing of Rimbaud, they only
heard of Verlaine's existence after he was dead, and they are terrified when
they hear Les Flaireurs or Pelleas et Melisande. They pretend to think writers
and artists a lot of crackpots, and some of them would like to purge all works
of art of everything spontaneous and quintessential, of every sign of superi-
ority, and to bowdlerize them so that they could have been written by the
public in collaboration. That is their point of view, and that of certain plagia­
rists, conscious and unconscious. Have we no right to consider the public
from our point of view?—the public that claims that we are madmen suffer­
ing from a surfeit of what it regards as hallucinatory sensations produced in
us by our exacerbated senses. From our point of view it is they who are the
madmen, but of the opposite sort—what scientists would call idiots. They are
suffering from a dearth of sensations, for their senses have remained so
rudimentary that they can perceive nothing but immediate impressions.
Does progress for them consist in drawing nearer to the brute beast or in
gradually developing their embryonic cerebral convolutions?
Since Art and the public's Understanding are so incompatible, we may
well have been mistaken in making a direct attack on the public in Ubu Roi;
[audiences] resented it because they understood it only too well, whatever
they may say. Ibsen's onslaught on crooked society was almost unnoticed. It
is because the public is [such] a mass—inert, obtuse, and passive—that it
needs to be shaken up from time to time so that we can tell from [its mem­
bers'] bearlike grunts where they are—and also where they stand. They are
pretty harmless, in spite of their numbers, because they are fighting against
intelligence. Ubu did not debrain all the nobles. They are like Cyrano de
Bergerac's Icicle-Animal, which does battle with the Fire-Beast—in any case
they would melt before they won, but even if they did win they would be
only too honored to hang the corpse of the sun-beast up against their mantel­
pieces and to allow its rays to illuminate their adipose tissue. It is a being so
different from them that its relation to them is like an exterior soul to their
Light is active and shade is passive, and light is not detached from shade
but, given sufficient time, penetrates it. Reviews which used to publish Lou's
novels are now printing a dozen pages of Verhaeren and several of Ibsen's
Time is necessary because people who are older than we—and whom we
respect for that reason—have lived among certain works which have the
charm of habitual objects for them, and they were born with the souls that
match these works, guaranteed to last until eighteen-ninety... odd. We shall
not try to push them out of our way—we are no longer in the seventeenth
century; we shall wait until their souls, which made sense in relation to
themselves and to the false values which surrounded them throughout their
lives, have come to a full stop (even though we have not waited). We too
shall become solemn, fat, and Ubu-like and shall publish extremely classical
books which will probably lead to our becoming mayors of small towns
where, when we become academicians, the blockheads constituting the
local intelligentsia will present us with Sevres vases, while they present their
mustaches on velvet cushions to our children. And another lot of young
people will appear and consider us completely out of date, and they will
write ballads to express their loathing of us, and that is just the way things
should always be.

Intimate Theater/
Chamber Drama

a; ugust [Johan] Strindberg, playwright, novelist, painter, and

dramatic theorist, was born on January 22, 1849, in Stock­
holm, Sweden. Before turning to playwriting in the 1880s,
Strindberg worked as a teacher, librarian, journalist, and actor. Strind­
berg was not the misogynist he is often declared to be, but his relation­
ships with women were complicated by the idiosyncrasies of his per­
sonality. And since he was surely one of the most subjective of writers,
his three marriages provided background (and foreground!) materials
for much of his fiction as well as drama. A prolific author, Strindberg
wrote more than sixty plays in four decades, and his extensive theoret­
ical writings on drama show him to have been acutely aware of his role as
an innovator.
His plays are traditionally divided into two major stages—his Naturalist pe­
riod of the late 1880s and early 1890s, and his predominantly Expressionist
period (which also includes some Swedish history plays) from 1898 on—though
his focus on the psychology of his characters remains consistent. Of the Natural­
ist plays, The Father (1887) and Miss Julie (1888) are the most frequently pro­
duced. A reaction against the standard French intrigue drama with its elaborate
plot and typed characters, these works combine a scrupulous attention to the
Aristotelian unities with the exploration of heredity, milieu, and immediate cir­
cumstances as the bases for the drawing of complex, modern characters.
From 1894 to 1896, Strindberg underwent a series of psychotic episodes,
commonly called his "inferno crisis," which led him to delve into alchemy and the
occult. From this point on, his plays display a preoccupation with distorted inner
states of mind. The fragmentation of personality so characteristic of Strind-
berg's Expressionism first appears in To Damascus (Part 1, 1898), a play with
biblical overtones but at the same time a projection of the problems of the
dramatist's second marriage. The full-blown Expressionism that followed is
chiefly represented by A Dream Play (1901)—which did so much to free the stage
from the time- and space-bound assumptions of Naturalism—and is also seen in
the earlier Dance of Death (1900). Paralleling and enlarging on many of the
discoveries made around the same time in the fields of psychology and psycho­
analysis, these latter plays depend not on the classical unities but instead on the
individual, subjective mind for their overall shape, with the erratic structure of
dreams playing a prominent part in their creation.
The Ghost Sonata, the third in a series of four "chamber plays" he wrote in
1907 (the other three being Storm Weather, The Burned House, and The Pelican, to
which The Black Glove was added in 1909), invokes a similar characterological
^ subjectivity for the purpose of gradually revealing the real human horror lurking
|JJ behind the facade of affluence and respectability. In the chamber plays, which
< emphasize mood over plot, Strindberg attempted to find the theatrical equiv-
I alent to chamber music at the same time as he worked variations on the theme
m of the disparity between appearance and reality. He wrote all of them for the
Jj 161 -seat Intimate Theater in Stockholm (even as chamber music is written to be
Z performed in a room rather than a concert hall), which he founded and ran with
£ August Falck from 1907 to 1910. Strindberg died of stomach cancer on May 14,
— 1912, in Stockholm. Although they enjoyed only limited success in Sweden
^ during his own lifetime, both Strindberg's Naturalistic and his Expressionistic
oo plays quickly gained appreciation abroad, especially in Germany. His work has
*H influenced an extraordinarily wide range of movements in modern as well as
avant-garde drama, including Naturalism, Expressionism, Surrealism, and the
Theater of the Absurd.
Strindberg as Dramatist
T^mm ^ L i he Ghost Sonata seethes with indignation as Strindberg's scorn
h^J ■ and contempt for the world find expression in some of the most
rj^^ %J grotesque and theatrically stunning scenes in modern drama. To
say what he felt, Strindberg had to invent a new dramatic language that
Ijttr has been called, by turns, Surrealistic, Expressionistic, or even Symbol­
ist, a language in which metaphors assume life. To say "time hangs heavy" is one
thing; to picture, as Dali has done, a watch hanging heavily is another. To say that
the sweet young thing you once knew now looks like an old mummy is one thing;
to have this woman imagine herself a mummy and comport herself like one, as
Strindberg has her do, is another.
The artistic originality of The Ghost Sonata and the visionary intensity of its
best scenes have made this by far the best known of the Chamber Plays. But
critics seem reluctant to declare that the play possesses any great coherence.
The stumbling block to most interpretations is the last scene, which can easily
appear redundant. The plot peters out after the "ghost supper" of the second
scene, and the third scene comes as an anticlimax. After the unmasker Hummel
has been unmasked, what more is there to hold our attention?
The answer lies in what Strindberg was trying to say. "No predetermined
form is binding on the author because the subject matter determines the form"
(SS, 50:12): that was the principle behind the Chamber Plays. He wanted the
theatergoer to respond to this new kind of theater music in the same way that a
listener responds to chamber music in the recital hall. The ordinary listener
cannot do what the music student does when he pores over the score and sees
how the parts are related to each other and how the themes are intertwined.
But the listener will be able to follow the music all the same, just as the sensitive
theatergoer will be able to catch the drift of Strindberg's play without under­
standing what is going on at every moment. In fact, absolute clarity would dispel
meaning because a major concern of the play is our inability to know exactly
what is going on in life. As in life, so in science. The modern physicist has found
that the more precisely he determines the position of a subatomic particle, the
less he knows about its momentum, and the more he knows about its momen­
tum, the less he knows about its position. This vexing situation, which led
Heisenberg in 1923 to formulate his indeterminacy principle, has its counterpart
in the macrocosm. The more narrowly we focus our attention on a particular
human crisis, the less we know about the general tendency of our lives; and the
more clearly we delineate the general tendency, the less able we are to isolate
the specific cause of an event. Nothing is easier to prove or disprove than why a
person acted as he did. Yet just as the physicist, though ignorant of the behavior
of a specific particle, can predict statistically what the aggregate of particles will
do, so Strindberg believed that human activity in its entirety was governed by
some law.

Excerpted from Evert Sprinchorn, Strindberg as Dramatist (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University
Press, 1982), 259-70.
Long before Heisenberg discovered the indeterminacy principle, Strindberg
made use of something like it in this drama. Hummel's explanation to the Student
of the relationship of the people of the house to one another is hopelessly
complicated. In an ordinary play, this explanation, which explains nothing and
confuses everybody, would be exposition of the worst sort. Here it establishes
the confusing entanglements that constitute the subject. Strindberg's aim was to
create a network of allusions, of interrelated images, that would be the theatrical
counterpart of the infinitely complicated cosmic web woven by inner and outer
forces. In the naturalistic view of man, causes and effects can be isolated; in the
Buddhist view, the strands that go into the making of our lives are so numerous
tf and so entangled with strands from other lives in the making that all one can
JU perceive, at best, is a general pattern. Just how the little curlicues that are
< continuously being woven into the fabric of our lives come to form this particu-
I lar pattern can be observed only occasionally. It is this sense of complexity, this
m growing awareness that things are somehow related without our knowing ex-
Jj actly how, that Strindberg wanted to convey.
r The problem was one of organizing the myriad allusions and references into
£ a scheme that would guide the half-conscious thoughts of the viewer. In dramatic
- terms, it was a question of finding a through-line. Eliot and Joyce faced the same
t problem, in The Waste Land and Ulysses, respectively, where they had to sacrifice
o narrative development for inner revelation in order to express a view of life that
TH had less to do with time and space and progress than with stillness and spirit and
regeneration. While picturing the fragmentation of life in modern times, Eliot
brought order into his poem by making the various sections of it represent the
search for the Holy Grail. He found his through-line in Jessie L Weston's Frazer-
inspired examination of medieval legend. Strindberg found his in the mystic-
religious philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg.

The view in this play is not from a point near the end of life, as in The Burned
House, but from a point on the other side of the grave. In this, his most extrava­
gant work, Strindberg takes us on a journey into death, lets us leave the body and
enter the world of spirits. The steamship bells at the beginning signal the start of
the journey, which will end at the Isle of the Dead. Like the people in the play, we
hardly know that we have left the natural world because the life of the body is
continued into the other world. "The first state of man after death," says Swe­
denborg, resembles his state in the world, for he is then likewise in externals,
having a like face, like speech, and a like disposition, thus a like moral and civil life;
and in consequence he is made aware that he is not still in the world only by
giving attention to what he encounters (Heaven and Hell, n. 493). What we
encounter is a spectral milkmaid, a dead consul who appears in his winding sheet
to count his mourners, and a young student who tells a strange story about
saving a child from a collapsing building only to have the child disappear from his
arms. By this time, it should dawn on us that the child disappeared because she
was saved and remained in the natural world.
Before us is the facade of an elegant apartment house. This set represents
exteriors, the first state of man after death, the state that corresponds to the
world of social accommodation and legal inhibition. The second scene takes us
into the house, into the Round Room, where the Mummy appears. This repre­
sents the state of interiors, where the spirits become, to quote Swedenborg,
"visibly just what they had been in themselves while in the world, what they then
did and said secretly being now made manifest" (Heaven and Hell, n. 507). Here
Swedenborg provided the inspiration for the graphic and theatrical disrobing
scene in which Hummel strips the Colonel of his decorations and exposes him as
a social sham, only to be unmasked himself by the Mummy as a criminal and a
stealer of souls. The Round Room is what Strindberg elsewhere calls "the
undressing room into which the deceased are led immediately after death. There
they remove the vesture they were compelled to put on in society and with
friends and family; and the angels soon see them for what they are" (SS, 46:49-
The hymn to the sun, intoned by the Student, provides a fitting conclusion to
the scene both because of what it says about kindness and guilelessness and
because of its source. Strindberg freely adapted it from some stanzas of the
Icelandic Solarljod, a visionary poem, Catholic in inspiration, containing a descrip­
tion of the moment of death—"I saw the sun"—and of hell and heaven by a man
who from the other side of the grave is able to communicate with his living son.
The third and last scene, the Hyacinth Room, represents in the Sweden-
borgian plan the third state of man after death, a place of instruction and prepa­
ration for those who may merit a place in heaven. The essentially good spirit, like
the Hyacinth Girl, must be vastated and purged of evils and falsities acquired on
earth. The Student functions here as a vastating spirit, confronting her with the
ugly truths of life and removing evils and falsities from her in order that she may
receive the influx of goods and truths from heaven. As he speaks to her, she
pines and withers away.
The three sets of the play also correspond approximately to what the the-
osophists, following the cabalists, call the three dwellings of the soul: Earth for
the physical man, or the animal Soul; Kama-Loka (Hades, the Limbo) for the
disembodied man, or his Shell; Devachan for the higher Triad. The shell is the
astral form of the soul; it is the body that is left behind when the highest aspect of
the soul, the mind, departs for Devachan or nirvana, that condition of the soul in
which passion, hatred, and delusion are no more.
The Buddhist and Christian hints dropped at the beginning of the play con­
tinue to ripple through it and to intermingle, especially in the latter half. The
room in which the unmasking of the Colonel and the old man takes place is both
Kama-Loka and hell. In the last scene, the Student speaks of Christ's sufferings
on earth, while a small statue of Buddha expresses purity of will and the patience
to endure. The shallot in its lap symbolizes the relation of matter to spirit
(Swedenborg's correspondences) and man's striving to raise earth to heaven. In
the final moments, what is seen and what is heard fuse together into a sublime
poetic image of radiant theatricality: the harp bursting into sound, the Student's
solemn hymn to the sun, the white refulgent light burning away the reality that is
only an illusion, and the emergence in the distance of the Isle of the Dead (via a
back projection of Bocklin's painting). The light that floods the room and causes
it to disappear is the light of death, of nirvana, and of divine wisdom and love. In
the Solarljod, the dying man sees the sun and knows the truth about life as he
passes over the threshold. In Swedenborg, the sun is the symbol of God's love,
and when the angels draw the film from the eyes of a dying person, he sees a
bright white light that represents eternal life. In Mahayana Buddhism, the Buddha
is the pure light that banishes the darkness of ghosts, of the animal world, of hell;
it is the light of the great mind and power that lights the way to the land of
happiness; it is the light of truth, purity, and mercy.

On the cover of the manuscript of the play, Strindberg drew a picture of

tf Buddha's shallot. He gave the play the subtitle "Kama-Loka"; he thought of calling
£ it 'The Ghost Supper"; but he finally settled on The Ghost Sonata, which suggests
jj both the extraterrestrial setting of the play and its musical structure. The Sonata
I title is certainly the most fitting, for unless one treats the play as a kind of musical
UJ composition, it is impossible to appreciate its artistic wholeness and the way in
Jj which all the pieces fit together. Although it is often faulted for lacking coher-
Z ence, especially in the last scene, the play is, in fact, a miracle of artistic organiza-
£ tion, a work of Wagnerian intricacy and contrivance composed with Mozartean
- ease in which everything seems casual and improvised and yet nothing in it is
^ adventitious. In an ideal production, the perfect Strindbergite would quickly
CQ forget about character analysis and conventional plot development and would
TH respond to symbols and elusive harmonies and thematic development. He would
quickly understand that the plot is not designed to reveal what Hummel once in
his dark past did to the Milkmaid. He would sense immediately that Hummel and
the Milkmaid are thematic opposites, the bloodsucker versus the nourisher-
nurturer, and nod at the recognition of Hummel and the Cook as thematic
companions. When Hummel is described as a man who tears down houses,
sneaks in through windows, and ravages human lives, the Strindbergite would
remember that the Student saves the life of a baby caught in a collapsing house
and that the Milkmaid offers aid to the Student. He would hear character an­
swering character, but he would sense theme answering theme. He would know
that it is both musically and morally right that after Hummel exposes the Colonel
as a valet who used to flirt with the maids in order to scrounge in the kitchen,
Hummel himself should be exposed as being exactly what he accused the Colo­
nel of being. And he would experience aesthetic delight in seeing the evil Cook in
the last scene suddenly emerge from the kitchen in which Hummel and the
Colonel had their beginnings. But instead of perfect Strindbergites, we have
critics who shake their heads grumpily at the Cook and reproach Strindberg for
putting his petty domestic problems into a play.
Being distinct from one another in setting, tempo, and mood, the three
scenes must be regarded as corresponding to the three movements of a sonata
(Strindberg himself alluded to Beethoven's piano Sonata in D minor, opus 31, no.
2), even though the themes set forth at the beginning are developed through the
whole work. The first and longest scene, unsurpassed in modern drama for
sheer dramaturgical virtuosity, is a brisk allegro, its mood sustained by the
youthful buoyancy of the Student and by the grasping eagerness of the Old Man
as they lay their plans for entering the house of elegance. In sharp contrast is the
second scene or movement, the largo. To its slow tempo and its long silences the
ghost supper is eaten, the masks removed, the interiors revealed.
The final scene is a quiet andante, which stresses the principal theme of the
whole sonata and brings it to a close with a brilliant coda that restates all the
themes: the world is a sham composed of lies, deceits, and illusions; to live is to
be guilty; and death represents a settling of accounts. W h e n the Student de­
scribes his father's disastrous dinner party at which all the guests were told off
and their true natures were revealed, we are reminded not only of the ghost
supper of the second scene but also of what is happening at this moment as the
Student speaks to the girl and destroys her. The Student's strength is now being
sucked from him and only the death of the Hyacinth Girl saves him. Freed at last
from the Three Poisons that Buddha speaks of—the poison of desiring individual
existence, the poison of ignorance, and the poison of sensual longing—the Stu­
dent faces nirvana, the state of perfect calm, the extinction of aversion, confu­
sion, and passion, as the Isle of the Dead looms in the distance.

Works Cited
Strindberg, August. Samlade skrifter. Ed. John Landquist. 55 vols. Stockholm, Sweden,
1912-1920. Cited as SS.
Swedenborg, Emanuel. Heaven and Its Wonders and Hell. Trans. John C. Ager. New York:
Swedenborg Foundation, 1949. Cited as Heaven and Hell.

Select Bibliography on Strindberg

Cardullo, Bert. "Ingmar Bergman's Concept for His 1973 Production of The Ghost Sonata:
A Dramaturg's Response." Essays in Arts and Sciences 14(1985): 33-48.
Jarvi, Raymond. "Strindberg's The Ghost Sonata and Sonata Form." Mosaic 5.4 (1972): 6 9 -
Johnson, Walter. August Strindberg. Boston: Twayne, 1976.
Meyer, Michael. August Strindberg: A Life. New York: Random House, 1985.
Reinert, Otto, ed. Strindberg: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:
Prentice-Hall, 1971.
Steene, Birgitta. The Greatest Fire: A Study ofAugust Strindberg. Carbondale: Southern
Illinois University Press, 1973; rev. as August Strindberg: An Introduction to His Major
Works. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1982.
Stockenstrom, Goran, ed. Strindberg's Dramaturgy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Press, 1988.
. " The Journey from the Isle of Life to the Isle of Death': The Idea of Reconciliation
in The Ghost Sonata." Scandinavian Studies 50 (1978): 133-49.
Tornqvist, Egil. Strindbergian Drama: Themes and Structure. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.:
Humanities Press, 1982.

See also Bergman; Lambert; McFarlane; Nicoll; and Swerling, in the General Bibliography.
T h e Ghost Sonata

August Strindberg


THE OLD MAN, Director Hummel

THE STUDENT, Arkenholz
THE MILKMAID, an apparition
THE DEAD MAN, a Consul
THE LADY IN BLACK, daughter ofthe Dead Man and the Superintendent's wife
THE MUMMY, the Colonel's wife
THE YOUNG LADY, the Colonel's daughter, but actually the Old Mans
BARON SKANSKORG, engaged to the Lady in Black
JOHANSSON, Hummel's servant
BENGTSSON, The Colonel's footman
THE FIANCEE, a white-haired old woman, formerly engaged to Hummel

Reprinted from Strindberg: Five Plays, trans. Harry G. Carlson (Berkeley: University of Califor­
nia Press, 1983), 535-54.

(Outside a fashionable apartment building. Only a corner and the first two
floors are visible. The ground floor ends in the Round Room; the floor above
ends in a balcony with a flagpole.
When the curtains are drawn up in the Round Room, a white marble
statue of a young woman can be seen, surrounded by palms and lit brightly by
the sun. In the window to the left are potted hyacinths in blue, white, and pink.
Hanging on the railing of the balcony are a blue silk quilt and two white
pillows. The windows to the left are draped with white sheets [in Sweden the
indication that someone has died]. It is a clear Sunday morning.
Standing in front of the house downstage is a green bench.
Downstage right is a public fountain, downstage left a freestanding col-
umn covered with posters and announcements.
In the house faqade upstage left is the entrance. The steps leading up to the
door are of white marble, the railings of mahogany with brass fittings. Flank-
ing the steps on the sidewalk are laurels in tubs.
The corner of the house with the Round Room faces a side street which runs
To the left of the entrance door a mirror is mounted outside a window
[enabling the occupant of that apartment to observe, without being seen, what
is happening in the street].
As the curtain rises, church bells can be heard in the distance.
All the doors visible in the house are open. A woman dressed in black
stands motionless on the steps.
The SUPERINTENDENT'S WIFE in turn sweeps the vestibule, polishes the
brass on the front door, and waters the laurels.
The OLD MAN sits reading a newspaper in a wheelchair near the poster
column. He has white hair and a beard and wears glasses.
The MILKMAID enters from around the corner carrying bottles in a wire
basket. She is wearing a summer dress, with brown shoes, black stockings, and
a white cap. She takes off her cap and hangs it on the fountain, wipes the
sweat from her brow, takes a drink from a dipper in the fountain, washes her
hands, and arranges her hair, using the water as a mirror.
A steamboat's bell can be heard, and from time to time the bass notes of an
organ in a nearby church penetrate the silence.
The silence continues for a few moments after the MILKMAID has finished
her toilet. Then the STUDENT enters left, sleepless and unshaven, and crosses
directly to the fountain. Pause)
STUDENT: Can I borrow the dipper? (The MILKMAID hugs the dipper to her.)
Aren't you through using it? (She stares at him in terror.)
OLD MAN (to himself): Who is he talking to?—I don't see anyone!—Is he
crazy? (continues to stare at them in amazement)
STUDENT (to the MILKMAID): Why are you staring? Do I look so frightening?—
Well, I didn't sleep last night and I guess you think IVe been out ca­
rousing . . . (the MILKMAID as before) Think IVe been drinking, huh?—Do
I smell of whiskey? (the MILKMAID as before) I didn't shave, I know t h a t . . .
Give me a drink of water, girl, IVe earned it! (pause) All right, I suppose I
have to tell you. All night IVe been bandaging wounds and tending
injured people. I was there, you see, when the house collapsed last
night... Now you know. (The MILKMAID rinses the dipper and gives him a
drink.) Thanks! (The MILKMAID stands motionless. The STUDENT con-
tinues slowly.) Would you do me a big favor? (pause) The thing is, my
eyes are inflamed, as you can see. Since my hands have been touching
the injured and the dead, I don't dare bring them near my eyes... Would
you take my clean handkerchief, moisten it in fresh water, and bathe my
poor eyes?—Would you?—Would you be a good Samaritan? (The MILK-
o: MAID hesitates but does as he asks.) Thank you, friend! (He takes out his
co wallet. She makes a gesture of refusal.) Forgive me, that was thoughtless,
2 but I'm not really awake . . .
* OLD MAN (to the STUDENT): Excuse me, but I heard you say that you were at
<0 the accident last n i g h t . . . I was just reading about it in the paper . . .
^ STUDENT: Is it already in the paper?
§g OLD MAN: Yes, the whole story. And your picture too. But they regret they
^ couldn't learn the name of the very able student...
STUDENT (looking at the paper): Really? Yes, that's me! Well!
OLD MAN: Whom were you talking to just now?
STUDENT: Didn't you see? (pause)
OLD MAN: Would you think me rude if I . .. asked your name?
STUDENT: What for? I don't want any publicity.—First comes praise, then
criticism.—Slandering people has become a fine art nowadays.—Be­
sides, I didn't ask for any reward .. .
OLD MAN: You're wealthy, eh?
STUDENT: Not at all. .. on the contrary. I'm penniless.
OLD MAN: You know... there's something familiar about your voice. I've only
met one other person who pronounces things the way you do. Are you
possibly related to a wholesale merchant by the name of Arkenholz?
STUDENT: He was my father.
OLD MAN: Strange are the ways of fate . . . I saw you when you were little,
under very painful circumstances. ..
STUDENT: Yes, they say I came into the world in the middle of bankruptcy
proceedings . . .
OLD MAN: That's right.
STUDENT: Can I ask what your name is?
OLD MAN: My name is Hummel.
STUDENT: Are you . . . ? Yes, I r e m e m b e r . . .
OLD MAN: You've heard my n a m e mentioned often in your family?
OLD MAN: And probably mentioned with a certain ill will? (The STUDENT
remains silent.) Yes, I can imagine!—I suppose you heard that I was the
one who ruined your father?—People w h o ruin themselves through stu­
pid speculation always blame the o n e person they couldn't fool for their
ruin, (pause) T h e truth is that your father swindled m e out of seventeen
thousand crowns—my whole life savings at t h e time.
STUDENT: It's amazing how a story can be told in two such different ways.
OLD MAN: You don't think I'm lying, do you?
STUDENT: W h a t else can I think? M y father never lied! 8
OLD MAN: That's very true. A father never lies . . . b u t I too a m a father, and §
consequently... <$/>
STUDENT: W h a t are you trying to say? o
OLD MAN: I saved your father from disaster, a n d h e repaid m e with all the j{
terrible hatred of a m a n who feels obliged to be grateful. H e taught his
family to speak ill of m e . +
STUDENT: Maybe you m a d e h i m ungrateful by poisoning your charity with co
unnecessary humiliations.
OLD MAN: All charity is humiliating, young m a n .
STUDENT: W h a t do you want of me?
OLD MAN: I'm not asking for money. If you would perform a few services for
me, I'd be well repaid. As you can see, I'm a cripple. Some people say it's
my own fault; others blame my parents. Personally, I believe life itself is
to blame, waiting in ambush for us, a n d if you avoid o n e trap, you walk
straight into another. However—I can't r u n u p a n d down stairs or ring
doorbells. And so, I'm asking you: help m e !
STUDENT: W h a t can I do?
OLD MAN: First of all, push my chair so that I can read those posters. I want to
see what's playing t o n i g h t . . .
STUDENT (pushing the wheelchair): D o n ' t you have a m a n to help you?
OLD MAN: Yes, but he's away on an errand . . . be back soon . . . Are you a
medical student?
STUDENT: N o , I'm studying languages. But I really don't know what I want to
OLD MAN: Aha.—How are you at mathematics?
STUDENT: Fairly good.
OLD MAN: Fine.—Would you like a job?
STUDENT: Sure, why not?
OLD MAN: Good! (reading the posters) They're giving a matinee of The
Valkyrie ... That means the Colonel and his daughter will be there. And
since he always sits on the aisle in the sixth row, I'll put you next to them.
Would you go into that telephone booth and reserve a ticket for seat
number eighty-two in the sixth row?
STUDENT: You want me to go to the opera in the middle of the day?
OLD MAN: Yes. You do as I tell you, and you'll be well rewarded. I want you to
be happy, rich, and respected. Your debut yesterday as a courageous
rescuer will make you famous overnight. Your name will be really worth
STUDENT [crossing to the booth): What an amusing adventure . . .
OLD MAN: Are you a gambler?
2 STUDENT: Yes, unfortunately .. .
oi OLD MAN: We'll make that "fortunately"!—Make the call! (He reads his news-
z paper. The LADY IN BLACK has come out on the sidewalk to speak to the
£ SUPERINTENDENT'S WIFE; the OLD MAN listens to them, but the audience
a hears nothing. The STUDENT returns.) Is it all arranged?
t STUDENT: It's all arranged.
oo OLD MAN: Have you ever seen this house before?
^ STUDENT: I certainly have! . . . I walked by here yesterday when the sun was
blazing on its windows—and could picture all the beauty and luxury
there must be inside. I said to my friend: "Imagine owning an apartment
there, four flights up, a beautiful young wife, two lovely little children,
and an independent income of 20,000 crowns a year..."
OLD MAN: Did you say that? Did you say that? Well! I too love that house . . .
STUDENT: You speculate in houses?
OLD MAN: Mmm, yes. But not in the way you think . . .
STUDENT: Do you know the people who live here?
OLD MAN: All of them. At my age you know everyone, their fathers and
forefathers before them, and we're all kin, in some way or another.—I just
turned eighty—but no one knows me, not really.—I take an interest in
people's destinies... (The curtains in the Round Room are drawn up. The
COLONEL can be seen inside, dressed in civilian clothes. After looking at
the thermometer, he crosses away from the window to stand in front of the
statue.) Look, there's the Colonel you'll sit next to this afternoon . . .
STUDENT: Is that—the Colonel? I don't understand any of this. It's like a fairy
tale . . .
OLD MAN: My whole life is like a book of fairy tales, young man. But although
the tales are different, a single thread joins them together, and the same
theme, the leitmotif, returns again and again, like clockwork.
STUDENT: Is that statue of someone?
OLD MAN: It's his wife, of course . . .
STUDENT: Was she that wonderful?
OLD MAN: U h , yes. Yes!
STUDENT: Tell m e , really!
OLD MAN: It's not for us to judge other people, my boy!—If I were to tell you
that she left h i m , that h e beat her, that she returned a n d remarried h i m
and now sits in there like a m u m m y , worshipping her own statue, you'd
think I was crazy.
STUDENT: What? I don't understand!
OLD MAN: I can well believe it.—Then we have the hyacinth window. That's
his daughter's room . . . She's out riding, b u t she'll be h o m e soon . . .
STUDENT: Who's the dark lady talking to the caretaker? S
OLD MAN: Well, you see, that's a little complicated. It has to do with the dead §
m a n , u p there, where you see the white sheets hanging . . . t»
STUDENT: W h o was h e ? (§
OLD MAN: H e was a h u m a n being, like the rest of us. But the most conspic- -c
uous thing about h i m was his v a n i t y . . . If you were a Sunday child, you'd 4
soon see h i m c o m e out t h e front door to look at the consulate flag flying ♦
at half-mast in his honor.—He was a consul, you see, a n d adored coro- co
nets, lions, p l u m e d hats, and colored ribbons.
STUDENT: You mentioned a Sunday child—I'm told I was born on a S u n d a y . . .
OLD MAN: No! Were you . . . ? I might have known i t . . . I saw it in the color of
your e y e s . . . b u t then you can see what others can't see. Have you ever
noticed that?
STUDENT: I don't know what others see, b u t sometimes . . . Well, things like
that you don't talk about.
OLD MAN: I was almost certain of it! But you can talk about them with me . . .
because I—understand such t h i n g s . . .
STUDENT: Yesterday, for example . . . I was drawn to that secluded street
where the house later collapsed . . . I walked down it and stopped in front
of a building I'd never seen before . . . Then I noticed a crack in the wall,
and heard the floorboards breaking. I ran forward and snatched up a
child who was walking under the wall . . . The next moment the house
collapsed . . . I was rescued, but in my arms, where I thought I held the
child, there was nothing . . .
OLD MAN: Amazing . . . And I thought that. . . Tell me something: why were
you gesturing just now by the fountain? And why were you talking to
STUDENT: Didn't you see the milkmaid I was talking to?
OLD MAN (terrified): Milkmaid?
STUDENT: Yes, certainly. The girl who handed me the dipper.
OLD MAN: Is that right? So, that's what it was . . . Well, even if I can't see, there
are other things I can do . . . (A white-haired woman sits down at the
window with the mirror.) Look at that old woman in the window! Do you
see her?—Good! She was once my fiancee, sixty years ago . . . I was
twenty then.—Don't be alarmed, she doesn't recognize me. We see each
other every day, but I feel nothing, despite that we swore to be true to
each other then—forever!
STUDENT: How indiscreet your generation was! Young people don't talk like
that nowadays.
OLD MAN: Forgive us, young man. We didn't know any better!—But can you
see that that old woman was once young and beautiful?
STUDENT: It doesn't show. Though I like the way she looks around, I can't see
0 her eyes. (The SUPERINTENDENT'S WIFE comes out of the house and hangs
UJ a funeral wreath on the front door.)

Q OLD MAN: That's the Superintendent's Wife.—The Lady in Black over there
- is her daughter by the dead man upstairs. That's why her husband got the
H job as superintendent. . . but the Lady in Black has a lover, an aristocrat
^ with grand expectations. He's in the process of getting a divorce, and his
♦ wife is giving him a mansion to get rid of him. This aristocratic lover is
5 son-in-law to the dead man whose bedclothes you see being aired up
there on the balcony... As I said, it's all very complicated.
STUDENT: It's damned complicated!
OLD MAN: Yes, but that's the way it is, internally and externally. Though it
looks simple.
STUDENT: Yes, but then who was the dead man?
OLD MAN: You just asked me and I told you. If you could see around the
corner, by the service entrance, you'd notice a crowd of poor people,
whom he used to help .. . when he felt like i t . . .
STUDENT: So he was a kind man, then?
OLD MAN: Yes . . . sometimes.
STUDENT: Not always?
OLD MAN: No! . . . That's the way people are. Oh, young man, push my
wheelchair a little, into the sun! I'm so terribly cold. When you never get
to move around, the blood congeals.—I'm going to die soon, I know that.
But before I do, I have a few things to take care of.—Take my hand and
feel how cold I am.
STUDENT: Yes, incredibly! (He tries in vain to free his hand.)
OLD MAN: Don't leave me. I'm tired, I'm lonely, but I haven't always been
like this, you know. I have an infinitely long life behind me—infinitely.—
I've made people unhappy, but they've made me unhappy. The one
cancels out the other. Before I die, I want to see you happy . . . Our
destinies are intertwined through your father—and in other ways too . . .
STUDENT: But let go of my hand! You're draining my strength, you're freezing
me. What do you want of me?
OLD MAN: Patience, and you'll see and understand . . . Here comes the young
STUDENT: The Colonel's daughter?
OLD MAN: Yes! "His daughter"! Look at her!—Have you ever seen such a
STUDENT: She's like the marble statue in there . . .
OLD MAN: Well, that is her mother!
STUDENT: You're right.—Never have I seen such a woman of woman born.—
Happy the man who leads her to the altar and his home.
OLD MAN: You can see it!—Not everyone recognizes her beauty . . . Well, so it
is written. (The YOUNG LADY enters left, wearing an English riding habit
She crosses slowly', without looking at anyone, to the front door, where she
stops and says a few words to the SUPERINTENDENT'S WIFE. She then enters
the house. The STUDENT covers his eyes with his hand.) Are you crying?
STUDENT: In the face of what's hopeless there can be only despair!
OLD MAN: But I can open doors and hearts if I but find a hand to do my
w i l l . . . Serve me and you shall prevail!
STUDENT: Is this some kind of pact? Do I have to sell my soul?
OLD MAN: Sell nothing!—You see, all my life I have taken. Now I have a
desperate longing to be able to give! give! But no one will accept... I am
rich, very rich, but I have no heirs, except for a good-for-nothing who
plagues the life out of me . . . Be like a son to me. Be my heir while I'm
still alive. Enjoy life while I'm here to see it, even if just from a distance.
STUDENT: What am I to do?
OLD MAN: First, go and listen to The Valkyrie.
STUDENT: As good as done. What else?
OLD MAN: Tonight you shall sit in there, in the Round Room.
STUDENT: How do I get there?
OLD MAN: By way of The Valkyrie!
STUDENT: Why have you chosen me as your medium? Did you know me
OLD MAN: Yes, of course! I've had my eyes on you for a long time . . . But look,
up on the balcony. The maid is raising the flag to half-mast for the
Consul . . . and she's turning the bedclothes . . . Do you see that blue
quilt?—Once two people slept under it, but now only one . . . (The YOUNG
LADY, her clothes changed, appears at the window to water the hyacinths.)
Ah, there's my little girl. Look at her, look!—She's talking to the flowers.
Isn't she like a blue hyacinth herself? . . . She's giving them drink, just
ordinary water, and they transform the water into color and fragrance . . .
Here comes the Colonel with a newspaper!—He's showing her the story
about the house collapsing . . . He's pointing out your picture! She's
interested . . . she's reading about your bravery . . . I think it's getting
cloudy. What if it should rain? I'll be in fine fix if Johansson doesn't come
back soon . . . (It grows cloudy and dark. The old woman at the mirror
closes her window.) My fiancee is closing her window . . . seventy-nine
years old. . . . That mirror is the only mirror she uses, because she can't
see herself in it, just the outside world in two different directions. But the
world can see her, and that she didn't think o f . . . A beautiful little old
lady though . . . (The DEAD MAN, in his winding-sheet, comes out the front
STUDENT: Oh my God!
O OLD MAN: What's the matter?
UJ STUDENT: Don't you see? There, in the doorway, the dead man!
Q OLD MAN: I see nothing, but I expected this! Go on .. .
2 STUDENT: He's going out into the street... (pause) Now he's turning his head
jjj to look at the flag.
♦ OLD MAN: What did I tell you? Now he'll count the funeral wreaths and read
^ the names on the cards . . . God help those who are missing!
TH STUDENT: Now he's turning the corner . . .
OLD MAN: He's gone to count the poor people at the service entrance . . .
They'll add a nice touch to his obituary: "Accompanied to his grave by
the blessings of ordinary citizens." Well, he won't have my blessing!—Just
between us, he was a great scoundrel. ..
STUDENT: But charitable . . .
OLD MAN: A charitable scoundrel, who always dreamed of a beautiful
funeral . . . When he felt that the end was near, he fleeced the govern­
ment of fifty thousand crowns! . . . Now his daughter is having an affair
with another woman's husband and wondering if she's in his will... The
scoundrel can hear every word we say, and he deserves it!—Ah, here's
Johansson! (JOHANSSON enters from left.) Report! (JOHANSSON speaks hut
the audience cannot hear.) Not at home, eh? You're an ass!—Any tele­
grams?—Nothing at all! . . . Go on, go on! . . . Six o'clock this evening?
That's fine!—An extra edition?—And his name in full! Arkenholz, stu­
dent, born . . . parents . . . splendid . . . I think it's starting to rain . . . What
did he have to say? . . . Is that right?—He doesn't want to?—Well, he'll just
have to!—Here comes the aristocratic lover!—Push me around the cor­
ner, Johansson, I want to hear what the poor people are saying... Arken­
holz, you wait for me here . . . do you understand?—Hurry up, hurry up!
(JOHANSSON pushes the chair around the corner. The STUDENT remains
behind, watching the YOUNG LADY, who is loosening the soil around the
flowers, BARON SKANSKORG enters, wearing mourning, and speaks to the
LADY IN BLACK, who has been walking up and down the sidewalk.)
BARON SKANSKORG: Well, what can we do about it?—We'll simply have to
LADY IN BLACK: But I can't wait!
BARON SKANSKORG: Really? Better leave town then!
LADY IN BLACK: I don't want to.
BARON SKANSKORG: Come over here, otherwise they'll hear what we're say­
ing. (They cross to the poster column and continue their conversation,
unheard by the audience. JOHANSSON enters right and crosses to the
JOHANSSON: My master asks you not to forget the other matter, sir.
STUDENT (carefully): Listen—first tell me: who is your master?
JOHANSSON: Oh, he's a lot of things, and he's been everything. S
STUDENT: Is he sane? o
JOHANSSON: Yes, and what is that, eh?—He says all his life he's been looking §
for a Sunday child, but maybe it's not true . . . 5§
STUDENT: What does he want? Money? g
JOHANSSON: He wants power . . . All day long he rides around in his chariot, ♦
like the great god Thor . . . He looks at houses, tears them down, widens *
streets, builds over public squares. But he also breaks into houses, crawls *|
through windows, destroys people's lives, kills his enemies, and forgives
nothing.—Can you imagine that that little cripple was once a Don Juan?
Although he always lost his women.
STUDENT: That doesn't make sense.
JOHANSSON: Well, you see, he was so cunning that he got the women to leave
once he tired of them . . . However, now he's like a horse thief, only with
people. He steals them, in all kinds of ways . . . He literally stole me out of
the hands of justice . . . I had committed a . . . blunder that only he knew
about. Instead of turning me in, he made me his slave, which is what I
do, just for my food, which is nothing to brag a b o u t . . .
STUDENT: What does he want to do in this house?
JOHANSSON: Well, I wouldn't want to say. It's so complicated.
STUDENT: I think I'd better get out of here . . . (The YOUNG LADY drops her
bracelet through the window.)
JOHANSSON: Look, the young lady's dropped her bracelet through the win­
dow . . . (The STUDENT crosses slowly to the bracelet, picks it up, and hands
it to the YOUNG LADY, who thanks him stiffly. The STUDENT crosses back to
JOHANSSON.) So, you were thinking about leaving, eh? . . . It's not as easy
as you think, once the old man's dropped his net over your head . . . And
he's afraid of nothing between heaven and earth . .. well, except for one
thing, or rather one person . . .
STUDENT: Wait, I think I know who!
JOHANSSON: How could you know that?
STUDENT: Fm guessing!—Is i t . . . a little milkmaid that he's afraid of?
JOHANSSON: He always turns away when he sees a milk wagon... and then he
talks in his sleep. You see, he was once in Hamburg . . .
STUDENT: Can anyone believe this man?
JOHANSSON: You can believe him—capable of anything!
STUDENT: What is he doing around the corner?
JOHANSSON: Listening to the poor people . . . Planting ideas here and there,
pulling out bricks, one at a time, until the house collapses . . . meta­
phorically speaking . . . You see, Fm an educated man; I was once a
bookseller . . . Are you going to leave now?
^ STUDENT: I don't want to seem ungrateful... The man saved my father once,
jjj and now he's only asking a small favor in return . ..
2 JOHANSSON: What's that?
5 STUDENT: Fm going to see The Valkyrie ...
\r JOHANNSON: That's beyond me . . . He's always coming up with a new idea . . .
# Look, now he's talking to the police. He's always close with the police.
♦ He uses them, involves them in his schemes, binds them hand and foot
3! with false hopes and promises. All the while he pumps them for informa­
tion.—You'll see—before the day is over he'll be received in the Round
STUDENT: What does he want there? What is there between him and the
JOHANSSON: Well, I have my suspicions, but I'm not sure. You'll just have to
see for yourself when you get there . . .
STUDENT: I'll never get in there . ..
JOHANSSON: That depends on you.—Go to The Valkyrie ...
STUDENT: Is that the way?
JOHANSSON: If he said it was.—Look, look at him, in his war chariot, drawn in
triumph by beggars who get nothing for their pains but the vague prom­
ise of a handout at his funeral! (The OLD MAN enters standing in his
wheelchair, drawn by one of the BEGGARS, and followed by others.)
OLD MAN: Hail the noble youth, who at the risk of his own life, rescued so
many in yesterday's accident! Hail, Arkenholz! (The BEGGARS bare their
heads but do not cheer. At the window the YOUNG LADY waves her hand-
kerchief The COLONEL stares out his window. The OLD WOMAN rises at her
window. The MAID on the balcony raises the flag to the top.) Clap your
hands, my fellow citizens! It's Sunday, it's true, but the ass in the well and
the stalk in the field give us absolution. Even though I'm not a Sunday
child, I have both the spirit of prophecy and the gift of healing, for once I
brought a drowned person back to life . . . Yes, it was in Hamburg on a
Sunday afternoon just like this o n e . . . (The MILKMAID enters, seen only by
the STUDENT and the OLD MAN. She reaches out with her arms, like some-
one drowning, and stares at the OLD MAN, who sits down and shrinks back
in terror.) Johansson! Push me out of here! Quickly—Arkenholz, don't
forget The Valkyrie!
STUDENT: What is all this?
JOHANSSON: We'll have to wait and see! Well just have to wait and see!


