Frank Wedekind

Frank Wedekind

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Benjamin Franklin Wedekind, the second of the six children born to Friedrich Wilhelm Wedekind, a physician, and Emilie Kammerer, a German singer and actress, was born in Hanover on 24th July, 1864. The family moved to Lenzburg in Switzerland, where his father had purchased a castle.

In 1884 Wedekind entered the University of Lausanne, and then moved to the University of Munich. He studied law and literature, but abandoned his studies and took a job as a publicity agent for the Swiss soup company Maggi.

Wedekind eventually returned to Munich where he attempted to make a living from acting. Wedekind also wrote plays and in 1891 he produced Spring Awakening. The sexual content of the play created great controversy and was immediately banned in Germany due to its frank portrayal of abortion, homosexuality, rape, child abuse and suicide. According to the authors of the The Concise Oxford Companion to the Theatre: "The play harks back to Büchner in its staccato structure and intensified realism, but looks forward to Expressionism and Symbolism in its grave-yard and schoolroom scenes in which it analyses the situation of two 14-year-old lovers who pay with their lives for the moral dishonesty of their tyrannical parents."

Dennis Kennedy has added: "Containing scenes of homosexual love, masturbation, and flagellation, the piece is a disturbing condemnation of how an oppressive society deals with puberty. Its provocative content, episodic structure, abrupt language, and two-dimensional and symbolic characters, like the Man-in-the-Mask played at its première by the author, all anticipate expressionism."

In 1896 Albert Langen, the son of a Rhineland industrialist, started the left-wing journal, Simplicissimus. Wedekind was an early contributor to the journal. Others writers and artists involved in the project included Thomas Heine, Thomas Mann, Rainer Maria Rilke, Olaf Gulbransson, Rudolf Wilke, Walter Trier and Edward Thony. The journal constantly attacked the German establishment. One right-wing journal in Germany, Augsburger Postzeitung, complained about the influence that it was having on young students and called for it to be banned as is was creating a "real danger to school discipline".

Wedekind's next play, Earth Spirit, was produced in Leipzig on 25th February 1898. This was the first of his "Lulu plays", which have as their central figure Lulu, a purely sexual creature who drives men to ruin. According to one critic: "Finally she meets her nemesis by being murdered by Jack the Ripper, one creature of instinct destroyed by another." Wedekind admitted that "she was created to stir up great disaster. "

Later that year Kaiser Wilhelm II objected to an article by Wedekind and a cartoon by Thomas Heine that appeared in the journal during his visit to Palestine. The issue was confiscated and a lawsuit was brought against Wedekind, Heine and the publisher, Albert Langen. Following the advice of his lawyer, Langen fled to Switzerland and remained in exile for five years. Both Wedekind (seven months) and Heine (six months) were imprisoned in the fortress of Köningstein for their attack on the German monarchy.

Wedekind developed a reputation for promiscuous behaviour and had an affair with Frida Uhl, the former wife of August Strindberg. She eventually gave birth to his child. He mixed with a group of bohemian artists and political activists including Erich Mühsam, who was a strong advocate of free love.

On the stage Wedekind often collaborated with the young Austrian actress Tilly Newes. They acted together in the second of his Lulu plays, Pandora's Box, in Vienna, at a private performance in 1905. Tilly played Lulu and Wedekind took the role of Jack the Ripper. The writer Karl Kraus played Kung Poti.

It has been argued that Wedekind "deliberately sought to outrage bourgeois society" and that he reflected the "perceived threat of powerful women" current at the time. In 1906, Wedekind married Newes, 22 years his junior. He rejected his previous promiscuous behaviour and became intensely jealous of his young wife.

The theatre critic, John Simon, has pointed out: "Wedekind acted in his plays and performed his cabaret songs with a quirky but insidious individuality, and championed freedom of expression, women's rights, anti-anti-Semitism and other worthy causes. His drama was the fountainhead of not just one form of German modernism, but of all three movements that superseded naturalism: Symbolism, Expressionism and that tertium quid whose creator, Bertolt Brecht, acknowledged him as his master."

Frank Wedekind died from complications during surgery in Munich on 9th March, 1918.

Wedekind also kept a diary that his younger daughter only fairly recently released for publication. The title Diary of an Erotic Life is not inappropriate; young Frank, especially during his Parisian years, was a great womanizer. As a very young man in his father's Swiss castle, then as a rebellious son and self-made man in Berlin, Munich, Paris and London, he kept a diary of his preponderantly erotic vie de boheme. He also had unusual jobs: as a writer of advertising jingles for Maggi soup, and as a publicist for a circus. And he wrote, though without getting anything produced for years. Mostly, he would rise at noon, see people in the afternoon, have dinner with friends, go to a theater or cabaret or opera house, then drink in good company till early morning. Some days, though, he just worked.

Sparingly in Berlin and Munich (money was very tight), but liberally in Paris, he picked up women: usually cocottes, sometimes lowly streetwalkers, occasionally juveniles, to whom he was strongly attracted. There were also leanings toward homosexuality and sadism, but these were kept in check. Meanwhile he enjoyed women, recklessly but generously, at times giving away the little money he had for the mere pleasure of their platonic company.

Diary of an Erotic Life" is sharply observed, outspoken and wonderfully deadpan. Wedekind possessed the gift of implying rather than stating his editorial comments in a prose that subtly winks at the reader - a reader most likely never intended for these journals, which he meant as a sourcebook for plays and as autotherapy: "Others have recourse to a girl, I stick to my diary." For example, he meets two artistes and comments: "Leitner and Holtoff are the two strongest men in the world and have been engaged by the Casino de Paris as a counter-attraction to two American brothers, also the strongest men in the world... due to appear... at the Folies Bergere." Or he goes with a young woman to the outdoor market at Les Halles, a favorite wee-hours Paris sport. Consuming oysters and wine, they "sit at a window... and have the whole bustle... before our eyes. We agree there's no finer sight than watching people really hard at work."

