Theatre: Woyzeck

A play (actually just a fragment) by Georg Büchner, who died in 1837 while working on it. Revolutionary for its time because up until that period, tragedy as a genre was reserved for stories about the upper classes. Its companion piece is Büchner's play Leonce and Lena, which conversely is a scathing comedy about the upper classes — a concept that was just as taboo.

Franz Woyzeck is a soldier with a child out of wedlock. To help make his living, he does odd jobs for his commanding officer and participate in "medical" experiments. He's gone completely crazy - seeing apocalyptic visions everywhere - but no one seems interested in that. When his wife, out of a mixture of boredom and hopelessness, begins seeing a Drum Major, Woyzeck lashes out.

The unfinished manuscript was edited and "completed" by Karl Emil Franzos in 1879, and this version was first performed on stage in Munich in 1913. Alban Berg adapted the play into the Opera Wozzeck, which received its first complete performance in Berlin in 1925.

In 1979, Werner Herzog had just finished filming a remake of Nosferatu. After almost spending a week without making a movie, he got to work on Woyzeck, which became one of his most beloved films.

Tom Waits and Robert Wilson have written a Rock Opera based on the play. Waits' song "Children's Story" from Orphans, Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards was also lifted from "Woyzeck". Alban Berg also composed an opera, titled Wozzeck.

The unfinished drama by Georg Büchner provides examples of:

  • Based on a True Story: Woyzeck is based on the case of the real-life soldier Johann Christian Woyzeck (1780-1824), who was executed in Leipzig after murdering a widow out of jealousy and a lengthy trial and several expertises on his mental state. Büchner however also incorporated elements from other murder cases that happened during his lifetime and the experiments conducted by Justus von Liebig with a pea diet.
  • Female Gaze: "She [Marie] gazes through seven pairs of leather pants!" Said by another woman.
  • Mildly Military: The military doesn't seem to do anything but drive Woyzeck crazy.
  • No Name Given: Drum Major. The Doctor. The Captain. The Workmen. This is important in the case of the first three, as they are authority figures who wield power over Woyzeck.
  • There Are No Psychologists: Woyzeck is clearly mad because of the abuse he's under, but no one seems to care, least of all The Doctor. His best friend tries to get him to go to the infirmary, to no avail. Justified in that psychology kind of didn't exist yet.
  • Tested On Humans: Woyzeck's pea diet is based on an actual experiment conducted by chemist Justus von Liebig: For three months a number of soldiers of the Hessian army were fed nothing but pease porridge (in order to test if peas could be used as a cheap source of protein), resulting in symptoms very much like those displayed by Woyzeck in the play.

The movie by Werner Herzog provides examples of:

  • Kick the Dog: The Drum Major beats up the tiny, underfed Woyzeck after he finds out Woyzeck knows about his wife's affair. And the Doctor throws his cat out the window to see how it lands on its feet.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: The Doctor:
    Doctor: Didn't I tell you that the Urethral Sphincter is subject to the will!?.
    • Oddly enough, he seems to be the most cheerful of all the characters.
      • In Alban Berg's opera, he's listed as a buffo bass. Buffo.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: A string quartet plays the same song over Woyzeck's humiliating PT in the opening credit, Marie dancing with the Drum Major, and Woyzeck's murder of Marie.

The Waits/Wilson rock opera provides examples of:


Alternative Title(s):

Wozzeck