(The Round Room. Upstage is a white porcelain tile stove, studded with
mirrors and flanked by a pendulum clock and a candelabra. To the right the
entrance hall, through which can be seen a green room with mahogany furni-
ture. To the left a wallpaper-covered door leading to a closet Further left the
statue, shadowed by potted palms; it can be concealed by draperies. Upstage
left is the door to the Hyacinth Room, where the YOUNG LADY sits reading. The
COLONEL is visible, his back to the audience, writing in the green room.
BENGTSSON, the footman, dressed in livery, enters from the hall with
JOHANSSON, who is dressed as a waiter.)
BENGTSSON: Johansson, you'll do the serving, and I'll take their clothes.
You've done this sort of thing before, haven't you?
JOHANSSON: As you know, I push that war chariot around during the day, but
in the evenings I work as a waiter at receptions. Besides, it's always been
my dream to come into this house . . . They're peculiar people, aren't
BENGTSSON: Well, yes, a little unusual, you might say.
JOHANSSON: Is it going to be a musical evening, or what?
BENGTSSON: Just the usual ghost supper, as we call it. They drink tea and
never say a word, or else the Colonel does all the talking. And they nibble
on cookies, all at the same time, so that it sounds like rats nibbling in an
JOHANSSON: Why is it called a ghost supper?
BENGTSSON: They look like ghosts . . . And this has been going on for
twenty years, always the same people, saying the same things, or else too
ashamed to say anything.
JOHANSSON: Isn't there a lady of the house too?
BENGTSSON: Oh yes, but she's queer in the head. She sits in a closet, because
her eyes can't stand the light. . . She's right in there . . . (points to the
wallpaper-covered door)
JOHANSSON: In there?
BENGTSSON: Well, I told you they were a little unusual.. .
JOHANSSON: How does she look?
BENGTSSON: Like a mummy . . . Do you want to see her? (opens the door)
See, there she is!
JOHANSSON: Oh, Jesus .. .
MUMMY (like a baby): Why did you open the door? Haven't I told you to keep
it s h u t ? . . .
BENGTSSON (using baby talk): Ta, ta, ta, ta! Sweetums must be good, then
you'll get something nice!—Pretty polly!
MUMMY (like a parrot): Pretty polly! Is Jacob there? Awwk!
BENGTSSON: She thinks she's a parrot, and who knows?, maybe she is. . . (to
the MUMMY) Polly, whistle a little for us. (She whistles.)
JOHANSSON: I've seen lots in my life, but this beats everything!
0 BENGTSSON: You see, when a house gets old, it gets moldy. And when people
gj sit around tormenting each other for so long, they get crazy. Now the
g madam here—quiet Polly!—this mummy has been sitting here for forty
Z years—same husband, same furniture, same relatives, same friends . . .
* (closes the wallpaper-covered door) Even I don't know everything that's
& gone on in this house . . . Do you see this statue? . . . that's the madam
t when she was young!
eg JOHANSSON: Oh, my God!—Is that the Mummy?
^ BENGTSSON: Yes!—It's enough to make you cry!—And somehow or other—
the power of imagination, maybe—she's taken on some of the qualities of
a real parrot.—For instance, she can't stand cripples or sick people . . .
That's why she can't stand the sight of her own daughter...
JOHANSSON: Is the young lady sick?
BENGTSSON: Didn't you know that?
JOHANSSON: No! .. . And the Colonel, who is he?
BENGTSSON: You'll have to wait and see!
JOHANSSON: (looking at the statue): It's terrible to think t h a t . . . How old is the
madam now?
BENGTSSON: No one knows... but they say that when she was thirty-five, she
looked nineteen, and convinced the Colonel that she was . . . In this
house . . . Do you know what that black Japanese screen is for, there, next
to the chaise longue?—It's called the death screen, and when someone is
dying, it's put up around them, just like in a hospital...
JOHANSSON: What a horrible place! . . . And the student wants to come here
because he thinks it's a paradise . . .
BENGTSSON: What student? Oh, him! The one who's coming here this
evening . . . The Colonel and the young lady met him at the opera and
were taken by him . . . H m m ! . . . Now it's my turn to ask questions: Who
is your master? the businessman in the wheelchair?
JOHANSSON: Yes.—Is he coming here too?
BENGTSSON: He's not invited.
JOHANSSON: If necessary, he'll come uninvited . . . {The OLD MAN appears in
the hallway, dressed in a frock coat. He steals forward on his crutches to
BENGTSSON: I hear he's an old crook!
JOHANSSON: Full blown!
BENGTSSON: He looks like the devil himself!
JOHANSSON: And he must be a magician too!—for he can go through locked
OLD MAN {crosses and grabs JOHANSSON by the ear): Rascal!—You watch your
step! {to BENGTSSON) Announce me to the Colonel!
BENGTSSON: Yes, but we're expecting guests...
OLD MAN: I know that! But my visit is as good as expected, if not exactly
looked forward to . . .
BENGTSSON: Is that so? And what was the name? Director Hummel!
OLD MAN: Precisely! (BENGTSSON crosses to the hallway and enters the green
room, closing the door behind him. The OLD MAN turns to JOHANSSON.)
Disappear! (JOHANSSON hesitates.) Disappear! (JOHANSSON disappears
into the hallway. The OLD MAN inspects the room, stopping in front of the
statue in great astonishment.) Amalia! . . . It's she! . . . She! {He wanders
about the room fingering things; he straightens his wig in front of the
mirror', and returns to the statue.)
MUMMY {from within the closet): Pretty polly!
OLD MAN {wincing): What was that? Is there a parrot in the room? I don't see
MUMMY: Is Jacob there?
OLD MAN: The place is haunted!
MUMMY: Jaaaacob!
OLD MAN: I'm scared . . . So, these are the secrets they've been hiding in this
house! {He looks at a painting, his back turned to the closet.) There he
is! . . . He! {The MUMMY comes out of the closet, goes up to him from
behind, and yanks on his wig.)
MUMMY: Squir-rel! Is it Squir-rel?
OLD MAN {badly frightened): Oh my God!—Who are you?
MUMMY {in a normal voice): Is it you, Jacob?
OLD MAN: As a matter of fact, my name is Jacob . . .
MUMMY {moved): And my name is Amalia.
OLD MAN: Oh, no, no, no . . . Lord Je . . .
MUMMY: Yes, this is how I look!—And {pointing to the statue) that's how I
used to look! Life teaches us so much.—I stay in the closet mostly, to
avoid both seeing people and being seen . . . But what do you want here,
OLD MAN: My child! Our child .. .
MUMMY: She's in there.
OLD MAN: Where?
MUMMY: There, in the hyacinth room.
OLD MAN (looking at the YOUNG LADY): Yes, there she is. (pause) What does
her father say? The Colonel? Your husband?
MUMMY: Once, when I was angry at him, I told him everything . . .
MUMMY: He didn't believe me. He just said: "That's what all wives say when
13 they want to murder their husbands."—Even so, it was a terrible crime.
S5 Everything in his life is a forgery, his family tree too. Sometimes when I
2 look at the List of the Nobility, I think to myself: "Why, that woman has a
Z false birth certificate, like a common servant girl. People get sent to
Jf prison for that."
OLD MAN: Many people do that. I seem to remember you falsified your
♦ age . . .
S8 MUMMY: My mother made me . . . it wasn't my fault!... But in our crime you
were most responsible . . .
OLD MAN: No, your husband provoked the crime when he stole my fiancee
away from me!—I was born unable to forgive until I've punished! I saw it
as a compelling duty .. . and still do!
MUMMY: What are you looking for in this house? What do you want? How did
you get in?—Is it my daughter? If you touch her, you'll die!
OLD MAN: I want what's best for her.
MUMMY: But you must spare her father!
MUMMY: Then you shall die. In this room. Behind that screen . . .
OLD MAN: That may be . . . but once I sink my teeth into something, I can't let
MUMMY: You want to marry her off to that student. Why? He has nothing and
is nothing.
OLD MAN: He'll become rich, through me!
MUMMY: Were you invited here this evening?
OLD MAN: No, but I intend to get an invitation to the ghost supper.
MUMMY: Do you know who's coming?
OLD MAN: Not exactly.
MUMMY: The Baron . . . who lives upstairs and whose father-in-law was
buried this afternoon . . .
OLD MAN: The one who's getting divorced so he can marry the superinten­
dent's daughter . . . the one who was once your—lover!
MUMMY: Another guest will be your former fiancee, whom my husband
OLD MAN: What an elegant gathering . ..
MUMMY: God, if only we could die! If only we could die!
OLD MAN: Then why do you associate with each other?
MUMMY: Crimes and secrets and guilt bind us together!—We've broken up
and gone our separate ways an endless number of times, but we're always
drawn back together again . . .
OLD MAN: I think the Colonel's coming . ..
MUMMY: Then I'll go in to Adele . . . (pause) Jacob, mind what you do! Spare
him . .. (pause; she leaves.)
COLONEL (entering; cool, reserved): Won't you sit down? (The OLD MAN sits S
down slowly; pause; the COLONEL stares at him.) Are you the one who o
wrote this letter? jj
OLD MAN: Yes. ♦
COLONEL: Your name is Hummel? ♦
OLD MAN: Yes. (pause) ^
COLONEL: Since I know you bought up all my unpaid promissory notes, it
follows that I am at your mercy. What is it you want?
OLD MAN: Payment of one kind or another.
COLONEL: What kind did you have in mind?
OLD MAN: A very simple one—but let's not talk about money.—Just tolerate
me in your house as a guest.
COLONEL: If that's all it takes to satisfy you . . .
OLD MAN: Thank you.
COLONEL: Anything else?
OLD MAN: Fire Bengtsson!
COLONEL: Why should I do that? My trusted servant, who's been with me for
a generation—who wears the national medal for loyal and faithful ser­
vice? Why should I do that?
OLD MAN: All his beautiful virtues exist only in your imagination.—He's not
the man he appears to be.
COLONEL: But who is?
OLD MAN (winces): True! But Bengtsson must go!
COLONEL: Are you trying to run my house?
OLD MAN: Yes! Since I own everything here: furniture, curtains, dinner ser­
vice, linen . . . and other things!
COLONEL: What other things?
OLD MAN: Everything! I own everything! It's all mine!
COLONEL: Very well, it's all yours. But my family's coat of arms, and my good
name—they remain mine!
OLD MAN: No, not even those! (pause) You're not a nobleman.
COLONEL: How dare you?
OLD MAN (taking out a paper): If you read this extract from the Book of Noble
Families, you'll see that the name you bear died out a hundred years ago.
COLONEL (reading): I've certainly heard such rumors, but the name I bear
was my father's . . . (reading) It's true, you're right. . . I'm not a noble­
man!—Not even that remains!—Then I'll take off my signet ring.—It too
belongs to you . . . Here, take it!
OLD MAN (pocketing the ring): Now we'll continue!—You're not a colonel
ec either.
* COLONEL: I'm not?
Z OLD MAN: No! You were a former temporary colonel in the American Volun-
Jf teers, but when the army was reorganized after the Spanish-American
War, all such ranks were abolished . . .
i COLONEL: Is that true?
§ OLD MAN (reaching into his pocket): Do you want to read about it?
COLONEL: No, it's not necessary! . .. Who are you, that you have the right to
sit there and strip me naked like this?
OLD MAN: We'll see! But speaking about stripping . . . do you know who you
really are?
COLONEL: Have you no sense of shame?
OLD MAN: Take off your wig and look at yourself in the mirror! Take out your
false teeth too, and shave off your mustache! We'll have Bengtsson un­
lace your corset, and we'll see if a certain servant, Mr. XYZ, won't recog­
nize himself: a man who was once a great sponger in a certain kitchen . . .
(The COLONEL reaches for the bell on the table but is stopped by the OLD
MAN.) Don't touch that bell! If you call Bengtsson in here, I'll have him
arrested . . . Your guests are arriving.—You keep calm and we'll continue
to play our old roles awhile longer!
COLONEL: Who are you? I recognize that expression in your eyes and that
tone in your voice . . .
OLD MAN: No more questions! Just keep quiet and do as you're told!
STUDENT (enters and bows to the COLONEL): Good evening, sir!
COLONEL: Welcome to my home, young man! Everyone is talking about
your heroism at that terrible accident, and it's an honor for me to greet
you . . .
STUDENT: Colonel, my humble origin . . . Your brilliant name and noble
background . ..
COLONEL: Let me introduce you: Director Hummel, Mr. Arkenholz . . .
Would you go in and join the ladies? I have to finish my conversation
with the director . . . (The STUDENT is shown into the Hyacinth Room,
where he remains visible, engaged in shy conversation with the YOUNG
LADY.) A superb young man, musical, sings, writes poetry . . . If he were a
nobleman and our equal socially, I would have nothing against... yes . . .
OLD MAN: Against what?
COLONEL: My daughter . . .
OLD MAN: Your daughter?—By the way, why does she always sit in there?
COLONEL: Whenever she's at home, she feels compelled to sit in the Hya­
cinth Room. It's a peculiar habit she has. . . Ah, here comes Miss Beate
von Holsteinkrona . . . a charming old lady . .. Very active in the church
and with a modest income from a trust...
OLD MAN (to himself): My old fiancee! (The FIANCEE enters; she is white-
haired and looks crazy.)
COLONEL: Director Hummel, Miss Holsteinkrona . . . (She curtsies and sits.
The BARON enters, dressed in mourning and looking as if he is hiding
something; he sits.) Baron Skanskorg .. .
OLD MAN (to himself, without rising): If it isn't the jewel thief . . . (to the
COLONEL) Call in the Mummy, and the party will be complete . . .
COLONEL (at the door to the Hyacinth Room): Polly!
MUMMY (entering): Squir-rel!
COLONEL: Should the young people be in here too?
OLD MAN: No! Not the young people! They'll be spared . . . (They all sit in
silence in a circle.)
COLONEL: Can we have the tea served?
OLD MAN: What for? No one here likes tea, so there's no use pretending we
do. (pause)
COLONEL: Shall we talk then?
OLD MAN (slowly, with long pauses): About what: the weather, which we all
know? Ask about each other's health, which we also know? I prefer
silence. Then you can hear thoughts and see into the past. In silence you
can't hide anything . . . as you can in words. The other day I read that the
reason different languages developed was that primitive tribes tried to
keep secrets from each other. And so languages are codes, and whoever
finds the key will understand them all. But there are certain secrets that
can be exposed without a key, especially when it comes to proving pater­
nity. But proving something in a courtroom is something else. That takes
two false witnesses, providing their stories agree. But on the kinds of
expeditions I'm thinking of, witnesses aren't taken along. Nature itself
plants in human beings an instinct for hiding that which should be
hidden. Nevertheless, we stumble into things without intending to, and
sometimes the opportunity presents itself to reveal the deepest of secrets,
to tear the mask off the imposter, to expose the villain . . . {pause; all
watch each other without speaking.) How quiet it's become! {long silence)
Here, for instance, in this honorable house, in this lovely home, where
beauty, culture, and wealth are united . . . {long silence) All of us know
who we a r e . . . don't we? . . . I don't have to tell you . . . And you know me,
although you pretend ignorance . . . In there is my daughter, mine! You
know that too . . . She had lost the desire to live, without knowing w h y . . .
because she was withering away in this atmosphere of crime, deceit, and
falseness of every kind . . . That's why I looked for a friend for her in
whose company she could sense the light and warmth of a noble deed . . .
{long silence) And so my mission in this house was to pull up the weeds,
expose the crimes, settle all accounts, so that those young people might
at start anew in a home that I had given them! {long silence) Now I'm going
oQ to give you a chance to leave, under safe-conduct, each of you, in your
z own time. Whoever stays, I'll have arrested! {long silence) Listen to the
S clock ticking, like a death watch beetle in the wall! Do you hear what it
w says? "Time's-up! Time's-up! " In a few moments it'll strike and
♦ your time will be up. Then you may go, but not before. But it sounds a
^ threat before it strikes.—Listen! There's the warning: "The clock-can-
i2 strike." 1 too can strike .. . {He strikes the table with his crutch.) Do
you hear? {silence; the MUMMY crosses to the clock and stops it.)
MUMMY {clearly and seriously): But I can stop time in its course.—I can wipe
out the past, undo what has been undone. Not with bribes, not with
threats—but through suffering and repentance {crosses to the OLD
MAN) We are only wretched human beings, we know that. We have
trespassed and we have sinned, like all the rest. We are not what we seem,
for deep down we are better than ourselves, since we detest our faults.
But that you, Jacob Hummel, with your false name, can sit here and
judge us, proves that you are worse than we miserable creatures! You too
are not what you seem!—You're a thief who steals souls. You stole mine
once with false promises. You murdered the Consul who was buried
today; you strangled him with debts. You stole the Student by binding
him to a debt you pretended was left by his father, who never owed you a
penny. {During her speech, the OLD MAN has tried to rise and speak but
has fallen back in his chair, crumpling up more and more as she con-
tinues.) But there's a dark spot in your life. I've long suspected what it is,
but I'm not sure . . . I think Bengtsson knows, {rings the bell on the table)
OLD MAN: No, not Bengtsson! Not him!
MUMMY: Ah, then he does know! {She rings again. The little MILKMAID ap-
pears in the hallway door, unseen by everyone except the OLD MAN, who
becomes terrified. The MILKMAID disappears as BENGTSSON enters.)
MUMMY: Bengtsson, do you know this man?
BENGTSSON: Yes, I know him, and he knows me. Life has its ups and downs,
as we all know. I was once in his service; another time he was in mine.
For two whole years he was a sponger who used to flirt with the cook in
my kitchen.—Because he had to get away by three o'clock, dinner was
ready by two. And so we had to eat the warmed-over leavings of that ox!—
And he also drank the soup stock, which the cook then filled up with
water. He was like a vampire, sucking the marrow out of the house and
turning us all into skeletons.—And he almost got us put in prison when
we called the cook a thief. Later, I met him in Hamburg under another
name. This time he was a usurer, a bloodsucker. And he was accused of
having lured a girl out onto the ice to drown her, because she had
witnessed a crime he was afraid would be discovered . . . {The MUMMY
passes her hand across the OLD MAN'S face.)
MUMMY: This is you! Now give me the notes and the will! (JOHANSSON
appears in the hallway door and watches the proceedings with great inter-
est, knowing that he will shortly be freed from his slavery. The OLD MAN
takes out a bundle of papers and throws them on the table. The MUMMY
strokes him on the back.) Polly! Is Jacob there?
OLD MAN {like a parrot): Ja-cob is there!—Kakadora! Dora!
MUMMY: Can the clock strike?
OLD MAN {clucking): The clock can strike! {imitating a cuckoo clock) Cuck-oo,
cuck-oo, cuck-oo!...
MUMMY {opens the closet door): Now the clock has struck!—Get up and go
into that closet, where I've spent twenty years grieving for our mistake.—
There's a rope hanging in there. Let it stand for the one you used to stran­
gle the Consul upstairs, and with which you intended to strangle your
benefactor . . . Go! {The OLD MAN goes into the closet. The MUMMY closes
the door.) Bengtsson! Put out the screen! The death screen! (BENGTSSON
puts the screen out in front of the door.) It is finished!—May God have
mercy on his soul!
ALL: Amen! {long silence; in the Hyacinth Room the YOUNG LADY can be seen
accompanying the STUDENT on the harp as he recites.)
STUDENT: {after a prelude):
I saw the sun, and thought I saw
what was hidden.
You cannot heal with evil
deeds done in anger.
Man reaps as he sows;
blessed is the doer of good.
Comfort him you have grieved
with your goodness, and you will have healed.
No fear has he who has done no ill;
goodness is innocence.

(The Hyacinth Room. The style of the decor is somewhat bizarre, with oriental
motifs. Hyacinths ofevery color everywhere. On top of the porcelain tiled stove is
a large statue of a seated Buddha. In his lap is a bulb, out of which the stalk ofa
shallot has shot up, bearing its globe-shaped cluster of white, starlike flowers.
Upstage right the door to the Round Room, where the COLONEL and the
MUMMY sit silently, doing nothing. A portion of the death screen is also visible.
To the left the door to the pantry and the kitchen.
The STUDENT and the YOUNG LADY, Adele, are near a table, she with the
harp, he standing.)
YOUNG LADY: Sing for my flowers!
STUDENT: Is the hyacinth the flower of your soul?
ec YOUNG LADY: The one and only. Do you love the hyacinth?
g STUDENT: I love it above all others—its virginal figure rising so slim and
Z straight from the bulb, floating on the water and sending its pure white
* roots down into the colorless fluid. I love its colors: the snow-white of
innocence, the honey-gold of sweetness and pleasure, the rosy pink of
^ youth, the scarlet of maturity, but above all the blue, the blue of deep
^ eyes, of dew, of faithfulness... I love its colors more than gold and pearls,
*H have loved them since I was a child, have worshipped them because they
possess all the virtues I lack . . . And yet.. .
STUDENT: My love is not returned, for these lovely blossoms hate me . . .
YOUNG LADY: How do you mean?
STUDENT: Their fragrance—strong and pure as the early winds of spring that
have passed over melting snow—it confuses my senses, deafens me,
crowds me out of the room, dazzles me, shoots me with poisoned arrows
that wound my heart and set my head on fire. Don't you know the legend
of this flower?
YOUNG LADY: Tell me.
STUDENT: But first its meaning. The bulb, whether floating on water or
buried in soil, is our earth. The stalk shoots up, straight as the axis of the
world, and above, with its six-pointed star flowers, is the globe of heaven.
YOUNG LADY: Above the earth—the stars! How wonderful! Where did you
learn to see things this way?
STUDENT: Let me think!—In your eyes!—And so this flower is a replica of the
universe . . . That's why the Buddha sits brooding over the bulb of the
earth in his lap, watching it grow outwards and upwards, transforming
itself into a heaven.—This wretched earth aspires to become heaven!
That's what the Buddha is waiting for!
YOUNG LADY: Now I see—aren't snowflakes also six-pointed, like hyacinth
STUDENT: You're right!—Then snowflakes are falling stars . . .
YOUNG LADY: And the snowdrop is a snow star . . . rising from the snow.
STUDENT: And the largest and most beautiful of all the stars in the firma­
ment, the red and gold Sirius, is the narcissus, with its red and gold
chalice and six white rays . . .
YOUNG LADY: Have you ever seen the shallot in bloom?
STUDENT: I certainly have!—It too bears its flowers in a ball, a sphere like the
globe of heaven, strewn with white stars . . .
YOUNG LADY: Yes! God, how magnificent! Whose idea was this?
STUDENT: Ours!—Together we have given birth to something. We are
YOUNG LADY: Not y e t . . .
STUDENT: What else remains?
YOUNG LADY: The waiting, the trials, the patience!
STUDENT: Fine! Try me! (pause) Tell me, why do your parents sit so silently
in there, without saying a word?
YOUNG LADY: Because they have nothing to say to each other, because nei­
ther believes what the other says. As my father puts it: "What's the point
of talking, when we can't fool each other?"
STUDENT: What a terrible thing to believe . .
YOUNG LADY: Here comes the C o o k . . . Oh, look at her, she's so big and fat...
STUDENT: What does she want?
YOUNG LADY: She wants to ask me about dinner. I run the house, you see,
while my mother is i l l . . .
STUDENT: Why should we bother about the kitchen?
YOUNG LADY: We have to e a t . . . You look at her, I can't bear to . . .
STUDENT: Who is this monstrous woman?
YOUNG LADY: She belongs to the Hummel family of vampires. She's devour­
ing u s . . .
STUDENT: Why don't you get rid of her?
YOUNG LADY: She won't go! We have no control over her. She is punishment
for our sins . . . Can't you see that we're wasting away, withering? . . .
STUDENT: You mean you don't get enough to eat?
YOUNG LADY: Oh yes, we get lots to eat, but nothing nourishing. She boils the
meat until there's nothing left but gristle and water, while she drinks the
stock herself. And when there's a roast, she first cooks out all the goodness
and drinks the gravy and broth. Everything she touches shrivels up and
dries out. It's as if she can drain you with her eyes. She drinks the coffee
and we get the grounds. She drinks from the wine and fills the bottles
with water . . .
STUDENT: Drive her out of the house!
YOUNG LADY: We can't!
STUDENT: Why not?
YOUNG LADY: We don't know! She won't go! No one has any control over
her!—She's taken all our strength!
STUDENT: May I send her away?
YOUNG LADY: No! Things must be as they are!—Now she's here. She'll ask
what we'll have for dinner. I'll answer this and that. She'll object and get
her own way.
0 STUDENT: Then let her decide the meals.
2 YOUNG LADY: She won't do that!
Q STUDENT: This is a strange house. It's bewitched!
— YOUNG LADY: Yes.—Oh, she turned away when she saw you.
|jj COOK (in the door): No, that wasn't why. (She sneers, her teeth showing.)
♦ STUDENT: Get out, woman!
53 COOK: When I'm good and ready, (pause) Now I'm ready, (disappears)
*-* YOUNG LADY: Don't lose your temper!—You must be patient. She's one of the
trials we have to endure in this house. Another is the maid—we have to
clean up after her.
STUDENT: I feel myself sinking down! Cor in aetherel Music!
YOUNG LADY: Patience!—This room is called the room of trials.—It's beauti­
ful to look at, but it's full of imperfections. . .
STUDENT: I can't believe that! But we'll have to overlook them. It is beautiful,
but it feels cold. Why don't you have a fire?
YOUNG LADY: Because it smokes.
STUDENT: Can't you have the chimney cleaned?
YOUNG LADY: It doesn't help! . . . Do you see that writing table?
STUDENT: It's very beautiful.
YOUNG LADY: But it wobbles! Every day I put a piece of cork under that leg,
but the maid takes it away when she sweeps, and I have to cut a new one.
Every morning the penholder is covered with ink, and so is the inkstand.
As sure as the sun rises, I'm always cleaning up after that woman, (pause)
What chore do you hate most?
STUDENT: Separating dirty laundry. Ugh!
YOUNG LADY: That's what I have to do. Ugh!
STUDENT: What else?
YOUNG LADY: Be awakened from a sound sleep to lock a window . . . which
the maid left rattling.
STUDENT: What else?
YOUNG LADY: Climb a ladder tofixthe damper on the stove after the maid
pulled the cord loose.
STUDENT: What else?
YOUNG LADY: Sweep after her, dust after her, light the stove after her—she'll
only put the wood in! Open the damper, wipe the glasses dry, reset the
table, uncork the wine bottles, open the windows to air the rooms, re­
make my bed, rinse the water pitcher when it gets green with algae, buy
matches and soap, which we're always out of, wipe the lamp chimneys,
and trim the wicks to keep the lamps from smoking. And to be sure they D
won't go out when we have company, I have to fill them myself... g
STUDENT: Music! ">
YOUNG LADY: Wait!—First, the drudgery, the drudgery of keeping the filth of .g
life at a distance. ^
STUDENT: But you're well off. You've got two servants. ♦
YOUNG LADY: It wouldn't help if we had three. It's so difficult just to live, and
sometimes I get so tired . . . Imagine if there were a nursery too!
STUDENT: The greatest joy of all. . .
YOUNG LADY: And the most expensive . . . Is life worth this much trouble?
STUDENT: That depends on what you want in return . . . I would do anything
to win your hand.
YOUNG LADY: Don't talk like that!—You can never have me.
STUDENT: Why not?
YOUNG LADY: You mustn't ask. (pause)
STUDENT: But you dropped your bracelet out of the window . . .
YOUNG LADY: Because my hand has grown so thin . . . (pause; the COOK
appears carrying a bottle of Japanese soy sauce.) It's she, who's devouring
me, devouring us all.
STUDENT: What's she got in her hand?
YOUNG LADY: The Japanese bottle with the lettering like scorpions! It's soy
sauce to turn water into broth. She uses it instead of gravy when she
cooks cabbage and makes mock turtle soup.
STUDENT: Get out!
COOK: You suck the juices out of us, and we out of you. We take the blood
and give you back water—with coloring. This is colored water!—I'm
going now, but I'm staying in this house, as long as I want! (exits)
STUDENT: Why did Bengtsson get a medal?
YOUNG LADY: For his great merits.
STUDENT: Has he no faults?
YOUNG LADY: Oh yes, terrible ones, but you don't get medals for them. (They
STUDENT: You have many secrets in this house . . .
YOUNG LADY: Like everyone else . . . Let us keep ours! (pause)
STUDENT: Don't you like frankness?
YOUNG LADY: Yes, within reason.
STUDENT: Sometimes I get a raging desire to say exactly what I think. But I
know that if people were really frank and honest, the world would col­
lapse. (pause) I was at a funeral the other day . . . in the church.—It was
very solemn and beautiful.
„ YOUNG LADY: For Director Hummel?
{Jj STUDENT: Yes, my false benefactor!—At the head of the coffin stood an old
2 friend of the dead man, carrying the funeral mace. I was especially
Z impressed by the minister because of his dignified manner and moving
jf words.—Yes, I cried, we all cried.—Afterwards we went to a restaurant...
** There I learned that the man with the mace had been in love with the
^ dead man's son . . . (The YOUNG LADY stares at him questioningly.) And
oo that the dead man had borrowed money from his son's . . . admirer . . .
^ (pause) The next day the minister was arrested for embezzling church
funds!—Pretty story, isn't it?
YOUNG LADY: Oh! (pause)
STUDENT: Do you know what I'm thinking now about you?
YOUNG LADY: Don't tell me, or I'll die!
STUDENT: I must, or I'll die! . . .
YOUNG LADY: It's only in asylums that people say everything they think . . .
STUDENT: Yes, exactly!—My father ended up in a madhouse . . .
YOUNG LADY: Was he ill?
STUDENT: No, he was well, but he was crazy. The madness broke out one
day, when things became too much for him . . . Like the rest of us, he had
a circle of acquaintances, whom, for the sake of convenience, he called
friends. Naturally, they were a miserable bunch, as most people are. But
he needed them because he couldn't bear to be alone. Well, he didn't
ordinarily tell people what he thought of them, any more than anyone
else does. He certainly knew how false they were, what treachery they
were capable of! . . . However, he was a prudent man, and well brought
up, and so he was always polite. But one day he gave a big party.—It was
in the evening, and he was tired, tired after the day's work, and tired from
the strain of wanting to keep his mouth shut and having to talk nonsense
with his guests . . . (The YOUNG LADY shrinks back in horror.) Anyway, at
the dinner table, he rapped for silence, raised his glass, and began to
talk . . . Then something loosed the trigger, and in a long speech he
stripped everybody naked, one after another, exposing all their falseness!
Exhausted, he sat down in the middle of the table and told them all to go
to hell!
STUDENT: I was there, and I'll never forget what happened next!... My father
and mother fought, and the guests rushed for the door .. . My father was
taken to a madhouse, where he died, (pause) When we keep silent for
too long, stagnant water starts to form, and everything rots! And that's the
way it is in this house too! There's something rotting here! And I thought
this was a paradise the first time I saw you enter here . . . On that Sunday
morning I stood outside and looked in. I saw a colonel who wasn't a
colonel. I had a noble benefactor who was a bandit and had to hang
himself. I saw a mummy who was not a mummy, and a maiden—which g
reminds me: where is virginity to be found? Where is beauty? Only in o
Nature or in my mind when it's dressed up in Sunday best. Where are t!
honor and faith? In fairy tales and children's games. Where is anything jg
that fulfills its promise? . . . In my imagination!—Do you see? Your jj
flowers have poisoned me, and now I've given the poison back to you.—I **"
begged you to be my wife and share our home. We made poetry, sang, 4
and played, and then in came the C o o k . . . Sursum cordal Try once more o
to strike fire and splendor from the golden harp . . . try, I beg you, I *H
command you on my knees! . . . Very well, then I'll do it myself! (takes
the harp and plucks the strings, but there is no sound)
It's deaf and dumb! Why is it that the most beautiful flowers are so
poisonous, the most poisonous? Damnation hangs over the whole of
creation . . . Why wouldn't you be my bride? Because you're sick at the
very source of life . . . I can feel that vampire in the kitchen beginning to
drain me. I think she's a lamia who sucks the blood of children. It's
always in the kitchen that a child's seed leaves are nipped, its growth
stunted, if it hasn't already happened in the bedroom . . . There are
poisons that blind you, and poisons that open your eyes.—I must have
been born with the second kind in my veins, for I can't see beauty in
ugliness or call evil good, I can't! Jesus Christ descended into hell. That
was his pilgrimage on this earth: to this madhouse, this dungeon, this
morgue of a world. And the madmen killed him when he tried to set
them free, but they let the bandit go. It's always the bandit who gets the
sympathy!—Alas! Alas for us all! Savior of the World, save us, we are
perishing! (The YOUNG LADY, apparently dying, lies crumpled in her chair.
She rings and BENGTSSON enters.)
YOUNG LADY: Bring the screen! Quickly—I'm dying! (BENGTSSON exits and
returns with the screen, which he unfolds and sets up around the YOUNG
STUDENT: He's coming to set you free! Welcome, you pale and gentle
deliverer!—Sleep, my beautiful one, lost and innocent, blameless in your
suffering. Sleep without dreaming. And when you awaken again . . . may
you be greeted by a sun that does not burn, in a home without dust, by
friends who cause no pain, by a love without flaw . . . You wise and gentle
Buddha, sitting there waiting for a heaven to rise up out of the earth,
grant us patience in the time of testing, and purity of will, so that your
hope may not be in vain! (The strings of the harp make a murmuring
sound. The room is filled with white light)
I saw the sun, and thought I saw
what was hidden.
You cannot heal with evil
deeds done in anger.
Man reaps as he sows;
blessed is the doer of good.
Comfort him you have grieved
with your goodness, and you will have healed.
No fear has he who has done no ill;
goodness is innocence.
(A whimpering can be heard from behind the screen.) You poor little child,
child of this world of illusion, guilt, suffering, and death; this world of
endless change, disappointment, and pain. The Lord of Heaven be mer­
ciful to you on your journey . . .
(The room disappears. Bocklins painting, uThe Island of the Dead,"
appears in the background, and from the island comes music, soft, calm,
and gently melancholy.)
Zones of the Spirit

August Strindberg

Through Faith to Knowledge.—The pupil asked: "How shall I know that I

believe rightly?"
"I will tell you. Doubt the regular denials of your everyday intelligence.
Go out of yourself if you can, and place yourself at the believer's standpoint.
Act as though you believed, and then test the belief, and see whether it agrees
with your experiences. If it does, then you have gained in wisdom, and no
one can shake your belief. When I for the first time obtained Swedenborg's
Arcana Coelestia, and looked through the ten thousand pages, it appeared to
me all nonsense. And yet I could not help wondering, since the man was so
extraordinarily learned in all the natural sciences, as well as in mathematics,
philosophy, and political economy. Amid the apparent foolishness of the
book were some details which remained riveted in my memory.
"Some time later, in my ordinary life, there happened something inexpli­
cable. Subsequently light was thrown upon this by an experience which
Swedenborg refers to as his so-called heaven and his so-called angels. Then I
began to search and to compare, to make experiments and to find explana­
tions. I come to the conclusion that Swedenborg has had experiences which
resemble those of earthly life, but are not the same. This he brings out in his
theory of correspondences and agreements. The theosophists have expressed
it thus: parallel with the earth-life we live another life on the astral plane, but
unconsciously to ourselves."
The Enchanted Room.—The pupil became curious and asked: "What
opened your eyes as regards Swedenborg?"

Excerpt reprinted from August Strindberg, Zones of the Spirit, trans. Claud Field (New York:
Putnam, 1913), 28-43.
"It is difficult to say, but I will try to do so. In my lonely dwelling there was
a room which I considered the most beautiful in the world. It had not been
so beautiful at first, but great and important events had taken place there. A
child had been born in it, and in it a man had died. Finally I fitted it up as a
temple of memory, and never showed it to anyone.
"One day, however, the demon of pride and ostentation took possession
of me, and I took a guest into it. He happened to be a 'black man/ a hopeless
despairer, who only believed in physical force and in wickedness and called
himself 'a load of earth/ As I admitted him I said, 'Now you will see the most
beautiful room in the country. I turned on the electric light, which generally
poured down from the ceiling such a blaze that not a dark corner was left in
the room. The man stood in the middle of the room, looked round, grum­
bled to himself, and said 'I can't see that/
ec "As he spoke, the room darkened, the walls contracted, the floor shrank
CD in size. My splendid temple was metamorphosed before my eyes. It seemed
z to me like a room in a hospital, with coarse wallpaper; the beautiful flowered
£ curtains looked dirty; the white surface of the little writing-table showed
a spots; the gilding was blackened; the brass fittings of the tiled oven were
♦ tarnished. The whole room was altered, and I was ashamed. It has been
w enchanted."
2 Concerning Correspondences.—"Now comes Swedenborg, but his ex­
planation is somewhat difficult. I must make a prefatory remark, in order that
you may not think I regard myself as an angel. By 'angel' Swedenborg means
a deceased mortal, who by death has been released from the prison of the
body, and by suffering in faith has recovered the highest faculties of his soul.
It is necessary to bear this definition of Swedenborg's in mind, and to re­
member that it does not apply to my guest or myself.
"Swedenborg further remarks regarding these dematerialised beings: 'AH
which appears and exists around them seems to be produced and created by
them. The fact that their surroundings are, as it were, produced and created
by them is evident, because when they are no longer there, the surroundings
are altered. A change in the surroundings is also apparent, when other beings
come in their place. Elysian plains change into their trees and fruits; gardens
change into their roses and plants, and fields into their herbs and grasses.
The reason for the appearance and alteration of such objects is that they are
produced by the wishes of these angel beings and the currents of thought set
in motion thereby/
"Is not this a subtle observation of Swedenborg's, and have not the facts
he alleges something corresponding to them in our lower sphere? Does it not
resemble my adventure in the 'enchanted room?' Perhaps you have had a
similar experience?"
The Green Island.—The pupil answered: "I have certainly had strange
experiences, but did not understand them because I thought with the flesh.
As I just heard you say that our experiences can receive a symbolical inter-
pretation, I remembered an incident which resembled that which you have
just related and compared with an observation of Swedenborg's. After a
youth spent under intolerable pressure and too much work, a friend gave me
a sum of money that I might spend the summer on the sea in literary
recreation. When I saw the 'Green Island' with its carpets of flowers, beds of
reeds, banks of willows, oak coppices, and hazel woods, I thought that I
beheld Paradise. Together with three other young poets I passed the summer
in a state of happiness which I have never experienced since. We were fairly
religious, although we did not literally believe in the gods of the state, and we
lived, as a rule, innocently enough, with simple pleasures such as bathing,
sailing, and fishing.
"But there was an evil man among us. He was overbearing, and regarded
mankind as his enemies, denied all goodness, spied after others7 faults, re­
joiced in others' misfortunes. Every time he left us to go to the town, the
island seemed to me more beautiful; it seemed like Sunday. I was always the
object of his gibes, but did not understand his malice. My friends wondered
that I was not angry with him, as I was generally so passionate. I do not myself
understand it, but I was as though protected, and noticed nothing, whatever
the cause may have been. Perhaps you ask whether the island really was so
wonderful. I answer: I found it so, but perhaps the beauty was in my way of
looking at it."
Swedenborg's Hell.—The pupil continued: "The next summer I came
again, but this time with other companions, and I was another man. The
bitterness of life, the spirit of the time, new teachings, evil companionship
made me doubt the beneficence of Providence and finally deny its exis­
tence. We led a dreadful life together. We slandered each other, suspected
each other even of theft. All wished to dominate, nobody would follow
another to the best bathing-place, but each went to his own. We could not
sail, for everyone wished to steer. We quarrelled from morning till night. We
drank also, and half of us were treating ourselves for incurable diseases. My
'Green Island,' the first paradise of my youth, became ugly and repulsive to
me. I could see no more beauty in nature, although at that time I worshipped
nature. But wait a minute, and see how it agreed with what Swedenborg says!
The beautiful weed-fringed bay began to exhale such miasmas that I got
malarial fever. The gnats plagued us the whole night and stung through the
thickest veil. If I wandered in the wood and wished to pluck a flower, I saw an
adder rear its head. One day, when I took some moss from a rock, I saw
immediately a black snake zigzagging away. It was inexplicable. The peace­
able inhabitants must have been infected by our wickedness, for they be­
came malicious, ugly, quarrelsome, and enacted domestic tragedies. It was
hell! When I became ill, my companions scoffed at me, and were angry,
because I had to have a room to myself. They borrowed money from me
which was not my own, and behaved brutally. When I wanted a doctor, they
would not fetch him."
The teacher broke in: "That is how Swedenborg describes hell."
Preliminary Knowledge Necessary.—The pupil asked: "Is there a hell?"
"You ask that, when you have been in it?"
"I mean, another one."
"What do you mean by another one? Has your experience not sufficed to
convince you that there is one?"
"But what does Swedenborg think?"
"I don't know. It is possible that he means not a place, but a condition of
mind. But as his descriptions of another side agree with our experiences on
this side in this point, that whenever a man breaks the connection with the
higher sphere, which is Love and Wisdom, a hell ensues—it does not matter
whether it is here or there. He uses parables and allegories, as Christ did in
order to be understood.
flc "Emerson in his Representative Men regards Swedenborg's genius as the
a greatest among modern thinkers, but he warns us against stereotyping his
2 forms of thought. True as transitional forms, they are false if one tries to fix
£ them fast. He calls these descriptions a transitory embodiment of the truth,
</> not the truth itself."
t "But I do not yet understand Swedenborg."
^ "No, because you have not the necessary preliminary knowledge. Just
2 like the peasant who came to a chemical lecture and only heard about letters
and numbers. He considered it the most stupid stuff he had ever heard:
'They could only spell, but could not put the letters together/ He lacked the
necessary preliminary knowledge. Still, when you read Swedenborg, read
Emerson along with him."
Perverse Science.—The teacher continued: "Swedenborg never found a
contradiction between science and religion, because he beheld the harmony
in all, correspondences in the higher sphere to the lower, and the unity
underlying opposites. Like Pythagoras, he saw the Law-giver in His laws, the
Creator in His work, God in nature, history, and the life of men. Modern
degenerate science sees nothing, although it has obtained the telescope and
"Newton, Leibnitz, Kepler, Swedenborg, Linnaeus—the greatest scien­
tists were religious, God-fearing men. Newton wrote also an exposition of
the Apocalypse. Kepler was a mystic in the truest sense of the word. It was his
mysticism which led to his discovery of the laws regulating the courses of the
planets. Humble and pure-hearted, those men could see God, while our
decadents only see an ape infested by vermin.
"The fact that our science has fallen into disharmony with God shows
that it is perverse, and derives its light from the Lord of Dung."
Truth in Error.—The teacher continued: "Let us return for a moment to
your green island. There you discovered that the world is a reflection of your
interior state, and of the interior state of others. It is therefore probable that
each carries his own heaven and hell within him. Thus we come to the
conclusion that religion is something subjective, and therefore outside the
reach of discussion.
"The believer is therefore right when he receives spiritual edification
from the consecrated bread and wine. And the unbeliever is also not wrong
when he maintains that for him it is only bread and wine. But if he asserts
that it is the same with the believer, he is wrong. One ought not to punish
him for it; one must only lament his want of intelligence. By calling religion
subjective, I have not thereby diminished its power. The subjective is the
highest for personality, which is an end in itself, inasmuch as the education
of man to superman is the meaning of existence.
"But when many individuals combine in one belief, there results an
objective force of tremendous intensity, which can move mountains and
overthrow the walls of Jericho."
Accumulators.—"When a race of wild men begins to worship a meteoric
stone and this stone is subsequently venerated by a nation for centuries, it
accumulates psychic force, i.e., becomes a sacred object which can bestow
strength on those who possess the receptive apparatus of faith. It can accord­
ingly work miracles which are quite incomprehensible to unbelievers.
"Such a sacred object is called an amulet, and is not really more remark­
able than an electric pocket-lamp. But the lamp gives light only on two
conditions—that it is charged with electricity and that one presses the knob.
Amulets also only operate under certain conditions.
"The same holds true of sacred places, sacred pictures and objects, and
also of sacred rites, which are called sacraments.
"But it may be dangerous for an unbeliever to approach too near to an
accumulator. The faith-batteries of others can produce an effect on them,
and they may be killed thereby, if they possess not the earth-circuit to carry
off the coarser earthly elements.
"The electric car proceeds securely and evenly as long as it is in contact
with the overhead wire and also connected with the earth. If the former
contact is interrupted, the car stands still. If the earth-circuit is blocked, an
electric storm is the result, as was the case with St. Paul on the way to
Eternal Punishment.—The pupil asked: "What is your belief regarding
eternal punishments?"
"Let me answer evasively, so to speak: since wickedness is its own punish­
ment and a wicked man cannot be happy and the will is free, an evil man
may be perpetually tormented with his own wickedness, and his punishment
accordingly have no end.
"But we will hope that the wicked man will not adhere to his evil will for
ever. A wicked man often experiences a change of nature when he sees
something good. Therefore, it is our duty to show him what is good. The
consciousness of fatality and being damned comes to everyone, even to the
incredulous. That proves that there is an inborn sense of justice, a need to
punish oneself, and that quite independent of dogmas. Moreover, it is a gross
falsehood that the doctrine of hell was invented by Christianity. Greeks and
Romans knew Hades and Tartarus with their refined tortures; the Jews had
their Sheol and Gehenna; the cheerful Japanese rival Dante with their
Inferno. It is therefore thoughtless nonsense to make Christian theology
solely responsible for the doctrine of hell. It would be just as fair to trace it to
the cheerful view of life of the Greeks and Romans, who first came upon the
"Desolation."—The teacher continued: "When this feeling of fatality
strikes an unbeliever, it often appears as the so-called persecution mania. He
believes himself, for example, persecuted by men who wish to poison him.
Since his intelligence is so low that he cannot rise to the idea of God, his evil
conscience makes him conjure up evil men as his persecutors. Thus he does
ec not understand that it is God who is pursuing him, and therefore he dies or
io goes mad.
2 "But he who has strength enough to bow himself, or intelligence enough
S to guess at a method in this madness, cries to God for help and grace, and
a escapes the madhouse. After a season of self-chastisement, life begins to grow
♦ lighter; peace returns; he succeeds in his undertakings; his 'Green Island'
^ again blooms with spring. This feeling of woebegoneness often occurs about
2 the fortieth or fiftieth year. It is the balancing of books at the solstice. The
whole past is summed up, and the debit side shows a plus which makes one
despair. Scenes of earlier life pass by like a panorama, seen in a new light;
long-forgotten incidents reappear even in their smallest details. The opening
of the sealed Book of Life, spoken of in the Revelation, is a veritable reality. It
is the day of judgment. The children of the Lord of Dung who have lost their
intelligence understand nothing, but buy bromide at the chemist's and take
sick-leave because of 'neurasthenia/ That is a Greek word, which serves
them as an amulet.
"Swedenborg calls this natural process the desolation of the wicked. The
pietists call it the awakening before conversion."
A World of Delusion.—"Swedenborg writes: T h e angels are troubled
concerning the darkness on earth. They say that they can see hardly any light
anywhere, that men live and strengthen themselves in lying and deceit and
so heap up falsity upon falsity. In order to ratify these, they manage to extract,
by way of inference, such true propositions from false premises, as from the
darknesses which conceal the true sources, and, because the real state of the
case is unknown, cannot be refuted/
"This agrees with what every thinking man observes: that lying and
deceit are universal. The whole of life—politics, society, marriage, the fam­
ily—is counterfeit. Views which universally prevail are based upon false
history; scientific theories are founded on error; the truth of today is dis­
covered to be a lie tomorrow; the hero turns out to be a coward, the martyr a
hypocrite. Te Deums are sung over a silver wedding, and the wedded pair,
still secretly leading immoral lives, thank God that they have lived together
happily for five-and-twenty years. The whole populace assembles once in a
year to celebrate the memory of the 'Destroyer of the Country/ He who says
the most foolish thing possible receives a prize in money and a gold medal.
At the annual asses' festival, the worst is crowned the asses' king.
"A mad world, my masters! If Hamlet plays the madman, he sees how
mad the world is. But the spectator believes himself to be the only reason­
able person; therefore, he gives Hamlet his sympathy."


