The Othello of Sand Alley

Issue 1/1989 | Archives online, Drama, Fiction

Eeva-Liisa Manner’s Woyzeck is an independent ending to Georg Büchner’s fragmentary play. Introduction by Riitta Pohjola

PROLOGUE

(Dawn in the market square of Leipzig. A gallows looms, dimly visible in the distance. Brisk rumble of drums.)

1st WOMAN

What’s going on here?

1st MAN

They’re getting ready for an execution. Some villain’s going to be executed in public.

1st WOMAN

Who?

2nd WOMAN

Franz Woyzeck. I guess you know him, the barber.

1st MAN

No, he was a soldier, a military valet. He shaved the beard of his master, the captain. And cleaned up the regiment eunuchs if he had to.

1st WOMAN

So why are they going to kill him?

1st MAN

An eye for an eye. Killed his old woman.

1st WOMAN

Did he have a wife? Wasn’t that woman…

1st MAN

Yeah, sure. A whore.

2nd WOMAN

They did have a child, Kristian. My god, how he cried when they took his father away! They came for Franz in the middle of the night and carried him off in chains and leg irons. And the kid grabbed hold of his father’s trousers and ran right along underfoot. Wanted to go with him, but they yanked him off, rough as anything.

1st WOMAN

Where’ll the child end up now?

1st MAN

The orphanage, of course.

1st WOMAN

Poor kid.

1st MAN

And in the orphanage he could well grow into a murderer too.

2nd WOMAN

Maybe they won’t put him in an orphanage. He’s got a grandmother… but she’s crippled and doesn’t know much about things of this world.

1st WOMAN

Just as well she doesn’t.

2nd MAN

Well, then she knows all the more about things to come. She can predict – she predicted that huge battle when Napoleon was still at the peak of his glory.

1st WOMAN

What battle was that?

2nd MAN

You know, the Leipzig war where half a million soldiers fought.

1st MAN

Oh, yeah, the one where Napoleon burnt his trousers.

2nd MAN

Right. And the old woman knows how to cast spells and do healing. She’s quite a healer, a real witch.

1st WOMAN

How do you know? Has she cured you of anything?

2nd WOMAN

Well, anyway she used magic to get warts off my fingers, warts nothing had ever managed to take off. We’d tried brimstone, lapis lazuli, and asafetida. She cast a spell and got then right off, she’s that much of a witch.

1st WOMAN

Cast a spell? How’d she pretend to do that?

2nd MAN

She tied up the warts three times with a hair, held my hand in the fading light of the moon, and recited an incantation that was Greek to me. I didn’t believe it one bit, laughed into my beard, and shoved off home to my own bed. But next morning the warts were gone.

1st WOMAN

Bah, warts. It’s all the same if you have them or don’t.

2nd MAN

It’s not all the same to an instrument maker. Maybe it is to a stone-cutter, but a violin maker had better have sensitive hands. And she’s cured others too, really sick ones.

1st WOMAN

Who?

2nd MAN

Well, the Keller woman, who had that blood disease.

1st MAN

Where was she bleeding from?

2nd MA N

Idiot. Where do women bleed?

1st WOMA N

Might have been cancer?

2nd MAN

Might have been, but she got better.

1st MAN

But the woman can’t heal herself, can she? Heals everyone else with asafetida and magic spells but can’t help herself.

1st WOMAN

If you had the least bit of faith…

2nd MAN

She’s got faith, all right. It wasn’t lack of faith that made her go lame, just old age. She’s already 77.

1st WOMAN

Well, then the child will end up in an orphanage.

2nd WOMAN

Better for the poor kid.

1st WOMAN

Who’s taking care of the crippled old woman?

2nd MAN

Neighbors look in on her and bring her food. And I guess she gets a few pennies from the poor relief or the church.

(The sound of drumming.)

1st WOMAN

What are they drumming about now?

1st MAN

The execution, of course. They’re calling everyone to watch the killing.

1st WOMAN

Why do they always do executions in the morning darkness?

1st MAN

So people won’t see the blood. They might go wild and end up in some kind of rebellion. And they’re scared of that like the devil.

*

(1) THE TRIAL

(Woyzeck’s hearing.
A courtroom. Schnauzer the prosecutor, Memme the judge, Nagel the counsel for the defense, and Woyzeck. A court officer brings in Woyzeck.)

MEMME

Silence! (Raps the table with his gavel, then sinks into himself and soon falls asleep.)

PROSECUTOR

Franz Woyzeck. Address: Sand Alley, Leipzig; born on the day of the Annunciation of Mary 1780; served in the Magdeburg garrison as military valet to Captain Durchschuss; murdered showing extreme cruelty, his mistress Maria Magdalena Nudel on the 21st of July 1821. Does he confess to this?

WOYZECK

I confess.

PROSECUTOR

Was it a premeditated act?

(Woyzeck is silent.)

PROSECUTOR

He falls silent like Jesus Christ before Pilate.

(The judge stirs, goes on sleeping.) He has often been seen drunk and disorderly, and he has also beaten his woman, Maria Magdalena. Does Woyzeck confess?

(Woyzeck remain s silent.)

PROSECUTOR:

He’s silent like a drunken Jesus Christ. Well, Franz Woyzeck, how did the murder take place? Let’s have it!

