restricted access Frank Wedekind and Bertolt Brecht: Notes on a Relationship
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FRANK WEDEKIND AND BERTOLT BRECHT: NOTES ON A RELATIONSHIP ONE OF THE MOST DIRECT AND SIGNIFICANT literary affinities in the modern theater has been that between Frank Wedekind, a truly major (and generally unheralded) innovator in the development of contemporary European drama, and Bertolt Brecht, the disciple whom he most clearly and markedly influenced.1 Even a cursory examination of their lives, theories, and techniques demonstrates to what considerable extent Brecht accepted Wedekind both as his personal and ideological mentor. Significantly, this was no academic literary influence such as Ibsen-Miller or Strindberg-O'Neill; with WedekindBrecht there was a deeply tangible, personal and physical impact which bordered on hero-worship on the part of the young Brecht during his student days in Munich in 1918. At that time Wedekind was generally recognized as "the greatest literary theatre figure in Munich"2 and was a dominant personality in every aspect of intellectual life throughout Germany. Above all Wedekind was a figure of great controversy, the darling of the Bohemians, the unchallenged leader of the avant-garde. Wedekind's entire life had admirably prepared him for this role. It was one filled with the bizarre, unpredictable events which often distinguished his plays. His parents, both German-born, were naturalized American citizens, and when Benjamin Franklin was born in Hannover in 1864, the elder Wedekinds had every intention of returning to the United States after their visit to Germany. They never did, and the question of his citizenship was one which was to haunt Frank for most of his years. The family moved to Switzerland where Frank was educated. Shortly after he began attending lectures at the university in Munich he broke with his family and began a life for himself which took him to most of the intellectual centers 1 Almost without exception critics are quick to recognize this influence in a brief mention, and then the point is never developed. See Martin Esslin, "Brecht's Language and its Sources," in Brecht, edited by Peter Demetz, Spectrum series Twentieth Century Views (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1962), 175; Marianne Kesting, Bertvlt Brecht in Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten, Rowolt's Monographien (Hamburg, 1959), 22; Walter Weideli, The Art of Bertolt Brecht, translated by Daniel Russell, Gotham Library (New York, 1963), 3; Reinhold Grimm, Bertolt Brecht: Die Struktur seines Werkes (Niirnberg, 1962), 84; and Ernst Schumacher, Die dramatischen Versuche Bertolt Brechts, I9I8-I933 (Berlin, 1955), 19· 2 John Willett, The Theatre of BertoU Brecht (New York, 1959), 108. 401 402 MODERN DRAMA February of Europe. From 1888 to 1895 Paris was his favorite city, and he freely associated there with the most bizarre elements of the artistic community. He earned his living at various times by writing, serving as travelling secretary for a circus, and was engaged for a time by still another circus as a "plant" in the audience, making conversation with the clowns in order to give the impression of spontaneous participation.3 His constant companion was one of the most splendid eccentrics of the generation, Willi Rudinoff, artist, impersonator, opera singer, and one of Europe's outstanding circus clowns. In 1891 Wedekind's Frilhlings Erwachen (Sp'ring's Awakening) appeared , and with it came the reputation which was to follow Wedekind relentlessly: the amoral pornographer. In this tragedy of sexual ignorance which culminates in teen-age suicide and abortion, Wedekind attempted to enlighten a public which was the object of attack in the play. The stupidity of the adult community is the direct cause of the childrens' downfall. From the outset Wedekind was the center of the debate which raged: was this literature or obscenity? The attack by church and government added to the controversy. With the publication of Erdgeist (Earth-Spirit) in 1895, the torrent of moral criticism reached an almost hysterical crest. In this play and its sequel, Die Bilchse der Pandora (Pandora's Box), first published 1905), Wedekind introduced his vision of the Eternal Feminine, Lulu, the innocent, mindless incarnation of instinctive lust, who dances over the graves of her three husbands before she is disemboweled in a wretched Soho garret by Jack the Ripper. There had never been anything like her in the history of the German theater...