assily Kandinsky, painter, playwright, and theorist, was born

W on December 4, 1866, in Moscow. After studying law at

Moscow University, he lectured on jurisprudence there un­
til 1896, when he declined a professorship at the University of Dorpat
to study painting in Munich. There he was able to gain traditional train­
ing as a painter while associating with many young experimental artists
working in Munich at the turn of the century. In 1908, Kandinsky began
to create Expressionist landscapes, and, from this point on, he moved
steadily in his painting toward more abstract visual forms. Along with
Franz Marc, he founded Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) in 1911, a
group that embraced a wide range of art devoted to the exploration of the
artist's inner life.
In 1912, Kandinsky and Marc edited Der Blaue Reiter Almanach, which in­
cluded the first publication of Kandinsky's Dergelbe Klang (The Yellow Sound, a.k.a.
The Yellow Chord), with "On Stage Composition" as its introduction. Written in
1909, this play occupies a significant place in the history of theater as one of the
first abstract dramas (itself barely anticipated by the ideas in the Russian com­
poser Scriabin's Prometheus [ 1909-10]) and also one of the earliest of modern
light-and-sound "events." Its musical score, by the Russian composer Thomas
von Hartmann, was unfortunately lost during the Russian Revolution.
At about the same time as he was writing The Yellow Sound together with The
Green Sound (1909), Black and White (1909), and Violet (1911), Kandinsky pub­
lished his main theoretical tract on modern art, Ober das Geistige in der Kunst
(Concerning the Spiritual in Art, 1911), in which he advocated the creation of
increasingly nonobjective art, free from the confines of physical representa­
tion. As a member of the Bauhaus beginning in 1922, Kandinsky continued to
influence the development of this movement—whose primary goals, like his,
were to reunite the arts, break down the barriers between artists and crafts­
men, and make artistic products available to the common people as well as make
them an integral part of daily life—until it was shut down by the Nazis in 1933. He
died on December 13, 1944, in Paris.


The Yellow Sound as a Total Work of Art

r^^m M nspired by the Wagnerian notion of Gesamtkunstwerk, Kandinsky

L^J | aimed at creating a synthetic genre—the total work of art. Argu-
fjf^r ^ ™ ing, however, that the Wagnerian concept is based exclusively on
the principles of representational art, in which all connections between
IJJF and within different arts are artificial and external, Kandinsky offered
his own model of the Gesamtkunstwerk. He named his new model a stage
composition, a form centered on the principle of internal spiritual connections
between sound, movement, and color. Kandinsky first presented his concept of
purely theatrical, synthetic form and its relationship to the Wagnerian
Gesamtkunstwerk in his theoretical manifesto "On Stage Composition" (1912).
Kandinsky's own stage compositions The Yellow Sound, Daphnis and Chloe,
Black and White, Violet, and The Green Sound were written in the early 1900s,
simultaneously with his first attempts to break away from naturalism in art and
create abstract painting. By renouncing the material object and the human figure
in abstract painting, Kandinsky established a new relationship between form and
color. Similarly, by renouncing individualized character and psychological motiva-
tion in stage composition, Kandinsky introduced a purely theatrical, ecstatically
spectacular form that would have an exclusively spiritual, even regenerative
relation with its audience.
Unlike Wagner, Kandinsky contended that the three elements of his Ge-
samtkunstwerk—sound, movement, and color—should not have external or
narrative connections with each other. Kandinsky rejected the governing triad of
realistic drama—psychology, causality, and morality or providentiality—and cre-
ated his own formula in which the causal-motivational relationships among char-
acters and events were replaced by the internal or subjective causality contained
in sound, movement, and color. In Kandinsky's triad, the function of psychology
was taken over by different colors and their psychological effect on the audience.
And even though Kandinsky argued for the independence of all three elements in
his triad, color actually dictated the action. Color, in its relation to music and
dance and vice versa, replaced not only psychology in the triad, but also cause-
and-effect relationships, for changes in color programmed the movements of the
other elements in Kandinsky's composition.
While completely repudiating representational, realistic art in The Yellow
Sound, Kandinsky embraced some models of avant-garde drama and prefigured
others. Influenced by the principles of Gesamtkunstwerk and the Symbolist
theory of "correspondences"—the idea that there exists an inner, spiritual reci-
procity among the arts, whose different forms can potentially affect the same
senses—Kandinsky also explored some of the themes of Expressionistic drama,
such as the eternal contradiction between Dionysian frenzy (yellow) and Apollo-
nian "classicism" (blue) and the never-ending battle between the spiritual and
the physical. In emphasizing the importance of collage and the juxtaposition of
different arts within a total work of art, he also anticipated the Dadaist theories

By Julia Listengarten. Published here for the first time.

of automatic writing, chance collages, and random stage compositions. Finally,
however, The Yellow Sound in its pure form cannot be identified with any particu­
lar avant-garde movement: instead, it is sui generis, presenting its own form and
perhaps its own movement.

Select Bibliography on Kandinsky

Berghaus, Gunter. "A Theatre of Image, Sound, and Motion." Maske und Kothurn 32.1 - 2
(1986): 7-28.
Grohmann, Will. Woss/7y Kandinsky: Life and Work. Trans. Norbert Guterman. New York:
a Abrams, 1958.
|j Kobialka, Michael. "Theatre of Celebration/Disruption: Time and Space/Timespace in
Z Kandinsky's Theatre Experiments." Theatre Annual 44 (1989-90): 71 -96.
Q Sheppard, R. W. "Kandinsky's Abstract Drama Der Gelbe Klang: An Interpretation." Forum
Z for Modern Language Studies 14(1975): 165-76.
2 Swoope, Charles. "Kandinsky and Kokoschka: Two Episodes in the Genesis of Total The­
ft atre." Yale/Theatre 3.1 (Fall 1970): 11-18.

T h e Yellow Sound
A Stage Composition

Wassily Kandinsky


TENOR (behind the stage)
CHORUS (behind the stage)
[Thomas von Hartmann was responsible for the music]


Some indeterminate chords from the orchestra.

Over the stage, dark-blue twilight, which at first has a pale tinge and later
becomes a more intense dark blue. After a time, a small light becomes visible in
the center, increasing in brightness as the color becomes deeper. After a time,
music from the orchestra. Pause.
Behind the stage, a CHORUS is heard, which must be so arranged that the
source of the singing is unrecognizable. The bass voices predominate. The
singing is even, without expression, with pauses indicated by dots.

Reprinted from Arnold Schoenberg, Wassily Kandinsky: Letters, Pictures, and Documents, ed.
Jelena Hahl-Koch; trans. John C. Crawford (London: Faber and Faber, 1984), 489-507.
At first, DEEP VOICES.
Stone-hard dreams.... And speaking rocks... .
Clods of earth pregnant with puzzling questions....
The heaven t u r n s . . . . The stones.... m e l t . . . .
Growing up more invisible . . . rampart....
Tears and laughter.... Praying and cursing... .
Joy of reconciliation and blackest slaughter.
Murky light on the . . . sunniest... day
(Quickly and suddenly cut off).
Brilliant shadows in darkest night!!
^ The light disappears. It grows suddenly dark. Long pause. Then orchestral
* introduction.
4 {Right and left as seen by the spectator.)
♦ The stage must be as deep as possible. A long way back, a broad green hill.
g! Behind the hill a smooth, matt, blue, fairly dark-toned curtain.
*"" The music begins straightaway, at first in the higher registers, then de-
scending immediately to the lower. At the same time, the background becomes
dark blue (in time with the music) and assumes broad black edges (like a pic-
ture). Behind the stage can be heard a chorus, without words, which produces
an entirely wooden and mechanical sound, without feeling. After the CHOIR
has finished singing, a general pause: no movement, no sound. Then darkness.
Later, the same scene is illuminated. Five bright yellow GIANTS (as big as
possible) appear from right to left (as if hovering directly above the ground).
They remain standing next to one another right at the back, some with
raised, others with lowered shoulders, and with strange, yellow faces which are
Very slowly, they turn their heads toward one another and make simple
arm movements.
The music becomes more definite.
Immediately afterward, the GIANTS' very low singing, without words, be-
comes audible (pp), and the GIANTS approach the ramp very slowly. Quickly,
red, indistinct creatures, somewhat reminiscent of birds, fly from left to right,
with big heads, bearing a distant resemblance to human ones. This flight is
reflected in the music.
The GIANTS continue to sing more and more softly. As they do so, they
become more indistinct. The hill behind grows slowly and becomes brighter
and brighter, finally white. The sky becomes completely black.
Behind the stage, the same wooden chorus becomes audible. The GIANTS
are no longer to be heard.
The apron stage turns blue and becomes ever more opaque.
The orchestra competes with the chorus and drowns it
A dense blue mist makes the whole stage invisible.


The blue mist recedes gradually before the light, which is a perfect, brilliant
white. At the back of the stage, a bright green hill, completely round and as
large as possible.
The background violet, fairly bright
The music is shrill and tempestuous, with oft-repeated A and B and B and
A-flat. These individual notes are finally swallowed up by the raging storm.
Suddenly, there is complete stillness. A pause. Again is heard the plangent
complaint, albeit precise and sharp, of A and B. This lasts for some time. Then,
a further pause.
At this point the background suddenly turns a dirty brown. The hill be-
comes dirty green. And right in the middle of the hill forms an indefinite black
patch, which appears now distinct, now blurred. At each change in definition,
the brilliant white light becomes progressively grayer. On the left side of the
hill a big yellow flower suddenly becomes visible. It bears a distant resem-
blance to a large, bent cucumber, and its color becomes more and more in-
tense. Its stem is long and thin. Only one narrow, prickly leaf grows sideways
out of the middle of the stem. Long pause.
Later, in complete silence, the flower begins to sway very slowly from right
to left; still later the leaf, but not together. Still later, both begin to sway in an
uneven tempo. Then again separately, whereupon a very thin B accompanies
the movement of the flower, a very deep A that of the leaf. Then both sway
together again, and both notes sound together. The flower trembles violently
and then remains motionless. In the music, the two notes continue to sound. At
the same time, many PEOPLE come on from the left in long, garish, shapeless
garments (one entirely blue, a second red, a third green, etc.; only yellow is
missing). The PEOPLE hold in their hands very large white flowers that resem-
ble the flower on the hill. The PEOPLE keep as close together as possible, pass
directly in front of the hill, and remain on the right-hand side of the stage,
almost huddled together. They speak with various different voices and recite:
The flowers cover all, cover all, cover all.
Close your eyes! Close your eyes!
We look. We look.
Cover conception with innocence.
Open your eyes! Open your eyes!
Gone. Gone.*

* Vorbei in the German; in the earlier Russian version mimo, which means "passed" only in the
spatial sense, hence "passed by" or "missed."
At first, they all recite together, as if in ecstasy (very distinctly). Then, they
repeat the same thing individually: one after the other—alto, bass and soprano
voices. At "We look, we look" B sounds; at "Gone, gone" A. Occasional voices
become hoarse. Some cry out as if possessed. Here and there a voice becomes
nasal, sometimes slowly, sometimes with lightning rapidity. In the first in-
stance, the stage is suddenly rendered indistinct by a dull red light. In the
second, a lurid blue light alternates with total darkness. In the third, every-
thing suddenly turns a sickly gray (all colors disappear!). Only the yellow
flower continues to glow more strongly!
Gradually, the orchestra strikes up and drowns the voices. The music
becomes restless, jumping from Sto pp. The light brightens somewhat, and one
can recognize indistinctly the colors of the people. Very slowly, tiny figures
cross the hill from right to left, indistinct and having a gray color ofindetermi-
£ nate value. They look before them. The moment the first figure appears, the
™ yellow flower writhes as if in pain. Later it suddenly disappears. With equal
2 suddenness, all the white flowers turn yellow.
z The PEOPLE walk slowly, as if in a dream, toward the apron stage, and
* separate more and more from one another.
♦ The music dies down, and again one hears the same recitative. * Suddenly,
^ the PEOPLE stop dead as if spellbound and turn around. All at once they no-
^ tice the little figures, which are still crossing the hill in an endless line. The
PEOPLE turn away and take several swift paces toward the apron stage, stop
once more, turn around again, and remain motionless, as if rooted to the spot, t
At last they throw away the flowers as if they were filled with blood, and
wrenching themselves free from their rigidity, run together toward the front of
the stage. They look around frequently. X It turns suddenly dark.


At the back of the stage: two large rust brown rocks, one sharp, the other
rounded and larger than the first. Backdrop: black. Between the rocks stand
the GIANTS (as in Scene 1) and whisper noiselessly to one another. Sometimes
they whisper in pairs; sometimes all their heads come together. Their bodies
remain motionless. In quick succession, brightly colored rays fall from all sides
(blue, red, violet, and green alternate several times). Then all these rays meet
in the center, becoming intermingled. Everything remains motionless. The
GIANTS are almost invisible. Suddenly, all colors vanish. For a moment, there is
blackness. Then a dull yellow light floods the stage, which gradually becomes
more intense, until the whole stage is bright lemon yellow. As the light is
intensified, the music grows deeper and darker (this motion reminds one of a
snail retreating into its shell). During these two movements, nothing but light

* Half the sentence spoken in unison; the end of the sentence very indistinctly by one voice.
Alternating frequently.
t This movement must be executed as if at drill.
+ These movements should not be in time to the music.
is to be seen on the stage: no objects. The brightest level of light is reached, the
music entirely dissolved. The GIANTS become distinguishable again, are im-
movable, and look before them. The rocks appear no more. Only the GIANTS
are on the stage: they now stand further apart and have grown bigger. Back-
drop and background remain black. Long pause. Suddenly, one hears from
behind the stage a shrill tenor voice, filled with fear, shouting entirely indis-
tinguishable words very quickly (one hears frequently [the letter] a: e.g., "Ka-
lasimunafakolaf). Pause. For a moment it becomes dark.


To the left of the stage a small crooked building (like a very simple chapel),
with neither door nor window. On one side of the building (springing from the C
roof) a narrow, crooked turret with a small, cracked bell. Hanging from the 3
bell a rope. A SMALL CHILD is pulling slowly and rhythmically at the lower end
of the rope, wearing a white blouse and sitting on the ground (turned toward
the spectator). To the right, on the same level, stands a very fat MAN, dressed
entirely in black. His face completely white, very indistinct. The chapel is a
dirty red. The tower bright blue. The bell made of brass. Background gray,
even, smooth. The black MAN stands with legs apart, his hands on his hips.
The MAN (very loud, imperiously; with a beautiful voice):
The CHILD drops the rope. It becomes dark.


The stage is gradually saturated with a cold red light, which slowly grows
stronger and equally slowly turns yellow. At this point, the GIANTS behind
become visible (as in Scene 3). The same rocks are also there.
The GIANTS are whispering again (as in Scene 3). At the moment their
heads come together again, one hears from behind the stage the same cry, only
very quick and short. It becomes dark for a moment; then the same action is
repeated again. * As it grows light (white light, without shadows) the GIANTS
are still whispering but are also making feeble gestures with their hands (these
gestures must be different, but feeble). Occasionally, one of them stretches out
his arms (this gesture must, likewise, be the merest suggestion) and puts his
head a little to one side, looking at the spectator. Twice, all the GIANTS let their
arms drop suddenly, grow somewhat taller, and stand motionless, looking at
the spectator. Then their bodies are racked by a kind of spasm (as in the case of
the yellow flower), and they start whispering again, occasionally stretching out
an arm as if in feeble protest. The music gradually becomes shriller. The
GIANTS remain motionless. From the left appear many PEOPLE, clad in tights
of different colors. Their hair is covered with the corresponding color. Likewise

* Naturally, the music must also be repeated each time.

their faces. (The PEOPLE resemble marionettes.) First there appear gray, then
black, then white, and finally different-colored PEOPLE. The movements of
each group are different; one proceeds quickly forward, another slowly, as if
with difficulty; a third makes occasional merry leaps; a fourth keeps turning
around; a fifth comes on with solemn, theatrical steps, arms crossed; a sixth
walks on tiptoe, palm upraised, etc.
All take up different positions on the stage; some sit in small, close-knit
groups, others by themselves. The whole arrangement should be neither "beau-
tiful" nor particularly definite. It should not, however, represent complete
confusion. The PEOPLE look in different directions, some with heads raised,
others with lowered heads, some with heads sunk on their chests. As if overcome
by exhaustion, they rarely shift their position. The light remains white. The
music undergoes frequent changes of tempo; occasionally, it too subsides in
£ exhaustion. At precisely these moments, one of the white figures on the left
™ (fairly far back) makes indefinite but very much quicker movements, sometimes
Q with his arms, sometimes with his legs. From time to time he continues one
Z movement for a longer space of time and remains for several moments in the
* corresponding position. It is like a kind of dance, only with frequent changes of
♦ tempo, sometimes corresponding with the music, sometimes not. (This simple
QQ action must be rehearsed with extreme care, so that what follows produces an
^ expressive and startling effect.) The other PEOPLE gradually start to stare at the
white figure. Many crane their necks. In the end, they are all looking at him.
This dance ends, however, quite suddenly; the white figure sits down, stretches
out one arm as if in ceremonious preparation and, slowly bending this arm at
the elbow, brings it toward his head. The general tension is especially expres-
sive. The white figure, however, rests his elbow on his knee and puts his head in
his hand. For a moment, it becomes dark. Then one perceives again the same
groupings and attitudes. Many of the groups are illuminated from above with
stronger or weaker lights of different colors: one seated group is illuminated
with a powerful red, a large seated group with pale blue, etc. The bright yellow
light is (apart from the GIANTS, who now become particularly distinct) concen-
trated exclusively upon the seated white figure. Suddenly, all the colors disap-
pear (the GIANTS remain yellow), and white twilight floods the stage. In the
orchestra, individual colors begin to stand out. Correspondingly, individual
figures stand up in different places: quickly, in haste, solemnly, slowly; and as
they do so, they look up. Some remain standing. Some sit down again. Then all
are once more overcome by exhaustion, and everything remains motionless.
The GIANTS whisper. But they, too, remain now motionless and erect as
from behind the stage the wooden chorus, which lasts only for a short time,
becomes audible.
Then one hears again in the orchestra individual colors. Red light travels
across the rocks, and they begin to tremble. The GIANTS tremble in alternation
with the passage of light.
At different ends of the stage, movement is noticeable.
The orchestra repeats several times B and A: on their owny together, some-
times very shrill, sometimes scarcely audible.
Various PEOPLE leave their places and go, some quickly, some slowly, over
to other groups. The ones who stood by themselves form smaller groups of two
or three people, or spread themselves among the larger groups. The big groups
split up. Many PEOPLE run in haste from the stage, looking behind them. In
the process, all the BLACK, GRAY, AND WHITE PEOPLE disappear; in the end,
there remain only the DIFFERENT-COLORED PEOPLE on stage.
Gradually, everything takes on an arhythmical movement. In the orches-
tra—confusion. The same shrill cry as in Scene 3 is heard. The GIANTS tremble.
Various lights cross the stage and overlap.
Whole groups run from the stage. A general dance strikes up, starting at
various points and gradually subsiding, carrying ALL THE PEOPLE with it. "g
Running, jumping, running to and fro, falling down. Some, standing still, %
make rapid movements with their arms alone, others only with their legs, $
heads, or behinds. Some combine all these movements. Sometimes, there =:
are group movements. Sometimes, whole groups make one and the same ^
movement. h-
At that moment, at which the greatest confusion in the orchestra, in the ♦
movement, and in the lighting occurs, it suddenly becomes dark and silent. ^
Only the yellow GIANTS remain visible at the back of the stage, being only ^J
slowly swallowed up by the darkness. The GIANTS seem to go out like a lamp;
i.e., the light glimmers several times before total darkness ensues.
O n Stage Composition

Wassily Kandinsky

Every art has its own language, i.e., those means which it alone possesses.
Thus every art is something self-contained. Every art is an individual life.
It is a realm of its own.
For this reason, the means belonging to the different arts are externally
quite different. Sound, color, words!...
In the last essentials, these means are wholly alike: the final goal ex­
tinguishes the external dissimilarities and reveals the inner identity.
This final goal (knowledge) is attained by the human soul through finer
vibrations of the same. These finer vibrations, however, which are identi­
cal in their final goal, have in themselves different inner motions and are
thereby distinguished from one another.
This indefinable and yet definite activity of the soul (vibration) is the aim
of the individual artistic means.
A certain complex of vibrations—the goal of a work of art.
The progressive refinement of the soul by means of the accumulation of
different complexes—the aim of art.
Art is for this reason indispensable and purposeful.
The correct means that the artist discovers is a material form of that
vibration of his soul to which he is forced to give expression.
If this means is correct, it causes a virtually identical vibration in the
receiving soul.
This is inevitable. But this second vibration is complex. First, it can be
powerful or weak, depending upon the degree of development of him who

Reprinted from Arnold Schoenberg, Wassily Kandinsky: Letters, Pictures, and Documents, ed.
Jelena Hahl-Koch; trans. John C. Crawford (London: Faber and Faber, 1984), 111-17.
receives it, and also upon temporal influences (degree of absorption of the
soul). Second, this vibration of the receiving soul will cause other strings
within the soul to vibrate in sympathy. This is a way of exciting the "fantasy" of
the receiving subject, which "continues to exert its creative activity" upon the
work of art* [am Werke "writer schaffi"]. Strings of the soul that are made to
vibrate frequently will, on almost every occasion other strings are touched,
also vibrate in sympathy. And sometimes so strongly that they drown the origi­
nal sound: there are people who are made to cry when they hear "cheerful"
music, and vice versa. For this reason, the individual effects of a work of art be­
come more or less strongly colored in the case of different receiving subjects.
Yet in this case the original sound is not destroyed, but continues to live
and works, even if imperceptibly, upon the soul.t
Therefore, there is no man who cannot receive art. Every work of art and
every one of the individual means belonging to that work produces in every
man without exception a vibration that is at bottom identical to that of the
The internal, ultimately discoverable identity of the individual means of
different arts has been the basis upon which the attempt has been made to
support and to strengthen a particular sound of one art by the identical
sound belonging to another art, thereby attaining a particularly powerful
effect. This is one means of producing [such] an effect.
Duplicating the resources of one art (e.g., music), however, by the identi­
cal resources of another art (e.g., painting) is only one instance, one pos­
sibility. If this possibility is used as an internal means also (e.g., in the case of
Scriabin),+ we find within the realm of contrast, of complex composition,
first the antithesis of this duplication and later a series of possibilities that lie
between collaboration and opposition. This material is inexhaustible.

The nineteenth century distinguished itself as a time far removed from inner
creation. Concentration upon material phenomena and upon the material
aspect of phenomena logically brought about the decline of creative power
upon the internal plane, which apparently led to the ultimate degree of
Out of this one-sidedness other biases naturally had to develop.
Thus, too, on the stage:
1. There necessarily occurred here also (as in other spheres) the painstaking
elaboration of individual, already existing (previously created) constituent

* Among others, theater designers in particular count today upon this "collaboration," which
has of course always been employed by artists. Hence derived also the demand for a certain distance,
which should separate the work of art from the ultimate degree of expressiveness. This not-saying-
the-ultimate was called for by, e.g., Lessing and Delacroix, among others. This distance leaves space
free for the operation of fantasy.
t Thus, in time, every work is correctly "understood."
+ See the article by L. Sabaneyev in this book [i.e., in the almanac Derblaue Reiter].
parts, which had for the sake of convenience been firmly and definitively
separated one from another. Here, one sees reflected the specializa­
tion that always comes about immediately when no new forms are being
2. The positive character of the spirit of the times could lead only to a form
of combination that was equally positive. Indeed, people thought: two is
greater than one, and sought to strengthen every effect by means of repe­
tition. As regards the inner effect, however, the reverse may be true,
and often one is greater than two. Mathematically, 1 + 1 =2. Spiritually,
1—1 can = 2.
Re (1). Through the primary consequence of materialism, i.e., through
specialization, and bound up with it, the further external development of the
>. individual [constituent] parts, there arose and became petrified three classes
u of stage works, which were separated from one another by high walls:
5 A) Drama
| B) Opera
* C) Ballet

♦ (A) Nineteenth-century drama is in general the more or less refined and
oo profound narration of happenings of a more or less personal character. It is
usually the description of external life, where the spiritual life of man is
involved only insofar as it has to do with his eternal life.* The cosmic element
is completely lacking.
External happenings and the eternal unity of the action compose the form
of drama today.
(B) Opera is drama to which music is added as a principal element,
whereby the refinement and profundity of the dramatic aspect suffer greatly.
The two constituent [elements] are bound up with one another in a com­
pletely eternal way. I.e., either the music illustrates (or strengthens) the
dramatic action, or else the dramatic action is called upon to help explain
the music.
Wagner noticed this weakness and sought to alleviate it by various
means. His principal object was to join the individual parts with one another
in an organic way, thereby creating a monumental work of art. t
Wagner sought to strengthen his resources by the repetition of one and
the same external movement in two substantive forms, and to raise the effect
* We find few exceptions. And even these few (e.g., Maeterlinck, Ibsen's Ghosts, Andreyev's
Life of Man, etc.) remain dominated by external action.
t This thought of Wagner's took over half a century to cross the Alps, on the other side of which
it was expressed in the form of an official paragraph. The musical "manifesto" of the Futurists reads:
"Proclamer comme une necessite absolue que le musicien soit l'auteur du poeme dramatique ou
tragique qu'il doit mettre en musique" [To proclaim as an absolute necessity that the musician
should be the author of the dramatic poem or tragedy that he would set to music] (May 1911,
produced to a monumental level. His mistake in this case was to think that
he disposed of a means of universal application. This device is in reality only
one of the series of often more powerful possibilities in [the realm of]
monumental art.
Yet apart from the fact that a parallel repetition constitutes only one
means, and that this repetition is only external, Wagner gave to it a new form
that necessarily led to others. E.g., movement had before Wagner a purely
external and superficial sense in opera (perhaps only debased). It was a naive
appurtenance of opera: pressing one's hands to one's breast (love), lifting
one's arms (prayer), stretching out one's arms (powerful emotion), etc.
These childish forms (which even today one can still see every evening) were
externally related to the text of the opera, which in turn was illustrated by the
music. Wagner here created a direct (artistic) link between movement and
the progress of the music: movement was subordinated to tempo.
The link is, however, of only an external nature. The inner sound of >*
movement does not come into play. j£
In the same artistic but likewise external way, Wagner on the other hand "§
subordinated the music to the text, i.e., movement in a broad sense. The ^
hissing of red-hot iron in water, the sound of the smith's hammer, etc., were ♦
represented musically. w
This changing subordination has been, however, yet another enrichment 2
of means, which of necessity led to further combinations.
Thus, Wagner on the one hand enriched with the effect of one means,
and on the other hand diminished the inner sense—the purely artistic inner
meaning of the auxiliary means.
These forms are merely the mechanical reproduction (not inner collab­
oration) of the purposive progress of the action. Also of a similar nature is the
other kind of combination of music with movement (in the broad sense of
the word), i.e., the musical "characterization" of the individual roles. This
obstinate recurrence of a [particular] musical phrase at the appearance of a
hero finally loses its power and gives rise to an effect upon the ear like that
which an old, well-known label on a bottle produces upon the eye. One's
feelings finally revolt against this kind of consistent, programmatic use of
one and the same form.*
Finally, Wagner uses words as a means of narration, of expressing his
thoughts. He fails, however, to create an appropriate setting for such aims,
since as a rule the words are drowned by the orchestra. It is not sufficient to
allow the words to be heard in numerous recitatives. But the device of
interrupting the continuous singing has already dealt a powerful blow to the
"unity." And yet the external action remains untouched even by this.

* This programmatic element runs right through Wagner's work and is probably to be ex­
plained in terms not only of the character of the artist but also of the search for a precise form for this
new type of creation, upon which the spirit of the nineteenth century impressed its stamp of the
Apart from the fact that Wagner here remains entirely in the old tradi­
tions of the external, in spite of his efforts to create a text (movement), he
still neglects the third element, which is used today in isolated cases in a
still more primitive form*—color, and connected with it, pictorial form
External action7 the external connection between its individual parts and
the two means employed (drama and music), is the form of opera today.
(C) Ballet is a form of drama with all the characteristics already de­
scribed and also the same content. Only here the seriousness of drama loses
even more than in the case of opera. In opera, in addition to love, other
themes occur: religious, political, and social conditions provide the ground
upon which enthusiasm, despair, honor, hatred, and other similar feelings
grow. Ballet contents itself with love in the form of a childish fairy tale. Apart
£ from music, individual and group movement both help to contribute. Every-
£ thing remains in a naive form of external relationships. It even happens that
Q individual dances are in practice included or left out at will. The "whole" is
Z so problematic that such goings-on go completely unnoticed.
* External action, the external connection between its individual parts and
♦ the three means employed (drama, music, and dance), is the form of ballet
^ today.
2 Re (2). Through the secondary consequence of materialism, i.e., on ac­
count of positive addition (1 + 1 = 2 , 2 + 1 =3), the only form that was
employed involved the use of combination (alternatively, reinforcement),
which demanded a parallel progression of means. E.g., powerful emotions
are at once emphasized by an ff in music. This mathematical principle also
constructs affective forms upon a purely external basis.
All the above-mentioned forms, which I call substantive forms [Sub-
stanzformen] (drama—words; opera—sound; ballet—movement), and like­
wise the combinations of the individual means, which I call affective means
[Wirkungsmittel], are composed into an external unity. Because all these
forms arose out of the principle of external necessity.
Out of this springs as a logical result the limitation, the one-sidedness
( = impoverishment) of forms and means. They gradually become orthodox,
and every minute change appears revolutionary.

Viewing the question from the standpoint of the internal, the whole matter
becomes fundamentally different.
1. Suddenly, the external appearance of each element vanishes. And its
inner value takes on its full sound.
2. It becomes clear that, if one is using the inner sound, the external ac­
tion can be not only incidental but also, because it obscures our view,

* See the article by Sabaneyev.

3. The worth of the external unity appears in its correct light, i.e., as un­
necessarily limiting, weakening the inner effect.
4. There arises of its own accord one's feeling for the necessity of the inner
unity, which is supported and even constituted by the external lack of
5. The possibility is revealed for each of the elements to retain its own
external life, which externally contradicts the external life of another
Further, if we go beyond these abstract discoveries to practical creation,
we see that it is possible
re (1) to take only the inner sound of an element as one's means;
re (2) to eliminate the external procedure ( = the action);
re (3) by means of which the external connection between the parts
collapses of its own accord;
re (4) the external unity, and
re (5) the inner unity place in our hands an innumerable series of means,
which could not previously have existed.
Here, the only source thus becomes that of internal necessity.

The following short stage composition is an attempt to draw upon this

There are here three elements that are used as external means, but for
their inner value:
1. musical sound and its movement
2. bodily spiritual sound and its movement, expressed by people and objects
3. color-tones and their movement (a special resource of the stage).
Thus, ultimately, drama consists here of the complex of inner experi­
ences (spiritual vibrations) of the spectator.
re 1. From opera has been taken the principal element—music—as the
source of inner sounds, which need in no way be subordinated to the exter­
nal progress of the action.
re 2. From ballet has been taken dance, which is used as movement that
produces an abstract effect with an inner sound.
re 3. Color-tones take on an independent significance and are treated as
a means of equal importance.
All three elements play an equally significant role, remain externally self-
sufficient, and are treated in a similar way, i.e., subordinated to the inner
Thus, e.g., music can be completely suppressed, or pushed into the back­
ground, if the effect, e.g., of the movement, is sufficiently expressive, and
could be weakened by combination with the powerful effect of the music.
The growth of musical movement can correspond to a decrease in the
movement of the dance, whereby both movements (the positive and the
negative) take on a greater inner value, etc., etc. A series of combinations,
which lie between the two poles: collaboration and opposition. Conceived
graphically, the three elements can take entirely individual, in external
terms, completely independent, paths.
Words as such, or linked together in sentences, have been used to create
a particular "mood," which prepares the ground of the soul and makes it
receptive. The sound of the human voice has also been used purely, i.e.,
without being obscured by words, by the sense of the words.

The reader is asked not to ascribe to the principle the weaknesses of the
following short composition, Yellow Sound, but to attribute them to the
• ■Mil

Italian Futurism

mberto Boccioni, playwright, painter, and theorist, was born

U October 19, 1882, in Reggio Calabria, Italy. Following Mari-

i netti's publication of the first Futurist manifesto in 1909, Boc­
cioni became one of the authors of the "Technical Manifesto of Futurist
Painting" (1910), the first manifesto to adapt the principles of Futurism
to painting. In his book Futurist Painting and Sculpture (1914), Boccioni
proposed a Futurist aesthetic for the visual arts. He was one of several
painters featured in the first Futurist exhibition of paintings in Milan in
1911. His sintesi Genius and Culture (1915), a satiric indictment of artis­
tic criticism, exemplifies the Futurists' variety aesthetic in its use of a
quick set-up for a single, brief joke. He died on August 17, 1916, from injuries
sustained in battle as an artillery soldier during World War I.
.-^^ ^ L rancesco Cangiullo (born in Naples, 1888; died in Livorno,
ls^» ■ 1977), poet, playwright, theorist, and visual artist, wrote several
n g v » ^ k Futurist sintesi, including Detonation (1915), The Paunch of the
^ Vase (1920), Lights (1919, 1922), and Piedigrotta (1914), a parole in liberta
0 ^ ^ (words-in-freedom) drama, which was one of the first Futurist plays to
expand upon the aesthetic Marinetti proposed in his "Variety Theater Mani­
festo" (1913). With Marinetti, he wrote "The Theater of Surprise" (1921), a
manifesto in which the two men reasserted the principles of Futurism and
proclaimed its historical importance as an influence on much of the grotesque,
tragicomic theater produced in Italy since the founding of Futurism. Cangiullo
toured Italy with Rudolfo DeAngelis and Marinetti as part of the Theater of
Surprise Company (1921) and as part of DeAngelis's New Futurist Theatre
(1924), two of the most visible Futurist theatrical companies in the later years of
the movement.
_ ^ ^ ^ L ilippo Tommaso Marinetti, playwright, poet, novelist, journalist,
u^* ■ and theorist, was born on December 22, 1876, in Alexandria,
n^^ Jkm Egypt. After moving to Italy in 1894 and earning a law degree in
1899, he embarked on a literary career. Initially he was a strong propo-
0 ^ ^ nent of Symbolism in Italy, and in 1905 he founded Poesia, Italy's first
Symbolist journal. During his Symbolist period, Marinetti wrote two full-length
plays, Le Roi Bombance (King Glutton, 1905) and Poupees electriques (Electric Dolls,
1909), both of which premiered at the Theatre de I'Oeuvre in Paris on April I,
1909. Le Roi Bombance was influenced by Jarry's King Ubu (1896) and uses a
gastronomical metaphor to explore the relationship between the ruling elite and
their starving, rebellious subjects; Poupees electriques introduces robotic charac­
ters who are the synthesis of deadening forces in bourgeois existence. Yet
Marinetti had already changed the focus of his artistic work by this time. In 1909
he published the first Futurist manifesto, which initiated the Italian Futurist
movement that he would lead for the next thirty-five years.
The central preoccupations of the Futurists were speed and technology;
they were particularly drawn to the intoxicating power of machines. Having little
tolerance for the theatrical conventions of the past and taking his inspiration
from the innovations of the machine age, Marinetti proposed that theater (as
well as many other arts) should break free of conventional plots, psychological
characterization, logical structure, and the constraints of reality. He and his
Futurist followers accordingly introduced sintesi—"synthetic" drama, or brief,
compressed plays that frequently incorporated simultaneous action occurring in
different places or times, and which rarely took more than five minutes to
perform. The Futurists put on these plays, along with readings of their poetry,
performances of their music, film screenings, rounds of speech-making, and
displays of their paintings, in several Italian cities as part of an evening's entertain­
ment, or serata, which can be seen as a predecessor of the Happenings of the
1960s. The Futurists attempted to disorient and shock audiences, if not to
provoke them to violence, with each of the serate, which consisted of a mixture
of politics and art. Above all, the Futurist theater was to be brief, improvised,
and dynamic, not lengthy, calculated, and static; objects and events were con­
sidered more important than the psychological presentation of character or the
analytical demonstration of a theme. In his 1913 manifesto "The Variety The­
ater," Marinetti traced the Futurist aesthetic to the variety stage of nightclubs,
circuses, and the music hall, which he extolled for its speed, spectacle, and
Marinetti died on December 2, 1944, in Bellagio, but the originality of his
work and the enormous influence it had on the subsequent development of
theater (not to speak of music, painting, sculpture, dance, and cinema) were not
recognized for many years, owing to his Fascist sympathies during and well after
World War I. Despite Marinettfs devotion to the anarchic, revolutionary prin­
ciples of Futurism, he was able to justify his participation in Mussolini's re­
pressive, totalitarian regime—perhaps because some of the Futurist rhetoric
concerning nationalism, heroism, youth, and athleticism had been thoroughly
absorbed by the Fascists.