(Woyzeck still remains silent.)

PROSECUTOR

I repeat: how did the murder take place? Does he hear?

WOYZECK

I can’t remember.

NAGEL

Your honor! (Memme sleeps.) Mister Prosecutor General! If it was a primitive reaction, he surely can’t remember. In the grip of a primitive reaction, the memory is often erased.

PROSECUTOR

But that was no primitive reaction. I maintain it was a premeditated act. He planned it, purchased a knife from a Jewish traveling salesman, then talked over his plan with his bunkmate. – Woyzeck, were you drunk when you committed the deed?

WOYZECK

I’d had a couple of beers during the day, but I wasn’t drunk.

PROSECUTOR

Woyzeck, when did you get hold of the murder weapon?

WOYZECK

A couple of days earlier. From the junkman.

PROSECUTOR

Was it old junk?

WOYZECK

No, it was new.

PROSECUTOR

But now it’s been used. Slightly used is better than new, isn’t it? So the accused admits planning the murder.

WOYZECK

No. I didn’t plan it. I just had to do it.

PROSECUTOR

What do you mean, ‘had to’?

WOYZECK

It was sort of… something I couldn’t get out of my mind. I got down on my knees in church and prayed to God, but a lot of help that did me.

PROSECUTOR

So what obsessed you? Was it jealousy, Othello of Sand Alley?

(Woyzeck is silent.)

NAGEL

Your honor, may I speak a moment? (Memme sleeps.) Mister Prosecutor, his woman had a lover and it’s humiliating for him to tell about it.

PROSECUTOR

Is it more humiliating to admit that his mistress had a lover than to premeditated murder?

NAGEL

Sometimes it can be more humiliating.

PROSECUTOR

Why?

NAGEL

If a man has been humiliated, he doesn’t want to humiliate himself even more by talking about it.

PROSECUTOR

Is that the case, Woyzeck?

WOYZECK

I don’t know. I don’t remember.

PROSECUTOR

But you remembered the murder and confessed to it even though you didn’t admit it was premeditated.

WOYZECK

I can’t recall exactly. All I can remember is that I got into some kind of panic and I stabbed and stabbed. The next day I went to the spot to look for the knife.

PROSECUTOR

So, Woyzeck does remember where the crime took place?

WOYZECK

No. I looked for the spot a long time.

PROSECUTOR

And you found the knife and destroyed it.

WOYZECK

I threw it into the pond.

PROSECUTOR

So the intention was to conceal the crime?

WOYZECK

Yes.

PROSECUTOR

So, Woyzeck confesses attempting to conceal an intentional and premeditated crime?

WOYZECK

I confess the attempt to conceal. I confess to the crime. Premeditated, no.

NAGEL

Mister Prosecutor, he did not consciously premeditate it, not intentionally. I suggest that it was not murder, but manslaughter.

PROSECUTOR

A ‘nail-headed’ suggestion, Mr Nagel, but let’s hear the witnesses. Summon Woyzeck’s comrade-in-arms.

(Lights out.)

*

(2) EXAMINATION OF WOYZECK’S BUNKMATE, ANDRES MUTTER

PROSECUTOR

Private Andres Mutter, comrade-in-arms of the accused – for how long?

MUTTER

Two and a half years.

PROSECUTOR

Did he speak with you about his plans?

MUTTER

What plans?

PROSECUTOR

Murder. That’s what we’re talking about. Murder, damn it.

MUTTER

No. He was in some kind of state and was giving me his belongings.

PROSECUTOR

What belongings?

MUTTER

Vest, socks, shirt, some passages from the Bible, a bookmark…

PROSECUTOR

Ahead of time?

MUTTER

Sure. You can’t get rid of all that afterwards. That’s when others do it.

PROSECUTOR

Well, I guess so. Did he talk with you about his woman, that Maria Magdalena Nudel?

MUTTER

He talked about his wife. Wife, that’s what he called her. He was hurt when Maria went with the other one. And he heard voices. PROSECUTOR

What voices?

MUTTER

I don’t know. He said he heard some kind of talk coming out of the wall.

PROSECUTOR

What kind of talk was that supposed to be?

MUTTER

‘Stab the bitch to death. Stab the bitch to death.’

PROSECUTOR

Is that what he was saying?

MUTTER

Yes. Or was ranting.

PROSECUTOR

So, he projected his own thoughts outside?

MUTTER

Sir, I don’t understand what you mean.

PROSECUTOR

He doesn’t understand. (To the defense attorney.) Put it into plain language for him, Counsellor Nagel.

NAGEL

If he heard speech coming from the wall he sort of projected those sounds onto the wall. Is that clear, Mutter?

MUTTER

I don’t know. I don’t know what he projected.

NAGEL

The theory of projection means that you project your own voices to the outside – onto a wall or to some other people, so that you don’t recognise them as your own. In this case, the words ‘Stab the bitch to death’, and thus onto the wall.

PROSECUTOR

That is to say, his conscience repelled them, projected them away. ‘Stab the bitch to death.’ Well, Mutter, what did you say to that?

MUTTER

I said, ‘Take a good, fiery swig of brandy, it’ll kill the fever.’

PROSECUTOR

What, did he have a fever?

MUTTER

That I don’t know, but he sure was in pain. Shivering and delirious.