What a delightful fellow, this Wedekind, who rushes off to be photographed "so as to know... in the future what I looked like when I had a thousand francs in my pocket." He has a chat with a resplendent demimondaine who tells him "it wouldn't cost 100,000 francs" to sleep with her, but he insists that "with her looks she couldn't very well ask for less." With another girl, "when I asked her if she had syphilis, she replied, not so far. She was bound to get it sooner or later, everybody did. Had I had it yet? - Yes. - So much the better, then I was safe from it."

Frühlings Erwachen: The Play that Started it All

Living through the second half of the 19 th century, Frank Wedekind completed Frühlings Erwachen, or The Awakening of Spring, in 1891. His play was a highly controversial tale and was automatically outlawed in Germany. The play had its first performance in 1906, yet did not have its second until 1917.

Late nineteenth century Germany was worlds away from contemporary America. Just before the First World War, Germany was going through an Industrial revolution (decades after England, may I add). The German Empire was formed in order to create a unified land and the Bible was the law. (See References to Know for more information on the times).

Frank Wedekind’s Frühlings Erwachen had two major impacts on the theatre. First, like the realist plays of the time, the ideas expressed in the play went against the German bourgeois society in order to speak the truth. The ending of his play, later formed the German movement of expressionist theatre.

Wedekind’s piece, a three act straight play, defied the social norms of the German Empire. Its story contained conversations about and elements of rape, homosexuality, suicide, abortion, Atheism, physical abuse, and death. Its subtitle, A Children’s Tragedy, was nothing but accurate. This play was not only satiric towards the bible, religion and the bourgeois attitudes, but the play also criticized the sexually-oppressive culture of late 19 th -century Germany. This is why the play’s history is one of being banned in cities, having shortened runs, and getting few performances.

Considered one of the fathers of expressionism, Wedekind’s original play held a factor of expressionism that is not seen in Steven Sater’s musical. To end Wedekind’s play, a masked man comes out of nowhere and solves all of the problems of the play. (This is also referred to as deus ex machina—an inexplicable the tool used in ancient Greek tragedies where a play will end unrealistically). The masked man talks with Melchior and Melchior asks the masked man about God, life and death, and talks of killing himself. This then works to persuade Melchior to commit suicide, and thus created the birth of expressionist theatre: “a world where figures body forth the emotions of the central characters” (Sater xii). Though this does not happen in the musical, Wedekind’s use of the Masked Man became the foundation of expressionist theatre which was popular in the first few decade of the 20 th century.


Frank Wedekind was a German playwright, writer and actor. Wedekind is best known for his socio-critical plays and his overt artistic treatment of various topics related to sexuality, which was often experienced as highly provocative by early audiences.

Wedekind was born in Hannover in 1864 and spent his youth in Switzerland where his father, who had made a fortune in the USA during the Californian Gold Rush, owned a castle. His early writing attempts date back to his school time. Wedekind started studying German and French literature and later law, none of which he finished. He temporarily worked as a journalist, advertising agent and as secretary at a circus. Having been left a considerable fortune by his father, between 1889 and 1898 Wedekind lived in Munich, Paris, Switzerland, London and Berlin. In 1896 he co-founded the satirical magazine Simplicissimus. Because of a satirical poem he had written about Emperor Wilhelm II, Wedekind was arrested in 1899 and spent several months in jail.

In 1906, Wedekind and his wife, the actress Tilly Newes, settled in Munich where he lived until his death in 1918.

Apart from working as a writer and journalist, Wedekind also appeared on stage as a cabaret artist and as an actor in his own plays, e.g. as the ‘Masked Man’ in Frühlings Erwachen Spring Awakening.

In his work, Wedekind criticises the hypocritical morality of Wilhelmine society, attacks capitalist ideology and promotes sexual liberation for both sexes. Because of his overt tackling of topics such as prostitution, sadomasochism, female sexuality and homosexuality he often came into conflict with state authorities and bodies of censorship – a topic which then entered his work, for example in Die Zensur The Censorship or Franziska.

Wedekind’s most popular play to this day is his early ‘Kindertragödie’ (‘children’s tragedy’) Frühlings Erwachen Spring Awakening (1891). The play depicts the troubles of a group of adolescents trying to come to terms with their burgeoning sexual desires and shows the severe effects that derive from the lack of honest communication between different generations on the topic of sexuality.

Wedekind’s second major work is the double tragedy Erdgeist Earth Spirit (1895) and Die Büchse der Pandora Pandora’s Box (1902), which in 1913 he combined in his play Lulu. The plays depict the life of young and beautiful Lulu, a strangely vague and undetermined character, who makes use of various men and one woman who fall under her spell. At the end, she is brutally murdered by Jack the Ripper.

After his late theatre breakthrough with Frühlings Erwachen Spring Awakening in 1906, Wedekind became one of Germany’s most popular playwrights. Opposing naturalist positions, Wedekind’s plays delineate – in some parallel with the dramatic developments of Viennese Modernism at the same time – an experimental, playful and anti-realist aesthetic. With this, Wedekind became an important forerunner of Expressionism.

Despite being one of the most popular and notorious playwrights of his day, Wedekind’s reputation as a writer, like that of many others, never completely recovered from the period of total denunciation of his work during the Third Reich. It was only from 1994 on that a critical edition of his works started to appear (Kritische Studienausgabe, also known as Darmstädter Ausgabe, ed. by Elke Austermühl, Hartmut Vinçon and Rolf Kieser, 8 volumes in 15 part-volumes (Darmstadt: Häusser, 1994-2011)). While Frühlings Erwachen Spring Awakening and the two Lulu plays (Erdgeist Earth Spirit and Die Büchse der Pandora Pandora’s Box) figure as central works of the German dramatic canon to this day, the rest of Wedekind’s extensive œuvre remains mostly forgotten.

