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Frank Wedekind: A German Dramatist of the Absurd? Robert A. Jones While it is almost common nowadays to find Frank Wedekind numbered among the predecessors of the Theater of the Absurd, it is equally common to have the matter summarily dismissed with a few lines to the effect that Wedekind “ has always been acclaimed” as a principal forerunner to the modern avant-garde (Absurd) theater, and that that theater’s “debt” to him cannot be denied. For example, the “sell” to the prospective buyer on the back cover of a recent Fawcett paperback, The Lulu Plays, concludes with the impressive statement that it is difficult “ to overestimate Wedekind’s role in con­ temporary drama, as a vital force in modem expressionism and as a direct forebear of our Theater of the Absurd.” 1 Now in the first place it is debatable whether Wedekind’s importance for the modem theater has ever been “ acclaimed” or “overestimated.” For the most part, references to him rarely move beyond simplifications of the kind cited above. Wedekind’s admirers have concentrated principally— and quite legitimately— on his role as a forerunner to much that took place in the theater during the Expressionist movement, and subse­ quently in the theater of Bertolt Brecht. But with the greater attention paid to his successors, Wedekind’s position has become almost entirely an historical one, and in that quarter his significance has become very generalized. Secondly, such claims all but imply that Wedekind exerted a genuine “influence” on the much later Absurdists, although the evidence now available would not justify our assuming that they paid Wedekind’s works any significant attention; at least none have acknowledged even the slightest debt to him. In short, these rather stock phrases and assertions are rapidly becoming clichés. O f course the suggestion of a tenable similarity between the post-war Absurdists and the much earlier German play­ wright is a very intriguing thesis; but it is one that is sorely in need of examination and clarification. If all the catch phrases are valid, then one ought to be able to demonstrate that at the turn of the cen­ tury Wedekind was indeed experimenting and making innovations in the theater, as well as using techniques and devices, similar to those 283 284 Comparative Drama of the Absurdists who followed him by several decades. If the as­ sertions break down under scrutiny, then they should be forgotten or, at the least, amended. Possibly the most strategic factor in a comparison of Wedekind and the dramatists of the Absurd, and likely the root of many of the original claims, is their common desire to make the theater more the­ atrical and the innovative way in which they sought to put this into practice. In Wedekind’s case the majority of his innovations stemmed from a reaction against the naturalistic theater of his day, a theater that, in his opinion, was too intellectual, too wordy, and too super­ ficial because it overlooked the real governing forces of life. He ob­ jected to the emphasis on purely social aspects, and the naturalist’s attitude of reform which paid virtually no attention to the bourgeois values. Instead of being genuine works of art, he felt, the products of the naturalist playwrights were nothing other than Tendenzstücke aimed at arousing sympathy for a passive hero. He publicly voiced his rebuke in Büchse der Pandora, when Aiwa Schön, justifying his association with Lulu, condemns the contemporary “curse” of intellectualism and literariness: Das ist der Fluch, der auf unserer jungen Literatur lastet, dass wir viel zu literarisch sind. Wir kennen keine anderen Fragen und Probleme als solche, die unter Schriftstellern und Gelehrten auftauchen. Unser Gesichtskreis reicht über die Grenzen unserer Zunftinteressen nicht hinaus. Um wieder auf die Fährte einer grossen gewaltigen Kunst zu gelangen, müssten wir uns möglichst viel unter Menschen bewegen, die nie in ihrem Leben ein Buch gelesen haben, denen die einfachsten animalischen Instinkte bei ihren Handlungen massgebend sind.2 Applied to the Naturalist stage, Wedekind’s lament was aimed at the absence of theater for its own sake, and the almost total lack of any appeal to the senses. Early in...


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