MEMME

(who has waked up:) The accused must be examined. Call the court doctor Dr Semmel to examine him. (Nods off again)

PROSECUTOR

Mutter, what did you think of his mistress?

MUTTER

Me? I didn’t think anything of her. I wasn’t her lover. (Laughter from the balcony.) But the guys, they really went for her. One of the drummers said, ‘Look, look, a hot mare!’

PROSECUTOR

Well, was she hot?

MUTTER

Mister Prosecutor, I don’t know ’cause I never patted her. (Laughter.)

PROSECUTOR

What about Woyzeck? What did he say?

MUTTER

As I already told you, he called her his wife. ‘Got to go home, the wife is waiting.’ When I’d ask him to stop off for a beer, he’d say, ‘No, I’ll take the money to my wife.’ And they did have the child, Kristian, whom Woyzeck spoke of as his own. So I guess she was a wife.

PROSECUTOR

As you wish. In the old days they were called ‘a pair of wolves’.

MUTTER

Woyzeck called her ‘wolf’ too. ‘Stab the wolfbitch to death’, that’s what his voice said.

PROSECUTOR

Well, well. The inner voices are on the mark, all right. This whole case is beginning to be clear-cut. All right, you’re dismissed.

(Lights out.)

*

(3) EXAMINATION OF CAPTAIN DURCHSCHUSS

PROSECUTOR

All right, Captain Durchschuss, what do you have to say about Woyzeck’s case?

CAPTAIN

Sad, very sad. But I guess it was to be expected.

PROSECUTOR

What do you mean, ‘to be expected’?

CAPTAIN

Well, living with a woman out of wedlock. When I told him I didn’t approve of it, he said, ‘Sir, you see, it’s the money, the money. When you don’t have money, you bring bastards like yourself into the world.’

PROSECUTOR

Bastards like himself? Was he a bastard, then?

CAPTAIN

I doubt it, I don’t know, he may have been. I thought it was more like a figure of speech.

PROSECUTOR

Ah. So you think by saying ‘bastard’ he just meant ‘poor devil’ or something like that. And what did you think he was like, this poor devil Woyzeck?

CAPTAIN

A good man, a good man. But always agitated, very worked up. Thought too much about things. It’s no good for a simple person to think too much, that’ll only make him soft in the head, as we’ve seen.

PROSECUTOR

In what way was he ‘soft in the head’?

CAPTAIN

Out of his mind. Off the rails. Didn’t listen when I reprimanded him; was lost in his own thoughts. And after all, he was my military valet, my woodcutter, my bootjack. He should have listened!

PROSECUTOR

And what about his intelligence, what would you say about that, Captain Durchschuss?

CAPTAIN

He was stupid, really terribly stupid. When I said in jest ‘the wind is from the north-south’, he answered , ‘Yes, sir, Captain.’

PROSECUTOR

Just a minute ago you said he thought too much – philosophised?

CAPTAIN

Well, I guess you don’t need intelligence for that. He thought and thought about the mystery of the universe ‘philosophically’, but not rationally. He was like a child sitting on a chair so high that his feet don’t reach the floor.

PROSECUTOR

Do you believe the crime was premeditated all the same?

CAPTAIN

I wonder whether Woyzeck thought over anything rationally, the poor dreamer. Once he said to me, right in the middle of the street, ‘Look up, Captain, sir, the sky’s so firm and hard you could nail a pulley up there and hang yourself on it.’ That’s the kind of nonsense he would come out with, like a poet.

PROSECUTOR

He talked nonsense?

CAPTAIN

He was raving.

PROSECUTOR

You mean to say he was out of his mind?

CAPTAIN

Sure, sure. Really off his rocker. You could see it in his eyes. Looked at me like a cannon.

PROSECUTOR

Like he wanted to shoot you?

CAPTAIN

Well, I guess not necessarily me, but just let everything go off into the air with a big bang. Once he was muttering to himself, ‘Why doesn’t God say one word and put out the sun so that all creatures could run riot, people and animals all mixed up.’

PROSECUTOR

So is he violent by nature?

CAPTAIN

No, I wouldn’t say so. I never in my life saw him violent. He was a good man, a good man. He went to pieces out of jealousy and humiliation when the woman’s lover beat him within an inch of his life. He didn’t attack her lover, it was the other way around. He was the one who was attacked.

PROSECUTOR

But he beat his wife?

CAPTAIN

Maybe he beat her. I don’t know for sure. It’s not that unusual for soldiers to beat their wives. I heard rumours from the others, and I once told him I didn’t approve. But he was as quiet as a ram being led to the slaughter.

PROSECUTOR

A ram? So he was more sheep than raging bull?

CAPTAIN

More like a sheep. Or let’s say a goat. For me he was a goat.

PROSECUTOR

Was? All this time you’ve been talking about him in the past tense, as if he were dead.

CAPTAIN

That’s what you’ve been doing too. And for me he is dead.

(Lights out.)

*

(4) EXAMINATION OF THE NEIGHBOR’S WIFE

PROSECUTOR

Have you known the accused for a long time, Mrs Ketzer?

NEIGHBOR

We’ve been neighbors on Sand Alley for a year and a half.

PROSECUTOR

What’s your opinion about the murder?

NEIGHBOR

Hell, I have no opinion. Nobody usually asks me what I think.

