From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Woyzeck is a stage play written by Georg Büchner. He left the work incomplete at his death, but it has been variously and posthumously "finished" by a variety of authors, editors and translators. Woyzeck has become one of the most performed and influential plays in the German theatre repertory.
Büchner probably began writing the play between June and September 1836. It remained in a fragmentary state at the time of his early death in 1837. Woyzeck was first published in 1879 in a heavily reworked version by Karl Emil Franzos. It received its first performance on November 8, 1913 at the Residenztheater, Munich.
Woyzeck deals with the dehumanising effects of doctors and the military on a young man's life. It is often seen as 'working class' tragedy, though it can also be viewed as having another dimension, portraying the 'perennial tragedy of human jealousy' . The play was admired both by the German naturalist Gerhart Hauptmann and, subsequently, by expressionist playwrights. It is loosely based on the true story of Johann Christian Woyzeck, a Leipzig wigmaker and, latterly, a soldier. In 1821, Woyzeck, in a fit of jealousy, murdered Christiane Woost, a widow with whom he had been living. He was later publicly beheaded.
Franz Woyzeck, a lowly soldier stationed in a provincial German town, is living with Marie, and father of a child not blessed by the church as the child was born out of wedlock. Woyzeck earns extra money for his family by performing menial jobs for the Captain and agreeing to take part in medical experiments conducted by the Doctor. As one of these experiments, the Doctor tells Woyzeck he must eat nothing but peas. It is obvious that Woyzeck's mental health is breaking down and he begins to experience a series of apocalyptic visions. Meanwhile, Marie grows tired of Woyzeck and turns her attentions to a handsome drum major who, in an ambiguous scene taking place in Marie's bedroom, arguably rapes her.
With his jealous suspicions growing, Woyzeck confronts the drum major, who beats him up and humiliates him. Finally, Woyzeck stabs Marie to death by a pond. While a third act trial is claimed by some to have been part of the original conception, the fragment as left by Büchner ends with Woyzeck disposing of the knife in the pond, and most renditions extrapolate this with him drowning while trying to clean himself of the blood after having dumped the knife in deep waters.
Woyzeck is a comment on social conditions as well as an exploration of complex themes such as poverty. Woyzeck is considered as morally lacking by other characters of higher status, such as the Captain, particularly in the scene in which Woyzeck shaves the Captain. The Captain links wealth and status with morality suggesting Woyzeck cannot have morals as he is poor. It is the exploitation of the character Woyzeck by the Doctor and the Captain which ultimately pushes him over the edge.
The many adaptations of Woyzeck include:
- an opera by Alban Berg (Wozzeck)
- a 1979 movie by Werner Herzog (Woyzeck)
- a 1994 movie by János Szász
- a 2009 movie by Francis Annan-Burton, the first English-language feature-length movie adaptation. This was filmed at, and used students from, Xaverian College.
- a musical by Robert Wilson and Tom Waits; the songs from which are on Waits's Blood Money album
- Tom Waits has a song on his album Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards, entitled "Children's Story", which is based on Woyzeck
- a modernized play, Re: Woyzeck by Jeremy Gable (in which Georg Büchner becomes a character in his own play)
- the play Skin by Naomi Iizuka
- production of the play by Vesturport, an Iceland-based theatre company, directed by Gísli Örn Gardarsson.
- a puppet theater version "Woyzeck on the highveld", by South African based Handspring Puppet Company, directed by William Kentridge
- a play by Splendid Theatre Productions which performs the scenes as they were found, rather than chronologically
- A play in 2009 at the Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne, Australia. Director Michael Kantor with Music by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis
- Production of the play by Toto Funds the Arts and Rafiki; adapted and directed by Anmol Vellani (India)
- Mailman (Postchi, 1971), a film by the Iranian new wave master Dariush Mehrjui.
- a 2007 production at the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama, Woyzeck was re-worked by Director Dan Rigazzi to take place in 1951 and reflect themes of racial pressure in the army. Also, with the help of the Carnegie Mellon University German Language Department, pieces of the original Clarus Report were translated to English and incorporated in the text and structure of the production.
- A ballet production named Léonce et Léna inspired of Woyzeck by Christian Spuck was held in October and November 2010 by "Les Grands Ballets Canadiens" in Montreal.
- a modernized version of woyzeck played by the Belgian theatregroup,'NTGent' and 'Toneelgroep Ceremonia' in fall 2010. The director, Eric De Volder died the night after the première.