You've only scratched the surface of Wedekind family history.

Between 1944 and 2004, in the United States, Wedekind life expectancy was at its lowest point in 1944, and highest in 1975. The average life expectancy for Wedekind in 1944 was 51, and 72 in 2004.

An unusually short lifespan might indicate that your Wedekind ancestors lived in harsh conditions. A short lifespan might also indicate health problems that were once prevalent in your family. The SSDI is a searchable database of more than 70 million names. You can find birthdates, death dates, addresses and more.

The journey of a death mask of German playwright Frank Wedekind

Death mask of Frank Wedekind: Over 100 years after the writer's death, Wedekind expert Professor Ariane Martin received this cast of the mask from New Zealand. Credit: © Editions- und Forschungsstelle Frank Wedekind

A death mask of the German writer Frank Wedekind has unexpectedly reappeared after decades abroad. It was recently returned to Germany by the previous owner in New Zealand over 100 years since Wedekind's death. "The mask not only had a long journey to New Zealand and back, but it also tells an extraordinary history of exile," said Professor Ariane Martin, head of the Editions- und Forschungsstelle Frank Wedekind (EFFW) at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU), the leading center of research on the author. "This hugely interesting cultural object, which until now we knew next to nothing about, has an almost unbelievable backstory." Frank Wedekind, one of the most important modern German playwrights, is perhaps best known internationally for his tragedy "Spring Awakening" ("Frühlings Erwachen"). He died in 1918 at the age of 53 from complications following an appendectomy. Immediately after his death, a number of death masks were prepared using plaster, of which only a few are still known to exist. It is worth noting that the cast from New Zealand is particularly well preserved.

Uncovering the mask's journey in the luggage of Jewish emigrants

After periods in Switzerland, Paris, London, and Berlin, Frank Wedekind finally settled in Munich, where he died on March 9, 1918, and was buried in a well-attended ceremony on March 12 at Munich's Waldfriedhof. The death mask was made immediately after his death and friends of the deceased had the opportunity to request a cast. However, according to Wedekind expert Professor Ariane Martin, it is difficult to estimate how many copies were made or still exist today. One copy of the death mask was originally kept in the writer's former study in Munich, where visitors were able to view it. The writer Karl Kraus and Wedekind's friend and biographer Artur Kutscher were also likely to have each owned a plaster cast respectively. Today, one copy is located in the Munich City Library and another in the German Literature Archive in Marbach another copy was previously held by the National Gallery in Berlin.

Now a further copy has emerged, which—in the light of its history—is of great cultural significance: In September 2020, Peter Oettli, Emeritus Professor of German at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand, contacted the EFFW by email to say that he would be offering them a version of the death mask. Several years ago, he himself had been given this copy of the death mask while acting as head of the university's German department. Over the following weeks, Professor Ariane Martin began researching in detail what had happened to this mask after Wedekind's death. "The search for clues was extremely exciting. I am very grateful to Peter Oettli, who has entrusted the mask to us and helped me to research its history," emphasized Martin.

Wedekind's death mask as an important object in the culture of remembrance

According to Professor Ariane Martin's research, it is unclear exactly when one of Frank Wedekind's sisters gave the death mask to a friend, but it was probably before the National Socialists came to power in January 1933. This friend fled Nazi Germany with his wife at the end of 1936. "The mask was apparently so valuable to this Jewish emigrant by the name of Kurt Philips that he took it with him when he fled Cologne, going via London into exile in New Zealand," added Martin. When he died, the mask was inherited by his sister, Margot Philips, who also lived in New Zealand. At the age of 80, she gave it to Peter Oettli in order to preserve it for posterity. A similar impulse has now led Oettli, who was born in Switzerland and is himself 80 years old, to part with the mask. "Wedekind, or at least his death mask, has kept me company in my study for quite a few decades now. I think it's time now for him to find a new home where he is known and appreciated," wrote Oettli in his email back in September 2020.

"This copy of Wedekind's death mask is a very important object in terms of the culture of remembrance," Martin pointed out. This mask symbolizes not only a long-forgotten fate in exile, but also the European Modernism embodied by Wedekind. Now the death mask has returned over 100 years after Wedekind's death and more than 80 years after its former owner fled from Germany. After 13 days traveling by air mail, the mask arrived safely in Germany and in remarkable condition.

Frank Wedekindin isä Friedrich Wilhelm Wedekind oli paennut vuoden 1849 vallankumousyrityksen jälkeen San Franciscoon ja vaurastunut kiinteistökaupoilla. Hän avioitui siellä Emilie Kammererin kanssa, jonka isä Friedrich Kammerer keksi tulitikun. Puolisot muuttivat Saksaan vuonna 1864 ja asettuivat Hannoveriin. Benjamin Franklin syntyi perheen toisena lapsena, ja hänelle syntyi vielä neljä sisarusta. Heistä veli Donald Wedekind (1871–1908) oli kirjailija ja sisar Erika Wedekind (1868–1944) oopperalaulaja.

Perhe muutti vuonna 1872 Sveitsiin Aargaun kantoniin, josta isä oli ostanut Lenzburgin linnan. Wedekind kävi koulua Lenzburgissa ja Aaraussa ja lähti ylioppilastutkinnon jälkeen vuonna 1884 Lausannen yliopistoon opiskelemaan ranskalaista ja saksalaista kirjallisuutta. Vielä samana vuonna hän lähti Münchenin yliopistoon lukemaan lakia, mutta nämäkin opinnot jäivät kesken. Hän työskenteli toimittajana ja sihteerinä. Kesällä 1888 hän aloitti oikeustieteen opinnot Zürichin yliopistossa, mutta opinnot keskeytyivät isän kuoltua. Wedekind sai runsaan perinnön, joka takasi hänelle taloudellisen riippumattomuuden ja taiteellisen vapauden.