The Italian Futurist Theatre
r^—» _ mages of war and aggression had abounded in the works of the
Is^J J Futurists from 1909 onwards. They had declared war to be "la
n^» ^ k sola igiene del mondo" (the sole hygiene of the world), and they
_ joined battle with enthusiasm, both aesthetic and physical. They had
D^* found a partial focus for their adulation of war in the war in Libya
(1911-12), but now it became one of the major considerations of the group.
Examples of sintesi written to appeal to Italian patriotism are F. T. Marinettfs
L'arresto and Umberto Boccioni's Kultur, both performed during the tours of
I9l5and 1916.
In L'arresto (The Arrest) a number of critics and observers are gathered in a
comfortable room, and express their disapproval of the war. Suddenly, from the
trenches a young soldier cries: "O venite un po' voi signori pessimisti, a far quel
che facciamo noi!" (Come on, you pessimists, and do what we Ve doing!). One of
the critics, described as spiteful and gouty, is forced to pick up a rifle and fight,
with a gun instead of his tongue. The soldiers, from being participants in the war,
become spectators, and watch the critic fighting the Austrians until he is killed by
a bullet. The police arrive, and one of them says: "E gia cadavere!" (He's already
dead!), to which a soldier replies: "Arrestate almeno il suo fetore passatista" (At
least arrest his traditionalist stink). Kultur represents the struggle between Latin
genius and unbearable Germanic pedantry, which destroys all creativity by mak­
ing it the subject of arid study.
Syntheses such as these were applauded, especially in 1916, and helped to
create an atmosphere more favourable to the experimentation of the Futurists.
It is worth saying that many of the sintesi remain schematic, like the ones
described above, and that their value for the most part lies in their experimental
nature. It is, however, worth analysing the approach of the Futurists to the
theatre in these works, as they are the first practical realisation of their man­
ifestos. Extended plot and action give way to brief and essential moments; logic
and realism are abandoned in favour of a mingling of reality and imagination, the
banal and the incredible, or even the supernatural; simultaneity of time and space
is seen as the only means of presenting the complexity of life to the audience;
characters are no longer such, but rather become allusions or syntheses, and the
cast comes to include animals, flowers, noises, objects, and so on; the element of
surprise is dominant; at all times, the theatre and society of the past are attacked.
Time in the theatre is no longer chronological, but is, to use Marinetti's terms,
"created" or "invented," and is used for dramatic rather than naturalistic effects.
Dissonanza (Dissonance), by Bruno Corra and Emilio Settimelli, has a
fourteenth-century setting in which a lady and a page exchange impassioned
hendecasyllables. They are interrupted by a man asking for a match, and then
continue as before. Similarly, space is no longer unitary, but can be used by the
dramatist to show different situations at the same time, with no regard for

Excerpted from Julie Dashwood, "The Italian Futurist Theatre," in Drama and Society, ed. James
Redwood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 129-46.
verisimilitude. In MarinettPs Simukaneita the life of a modest bourgeois family
installed around a table reading, preparing accounts, and sewing is juxtaposed
with that of a prostitute preparing I ier toilette. A dim greenish light surrounds
the family, while a very bright electric light is focussed on the cocotte. The two
groups seem unaware of each other until the end, when the family falls asleep
and the cocotte moves towards them. She throws all their work onto the floor
and then continues to polish her nails. She is, Marinetti wrote, not a symbol but a
synthesis, of luxury, disorder, adventure, and waste, all things both desired and
regretted by the family. He said that time and space were fused here, and a new
dynamism and simultaneity were created. Evident here is Marinettfs wish to
contain reality in a moment rather than an act, using light and gesture rather than
words to convey his meaning.
The cocotte is not a naturalistic or psychological whole, and in this is typical
of many of the protagonists of the Futurist theatre. "II signore grasso e panciuto"
(the fat, paunchy man) in MarinettPs Un chiaro di luna (Moonlight) is described by
the author as an alogical synthesis of many emotions: fear of the future, of the
cold and solitude of the night, of his vision of life in twenty years' time, and so on.
Even, at times, only part of the actor is seen by the audience. In MarinettPs Le basi
(The Feet) the curtain is raised so that only the legs and feet of the actors are
visible. The actors are instructed to give the maximum expression to the scenes
by using the movements of these limbs. The same approach is used in Le mani
(Hands) by Marinetti and Corra. In this case, only gestures of the hands are used
to convey emotion and situation. Among the protagonists in his Caccia all'usignolo
(Hunting the Nightingale)y Corrado Govoni lists the sound of bells, the voices of
drunkards, the rustling of wind, the interplay of light, moonlight, the voice of the
nightingale, the movement of lizards, voices from the town, breathing, sighing,
the sound of the clock, a cap, a hoopoe, and a god.
Animals, inanimate objects, sounds, light, and movement come, therefore, to
be as important as human actors, and even, at times, to replace them. MarinettPs
play Vengono (They're Coming) is subtitled "Dramma d'oggetti" (drama of objects).
Servants continually move eight chairs and an armchair around the stage as the
majordomo receives different orders from his masters. Marinetti intended to
give the impression that the chairs gradually acquired a life of their own through
these movements. Finally, they are placed diagonally across the stage, and an
invisible spotlight is used to project their shadows onto the floor. As the spot­
light is moved, so the shadows move, making it appear as though the chairs
themselves are going out of the French window. Marinetti wanted the three
most important "characters" in his Teatrino dell'amore (Little Theatre of Love) to be
the little theatre itself (in this case, a puppet-theatre), the buffet, and the side­
board. Fortunato Depero's Colori (Colours) is entirely abstract, consisting only of
sound and light.
Accompanying the reduction of human actors to a secondary role, or their
total disappearance, is the reduction of words to very brief exchanges, or to
nonsense. The characters in Mario Carli's Stati d'animo (States of Mind) have lines
written in parole in liberta (words in freedom) or which are meaningless, and use
gesture and tone of voice to convey their different emotions. Three sintesi by
Francesco Cangiullo are an attack on the whole theatrical tradition, as well as on
the use of words in the theatre. In Non c'e un cane (There Isn't a Soul About), called
a synthesis of night, the protagonist is the Man Who Isn't There. On a cold,
deserted street at night, a dog (cane) crosses the road. Cangiullo's Detonazione
(Detonation) is called a synthesis of the whole modern theatre. The setting is the
same as in the previous synthesis, but this time, after a minute of silence, there is
a revolver-shot—and only a revolver-shot. We are told that his Decisione is a
tragedy in fifty-eight acts, and perhaps more, but that it is useless to perform
fifty-seven of them. The final, brief act concludes with the words: "Questa e una
cosa che deve assolutamente FINIRE!" (This is something which absolutely must
Parody is also used to attack not just the traditional theatre but contempo­
rary society as well. Passatismo (Traditionalism), by Corra and Settimelli, consists
of three brief, identical, and static scenes, set in I860, 1880, and 1910. An old
man and an old woman hold the same conversation in each. At the end of the
third scene, both die, identically, of a heart attack. Further assaults on surround­
ing realism are provided by Umberto Boccioni in // corpo che sale (The Body which
Rises). Here, the tenants of a block of flats see a body rising up past their
windows. They call the portress, who explains calmly that this is the body of the
lover of the fifth-floor tenant, sucked up every day by his mistress's eyes. The
portress will not allow him to use the stairs, as she is concerned about the good
reputation of the building. In Paolo Buzzi's // pesce d'aprile (The April Fool), a dead
wife announces the death of her husband to the priest. The unexpected, the
weird, and the supernatural are all elements used by the Futurists, as is the
grotesque, or the resolving of tragic situations into comedy and the reverse.
The conclusion of Giacomo Balla's Per comprendere il pianto (To Understand Grief)
is "Bisogna ridere" (You must laugh), lacopo, protagonist of Verso la conquista
(Towards the Conquest), by Corra and Settimelli, renounces his debilitating love
for Anna in order to fulfil his self-appointed mission as a hero. On leaving her,
however, he slips on the skin of a fig, and dies after falling downstairs.
Some of the sintesi obviously made great demands on the ability of the
audience to understand the new idiom. Of the audience, however, more was
expected than mere comprehension and reaction to the Futurist theatre. In
Dalla finestra (From the Window), by Corra and Settimelli, the spectators them­
selves are listed among the characters. At the beginning of the play, we are told

Tutti gli spettatori che sono qui, personaggi-protagonisti, per comprendere il

dramma devono porsi per suggestione nei panni di un paralizzato che non pud ne
muoversi ne parlare, a cui solo viva e chiara e rimasta I'intelligenza imprigionata
nella carne morta e che si trova in letto presso a una finestra, con le persiane
aperte dal vento nelle tre notti lunari di cui fan parte gli attimi della azione.
(All the spectators here are characters and protagonists, who in order to under­
stand the play, must try to imagine that they are paralysed and cannot move or
speak, with only their intelligence, imprisoned in the flesh, left alive and un­
clouded; that they are in bed next to a window, with the blinds opened by the
wind in the three moonlit nights which make up the moments of the action.)
The audience is asked, then, not just to react, but to participate directly in the
mood of the play.
These were the themes and techniques used by the Futurists to convey their
ideas to their audiences. The manifesto of the synthetic theatre had claimed that:
"II teatro futurista sapra esaltare i suoi spettatori, cio& far loro dimenticare la
monotonia della vita quotidiana, scaraventandoli attraverso un labirinto di sen-
sazioni improntate alia piu esasperata originalita e combinate in modi imprevedibiir
(The Futurist theatre will be able to excite its audience, that is, make it forget the
monotony of everyday life, by hurling it through a labyrinth of sensations expressed
with the most exacerbated originality and combined in unpredictable ways). While the
success of the dramatists in achieving this ambition was varied, serious attempts
were made to create a new theatrical idiom, and to work up the sensibilities of
the audience in a new way.

Select Bibliography on Marinetti and Futurism

Gordon, R. S. "The Italian Futurist Theatre: A Reappraisal." Modern Language Review 85.2
(April 1990): 349-61.
Modernism/Modernity 1.3 (Sept. 1994). Special issue: "Marinetti and the Italian Futurists."

See also Apollonio; Berghaus; Hewitt; House; Kirby; Rawson; Shankland; and Taylor, in
the General Bibliography.
G e n i u s and Culture

Umberto Boccioni

In the center, a costly dressing table with a mirror in front of which a very
elegant WOMAN, already dressed to leave, finishes putting on rouge. At the
right, a CRITIC, an ambiguous being, neither dirty nor clean, neither old nor
young, neutral, is sitting at a table overburdened with books and papers, on
which shines a large paper knife, neither modern nor antique. He turns his
shoulder to the dressing table. At left, the ARTIST, an elegant youth, searches in
a large file, sitting on thick cushions on the floor.

THE ARTIST {leaving the file, and with his head between his hands): It's terri­
ble! {Pause.) I must get out of here! To be renewed! {He gets up, tearing
the abstract designs from the file with convulsive hands.) Liberation!!
These empty forms, worn out. Everything is fragmentary, weak! Oh!
Art! . . . Who, who will help me!? {He looks around; continues to tear up
the designs with sorrowful and convulsive motions.)
(THE WOMAN is very near him but doesnt hear him. The CRITIC becomes an-
noyed, but not very, and going near her, takes a book with a yellow jacket.)
THE CRITIC {half asking the WOMAN, and half talking to himself): But what's
the matter with that clown that he acts and shouts that way?
THE WOMAN {without looking): Oh well, he is an artist... he wants to renew
himself, and he hasn't a cent!
THE CRITIC {bewildered): Strange! An artist! Impossible! For twenty years I
have profoundly studied this marvelous phenomenon, but I can't recog-

Reprinted from Futurist Performance, ed. Michael Kirby, trans. Victoria Nes Kirby (New York:
Dutton, 1971), 238-41.
nize it. {Obviously with archeological curiosity.) That one is crazy! Or a
protester! He wants to change! But creation is a serene thing. A work of
art is done naturally, in silence, and in recollection, as a nightingale
sings .. . Spirit, in the sense that Hegel means spirit...
THE WOMAN {intrigued): And if you know how it is done, why don't you tell
him? Poor thing! He is distressed . . .
THE CRITIC {strutting): For centuries, the critic has told the artist how to
make a work of art. . . . Since ethics and aesthetics are functions of the
spirit.. .
THE WOMAN: But you, you've never made any?
THE CRITIC {nonplussed): Me? . . . Not me!
THE WOMAN {laughing with malice): Well, then, you know how to do it, but
you don't do it. You are neutral. How boring you must be in bed! {She
Z continues putting on her rouge.)
- THE ARTIST {always walking back and forth sorrowfully, wringing his hands):
U Glory! Ah! Glory! {Tightening his fists.) I am strong! I am young! I can
a face anything! Oh! Divine electric lights . . . sun . . . To electrify the
♦ crowds... Burn them! Dominate them!
<£> THE WOMAN {looking at him with sympathy and compassion): Poor thing!
TH Without any money . . .
THE ARTIST {struck): Ah! I am wounded! I can't resist any longer! {Toward the
WOMAN, who doesnt hear him.) Oh! A woman! {Toward the CRITIC, who
has already taken and returned a good many books, and who leafs through
them and cuts them.) You! You, sir, who are a man, listen . . . Help me!
THE CRITIC: Calm down . . . let's realize the differences. I am not a man, I am
a critic. I am a man of culture. The artist is a man, a slave, a baby,
therefore, he makes mistakes. I don't see myself as being like him. In him
nature is chaos. The critic and history are between nature and the artist.
History is history—in other words, subjective fact, that is to say, fact, in
other words, history. Anyway it is itself objective.
{At these words, the ARTIST, who has listened in a stupor, falls on the
cushions as if struck by lightning. The CRITIC, unaware of this, turns, and
goes slowly to the table to consult his books.)
THE WOMAN {getting up dumbfounded): My God! That poor youth is dying!
{She kneels in front of the ARTIST and caresses him kindly.)
THE ARTIST {reviving): Oh! Signora! Thank you! Oh! Love . . . maybe love . . .
{Revives more and more.) How beautiful you are! Listen . . . Listen to
me . . . If you know what a terrible thing the struggle is without love! I
want to love, understand?
THE WOMAN {pulling away from him): My friend, I understand you . . . but
now I haven't time. I must go o u t . . . I am expected by my friend. It is
dangerous. . . . He is a man . . . that is to say, he has a secure position . . .
THE CRITIC {very embarrassed): What's going on? I don't understand
THE WOMAN {irritated): Shut up, idiot! You don't understand anything. . . .
Come! Help me to lift him! We must cut this knot that is choking his
THE CRITIC {very embarrassed): Just a minute . . . {He carefully lays down
the books and puts the others aside on the chair.) Hegel . . . Kant . . .
Hartmann . . . Spinoza.
THE WOMAN (goes near the youth, crying irritably): R u n ! . . . come here, help
me to unfasten it.
THE CRITIC {nonplussed): What are you saying?
THE WOMAN: Come over here! Are you afraid! Hurry... back here there is an §
artist who is dying because of an ideal. "a
THE CRITIC {coming closer with extreme prudence): But one never knows! An ■©
impulse . . . a passion... without control... without culture . . . in short, I J
prefer him dead. The artist must be . . . {He stumbles, and falls clumsily *1
on the ARTIST, stabbing his neck with the paper knife.) O
THE WOMAN {screaming and getting up): Idiot! Assassin! You have killed him. t
You are red with blood! ^
THE CRITIC {getting up, still more clumsily): I, Signora? How?! I don't under-
stand.... Red? Red? Yours is a case of color blindness.
THE WOMAN: Enough! Enough! {Returns to her dressing table.) It is late. I
must go! {Leaving.) Poor youth! He was different and likable! (Exits.)
THE CRITIC: I can't find my bearings! (Looks attentively and long at the dead
ARTIST.) Oh my God! He is dead! (Going over to look at him.) The artist is
really dead! Ah . . . he is breathing. I will make a monograph. (He goes
slowly to his table. From a case, he takes a beard a meter long and applies
it to his chin. He puts on his glasses, takes paper and pencil, then looks
among his books without finding anything. He is irritated for the first time
and pounds his fists, shouting.) Aesthetics! Aesthetics! Where is Aes-
thetics? (Finding it, he passionately holds a large volume to his chest.) Ah!
Here it is! (Skipping, he goes to crouch like a raven near the dead ARTIST.
He looks at the body, and writes, talking in a loud voice.) Toward 1915, a
marvelous artist blossomed . . . (He takes a tape measure from his pocket
and measures the body.) Like all the great ones, he was 1.68 [meters] tall,
and his width . .. (While he talks, the curtain falls.)
Synthesis of All Modern Theater

Francesco Cangiullo



Road at night, cold, deserted.

A minute of silence.—A gunshot


Reprinted from Futurist Performance, ed. Michael Kirby, trans. Victoria Nes Kirby (New York:
Dutton, 1971), 247.

Filippo Marinetti

A curtain edged in black should be raised to about the height of a mans

stomach. The public sees only legs in action. The actors must try to give the
greatest expression to the attitudes and movements of their lower extremities.

Two Armchairs
(one facing the other)

HIM: All, all for one of your kisses!...

HER: N o ! . . . Don't talk to me like that!...



MAN: Let's meditate . . .

A Desk

SEATED MAN: I must find . . . To cheat, without letting myself cheat!

Reprinted from Futurist Performance, ed. Michael Kirby, trans. Victoria Nes Kirby (New York:
Dutton, 1971), 290-91.
3 A.



THE RAPID ONE: Hurry! Vile passeiste!

THE SLOW ONE: Ah! What fury! There is no need to run! He who goes slowly
is healthy . . .

A Couch

p ONE: Which one do you prefer?

1- ANOTHER: All three of them.

< A Couch

ONE: Which one do you prefer?
ANOTHER: The second one.
(The second one must be the woman who shows the most leg of the three.)

A Table

THE FATHER: When you have the degree you will marry your cousin.

A Pedal-Operated Sewing Machine

THE GIRL: I will see him on Sunday!




T h e Futurist Synthetic
Theater, 1915

Filippo Marinetti, Emilio Settimelli, and

Bruno Corra

As we await our much prayed-for great war, we Futurists carry our violent
antineutralist action from city square to university and back again, using our
art to prepare the Italian sensibility for the great hour of maximum danger.
Italy must be fearless, eager, as swift and elastic as a fencer, as indifferent to
blows as a boxer, as impassive at the news of a victory that may have cost fifty
thousand dead as at the news of a defeat.
For Italy to learn to make up its mind with lightning speed, to hurl itself
into battle, to sustain every undertaking and every possible calamity, books
and reviews are unnecessary. They interest and concern only a minority, are
more or less tedious, obstructive, and relaxing. They cannot help chilling
enthusiasm, aborting impulses, and poisoning with doubt a people at war.
War—Futurism intensified—obliges us to march and not to rot [marciare,
non marcire] in libraries and reading rooms, THEREFORE, WE THINK THAT
THE THEATER. In fact, 90 percent of Italians go to the theater, whereas only
10 percent read books and reviews. But what is needed is a FUTURIST THE­
ATER, completely opposed to the passeiste theater that drags its monotonous,
depressing processions around the sleepy Italian stages.
Not to dwell on this historical theater, a sickening genre already aban­
doned by the passeiste public, we condemn the whole of contemporary
theater because it is too prolix, analytic, pedantically psychological, explana­
tory, diluted, finicking, static, as full of prohibitions as a police station, as cut
up into cells as a monastery, as moss-grown as an old abandoned house. In

Reprinted from Futurist Manifestoes, ed. Umbro Apollonio; trans. R. W. Flint (New York:
Viking, 1973), 183-96.
other words it is a pacifistic, neutralist theater, the antithesis of the fierce,
overwhelming, synthesizing velocity of the war.

* Our Futurist Theater will be

u Synthetic. That is, very brief. To compress into a few minutes, into a few
2 words and gestures, innumerable situations, sensibilities, ideas, sensations,
< facts, and symbols.
j The writers who wanted to renew the theater (Ibsen, Maeterlinck, An-
iu dreyev, Claudel, Shaw) never thought of arriving at a true synthesis, of free-
= ing themselves from a technique that involves prolixity, meticulous analysis,
»- drawn-out preparation. Before the works of these authors, the audience is in
v> the indignant attitude of a circle of bystanders who swallow their anguish and
£ pity as they watch the slow agony of a horse who has collapsed on the pave-
£ ment. The sigh of applause that finally breaks out frees the audience's stom-
Z ach from all the indigestible time it has swallowed. Each act is as painful as
* having to wait patiently in an antechamber for the minister (coup de theatre:
£ kiss, pistol shot, verbal revelation, etc.) to receive you. All this passeiste or
t semi-Futurist theater, instead of synthesizing fact and idea in the smallest
CQ number of words and gestures, savagely destroys the variety of place (source
02 of dynamism and amazement), stuffs many city squares, landscapes, streets
into the sausage of a single room. For this reason this theater is entirely static.
We are convinced that mechanically, by force of brevity, we can achieve
an entirely new theater perfectly in tune with our swift and laconic Futurist
sensibility. Our acts can also be moments [atti—attimi] only a few seconds
long. With this essential and synthetic brevity the theater can bear and even
overcome competition from the cinema.

Atechnical The passeiste theater is the literary form that most distorts and
diminishes an author's talent. This form, much more than lyric poetry or the
novel, is subject to the demands of technique: (1) to omit every notion that
doesn't conform to public taste; (2) once a theatrical idea has been found
(expressible in a few pages), to stretch it out over two, three, or four acts;
(3) to surround an interesting character with many pointless types: coat-
holders, door-openers, all sorts of bizarre comic turns; (4) to make the length
of each act vary between half and three-quarters of an hour; (5) to construct
each act taking care to (a) begin with seven or eight absolutely useless pages,
(b) introduce a tenth of your idea in the first act, five-tenths in the second,
four-tenths in the third, (c) shape your acts for rising excitement, each act
being no more than a preparation for the finale, (d) always make the first act
a little boring so that the second can be amusing and the third devouring;
(6) to set off every essential line with a hundred or more insignificant pre-
paratory lines; (7) never to devote less than a page to explaining an entrance
or an exit minutely; (8) to apply systematically to the whole play the rule of a
superficial variety, to the acts, scenes, and lines. For instance, to make one
act a day, another an evening, another deep night; to make one act pathetic,
another anguished, another sublime; when you have to prolong a dialogue
between two actors, make something happen to interrupt it, a falling vase, a
passing mandolin player Or else have the actors constantly move around
from sitting to standing, from right to left, and meanwhile vary the dialogue
to make it seem as if a bomb might explode outside at any moment (e.g., the
betrayed husband might catch his wife red-handed), when actually nothing g
is going to explode until the end of the act; (9) to be enormously careful o
about the verisimilitude of the plot; (10) to write your play in such a manner -o
that the audience understands in the finest detail the how and why of every- <«
thing that takes place on the stage, above all that it knows by the last act how 0)
the protagonists will end up. J
With our synthetist movement in the theater, we want to destroy the ^
Technique that from the Greeks until now, instead of simplifying itself, has
become more and more dogmatic, stupid, logical, meticulous, pedantic, <5
strangling. THEREFORE: T

1. It's stupid to write one hundred pages where one would do, only because the
audience through habit and infantile instinct wants to see character in a ♦
play result from a series of events, wants to fool itself into thinking that the g
character really exists in order to admire the beauties of Art, meanwhile
refusing to acknowledge any art if the author limits himself to sketching
out a few of the character's traits.
2. It's stupid not to rebel against the prejudice of theatricality when life itself
(which consists of actions vastly more awkward, uniform, and predictable
than those which unfold in the world of art) is for the most part anti-
theatrical and even in this offers innumerable possibilities for the stage.
3. It's stupid to pander to the primitivism of the crowd, which, in the last
analysis, wants to see the bad guy lose and the good guy win.
4. It's stupid to worry about verisimilitude (absurd because talent and worth
have little to do with it).
5. It's stupid to want to explain with logical minuteness everything taking
place on the stage, when even in life one never grasps an event entirely, in
all its causes and consequences, because reality throbs around us, bom­
bards us with squalls of fragments of interconnected events, mortised and
tenoned together, confused, mixed up, chaotic. E.g., it's stupid to act out a
contest between two persons always in an orderly, clear, and logical way,
since in daily life we nearly always encounter mere flashes of argument
made momentary by our modern experience, in a tram, a cafe, a railway
station, which remain cinematic in our minds like fragmentary dynamic
symphonies of gestures, words, lights, and sounds.
6. It's stupid to submit to obligatory crescendi, prepared effects, and post-
poned climaxes.
7. It's stupid to allow one's talent to be burdened with the weight of a
technique that anyone (even imbeciles) can acquire by study, practice,
and patience.
Q Dynamic, simultaneous. That is, born of improvisation, lightning-like intu-
Z ition, from suggestive and revealing actuality. We believe that a thing is
_• valuable to the extent that it is improvised (hours, minutes, seconds), not
j extensively prepared (months, years, centuries).
2» We feel an unconquerable repugnance for desk work, a priori, that fails
h to respect the ambience of the theater itself. THE GREATER NUMBER OF OUR
t WORKS HAVE BEEN WRITTEN IN THE THEATER. The theatrical ambience is our
^ inexhaustible reservoir of inspirations: the magnetic circular sensation in-
£ vading our tired brains during morning rehearsal in an empty gilded theater;
■JJ an actor's intonation that suggests the possibility of constructing a cluster of
5 paradoxical thoughts on top of it; a movement of scenery that hints at a
< symphony of lights; an actress's fleshiness that fills our minds with genially
4 full-bodied notions.
♦ We overran Italy at the head of a heroic battalion of comedians who
02 imposed on audiences Elettricita and other Futurist syntheses (alive yes­
terday, today surpassed and condemned by us) that were revolutions im­
prisoned in auditoriums. From the Politeama Garibaldi of Palermo to the
Dal Verme of Milan. The Italian theaters smoothed the wrinkles in the rag­
ing massage of the crowd and rocked with bursts of volcanic laughter. We
fraternized with the actors. Then, on sleepless nights in trains, we argued,
goading each other to heights of genius to the rhythm of tunnels and stations.
Our Futurist theater jeers at Shakespeare but pays attention to the gossip of
actors, is put to sleep by a line from Ibsen but is inspired by red or green re­
in a drama like Piii che I'Amore [by D'Annunzio] the important events (for
instance, the murder of the gambling-house keeper) don't take place on the
stage but are narrated with a complete lack of dynamism; and in the first act
of La Figlia di Jorio [by D'Annunzio] the events take place against a simple
background with no jumps in space or time; in the Futurist synthesis, Simul-
taneity, there are two ambiences that interpenetrate and many different
times put into action simultaneously.
Autonomous, alogical, unreal. The Futurist theatrical synthesis will not be
subject to logic, will pay no attention to photography; it will be autonomous,
will resemble nothing but itself, although it will take elements from reality
and combine them as its whim dictates. Above all, just as the painter and
composer discover, scattered through the outside world, a narrower but
more intense life, made up of colors, forms, sounds, and noises, the same is
true for the man gifted with theatrical sensibility, for whom a specialized
reality exists that violently assaults his nerves: it consists of what is called THE
the Futurist sensibility, defined in the two manifestos "The Variety Theatre"
and "Weights, Measures, and Prices of Artistic Genius," which are (1) our
frenzied passion for real, swift, elegant, complicated, cynical, muscular,
fugitive, Futurist life; (2) our very modern cerebral definition of art, accord- g
ing to which no logic, no tradition, no aesthetic, no technique, no oppor- o
tunity can be imposed on the artist's natural talent; he must be preoccupied -o
only with creating synthetic expressions of cerebral energy that have THE <«
The Futurist theater will be able to excite its audience, that is, make it J
forget the monotony of daily life, by sweeping it through a labyrinth of f
sensations imprinted on the most exacerbated originality and combined in
unpredictable ways. a!
Every night the Futurist theater will be a gymnasium to train our race's T
spirit to the swift, dangerous enthusiasms made necessary by this Futurist Z
year. ♦

2. DRAMATIZE ALL THE DISCOVERIES (no matter how unlikely, weird, and
Vengono, F. T. Marinetti's first drama of objects, a new vein of theatrical
sensibility discovered by Futurism.)

0 These are the first words on the theater. Our first eleven theatrical syntheses
Q (by Marinetti, Settimelli, Bruno Corra, R. Chiti, Balilla Pratella) were vic-
z toriously imposed on crowded theaters in Ancona, Bologna, Padua, Naples,
_. Venice, Verona, Florence, and Rome, by Ettore Berti, Zoncada, and Petro-
lini. In Milan we soon shall have the great metal building, enlivened by all
£ the electromechanical inventions, that alone will permit us to realize our
H freest conceptions on the stage.


German E x p r e s s i o n i s m

r einhard [Johannes] Sorge, the first German Expressionist play­

wright to be published, was born on January 29, 1892, in Rix-
dorf, Germany. His single most important play, The Beggar
(1912), introduced the chief element of Expressionist drama to the
stage—the use of the central character's completely subjective point of
view to develop the action and distort the other characters. Although
outwardly structured as or divided into a traditional five-act play, The
Beggar episodically blended realistic scenes with dreams, thereby dis­
rupting the notion of objective reality onstage. Even though all his plays
support the notion of some form of renewal for humankind, The Beggar
can be seen as the culmination of Sorge's early obsession with Nietzschean
philosophy, which drove him to find redemption in the form of the "superman"
in such previous dramas as Odysseus (1910), Prometheus (1911), and Antichrist
(1911). After his conversion to mystical Catholicism in 1912, Sorge rejected his
previous focus on the individual as artist-prophet and focused instead on human
renewal or regeneration through the Catholic/catholic unity of humankind.
These later works, which include liturgical drama and mystery plays, have been
for the most part limited in their appeal to those who share Sorge's religious
beliefs. Sorge was wounded in World War I during the battle at Albaincourt,
France, and died on July 20, 1916.

The action of The Beggar, subtitled "A Dramatic Mission," takes place in
Berlin; it traces the spiritual and psychological development of a young man in his
various roles as Poet, Son, and Lover. As Son and youthful Lover, he must
overcome the dominance of his parents and return the love of the Young Girl, if
he is to achieve manhood. As Poet, the Beggar must strive to realize his "holy"
vocation—that is, to transform a decadent society into a nobler one. This he
desires to do through the experimental dramas he writes and the theater in
which he would stage his own plays. The Beggar's new theater, of course, has
nothing in common with the conventional one. It is not a place of entertainment,
but a place of worship and salvation—more like a church, a school, a political
gathering place, or a revivalist meetinghouse than the traditional stage. Its in­
spiration is the Greek theater, and therefore it is a communal affair, not the
prerogative of individuals who pay to be amused. Failing to find a patron for his
experimental theater, however, the Beggar Poet realizes that his role is that of an
outsider who must pursue his visionary mission alone.
Z A "station play" that depicts the transformation theme already found in
- Strindberg's To Damascus (1898-1904), The Beggar simultaneously belongs to
O the genre of Ich-drama (drama of the self) because of its many autobiographical
o elements—also like To Damascus. One autobiographical aspect of the play is its
[u inherent criticism of the dramatic tradition that Sorge had outgrown: through
a- the voice of the critics in The Beggar, the young playwright not only attacks the
iu neo-Romantic drama of Ernst Hardt and Gerhart Hauptmann but also distances
Z himself from the kind of elitist art championed by Stefan George and his circle.
Z The dramatic poet's art, according to Sorge, is meant to be universal, so that it
JJj can reach all mankind.

Modernist Consciousness and Mass Culture
Alienation in Reinhard Sorge's Der Bettler
•r^—. g^M he 1912 play Der Bettler, generally considered to be the first
«^^ | Expressionist drama, is an invaluable resource through which to
n^^ \ J learn about the contributions Expressionism made to the de­
velopment of dramatic aesthetics and staging techniques. Sorge's semi-
0 8 ^ nal play influenced the works of a number of writers whose names are
readily connected with German Expressionist drama, such as Walter Hasen-
clever, Paul Kornfeld, and Rolf Lauckner.
Certain innovative formal features of the play, furthermore, became staples
for subsequent—and not only German—artistic movements. Sorge called, for
instance, for a stage-lighting technique by means of which segments of the stage
area and of the actors' bodies were to be isolated and emphasized by light, a
technique later taken up by Oskar Schlemmer, Kasimir Malevich, and other
Constructivists in their works for the stage. It is also worth noting that Sorge
further anticipated thematic techniques employed by later Expressionists and—
after World War I—by the Surrealists, as he drew upon the central tenet of
Impressionism and pointed through his aesthetics to realities beyond those
immediately perceived.
Der Bettler represented a transition in the development of the drama, which
in the second decade of the twentieth century was in the process of redefining
itself. What we have in this prototypical Expressionist drama is a work of art
whose form and content cross-fertilize one another and are mutually derived
from the youthful generation's response to real-life social conditions. The play's
essential characteristic is its opposition to conventional drama. In both form and
content it subverts the logic of the culture industry, whose central features are
rationalization and cost efficiency.
Soon after Der Bettler was completed, Sorge's "dramatic mission" attracted
the attention of significant figures in the German-language literary community,
who went on later to become involved in Max Reinhardt's concerted effort to
promote Expressionist drama at his Deutsches Theater in Berlin between 1917
and 1920. Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Felix Hollaender, and Samuel Fischer, for
instance, wrote favorably of Der Bettler prior to its publication.
Yet despite the considerable reputation it had gained early on, Der Bettler was
not to be produced on stage until 1917, when Reinhardt's Berlin literary associa­
tion, Das junge Deutschland, premiered it on December 23. The . . . delay
between Reinhardt's acceptance of Der Bettler for production (1913) and the
production itself (late 1917) was certainly not due alone to the fact that Sorge's
was a new type of drama per se. By 1913 Reinhardt had produced such plays
as Wedekind's Fruhlings Erwachen (1906), Hofmannsthal's Der Tor und der Tod
(1908), and Strindberg's Todestanz (1912) at his Berlin theaters. Instead, the delay

Excerpted from Stephen Shearier, "Modernist Consciousness and Mass Culture: Alienation in
Reinhard Sorge's Der Bettler;' German Studies Review 11.2 (May 1988), 227-40.
was due most probably to the particular manner in which the modern condition
was rendered by Sorge.
It seems that in the careful consideration of Reinhardt and the others at the
Deutsches Theater, Der Bettler was simply "too new" in . . . its explicitly opposi-
tional character to offer the public before 1917. Then, approximately eleven
months before the end of the war and the beginning of the revolution, and four
years after Der Bettler was accepted for production, it was felt that conditions
within the disintegrating social order were right for staging Sorge's "dramatische
Z Sendung." After December of 1917 Sorge's play would no longer stand out as an
- anomaly as it would have earlier, since it was to be given a meaningful and
0 coherent context through the other new dramatic works presented in the
Jg junges Deutschland series.
w Drawing upon the German literary tradition in order to supersede it, Sorge
a- subtitled his play "Eine dramatische Sendung," in an unmistakable allusion to
ui Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, Eine theatralische Sendung, which had just
2 been discovered in 1910. Sorge's "Sendung" was similar to Goethe's. Both Mei-
Z ster and the Beggar were intent on inscribing indelibly their mark on theater.
S5 There is a salient difference in the aesthetics explicated by Goethe's and
^ Sorge's main figures, however. Meister's plan was to raise the intellectual level of
t the German National Theater by establishing a program consisting of master-
o pieces from the international pantheon, from Sophocles to Shakespeare. The
c3 Beggar, by contrast, wanted to break with his masters and to have a theater at his
disposal so that he could introduce oppositional, that is, his own, works to the
public. This difference may be taken to denote a critical disillusionment vis-a-vis
the aesthetic tradition, which Sorge, along with other writers of his generation,
believed had become bankrupt. [Motivated] by this disillusionment, Sorge openly
defied what was considered to be the hegemony of the theater establishment.
The most conspicuous testimony of the play's oppositional character is
Sorge's subject: the poet who resists and is ultimately crushed through his
absolute alienation in the age of the culture industry. The young, ambitious
playwright stubbornly refuses to allow his art to be commodified. Desiring
nothing more than to have his plays produced in the public sphere—not merely
because they are his own works, but because they would serve to fulfill his
dramatic mission, which was to break the control of the theater establishment-
he vehemently insists that a theater be placed at his disposal in order that he may
be able personally to see his work brought to unadulterated fruition.
His insistence on autonomy, however, only exacerbates the alienation to
which the poet is subjected by mass culture, and his intransigence in his position
with regard to the oppositional character of drama leads ineluctably to his ruin.
In this sense, the play functions as a direct affront to the culture industry, which
refuses to tolerate the oppositional voice. Establishment theater, buttressed by
affirmative art that serves the need for legitimization of the existing power
structure, is the focus of Sorge's critical assault. The Beggar, the maverick artist,
is the personification of absolute alienation, as he is thoroughly estranged from
his environment, from himself, and finally from life itself.
The dissolution of the individual in the modern age of mass phenomena, such
as mass political movements, mass media, and mass culture in the form of the
culture industry, is conveyed through Sorge's particular nomenclature. Here
attention is drawn to the diverse personae that make up the play's central figure.
The Beggar of the title, who, as the term implies, stands outside mass culture's
main stream, plays at particular times various "roles" signified as "Der Dichter,"
" D e r Sohn," and "Der Jungling." Unwilling to abide by society's normative values
and incapable of achieving a congruence of the various aspects of his "I," the
Beggar perishes a veritable madman, forced, as it were, into utter alienation.
Madness, which in Der Bettler is tantamount to complete isolation and aliena­
tion of the subject, operates as an essential part of Sorge's critique of the culture
industry in late Wilhelminian society. The Beggar's madness, whose roots are c
explicitly social and implicitly genetic, serves as a metaphor for the crisis of -|
dehumanization that Sorge perceived in Germany immediately preceding World .2
W a r I. Sorge was by no means alone in this respect, since many Expressionist 3
writers—for instance, Hasenclever, Heym, Hoddis, Toller, and Unruh—con- g-
sidered conditions during the second decade of the twentieth century, and "Jj
especially the war, to be the expression of a crisis situation that was both a 2
manifestation of, and inevitably led to, madness. The young at this time had a Jj
predilection [for drawing] analogies between the contemporary situation and ^
the individuals it victimized, that is, themselves, or who they saw themselves to t
be: intellectuals, artists, individuals possessing genius. The plight of the artist or ^
of the genius wronged by the culture industry therefore became a preoccupation 01
of writers during this period. Sorge certainly shared these sentiments with
others of his generation.
It may be argued, however, that Sorge departs from other Expressionist
writers in that he takes a critical stance vis-a-vis the widely maintained position
that freedom is to be sought in the mere negation of the existing social order.
That the Beggar utterly fails in his efforts and succumbs to what he opposes may
say something of Sorge's awareness of the artist's false consciousness. Sorge's
critique is thus a dialectical one, as he comments on mass culture as well as on
the consciousness shaped by it, by showing an artist who is victimized by the
culture industry, but whose downfall may ultimately be due to his inflated ego, as
he responds to oppressive conditions through a process of self-alienation by
distancing himself from the profane world.

Select Bibliography on Sorge

Lewis, Ward B. "The Early Dramas of Reinhard Johannes Sorge: A Poet's Search for the
Inner Light." Modern Drama 14(1972): 449-54.

See also Hill and Ley; Krispyn; Kuhns; Raabe; Ritchie; Samuel and Thomas; and Sokel, in
the General Bibliography.
T h e Beggar
A Dramatic Mission

Reinhard Sorge

In far-flung circles youVe plowed your flights

Through darkness and chaotic dreams, gigantic,
Through torments' regions, caves of space, gigantic-
Restless at dawn and restless in your nights....
When your wild screams hoist you in a gyre
Of father's curse, and every mother's pain;
Eternal procreation shows it's not in vain:
Salvation mounts defiant from the mire....
Then with your wings you'll move that bolted gate
Whose jawlike hinges crushed so many brains;
You love the longing leading to these pains,
You clutch it, reeling downward to your fate.

The Human Beings:



Reprinted from An Anthology of German Expressionist Drama: A Prelude to the Absurd, ed.
Walter H. Sokel, trans. Walter H. Sokel and Jacqueline Sokel (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday,
1963), 22-89.
Incidental Persons:

Mute Persons:

Projections of the Poet:


Before a curtain.

THE POET and the OLDER FRIEND facing each other. The stage behind the gj
curtain is illuminated. From behind the curtain, greatly muffled voices. co
THE POET. The joy and memory of the applause still linger in your e y e s . . . £
THE OLDER FRIEND. Yes, it was a great success. There were seven curtain calls t
for him. Even after the third act people applauded wildly. co
THE POET. After such an experience you can hardly be in the mood for my °*
THE FRIEND. Don't talk like that! You know, we couldn't make the appoint­
ment for any other time; I must leave town tonight again, and your
patron—I'm already beginning to call him that—incidentally, he too was
in the theater tonight...
THE POET. Did you speak to him?
THE FRIEND. I called on him this afternoon. He seems to be really impressed
with your writing; at least, he had nothing but praise. I think everything
will turn out all right. Of course, you mustn't mention the demands you
talked about the other day; today I tried to drop a hint, but he imme­
diately refused.
THE POET. You mentioned it, and he said no?
THE FRIEND. Of course he refused. I only did it to convince you it was
impossible. I've talked to you about it often enough; and you do under­
stand, don't you?
THE POET. Certainly, I understand your advice.
THE FRIEND. At last! Just imagine! A theater of your own! And at your age!
Despair brought you to that, but despair is precisely what should make
you humble; in your situation one must be grateful for every penny.
THE POET. Certainly, the situation is desperate.
THE FRIEND. If he merely paid for the printing of your last plays, you would
be helped; you'd have a small income, you could live. You can't expect
performances soon anyway; your plays are too strange and avant-garde for
that. It would be better yet if he were to give you a permanent income,
then once and for all you would be free of money worries and could
develop undisturbed.
THE POET. It would be very kind of him .. .
THE FRIEND. I see youVe become reasonable and have profited from my
THE POET. When will you stop wanting to give me advice?
THE FRIEND. NOW, my dear fellow, that sounds stubborn again. But I hope I'll
be able to advise you for the rest of my life, and that you'll benefit from it;
after all, I'll always be more than twenty years your senior.
THE POET. YOU are right there.
THE FRIEND. Well, how are things at home?
THE POET. There gloom advances every day.
5 On every nook the sun spews distress.
* Our father's dreadful illness terrifies us.
THE FRIEND. What do the doctors say?
i THE POET. They talk of my father's sound constitution, and say that no one
2 can know how long it will last. Death could come any moment, but it
might also be delayed for very long. Their talk does not mean a thing; but
such uncertainty, I suppose, is characteristic of this disease . . .
THE FRIEND. As far as I know, yes, that's the case. And your mother?
THE POET. She languishes.
Mainly she anxiously stares at the door and hearkens for my father's
When they come dragging, then she forces for the madman a smile
upon her lips,
So helpless and touching that tears well up in my eyes.
She weeps so much and speaks of dying. Poverty fills her cup.
THE FRIEND. It's dreadful. No, you can't develop in such surroundings.
Brief silence.
Come, now; we want to meet him in the foyer. The time has come. Your
hands are shaking. Be calm, all will turn out well for you.
THE POET, while both exit slowly to the right My hands are shaking . . . ?! You
see, it does mean something to me, after all!

Now the curtain parts in the middle and the interior of a cafe is seen. The cafe
rises toward the back, steps at center-back. At the right, in the foreground and
center-stage: Tables of the usual kind, many customers, waiters running back
and forth. At the left: A free space, newspapers on the wall, clothes trees in
front, in the center a long leather sofa, which is curved at the ends. On the sofa
sit the NEWSPAPER READERS, closely huddled together. At the moment, the
FIRST READER is reading aloud, seated on a second leather bench, somewhat
smaller and higher than the first; two others are seated beside him: the SECOND
and THIRD READERS, who, while listening, keep their papers lowered. Likewise
the listeners on the lower sofa, among whom there are some without papers. In
the background, tables are laid for supper; very few of them are occupied. The
back wall has a few white-curtained windows. In the right-hand background
there is a kind of alcove forming an octagonal space, shut off by a curtain. To
the right of it, leading toward the alcove, the top of a staircase leading up from
the vestibule, which is to be imagined as being to the right of the stage. Electric
light. The sources of the upstage illumination are invisible. Full attention is to
be focused on the group of READERS, the rest of the public onstage speaking in
muffled tones, serving as decoration. Muffled sounds of dishes.
THE FIRST READER. . . . and it is very possible that the Italian charge d'affaires
in Constantinople has received instructions to immediately . . .
FIRST LISTENER. Stop, please! This has been read once before! Are we sup­
posed to croak of boredom?
SECOND LISTENER. We are finished.
THIRD LISTENER. Can't we get the latest editions yet?
FOURTH LISTENER. Well, gentlemen, let's start all over again.
FIFTH LISTENER. Backward, gentlemen! Then it sounds like new . . .
SIXTH LISTENER. Let's read the ads—they are full of obscenities!
FIRST LISTENER, yawns. Oh . . . how boring! . ..
They sit hunched over, staring vacantly, yawning, gloomy-faced.
THIRD LISTENER. Where are the critics hiding, for God's sake?
SECOND LISTENER. If it takes this long, it means a hit.
SIXTH LISTENER. Is that so? . . . So Miss Gudrun was a hit—
or is she "Mrs."—which is it, really?
FOURTH LISTENER. Well, we'll see .. .
SIXTH LISTENER. At best, we'll hear, am I r i g h t . . . ?
FOURTH LISTENER. All right: so, we'll hear, we'll hear .. .
ALL in a hubbub, yawning, stretching. Yes, we'll hear.
SECOND READER cries out. Here come the papers!
Two waiters with papers from the left.
VOICES lively, to and fro. Here! Bring them here! Give me one! Give me one!
Me! Me!
No, the Tribunel
Allow me—
What on earth . . . ?
Hell, give it to me!!
Put it here! Put it here!
Crap . . . !
The papers have been torn out of the hands of the waiters, are being read
greedily; those who have not obtained any read over their neighbors'
SEVENTH LISTENER. G o o d Lord . . .
EIGHTH LISTENER without a paper. Read aloud! Read to us!
SIXTH LISTENER. Well, boys, what did I tell you . . . ?
EIGHTH LISTENER. So, let's start, for God's sake! Whaf s holding you up?
SECOND LISTENER. Listen: earthquake in Central America!
VOICES. Ha, ha! Well, well! How many killed?
SECOND READER. Five thousand.
THIRD LISTENER. What a filthy mess!
SECOND READER. Skirmish near Tripoli.

iii VOICES. How many killed?