PROSECUTOR

I’m asking you now!

NEIGHBOR

But I simply don’t have any opinions.

PROSECUTOR

So you don’t think the murder was cruel?

NEIGHBOR

No, because I didn’t see it.

PROSECUTOR

Well, I guess you didn’t. But I can act it out, show you how it went. (Takes a paper-knife from the table, limps from his desk to Margareta Ketzer and acts out the murder scene in front of her. He has a clubfoot; his left shoe is thick-soled and shapeless. A voice calls from the audience: ‘Cement shoe.’) This is how he stabbed, and this, and this, without stopping; seven slashes, and her throat almost cut through. If that isn’t a cruel murder, then what is?

NEIGHBOR

Sure, if that’s how it went. But that woman was a filthy whore. Turned all trousers inside out with her eyes, that’s the sort of whore she was.

PROSECUTOR

And you think it’s all right to kill ‘that sort of whore’, or what?

NEIGHBOR

I didn’t say that. Don’t go twisting my words around, judge. Besides, she’s been killed off already. It does no good to dig it all up, and what the hell does it have to do with me, anyway? Don’t you go grilling me. Grill Franz, he’s the one who knows if anyone does, or maybe he doesn’t.

PROSECUTOR

He’s been interrogated already, and soon he’ll be grilled by the court doctor. We just want to know the whole truth, and you were the closest neighbor of the accused.

NEIGHBOR

Yeah, well, I sure was close, so close I often wanted to be far away from there.

PROSECUTOR

Why?

NEIGHBOR

When they’d have a fight on the other side of the wall.

PROSECUTOR

Did Woyzeck beat his wife?

NEIGHBOR

I don’t know who beat whom, but you could sure hear banging noises and that man Franz was often drunk.

PROSECUTOR

And did he beat her when he was drunk?

NEIGHBOR

I didn’t say that. That woman was a devil herself, could well be that she beat Franz. And anyway, you couldn’t stand that hag without being drunk, she had such a terrible mouth. And then she started her little game with the drum major of the regiment and there sure was a lot of amorous banging around. But I won’t talk about that – mustn’t speak evil of the dead.

PROSECUTOR

Only of the living, right? But you don’t say anything bad about Woyzeck, do you?

NEIGHBOR

No, why should I? He hasn’t done anything bad to me. And poor Franz was hurt so bad. Maria’s lover, that brazen drum major, beat him to a pulp and screamed, ‘I’ll twist you double so your nose’ll be a plug for your ass.’ I saw and heard it myself, in the tavern.

PROSECUTOR

So, you go to taverns?

NEIGHBOR

Just to go get my husband. I sure don’t go to them for fun. And now I’ve got to go home and make some food for the little brats. Don’t bother me anymore.

PROSECUTOR

We’re not going to bother you, don’t get excited when there’s no reason. I realise you don’t understand how important matters are under consideration and how you should behave at a solemn occasion.

NEIGHBOR

Solemn, my foot! The judge up there like a moth-eaten old mole – that ancient one who’s dressed like a mad bishop with his wig all askew – has slept just about the whole time. The great dignity of the house hasn’t kept him from sleeping. (Memme stirs, opens his eyes slightly, and continues dozing.) I’d rather sleep, too, when there are such dumb, nasty faces all around.

PROSECUTOR

Witness Ketzer! He’s an eminent old judge and he isn’t sleeping, he’s thinking. And even if he were asleep, his subconscious would be working.

NEIGHBOR

What conscious? Ass-conscious, or what? But Woyzeck can’t sleep, he just trembles. No wonder, with a limping devil that looks like a gargoyle picking on him. And others are tormenting him, too; they’ve been after him for a year and a half now.

PROSECUTOR

What do you mean, Ketzer, you heretic?! Who’s tormenting him, and how?

NEIGHBOR

Klapper, the regiment doctor, who walks around with his bones rattling. With scientific experiments. The way they’ve been going at Woyzeck is that he’s been given nothing to eat but beans for half a year. The doctor said he was conducting immortal experiments and would explode everything into the air. What everything, I’d like to ask. Woyzeck’s lost it already, quaking like an aspen. He’s not afraid, I don’t believe that. It’s just that his nerves are all messed up. What’s he got to be afraid of, ’cause he doesn’t have a thing left except for the brat, that boy, but the kid’s so small, just a little over three, he can’t be a pal yet, more like he’s trouble. And the boy’s really scared, all stirred up.

PROSECUTOR

What’s he scared of? Make it snappy.

NEIGHBOR

Well, what with the mother threatening him and scaring him with gypsies and bogeymen, any little kid would go crazy. It’s clear that Woyzeck’s a victim of ‘science’, science or art, all the same shit, every bit of it. Experimental guinea pig, he was, sacrificial lamb or ram, and sure enough , a ram will tremble when they’re cutting off its head.

PROSECUTOR

Clean up your language, witness Ketzer. Don’t exaggerate!

NEIGHBOR

Exaggerate! What you’re driving at all the time is to get Franz’s head, isn’t that how it is? The executioner’s already sharpening his axe. (The presiding judge raps the table with his gavel.) Theatre, that’s what this is, some kind of show in which Woyzeck, the pour devil, is the pawn, crazy from beans and gone so skinny he can’t keep his trousers up without holding them. And they’ve already written the last act, the one in which Franz is carted off to the dump. Keep your theatre and your silly judges. Woyzeck doesn’t need a ‘big lawyer’; he needs a ‘pig driver’ and a damned big steak.