Wedekind muutti 1889 Müncheniin, oleskeli vuosina 1891–1896 Pariisissa ja Sveitsissä ja palasi sitten Müncheniin. Hän kirjoitti ensimmäiset näytelmänsä 1890-luvulla ja arvosteli niissä porvariston näennäismoraalia ja tekopyhyyttä. Tuon ajan merkittävimpiä näytelmiä olivat Frühlings Erwachen: Eine Kindertragödie (1891), joka kantaesitettiin vasta vuonna 1906, ja Erdgeist (1895) ja Die Büchse der Pandora (1904), jotka kertovat Lulusta ja hänen rakastajistaan. Wedekind esiintyi usein omissa näytelmissään, samoin kuin hänen puolisonsa Tilly Newes.

Wedekind avusti pilalehti Simplicissimusta eri salanimillä vuodesta 1896 alkaen. Hän joutui pakenemaan Pariisiin vuonna 1898 julkaistuaan satiirisen runon keisari Vilhelm II:sta. Kun Wedekind palasi seuraavana vuonna Saksaan, hänet tuomittiin majesteettirikoksesta puoleksi vuodeksi vankeuteen.

Vuodesta 1901 alkaen Wedekind esiintyi näyttelijänä Die elf Scharfrichter -nimisessä satiirisessa kabareeteatterissa. Hänen ansiostaan saksalainen kabaree nousi sittemmin Weimarin tasavallassa kukoistukseensa. Wedekindiä arvostivat muiden muassa Kurt Tucholsky, Erich Kästner ja Bertolt Brecht.

Wedekindin näytelmän joutuivat toistuvasti sensuurin ja esityskieltojen kohteiksi ja veivät kirjailijan oikeuteen. Frühlings Erwachen -näytelmän hän joutui julkaisemaan omalla kustannuksellaan. Wedekind arvosteli näytelmissään Vilhelmin-aikaisen Saksan ulkokultaista seksuaalimoraalia, joka koitui erityisesti murrosikäisten nuorten kohtaloksi, ja vastusti naturalismia. Näytelmien hahmot ovat irvokkaita ja liioiteltuja ja tapahtumat provosoivia tapahtumissa viitattiin epäsuorasti muun muassa homoseksuaalisuuteen ja itsetyydytykseen.

Suomessa Wedekindin näytelmistä esitettiin Maahinen (Erdgeist) jo vuonna 1909 Tampereen Teatterissa, mutta se poistui ohjelmistosta kolmen esityskerran jälkeen, kun lehdistö vastusti sitä voimakkaasti. Elli Tompuri toi näytelmän uudelleen ohjelmistoon vuonna 1920.

Vuonna 1903 syntyi romaanikatkelma Mine-Haha oder Über die körperliche Erziehung der jungen Mädchen.

Frank Wedekind avioitui vuonna 1906 näyttelijä Tilly Newesin (1886–1970) kanssa. Heillä oli kaksi tytärtä, näyttelijä ja kääntäjä Anna Pamela Wedekind (1906–1986) sekä näyttelijä ja kirjailija Epiphania Kadidja Wedekind (1911–1994). Wedekindin vanhin lapsi Friedrich Strindberg (1897–1978) oli syntynyt suhteesta August Strindbergin puolison Frida Strindberg-Uhlin kanssa.

Wedekindin teokset ovat innoittaneet myös oopperasäveltäjiä ja elokuvaohjaajia. Alban Bergin ooppera Lulu (1937) jäi keskeneräiseksi, ja se täydennettiin 1970-luvulla (Friedrich Cerha). G. W. Pabstin mykkäelokuva Pandoran lipas (1929) perustuu samannimiseen näytelmään. Romaanikatkelmaan Mine-Haha perustuvat Lucile Hadžihalilovićin Innocence – viattomuus (2004) ja John Irvinin The Fine Art of Love: Mine Ha-Ha (2005). Näytelmästä Frühlings Erwachen sovitettiin vuonna 2006 Off-Broadway-musikaali Spring Awakening, jota esitettiin myös Helsingin kaupunginteatterissa vuonna 2009.

Erdgeist Earth Spirit

Erdgeist Earth Spirit is the first of the two Lulu-plays by Frank Wedekind, the second being Die Büchse der Pandora Pandora’s Box. In 1913, Wedekind combined these two works in his play Lulu (on which, all in all, he worked for 21 years). Its eponymous heroine is the most popular character in Wedekind’s œuvre.

Erdgeist centres on Lulu, a beautiful young woman of equivocal moral conduct, and the various people who fall under her spell. Lulu is picked up from the streets by Dr Schön, a rich publishing agent, who takes her as his mistress but also arranges for her to get married to Dr Goll. The first act shows Lulu and Dr Goll in the studio of the painter Schwarz, who is supposed to paint a portrait of Lulu. Goll leaves the room for a moment and Lulu promptly seduces the painter. When Goll catches the two of them red-handed he suffers a fatal stroke. In the second act, Lulu is married to Schwarz. When Schön reveals to him that Lulu has been his mistress, Schwarz cuts his own throat. The third act shows Lulu as a dancer, with Schön still being emotionally tied to her, even against his own will. In the last act, Lulu and Schön are finally married. Yet, Lulu cheats on Schön with a number of people (or at least that is what Schön believes). When Schön tries to force Lulu to commit suicide, Lulu shoots him and is subsequently arrested.