SECOND READER. About two hundred dead. Three hundred and fifty
2 wounded.
♦ Murmur.

SECOND READER, skimming the paper. Crash of a French pilot.
02 NINTH LISTENER. Always those French . . .
FOURTH LISTENER. How many dead?
THIRD READER. Mass revolt in Spain .. .
FIRST READER. Mine disaster .. .
SECOND READER, continuing to skim. Factory fire . . . Hurricane flood . . .
FIRST READER. Train accident. ..
TENTH LISTENER. Stop! Fm freezing! Brr . . .
VOICES. Stop!!
FIFTH LISTENER. Fm freezing, too. Really.
SEVENTH LISTENER. No! No! Something constructive!
THIRD READER. Constructive. Good . . . A new German warship.
VOICES. Ah! Hear, hear!
THIRD READER. Two new English warships.. .
EIGHTH LISTENER. Devil take it!
SIXTH LISTENER. That's unconstructive.
VOICES. What? How come?
SIXTH LISTENER. Three warships mean three years of hunger.
VOICES. Rubbish! Bravo! Subversive! Bravo! How, subversive!? . . . Crazy!
SEVENTH LISTENER. Quiet, please! We want to hear more constructive things!
SECOND READER. A strong healthy boy was born!
VOICES. Bravo! Bravo! Constructive boy! Constructive boy!
THIRD READER. New successful experiments with Ehrlich-Hata?!*
VOICES. Ah! Bravo! Heavenly!
Great applause, clapping of hands.
THE THREE CRITICS enter from the left.
VOICES. Ah! Aha! Hallo!
Loud greetings.
Report! Report!
SIXTH LISTENER, drowning out the others. Well?! Well!? Was Miss Gudrun
well built? Did she have her decent climaxes, hah? Did she go down
nicely at the end?!
Laughter and noise. The SECOND and THIRD CRITICS take seats next to the
FIRST CRITIC, more in the foreground than the others, humming grimly, as
though answering the question of the SIXTH.
"Her heart a dagger pierced!" How bitter, my dear Mr. Poet!
Kindly don't bother us with such nonsense—
The Modern Woman preening herself;
Leave her at home—may I humbly request!
SIXTH LISTENER. What are you grumbling about?
The FIRST CRITIC sits down on the right end of the sofa, since there is no
other seat available. They are gradually calming down.
FIRST LISTENER. And now, please, a sensible report! Let's hear it!
You start!
FIRST CRITIC. Gentlemen, an unqualified success. But all mediocrity is un­
equivocally successful.
Voices of accord.
The play is no good at all.
SECOND CRITIC. Now, listen—no, really, I must say—that's a completely mis­
guided opinion! . . . On the contrary, it's a very good play. Quite wonder­
ful. But it so happens that the author is not a dissolute genius and a
braggart, the way the mob usually likes them, but a serious, conscien­
tious craftsman—
FIRST CRITIC. My dear friend, you misunderstand me. I esteem the crafts­
man; but this one is lacking in Heavenly Inspiration, for all he can do is
transplant; take from him the time-tested theme and he will starve.

* Ehrlich, the famous German bacteriologist, together with his Japanese assistant, Hata, dis­
covered the chemical compound Salvarsan for the treatment of syphilis in 1910, one year before
Sorge's play was written.
SECOND CRITIC. But his beautiful language—!
FIRST CRITIC. Beautiful crowing you can hear from any rooster.
SECOND CRITIC. My God, in such a manner you can poke fun at Goethe too!
THIRD CRITIC. Allow me to butt in! On the whole, I happen to find the play
quite acceptable. It shows good taste, ifs tactful, it does not offend; in short:
it is the work of a gentleman. Ant this is precisely the point—I think—this
is its fatal flaw: it lacks a certain capriciousness that seeks to conquer its
own particular territory; somewhere there is a weakness in it which he
can't disguise for all his blood-and-thunder violence—quite the contrary,
by such means he actually reveals his weakness all the sooner; this author
has a lack deep down in his depths—a lack which condemns him.
FIRST CRITIC. Bravo! And I want to tell you what's the fundamental lack: a
heart that gives itself to the point of humility; self-surrender toward the
world to the point of foolishness; divine blindness that penetrates pro­
foundly into all secrets—indeed, whafs missing is the visionary—!
SECOND CRITIC interrupts laughingly. Well! Well! Well! Don't get maudlin
over it! Heart has nothing to do with either his style or his theme.
FIRST CRITIC. That's just it! You happen to see the problem upside down!
That very lack relegates him forever to the ranks of sterile hacks. Poets are
lovers, lovers of the world, and endlessly addicted to their love; but he is
stunted in his heart, and out of his narrowness and vanity he invents vain
THIRD CRITIC, without a pause answering the FIRST. And he lacks the de­
monic element, that great confirmation of the self transcending the self.
He's always merely his own shadow, never his better self. In the face of
the Spirit he turns to chaff.
SECOND CRITIC. Ah, that's just so much—
SIXTH LISTENER. Please, don't get tragic! Spare us that! Don't become
THIRD CRITIC. With such mediocrity as we have today! Who could work
himself up to fanaticism!
SECOND CRITIC. You are quick to proclaim a tabula rasa! Now, really! Look,
among the youngest writers we have now this dramatist of the Arthurian
FIRST CRITIC. Who needs him! King Arthur and Gudrun—our own age
searches—gazes far and wide—and its soul is aflame!—
Or would you add that poet who, when he had nothing more to say, still
boasted of his poverty and who is now miracle-mongering with pan­
tomimes, woman, and pomp and circumstance?! That's enough to drive
one to distraction!

* Reference to the neo-Romantic movement of the time, which formed a stylish and stylizing
opposition to the naturalist theater, but was despised by the Expressionists.
THIRD CRITIC. Calm yourself! Restrain yourself! My dear friend.
SECOND CRITIC to the FIRST. Oh, well, you! You don't feel right unless you're
SIXTH LISTENER. Gentlemen, are we still going over to the Victoria Cafe?
MANY VOICES. Yes, of course. Let's go. To the Victoria. Right away.
Noise and general exodus.
THIRD CRITIC, who, while exiting, advances to the front in conversation with
FIRST CRITIC. That's right. We are waiting for someone who will rein­
terpret our destiny for us. Such a one I shall then call a dramatist and a
mighty one. Our Haupt-Mann,* you see, is great as a craftsman, but
deficient as a seer. It's really high time: once again someone must take up
the search for all our sakes.
The OLDER FRIEND, the PATRON, and the POET enter from the right and
walk in front of curtain to center-stage. t&
THE PATRON to the OLDER FRIEND, while still walking. May I congratulate you *
on the fine success of your friend . . . iE
THE FRIEND. Thank you. I am really very happy . . . t
THE PATRON. You have every reason to be. It was a truly extraordinary success, o>
a literary event. °*
Turning to the POET.
But I must extend a second congratulation to you, sir. I have now read all
your writings and find in them a very rich and serious talent, a promising
future, and interesting potentialities. I should like to contribute towards
your further education.
THE POET. Many thanks! Unfortunately, I am afraid difficulties might arise
between us.
THE PATRON. Until now, sir, you have had not the least cause for such a fear.
THE FRIEND, to the POET. You're giving yourself useless worries . . . !
THE POET. I shouldn't like to speak about all of this in such a hurry. After­
ward—I believe—better occasion will be found . . .
THE PATRON. Certainly. However, I did not want to leave you unclear about
my overall impressions. Naturally, concerning details, I have many
things to tell you; also, I should like to see some things changed—that's
only to be expected. Please, come, a table has been reserved.
He exits to the left.
THE FRIEND to the POET. What possessed you to make that remark about your
apprehensions and difficulties? It was uncalled-for. It seems to have put
him out of sorts.

* This is a pun and a gibe at Gerhart Hauptmann (1862-1946), the leading dramatist of
German Naturalism and, subsequently, of neo-Romanticism. The pun consists in the fact that
"Hauptmann" means "head man" or "captain" in German.
THE POET. Yes, it probably was uncalled-for.
THE FRIEND. Speak discreetly, one word can spoil a lot. Now come, he's
He exits to left, the POET follows.
The curtain separates again. Now the right half of the stage is dark and
deserted. From somewhere high at the left, a floodlight falls slantwise across
the left half of the stage, illuminating the PROSTITUTES, who are seated, laugh-
ing and babbling, on the lower leather bench. They are still out of breath from
a quick run and are adjusting their disordered garments. Their voices empha-
size the shrill and bare impression made by the floodlight. Three PROSTITUTES
enter briskly from the left and sit down by the others.
THE FIRST ONE. Quick! They'll be here any minute! Who's still missing?
ONE OF THE NEW ARRIVALS. The Redhead and the tall one are still primping
UJ A SECOND NEWCOMER. Or they're waiting for the fellows because they'd like
tt to smack their lips over the first kisses!
</) THE SECOND, to a NEIGHBOR. How many?
t THE NEIGHBOR. About a dozen!
o THE SECOND. Ha, a good catch!
THE FOURTH, bending over the FIRST. The Redhead is rich now, she only
wears real stuff.
THE FIRST. Oh, you little dope! You still believe that fraud? Three PROS­
TITUTES on the right side of the bench, who until now have been whisper-
ing, suddenly burst into loud laughter.
THE THIRD. Yes, sure the Redhead has an Englishman, all stiff with money.
And he has red eyes and the jaws of a horse!
THE FOURTH. Ha-ha! I saw him too; I think he's an American.
THE FIRST. She is stupid; if she's so well fixed, what's she going with us
THE THIRD. She can never get enough.
They laugh.
smacked him one on his ass?! Hee-hee!
A PROSTITUTE approaches from the left.
THE THIRD to the one entering. You, pale tall one with the craving for death—
where is the Redhead hiding herself? Has she already gone to bed with
them down there?
THE TALL ONE. No, she is only painting herself. The others aren't here yet.
THE SECOND yawns. That red bitch'll choke on her paint some day.
THE TALL ONE. She's got the best paint, from Paris.
THE FIRST. Hey, there she is!
The REDHEAD approaches from the left.
THE SECOND. Where you been hiding, painted gypsy!
THE THIRD AND THE FOURTH, screeching. Hi, painted gypsy!
THE REDHEAD slaps the SECOND. There, take this . . . That'll show you . . .
THE OTHERS, laughing, all together. Hey, she's mad . . .
THE REDHEAD, scuffling with them. You fresh cockroach—fresh . . .
In the heat of battle, a compact drops from the REDHEAD'S handbag,
opens, and the powder dusts out.
THE SECOND, convulsed with laughter. Her powder! Ho-ho! Parisian powder!
THE THREE ON THE RIGHT, becoming attentive. Hey, look! Her powder . . . !
VOICES. Powder . . . powder . . . ha-ha!
Noise and laughter.
THE THIRD. Watch out or you'll drop your baby like that!
ONE OF THE THREE PROSTITUTES. Sit down in it; maybe that way it'll do you
some good!
THE REDHEAD, in a rage. You whores! nyeh!
Grimacing at them. She quickly picks up the compact and cleans up what
has been spilled.
THE THIRD. Sh-h-h . . . sh-h-h . .. They're coming now!
The three PROSTITUTES burst into laughter again.
THE FOURTH. Hush, be quiet!
All are listening intently.
THE SECOND. Ah, rubbish, it's all quiet—it's not them yet.
THE THIRD, to the FOURTH. Say, does my hair look all right?
THE FOURTH. Sure. How's mine?
THE SECOND, to the FOURTH, while looking into a compact mirror. Lend me
your makeup! I'm all dark around my eyes.
THE FOURTH hands it to her. Here.
THE REDHEAD, to the SECOND. Gee, you're cross-eyed! No paint will help
you—ha-ha! You'd be better off with a glass eye!
Steps and VOICES on the left. Silence quickly descends.
THE SECOND puts out her tongue. You horror!!
VOICES. Shh . . . shh ...
All quiet. The PROSTITUTES, staring to the left, grin. Their expressions and
postures are all alike. The LOVERS (eight or nine) enter from the left. They
stop short at the sight of the PROSTITUTES. They make their selections,
bargain with each other, pointing their fingers at individual prostitutes.
Their talk is rapid and the individual remarks fuse into each other.
FIRST. There they are. Ha! Choice! Here is selection!
SECOND. Come on! Forward! Hoi—this flesh! What the devil!
SOME, holding him back. You, control yourself!
THIRD. I'll take the redhead!
FIRST. I the one next to her . . .
FOURTH. You won't take the redhead!
THIRD. She gave me looks .. .
VOICES. Let me at them! Not yet! Choose first! What? Choose first!?
FIFTH. That brunette there for me . . .
SIXTH. Fine. And for me the tall one.
SEVENTH. Man, no . .. that one's too short. The other—
EIGHTH. That one looks dangerous. She's cross-eyed.
FOURTH. I get this one here.
SECOND, furious. What! Let me go! Do you want me to suffocate!? You—!
MANY VOICES. Forward! Let's go! Let's go!
They rush toward the girls. Noise, screeching, pushing, embraces, shrill
laughter. Wild commotion of the group swaying back and forth in the
white beam of the floodlight.
Take met Not him! I'm strong as a bear!
It isn't true! He's a weakling! Me!
You know how to kiss, girl! Kiss me, girl!
What are you being coy for, why don't you let me grab you?
Keep out, you! You bald-headed fright! Get away from me, you
So take the two of us! You won't die of it!
You are white as a sheet! Ho! How you scratch me with your kisses!
Crazy about her breasts?! Slap them and they'll explode!
You're driving me crazy . . . Ouch, you're biting me!
Yes, up there! Come fast, you bewitching brunette!
One couple sits down on the raised leather couch, which is roomy enough for
three persons.
You want something sweet, huh? Something sweet? Fine!
Slap his filthy face! Slug him! Slug him!
Let go, buster! Want to get slapped?
I'll get sherbet. .. Any kind you want. Vanilla?
Let's go home! Into bed. Quick! Get a move on! Hey, you thieving
At the end the group postures as a monument.
The VOICES resound rhythmically, like chanting.
You feed me flames; I'm burned to ashes, wild one, you!
You crush like iron, you'll smother me!
I'll teach you joys that you have never known!
Fll show you nights of which youVe never dreamed!
You are Hell's bottom and are black with lust!
You are like Satan and I want your thrust!
Lights out. Darkness. The noise fades. Brief silence. Then the space in front of
the alcove is lit. The GIRL and the NURSE have just come up the steps from the
vestibule and are now standing in front of the curtain.
THE GIRL. Here, please, Nurse! There is no one up here. Here people can't
see us.
THE NURSE. Why don't you want to sit among people? You shouldn't worry so
much. The doctor has told you so often enough. You should spare your­
self as much as possible, and you've just seen how necessary it is. We
shouldn't have gone to the theater yet. We had hardly walked ten minutes
when you became dizzy! Don't torment yourself unnecessarily! Your fate
can't be changed any more, and God will surely forgive you your baby.
THE GIRL. No waiter here? I'd like to sit here.
A WAITER comes up the steps.
THE NURSE. We'd like to have a quiet table.
THE WAITER. Certainly!
The WAITER draws the curtain back so that the octagonal alcove becomes
visible. In it are a table and chairs. Through the windows one sees the night
sky. A star sparkles brightly. Clouds drift past. The alcove is lit; the source
of the light is invisible.
THE GIRL. Yes, we'd like to sit here!
As the WAITER wants to pull the curtain shut.
Please, let us have the view, don't close the curtains!
THE NURSE. Why not? There always is a little draft through the cracks, and
you catch cold so easily. You can close them!
The WAITER does so.
The GIRL and the NURSE sit down at the table opposite each other, in
profile to the audience. Now the lights within and in front of the alcove go
out, and during the subsequent scene the two figures can be seen only as
shadows. The WAITER soon leaves, and after some time brings the order. In
the moment of darkening of the alcove, the rest of the proscenium turns
bright. Approximately in the center sit the PATRON, the OLDER FRIEND and
the POET, eating. A WAITER comes and goes from time to time.
THE POET, beginning to speak almost simultaneously with the brightening of
the proscenium. On the basis of my writings, you've explained my aims so
accurately that I can now speak to you with increased hope for a favor­
able result. Still, an aspiring young author can so easily be misunder­
stood and give the impression of being immature and on the wrong
path—you do understand, don't you?
Brief pause.
My friend spoke to you about my situation; you know in what kind of an
environment I have to work—and the theaters reject my plays—so much
in them is novel that they shy away from risking the experiment of a
THE PATRON. I agree with you. You are in an unfortunate position, since your
plays tend only to become more and more peculiar and strange, and—if I
may speak frankly—they actually have less and less chance of accep­
tance. Of course, one can't be completely sure about that.
THE POET. I am glad you anticipate the same things I do, and are therefore in
a position to understand my ideas all the better. This impossibility of
getting a performance is my greatest handicap. For me performance is a
necessity, the one basic condition for creation. It is my duty toward my
THE OLDER FRIEND. Please, consider what I told you before!
m Brief pause.
2 THE POET. You'll realize that the mere printed publication of my plays can't
O mean very much to me; that would always be merely a half measure,
4 never my final purpose—that is performance. So I have just this one
♦ request: Help me found my own theater.
gj THE OLDER FRIEND. Be reasonable, please! This is absurd!
THE POET. Let me finish my say. I am speaking after careful deliberation.
THE PATRON. Yes, sir, let him finish what he has to say.
THE OLDER FRIEND. I only want the best for you. That will never be in your
best interest.
THE POET. I've reflected at length about all this and examined it from all
angles, considered every alternative, but I've always come back to this: I
must be performed—I see my writings as the foundation and beginning
of a rejuvenated drama; you yourself expressed a very similar idea a
moment ago. But this new drama can become properly effective only by
being performed; the only solution is a stage of my own.
THE PATRON. You are speaking of a new drama; considering the state of our
modern theater, I think you're justified in some degree. And your plays
seem indeed to bear within them so many seeds of future possibilities
that one can understand your high opinion of yourself. On the whole, I
can assure you I understand your ideas and your decision very well. If in
spite of that I propose a different course, I don't do so from lack of
understanding but from sound insight. I see your near future in a dif­
ferent light—even though I fully sympathize with your request—I see so
many risks and problems in realizing it that a different solution appears
necessary to me and, I believe, I have found one.
THE POET. Please, tell me! What is it?
THE PATRON. I consider this proposal sound and fruitful. I shall grant you a
fixed income, sufficient to cover your expenses in the next few years so
that you can live as you desire. Above all—I think—if s time for you to do
some traveling. Unless you find new stimulation, in your environment,
you're threatened with sterility. Let ten years pass in this fashion and we
shall be able to discuss the other questions. You'll have developed greatly,
the risk will no longer be so great. What do you say?
THE OLDER FRIEND. Your fate is now in your own hands.
Brief pause.
THE POET. Sir, IVe pondered over this possibility too, for a long time, and
have rejected it. I do not need external inspiration for future creation, but
I must gain experience of theatrical technique by seeing my finished
works performed. I must be able to test in practice the extent of what is
possible on the stage. I must test experimentally the limits of drama. My
writings are still deficient in this respect. Only by mastering these matters
can I mature. The external world is necessary only secondarily, and
sterility will never threaten me! My mission dictates this one path; there­
fore, I have to decline your offer.
THE PATRON. You talk heedlessly! You overlook the real advantage of my
proposal—your mental growth in undisturbed security. That is what you
need. Dramatic performances would actually be harmful to you, be­
cause your whole being would be so engrossed in them, there would be
no peace left for your work; and your work can flourish only in peace and
THE POET. I will be able to unite work and fulfillment. I have the call, and
hence I can accomplish what I must do.
THE PATRON. Forgive me, but now you are becoming fantastic, and we want
to consider only what's realistic.
Brief pause.
THE POET, abruptly bursting forth.
I see, you'll never want to grant me this?!
I know this well, you only think fantastic nonsense
What I demand, such as my thoughts about
My calling!? . . . How shall I begin my tale?!
Shall I relate how this began in me with visions,
Even when I was a child, and then matured
And grew in might, compelling me and driving me
Into much loneliness and tortured grief-
How it imposed upon me such laws which sundered ties
Between my loved ones and myself, condemning me
To cruelties against those nearest me, whose blood I share?!
My work! My work! My work alone was master!
How best to say i t . . . I want to show you images
Of coming things which have in me arisen
In all splendor, visions that led me on
To where I am today, and neither love nor lust
Has hitherto been able to displace them
Or even for one instant make them dim!
You shall see what riches wait for you,
What vast good fortune.
Truly this will prove a gold mine! And no risk at all!
Just listen now: this will become
The heart of art: from all the continents,
To this source of health, people will stream
To be restored and saved, not just a tiny esoteric
Group! . . . Masses of workmen will be swept
By intimations of a higher life
In mighty waves, for there they will see
From smokestack and towering scaffold, from
{Jj The daily danger of clamoring cogs arise
tf Their souls, beauteous, and wholly purged
i/j Of swarming accidents, in glorious
♦ Sublimity, conquerors of gripping misery,
^ Living steel and spire soaring up
§2 In defiant yearning, regally.... Starving girls,
Emaciated bodies bent, toiling for their children
Out of wedlock born, in this shall find their bread
And resolutely raise their little ones aloft,
Even though these lie already lifeless in their arms!
Cripples, whose twisted limbs betoken the teeming
Misery of this crooked age, whose bitter souls
Ooze from their poor misshapen forms,
Will then with courage and from love of straight-limbed life
Repress their bile and toss to Death
The fallow refuse that was their lives. But men
Shall stiffen their brows in sorrow and joy,
And open their hearts to yearn and—renounce!
Let woman excel in allegiance to man!
Let his aim be—graciously to yield to her!

To lofty birth let a highborn but in many ways corrupted age

Advance toward me;
Indeed, this age shall truly view itself
In mirrors of omnipotence and lapse into silence when
From the deep reaches of the skies
Issues the gracious vision of the anchor which holds us all
Inexorably, like rock-bound ore,
To the bottom of divinity.
During the POET'S verses the GIRL has risen and draws softly nearer, until she
stands to the left by the entrance to the alcove. Subsequently, the NURSE joins
her. Standing on tiptoe, she looks curiously over the GIRL'S shoulder.
THE PATRON. Please, sir, calm yourself!—What you envision as the future is a
figment of your imagination, a dream that will never come true. There­
fore, I feel really justified in declining your request, first of all because in
a few years' time you will think of your plans with greater maturity. Then
perhaps you will have learned to realize and appreciate more seriously
the limits of possibility; your ideas will have adjusted to them, and we
both will have it easier.
THE POET. Your words have been unmistakable, and we are finished!
The NURSE has meanwhile returned to her table, but the GIRL remains
rooted to the spot, hearkening, slightly bent forward. The light upstage goes
out immediately after the POET'S last word. Left-downstage is dimly illumi-
nated. In the chiaroscuro one can see the FIVE FLIERS seated on the lower g
bench. Their rigid posture makes each resemble all the others. They also are g
unified by their sharp and steely expressions. «
FIRST FLIER, rhythmically.
Of course, you speak for joyfulness, ♦
But fetters of constraining fear hold fast my senses. £5
SECOND FLIER. I feel like him. My pulse beat overwhelms
My laughter with gloom and violence.
THIRD FLIER. Grief does not befit this festive hour,
Even the worst fate merits more than that. ..
FOURTH FLIER. How his eyes gazed upward radiantly at the sun
In ardent communion, joyous in holy effort...
FIFTH FLIER. How his courage, assured, gave strength to his handshake,
His every word betokened success...
FIRST FLIER. His courage pushed his hands too far,
Overconfidence has shattered many—
SECOND FLIER. TOO much like the sun were his eyes,
Many have burned to ashes near the sun—
THIRD FLIER. Grief does not befit this festive hour,
Even the worst fate merits more than that.
FOURTH FLIER. Still, let us wait, let us not heed vague apprehensions—
FIFTH FLIER. They often deceived us; soon we shall know.
SIXTH FLIER enters from the left, steps in front of the others, turns his face
toward them, and remains in this posture during the subsequent scene.
FIRST FLIER. Woe . . . Your eyes bespeak the airy grave . . .
SECOND FLIER. Your brow foreshadows a desolate coffin.
SIXTH FLIER. Woe: The storms of heaven shattered the airplane.
It splintered on the rock-covered earth . . .
FIRST FLIER. My apprehension did not deceive me,
Rightly did fear hold me in clammy embrace!
SECOND FLIER. Rightly did engulfing waves of
Bitter sadness drown all my laughter!
SIXTH FLIER. Woe: Dead he lies with his brains spilled out,
And his hand still clutches rudder and wing.
FOURTH FLIER. His courage lifted him into the stormy skies-
Raging elements have no respect for courage in man!
FIFTH FLIER. Brightly his eyes greeted the sun—
The radiant star scorns the greeting of man!
ALL EXCEPT THE THIRD. Let the monotonous dirge resound,
the soul's lament,
£ Psalm and organ for the dead.
Q THIRD FLIER. Grief does not befit the festive hour,
Worst fate merits a nobler choral.
i FIRST FLIER. Which god's gospel do your works proclaim?
c§ SECOND FLIER. Which is the freedom your trumpets declare?
THIRD FLIER. From storms of destruction rises my God,
From death-dealing rays He draws living breath.
FOURTH FLIER. Your word of courage moves the boulder from the grave
And adumbrates the verdict against death.
FIFTH FLIER. Your hope unseals hidden accords,
Y e s . . . It intones eternal life.
SIXTH FLIER. Give us the gift of wisdom, give us the gift of omnipotence!
THIRD FLIER. Where has his fervor gone out, where has his courage been
All the more fiery was it infused into us!
FIRST FLIER. Yes, you're piercing the clouds of my heart with heavenly rays—!
SECOND FLIER. YOU transfigure my sorrow with inward shared smiles!
THIRD FLIER. Think it through! Descend deep down into yourselves!
Did he die? Or did he rise in resurrection?
Our eyes now see with sight from his soul—
FOURTH FLIER, with gesture. His longing lifts high our hands.
FIFTH FLIER. His death has been solder for our union:
It has welded and fused us—deepest nerve and broadest dominion . . .
THIRD FLIER, softer, yet more intent, his voice coming as though from afar.
Prophetic vision above and beyond the groping of language—
ALL, as though groping. Prophetic vision above and beyond the groping of
THIRD FLIER. Beyond uncertain solace—faith.
ALL, their heads bowed. Beyond uncertain solace—faith!
Darkening of downstage, center-upstage is lit Only the OLDER FRIEND
and the POET are left at the table.
THE OLDER FRIEND. You have killed your last opportunity. Do you realize
what this means? I've warned you so many times. You appeared to agree
with me, but it was all pretense. I detest from the bottom of my heart such
secretiveness. I can't comprehend what's happened! It will be a long time
before I can forgive you for this. What's going to happen? How do you
expect to get on?
THE POET. I did not like being secretive with you. I'd expressed many objec­
tions to you, but you rejected them all out of hand and you repeated your
very definite opinions again and again. So I let it be. You held my wish in
your hands and contemplated it like a lifeless thing, like a stone or a
piece of wood. But there was organic development here, ever-changing
and unfathomable, so much soul and mystery that neither you nor I
could know anything absolute about it. Yet this is your way, your bitter
habit: you had tagged me with a number and were looking for the for­
mula it would fit. But I myself had not yet found my number and my law.
Now, don't be angry with me!
THE FRIEND. I am upset by what's happened. This obstinacy and blindness of
yours make one wonder. You are too young to afford such negativity.
Pause. He looks at his watch.
It's time now to catch my train. Good-bye. Look me up soon at home. In
any case, let's not be angry.
They shake hands.
THE POET. I thank you. Farewell!
The FRIEND exits to the right, past the alcove and down the steps.
The POET looks silently into space.
Lights dim. The alcove is lit.
The GIRL, still standing rooted as before. The NURSE seated, sipping her
cup of chocolate.
THE NURSE. D O sit down! Your chocolate is all cold by now.
Besides it's high time you were home.
The GIRL still standing rooted as before. The NURSE seated, at the right.
Excuse me, Nurse!
Exits to the right.
Lights out on this part of the stage; the lower stage is lit. It is completely
deserted. The POET descends slowly downstage while speaking the subse-
quent monologue. Right after the first few words, the GIRL appears down-
stage at the right and remains standing there, staring at the POET and
listening intently to his words.
THE POET. YOU hurled a sky-high rock
Upon my road—
With rocks you cluttered, too, my brain, and
I can barely think.
Yet your hostile force steels all my pulses,
0 Destiny!
One day I shall stretch up defiantly toward blue sun . . . ,
An eagle,
1 shall spread my wings
Toward the fires of the sun.
Talon and eagle! And your rock becomes a mote.
He continues to descend the steps and is about to turn right Just then,
THE GIRL advances toward him, blocks his way, and lifts her arm as though to
stop him, saying. I must speak to you, wondrous stranger . ..

0 In front of a curtain.

♦ The FATHER in a blue dressing gown. He hammers away with an outsized

§ drumstick at a multicolored toy drum. Even before the curtain opens, the
first drumbeats can be heard; while the stage becomes visible, the drum-
beats follow each other more and more rapidly, finally merging in a furious
THE FATHER, screaming over the din. Yippee! Yippee! Whee! Hallo! Away!
Away with you, you scoundrels! Yippee! Look at them run! Away, away
with you, scoundrels! Get out! Get out! Beat! Beat, my good drum, beat!
He stops himself.
Ah—now they're gone.
Looking up.
Ha-ha, I can see you again, Mars, I can see you again . . .! And you shall
have a kiss, drum, because you're so kind, and chased away those old
rascals. So here it is . . .
Kisses his drum.
Shame on them, those old rascals.—Here a fire, over there a coffin lid
and smoke; over here a louse, over there a toad; there a heart, there a
heart with a knife stuck in it; here a bucket of tears, there a chest filled
with murder—surely it's enough to drive one mad. But I have my drum
now—nyaah—yes, I have my drum. The good Lord still means well by
his old master builder. Up there in the attic it lay all forgotten—the old
drum, when I went up to look for my old blueprints. Ha-ha-ha, the good
Lord still means well by his master builder, yah, yah.
Short drumbeats.
One, two, three, and I see Mars again.
Sends up a kiss.
Good day, dear Mars, how do you do, good Mars? I have my drum now!
Abruptly changing.
What, you mean fellow . . . what! You smoky giant, don't block my view
of Mars, you!
He starts drumming again.
Hallo, yippee, get out, get out, will you! You devil... get out of there! get
out! Will you go! go! away!
Wildly drumming, he advances to the left as though driving someone out.
For a short while the drumming can he heard behind the scene; then
silence descends.
Now the curtain parts, and opens on a view of a living room. Downstage at
the right, a settee. In front of a red curtain in the center of the back wall, a
table and three chairs. Left center an armchair. Upstage at the left, a door
papered with the same paper as the surrounding wall. Red carpet, red
wallpaper, red furniture cushions, red table cover.
The MOTHER and the SON (the POET) seated at the table opposite each
other (in profile to the audience).
THE MOTHER. . . . it's the first time since your return that you deign to grant
me a free hour. And youVe been back for over a week. But you stay in
your room all day or take walks. You don't concern yourself at all about
me, I only see you at meals; for that I'm good enough. If you only
knew . . . I cry over you . . .
THE SON. Dearest, let's use this free hour for talking of other things...
THE MOTHER. NO, no, I must be able to talk about it. You, of course, don't like
that! Ah, I'm dead to you—do you tell me anything at all about your inner
life? It was bad enough those last few months, but now, since you met
that girl, you've become completely closemouthed! You haven't told me
a thing about your trip; why did you come back so soon?
THE SON. You know that I undertook the trip to gather some stimulation for
my art. I came back when I got enough . . .
THE MOTHER. And you've come back so soon?! But I think you went on that
trip for quite different reasons, I'm quite certain of that. In that connec­
tion you had some bad experience, and that's why you came back so soon.
THE SON. Where do you get all that information?
THE MOTHER. When you came back, I noticed that something deep inside
was troubling you. And it had to be something sad, I noticed that too.
After all, I know you! After all, I know what goes on inside you! Oh, I
know! Perhaps you went there to sell a play of yours, and it was turned
THE SON. Ah, don't trouble yourself with these useless thoughts . . .
THE MOTHER. Yes, I notice it all right; it's true. I thought so . ..
At the left, behind the scene, a door is heard to slam.
THE MOTHER, startled. Listen! that was his bedroom! What does this mean?
What is he up to? Isn't he asleep? he won't be coming in here, will he?
Brief silence.
THE SON. It's all quiet.
THE MOTHER. The attendant is with him, I hope?
THE SON. Shall I go look?
THE MOTHER. Yes, go, go, but quietly! If he's asleep, don't wake him by any
means. Maybe it's better you don't go?
THE SON. I'd better go.
THE MOTHER. Yes, but very quietly, yes, it's better you go, I suppose. After all,
one never knows . . . But very softly, do you hear?
The SON nods and exits through curtain. Silence.
THE MOTHER, inclining her head sorrowfully, folding her hands, stares straight
ahead, and then she prays monotonously and mournfully. Lord, you bring
j|J everything to its rightful ending—all my sorrow, too! O Lord, O Lord,
g take my hands and lead me . . .
v> A wild sobbing causes her head to jerk. A chair is moved behind the scene;
t the MOTHER quickly wipes away her tears and looks at the curtain.
CM THE SON, returning. Yes, the attendant is with him.
THE MOTHER. Is Father sleeping?
THE SON. He's lying on the bed in his dressing gown and seems to be asleep.
THE MOTHER. Didn't you talk to the attendant?
THE SON, resuming his seat. No, I didn't go into the room at all. I only peeped
in through the open door, no one heard me.
THE MOTHER. Ah, when I think that this can go on another year, or even
longer, I can't endure it.
THE SON. Did you write to Aunt once more?
THE MOTHER. She wrote again herself. I meant to show you her letter.
Searching in her dress.
Where did I put i t . . . ? Maybe I left it upstairs...
THE SON. What does she write?
THE MOTHER. She writes with no heart at all... No, I don't have the letter now.
THE SON. She writes heartlessly again?
THE MOTHER. She ignored everything I said. She falls back on the statement
of the doctors and insists on his spending his last days, not in the institu­
tion, but at home. She accuses me of lacking in love because I wanted it
the other way. But you know how I love him . . .
THE SON. One can't reach her, appeals are of no use. She gives us so much
money that we are dependent on her.
THE MOTHER. If at least it were his heart's desire! If it could only relieve his
last days. Yes, then I would take everything upon myself! But the doctor
told me himself that those afflicted with his illness don't care at a l l . . . ah,
it's so difficult, I can't sleep any more from fear...
THE SON. She loves her brother, to be sure, but she can't sympathize with our
torments here and with your great love.
THE MOTHER, bowing her head. Yes, I love him utterly and I'm always with
THE SON, more softly. Know this, I love you completely and am always near
The MOTHER looks up sorrowfully.
THE MOTHER. I weep for both of you in my pillows at night. One eye weeps
for your father, the other for you!
A door is slammed, right afterward another one. Steps are heard ap-
THE MOTHER jumps up7 screaming. That's him! he's coming!
She flees into a corner of the room. 3
Bolt the door! «
Tries to run out through the door upstage-left.
Oh God, the door is locked!
THE SON. Calm yourself! Stay here! Calm yourself!
THE MOTHER, fleeing through the room into the farthest corner. For heaven's CM
sake, call the attendant!
The red curtain in the background opens up; the FATHER appears in the
doorframe. He is again in his blue robe.
THE FATHER, in the doorframe. Now I'm away
And can dance
He enters the room from the right, circumventing the table, without being
aware of the others, who stand at the side to his right; the SON puts his hand
on his MOTHER'S arm to calm her.
THE FATHER. So you see, my dearest Boss,
I'm no longer at a loss.
One! two! three!
Pretending I was a stupid mule,
I played my patron for a fool,
Now I can laugh at him—
Scoff at him—
And say I have enough of him—
He twirls around. Then he perceives the S O N and M O T H E R .
T H E FATHER. Ah, there you are! G o o d evening! G o o d evening!
T H E M O T H E R . G o o d evening, little papa. N o t asleep yet?
T H E FATHER. Ha-ha-ho—how d o you like that—Pve only pretended I was
asleep! But that fellow fell into m y trap a n d t h o u g h t I was really asleep.
So I've gotten rid of h i m in a nice way—ha-ha—Fm rid of h i m . F m
d a n c i n g with joy, you shouldn't think F m crazy. I only d a n c e with joy!!
Yes, let's all d a n c e , w h e r e is Hedi, let h e r play t h e piano. Hopsa . . .
hopsa . . . tralala . . . Well, how d o you like that, I a m even a poet! T h a t
p o e m was good, wasn't it? A crazy m a n c o u l d n ' t make such poetry! Yes,
poetry, that's always b e e n my forte. You still r e m e m b e r , M o m m y ?
O h , dearest bride with myrtle wreath,
W i t h a goose you're putting your groom at ease . . .
m Brief silence.
2 But sit down, sit down! What are you standing around for?
0 Mommy, come, come here!
^ They all take seats around the table.
♦ Well, my boy, you really should b e in b e d already—but you aren't a child
co any more. T i m e was w h e n you h a d to b e in bed by half past seven o n t h e
d o t . . . Punctually at half past seven! M a r c h , to bed—nothing to b e d o n e
about it! I still remember—ha-ha—five minutes before, you already cast
sidelong glances at the clock, a n d winked all secretly to yourself. . . b u t
you couldn't fool me—I saw it anyway. A n d you always begged to take
your book along to bed, b u t that was o u t of the question. Yes, you were a
rascal! A n d d o you still r e m e m b e r how we did t h e puzzles, son? W e two
always solved t h e m — o n e , two, three, just like that, b u t M o m m y could
never solve t h e m . . . never .. .
Pats her shoulder.
Yes, yes, Mommy. It's not as simple as all that. Ha-ha.
THE SON. Sometimes you had the answer before I'd been able to finish
reading the puzzle.
THE MOTHER. Yes, little papa, you really could solve them beautifully.
THE FATHER. But now, how is it now! We must discuss what we are to do. I am
well again now, and we'll fire the attendant on the first. I think, Mommy,
we two will first take a nice trip south: anywhere else it would still be too
cold. Yes, I've figured it all out. Well, will you be surprised, little mommy!
THE MOTHER. That'll be wonderful. ..
THE FATHER. It sure will be wonderful! And afterward with new strength I'll
buckle down to work. And at full steam! Ha-ha, if you only knew .. .
Work makes our life so sweet
Never is a burden—
Oh yes, oh yes.
THE MOTHER. The other day you fetched your old blueprints from the attic.
THE FATHER. Yes, that's right. . . and the drum too! Ha-ha, have you already
heard the story of my dear old drum . . . ? Well, I'll tell you that an­
other time. Mommy, you don't have to make such an anxious face right
away—it's true about the drum . . . Yes—well—what were we talking
THE MOTHER. Of your old blueprints, little papa, and your work.
THE FATHER. Oh yes, the blueprints, I need them for something—ha-ha! Yes,
there is lots to be done, ho, if you only knew! We'll get filthy rich some­
day, we'll laugh at everyone. But we mustn't let anyone know.
THE SON. You have a special project lined up, haven't you?
THE FATHER. No, nothing must be divulged. Well, maybe I'll tell it to you, my
boy, now you are "a colleague." How are you doing? Pretty busy, aren't
you? How long will it take you to become construction boss? . . .
Mommy, do you still remember, when I . . .
The MOTHER nods.
Ha-ha-ha, you still remember that. My boy, as soon as I am well, we'll go
drinking together, absolutely, I want to have a real drinking spree again
with the boys of the fraternity. Ad exercitium salamandri. . . * one, two,
three . . . yes, yes, I can still do i t . . . one doesn't forget that.
The MOTHER has gotten up quietly and is about to exit through curtain.
THE FATHER. Where are you going, Mommy? Oh, no, you stay here! Tonight
you can stay up a little longer, for my sake, can't you? Can't you, my dear
little wifey?
THE MOTHER sits down again. Certainly, little papa.
THE FATHER. YOU can sleep late tomorrow—tomorrow is Sunday. Sunday we
never got out of bed before nine! My God, how long it's been now since
we slept together, you and I! But just let the attendant go—it will soon be
the first. Let him go, Mommy, and we'll have our wedding ceremony a
second time. My dear, beautiful wifey!
The MOTHER regards the FATHER with increasing anxiety.
THE FATHER slowly. Tell me—
THE MOTHER, timidly. W h a t . . . ?
THE FATHER. Tell me, what was it I wanted to discuss with you . . . what was
it—what was it—
... Well, just you wait, Mommy, when I start earning again! Then I won't
come home with a miserly six thousand marks, but with no less than six
hundred thousand. Yes, then you'll be surprised, but you have to wait a

* A drinking ritual of the student fraternities.