PROSECUTOR

No slandering the court! I will punish you for slander and defamation of this august body. You’ll get a ten day fine according to Article 21.

NEIGHBOR

Damned if I’ll pay your fine. How could I pay when I don’t have a thing? Drunken, out-of­-work husband takes every penny he earns from odd jobs over to the tavern, five hungry kids howling at my feet, and a sixth kicking under my belly-button!

PROSECUTOR

Fifteen day-fines for prolonged libel! And if you haven’t got the wherewitha l to pay it, it’ll be jail on bread and water for you. No use complaining, witness Ketzer, you’ll be eating the State’s bread.

NEIGHBOR

The State! Want me to tell you what kind of State this is? A miserable, miserly kingdom that squeezes tithes out of people’s bodies!

MEMME

(Raps with his gavel.) Remove the troublemaker!

(The court officer takes Margareta Ketzer out of the courtroom.)

*

(5) EXAMINATION OF DOCTOR SEMMEL, COURT MEDICAL EXPERT

PROSECUTOR

Doctor Semmel, Doctor of Medicine and Surgery, Royal Counsellor to the Court, you have now examined the case of Woyzeck?

SEMMEL

Yes, Mister Prosecutor. He has an aberration, aberratio mentalis, connected with an otherwise normal intelligence.

PROSECUTOR

So you’re saying he isn’t mentally deficient?

SEMMEL

No, Mister Prosecutor. On the contrary, on the contrary.

PROSECUTOR

What do you mean, then? Above-normal intelligence?

SEMMEL

Yes, in a way. He philosophszes, thinks, ponders universal questions, the mystery of the universe.

PROSECUTOR

Well, is he getting anywhere?

SEMMEL

With what?

PROSECUTOR

The universal mystery.

SEMMEL

I don’t really know. You’ll have to ask him yourself.

PROSECUTOR

Doctor, Counsellor to the Court, you’d better ask him.

SEMMEL

Is this a cross-examination, or what? – Well, are you getting it all figured out, Woyzeck? What are you thinking? Or simply: what interests you?

WOYZECK

The soul, Doctor, the soul.

SEMMEL

Nothing else?

WOYZECK God, maybe.

SEMMEL

So it’s God and the soul that interest you. Isn’t there anything else?

WOYZECK

SEMMEL

So, the salvation of the soul, right?

WOYZECK

If God exists, he’ll save the soul, that’s for sure. Because he’s the highest mutilator, he won’t toss the soul onto the scrap heap.

SEMMEL

Ah, that’s how it is. The highest mutilator will save your soul, Woyzeck, right?

WOYZECK

Yes, and Maria’s. And all sinners’. But I think that when we get to heaven we’ll have to help out with the rumbling of thunder.

SEMMEL

That’s a job, too. Is it just the souls of sinners that God saves?

WOYZECK

Yes. I don’t think the sinless ones need salvation. Not the doctor, or the judge, or the chief justice who’s sleeping up there.

SEMMEL

Why won’t he need salvation?

WOYZECK

He who sleeps doesn’t sin.

SEMMEL

But I’m not sleeping and neither is the prosecutor.

WOYZECK

No, he’s keeping watch. He’s a wise virgin, he has oil in his lamp.

SEMMEL

(To the prosecutor.) You see, sir, Woyzeck is quickwitted, very quick-witted. Rational, and hence responsible.

NAGEL

May I speak, Mister Chief Justice?

PROSECUTOR

No use asking. He’s asleep.

NAGEL

It’s quite possible that this is a case of mixing up intelligence and mental powers and forgetting his physical condition. Sir, what is your opinion about the clinical tests that were performed on him?

SEMMEL

Who did them, and when, and where?

NAGEL

The regimental doctor, in the Magdeburg garrison, before the fatal event. For half a year, he had nothing to eat but beans, and hunger was always gnawing at him. He’s told about it, hasn’t he?

SEMMEL

Well, nothing wrong with beans. Foolish to think there’s protein only in meat. There’s a good bit of it in beans, too. I see no problem with a bean diet, and there’s no harm in a supervised fast, either. The body is cleansed of wastes and keeps on eating itself. Our Lord fasted for forty days, didn’t eat even a single bean, and his soul didn’t come to any harm.

NAGEL

How do you know? He got the messiah fever and told his spiritual guerillas: go and make all nations my disciples. And that’s what they did. And what’s come of it? Crusades, blood baths, the Inquisition and auto-da-fé… When they got rid of the Virgin Mary they started to give women and children criminally poor treatment. And then Luther arrived. Jesus sure should have known his Jews better than that.

SEMMEL

But the subject Woyzeck isn’t Jesus.

NAGEL

And you’re not Judas, or are you? Truly he isn’t Jesus, and he was eating himself on a bean fast for two hundred days. One doesn’t have to have studied medicine to know that a radical diet will make a strong man debilitated and weak, in this case even confused. ‘The subject’ Woyzeck does many other things besides shaving his captain’s beard and polishing his boots – he does donkey work. He chops the firewood and lugs it to the barracks, and…

SEMMEL

Do donkeys chop wood?