As with many of Wedekind’s works, the plot seems to be only of secondary importance for the interpretation of the play. From its first publication till this day most commentators have focused on the complex and mysterious protagonist in their interpretations of Erdgeist. The play’s title relates to Goethe’s Faust I, where the Earth Spirit embodies the infinitely productive forces of nature. Thus, Lulu could be interpreted as representing the most basic drives of life, which in Wedekind’s play clearly have a sexual dimension. One line of scholarship (Arthur Moeller-Bruck, J. Spier, Fritz Strich) has argued that Lulu is the paradigmatic figure of female sexuality, a woman driven by her sexual urges and dominating the surrounding world by her powers of seduction. Another, more recent line of scholarship (Silvia Bovenschen, Ulrike Prokop, Elizabeth Boa) has laid emphasis on the fact that Lulu remains curiously undefined as a character, showing little individuality, and constantly adapts – to a certain degree – to the expectations of people around her. Thus, she seems to be not so much a real person, let alone the omnipotent representative of raw sexual urges, but rather the screen on which the surrounding characters project their fantasies. Yet another prominent reading of the play is the socio-critical one (Karl Kraus, Elizabeth Boa, Hartmut Vinçon, Peter Unger), in which Lulu, who is at ease with her own sexuality, exposes the hypocritical morality of society.

A number of films draw on the Lulu-plays, with Leopold Jessner, Georg Wilhelm Papst, Paul Auster and Jonathan Demme among the directors. Alban Berg based his second, unfinished opera Lulu on Wedekind’s plays.

Further Reading in English

Elizabeth Boa, The Sexual Circus: Wedekind’s Theatre of Subversion (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987), Chapters 3 and 5

Naomi Ritter, ‘The Portrait of Lulu as Pierrot’, in Rolf Kieser and Reinhold Grimm (eds.), Frank Wedekind Yearbook 1991, 127-40

Karin Littau, ‘Refractions of the Feminine: The Monstrous Transformations of Lulu’, Modern Language Notes 110:4 (1995), 888-912

Further Reading in German

Johannes G. Pankau, Sexualität und Modernität Studien zum deutschen Drama des Fin de Siècle (Würzburg: Könighausen & Neumann, 2005), Chapter 4

Hartmut Vinçon, Frank Wedekind (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1987), pp. 188-204

Erhard Weidl, ‘Philologische Spurensicherung zur Erschließung der “Lulu”-Tragödie Frank Wedekinds’, Wirkendes Wort 35 (1985), 99-119

Frank Wedekind: Stock Poster with His Autograph Prologue to "Der Erdgeist"

During the winter and spring of 1898, a dramatic ensemble known as the Ibsen Theater and sponsored by the Leipziger literarische Gesellschaft toured northern Germany, Silesia, and Austria. The ensemble's program was devoted almost exclusively to works by the playwright for whom it was named, Henrik Ibsen, but in this, their final season, they also included premiere performances of Frank Wedekind's Lulu play Der Erdgeist (1895). Known to the Gesellschaft chiefly as a poet, Wedekind accompanied the tour as a "dramaturgical secretary," but he also performed incidental parts in various Ibsen plays and interpreted the role of Dr. Schön in his own work under the stage name Heinrich Kammerer. The tour opened in Leipzig late in February, with three performances of Der Erdgeist. The ensemble then traveled to Halle, Braunschweig, Hamburg, Stettin, Breslau, and Vienna, returning to Leipzig late in June for additional performances under the sponsorship of the ensemble's director, Dr. Carl Heine. 1

The stock poster used for the tour showed details concerning the specific play, cast, date, and location, which were printed for each performance in the framed area to the left. 2 The poster was designed by Brynolf Wennerberg (1866-1950), a Swedish artist who was active in Munich and who, like Wedekind, contributed to the satiric journal Simplizissimus. Wennerberg's elaborate illustration--with its sinuous lines, energetic surface patterns, asymmetrical perspective, and sensuous interplay of serpents, waves, and the female form--is a characteristic example of turn-of-the-century Jugendstil. To the left, peering over the empty frame, is a bust of Ibsen. To the right is a likeness of "The Woman from the Sea" ("Die Frau vom Meer"), a character from Ibsen's play by the same title that was performed on the tour. Other Ibsen works performed by the ensemble included Nora, Ein Volksfeind, Die Wildente, Hedda Gabler, Rosmersholm, and Gespenster.

Adding Der Erdgeist to the tour schedule was a bold and risky venture. At best, the play provided an uneasy counterpoint to the naturalistic works of Ibsen. Wedekind's original Lulu tale, a five-act play entitled Die Büchse der Pandora: Eine Monstretragödie (1892-1894), had initially been rejected by the Leipzig publisher Albert Langen as too controversial. The version ultimately published by Langen and premiered by the Ibsen Theater was revised and condensed into four acts, with a new third act and without the sensational fifth act where Lulu is brutally murdered by Jack the Ripper. 3 Even with these changes, the play had been rejected for public performance by Otto Brahm's progressive Freie Bühne after a series of private readings in Berlin, and it was only added to the Ibsen Theater tour after "much pestering" by Wedekind. 4

Reservations about the work proved well-founded. The initial Leipzig performances registered as a qualified success, after which time the play's fate rapidly declined. The Stettin performance was cancelled after a near scandal in Hamburg. 5 The play was announced for performance in Vienna no less than five times in the Neue Freie Presse however, it was not performed in that city, due to a ban by the local censor. The evening edition of the Presse on June 10 included a short announcement of the ban, with a full account of the situation appearing in the "Theater-und Kunstnachrichten" section the following day.

The Ibsen Theater Company's performance of Erdgeist scheduled for tomorrow at the Carl Theater has, as you know, been forbidden. The work has not been prohibited on any particular religious or sociopolitical grounds, as might be imagined from the title Erdgeist the authorities maintain that the work is offensive from a moral standpoint. The author of the forbidden work, Mr. Frank Wedekind, and the director of the Ibsen Ensemble, Dr. Carl Heine, expressed the greatest surprise over the prohibition to a reporter who visited them today. 6

With a Vienna performance out of the question, Wedekind and Heine seized the opportunity to propagandize on behalf of the play. In the notice quoted above, the reporter went on to present details of the strenuous objections voiced by Heine and Wedekind regarding both the ban of Der Erdgeist and the stifling conditions currently plaguing the German-speaking theater. Even more significantly, however, while the last-minute cancellation of Der Erdgeist was undoubtedly a personal disappointment for Wedekind, the prospect of performances in the Austro-Hungarian capital had yielded a tangible result--the celebrated Prologue for the play.