little. It's so dreadful that I couldn't do anything at all these years. I go
crazy even now when I think of it. Here, here—
Rolls up right sleeve.
I bit my own flesh with rage, b u t it was no use, I could not make myself
work. I could bite and bite as m u c h as I pleased . . .
THE SON. But now you're planning new work again, Father.
THE FATHER. Yes, now everything is fine again. So my biting was good for
something anyway. Ha-ha, enough blood flowed out—one time a whole
bowl was full. Ha-ha, but now we can laugh and be happy! M o m m y , you
know, we could afford a bottle of wine to celebrate the day. And—you
know what—I'll bring Hedi along too, she must join in our t o a s t . . .
He rises quickly, rubbing his hands, and hops around with joy.
Hopsa, we'll have a grand time . . .
The MOTHER whispers with the SON by the curtain in the back, while the
FATHER, humming, entirely self-absorbed, paces up and down the room.
3 The MOTHER leaves the room. The SON comes downstage, seats himself on
Q the settee, and looks at the FATHER. Silence.
THE SON. You wanted to talk to m e about your project, Father . . .
♦ THE FATHER, stopping. About my project; of course! . . . Well, it can't be told
co that easily . . .
THE SON. How long have you been working on it, actually?
THE FATHER. H m m , the first thought or the dream of it c a m e to m e already
four months ago. And then I finished the plan, b u t at that time I hadn't
c o m e back h o m e yet.—The blueprint itself I started only yesterday.
THE SON. You have to show m e everything. W h a t were you saying before
about a dream . . . ?
THE FATHER. Well—as I said—it's not so easy to explain. T h e r e is something
great, miraculous, b e h i n d this work, you know—an utterly mysterious
power—yes, I know it sounds crazy, but it isn't. Just listen to me.—How
can I begin . . .
THE SON. You had a dream?
THE FATHER. Yes, that's it! Yes! Just imagine! O n e night I saw the planet Mars
in my dream, I saw it in the sky just as usual, but suddenly it grew brighter
and brighter and bigger and bigger, it grew and grew, finally it became as
large as this room here, and it was so near I could have touched it—so
minutely visible, imagine, I could see the canals quite clearly. T h e Mars
canals, you know?
T H E SON. Yes.
THE FATHER. I saw t h e m distinctly shimmering and flowing—they ran
straight through across the whole planet, straight as a yardstick.
THE SON. Had you seen t h e m at any time before through a telescope?
THE FATHER. Yes, but m u c h , m u c h smaller, not bigger than a five-mark
piece, but then I saw t h e m as large as this wall.
THE SON. How miraculous.
THE FATHER. Yes, truly miraculous! For the next night I dreamed the same,
only this time I could see them building on one of the Mars canals!
THE SON. Ah . . .
THE FATHER, growing in stature as he revels in his vision. I saw the scaffolds
and ditches—I saw everything!—and very curiously shaped—and it all
hummed and whirred so in front of me that I became quite dizzy! I also
saw people, very much like ourselves, except that they all had long trail­
ing garments on and pointed hats, exactly the way I had once read it in a
THE SON. Had you read it all?
THE FATHER. How could I have? . . . I had read about the people there, but
nothing of all the other things; in that case there would have been
nothing miraculous about it at all. Ha-ha-ha! N o w , . . . where was I? . . .
THE SON. With the people and the machines.
THE FATHER. Right. As I said—of course I hadn't read anything whatever
about the machines and the whole construction. Otherwise there would
have been nothing to this!
THE SON. How was it then on the third night?
THE FATHER. On the third night? Well, then I saw a little more of the con­
struction site, and everything even more distinct! Then I also saw gigantic
objects on the water—ships probably—I didn't understand at all how
those monsters could float! I didn't comprehend anything, not the ma­
chines, not a single construction, nothing at all, I stood like a dumb ox be­
fore all those things! Gradually, however, I began to sense this and that—
ah—I racked my brain trying to understand those things. They could
drive one out of his mind, but I was probing into them! What times those
were, my boy! I raced like a madman through the days, hardly able to wait
for the night to come. I believe I must have been in a permanent state of
fever from waiting. I burned. At night, when my glance fell on Mars, all
red in the sky, I spoke to him. Then, in the night, I was up there. Yes, I was
up there, every night for weeks, I didn't dream—it was real, what I saw...
THE SON. I believe you, Father. And how did it go on?
Sounds behind the curtain. The MOTHER and the SISTER come. The SISTER
carries a tray with a bottle of wine and four glasses. The MOTHER carries a
tray. They put these on the table. The SISTER'S long blond hair streams
down loose; she has a robe over her shoulders.
The FATHER, having thrown a rapid glance at them entering, paces back
and forth, confused and completely absorbed in his visions.
THE MOTHER, anxiously. Here we are, little papa . . .
The FATHER fails to hear her.
THE SISTER. I'd already gone to bed, little papa. That's why it took me so
long. ..
THE SON, getting up. Come, Father, now we'll drink a toast.
Leads the FATHER to the table.
THE FATHER, as above. W e l l . . . w e l l . . . w e l l . . .
Now he stands by the table; at that moment his glance lights on the tray,
he wakes from his trance, and speaks in a lively tone:
Ah! Macaroons! Hurrah, Mommy! Is this a surprise! Macaroons! My
THE MOTHER, radiantly. They are still quite fresh, little papa. Actually, you
were not supposed to get them till tomorrow.
THE FATHER. Well, in that case I have to taste one right now—
Eats a macaroon.
Mmm, delicious!
Eats another one.
Really superb, Mommy, the way you make them.
Continues eating.
V3 Oh, does this taste good!
0 THE SON. Let's all sit down!
♦ THE FATHER. Right, all around the table! We are short one chair . . .
THE SON pushes a chair to the table, at an angle. Here, take this chair,
$ Father.
THE FATHER, taking it. Yes, I take the chair. Sick man that I am!—But now a
toast! . .. Mommy, where do you have the corkscrew?
THE MOTHER hands him the corkscrew. Here.
THE FATHER. W e l l . . . tralala . . . this will taste out of this world!
He tries to pull the cork.
Hopla .. . Well, this is a difficult business.. .
Tries again.
THE SON. Let me try, Father!
All sit around the table.
THE FATHER. All right, you try. This is damned complicated—damned
The SON drives the screw further and pulls out the cork.
THE FATHER. Ah, this boy is getting clever . . . just look at him!
THE MOTHER. Yes, he used to be our all-thumbs.
THE FATHER. Sure enough! . . . And now let's pour.
Pours and fills the glass till it overflows and spills.
Hopla . . . this is too good. Well, let the rug too take part in the feast.
THE SISTER. Let me pour, little papa.
She takes the bottle from him and fills the other glasses.
THE FATHER. How do you like our children, Mommy—efficient, aren't they?
THE MOTHER. Yes, very, little papa!
THE FATHER. Wouldn't you like to make a speech, my boy?—Well? You used
to love doing it. No birthday passed without one of your speeches.
THE SON. Yes, I still remember. I always made long speeches, but tonight, I
think, we'll just toast quietly.
THE FATHER. NO, no, that's impossible, you have to speak! Really, you have to
make a speech!
The SON rises, raps on his glass.
THE FATHER. Ah . .. psst... psst.. . quiet! Listen to the speaker!
THE SON. Fraternity brothers!
THE FATHER. Splendid. This will be a real fraternity carousal.
THE SON. Tonight we welcome into our midst our dear old brother restored to
his old gay and happy disposition. For a long time he stayed away from
our drinking bouts, and his absence kept away good cheer. Now we can
delight together with him in his health, and wish him the best for his fe
future and his great enterprise. go
THE FATHER, wiping offhis tears. Listen to him! Go on, go on, my boy! *>
THE SON. Fraternity brothers! I call on you in honor of our dear senior *"
brother to whom we owe so much, who has always been and always will ^
be an inspiration for us and an example of loyalty, earnestness, and sense a>
of duty, in honor of our dear senior brother, I call on you for a rousing
toast in our best tradition: Ad exercitium salamandris: Estisne parati?*
THE FATHER, with radiant face and booming voice. Sumus!
THE SON. One, two, three—
The FATHER rubs his glass on the table and gestures to the MOTHER and
SISTER to follow his example. They copy him halfheartedly.
One, two—bibite!
They drink.
Three . . . Salamander ex-est.
THE FATHER, embracing him, with tears in his eyes. That was a wonderful
thing you did, my boy! A wonderful thing—and now another toast. All of
us together, let's clink glasses. To the future!
They all raise their glasses; as the FATHER is about to clink his glass with
the SON'S, he says:
To Mars!
THE SON. Yes, to Mars!
THE FATHER, to the MOTHER and SISTER. That's our secret. The MOTHER and
SISTER have joined timidly, smiling reluctantly, to humor his gaiety.
THE FATHER turns to the SON. But I want to go on with my story—!
* The Son in this scene engages in a ritual of the German student fraternities—the so-called
Salamanderreiben, or stirring the Salamander, which constitutes one of the highlights of the frater­
nities' drinking feast. The ceremonial is described here; the formal language of the fraternities'
rituals is Latin.
THE SON, to the MOTHER and SISTER. Wouldn't you like to go to bed? Father
and I might stay up a while yet. ..
THE FATHER. Yes, indeed, you must go to bed—good night, Mommy. See
how well-behaved I am, I'm not going with you. But just wait a while . . . a
week from now . . . oh, that will be nice . ..
THE MOTHER. Yes! Good night, little papa.
THE FATHER goes rapidly to her and kisses her. Good night, good night, my
Kisses her more ardently.
Good night!
THE SON touches his arm gently. You meant to be well-behaved, didn't you,
THE FATHER, letting the MOTHER go. Tonight, yes, but in a week . ..
The SISTER extends her hand, wishing him good night.
iu Good night, Hedi.
oc Throws the MOTHER a kiss as she exits.
2 Good night, good night!
♦ The MOTHER and SISTER leave the room.
0 THE FATHER, looking after them. She is really getting more and more beauti­
es fill, our dear little Mommy!
He starts pacing up and down.
Just wait, just wait, my dear wifey! This week shall also pass. One, two,
three, one, two, three .. . bibite. .. oh, yes.
He sits down in a comer at the foot of the sofa.
THE SON. So tell me more of your plans, Father!
THE FATHER. Yes, I'll surely do that, my boy. What I've begun, I must also
finish. That's the way it should be, shouldn't it?
THE SON, in front of him. You'd been talking about the machines and how
you gradually were beginning to understand their construction, and how
in general...
THE FATHER, transformed; under the impact of his vision. Yes, the machines!
God, what advances compared to ours! Look here .. .
He bends down and draws shapes on the floor with his finger. His mind is
obviously throbbing with these visions and frequently interrupts the flow of
his speech. The SON stands in front of him.
. . . The great drilling machine, for instance, it hung suspended on
springs like this and like this—the frame looked like this, here, like this,
the two beams here diagonally, the center beams here, you see, cross­
wise, see—like this . . . There the upper beam divided, suspended wires
connected it with the lower part, four of them disappeared here under­
neath the center structure. Later on I could see that center structure in
cross-section; the ignition was installed there, a complicated construc­
tion, didn't become clear to me for a long time. Now there, below the
ignition, were enormous hooks, and underneath these was the driller.
They had some kind of induction—Fm telling you, it took me ages to
find my way! But finally I found out everything, everything!—And then
there was a dredge, my God, you could have cried for joy . . . we have
absolutely nothing even remotely comparable!—This drill, now, had .. .
well, it's hard to describe, I have to show you the blueprints; then you'll
see it clearly.
Teeth clenched; he jumps up.
Yes, my boy, wasn't it an enormous good fortune to be privileged to see all
that!? And how I let it sink in! All of Mars burned itself, as it were, into my
brain. And my brain was like a gigantic spider, embracing Mars, and
inserting his proboscis into it, a sharp pointed sting, and sucking out all
its secrets... all.
Sits down again.
THE SON. And now you wish to . . .
THE FATHER, ecstatic.... and now, and now—I wish to
Shower happiness upon this earth! You hear! Fm holding
Treasures—Miracles of Mars! Riches of the stars! World happiness!
I hold omnipotence in my hand! I can stamp
This whole great earth into dust! When I stamp the ground,
It bursts asunder. The solid rocks rip apart
In dead center! In dead center! Ah—they are bursting even now!
Mountains turn and wander far afield.
Whither I command. The chasms fill
With rocks or flames or flowers.
Because I wish it so! Or with fields! And green!
I make the craters! I beat out depths,
Most dreadful depths—here! with this fist!
I call the oceans from the poles
And all the seas! the seas to me,
To make them full. .. Fertile! Fruitful! Fruitful!
We sinks back.
The SON puts the FATHER to bed on the sofa. He rests his hand on the
FATHER'S forehead.
The FATHER tries to raise himself again; twitches with the effort.
THE FATHER. The p l a n ! . . . the p l a n ! . . . the plan!
THE SON. Now be quiet, Father, and don't talk about it any more.
THE FATHER. The plan . . . you have to see the plan!
Wards off the SON'S hand.
Let me go—it's all right.
Half raised up.
It's all right.—You must see the plan.
He reaches into the pocket of his robe and pulls out the folded and volu-
minous blueprint He quickly unfolds it, putting it on the floor. The blue-
print measures approximately three-fourths of the length of the sofa in both
THE FATHER. Here it is! my work! my work! This is it!

Yes, great! proud! glorious! blissful! marvelous!

Mars filled all my brain when I created it!
Mars rolled and glowed red-hot, and whirled thoughts round,
And raised my arms electrically,
And guided them! They carved these lines,
The cosmos carved and all the stars came to my aid!
Omnipotence created this through me! So proud . . . so
THE SON, pacifying. Father.
O THE FATHER. Let me glorify! You shall not stop me! Glorify! Away and on!
O Look here and marvel: this line here
Undercuts the Himalayas! What this signifies is but this:
♦ Away with Himalaya! I push it
^ Out of my way! Here this yellow bedbug—
Sahara is its name—will soon be in full flight from me,
God only knows where to! And Himalaya, this tiny bug,
Shall likewise run from me!
I shall drown both in oceans deep, with these
Two arms, sore with cosmic strength and radiance!
They burn! you hear! they're sore! .. . Here these lines,
All these black lines, will soon gleam silver-white
With broad canals! They will bring lasting happiness to earth
Through power that is mine alone! And will be fruitful! fruitful!
Many white sails are sailing to and fro,
They are the white doves of my love. Forward, forward,
On and on! . . .
And harbors! ports and havens! they will stretch
Many miles, black and strong and sooty
With bellies swollen of all these blessings! Blessings!
Yes, blessings! Bread and marrow floating through air,
And derricks will link them. Oh, blessings! Broadly flung
Brother bridges will join shore to shore!
Fraternal, yes! A clanking and clattering in the air,
And seeds are blown dustlike through the sky
In giant clouds. In swelling clouds. Fragrant
Clouds! All miracles! All miracles!
He leans back.
Ah! I am weary from all that splendor! What splendor! Creating makes
one weary! I want to build myself a house by the side of the road, and lie
peacefully and view my happiness. From my windows. Lying there, look­
ing, I want nothing else . . . And I want to die! I am cold. Please cover
me . . . I am so cold! My cover . . .
The SON takes a red cover from the foot of the sofa and spreads it over his
T H E FATHER. T h i s is good . . .
Hear m e . . . I want to die . . . Fve longed for this
All my d a y s . . . My work is done!
Creating has been beautiful! Create further,
My son!
You will do it! T h a n k you! You! Now give m e your hand!
Love m e well and help m e die. R e m e m b e r . . .
Give m e poison! Give poison to your poor father!
r i l thank you for it! You see, F m shedding tears!
Yes, you'll give m e poison and help m e leave this life, S
W h i c h tortures m e so m u c h . . . I want my bed . . . Sf
The SON helps the FATHER raise himself up. J2
T H E FATHER. . . . W e l l . . . well 4

You have no inkling how I am tormented! Believe your father! ♦

It torments, torments, and no one knows the true extent! §j
One is alone . . . and black with anguish is the world
And one is mute. And turns insane! You too will suffer it, one day!
Give me the poison! Poison me! Redeem your father!
The others too will be relieved when I am gone;
Then you will need no more attendants! . . . Well, to bed!
The SON leads the FATHER away.

For a short while the stage is empty. Lights are out

The SON re-enters through the door at upstage-left, having released the holt
outside. He pulls the curtain aside, and in the window frame the sickle of
the waxing moon appears. A star sparkles above it
THE YOUTH, seating himself at the foot of the settee. His posture: leaning back,
supporting himself on his stiffened arms.
Night—profound—night so blue—how marvelous. Redemption.
Silver moon.

Now drops the stony oppression of the day;

Cooled, I can lie down in nearness to you,
Conversing in heavenly dialogue, silvery miracle—you!
The left half of the back wall and the adjoining half of the left side wall
recede and the view opens onto the deep-blue night sky; stars. Mars glows
in striking redness.
Silhouetted against the sky, on the threshold of the room, these three
figures become visible: two WOMEN, deeply veiled, kneeling. Behind them,
erect, likewise veiled, the FIGURE OF A MAN. All have long, flowing, loose
dark garments. The YOUTH raises himself, gazing.
THE FIGURE OF THE MAN speaks. In the day's
Anguished toil and need,
Under death's
Brightly tinted lead,
Borne on wan
Poverty's r e e d -
Have you not your task forgotten?
That ironclad command,
Anchored with chains above you in the skies?
To ever-new signs
Choosing you,
In every pulse beat
y Using you,
Q No martyr's woe
Refusing you,
J In blackest pit not
^ Losing you,
CM With fires of stars
Fusing you—
Have you forgotten it?
Brief silence.
Onto your narrow path
Your loving mother's star
Threw many a burnt-out rock
Freighted with pain and woe,
Many a sterile stone,
Many a dry dead bone.
Has such disturbing confusion,
Such humdrum intrusion
Never embittered
Your glance when you gazed on
Maternal radiance
In the deep blue of night?!
Brief silence.
THE FIGURE OF THE MAN speaks. With reddish glow
Your father's meteor
With restless wandering,
Encircling M a r s -
Did you understand
In flaming eruptions
Of tormented craters
Him who begot you?
Brief silence.
When despair was very near you
The great omnipotent Will
Brought the girl's love to your path.
When sorrow bestrides you,
Enmity chides you,
All power fights you,
Your song even spites you—
Ever constant will her love receive you,
Her hands caressing will relieve you.
Your frozen features she will thaw
And spread out, blooming, into smiles—
Under the gentle nearness of her gaze,
In the ever-constant warmth of her embrace.
Oh, you, let the breath of her kiss,
Let her chaste embrace
Be a sacred symbol of mystic might:
Let the force of her attachment
Symbolize mystic motherhood.
I hear your every word. You are the stars and the voices
Among which I always live. Your signs
Have been carved into me deeply, those signs
Will speak to me always. When you speak,
All becomes eternity and healing consolation .. .
Thundering constellations
Set us above you
As your physical stars;
Behold us, you that are body and person!
Other stars,
Many, will still rise for you,
Kindly stars,
Many, will still set for you in blood-red glow;
Hark to our voices, body and person!
Hearken, hark
To us, your physical eternity-
Feel us deeply,
Us, Mothers of
Your future immortalities!
As they disappear, the walls close again. The voice of the MAN can still be
heard growing fainter in the distance: Your father implored you. Hearken.
Do well.
Lights go up gradually.
THE YOUTH rises.
My father asked his death from me. I sympathize
With his request. Yet this one question still arises:
Did he create a fruitful work? He must not die
If he can still create. Has perhaps his brain,
In its deluded state, given birth to
Deeply thought-out wonders?—
An expert must decide on this.
The sound of a door is heard from downstairs.
The YOUTH, startled, listens, then goes quickly to the door at upstage-left
and opens it. Quick steps are heard mounting the staircase. The door stays
O open. The GIRL enters. She shuts the door behind her. Stepping close to
0 him, she lays her hands on his shoulders. The YOUTH kisses her on the
forehead and both eyes.
♦ THE GIRL, after a pause. I'm very late, beloved. We were so busy in the office.
5$ We didn't get through till nine.
THE YOUTH. Is this job more exacting than the ones you had before?
THE GIRL. Yes, it is, but that doesn't matter. I am so happy I got it and that I
can now live in the same town with you. And one has to get adjusted, you
know. Four days isn't a long time.
THE YOUTH, leading her to the settee. Yes, we were lucky that my friend could
get you the job so fast.
THE GIRL. How fast it's all happened.
She is about to sit down.
Ah, you know, let us sit down the way we did last night.
Shall we? It was so wonderful.
THE YOUTH. This way—
He moves the chair in front of the right-hand post of the door frame in the
back, seats himself in the chair, while the GIRL settles on the floor, nestling
her head on his knees. She does not withdraw her hand. Behind both are
the night sky, moon, and stars.
THE GIRL, after a brief silence. Tonight you begin to tell, beloved, because I'll
have so much to tell you later.
THE YOUTH. Is it something bad, my love?
THE GIRL. Please, you start.
THE YOUTH. I don't have much to tell. I did some writing this morning and
took a walk at noon . . . My love, you have no idea how you've changed
me! Remember, that evening in Berlin, when my last way out was
blocked, and I no longer knew where I should turn, and yet was driven
on by aspiration, driven on? No, I did not know then how I could go on to
live my life! Then you came forward and confined the surge of my
longing, and my inner drive no longer pushed me onward, but upward,
my love! I was driven into gyres still unknown to me, and Fm still being
driven in them, higher and higher. I wonder how it will continue . . .
THE YOUTH, bending down and kissing the GIRL. And now, you tell me of
yourself! Have you finally had some news about your baby?
THE GIRL. Yes, this morning I received a letter. The baby is fine.
She smiles painfully.
And is getting rounder every day, they write.
THE YOUTH, kissing the tears away from the GIRL'S lashes.
He's probably well taken care of in the Home.
THE GIRL. Yes, very well.
Brief silence. §J
And now read this letter. OQ
Hands him a letter. g
THE YOUTH, unfolding it. Who sent it? ♦
THE GIRL. From my uncle, the master builder. ^
THE YOUTH, skimming through the lines: What does he suggest? . . . what? . . . a*
You are to give your child away?
THE GIRL nods painfully. He wants me to offer it up for adoption.
THE YOUTH. I still don't understand it—you know—it's so dreadfully un­
natural, so alien to me .. .
THE GIRL. I too couldn't understand it atfirst!And I never wanted to give my
child away. Never! But then reason began to speak up, and I had to agree
with my uncle: What am I, with my tiny salary, able to offer to the child,
and how he would be benefited by being brought up in a decent family.
THE YOUTH. But suppose he comes to people who can't offer the child
anything but their decency, who are not rich but with their prejudiced
views and miseducation will spoil the child's youth .. .
THE GIRL. At least he will have a respectable name! That's necessary for his
future! . . . And my uncle would inform himself very carefully before
about the family.
THE YOUTH. What are we talking about! We are talking as if a human destiny
could be predetermined and constructed with a little common sense.
And yet we know nothing of the possibilities which might perhaps lead
the child to his happiness if he remains with you, and perhaps to his
misery if you give him away. What do we know!
THE GIRL. Yes, everything is so difficult...
THE YOUTH. What will you decide, darling . . . ?
THE GIRL. I have already decided. One thing alone determined my decision.
Softer. Lowering her voice.
If I give the child away, nothing will tie m e any more . . . and I can love
you exclusively . . . and I can serve you with my undivided self.. .
Profound silence.
THE YOUTH. My girl . . . mine . . . it is so strange . . . so m u c h . . . it is so
good . . . incomprehensibly good.
He stirs on his seat, rises, bends over backward, staring up toward the sky.
O miracle! This miracle! It rushes toward m e . . . it b e n d s . . .
M e into the Heavens . . . into the beyond . . . bends m e . . . rushes—
0 girl! O love! You are so good—so good
And wholly . . .
He bends down and passionately kisses the crown of her head, then sits
down again on the chair, leaning forward on her, pondering.
Yet there is something warning me—
1 a m afraid. I fear your matricide.
o Raising his head and trunk high, erect.
O . . . And that the screams of strangled motherhood
^ Will fill you and encircle your heart,
♦ Lay waste your being and shriek above the wasteland!
°j! Desist! Desist! Love your child and m e !
And do not kill!
THE GIRL. I bear you too m u c h love!
Dearest, your sacrifice intoxicates my inmost depths!
Your goodness dazzles m e and gives a taste of Heaven!
For years I have been longing for such love!
It is u n n a m e a b l e ! It is unthinkable! It remains desire only and good!
D o n ' t do it! Don't! T h o u g h I do want you to so m u c h ! D o n ' t do it!
C o n c e r n advises well! . . .
THE GIRL. . . . Fear is past and gone . . .
THE YOUTH. It is too m u c h . Too quick. We have to w a i t . . .
Until your uncle informs you of something definite, m u c h time may
pass, and we can meanwhile think it over many times. Try to understand
m e the right way, my darling girl!
The GIRL tenses her body and gazes steadily up at the YOUTH. The moon
has almost set; only the tip of the sickle peeks up in silvery gleam; more
stars have appeared.
THE GIRL speaks.
I cannot understand you,
I cannot well reflect,
I only can implore you,
And give to you—
All my heart
Desires to be near you
And wants merely to give you. To give to you itself.
THE YOUTH, uttering the first verses bent down over the GIRL, the last ones
erect, while gazing to the sky.
The depths of Heaven
Shall surround us,
The beauty of stars
Shall be within us—
What do I care about understanding,
What do I care about comprehending—
Omnipotent power
Will lead me to my goal.
THE GIRL. All my heart
Shall always be with you;
I want your songs
Kept in my heart—
You can only give me, you can only bless me—
What can I give you, how fructify you—?
Faithful I shall be to you,
Faithfully depart with you into the heavenly beyond.

Scene: Left, a garden. A partial view of a terrace jutting out from the middle of
the wall for a quarter of the stage. The terrace consists of stone and has stone
balustrades. On the far left, an ivy-grown segment of wall connects it with the
ground, otherwise it is freestanding, elevated. In front of the terrace and past it
leads a path into the garden; another path from right-front joins it A young
birch tree opposite the terrace; in front of it a backless bench. Upstage: a lawn
divided by the path curving to the left. A hedge shuts the garden off. Blue
spring sky. Morning.

The MOTHER, seated on the bench under the birch tree, her hands in her lap,
her eyes closed. Silence. After a while the SON approaches from the left.
THE SON. Good morning, Mother.
THE MOTHER. IS Father back again?
THE SON. No, not yet.
THE MOTHER. I sat down in the sun here, it's so nice—spring has come. The
sun feels so warm on me. And on my hands.
THE SON. The sun will do you good. You look tired. I guess you haven't slept
since then?
THE MOTHER. Why do you remind me of that again . . . I want to rest quietly
here and think of nothing, and you are bringing it up again.
THE SON. You are very right. Let's not talk about it any more.
THE MOTHER. No, not any more . .. You were about to tell me how he stood
in front of the fire and threw the old blueprints in, singing and dancing
all the while? It's true, isn't it?
THE SON. Let's not talk about it any more.
THE MOTHER. No, tell me; it did happen . . . And he ran around, horrible,
with his head burning, and screaming so dreadfully? Did it really hap­
pen? Or is it all unreal?
THE SON. Mommy, rather enjoy the birch tree and spring all around you!
THE MOTHER. Yes, here is our lovely birch—I'm so afraid.
THE SON. Tell me: Of what are you afraid?
THE MOTHER, anxiously frowning. Tell me: All this has never happened, I
have only dreamed it. I know for sure I dreamed about something. But
many things did happen.
O THE SON. Whatever happened, dearest, is past now, and what you dreamed of
Q is also past. Don't think of either any more.
THE MOTHER. Do you see how I'm withering away . . .
♦ THE SON. Dear Mother! Spring will make you young.
*o THE MOTHER. Yes, you're a darling! Well, soon it will be cool around me;
soon I'll be allowed to lie in the earth. I ask God every day to take me
away to Him. Then all will be well.
THE SON, kissing her forehead. Soon all will be well; you'll see, Mother!
THE MOTHER. Yes, you're a darling! But my fear won't leave me, and neither
will my dream. And real life exists and stays. Oh, it's consuming me, but
never mind!
THE SON. YOU know that Susanne will come to dinner today?
THE MOTHER. What a darling you are—you've still kept your kind heart! Yes,
now I have to go in and see to the meal. Hedi isn't back yet, is she?
THE SON, helping her rise. I don't think so.
THE MOTHER. Ah. My knees are shaking again. Well! Thank you, thank you
so much.
Exits right.
THE SON, leaning on the birch tree; after a silence.
My friend has sent me now the poison. Ripe is
The moment too. The time is overripe!
My mother's infirm age accelerates its course downward toward the
And they have deemed my father's work—mad.
He ponders, plucking a birch twig, absorbed in thought.
Quickly the deed arose in me. It almost
Blotted out the torment of its genesis.
My beloved, too, laid her smile lovingly upon the wound,
Yet under golden bridges, it bleeds on and on: this wound . . .
And if I delve far down, the root of this deed also
Shoots forth from out this bloody stream. Do not deceive yourself!
Your torment was its soil!
Father, Mother, Sister offered themselves up
To it as pillars. Am I then a soul towering
Strangely up above a single will—? For me this is
A symbol of spring which has become a need,
And rising sun and first sight of blue.
The GIRL and the SISTER enter from upstage-left. Hearing their steps, the
SON turns around.
THE SON. Good morning, you two!
THE TWO. Good morning!
THE SISTER. We met at the garden gate. t
THE GIRL. How wonderful this birch tree looks! 88
THE SON. Spring is everywhere. *
The SISTER throws a meaningful glance at the BROTHER. S
Silence. ♦
THE SISTER to the BROTHER. Could you still sleep last night after that? _
THE BROTHER. No, nor you either?
THE SISTER. No, no. All nights recently have been disturbed.
THE BROTHER. You look so pale. You too, Susanne.
THE SISTER. It comes without one's realizing it. Is Father back again?
THE BROTHER. Not yet, I think.
THE SISTER. Has Mother asked for me?
THE BROTHER. Yes, she is in the kitchen now.
THE SISTER. I'll go to her.
THE GIRL. Just look at the birch tree in the breeze! Like blond hair. How
beautiful it looks.
While the SISTER exits to the right, she gazes up at the birch tree.
THE YOUTH kisses the GIRL on her forehead and takes her hands in his. Good
morning, my love, did you sleep badly?
THE GIRL. N O , I had a good sleep, sound and deep . . .
THE YOUTH. But you look pale and youVe grown thin.
THE GIRL. I feel well, my love.
THE YOUTH kisses her hair, sits down on the bench and draws the GIRL down
next to him. I well know how you suffer.
THE GIRL. Let it be spring!
THE YOUTH. Let spring enter into you!
THE GIRL. What can I do for it? It just comes over one; you understand .. . ?
THE YOUTH, kissing her forehead. This is different.
THE GIRL. No! ...
THE GIRL. I wonder... I have nursed renunciation in me and now I love i t . . .
I love myself in it. .. my better self. .. I wonder.
THE SISTER rushes in from the right and seizes the BROTHER'S arm. Father is
home! And he wants to come here.
THE BROTHER rises. He wants to come into the garden?
THE SISTER. Yes, he is coming with the attendant.
THE YOUTH. Then you two go! I wish to be alone with Father.
THE SISTER. Here he is already.
Leaves upstage with the GIRL, and they exit left.
The FATHER enters from the right, the ATTENDANT behind him. The FATHER
carries a large folio full of drawings under his arm; the ATTENDANT carries
UJ the drafting instruments—compass box, rulers, etc. The FATHER wears a
* green spring suit; the suit is too big and hangs on him. The top buttons of
<A his vest are open. His cravat has slipped over the very low coat collar.
1 THE SON. Good morning, Father.
<g THE FATHER. You here! But you must go away—I want to work here. In such
weather one has to work in the garden . . . Yes, what weather . . . !
He leans the folio against the birch tree. To the ATTENDANT.
Just put these things on the bench there.
The ATTENDANT obeys.
THE SON to the ATTENDANT. Please, ask Madam to give you the cellar keys,
and fetch us a bottle of wine and two glasses.
The ATTENDANT nods, exits right.
THE FATHER. Wine? So early in the morning? You're a fine fellow!
THE SON. Well, we want to drink a toast to your work.
THE FATHER. All right, we might as well drink a toast first.
He has meanwhile opened the folio and lifted out a drawing (on thin
cardboard). Now he is about to nail it to the birch tree with a hammer and
nail which the ATTENDANT had previously brought.
THE SON. What are you trying to do?
THE FATHER. None of your business, my boy.
Hammers the nail in.
I'm going to nail my blueprints up here, one next to the other—darn, I
missed it—I'm going to nail my blueprints up here, one next to the
other—and I want them—I want them all next to each other in a row.
Because—ah, this is the first out of the way—
Takes another drawing from the folio.
Now the second above it. ..
Climbs onto the bench and nails the second drawing above the first.
You remember—we don't have such a large table . . . at home. And this is
important—it is important for the view of the whole; one can see better.
Ah. Now well get the bottom one .. .
Takes a third sheet and nails it beneath the first, bending while doing so.
How do you like my idea—this damn nail; don't we have some pliers
here . . . ?
THE SON hands them to him. There.
THE FATHER. Thank you . . . Now we can really drink a toast... Fve earned it,
now, really. Didn't shut an eye these past few nights. . . here, one more
nail—well, Fve made progress. Fine—now one more in the c e n t e r -
convenient, isn't it? . .. Fine.
The birch tree is now covered with three large pieces of cardboard; the
strangest crosswork of lines is fantastically drawn on these, curves and
loops, the weirdest ornaments, but having a most powerful, rhythmic qual-
ity. The drawings are all in India ink.
THE FATHER, looking at the birch. It looks fine, splendid, doesn't it? &
The ATTENDANT enters from the right with wine and glasses. gj
THE SON. Here is the wine. Thank you. You may go, I'll stay with Father. -c
ATTENDANT exits to the right. #
THE FATHER, laying out his instruments on the bench. All right, let's drink the *
toast now! And then to work! There isn't so much left to do—perhaps I'll ^
even get finished today. Ah, that would be something!
The SON is filling the two glasses that stand on the bench.
Yes, we'll have our toast right now! Just let me unpack first. Oh! I've run
out of red India ink. Hmm—the maid must get me some immediately.
THE SON. It's Sunday, the stores are closed.
THE FATHER. That's right, it's Sunday—uh, how maddening. What am I to do
now! I need red India ink desperately.
Pointing to the blueprint.
There . .. down here, all this will be filled in with red India ink.
THE SON. Can't you finish another area?
THE FATHER. Well, that would be possible.
Pointing again.
Here, for example—here I'd only need black and green. But that's soon
done, and without the red I can't finish today . . .
THE SON. So you'll finish tomorrow.
THE FATHER. Ah, tomorrow! tomorrow! Who knows what will be tomorrow. I
might be dead by then. Ha-ha . . . yes, really. What am I to do . . . It's
Softly whistling in frustration, his head bent, his hands in his pockets, he
walks past the bench, turns to the right, and proceeds a short distance
upstage. In doing so, he catches sight of a fledgling bird on the ground,
which must have dropped out of a nest.
THE FATHER. Ah, look, what is this down here?
Bends down.
A little birdie, sure enough! Now, look at that!
Picks it up.
Such a thing! How did it get down here! It probably fell out of a nest.
Why are you chirping so pathetically? Are you hungry? . . . Ha-ha-ha, so
am I!
Very brief pause. The FATHER is staring incessantly at the bird, then squeez-
ing its body.
Does this hurt?! does this hurt?! Ha-ha-ha . . . what do you think . ..
During this, the FATHER turns his back to the SON. The SON fills both glasses,
quickly pulls a paper out of his breast pocket, and pours the poison into one of
the glasses. Then he searches for something to stir the liquid with, rapidly
breaks a green twig off the birch and uses it to stir with.
The FATHER turns around now, the SON drops the twig.
THE FATHER, holding the fledgling. Ha, I've got an idea! Magnificent, really!
^ Do you know how Til get my red India ink? Do you know? Well, see if
£ anybody else can match this! Watch!
<* Very rapidly he takes one of the compasses and drives one of the points deep
t into the flesh of the bird.
^ There . ..
02 The SON automatically seizes the FATHER'S arm and tries to stop him.
THE FATHER. There, there, that's the way to do it. And now the drawing pen.
Takes a drawing pen and dips it into the bird.
There . . . go ahead and chirp now!
THE SON makes a motion to take the little bird. Leave it alone, Father!
THE FATHER. What?! What?! What do you want?! Watch out, watch out, I'm
warning you! What, I'm not to have my red India ink? Watch out! Don't
be presumptuous, my boy! I won't have that, once and for all!!
THE SON, pacifying. Don't get excited . . .
THE FATHER, nearly screaming. I need this red India ink, do you understand I
must have it! I have got to have it! Who cares about a bird? Who? I must
have my red ink. I'd stab a human being, I'm telling you. I must have it!
THE SON. YOU are quite right, Father. I didn't think far enough. What does
such a fledgling bird amount to? And you need your red ink .. .
THE FATHER. NOW you are sensible. That's good . . . Well, I've taught you a
lesson . .. sure . . .
You see how easily it's going, ha-ha . .. it's going magnificently!
THE SON. Shouldn't we have our toast first?
THE FATHER. Toast, y e s . . . we really must have it. We must drink to my clever
The SON has quickly taken his glass; the FATHER raises the poisoned drink.
Suddenly the MOTHER enters from the right. When the FATHER sees her, he
puts down his glass without having drunk.
THE FATHER. Look who is here? Our Mommy!
Advances toward her and leads her on.
Come along, little mommy, you too shall have a toast with us. Oh, I must
show you something-
He picks up the dead bird and shows it to the MOTHER.
Here, look, that's the way to get red India ink when youVe run out of it
and the stores are closed. How do you like t h a t . . . ? Ha-ha!... Well, don't
get so scared about this. Is a dead bird such a horrible thing? No, don't be
scared, I won't harm you.
Throws the bird away.
Well . . . satisfied now? What? . . . And now let's have our toast. Fetch
another glass, my boy, for our Mommy.
The SON quickly exits to right. During the subsequent scene, the SISTER
and the GIRL appear upstage from left, picking flowers.
THE FATHER. My God, you're still looking at me so frightened. Really, I won't
do anything to hurt you. And you look so pale—ah, really sick with worry.
And deep shadows under your e y e s . . .
The MOTHER tries to smile. *-
No, not this kind of smile; it is worse than tears. I know, I know: It's all my t
fault, your pallor and the circles under your eyes, and your wrinkles here &
and here . . . OJ
The M O T H E R shakes her head.
Yes! D o n ' t shake your head! It's been caused by the nights you have cried
for m e . I know it! I know you, after all!
T H E MOTHER smiles quite painfully, tears welling up in her eyes.
Don't cry! Don't cry!—All will turn out well now. I am healthy, you see,
and I can work again! The future lies before us blue and beautiful like this
day, doesn't it, Mommy? No, don't grieve any more! Don't make yourself
sick! . . . Mommy, you must stay well for me, what would I be without
you . . . ! Who has cared for me all this time so beautifully and fondly—? It
was you. You've always been loving. When I was nasty, you forgave me
right away. You have made a happy home for me and borne my children.
Tears glittering in his eyes.
THE MOTHER. My only one, what would my life be without you? You have
always been my staff; I am so fragile and feeble and I need support. You
have always been that. You made me a mother, you made me happy . . . I
can't exist without you . . .
THE FATHER, nodding slowly. The future will be bright! I swear to you. My
illness only cemented our love! You see, that was the good it worked.
He raises a glass and, gazing at the MOTHER with a very solemn expression,
drinks half. Now the MOTHER takes the other glass, nods smiling, and also
drinks, GIRL and SISTER continue to pick flowers upstage as before.
THE FATHER. Oh, that's good . . .
THE MOTHER. You like the wine?
THE FATHER. Why shouldn't I like it? How well it warms! Ah! Spring is
here . . . !
He puts his arm around the MOTHER.
Ah, my dear sweet little wife! Can you guess what I am thinking now?
He begins whisperingly, then ever more loudly and intensely. Intonation
like a child's.
Once again I want to see you
In your bridal gown,
All wrapped in silk,
And stand before you, waiting.
Once more the night lamp
Shall glow in crimson hues of fairyland,
And all your splendor bring
Happy tears to my e y e s -
Then, shy and trembling,
You will let fall the silk,
* And humbly I shall lift your veil,
</> Absorbed in thoughts of joy to come .. .
♦ Then you will hold your hands
^ To hide your nakedness,
oj My power you will swell
To mighty size!
Then . . . all around u s . . .
Many stars will blink . . .
Soon it will be, this bliss-
Come! Let us drink!
He takes the glass from which the MOTHER has drunk before and empties it.
The MOTHER takes the other glass, but it drops from her trembling hands
and crashes to the ground.
THE FATHER. Well, Mommy, what do you think you're doing . . .
The SON enters from right carrying a third wineglass.
THE SON in front of his parents, his face turned upstage. You both have drunk?
THE FATHER. Yes, we'd already drunk one toast before. Now you must drink
your own toast by yourself, my boy, that can't be helped . ..
THE SON. Here are broken pieces—?
THE FATHER. Mother dropped her glass. Maybe this might mean good luck,
after all. Right, Mommy?
THE SON. SO you didn't drink . . .
THE MOTHER. Oh yes, yes! I did drink all right, but when I tried the second
time I dropped the glass.
THE SON, unwittingly eased. Ah—
THE FATHER. But don't stand around there now with your empty glass. Drink!
Takes the bottle.
Come, let me pour it for you!
Pours into the SON'S glass.
And now say a toast to our health, my boy!
The SON drinks, posture unchanged.
THE FATHER. Well, well, don't you throw your glass down too! Your hands are
shaking pretty badly. Well, that's what you get from running so fast.
The SON places the empty glass upon the bench.
THE MOTHER. I am tired, my limbs feel so heavy. I'll go rest a little before
Looks at her watch.
I still have some time.
The FATHER has meanwhile turned to his work again, and readies the
THE SON. Your limbs are heavy . . . ?
THE MOTHER. Like lead. R e m e m b e r . . . §j
Softly. eg
T h e night— g
THE FATHER. Yes, M o m m y , go, go and rest! But have dinner ready on time. ♦
THE MOTHER. Yes, for half past o n e .
She exits to the left. Soon afterward she appears on the terrace, a collaps- CQ
ible armchair under her arm. She sets it up.
THE SON makes a half-turn, takes a few steps forward and up to his mother. Are
you feeling very i l l . . . ?
THE MOTHER. I'm only tired. Merely tired . . . First, I must have a good long
rest again and sleep, you know . . .
She leans back in the chair, closing her eyes.
Just for a little while!
T H E SON watches the FATHER working busily; then he looks down at the pieces
of broken glass and gently touches them with the tip of his foot. Wipes his
forehead with his right hand. How is this to be understood—?
THE FATHER has wiped his forehead twice with his hand, now puts the instru-
ments aside. That's that. Now all that's left is a n insignificant little corner,
and then it'll be finished.
Steps in front of the bench, stands arms akimbo, gazing at the blueprints.
Here it's hanging now—my great p r o j e c t . . . yes, here it is, my work.
His eyes are gradually getting misty. He works himself up gradually into an
ever-intensifying state of rapture.
Yet, it is finished . . . at l a s t . . . Just look at it, my b o y . . . look at it! Ah, now
there is a moment's peace in m e . . . But it won't last long . . . I know
myself... Soon I'll have to go on . . . begin with another s t a r . . . I know it.
T h e r e is n o peace in this life . . . work! always work . . . when one star is
done, it's the next one's turn . . . U h - h u h . . . just look at it, my boy, it's
finished. And you are to give it life, do you hear? I'm entrusting it to
you . . . With haste I want to help you too . . . You shall have it easy... like
t h i s . . . yes, like this!... My hands over my brain . . . and I reach into my
brain .. . you see . . . deep . . . and now, here . ..
He takes his hands from his own head and lays them on his SON'S.
Fm pouring it into you . . . I'm leaving it to you . . . pressing it into you . . .
pressing it—does it hurt?
He presses more violently.
Does it hurt? . . . It must hurt, ha-ha-ha . . . Ah.
Drops his hands breathlessly.
Now Fve become your father for a second time and you my son. Isn't it
so? Haven't I pressed my work into your brain?! Ha-ha-ha, that's the way
it is. Now you are to complete it. .. and carry it further! . . . carry further
this work! Do you hear? What do you have your mother for, if not for
that? That's the way it i s . . . that's the way it i s . . . Why did I marry... I did
£ not marry . . . ha! My work had sucked forth new blood . . . My work
ac wished you to continue it. . . ha-ha, it's the same with marriage! Shame
v) on you, if you don't create . . . Produce! produce! I am your father and
♦ keep my eye on you . . . Don't think you can do what you please! . . . I
QQ command you . . . you shall develop my work still further . . . I'm laying
02 this on you as your duty . . . I am your father and may command you . ..
You must obey me . . . And here you have my kisses too . ..
Kissing his head impetuously.
I love you . . . You are my son . . . and have to do what I wish . . . I love
you . . . and you m u s t . . . Kisses! Kisses! ah .. .
He falls back, the SON holds him, he sinks onto the bench, drops his head to
the side and leans it upon the birch, on one of the blueprints.
He is dead.
The SISTER and the GIRL approach together down center-stage. Each car-
ries a bunch of loose violets.
THE SISTER hands her flowers to the BROTHER. Take this for Father! . . . Is he
THE GIRL hands her flowers. Take this for Mother.
Both exit together to the right.
The SON puts one bunch beside the FATHER on the bench where the two
wineglasses rest and the FATHER'S instruments are scattered about. He
keeps the second bouquet in his hand. Suddenly he drops to his knees and
presses his head impetuously into his FATHER'S lap. Silence. He rises and
exits left.
Stage empty for a short time.
Then the SON appears on the terrace where the MOTHER is resting; he walks
on tiptoe, peering at her to see if she is asleep.
THE MOTHER. YOU can come nearer, I'm not asleep.
THE SON steps up to her. But weren't you about to fall asleep?
THE MOTHER. Yes, Fm very tired .. . Oh, look, these beautiful violets! . . . are
they from the garden?
THE SON. Yes. Susanne sends them to you. And Hedi picked some for Father.
THE MOTHER, accepting the flowers and burying her face in them. Ah, this
makes me happy! He was so sweet to me just before, it was like a shaft of
joy into my heart. And he spoke so confidently about his health that I
myself began to believe at last that he would get well again someday. Oh,
perhaps he really will!
The SON kneels down by the MOTHER'S side and takes her hand.
Ah, y e s . . . take my hand, that is good. Yes. .. firmly . . . like t h i s . . .
THE SON. Are you feeling very ill?
THE MOTHER. Just tired—and so strange—so unlike myself—so very strange I
feel—my hands and my body and all—so unlike myself; I hope I won't get
sick— u
THE SON. Does your head ache? S3
THE MOTHER. No. All this results from these last few years—all these upsets, *
you know—and this constant anxiety—and then also this worry about »S
you—and last night—oh, for a long time already I have been wishing ♦
myself in the grave.
THE SON, his hand on her brow. Dear Mother, you mustn't feel this way, you w
know—if one wishes for death all the time, death will come at last. ..
THE MOTHER, smiling. If Father gets well, I don't want to die—I want to be
where he is—that's what I would like—
He spoke so fondly. It entered deep into my soul.
He spoke so sweetly of our second wedding feast.
It was to come soon now, for he was well.
I should then step in front of him in my bridal silk again,
Just as it had been long ago, he would kneel down before me . . .
Perhaps it will be so. Perhaps I shall be his bride once more,
After so many tribulations he shall be mine once more.
That would be heaven. Even more beautiful than it was.
I know life now and its share of grief,
And he knows illness and imprisonment.
This then will be like resurrection from our anguished woes—
Not merely youthful pleasure, but marvelous through knowledge.
We shall be happier in a better way than we had been. All will be joy
sublime . ..
Oh then .. . how gladly would my breasts then nurse his child
Her head falls back.
T H E SON, kneeling and without looking up to her.
Loved one, sacred is the sleep slept at your breasts.
M a n y things I hear stream past. T h a t is your way, mothers.
He looks up.
O Mother, how beautiful has b e e n your death . ..
Mother, your death belonged to you.

