Tuesday, March 09, 2010


Any fool can have bad luck; the art consists in knowing how to exploit it.
- Frank Wedekind

In 1918, Bertolt Brecht attended the funeral of German playwright Frank Wedekind who had died on this day that year. He later wrote in his diary, "They stood perplexed in top hats, as if round the carcass of a vulture. Bewildered crows."
Wedekind was a major influence on Brecht, with whom he had much in common — both were once cabaret singers, both were controversial pioneers in theatrical form, both critics of bourgeois culture driven to exile by censorship.

Wedekind was a moralist who wore the mask of an immoralist, he had been the terror of the German bourgeoisie, alternately praised for being a saint and condemned for being a devil. He did not follow any group, or subscribe to any political ideology of the day. And his expressionistic visions preceded the rise of expressionism by several decades.

During Frank Wedekind's lifetime, his plays were persecuted and only performed in censored versions. They were considered pure pornography, for he dared to deal with issues of sexual freedom and release, problems of puberty, moments of ecstasy between the sexes, and moments of misunderstanding and violence. Wedekind's language was brilliant and poetic, constructed mainly of cascades of short one-line sentences often consisting of only one or two words, like verbal exchanges between pistols. His plays broke through all the clichés of the theatre of his time, and today he is considered one of the founders of modern drama. He has most recently become familiar through the recent revival of his play Spring Awakening, but my primary appreciation of his work has its source in Alban Berg's opera Lulu, an adaptation of Wedekind's play Pandora's Box.


Philip M Ward said...

James, you may be interested to know that Wedekind's profile is about to rise higher with the first appearance in English of his novella Mine-Haha, published by Hesperus Press, London (with a cover endorsement from Marianne Faithfull, no less).

James said...

Thanks for your informative comment. I will look for the novella as my interest in Wedekind has been whetted and could use further nourishment.