The original version of the Prologue, little known in the Wedekind literature, was drafted on the verso of the Ibsen Theater poster shown here. The circumstances surrounding the creation of the Prologue are recounted in an informal memoir by Hilde Auerbach, daughter of the theatrical agent Berthold Auerbach who accompanied the Ibsen Theater on the 1898 tour. The essential facts of Hilde Auerbach's memoir, which accompanies the stock poster in the Moldenhauer Archives at the Library of Congress, are reproduced below.

My father's story [of] how Wedekind came to write this Prologue is as follows: Just before the first performance of the Erdgeist in Vienna (late summer of 1898) [sic], Dr. Heine, Wedekind and my father were sitting in a Cafe in Vienna and Dr. Heine remarked to Wedekind that the Vienna public would not understand his play without a prologue. There and then, Wedekind snatched the huge poster of the Ibsen Theater from my father. (These posters announcing the various Ibsen Theater plays and the casts all showed on one side Ibsen's head and on the other the naked "Frau vom Meer" [woman of the sea].) On the back of it, Wedekind wrote in one go, leaning on the Cafe house table, the first version of his famous Prologue to the Lulu-Tragedy. He spoke it himself in the first night of the play in Vienna [sic] because he himself played the part of the Circus Director, and my father was fond of imitating him as he stood before the curtain, pistol in one hand, whip in the other, speaking the words of the prologue with his harsh voice rolling his Rs and suddenly firing the pistol in the air, thus frightening the ladies.

Since the play was not performed in Vienna, Berthold Auerbach's recollection that the Prologue was presented in that city must be mistaken. The earliest-known performance of the play to include the Prologue occurred later the same month, in Leipzig. This information accompanies the Prologue as it appeared in a revised, near-final version, published in 1901 in the journal Die Insel. The heading for the revised Prologue text reads as follows: "PROLOGUE TO ERDGEIST / TRAGEDY IN FOUR ACTS BY FRANK WEDEKIND / SPOKEN ON THE OCCASION OF THE TENTH PERFORMANCE OF 'ERDGEIST' BY THE IBSEN THEATER (DIRECTED BY DR. CARL HEINE) IN THE CRYSTAL PALACE IN LEIPZIG, 24 JUNE 1898." 7 Long misinterpreted to mean that the Prologue was written for the tenth, Leipzig performance of Der Erdgeist, this heading should be interpreted more literally, as a report of the Prologue's first delivery.

While some of Berthold Auerbach's details may be inaccurate, his tale of the Prologue's genesis is substantiated by the original text, for among the many variants between autograph and published versions is a passage directed specifically toward a Viennese audience. In the original third stanza (lines 22-27), the Animal Trainer who narrates the Prologue laments the fact that the crowds have abandoned his menagerie for more genteel forms of entertainment, ironically listing among their new interests "Ibsen" and "plays." He concludes with an acerbic outburst, comparing the poverty of life in the theater (represented by his menagerie) with the comfortable complacency of the Viennese bourgeois, known for leisurely promenades through the city's famous park, the Prater: "Ha, welch ein Abstand zwischen dem Theater/Und der Menagerie im Wiener Prater!" [Ha, what a difference between the theater/and the menagerie in the Vienna Prater!]

This local reference was one of the many passages changed or deleted when the Prologue was later adapted for a general audience. Wedekind's revision can be seen here in pencil. The latter portion of the third stanza has been crossed out and marked "F" for fortlassen or "omit." The replacement lines, drafted across to the right, expand the stanza and focus more generally on the poverty of theatrical life. Like the original, the revised stanza concludes with a comparison, but one of a more universal, moralistic tone in which true art is distinguished from financial success: "Doch will man Großes in der Kunst erreichen/Darf man Verdienst nicht mit dem Glück vergleichen." [But if one wants to achieve greatness in art/one should not equate earnings with success.]

Wedekind's other revisions range from minor adjustments involving syntax and word choice to more substantial alterations of meaning. One of the more illuminating revisions is found in stanza four. The original version of lines 29-30 ("Haustiere, die so wohlerzogen fühlen/An blassen Theorien ihr Mütchen kühlen") [House pets who think they're so well-bred/vent their rage on pale theories] was later changed to "Haustiere, die so wohlgesittet fühlen,/An blasser Pflanzenkost ihr Mütchen kühlen." [House pets who think they're so well-mannered/vent their rage on a pale vegetarian meal.] The key expression "blassen Theorien" [pale theories] recalls a famous passage from one of the opening scenes of Goethe's Faust (I:2038). At this point in the poem, Mephistopheles, disguised as Faust, instructs a novice on the difference between theory and practice, privileging the latter by claiming "Grau, teurer Freund, ist alle Theorie." [Gray, dear friend, is all theory.] Wedekind's original Faustian reference may well have been aimed at his presumed Viennese audience more specifically, the young aesthetes who patronized Vienna's famed coffeehouses and cultivated an urbane and highly literate or "wohlerzogen" [well-bred] image. The substituted phrase "blasser Pflanzenkost" [pale vegetarian meal] refers more generally to the international class of young European aesthetes, many of whom were avowed vegetarians.

Collectively, Wedekind's revisions yield a more polished result that is finely attuned to the events and characters of the ensuing drama. He would ultimately add a number of stage directions, including an introductory paragraph that sets the scene and calls for specific costumes and sound effects. By way of contrast, the impression offered by the original version shown here is one of an improvisation that had been noted down, as Auerbach recalled, on the spur of the moment. The few in-process ink changes shown on the manuscript suggest that Wedekind's ideas flowed freely as he drafted the text. His passion for the circus and intimate acquaintance with the rhetoric of the circus barker served him particularly well in this regard. Wedekind borrowed a variety of stock phrases from the circus world for his Prologue--most notably the invitation "Hereinspaziert!" [Step right up!]--using them as a scaffolding around which to structure his original lines. His experience as a lyric poet and cabaret recitateur is likewise evident in the Prologue, for even the unedited version possesses a genuine musical quality, revealing in particular a keen sensitivity to rhythm and meter.