NAGEL

If that was a question, I’m not going to answer it. A propos, doctor, what is aberratio mentalis?

SEMMEL

I explained at the beginning of one of the sessions. You should have listened.

NAGEL

I’m like Woyzeck. I don’t remember.

SEMMEL

Aberratio mentalis – here you’ll have to do your homework again – is hallucination, delusion of sense perception, but it’s connected with otherwise normal intelligence; therefore, Q.E.D., the delusions don’t lessen his responsibility.

NAGEL

What kinds of delusions did he have?

SEMMEL

What kinds, Woyzeck? Woyzeck will tell you himself. Let’s have it, bootjack and soldier of Christ.

WOYZECK

I had a vision. In the sky there were three huge fires – it was the holy Trinity and in the middle, the biggest fire, was the defender of light, Christ himself.

PROSECUTOR

The Christ who will save you, right?

WOYZECK

I hope and believe so, Mister Prosecutor.

PROSECUTOR

You believe or you hope?

WOYZECK

I hope and believe. God is the highest mutilator, but Christ has mercy and gathers us to him, and –

PROSECUTOR

God the greatest mutilator? What are you rattling on about, Musketeer Woyzeck?

WOYZECK

Yes. Yes. He let his only son be killed, with whom he was greatly pleased. And he commanded Abraham to kill Isaac, although he took back the order when Abraham was just about to kill his son.

PROSECUTOR

Well, well, so that’s how it is. You’ve been born again, Woyzeck, whether it’s because of guilt, loneliness, or beans. Because you have Christ, you have no need for earthly defenders. The earthly verdict is this: guilty of murder in the first degree. What do you say to that, Doctor Semmel?

SEMMEL

I am not the judge. The high court knows better. I do not say that he is guilty, only that he is responsible.

PROSECUTOR

Chief Justice Memme, sir?

MEMME

(Wakes up.) Guilty. (Raps his gavel. Then waves an arm toward the balcony.) Out, citizens, out. Go home. If you have a home. The session is over.

(Lights go out one by one. Darkness.)

*

(6) SCHNAUZER AND NAGEL AT THE COURTROOM DOOR

NAGEL

Shall we go, Schnauzer? (Looks at his pocket watch.) My watch has stopped. Have you got the right time?

PROSECUTOR

I always have the right time, Nagel! People could set their watches by my comings and goings.

NAGEL

Then you must be a bit like Kant.

PROSECUTOR

I am a Kantian in that I have a moral sense of duty.

NAGEL

You’re very cold and hard towards poor mixed-up devils. Kant wasn’t like that.

PROSECUTOR

Kant was not a jurist. I am. Still, I hold to the ethics of responsibility in the spirit of Kant. I am on the side of the categorical imperative!

NAGEL

Haven’t you misunderstood your Kant?

PROSECUTOR

It’s impossible to misunderstand Kant. One either grasps him correctly or not at all. Kant and a Kantian thinker don’t take into consideration anything outside of morality.

NAGEL

But I think Kant himself did take other things into consideration. He wouldn’t have condemned little people without taking into account the circumstances in which the wrongdoing took place.

PROSECUTOR

Really? But it makes no sense to take circumstances into consideration, for it’s quite impossible to know everything about them. According to Kant, causality is one of the categories of thought, and I cannot reflect anything but my own categories. Therefore, I have to stick to facts – that thieves are thieves, murderers are murderers, and prosecutors are prosecutors, regardless of the circumstances.

NAGEL

And by what right do you judge poor cracked-up devils?

PROSECUTOR

I don’t judge, I only prosecute. The court does the judging, by authority of the statutes of the kingdom, by right of the axe and sword. And not only to punish and to prevent the perpetration of new evil deeds, but to cancel out a crime: the crime is written inch by inch on the hide of the criminal and in this way is turned back on himself, rendered null and void.

NAGEL

That’s superstitious rubbish.

PROSECUTOR

That is the magical side of punishment. The moral side is that one must educate the people, train them like stupid donkeys. Straw in the trough and a whip on the hind quarters! Right now there’s some damned lunatic in the square, inciting the people to riot, screaming so loud the courthouse windows are rattling.

NAGEL

Let him scream. There’s lots of room for noise in the square.

PROSECUTOR

You pretend to be a humanist, while at the same time revolution is running all along our borders and making guerilla incursions here as well. Better look at France, how things went there, very badly indeed. They certainly drew the wrath of God down on themselves. Revolution is like a hog that eats its young. If that mad agitator is successful, before long we’ll all be dangling from a lamppost, the whole courtroom gang: I, Memme, and even you, donkey-driver Nagel, although you pretend to be on the side of the donkey.

NAGEL

Have you ever thought how much your intense coldness comes out of your sense of inferiority and lust for power?

PROSECUTOR

You damned Nagel, what the hell do you mean by ‘a feeling of inferiority’? On the contrary, I have a sense of superiority! I’ve managed to get the verdict I wanted in every one of my cases!

NAGEL

Are you sure that’s solely the result of your ability to attack and lay siege?

PROSECUTOR

Actually, no, it’s partly because our Chief Justice Memme is senile and usually sleeps or probably only pretends to sleep because he’s too frail and exhausted to have any interest in what’s going on at court.