The stage darkens. The SON'S voice is heard sonorously from the darkness.
You lived beyond, lonely, o n t h e height,
And knew of nothing . ..
T h e abyss gaped a n d darkness shrouded us,
You failed to see m e . ..
But every longing which arose in m e a n d grew,
You knew i t . ..
And every tear that rose in m e a n d flowed,
</> You saw it
♦ Invisibly one bond did bind us:
♦ It held a n d throbbed . . .
c§ A touching song without a word:
T w a s sung and sung . . .
Oft from your somber rock your grieving blood
Dripped down o n m e ,
W i t h gesture and with smile I often spilled
Maternal blood . . .
Yet from darkest woe it still conveyed
To m e its furtive gleam of love.
Now it ascends, becomes a star,
Radiant and sublime.


TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: Only the first three acts of this play, which constitute about four-fifths of
the total length, are given here. The last two acts have been omitted because their inclusion would
have made this selection excessively long, and also because the substance of the play is contained in
the first three acts. No real development takes place in the remainder, which consists mostly of the
Poet's monologues. He takes a job with a newspaper, then quickly decides to give it up, rejects his
friend's request to change a passage in his play, and accepts the Girl's offer to give her first child away
after she tells him she is carrying his child. There is no real end, but a hymnic invocation of the vistas
of existence beckoning to them.
n-^—, ^ T g van Goll, poet, playwright, novelist, translator, and theoreti-
«^* ^f cian, was born on March 29, 1891, in St. Die, Alsace. After
O^^ ^J completing his doctorate at the University of Strasbourg, and
in order to avoid being drafted for World War I, he moved to Switzer-
W F * land, where he befriended members of the emerging Dada movement.
From 1919 to 1939, he and his wife, Claire, also a poet, lived in Paris. In 1924,
Goll founded Surrealisme, one of the first Surrealist publications. His plays are
distinguished by their rejection of realism and extensive use of cinematic devices
and have been categorized as Expressionist and Surrealist as well as Dadaist.
They include The Immortals (1918), the preface to which follows; his cinematic
tribute to Chaplin, Die Chaplinade (1920); and Methusalem, oder Der ewige Burger
(Methuselah, or The Eternal Bourgeois, 1922), the latter produced in collaboration
with the painter Georg Grosz. Goll died on February 27, 1950, in Paris, of
T w o Superdramas

Yvan Goll

A difficult struggle has commenced for the new drama, the superdrama. The
first drama was that of the Greeks, in which gods contested with men. A great
thing it was that the gods then deemed men worthy of such a contest, some­
thing that has not since occurred. Drama meant enormous magnification of
reality, a most profound, most enigmatic Pythian immersion in measureless
passion, in corroding grief, and all of that colored in surreal tints.
Later followed the drama of man for man's sake. Inner conflict, psychol­
ogy, problems, reason. A single reality and a single realm are to be reckoned
with and, consequently, all measures are limited. All is concerned with a
particular man, not the man. The life of the community is sorely neglected:
no modern mass scene attains the power of the ancient chorus. The vast
extent of the gap can be seen in the ill-begotten plays of the past century,
which aimed at nothing more than being interesting, forensically pleading,
or simply descriptive, imitative of life, noncreative.
Now the new dramatist feels that the final struggle is imminent: man's
struggle with all that is thinglike and beastlike around him and within him.
He has penetrated into the realm of shadows, which cling to everything and
lurk behind all reality. Only after their conquest will liberation be possible.
The poet must learn again that there exist worlds quite different from the
world of the five senses—worlds comprising the Superworld. He must meet
this new situation head-on. This will by no means be a relapse into mysti­
cism or romanticism, or into the clowning of vaudeville, although all these
have one thing in common—the extrasensory.

Preface to The Immortals, 1918. Trans. Walter H. Sokel. Reprinted from An Anthology of
German Expressionist Drama: A Prelude to the Absurd, ed. Walter H. Sokel (Garden City, N.Y.:
Doubleday, 1963), 9-11.
The first task will have to be the destruction of all external form—reason­
able attitudes, conventionality, morality, all the formalities of life. Man and
things will be shown as naked as possible, and always through a magnifying
glass for better effect.
We have forgotten entirely that the stage is nothing but a magnifying
glass. Great drama had always known this. The Greeks strode in buskins,
Shakespeare discoursed with the spirits of dead giants. We have forgotten
entirely that the primary symbol of the theater is the mask. The mask is rigid,
unique, and impressive. It is unchangeable, inescapable; it is Fate. Every
man wears his mask, wears what the ancients called his guilt. Children are
afraid of it and cry. Man, complacent and sober, should learn to cry again;
the stage serves that purpose. And do not the greatest works of art, a Negro
god or an Egyptian king, often appear to us as masks?
In the mask lies a law, and this is the law of drama. Nonreality becomes
fact. For a moment, proof is given that the most banal can be mysterious and
"divine," and that herein lies Sublime Truth. Truth is not contained in
reason. It is found by the poet, not the philosopher. Life, not the intellectual
abstract, is truth. Furthermore, we discover that every event, the most heart-
shaking as well as the most trivial, is of eminent significance to the total life
of this world. The stage must not limit itself to "real" life; it becomes "super-
real" when it knows about things behind things. Pure realism was the worst
error of all literature.
It is not the object of art to make life comfortable for the fat bourgeois so
that he may nod his head: "Yes, yes, that's the way it is! And now let's go for a
bite!" Art, insofar as it seeks to educate, to improve men, or to be in any way
effective, must slay workaday man; it must frighten him as the mask frightens
the child, as Euripides frightened the Athenians who staggered from the
theater. Art exists to change man back into the child he was. The simplest
means to accomplish this is by the use of the grotesque—a grotesque that
does not cause laughter. The dullness and stupidity of men are so enormous
that only enormities can counteract them. Let the new drama be enormous.
Therefore the new drama must have recourse to all technological props
which are contemporary equivalents of the ancient mask. Such props are, for
instance, the phonograph, which masks the voice, the denatured masks and
other accoutrements which proclaim the character in a crudely typifying
manner: oversized ears, white eyes, stilts. These physiological exaggerations,
which we, shapers of the new drama, do not consider exaggerations, have
their equivalents in the inner hyperboles of the plot: Let the situation stand
on its head; that a sentence be more effective, let it be produced as when one
stares steadily at a chess board until the black squares appear white and the
white squares black: when we approach the truth, concepts overlap.
We want theater. We seek the most fantastic truth. We search for the


t ristan Tzara (1896-1963), poet, playwright, editor, and theorist,

was born in Romania and moved to Zurich, Switzerland, at the
beginning of World War I. Tzara was one of the founders and the
chief theorist of Dada, which originated in 1916 at the Cabaret Voltaire
in Zurich and spread to several major European cities, including Berlin
and Cologne. From 1917 to 1920, Tzara wrote seven manifestos ex­
pressing the central tenets of Dada in his typically angry, mischievous,
and nonsensical writing style. In the 1918 Dada Manifesto, his best-
known theoretical text, Tzara affirms the famous declaration that
brought Dada to the notice of Andre Breton and his friends in Paris:
"Art is a private affair, the artist produces it for himself; an intelligible work is
the product of a journalist." Logic, meanwhile, is "a complication" and "always
wrong," drawing words and notions "toward illusory ends and centers."
Dada has been called "anti-art," as it seeks to destroy the staid conventions
of traditional art with its spontaneity and freedom from all logical constraints.
Unlike the Futurists, from whom the Dadaists appropriated several aesthetic
principles for the creation of drama, such as the use of simultaneous action and
of an antagonistic relationship to the audience, the Dadaists were pacifists; Dada
began as a reaction to what its members perceived as the madness of World
War I. In the face of such insane destruction, the logic of mainstream art forms
was futile. In 1920, Tzara moved to Paris, where his First Celestial Adventure of Mr.
Antipyrine was produced at the Theatre de TOeuvre, with sets designed by
Francis Picabia. In 1923, the production of Tzara's Gas Heart at the Theatre
Michel provoked fights between its supporters and detractors; but by 1924 the
introduction of Surrealism by Andre Breton, who had broken with Dada two
years earlier, signaled the death of Dada as an influential avant-garde movement.
Anarchy and Resistance in Tristan Tzara's Gas Heart

To state here that Tristan Tzara's Gas Heart (Le coeur a gaz) is itself a form of
anarchy against art,1 and specifically the theater, would be simply restatement.
Tzara, a Romanian poet, found his artistic home in Zurich's Cabaret Voltaire.
Along with two co-Dadaists, Tzara unquestionably suggested the perfect form of
inaugural entertainment for the cabaret's opening debut in early 1916. Richard
Huelsenbeck, Marcel Janco, and Tzara all read poems from their collections;
there was a catch though, the effect of which aptly illuminates the spirit of Dada.
All three poets read simultaneously, each poet's words, inflections, and rhythms
competing with the others to create purely artistic babble.2 In this "experi­
ment," anarchy and art fused to annihilate "the language by which the war was
A clue to understanding Tzara's Dada stage, and surely Dada's final demise,
comes from an Expressionist/Dada performance of a play by Oskar Kokoschka
titled Sphinx und Strohmann (Sphinx and Strawman). On its opening night, actors
performed the play to the mistimed special effects of thunder and lightning
controlled offstage by none other than Tzara himself. His control of these effects
was met with skepticism by fellow performers, as well as viewers and critics, yet
Tzara maintained that these dissonant backgrounds were "intended by the direc­
tor."4 Kokoschka, however, was also baffled by Tzara's handling of the controls
and claimed to have had nothing of the sort in mind. This is a fabulous example of
the natural contentions between staging an art form (theater) which so "neces­
sarily relies on constructive cooperation,"5 and Dada, which constantly solicited
a derailing of expectations—even those assumed relationships behind the cur­
tain. With anarchy pervading the communication and understanding between
playwright and performance, it is no wonder that Dada's link to the theater came
so quickly to an end.

In Tzara's Gas Heart, there are a number of corroborating elements which
may be identified as anarchic. There is little stage direction to The Gas Heart
Occasionally, the character called Mouth must exit and re-enter; at one point,
Eye has to fall to the stage and walk on all fours, but little more. The play begins
with a few modest instructions: Neck must "[stand] downstage" with Nose
opposite [facing] the audience; the other characters can enter and "exit as they
please" unless otherwise indicated in the text; the Gas Heart, a character with
no lines to speak at all, walks the stage with aimless surrender.

Excerpted from Robert A. Varisco, "Anarchy and Resistance in Tristan Tzara's The Gas Heart,"
Modern Drama 40. I (Spring 1997): 139-48.
Interestingly, these stage directions continue after the brief introductory
notes as a sort of authorial commentary. Tzara writes that the play is the
"greatest three-act hoax of the century: it will satisfy only industrialized im­
beciles who believe in the existence of men of genius. Actors are requested to
give this play the attention due a masterpiece such as Macbeth or Chanteder, but
to treat the author—who is not a genius—with no respect and to note the levity
of the script which brings no technical innovation to the theater."6
It does not take more than a second to realize that these are not stage
directions at all, but false exegeses (much in the spirit of Chaucer's part-earnest,
part-jest "Retraction"). With this commentary, Tzara countermands the play
before the first line has even been uttered. The text ceases to be art, as he insists
the text is fraudulent, a "hoax" whose joke is leveled at the vitality of the theater
itself—the audience and benefactors. In so doing, Tzara attacks and shakes the
ideological platform of the theater. If not for the benefit of its audiences and
supporters, what is the purpose of creating and acting out plays? Why bother
with theater hall and audience at all, and not simply text and readers? Tzara knew
the risk he took with such sanctimony. A play that had nothing new to offer, one
which explicitly declared its "levity" as a product of an author "who is not a ■§
genius," stood to receive little attention from audiences and critics who were Q
already wearied by the preposterous claims and babble of Dada manifestos and t
other fatuous, fustian productions. i>
Tzara's Dadaism is anarchy. The theater is not a hallowed ground, and rather GQ
than being rebuilt, it needed to be destroyed. Alienating audience, meaning, and
authority in this way was the first step in the overturning of traditional theater. It
was precisely this traditional theater, in fact, whose clearly delineated identities
permitted the action to proceed in an orderly fashion, which was Dada's bulls-
eye. A traditional character is usually introduced whose individuality gradually
takes shape, springing first and most strongly from the character's given name.
Over time, the names of characters from especially memorable texts (often
made popular by the biases and consensus that avant-garde playwrights resisted)
lodge in the minds of generations afterward—Jesus, Othello, Jane Eyre, Roquen-
tin. In The Gas Heart, however, identity is rejected as an ordering and controlling
Tzara uses general, undisguised body parts as names for the play's charac­
ters: Eye, Mouth, Nose, Ear, Neck, and Eyebrow; Tzara thus deconstitutes
customary dramaturgical organization and reconstitutes a spontaneous, revolu­
tion/riot-type (mob formation) anonymity. They are part of a whole naturally;
each body part cannot separate itself from the others, just as the nose for
instance, cannot be removed from an actual body. Onstage, the parts are unpre­
dictable in action and speech, yet they all blend together—few semiotic traits
distinguish them. They jockey for position above their squirming audience, anes­
thetizing the hall with ravings and gibbering. Finally, they attack their prey with
shouted monosyllables and a command of subordination in the end. As body
parts, the characters analogize the authorial point that all stage members con­
tribute to the dramatic performance, codependent on one another.
Tzara's stage "body" stews together in a way similar to the revolutionary
"body" as described by Menenius in Shakespeare's Tragedy of Coriolanus. In Co-
riolanus ( I , i. 96-155) the revolutionary crowds that take up arms against the
despot are described in an analogy as "mutinous members" against a benevolent
"belly" the organ that "feeds" all in the kingdom. In Tzara's play, the revolution­
ary mob7 as "body" and stage performers as "body," stir and diffuse similarly.
Both "bodies," contingent in their varied grievances, move against their respec­
tive oppressive powers. In the case of the anarchist swarm, the oppressive
power is the tyranny of masters. The oppressive power in the case of Tzara's
stage is stale tradition and an audience that had long become too comfortable
with theater as entertainment. Tzara mocks the audience as the complementary
brain which finalizes the play's anatomy; the brain rests dormant in the faint and
numb collective awareness of the spectators, another bodily device, but one
which the other parts loathe.
Language and anonymity are the weapons leveled at the spectator-enemy.
When Tzara removed personalities and names, real characters, from the stage,
he undermined the expectations of every viewer; a veritable bomb was thrown
< into the seats from the theater wings. In the play itself, there are a few identifi-
^ able semiotic strategies that undermine the traditional dramatic text. The begin-
ning lines, for instance, are two separate collocations of words that illustrate a
^ class structure of haves ("statues jewels roasts") and have-nots ("cigar pimple
oo nose"). The first assemblage is made of items which the cultured (and assuredly,
02 the uncultured) would recognize as things associated with the affluent bour­
geois, those who parade expensive jewelry while discussing high art over dinner.
An accompanying line to this first assemblage, "and the wind open to mathemati­
cal allusions," (133) is a reference to the sort of strategically dropped cocktail
chat that reinforces class convictions and apprehensions in western pedagogy—
the cultured are those educated who are chosen to lead and who prefer to let it
be known.
The second assemblage is just as revelatory. Here, the emblems of "cigar
pimple nose" are common, even dull, just as its attending statement, "he was in
love with a stenographer," points to the dullest of professions. However, an
analysis of class distinction with regard to the opening lines of the drama makes
little sense without the lines which follow the assemblages:

eyes replaced by motionless navels

mister mygod is an excellent journalist
inflexible yet acquatic [sic]
a good morning was drifting in the air
what a sad season.

Though at first glance it appears as if the lines are merely capricious, Tzara is
fighting the rationality of a world caught up in its own indifference and vanity,
"fragmentation and decomposition."8 It is "a sad season" indeed when "eyes"
are as sightless as "navels," people are satisfied with their gods and an "inflex­
ible," dank morning, spread over the region like a wet towel, is a "good morning."
This disillusionment translates into further ludicrousness when the other
body parts listening in on Eye's monologue comment upon the "lagging" quality
of such considerations. It would seem as if the pandemonium of words is blithely
overlooked by all present; the musical anarchy of Eye's compression of words
seems lost on the listeners (133-34).
Yet hidden in the habitual conversation between these parts to the whole is a
real politics of interference. Eyebrow notes that "Justice" becomes a "regular
functioning" monument likened to a "nervous tic or a religion" (136). In essence,
the concepts of fairness and equity in a world gone mad with domination and
battle-lust are taken for granted or totally overlooked and lose their power. The
point is well made by the character that "says" a lot without the use of words; an
Eyebrow's position on the face "speaks" volumes in context—a furrowed, wor­
ried brow has enormous power. A correctly positioned Eyebrow can even se­
duce or alarm or both. Eyebrow acidly grieves over capital J, "Justice," a monolith
encased in stone that passersby hardly notice.
But it is Eye who acutely reminds Eyebrow et al. that the passerby, in the
"regularity of his life," will experience "a little death, too" (136). No doubt a
double meaning here, but at least one meaning is that Eye warns an unconcerned
and listless audience to question its role as spectators of a greater, abominably
absurd drama, whose gunpowder special-FX hang all about them. "Have you felt "§
the horrors of the war? [... ] Don't you speak the same language [as I do]? [... ]
What. . . prevents my words from penetrating the wax of your brain?" (140); *
"regularity . . . continuity" stuns the mind, but this most irregular play demands o>
of its watchers t o w a k e up and speak out. W e t h e spectators must practice giving ot
"abortive birth t o o u r obscurities" (regularity!) m o r e than just " o n c e a day," says
Eyebrow. Eye supports this call t o purge regulatory "obscurities" (regularity!) by
again reminding spectators t h a t " t i m e is lacking n o longer." T h e w a r has " c o m ­
pressed" t i m e , a little of it goes a long way, and though " t h e eye is weak," it is n o t
yet closed ( 1 3 7 ) . Something must be done: counteraction!
Love is both the key to unlocking one problem and the revelation of another
for the characters. Ear declares, "It's spring it's spring," the traditional season of
love, and a quarrel between Nose and Neck begins. "I tell you it's two yards,"
says Nose, while Neck counters, "I tell you it's three yards," and on they argue
for several turns. Eye cuts off the pair and informs the audience as to what "it" is
in their race. "Love," like "Justice," is a crisis whose regular evocation, "accumu­
lated by centuries," reduces its sovereignty and quality to "a nervous tic of
shifting sand dunes." Love is a "hair-do [ . . . ] on the flail," something which
appears "outwardly new" but whose erratic, fickle treatment changes its face
with the hour. In the end, it is little more than an "error" (141 -42).
Neck and Nose once more pick up the quarrel, with love being "seventeen
yards [... ] eighteen yards [... ] nineteen yards," and so on. Soon the race ends
at twenty-nine yards, mired down by the greater and greater distance from
where it began running from "Love." The second act ends and soon the final act
begins. In the third act, love is revived long enough to show how explicitly vacu­
ous it is through the Mouth. After declaring its love for a modest list of inane
items ("cats, birds, animals and vegetables [... ] bedding, vases and meadows"),
none of which are capable of equaling and returning such love, Mouth concludes
that these things are only "dreams" which "dampen the evening," dreams which
are more oppressive than inspiring] because of their pedestrian tangibility. More
frustrated than ever, Mouth exits the stage area once more (143).
The other characters then mock Mouth's sentimentality by alluding that love
is an "illusion" and a "prize horse" that "has lost its energy," a revving chatter to
prepare the way for the coming denouement. It is Eye that speaks again and
unveils the true power in which love erroneously wraps itself—lust. With Eye's
brief monologue, love is mutated: for Clytemnestra, Eye's "blood trembles [... ]
cells awaiting" her, "the violence of [his] breath" imparts his anticipation of the
"sweet childish possibilities"—what "further sensational revelations" does she
need? If love is the docile, grown up form of expressive communication between
sexual creatures, then Eye demands a return to the "childish possibilities" of lust
(144). This is an anarchy against both adulthood's unfair tempering of youthful
exploration and curiosity and bourgeois Romanticism, an uptight paper tiger of
robotic, social persecution attempting to disguise natural, promiscuous, animal
lust. Tzara as playwright strikes soundly, with steady punches, at false, cramped
< Throughout the play and right up to the end, The Gas Heart elevates the
^ realm of pointless verbiage. The body parts who are our characters take turns at
° resistance in highly stylized and antisymbolic philosophizing which always leads
^ back to the prevalent feeling of "lag" that they all share. The exception to this
o rule is the case of Mouth. Throughout the text, it is Mouth who constantly exits,
02 each time following a particularly senseless speech by another. During an early
exchange with Eye, both Mouth and Eye take turns repeating a question: "The
conversation is lagging, isn't it? [... ] Yes, isn't it? [... ] Obviously, isn't it?" (133-
34). This very blunt, barren repartee fixes the limits of lingual/linguistic opera­
tion for Mouth. Anything outside of vacant chitchat, Mouth considers too alien
and complex.
Language, perhaps, is extremely important to Mouth; Mouth is "too sensi­
tive" to language's use, dislikes the diffuse anarchy of others, and thus constantly
"shuts off" and exits. The disorder of catcalls and clamor does not affect this
character. Intense, hard-boiled babble, the undoing of language, does. Each time
Mouth speaks, the audience's attention is drawn to the striking difference be­
tween its thoughts and those of the others. "It gets warm in the summer" (135),
"let's not forget the camera" (138), "I've made a great deal of money" (139), and
"I'll be on my ship by next Monday" (139) are all examples of simple, complete
thoughts and sentences Mouth uses to counteract and combat the convoluted,
surrounding inanity.
In reality, a mouth (Mouth) is the mechanism of language; communication is
the mouth's function: "Thought is made in the mouth," as Tzara ruminates.9
From the mouth, language distinguishes the authentic self and separates the
speaker in the minds of those around us, people we know and meet.
In the play, Mouth resists the others in hopes of grounding, controlling, and
restraining language. The others can feel the difference between themselves and
Mouth; "Everybody knows you," they take turns jeering at Mouth (143). The
question then arises, Is Mouth the anarchist of the play in opposition to the
babbling concord of Eye, Ear, Nose, Neck, and Eyebrow? Or is Mouth the Simon
Legree bad guy skeptically calling into question the neological experiments of the
accompanying black pennies? Again, it doesn't matter, as Mouth concedes, "I
don't mean to say anything," sporadically slipping into its own brief, unintelligible
drivel before finally alienating itself, "alone" and "blank" with its simple thoughts:
"I love birds [ . . . ] I love cats [ . . . ] I love hay." The lawlessness of empty and
jumbled chatter reigns in the end. "[A] lovely marriage" of repudiatory, cynical
absurdity marks and terminates the previous disorder in the final commands of
the remaining rebel characters: "Go lie down" (146).

1. Martin Esslin states this a little differently: "the destruction of art," 364 in The Theatre of the
Absurd, 3rd ed. (London, 1980).
2. Esslin, 365-66.
3. Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces: A Secret History ofthe Twentieth Century (Cambridge, 1984), 195.
4. Hugo Ball, quoted in Esslin, Theatre of the Absurd, 365.
5. Esslin, 366.
6. Tristan Tzara, The Gas Heart, in Modem French Theatre: An Anthology of Plays, trans, and ed.
Michael Benedikt and George E. Wellwarth (New York, 1964), 133. Subsequent page references
appear parenthetically in the text.
7. O r perhaps, disgruntled masses, or even Leo Tolstoy's "freely flying swarm," quoted in
Michael Ossar, Anarchism in the Dramas of Ernst Toller (Albany, N.Y.: 1980), 24.
8. Gordon Frederick Browning, Tristan Tzara: The Genesis of the Dada Poem, or from Dada to Aa,
56 (Stuttgart, 1979), I I .
9. Richard Huelsenbeck, Memoirs of a Dada Drummer, ed. H. Kleinschmidt (New York,
1969), 35.

Select Bibliography on Tzara

See Benedikt and Wellwarth, Modern French Theatre; Berghaus, "Dada Theatre"; Bigsby;
Erickson; Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd; Gordon, Dada Performance; Hedges;
Matthews, Theatre in Dada and Surrealism; Melzer; and Pronko, Avant-Garde, in the
General Bibliography.
T h e Gas Heart

Tristan Tzara



Neck stands downstage, Nose opposite, confronting the audience. All the other
characters enter and leave as they please. The gas heart walks slowly around,
circulating widely; it is the only and greatest three-act hoax of the century; it
will satisfy only industrialized imbeciles who believe in the existence of men of
genius. Actors are requested to give this play the attention due a masterpiece
such as Macbeth or Chantecler, but to treat the author—who is not a genius—
with no respect and to note the levity of the script, which brings no technical
innovation to the theater.
EYE: Statues jewels roasts
statues jewels roasts
statues jewels roasts
statues jewels roasts
Reprinted from Modern French Theatre: The Ayant-Garde, Dada, and Surrealism; An Anthology
of Flays, ed. Michael Benedikt and George E. Wellwarth; trans. Michael Benedikt (New York:
Dutton, 1964), 131-46.
statues jewels roasts
and the wind open to mathematical allusions
cigar pimple nose
cigar pimple nose
cigar pimple nose
cigar pimple nose
cigar pimple nose
cigar pimple nose
he was in love with a stenographer
eyes replaced by motionless navels
mister mygod is an excellent journalist
inflexible yet aquatic a good-morning was drifting in the air
what a sad season £
MOUTH: The conversation is lagging isn't it? *>
EYE: Yes, isn't it. 8
MOUTH: Very lagging, isn't it? a>
EYE: Yes, isn't it? ^
M O U T H : Naturally, isn't it? ♦
EYE: Obviously, isn't it? c3
MOUTH: Lagging, isn't it?
EYE: Yes, isn't it?
MOUTH: Obviously, isn't it?
EYE: Yes, isn't it?
MOUTH: Very lagging, isn't it?
EYE: Yes, isn't it?
M O U T H : Naturally, isn't it?
EYE: Obviously, isn't it?
MOUTH: Lagging, isn't it?
EYE: Yes, isn't it?
MOUTH: Obviously, isn't it?
EYE: Yes, isn't it?
NOSE: You over there, m a n with starred scars, where are you running?
EAR: I'm running toward happiness
I'm burning in the eyes of passing days
I swallow jewels
I sing in courtyards
love has not court nor hunting horn to fish u p
hard-boiled-egg hearts with
Mouth exits.
NOSE: You over there, man with a scream like a fat pearl, what are you eating?
EAR: Over two years have passed, alas, since I set out on this hunt. But do you
see how one can get used to fatigue and how death would be tempted to
live, the magnificent emperor's death proves it, the importance of every­
thing diminishes—every day—a little . ..
NOSE: You over there, man with wounds of chained wool mollusks, man with
various pains and pockets full, pieman of all maps and places, where do
you come from?
EYE: The bark of apotheosized trees shadows wormy verse but the rain makes
organized poetry's clock tick. The banks filled with medicated cotton­
wool. String man supported by blisters like you and like all others. To the
porcelain flower play us chastity on your violin, O cherry tree, death is so
quick and cooks over the bituminous coal of the trombone capital.
NOSE: Hey you over there, sir . ..
EAR: Hey hey hey hey hey hey hey hey hey hey hey hey hey
< NECK: Tangerine and white from Spain
< I'm killing myself Madeleine Madeleine.
I- EAR: The eye tells the mouth: open your mouth for the candy of the eye.
t NECK: Tangerine and white from Spain
^ I'm killing myself Madeleine Madeleine.
EYE: Upon the ear the vaccine of serious pearl flattened to mimosa.
EAR: Don't you think it's getting rather warm?
MOUTH: (who has just come in again): It gets warm in the summer.
EYE: The beauty of your face is a precision chronometer.
NECK: Tangerine and white from Spain
I'm killing myself Madeleine Madeleine.
EAR: The watch hand indicates the left ear the right eye the forehead the
eyebrow the forehead the eyebrow the left eye the left ear the lips the
chin the neck.
EYE: Clytemnestra, the diplomat's wife, was looking out the window. The
cellists go by in a carriage of Chinese tea, biting the air and open-
hearted caresses. You are beautiful, Clytemnestra, the crystal of your skin
awakens our sexual curiosity. You are as tender and as calm as two yards
of white silk. Clytemnestra, my teeth chatter. I'm cold, I'm afraid. I'm
green I'm flower I'm gasometer I'm afraid. You are married. My teeth
chatter. When will you have the pleasure of looking at the lower jaw of
the revolver closing in my chalk lung. Hopeless, and without any family.
NECK: Tangerine and white from Spain
I'm killing myself Madeleine Madeleine.
MOUTH: Too sensitive to approval by your good taste I have decided to shut
off the faucet. The hot and cold water of my charm will no longer be able
to divert the sweet results of your sweat, true love or new love. (Exits.)
EAR (entering): His neck is narrow but his foot is quite large. He can easily
drum with his fingers or toes on his oval belly which has already served as
a ball several times during rugby. He is not a being because he consists of
pieces. Simple men manifest their existences by houses, important men
by monuments.
NOSE: How true how true how true how true how true . . .
EYEBROW: "Where," "how much," "why" are monuments. Like, for example,
Justice. What beautifully regular functioning, practically a nervous tic or
a religion.
NOSE (decrescendo): How true how true how true how true how true . . .
EYEBROW: In the lake dipped twice in the sky—the bearded sky—a pretty
morning was found. The object fleeting between the nostrils. Acidulous
taste of weak electric current, this taste which at the entrances to salt
mines switches to zinc, to rubber, to cloth—weightless and grimy. One ^
evening—while out walking in the evening—someone found, deep down, 2
a tiny little evening. And it's name was good evening. „
NOSE: How true how true how true how true how true . . . ^
EYE: Look out! cried the hero, the two paths of smoke from those enemy iS
houses were knotting a necktie—and it rose overhead to the navel of the ♦
light. !
NOSE: How true how true how true how true how true . . . 02
EAR: Carelessly the robber changed himself into a valise, the physicist might
therefore state that the valise stole the robber. The waltz went on con­
tinuously—it is continuously which was not going on—it was waltzing—
and the lovers were tearing off pieces of it as it passed—on old walls
posters are worthless.
NOSE: How true how true how true how true how true .. .
EYE: They kept catching colds with great regularity. For the regularity of his
life a little death, too. Its name was continuity.
NOSE: How true how true how true how true how true . . .
EYE: Never had a fisherman made more assassinating shadows under the
bridges of the city. But suddenly midnight sounded beneath the stamp of
a blink and tears mingled in telegrams undecoded and obscure.
EYEBROW: He flattened out like a bit of tin foil and several drops several
memories several leaves testified to the cruelty of an impassioned and
actual fauna. Wind the curtain of nothingness shakes—his stomach is
full of foreign money. Nothingness drinks nothingness: the air has ar­
rived with its blue eyes, and that is why he goes on taking aspirin all the
time. Once a day we give abortive birth to our obscurities.
EYE: We have the time, alas, time is lacking no longer. Time wears a mus­
tache now like everyone, even women and clean-shaven Americans.
Time is compressed—the eye is weak—but it isn't yet in the miser's
wrinkled purse.
MOUTH: Isn't it?
EYE: The conversation is lagging, isn't it?
MOUTH: Yes, isn't it?
EYE: Very lagging, isn't it?
MOUTH: Yes, isn't it?
EYE: Naturally, isn't it?
MOUTH: Obviously, isn't it?
EYE: Lagging, isn't it?
MOUTH: Yes, isn't it?
EYE: Very lagging, isn't it?
MOUTH: Yes, isn't it?
EYE: Naturally, isn't it?
MOUTH: Lagging, isn't it?
^ EYE: Obviously, mygod.

EYEBROW: We're going to the races today.
MOUTH: Let's not forget the camera.
EYE: Well, hello.
EAR: The mechanical battalion of the wrists of shriveled handshakes.
Mouth exits.
NOSE (shouts): Clytemnestra is winning!
EAR: What do you mean you didn't know that Clytemnestra was a racehorse?
EYE: Amorous jostlings lead everywhere. But the season is propitious. Take
care, dear friends, the season is satisfactory. It chews up words. It distends
silences in accordions. Snakes line up everywhere in their polished eye­
glasses. And what do you do with the bells of eyes, asked the entrepreneur.
EAR: "Seekers and curious people," answered Ear. She finishes the nerves of
others in the white porcelain shell. She inflates.
NOSE: Fan having a seizure of wood,
light body with enormous laugh.
EYEBROW: The driving-belts of the mills of dreams brush against the woolen
lower jaws of our carnivorous plants.
EAR: Yes, I know, the dreams with hair.
EYE: Dreams of angels.
EAR: Dreams of cloth, paper watches.
EYE: The enormous and solemn dreams of inaugurations.
EAR: Of angels in helicopters.
NOSE: Yes, I know.
EYE: The angels of conversation.
NECK: Yes, I know.
EAR: Angels in cushions.
NOSE: Yes, I know.
EYE: Angels in ice.
NOSE: Yes, I know.
EAR: Angels in local neighborhoods.
NOSE: Yes, I know.
EAR: The ice is broken, said our fathers to our mothers, in the first springtime
of their life, which was both honorable and gracious.
EYE: This is how the hour understands the hour, the admiral his fleet of
words. Winter child the palm of my hand. t
Mouth enters. I
MOUTH: I've made a great deal of money. ^8
NOSE: Thank you, not bad. iS
MOUTH: I swim in the fountain I have necklaces of goldfish. t
NECK: Thank you, not bad.
MOUTH: I'm wearing the latest French coiffure.
NOSE: Thank you, not bad.
EYE: I've already seen it in Paris.
NECK: Thank you, not bad.
MOUTH: I don't understand anything about the rumblings of the next war.
NECK: Thank you, not bad.
MOUTH: And I'm getting thinner every day.
NOSE: Thank you, not bad.
MOUTH: A young man followed me in the street on his bicycle.
NECK: Thank you, not bad.
MOUTH: I'll be on my ship next Monday.
NOSE: Thank you, not bad.
EYE: Clytemnestra, the wind is blowing. The wind is blowing. On the quays
of decorated bells. Turn your back cut off the wind. Your eyes are stones
because they only see the wind and rain. Clytemnestra. Have you felt the
horrors of the war? Do you know how to slide on the sweetness of my
speech? Don't you breathe the same air as I do? Don't you speak the
same language? With what limitless metal are your fingers of misery in­
laid? What music filtered by what mysterious curtain prevents my words
from penetrating the wax of your brain? Certainly, stone grinds you and
bones strike against your muscles, but language chopped into chance
slices will never release in you the stream which employs white methods.
Mouth exits.
EAR: Doubtless you know the calendars of birds?
EYE: What?
EAR: Three hundred and sixty-five birds—every day a bird flies away—every
hour a feather falls—every two hours somebody writes a poem—some­
body cuts it apart with scissors.
NOSE: IVe already seen it in Paris.
EYE: What a philosophy. What a poet. I don't like poetry.
EAR: Then you must love cold drinks? Or a countryside that rolls like a
dancer's permanent waves? Or ancient cities? Or the black arts?
EYE: I know all about that.
NOSE: A little more life on the stage.
EYEBROW: Gray drum for the flower of your lung.
^ EAR: My lung is made out of lung and is not a mere cardboard front, if you
J* really want to know.
JJ EYE: But, Miss.
♦ EAR: Please, Sir.
QQ EYE: Bony sacraments in military prisons painting doesn't m u c h interest m e .
c3 I like a quiet countryside with considerable galloping.
NOSE: Your piece is quite charming b u t you really don't c o m e away enriched.
EYEBROW: There's nothing to be enriched by in it everything is easy to follow
and even c o m e away with. An outlet of thought from which a whip will
emerge. T h e whip will be a forget-me-not. T h e forget-me-not a living
inkwell. T h e inkwell will dress a doll.
EAR: Your daughter is quite charming.
EYE: You're very considerate.
EAR: D o you care for sports?
EYE: Yes, this m e t h o d of communication is very practical.
EAR: You know of course that I own a garage.
EYE: T h a n k you very m u c h .
EAR: It's spring it's spring . . .
NOSE: I tell you it's two yards.
NECK: I tell you it's three yards.
NOSE: I tell you it's four yards.
NECK: I tell you it's five yards.
NOSE: I tell you it's six yards.
NECK: I tell you it's seven yards.
NOSE: I tell you it's eight yards.
NECK: I tell you it's nine yards.
NOSE: I tell you it's ten yards.
NECK: I tell you it's eleven yards.
NOSE: I tell you it's twelve yards.
NECK: I tell you it's thirteen yards.
NOSE: I tell you it's fourteen yards.
NECK: I tell you it's fifteen yards.
NOSE: I tell you it's sixteen yards.
EAR: Thank you thank you very good.
EYE: Love—sport or indictment
summary of the directories of love—love
accumulated by centuries of weights and numbers
with its breasts of copper and crystal
god is a nervous tic of shifting sand dunes o
nervous and agile leafs through countrysides and the pockets of I
onlookers £
the hair-do of death thrown on the flail g
outwardly new
friendship with error delicately juxtaposed. ^
NOSE: I tell you love's seventeen yards. ^
NECK: I tell you it's eighteen yards.
NOSE: I tell you it's nineteen yards.
NECK: I tell you it's twenty yards.
NOSE: I tell you it's twenty-one yards.
NECK: I tell you it's twenty-two yards.
NOSE: I tell you it's twenty-three yards.
NECK: I tell you it's twenty-four yards.
NOSE: I tell you it's twenty-five yards.
NECK: I tell you it's twenty-six yards.
NOSE: I tell you it's twenty-seven yards.
NECK: I tell you it's twenty-eight yards.
NOSE: I tell you it's twenty-nine yards.
EAR: You have a very pretty head
you ought to have it sculpted
you ought to give the grandest of parties
to know nature better and to love nature
and sink forks into your sculpture
the grasses of the ventilators flatter the lovely days.
EYEBROW: Fire! Fire
I think Clytemnestra's ablaze.

NECK: The sky is clouded

my finger is opened
sewing-machine these staring examinations
the river is opened
the brain clouded
sewing-machine these staring examinations.
MOUTH: We will make fine material for the crystal dress with it.
NOSE: You mean to say: "Despair gives you its explanations regarding its rates
of exchange."
MOUTH: I don't mean to say anything. A long time ago I put everything I had
to say into a hatbox.
NECK: Everybody knows you, installation of conjugal bliss.
NOSE: Everybody knows you, tapestry of forgotten ideas, crystallization.
5 NECK: Everybody knows you, formula for a song, running board of algebra,
N insomnia number, triple-skinned machine.
♦ MOUTH: Everybody does not know me. I am alone here in my wardrobe and
the mirror is blank when I look at myself. Also I love the birds at the ends
go of lit cigarettes. Cats, all animals and all vegetables. I love cats, birds,
animals, and vegetables which are the projection of Clytemnestra in the
courtyard, bedding, vases, and meadows. I love hay. I love the young man
who makes such tender declarations to me and whose spine is ripped
asunder in the sun.
Dance of the gentleman fallen from a funnel in the ceiling onto the
MOUTH: Dreams dampen the evening of stretched hide. (Exits.)
EYE: Imagine that my dear friend I no longer love him.
EAR: Which one do you mean?
EYE: I mean the one Fve loved too long.
EAR: Me too, Fve lost an illusion. The prize horse in my stable has lost his
EYE: Well then, my dear, his life must be renewed.
EAR: You're just bitter. (Exits.)
Enter Mouth.
EYE: Clytemnestra you are beautiful. I love you with the intensity of a
diver . . . his seaweeds. My blood trembles. Your eyes are blue. Why can't
you hear, Clytemnestra, the quiet laughter of my cells awaiting you, the
violence of my breath and the sweet childish possibilities fate has in store
for us? Are you perhaps awaiting further sensational revelations regarding
my temperament?
Exit Mouth.
Eye falls to the stage.
NOSE: Huge.
NECK: Fixed.
NOSE: Cruel.
NECK: Broad.
NOSE: Small.
NECK: Short.
NOSE: Shrill.
NECK: Feeble.
NOSE: Magnificent.
NECK: Long.
NOSE: Narrow.
NECK: Strong. E
NOSE: Sensitive. ^
NECK: Fat. 8
NOSE: High. _g
NECK: Slim.
NOSE: Trembling. ♦
NECK: Fine. go
NOSE: Clear.
NECK: Courageous.
NOSE: Thin.
NECK: Obscure.
NOSE: Timid.
NECK: Pretty.
NOSE: White.
NECK: Flexible.
NOSE: Deep.
NECK: Nasty.
NOSE: Ugly.
NECK: Heavy.
NOSE: Low.
NECK: Black.
NOSE: Superficial.
NECK: Scentless.
NOSE: Harmonious.
NECK: Smooth.
NOSE: Rigid.
NECK: Tangerine and white from Spain
I'm killing myself Madeleine Madeleine.
EAR (entering with Mouth, who crawls on all fours, and shouting): Clytem-
nestra, racehorse:
3,000 francs
Going once!
Going twice!!
Going thrice!!!
« * Gone!
Eye goes up to Mouth, on all fours.
EAR: This will end with a lovely marriage.
EYE: This will end with a lovely marriage.
EYEBROW: This will end with a lovely marriage.
MOUTH: This will end with a lovely marriage.
NECK: This will end with a lovely marriage.
NOSE: This will end with a lovely marriage.
^ EAR: Go lie down.
J5 EYE: Go lie down.
*" EYEBROW: Go lie down.
♦ MOUTH: Go lie down.
a? NECK: Go lie down.
NOSE: Go lie down.
D a d a Manifesto, 1918

Tristan Tzara

The magic of a word—Dada—which has brought journalists to the gates of a

world unforeseen, is of no importance to us.