Moldenhauer's interest in the Wedekind manuscript was undoubtedly influenced by Alban Berg's memorable setting of the Prologue in Lulu, his operatic adaptation of Wedekind's two Lulu plays. In all liklihood, Berg did not know the original version of the Prologue. Moldenhauer's acquisition of the Wedekind manuscript attests rather to his interest in the broader spectrum of musical history and the sister arts.

“Spring Awakening” Frank Wedekind’s First Play

Spring Awakening was Frank Wedekind’s first play. He had it published at his own expense in 1891, but it was not performed until Wedekind started his own repertory company in 1906. The first production in the United States took place in 1912, but since the play was in German it failed to attract audiences in the States. This play was performed at Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster on 27 October 2013. This was my first time to see a live play on stage. The play was performed on a proscenium theatre.

Centering on the lives of 11 young adults, “Spring Awakening” takes on controversial topics of today such as sexuality, abortion, rape, and suicide. The play, although controversial on the surface, presents an opportunity for audiences to recognize the importance of issues such as consent, safety and sexual assault. This was a musical play. As this was based on one of the controversial pieces of literature that was banned for one hundred years, Spring Awakening is the tale of teenagers on the road of self-discovery.

The story takes placed in Germany 1891 where the parents know best, the story started off with the young and beautiful girl, Wendla Bergman. Wendla has so many questions about what was going on in her body and how a baby is made. Wendla’s mother dismisses her question and tells her to change into a proper dress. There was the dreamy and fearless boy who doesn’t believe in anything, Melchior Gabor. His friend, Moritz Steiffel, who was astounded with puberty, cannot focus on the Latin drill in his class. The Headmaster begins to yells at Moritz, but Melchior steps in to defend his friend and ends up offending the Headmaster. Melchior and Moritz both end up getting striked before returning to the lesson. After learning that Moritz was so consumed by his body’s metamorphosis, Melchior writes an essay describing what’s going on, with both males and females.

Wendla and Melchior run into each other in the woods. After learning that one of Wendla’s friends was beaten up by the friend’s father, she requests Melchior do the same to her, because she has never felt real pain. At the beginning Melchior hesitates but soon gets irritated and beats Wendla. After Melchior realizes what he has done, he runs away ashamed of himself. Wendla runs into Melchior once again. The two find themselves in position so unmentionable and so desirable, that the two have an awakening in their bodies and soul. They have sex. While this was happening, Moritz learns that since his teachers do not like him so therefore they are failing him. When Mortiz’s father gets to know about this, he beats Mortiz for being such a supposed disgrace to the family. Moritz begs Melchior’s mother to help him flee to America, but declines. He heads to woods with a gun, with the plan of killing himself. While wandering in the woods distraught, he bumps into his free-spirited friend Isle, whose father abused her as well. She describes all the promises life has to offer, but he does not listen and leaves her there. That was when he sticks the gun in his mouth and fires. The Headmaster pin this event on Melchior, claiming the essay he gave him the cause of Mortiz’s suicide and therefore Melchior was expelled. He was then sent to a boarding school. Meanwhile, Wendla’s mother learns that her daughter was pregnant and learns that Melchior was the father. By the time Melchior hears this, it is too late to do anything, because Wendla was overdosed with abortion pills. With both of his beloved friends dead, Melchior must find a reason to go on with his life.

Spring Awakening addresses a large number of loosely related themes primarily through a series of dialogues. The plot lacks a clear structure, and some of the characters are indistinguishable from one another. Wendla, Moritz, and Melchior are best viewed as a triangle. The three characters both interact with and act in parallel to each other as each struggle to make the transition to adulthood. The title of the play, Spring Awakening, refers to both the incipient adulthood and the incipient sexuality of the children who form its center. Both meanings suggest beginnings, the promise of the future, and a period of warmth and peace. However, by the play’s end two characters are dead – one by suicide, one by a botched abortion. Some major themes found in this play were sexuality, religion, education, gender, relationship between parents and children, shame and authority. The frank sexuality and sexual experimentation depicted in Spring Awakening immediately positioned it as an extremely controversial work. This also includes the scenes of homosexuality. Especially in light of the fact that Hanschen and Ernst’s relationship carries none of the tragic consequences of Wendla and Melchior’s. Organized religion is depicted in an extremely negative light in Spring Awakening. Melchior, in some ways the most positive figure of the play, is an atheist, and his difficulties with religious belief are expressed in a believable and open manner. Different characters in the play represent different theories about education. In Spring Awakening, relationships between parents and children seem fraught with danger. Almost no parent seems to be successful at bringing up their children to live as they did. Moritz kills himself, Wendla dies, Melchior must displace his parents with the man in the mask, Martha’s parents abuse her to the point where it seems she wants to kill them, and Ilse’s parents seem to be entirely absent.