NAGEL

And even so, he’s considered legally competent?

PROSECUTOR

Yes, because his sleep is as delicate and easily broken as that of a little child or a watchdog. It’s said that our mushy Memme has a brain tumor or heaven knows what rupture there, but I sure think it’s a very advanced stage of syphilis of the brain.

NAGEL

Well, then you yourself are actually the factotum of the court and bear all the more responsibility on your neck.

(Bell rings.)

PROSECUTOR

So that’s what you think. The bell’s ringing, so let’s go in and hear the verdict. Although it’s clear anyway – the decisions have always gone according to my instructions.

(Darkness.)

*

(7) REBELLION IN THE TOWN SQUARE

(A man, a woman, Woyzeck, and a rebel.)

1st WOMAN

Look, now they’re bringing him here. Fetters and all.

1st MAN

Oh, yeah, shackles around his ankles.

REBEL

(Running into the square, out of breath.)

Judicial murder! Judicial murder! It’s got to be stopped!

1st WOMAN

Wasn’t he guilty, after all?

REBEL

Guilty or not, he was sick. They did scientific experiments on him and he went off his head . Heard voices and saw visions. Once he saw three lights in the sky and he fell down unconscious. He’s a holy madman. Mustn’t kill people like that or we’ll have wars, earthquakes, floods.

(Rapid drumming. A deep sigh issues from the crowd of people, as if from underground, and someone screams hysterically, ‘That’s the way for murderers and thieves!’)

REBEL

That man sure wasn’t a thief, and Maria, his wolf-wife, got what she deserved. She cheated Franz something awful. Jilting a person may be worse than murder, she stole Franz’s trust and heart. And besides, she egged him on, begged him to drive a knife into her body. When she found the handsome new lover, that arrogant drum major, she threw Franz out and said: ‘Don’t even try! I’d rather take a knife into my body than let you touch me.’

1st MAN

Judicial murder or not, there’s no way we can stop it now. His head’s already in the sack.

REBEL

If we can’t stop it, let’s get revenge! Revolt! Revolt against the sort of justice that sentences to the wheel people who’ve been driven mad! Let’s set fire to the courthouse! First, let’s tear down the scaffold – that’ll be the kindling. Light up the Leipzig sky with the executioner’s lumber! On with it, comrades!

(They rush to the scaffold. Sounds of shattering wood. Crackling flames. A little later, as the din dies down, the clatter of cavalry hooves, which grows louder.)

2nd MAN

Listen! The militia’s coming! They’ll put down the revolt! Get away, quick!

(Amid the commotion, the stage goes dark. Silence.)

*

(8) THE PROSECUTOR’S MONOLOGUE

SCHNAUZER

(At the window of his own room.) Beautiful! Down below flows the silvery ribbon of the Elster, and the morning sun lights up the cross on the church. Why did the ancient Romans crucify their criminals? Well, of course, because then death came more slowly. The idea was to shame and humiliate them as much as to kill. Compared to that, Woyzeck got off easy. Only a hundred years ago all the pains were sliced up into a thousand deaths, and a couple of hundred years ago he would have been put on a wheel and broken joint by joint.

The original, magical intention of the wheel was, of course, to prevent resurrection. He ought to have been put on the wheel, Woyzeck the visionary. Some of them are so damned tough there’s no way you can get them to give up the ghost. Others are so fragile and weak that their spirit goes out of them like the fart of an old hag. I think this Woyzeck would have been more in the league of those fart-spirited. Well, now he isn’t breathing any more, his head’s been stuffed in a sack and they’ll soon be carting it off to the clump.

(Clopping of horse’s hooves; the prosecutor looks out.)

Halleluiah! There comes the Bamberg rider from the Bamberg Apocalypse. Now they’ve caught the agitator, got a rope under his armpits and are making him run behind the horse, run for his life, that’s for sure, run his legs to pieces! The horse as pale grey as the stallion of the Apocalypse. (Opens the window, shouts): Tie him up, tie that scoundrel to the war-horse’s tail and drag him off as fast as the plague! (Closes the window.) Well, the case goes on, doesn’t end with Woyzeck. Soon I’ll have another devil to deal with. (Tolling of church bells.) Why are they ringing now? Maybe a church service. When the church bells toll from heaven, an echo answers from hell. Hell and heaven! Open, hell! Show your torments!

(The tolling grows louder. One steeple after another joins in.)

An orgy of bells. What’s happened? Has a war started? Or eternal peace been declared? Or are they ringing for the quelling of that little revolt a while ago! (The clanging builds.) No. The devil take it, there’s got to be something bigger. What if the plague has come to our city? As far as I know, they’d ring then, too, sound an alarm with the church bells. The plague… Come up the Elbe by boat and is now wandering from house to house, drawing a cross on many a door, takes one, leaves another, sometimes passes by… Away! Away from this city! I’m not going to wait here for the black death. (Opens the window again, and the tolling fills the room. He shouts:) Who’ll give me a horse? My prosecutor’s post for a horse!

Nobody. The whole city is asleep, has fled or died. (Closes the window.) No, it can’t be the plague. The plague doesn’t fly by so fast; it limps along like a clubfoot. Stops short for a minute and then starts clumping along again.