To put out a manifesto you must want: ABC

to fulminate against 1, 2, 3,
to fly into a rage and sharpen your wings to conquer and disseminate little
abcs and big abcs, to sign, shout, swear, to organize prose into a form of
absolute and irrefutable evidence, to prove your non plus ultra and maintain
that novelty resembles life just as the latest appearance of some whore proves
the essence of God. His existence was previously proved by the accordion,
the landscape, the wheedling word. To impose your ABC is a natural thing—
hence deplorable. Everybody does it in the form of crystalbluffmadonna,
monetary system, pharmaceutical product, or a bare leg advertising the
ardent sterile spring. The love of novelty is the cross of sympathy, demon­
strates a naive je m'enfoutisme; it is a transitory, positive sign without a cause.
But this need itself is obsolete. In documenting art on the basis of the
supreme simplicity: novelty, we are human and true for the sake of amuse­
ment, impulsive, vibrant to crucify boredom. At the crossroads of the lights,
alert, attentively awaiting the years, in the forest. I write a manifesto and I
want nothing, yet I say certain things, and in principle I am against man­
ifestos, as I am also against principles (half-pints to measure the moral value
of every phrase too too convenient; approximation was invented by the Im­
pressionists). I write this manifesto to show that people can perform contrary

Reprinted from The Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology, ed. Robert Motherwell; trans.
Ralph Manheim (New York: George Wittenbom, 1951; reissued 1967), 76-82.
actions together while taking one fresh gulp of air; I am against action; for
continuous contradiction, for affirmation too, I am neither for nor against
and I do not explain because I hate common sense.
Dada—there you have a word that leads ideas to the hunt: every bour­
geois is a little dramatist, he invents all sorts of speeches instead of putting the
characters suitable to the quality of his intelligence, chrysalises, on chairs,
seeks causes or aims (according to the psychoanalytic method he practices)
to cement his plot, a story that speaks and defines itself. Every spectator is a
plotter if he tries to explain a word: (to know!) Safe in the cottony refuge of
serpentine complications, he manipulates his instincts. Hence the mishaps
of conjugal life.
To explain: the amusement of redbellies in the mills of empty skulls.

Dada Means Nothing

^ If you find it futile and don't want to waste your time on a word that
Jj means nothing . . . The first thought that comes to these people is bac-
•" teriological in character: to find its etymological, or at least its historical or
t psychological origin. We see by the papers that the Km Negroes call the tail
^ of a holy cow Dada. The cube and the mother in a certain district of Italy are
02 called: Dada. A hobbyhorse, a nurse both in Russian and Rumanian: Dada.
Some learned journalists regard it as an art for babies, other holy jesus-
escallingthelittlechildren of our day, as a relapse into a dry and noisy, noisy
and monotonous primitivism. Sensibility is not constructed on the basis of a
word; all constructions converge on perfection which is boring, the stagnant
idea of a gilded swamp, a relative human product. A work of art should not
be beauty in itself, for beauty is dead; it should be neither gay nor sad, neither
light nor dark to rejoice or torture the individual by serving him the cakes of
sacred aureoles or the sweets of a vaulted race through the atmospheres.
A work of art is never beautiful by decree, objectively and for all. Hence,
criticism is useless, it exists only subjectively, for each man separately, with­
out the slightest character of universality. Does anyone think he has found a
psychic base common to all mankind? The attempt of Jesus and the Bible
covers with their broad benevolent wings: shit, animals, days. How can one
expect to put order into the chaos that constitutes that infinite and shapeless
variation: man? The principle: "Love thy neighbor" is a hypocrisy. "Know
thyself" is Utopian but more acceptable, for it embraces wickedness. No pity.
After the carnage we still retain the hope of a purified mankind. I speak only
of myself, since I do not wish to convince, I have no right to drag others into
my river, I oblige no one to follow me, and everybody practices his art in his
own way, if he knows the joy that rises like arrows to the astral layers, or that
other joy that goes down into the mines of corpse-flowers and fertile spasms.
Stalactites: seek them everywhere, in mangers magnified by pain, eyes white
as the hares of the angels.
And so Dada 1 was born of a need for independence, of a distrust toward
unity. Those who are with us preserve their freedom. We recognize no
theory. We have enough Cubist and Futurist academies: laboratories of
formal ideas. Is the aim of art to make money and cajole the nice nice
bourgeois? Rhymes ring with the assonance of the currencies, and the inflex­
ion slips along the line of the belly in profile. All groups of artists have arrived
at this trust company after riding their steeds on various comets. While the
door remains open to the possibility of wallowing in cushions and good
things to eat.
Here we cast anchor in rich ground. Here we have a right to do some
proclaiming, for we have known cold shudders and awakenings. Ghosts
drunk on energy, we dig the trident into unsuspecting flesh. We are a down­
pour of maledictions as tropically abundant as vertiginous vegetation, resin
and rain are our sweat, we bleed and burn with thirst, our blood is vigor.
Cubism was born out of the simple way of looking at an object: Cezanne
painted a cup twenty centimeters below his eyes, the Cubists look at it from
above, others complicate appearance by making a perpendicular section Jg
and arranging it conscientiously on the side. (I do not forget the creative H
artists and the profound laws of matter which they established once and for ♦
all.) The Futurist sees the same cup in movement, a succession of objects ^
one beside the other, and maliciously adds a few force lines. This does not §§
prevent the canvas from being a good or bad painting suitable for the invest­
ment of intellectual capital.
The new painter creates a world, the elements of which are also its im­
plements, a sober, definite work without argument. The new artist protests:
he no longer paints (symbolic and illusionist reproduction) but creates—
directly in stone, wood, iron, tin, boulders—locomotive organisms capable
of being turned in all directions by the limpid wind of monetary sensation.
All pictorial or plastic work is useless: let it then be a monstrosity that
frightens servile minds, and not sweetening to decorate the refectories of
animals in human costume, illustrating the sad fable of mankind.
Painting is the art of making two lines geometrically established as paral­
lel meet on a canvas before our eyes in a reality which transposes other
conditions and possibilities into a world. This world is not specified or de­
fined in the work, it belongs in its innumerable variations to the specta­
tor. For its creator it is without cause and without theory. Order=disorder;
ego=non-ego; affirmation-negation: the supreme radiations of an absolute
art. Absolute in the purity of a cosmic, ordered chaos, eternal in the globule
of a second without duration, without breath without control. I love an
ancient work for its novelty. It is only contrast that connects us with the past.
The writers who teach morality and discuss or improve psychological foun­
dations have, aside from a hidden desire to make money, an absurd view of

1. In 1916 in the Cabaret Voltaire, in Zurich.

life, which they have classified, cut into sections, channeled: they insist on
waving the baton as the categories dance. Their readers snicker and go on:
What for?
There is a literature that does not reach the voracious masses. It is the work
of creators, issued from a real necessity in the author, produced for himself. It
expresses the knowledge of a supreme egoism, in which laws wither away. Every
page must explode, either from profound heavy seriousness, the whirlwind,
poetic frenzy, the new, the eternal, the crushing joke, enthusiasm for principles
or from the way in which it is printed. On the one hand a tottering world in
flight, betrothed to the glockenspiel of hell, on the other hand: new men.
Rough, bouncing, riding on hiccups. Behind them a crippled world and liter-
ary quacks with a mania for improvement.
I say unto you: there is no beginning and we do not tremble, we are not
sentimental. We are a furious wind, tearing the dirty linen of clouds and
prayers, preparing the great spectacle of disaster, fire, decomposition. We will
< put an end to mourning and replace tears by sirens screeching from one
< continent to another. Pavilions of intense joy and widowers with the sadness
K of poison. Dada is the signboard of abstraction; advertising and business are
♦ also elements of poetry.
^ I destroy the drawers of the brain and of social organization: spread
<§ demoralization wherever I go and cast my hand from heaven to hell, my eyes
from hell to heaven, restore the fecund wheel of a universal circus to objec­
tive forces and the imagination of every individual.
Philosophy is the question: From which side shall we look at life, God,
the idea or other phenomena? Everything one looks at is false. I do not
consider the relative result more important than the choice between cake
and cherries after dinner.
The system of quickly looking at the other side of a thing in order to
impose your opinion indirectly is called dialectics, in other words, haggling
over the spirit of fried potatoes while dancing method around it.
If I cry out:
Ideal, ideal, ideal,
Knowledge, knowledge, knowledge,
Boomboom, boomboom, boomboom,
I have given a pretty faithful version of progress, law, morality and all
other fine qualities that various highly intellectual men have discussed in so
many books, only to conclude that after all everyone dances to his own
personal boomboom, and that the writer is entitled to his boomboom: the
satisfaction of pathological curiosity; a private bell for inexplicable needs; a
bath; pecuniary difficulties; a stomach with repercussions in life; the author­
ity of the mystic wand formulated as the bouquet of a phantom orchestra
made up of silent fiddle bows greased with philters made of chicken manure.
With the blue eyeglasses of an angel they have excavated the inner life for a
dime's worth of unanimous gratitude. If all of them are right and if all pills
are Pink Pills, let us try for once not to be right. Some people think they can
explain rationally, by thought, what they think. But that is extremely relative.
Psychoanalysis is a dangerous disease; it puts to sleep the antiobjective im­
pulses of man and systematizes the bourgeoisie. There is no ultimate Truth.
Dialectic is an amusing mechanism which guides us / in a banal kind of
way / to the opinions we had in the first place. Does anyone think that, by a
minute refinement of logic, he has demonstrated the truth and established
the correctness of these opinions? Logic imprisoned by the senses is an
organic disease. To this element philosophers always like to add: the power of
observation. But actually this magnificent quality of the mind is the proof of
its impotence. We observe, we regard from one or more points of view, we
choose them among the millions that exist. Experience is also a product of
chance and individual faculties. Science disgusts me as soon as it becomes a
speculative system, loses its character of utility—that is so useless but is at
least individual. I detest greasy objectivity, and harmony, the science that
finds everything in order. Carry on, my children, humanity . . . Science says fc
we are the servants of nature: everything is in order, make love and bash your H
brains in. Carry on, my children, humanity, kind bourgeois and journalist ♦
virgins... I am against systems, the most acceptable system is on principle to ^
have none. To complete oneself, to perfect oneself in one's own littleness, to §S
fill the vessel with one's individuality, to have the courage to fight for and
against thought, the mystery of bread, the sudden burst of an infernal pro­
peller into economic lillies:

Dadaist Spontaneity
I call je m'enfoutisme the kind of life in which everyone retains his own
conditions, though respecting other individualisms, except when the need
arises to defend oneself, in which the two-step becomes national anthem,
curiosity shop, a radio [broadcasting] Bach fugues, electric signs and posters
for whorehouses, an organ broadcasting carnations for God, all this together
physically replacing photography and the universal catechism.


Inability to distinguish between degrees of clarity: to lick the penumbra

and float in the big mouth filled with honey and excrement. Measured by
the scale of eternity, all activity is vain—(if we allow thought to engage in an
adventure the result of which would be infinitely grotesque and add signifi­
cantly to our knowledge of human impotence). But supposing life to be a
poor farce, without aim or initial parturition, and because we think it our
duty to extricate ourselves as fresh and clean as washed chrysanthemums, we
have proclaimed as the sole basis for agreement: art. It is not as important as
we, mercenaries of the spirit, have been proclaiming for centuries. Art af­
flicts no one, and those who manage to take an interest in it will harvest
caresses and a fine opportunity to populate the country with their conversa­
tion. Art is a private affair, the artist produces it for himself; an intelligible
work is the product of a journalist, and because at this moment it strikes my
fancy to combine this monstrosity with oil paints: a paper tube simulating
the metal that is automatically pressed and poured hatred cowardice villainy.
The artist, the poet rejoice at the venom of the masses condensed into a
section chief of this industry, he is happy to be insulted: it is a proof of his
immutability. When a writer or artist is praised by the newspapers, it is proof
of the intelligibility of his work: wretched lining of a coat for public use;
tatters covering brutality, piss contributing to the warmth of an animal [har­
boring] vile instincts. Flabby, insipid flesh reproducing with the help of
typographical microbes.
We have thrown out the crybaby in us. Any infiltration of this kind is
< candied diarrhea. To encourage this act is to digest it. What we need is works
< that are strong straight precise and forever beyond understanding. Logic is a
H complication. Logic is always wrong. It draws the threads of notions, words,
♦ in their formal exterior, toward illusory ends and centers. Its chains kill, it is
QQ an enormous centipede stifling independence. Married to logic, art would
c§ live in incest, swallowing, engulfing its own tail, still part of its own body,
fornicating within itself, and passion would become a nightmare tarred with
protestantism, a monument, a heap of ponderous gray entrails. But the
suppleness, enthusiasm, even the joy of injustice, this little truth which we
practice innocently and which makes us beautiful: we are subtle and our
fingers are malleable and slippery as the branches of that sinuous, almost
liquid plant; it defines our soul, say the cynics. That too is a point of view; but
all flowers are not sacred, fortunately, and the divine thing in us is our call to
antihuman action. I am speaking of a paper flower for the buttonholes of the
gentlemen who frequent the ball of masked life, the [cuisine] of grace, white
cousins lithe or fat. They traffic with whatever we have selected. The contra­
diction and unity of poles in a single toss can be the truth. If one absolutely
insists on uttering this platitude, the appendix of a libidinous, malodorous
morality. Morality creates atrophy like every plague produced by intelli­
gence. The control of morality and logic has afflicted us with impassivity in
the presence of policemen—who are the cause of slavery, putrid rats infect­
ing the bowels of the bourgeoisie which have infected the only luminous
clean corridors of glass that remained open to artists.
Let each man proclaim: There is a great negative work of destruction to
be accomplished. We must sweep and clean. Affirm the cleanliness of the
individual after the state of madness, aggressive complete madness of a world
abandoned to the hands of bandits, who rend one another and destroy the
centuries. Without aim or design, without organization: indomitable mad­
ness, decomposition. Those who are strong in words or force will survive, for
they are quick in defense, the agility of limbs and sentiments flames on their
faceted flanks.
Morality has determined charity and pity, two balls of fat that have grown
like elephants, like planets, and are called good. There is nothing good
about them. Goodness is lucid, clear and decided, pitiless toward compro­
mise and politics. Morality is an injection of chocolate into the veins of all
men. This task is not ordered by a supernatural force but by the trust of idea
brokers and grasping academicians. Sentimentality: at the sight of a group of
men quarreling and bored, they invented the calendar and the medicament
wisdom. With a sticking of labels the battle of the philosophers was set off
(mercantilism, scales, meticulous and petty measures), and for the second
time it was understood that pity is a sentiment like diarrhea in relation to the
disgust that destroys health, a foul attempt by carrion corpses to compromise
the sun. I proclaim the opposition of all cosmic faculties to this gonorrhea of
a putrid sun issued from the factories of philosophical thought, I proclaim
bitter struggle with all the weapons of
Dadaist Disgust 4

Every product of disgust capable of becoming a negation of the family is ^
Dada; a protest with the fists of its whole being engaged in destructive action: 02
Dada; knowledge of all the means rejected up until now by the shamefaced sex
of comfortable compromise and good manners: Dada; abolition oflogic, which
is the dance of those impotent to create: Dada; of every social hierarchy and
equation set up for the sake of values by our values: Dada; every object, all
objects, sentiments, obscurities, apparitions, and the precise clash of parallel
lines are weapons for the fight: Dada; abolition of memory: Dada; abolition of
archaeology: Dada: abolition of prophets: Dada; abolition of the future:
Dada; absolute and unquestionable faith in every god that is the immediate
product of spontaneity: Dada; elegant and unprejudiced leap from a har­
mony to the other sphere; trajectory of a word tossed like a screeching
phonograph record; to respect all individuals in their folly of the moment:
whether it be serious, fearful, timid, ardent, vigorous, determined, enthusias­
tic; to divest one's church of every useless cumbersome accessory; to spit out
disagreeable or amorous ideas like a luminous waterfall, or coddle them—
with the extreme satisfaction that it doesn't matter in the least—with the
same intensity in the thicket of one's soul—pure of insects for blood well­
born, and gilded with bodies of archangels. Freedom: Dada Dada Dada, a
roaring of tense colors, and interlacing of opposites and of all contradictions,
grotesques, inconsistencies: LIFE

The Theater of Pure Form

tanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, playwright, painter, photographer,

S theorist, novelist, and philosopher, was born on February 24,

1885, in Warsaw, Poland. The son of a famous painter and
writer of the same name, Witkiewicz coined the name Witkacy to
carve out his own artistic identity. Between 1918 and 1939, he wrote
more than thirty plays, all based to some extent on his theory of "pure
form," in which he proposed the replacement of the causal logic of
psychological realism with a theater dominated by form, movement,
music, and scenic elements, in which "meaning would be defined only
by its purely scenic internal construction." The purpose of such theater,
argued Witkacy, would be to re-create mankind's primordial feeling of wonder at
human existence, his metaphysical sense of the mystery of life. His plays thus
stood in direct opposition to what he saw as the dehumanizing influence of
technology, science, and mechanization—a theme he explored in The Crazy Loco-
motive (1923) and Janulka, Daughter ofFizdejko (1923).
Although Witkacy aimed to achieve a theater of pure form with such plays as
The Cuttlefish (1922) and The Water Hen (1922), in his work he appropriated
traditional dramatic forms, then parodied, distorted, and disrupted them by
means of fantastically grotesque characters, bizarrely nonlinear action, and rapid
reversals, from mock-philosophical dialogue, for example, to melodramatic ac­
tion. In dramaturgical method, he rejects the old science, the Euclidean ge­
ometry and Newtonian mechanics, in favor of the complementarity, uncertainty,
and indeterminacy of modern physics. Entropy is a central principle within the
Witkacian dramatic universe: old systems and psyches disintegrate as accelerat­
ing disorder moves the universe toward inertia and extinction. The distinctive
qualities of Witkacy's work, accordingly, are an acute sense of the absurd, a
deeply felt philosophy of the tragic isolation of human beings in an alien, acciden­
tal universe, and a powerful visual imagination that in its obsession with colors
and shapes evokes dream states and drug-induced hallucinations—all of this
constantly undercut by a subversive self-mockery that produces jarring disso­
nances and unresolved discrepancies in tone.
Immediately following the Nazi and Soviet invasions of Poland, Witkacy
committed suicide on September 18, 1939, in Jezvory, Poland. Though not
appreciated during his lifetime, Witkacy became an important figure in Polish
experimental theater, as well as retrospectively in the dramatic avant-garde,
z following Tadeusz Kantor's 1956 production of The Cuttlefish, which heralded the
2 end of the dominance of socialist realism in Poland. Kantor's theater company,
UJ Cricot II, explored and expanded on Witkacy's texts in its seminal productions
3 of his work. Witkacy's affinities with Expressionism and Surrealism, as well as
£ with the dramatists of the Theater of the Absurd, particularly lonesco and
0 Beckett, confirm his significance as a writer and theorist of the avant-garde.


The Cuttlefish (1922)
ir^v* ^ P W V ritten in 1922 and published the following year in magazine
lu^* ^ l ^ f c r form, The Cuttlefish, or The Hyrcanian Worldview, "A Play in
[\^F* w ▼ One Act," was first performed in Cracow at the avant-
garde artists' Theater Cricot in 1933, when its prophetic forecast of the
O^F rise of totalitarianism had already come true in Germany, Italy, and
Russia. In this interpretation, created largely by painters and musicians, the
dictator Hyrcan IV was made up and costumed to look like Hitler in order to
stress the timeliness of the work.
The Cricot's Cuttlefish proved to be the last professional production of any of
Witkacy's works during the playwright's life, which was cut short by rise of Hitler
and totalitarianism in 1939. A generation later, however, the same play, presented
at a revised version of the same theater, marked the beginning of Witkacy's
triumphal return to the Polish stage. The Cuttlefish was the first of Witkacy's plays
to be performed after World War II. In 1956, at the start of the liberation of the
arts from Stalinist controls, the painter Tadeusz Kantor chose the work to open
his Cricot II, an experimental theater designed to reestablish the avant-garde in
Cracow. This staging of The Cuttlefish helped bring Witkacy to the attention of
new generations of playgoers and critics—now receptive to the playwright's style
and vision after dreary years of enforced socialist realism—and became an impor­
tant step in the rediscovery of the forgotten playwright, who would soon exert a
major influence in the formation of the new Polish theater.
As a drama about a twentieth-century painter face to face with dictatorship
and the tyranny of the body politic, The Cuttlefish has remained perennially fresh
and contemporary, equally applicable to conditions under Hitler, Stalin, or any
oppressive regime of whatever ideology, country, or historical period. Because
its system of allusions is not topical and realistic, but subjective and universal, The
Cuttlefish successfully depicts the plight of any artist in the modern world who is
buffeted between the conflicting demands of his art and the state, in neither of
which he can wholeheartedly believe, because he has lost faith in himself.
Written by a nonrealistic painter about a nonrealistic painter, The Cuttlefish is
pre-eminently a drama of modern art, conceived in a painterly style. Witkacy
composes his play out of shapes and colors, with maximum attention to the
pictorial values of his material. The dilemma of the contemporary creator is
formulated in the language of images as well as of concepts; form and substance
in The Cuttlefish become fused. Witkacy's portrait of the artist as a casualty of the
twentieth century resembles a modern canvas, Cubist or Surrealist, in its shifting
perspectives, dream vistas, and hard, impenetrable surfaces.
The cast includes a mere ten characters—five major, two minor, and three
purely incidental—and there is only one simple setting. The entire drama takes
place in the studio where the painter-hero practices his craft and carries on his

Excerpted from Daniel Gerould, "The Cuttlefish (1922)," In Witkacy: Stanishw Ignacy Witkiewicz
as an Imaginative Writer (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981), 185-98. Reprinted by
permission of the University of Washington Press.
argument about existence: it is a mysterious, black-walled room, ornamented
with emerald-green designs, which may be viewed as the interior of the artist's
mind. Containing no spectacular stage effects and devoid of violent social up­
heavals, The Cuttlefish is a dramatic exploration of the cerebral in the process
of becoming sensuously tangible. The conceptual finds precise visual equiva­
lents. No play better illustrates Witkacy's ability to theatricalize the activity of
thought—not through the use of personified abstractions and generic types, as
£ in the German Expressionist drama, but rather by means of highly personal and
2 idiosyncratic individual portraits drawn from the playwright's imagination.
w The animation of these dramatic portraits in an artist's studio is done with
D masterly skill. In The Cuttlefish Witkacy shows new ease and authority in forging
£ anachronistic simultaneity out of three juxtaposed historical epochs—past, pres-
0 ent, and future—a difficult dramaturgical feat which he had first attempted,
2 somewhat more schematically, in The New Deliverance. Now the playwright has
5 subtly erased all rigid demarcations between disparate areas of experience,
|{! thereby creating a fluid bend or Witkacian "mishmash," in which the dead come
I- back to life and the inanimate becomes animate. In the enchanted chamber that
1 serves as the setting for The Cuttlefish, a Renaissance pope, a modern artist, and a
•" prospective dictator (of an as yet nonexistent fascist state) join a shapely statue
^ to debate Einstein's theory and argue the possible relativity of all values in art,
TP politics, and religion. By bringing together such a wildly improbable group in an
oi inexplicable encounter beyond time and space, the playwright is free to develop
a preposterous yet exciting exchange of ideas among richly comic disputants in
what could be called a Witkacian discussion play.
The essential drama in The Cuttlefish unfolds as a dialectical battle, then,
between the champions of three different worldviews. Like Richard III in The
New Deliverance, Pope Julius II is a visitor from the past, representing the extinct
race of mighty aristocrats. Warrior, consolidator of papal power, and patron of
such artists as Raphael and Michelangelo, Giuliano della Rovere (1443-1513) is
an exemplar of Renaissance greatness. In his combination of strength, cunning,
and exquisite taste, the pope is the very opposite of the gray mediocrity now
reigning in society. Quite dissimilar is the visitor from the future, Hyrcan IV, who
hopes through sheer aggression to become the new strongman. Entirely syn­
thetic and self-fabricated, he is the creator and ruler of the imaginary kingdom of
Hyrcania, which takes its name from an ancient legendary domain in Asia Minor,
famous for its fierce tigers. Without a name or heritage of his own, the would-be
dictator must invent both a country and a worldview to justify his existence. A
modern barbarian and vulgar "slob," Hyrcan totally lacks the cultivated manners
and refined intelligence of his Renaissance predecessor.
Caught between these two heroes, ancient and modern, is the rootless man
of the present, the painter Paul Rockoffer, whose only claim to greatness is that
he is an artist. But, as his name indicates, Paul has gone "off his rocker" and
become profoundly disturbed because of the crisis in contemporary values that
has made art no longer viable as a way of life. The central figure in The Cuttlefish,
the half-mad artist must at all costs find a new Weltanschauung, since for him life
is possible only as the direct expression of a philosophy. It is his fiancee, Ella, who
is the play's cuttlefish, although at first glance it may be difficult to see what she
has in common with a ten-armed sea mollusk of the squid family. Like his con­
temporaries the Dadaists and Surrealists, Witkacy enjoyed giving his plays enig­
matic titles, but those the Polish playwright chooses are never arbitrary or
without hidden significance. In Witkacy's lexicon a cuttlefish is any soft and
insidious predator that, once having attached itself with sucking tentacles, will
not let go; as used by the playwright, then, the term can be applied to capitalism,
a demonic woman, or an ordinary overpossessive housewife like Ella.
As the drama opens, Paul Rockoffer is first seen from the perspective of
eternity, against the black walls of his studio containing a single blood-red win­
dow, which becomes mysteriously lighted at irregular intervals. Isolated in the
dark void of the soul, the despairing artist can voice his anguish only to a
nonexistent deity or to a nonhuman companion, the beautiful statue Alice d'Or,
his former love and now a monument of fossilized desire. At the mercy of a
world without religious faith or philosophic belief, Rockoffer has been forced to
recognize the futility of his art in a mass society that sanctions only the most
banal art and ignores or suppresses genuine creativity. In fact, his own works
have recently been burned by the government, and his ideas on art are scorned
and reviled. At the age of forty-six, Rockoffer has reached a total impasse in his
work; he must either commit suicide or make a new life for himself. In a brilliant
opening soliloquy, Witkacy establishes the hero's character as a metaphysical
quester racked by self-doubts and ironic afterthoughts, and lays bare the work­
ings of his mind.
Rockoffer does not, however, remain alone for long. With the arrival of Ella's
mother to attend her daughter's wedding, accompanied by another matron, the
progressive, nearly mathematical orchestration of The Cuttlefish reaches its full
complement and highest point of complexity. Two sudden acts of violence bring
the drama to a swift climax and general exodus. Acting out his Hyrcanian desires,
the dictator brutally kills Ella with one blow of his sword in response to her
hysterical pleas for death at the thought of losing the reluctant Rockoffer. The
second matron—a blowsy aging tart—then discloses that she is Hyrcan's mother.
Deeply humiliated at being the son of a whore and—perhaps worse in his fascis-
tic view—of a Jewish father, the ridiculous strongman leaves the stage abruptly,
muttering threats. Murder and usurpation result as Rockoffer, too, puts the
absolute into effect in life. On the pretext that he did not like the way that
Hyrcan talked to his mother, the artist shoots the inept dictator—decorously
committing the violence offstage—and returns to proclaim that he is now
Hyrcan V. Following his Hyrcanian desires, Rockoffer will prove that the artist
alone is qualified to rule.
In assuming power in the artificial kingdom of Hyrcania, Rockoffer hopes to
create in life what he has failed to create in art. By imparting entirely new
meaning to the concept of Hyrcanian desires, he feels that he can succeed where
Hyrcan went astray. His Hyrcania will be a creative synthesis of man's aspirations
and knowledge, not the repressive tyranny that his predecessor had envisaged.
Rockoffer's reign as Hyrcan V will be one of enlarged consciousness. His promise
to his friends, "Together, we'll create pure nonsense in life, not in Art," antici-
pates the Surrealists' liberating creed, as expressed by their call for a moment of
intense meaninglessness which would reflect and concentrate the absurdity of
the world about us, and thus serve to make us more aware of our precarious
human condition.
Yet there are other, more sinister undercurrents that can be detected in
Rockoffer-Hyrcan's final resolve. In succumbing to the temptation of power and
in following [his] Hyrcanian desires, the artist may become a fanatical mono-
K maniac and grow to be an even more dangerous dictator than Hyrcan IV. Thus,
2 on the one hand, Witkacy prophetically senses that in actual practice the role of
iu superman is a fraudulent pose on the part of frustrated weaklings which will be
3 used to justify the worst crimes and lead directly to totalitarian oppression and
* the destruction of all human values, rather than to any freedom of the spirit. The
0 playwright doubts the possibility of greatness in the modern world and ques-
JJj tions the superiority of the self-appointed strongman. Above all, the author of
Jj The Cuttlefish finds these Nietzschean delusions of grandeur comic and theatri-
|Ji cal. Witkacy's longings for the absolute are constantly undercut by his own ironic
H self-doubts and deep feeling for the imperfection and failure inherent in human
£ life.
•" On the other hand, Witkacy adopts wholeheartedly Nietzsche's hatred of
t complacent mediocrity, herd instincts, and anthill happiness for all, and he shares
(X) the German philosopher's scorn for liberal mercantile democracy, British em-
02 piricism, and egalitarian society so homogenized that absolute values become
eroded. Moreover, Witkacy deliberately chooses Zarathustra's lonely, heroic
search for intensity of life over bourgeois practicality and pragmatic calculation
of profit and loss, and he experiences a Nietzschean imperative for greatness in
an age of boredom and conformity. The playwright sees himself in the role of
exceptional individual and artist-aristocrat at odds with the masses and their
drudgery and slave mentality. The author of The Cuttlefish regards the artist as
the sole champion of metaphysical values, driven to the point of insanity by the
uncomprehending mob in his defense of mystery. For Nietzsche, as for Witkacy,
madness is the distinguishing mark of genius.

Select Bibliography on Witkiewicz

Degler, Janusz. "Witkacy's Theory of Theatre." Russian Literature 22.2 (1987): 139-56.
Dorczak, Anita. "S. I. Witkiewicz as an Avant-Garde Writer." Australian Slavonic and East
European Studies 4.1 - 2 (1990): 69-89.
Dukore, Bernard. "Spherical Tragedies and Comedies with Corpses: Witkacian Tragi­
comedy." Modern Drama 18(1975): 291 -315.
Folcjewski, Zbigniew. "The Cubist Factor in Witkacy's Theater of Pure Form." Etudes sur
le Futurisme et les Avant-Gardes I.I (Jan. 1990): 3-13.
Polish Review 18 (1973): "Witkiewicz Issue."

See also Gerould, Twentieth-Century Polish Avant-Garde Drama; Kiebuzinska; and Kott, in
the General Bibliography.
T h e Cuttlefish, or
The Hyrcanian Worldview

Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz

Motto: Don't give in even to yourself.


PAUL ROCKOFFER, forty-six years old, but looks younger (his age becomes clear
during the course of the action). Fair-haired. In deep mourning.
THE STATUE ALICE D'OR, twenty-eight years old. A blonde. Dressed in a tight-
fitting sheath resembling alligator skin.
THE KING OF HYRCANIA,1 Hyrcan IV. Tall, thin. Vandyke beard, large mus-
tache. A bit snub-nosed. Large eyebrows and longish hair. Purple cloak
and helmet with a red plume. A sword in his hand. Under his cloak a
golden garment. (What he has on under that will be revealed later on.)
ELLA, eighteen years old. Chestnut hair. Pretty.
TWO OLD GENTLEMEN, in frock coats and top hats. They can be dressed in the
style of the thirties.2
TWO MATRONS, dressed in violet One of them is Ellas mother.
GRUMPUS, the footman. Gray livery coat with large silver buttons and gray top
JULIUS II, 3 sixteenth-century Pope. Dressed as in the portrait by Titian.

Reprinted from A Treasury of the Theatre, 4th ed., vol. 2, ed. John Gassner and Bernard F.
Dukore; trans. Daniel C. and Eleanor S. Gerould (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1970), 626-37.
1. Hyrcania, on the Caspian Sea, was a province of the ancient Persian empire. The Hyrcanian
tiger, noted for its ferocity, is mentioned by Pliny, Vergil, and Shakespeare.
2. Sic. The Cuttlefish was written in 1922!
3. Giuliano della Rovera (1445-1513) was elected Pope in 1503. A patron of the arts, he
commissioned Michaelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
The stage represents a room with black walls with narrow emerald green
designs. A little to the right on the wall in the center of the stage is a window
covered with a red curtain. In places marked (X) a light behind the curtain
goes on with a bloody glow, in places marked (+) it goes out. A little to the left,
a black rectangular pedestal without ornamentation. Alice d'Or lies on her
stomach on the pedestal, leaning on her arms. Paul Rockoffer paces back and
forth, clutching his head in his hands. An armchair to the left of the pedestal.
Another one closer to the center of the stage. Doors to the right and to the left.
ROCKOFFER: Oh, God, God—in vain I call Your name, since I really don't
believe in You. But Fve got to call someone. Fve wasted my life. Two
wives, working like a madman—who knows why—after all, my ideas
aren't officially recognized, and the remains of my paintings were de-
N stroyed yesterday, by order of the head of the Council for the Production
ii of Handmade Crap. Fm all alone.
^ STATUE: [Without moving; her head in her hands] You have me.
* ROCKOFFER: So what? Fd rather I didn't. All you do is remind me that there's
r something else. But in yourself you're just a poor substitute for what's
really important.
♦ STATUE: I remind you of the further road which opens before you in the
<§ wilderness. All the fortune-tellers have predicted that you'll devote your­
self to Occult Knowledge in your old age.
ROCKOFFER: [With a contemptuous wave of his hand] Oh! Fm absolutely
incorrigible in maintaining a perpetual grudge against poor humanity,
and I can't find a single drop of healing medicine. Fm like a useless,
barren pang of conscience, from which not even the meagerest bud of
hope for improvement can blossom.
STATUE: You're a far cry from real tragedy!
ROCKOFFER: That's because my passions aren't too strong. The life Fve
wasted escapes hopelessly into the gray distance of my past. Is there
anything more horrible than the gray past which we still have to keep on
digesting over and over again?
STATUE: Think how many women you could still have, how many nameless
mornings, softly gliding through the mysteries of noontime, then finally
how many evenings you could spend in strange conversations with
women marveling at your downfall.
ROCKOFFER: Don't talk to me about that. Don't rip open the innermost core
of strangeness. All that is closed—forever closed, because of boredom:
galloping, raging boredom.
STATUE: [With pity] How trite you are . ..
ROCKOFFER: Show me someone who isn't trite, and Fll let my throat be cut as
a sacrifice on that person's altar.
ROCKOFFER: A woman—or rather the personification of everything impossi­
ble about women. Life's unrealizable promises.
STATUE: At least be glad you exist at all. Just think—even prisoners serving life
sentences are glad of the gift of life.
ROCKOFFER: What's that got to do with me? Should I be happy just because
right now Fm not impaled on a lonely mound in the middle of the steppes
or because Fm not a sewer cleaner? Don't you really know who I am?
STATUE: I know you're funny. You wouldn't be, if you could fall in love with
me. Then you'd grasp your mission right here on this planet, you'd be a
unique personality, itself and only itself—just that one, and no one else...
ROCKOFFER: [Uneasily] So you recognize that there's an absolute, I repeat,
an absolute hierarchy of Beings,4 do you?
STATUE: [Laughing] Yes and no—it depends. ^
ROCKOFFER: Tell me what your criteria are, I humbly beseech you. *§■
STATUE: You've given yourself away. You're neither a philosopher nor an §
artist. v
ROCKOFFER: Oh, so you've had your doubts about that anyhow. No, Fm not. *"*
STATUE: [Laughing] Then you're just an ambitious nobody, aren't you? De- i
spite everything, for them you're a genius at creating new metaphysical §
shocks. *
ROCKOFFER: Fm pretending— just pretending because Fm bored. I know it's
not even decent—it's not decent to pretend.
STATUE: Still, you've got something in you that goes way beyond anything my
other lovers had. But unless you love me, you won't get one step further.
ROCKOFFER: Stop talking about those eternal lovers of yours that you're
always bragging about. I know you have influence in real life and that
through you I could become who the hell knows what. But somebody
real, not just somebody in my own e y e s . . .
STATUE: You're exaggerating: greatness is relative.
ROCKOFFER: Now Fm going to tell you something: you're trite; worse—you're
thoughtful; still a hundred times worse—you're basically good.
STATUE: [Upset] You're wrong . . . Fm not good at all. [Suddenly in another
tone] But I love you! [She stretches out toward him.]
ROCKOFFER: [Staring at her] What? [Pause] That's true, and that's why it
doesn't matter to me. The light of the Sole Mystery has been extin­
guished for me . . . [X] [A knock at the right; the Statue assumes her
former pose.] and its unfathomableness. ..
STATUE: [Impatiently] Quiet—the Pope's coming.

4. The "hierarchy of Beings" probably comes from the work of the German philosopher and
biologist Ernest Haeckel (1834-1919), who popularized Darwinism and traced the chain of being
from one-celled creatures to man.
ROCKOFFER: [In another tone] I beg you, introduce me to the Pope. He's the
only ghost I still feel like talking to . .. [Enter the Pope.]
JULIUS ii: Greetings, daughter, and you, my unknown son . . . [Paul kneels.
The Pope gives him his slipper to kiss.] Only let's not talk about Heaven.
Alighieri was 100 percent right. Even a child knows that, but I still have
to say that the human imagination cannot conceive such happiness.
That's why it was hell that our son Dante portrayed with so much talent.5
I'll even go so far as to say that Dore's illustrations6 express quite well the
inadequacy of human concepts and the human imagination to portray
this kind of, as it were .. .
STATUE: Boredom . . .
JULIUS ii: Quiet, daughter. You don't know what you're talking about. [Em-
N phatically] This kind of happiness. [Jokingly] Well, my son: get up and
r come over here and tell me who you are . ..
w STATUE: Holy Father, he's the great artist and philosopher, Paul Rockoffer.
I- JULIUS ii: [Raising both hands up in horror] So it's you, is it? You, wretched
£ infidel, who dared reach out for the fruit of the Highest Mysteries?
♦ ROCKOFFER: [Proudly, getting up] It is I!
o JULIUS II: [With humility, his hands on his stomach] I'm not talking about
co you as an artist. You're great. O h , I was a fierce patron of the arts. [+] Now
that's all over, all over! Yes, I've learned to appreciate decadence in art.
T h e y don't understand it, a n d yet that's the only way they live them­
selves. I'm talking about t h e people of your time. [Indignantly] W h a t a
terrible thing—all your paintings burned. M y son, eternal reward awaits
you in Heaven.
STATUE: In Heaven? Ha, ha, ha.
JULIUS II: [Good-naturedly] D o n ' t laugh, daughter. Heaven has its good sides
too. Nobody suffers there, a n d that counts for something.
ROCKOFFER: I'm a philosopher, Holy Father, b u t I've continued to be a good
Catholic, too. I can't stand that lie any more.
JULIUS ii: Yes—you're a Catholic, maitre Paul, but not a Christian. There's a
great difference, a very great difference. And what lies can't you stand
anymore, my son?
ROCKOFFER: That I'm pretending as an artist, that is, that I've been pretend­
ing up to now. All my art is a hoax, a deliberate, carefully planned hoax.
JULIUS ii: I'm disregarding the fact that there can be no question of Truth
once we start discussing Beauty in the abstract. But that's what's so awful,
that your art and the art of people like you is the sole Truth. You've
discovered the last possible consolation, but I've got to take it away from
5. Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), in The Divine Comedy.
6. Gustave Dore (18327-1883), French illustrator and painter.
you. [Solemnly] Your art is the sole Truth on earth. I didn't know you
personally, but I do know your paintings very well in marvelous divine
reproductions. [Gloomily] That's the sole Truth.
STATUE: And what about the dogmas of faith?
JULIUS II: [Hurriedly] They're Truth too, but in another dimension. In earthly
terms they're Truth for our poor understanding. Only there [he points to
the ceiling with his finger] their mystery blazes forth in all its fullness
before the dazzled intellect of the liberated.
ROCKOFFER: [Impatiently] Holy Father, theology isn't my specialty, and I'd
prefer not to talk about philosophy. With Your Holiness's kind permis­
sion, let's talk about Art. I know I lie, and that's good enough for me. No
one will make me believe that my Art is genuine, not even you, a guest
from a genuine Heaven.
JULIUS ii: [With his finger pointing toward the ceiling] Up there, where I
come from, they know about that better than you do, you miserable
speck of dust. But after all, an artist's worth comes from either rebellion
or success. What would Michelangelo have been if it weren't for me or
other patrons of the arts (may God punish them for it). A few madmen
eager for new poisons raise up the man who concocts them to the apex of
humanity, and then a crowd of nonentities adore him, gaping at the
agony and ecstasy of the ones who've been poisoned. Isn't the fact that
the Council of the Production of Handmade Crap burned your works a
proof of your greatness?
STATUE: You're beaten, Paul, baby. Bow down before His Holiness's connois-
seurship. [Rockoffer kneels.]
ROCKOFFER: Something terrible's happened. I don't know any more whether
I'm lying or not. And I was the one who knew everything about myself.
Holy Father, you've taken away my last hope. I'd finally found one thing I
was absolutely sure of, and you, you cruel old man, you've destroyed
even that.
JULIUS ii: [To the Statue, pointing at Rockoffer] That's what comes from
pursuing the absolute in life. [To Rockoffer] My son, in life as in philoso­
phy, relativity is the only wisdom. I was a believer in the absolute myself.
My God, what respectable person hasn't been! But those times are over.
Now, what all of you fail to realize is that not every biped who's read Marx
or Sorel7 is highest in the earthly hierarchy of Beings, nor do you realize
that I, for example, and the rest of you are two different kinds of Beings,
and not just varieties of the human species. Only Art, despite decadence,
has remained on a high plane.
ROCKOFFER: [Getting up, in despair] She tells me the same thing. I'm sur­
rounded by treachery on all sides. I don't have any enemies. I look for

7. Georges Sorel (1847-1922), French sociologist and theorist of revolution.

them night and day in all the back alleys and only find some sickening
jellyish mess, but no opponents worthy of me. Can Your Holiness under­
stand that?
JULIUS ii: [Puts his hand on Rockoffer's head] Who could understand you bet­
ter, my son? Do you think that history has given me full satisfaction in that
respect? Whom do you take me for? Can you suppose that I, Julius della