Spring Awakening explores the idea of shame and the effects it can have on a person. Moritz asks Melchior whether he thinks “the sense of shame is simply a product of upbringing.” Spring Awakening does not question the reality of shame instead, it raises questions about its uses, effects, and place in a community or family. The similarities and differences between women and men are explored throughout the play. When the girls discuss whether they’d rather have boy or girl children, when Melchior and Moritz wonder whether girls feel the same urges they do. Overall, the theme of gender in Spring Awakening explores how differences are perceived through the lens of gender, and how divisive these ideas of difference can become. Several different kinds of authority figures are represented throughout the play: religious authority, state authority, parental authority, medical authority, and personal authority. Most of these authority figures are undermined, shown either to be corrupt or at least incompetent. However, personal authority often leads to no better – and indeed, often even worse – results. Melchior and Moritz go wrong when they attempt to act completely independently. The set portrayed a wooden bridge, brick walls and elevated floors. The properties that were repeatedly utilized in the play were chairs, tables and lanterns. A piano was also used at the beginning of the play. All the costumes used by the performers resembled the early 1900s. Some the characters in the play were performed by the same performers. For example, the teacher from the Latin drill, Mortiz’s Father and the Church pastor were played by the same performer. Microphones were used by the performers to reach the audience better. But the use of microphones was never considered an integral part of theatre. I was seeing the play from the sides of the stage. So, some of the scenes cannot be properly viewed from this viewpoint as the

play is ideally meant to be viewed from where audience usually are seated. The performers performed great acting. It showed their keen dedication for the play. On the whole, I enjoyed watching this play.

Footnote 1: Minutes 13 of Scientific Meeting on February 13 1907[ii] – see Freud’s comments on Wedekind’s ‘Spring Awakening’ : 13 th February 1907 or here

Frank Wedekind (1864-1918) called his play ‘Frühlingserwachen, Eine Kinder-tragödie’ [A Children’s Tragedy], and he was indeed less concerned with individuals than with the minor and major tragedies of young people awakening to sex without knowledge and without guidance, misunderstood and derided by parents and teachers. The plot is simple: the student Melchior and fourteen-year-old Wendla find answers to their questions in a hayloft. Wendla becomes pregnant before she dies during an abortion, she asks her helpless mother, “Why did you not tell me these things?”

Melchior’s friend Moritz commits suicide because of bad marks in school. His distraught father, searching through Moritz’s room, finds an obscene treatise on coitus in a strange handwriting, which is discovered to be that of Melchior. Melchior is expelled from school and, fleeing from his parents who want to send him to a reform school, he comes to the cemetery. While reading the inscription on Wendla’s tombstone, he suddenly sees Moritz, who has stepped out of his grave, come toward him with his head in his arms. Moritz attempts to lure his living friend into his realm but then the “Vermummte Herr” [“The Masked Gentleman”] appears to chase the phantom back into his grave and to take Melchior with him. It is life itself which personified by the “Masked Gentlemen”. It is “To the Masked Gentleman” that the play is dedicated by the author.

Scientific Meeting on February 13 1907

Present: Freud, Adler, Federn, Heller, Hitschmann, Kahane, Reitler, Rank, Sadger.

Presentation: ‘Spring’s Awakening’ by Wedekind

Reitler begins with a characterization of the three main figues: Moritz Stiefel, who remains arrested at the stage of infantile sexuality (autoerotism) his friend Melchior Gabor, who develops beyond infantile sexuality to normal sexuality (intercourse with Wendla) and Wendla who has marked masochistic tendencies. In the very first scene, Wendla betrays her fear of awakening sexuality (thoughts of death, and the like).

Reitler then goes through the drama, scene by scene, giving his interpretations as he goes along. He shows, for instance, how Wedekind connects the incipient atheism and the simultaneous loss of parental authority with the knowledge of parental sexual activity. He mentions the writing of a diary as a sort of psychic discharge.

Reitler understands the story of the headless queen (Maria) and the king with two heads, who gives one to the queen, as a symbolic representation of bisexuality.

In the last scene, Reitler interprets the ghost of Moritz as a representation of the wish to return to infantile sexuality, whereas the Masked Gentleman represents the sexuality of the adult. Both figures are merely projections of the struggle which is going on in Melchior’s soul.

From the standpoint of the theory of sexuality, no fault can be found with Wedekind. One might possibly consider it an omission that he does not sufficiently emphasize the important of the erotogenic zones in presexual life [for later development].

In commenting on the process involved in Wedekind’s creativity, Reitler refers to Professor Freud’s observation that Jensen in his ‘Gradiva’ gives a correct clinical description of the development of a delusional idea[iv]. Replying to an inquiry, Jensen stated that he came upon this intuitively, without any knowledge of the clinical picture, let alone of the mechanisms of delusional ideas. Wedekind cannot be considered equally uninformed.

Sigmund Freud starts the discussion which is also available on LacanianWorks – See Freud’s comments on Wedekind’s ‘Spring Awakening’ : 13 th February 1907 or here

[i] An English translation of Wedekind’s ‘Spring Awakening’ is available here.

[ii] Quoted from: Minutes of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, Volume I: 1906-1908 edited by Herman Nunberg & Ernst Federn, translated by M. Nunberg, International Universities Press, Inc. New York, 1962, Page 111 – See Freud’s comments on Wedekind’s ‘Spring Awakening’ : 13 th February 1907 or here

[iii] Quoted from: Minutes of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, Volume I: 1906-1908 edited by Herman Nunberg & Ernst Federn, translated by M. Nunberg, International Universities Press, Inc. New York, 1962 Page 111-112 – see Freud’s comments on Wedekind’s ‘Spring Awakening’ : 13 th February 1907 or here

[iv] Footnote added by Julia Evans: Quote ‘Norbert Hanold’s condition is often spoken of by the author as a ‘delusion’, and we have no reason to reject that designation. We can state two chief charateristics of a ‘delusion’, which do not, it is true, describe it exhaustively, but which distinguish it recognizably from other disorders. In the first place it is one of the group of pathological states which do not produce a direct effect upon the body but are manifested only by mental indications. And secondly it is characterized by the fact that in it ‘phantasies’ have gained the upper hand – that is, have obtained belief and have acquired an influence on action.’ Sigmund Freud in Chapter II of ‘Delusions and dreams in Jensen’s Gradiva’ (published 1907 [written 1906]), p 77 Penguin Freud Library: Vol 14: Art and Literature, 1985. First published in English in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud by the Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis, London: Vol IX: 1959

Watch the video: Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind, live. (June 2022).


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