Now I know, if the flagellators have come, they’re sure to be ringing too. Flagellators, to incite the people to revolt over Woyzeck’s execution, or what? The blood of the whip and the blood of Christ, verily a holy communion. Already I can smell the cloud of holy smoke, porca madonna. All night long the whip has felt the wound and rejoiced in it… Flagellants, beggars, proletarians… extortionists, barbarians!

(Clumps around the room looking for his things.)

My cane, my cudgel. Where’s my oak cane? May the plague take all.

(Tolling continues and fades. Darkness.)

*

EPILOGUE

(In the cottage of Franz Woyzeck’s mother. The old woman and her grandchild, now about five years old.)

Child:
‘I looked for a spring
and found a mud puddle.
I’m disappointed.’
Old woman:
‘I looked for bread
and found a stone. I’m used to it.’

GRANDMOTHER

(Reading a bad old fairy tale.) ‘Once upon a time there was a child who had no mother or father. Everyone had died and there was no longer anyone in the world. Everything was dead, and the child went to look for the day and the night. And since there was no one upon the earth , the child wanted to go to heaven, where the moon looked at him so very kindly, and when he got to the moon it was nothing but a chunk of rotten wood. And when he came to the sun it was a withered sunflower. And when he reached the stars they were golden insects that had been pierced, just the way a predatory bird impales bugs on thorns. And when he wanted to get back to earth, the earth was a bowl turned upside down. And he was all alone, and sat down and cried, and he still sits there all alone.’

KRISTIAN

Isn’t Father ever coming back?

GRANDMOTHER

No, Kristian.

KRISTIAN

Why not?

GRANDMOTHER

Because.

KRISTIAN

The boys in the alley said that when you die I’ll be sent to the poorhouse.

GRANDMOTHER

But I’m not going to die any too soon, don’t you fear.

KRISTIAN

But what about your being lame?

GRANDMOTHER

Only the right arm is lame, and the left one will learn everything the right one learned in its time.

KRISTIAN

But what if that one goes lame, too?

GRANDMOTHE R

Then the heart will go lame as well, and that’s up to God.

KRISTIAN

Why is God so mean to us?

GRANDMOTHER

You mustn’t blame God for the wicked things people do.

KRISTIAN

What if there isn’t any God? What if he’s dead?

GRANDMOTHER

You can meet God at any crossroads, and he’ll always speak to you, even though he himself is deaf.

KRISTIAN

How are we going to live now that Father won’t ever come back?

GRANDMOTHER

Just as we’ve lived up till now, one day at a time. In the autumn we’ll pick berries and mushrooms for the winter, you can help with that.

KRISTIAN

They’re talking about all kinds of things in the streets.

GRANDMOTH ER

What are they talking about?

KRISTIAN

I don’t know. They shut up as soon as I come out, or else they start yelling mean things at the top of their lungs.

GRANDMOTHER

So what kinds of things do they yell at you?

KRISTIAN

Franzu schmanzu all messed up
shipped him off to Sweden’s cup
Tossed him high above the church
wrapped in cow shit with a birch.

GRANDMOTHER

That’s a stupid song. Don’t pay any attention to it.

KRISTIAN

They also said Franz went off and left you.

GRANDMOTHER

In a way, because he got restless and launched himself out into the world. Wandered from one country to the next, signed on as a soldier here and there, wandered all the way to Finland.

KRISTIAN

What’s that Finland?

GRANDMOTHER

It’s an old Russian corner of the world, way up north. Franz said it was a small, poor, cold country, so terribly cold the people there burn their grain into liquor; otherwise they couldn’t stand it. That’s where Franz became ill and got that eternal ague. He’d get chills even in front of a blazing fire.

KRISTIAN

How could he feel cold by a fire?

GRANDMOTHER

I don’t know, but that’s what he said. He could only warm up by Maria’s side and that Maria, she deceived and renounced him.

KRISTIAN

Why are people so bad to each other? Even animals aren’t so bad. A dog won’t kill a dog. Are men worse than dogs?

GRANDMOTHER

Some are.

KRISTIAN

Why?

GRANDMOTHER

I guess because people can think. An unreasoning creature won’t kill anyone but its enemies, and then only when it’s forced to. It goes by instinct.

KRISTIAN

Then why don’t people go by instinct?

GRANDMOTHER

You ask too many questions. You think too much, like your father. It’s not good to think that much, you ‘ll get sick from it. Better to work and pray.

KRISTIAN

But if you don’t know how to pray? If you don’t have the sense for praying?

GRANDMOTHER

It’s not a matter of sense.

KRISTIAN

What is a matter of sense then?

GRANDMOTHER

I guess nothing much. Pure reason doesn’t lead you to anything. If you haven’t got instinct, you’ve lost all sense too.

KRISTIAN

Teach me one easy prayer, grandmother.

GRANDMOTHER

I guess there aren’t any easy prayers. Everything that’s true is hard. But I’ll teach you the song of the Swiss guards because Franz would often sing it.

KRISTIAN

Sing, grandmother.

GRANDMOTHER

I can’t sing, but I’ll speak it to you. (She recites:)

Life is a journey to Winter and Night
deep as a gorge, there’s nothing like it.
We search for a pass, a narrow way
to heaven, where nothing lights it.

(Darkness.)

Translated by Aili and Austin Flint

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