Erdgeist


Erdgeist
(Earth Spirit) by Benjamin Franklin Wedekind.
   Premiered 1898. The first installment of Wedekind's testament to female power, against which nothing can prevail. The playwright shaped the play to resemble a boulevard intrigue, but the audacity he invested in the character Lulu, whom Wedekind portrays with the primal power of the Earth itself, terminates any further parallels to popular entertainment. Lulu is by no means a social climber as she might appear, nor is she an erotic tease; she is instead a force that consistently succeeds in overpowering male desire and dismantling it.
   In a brief prologue, Lulu appears as a serpent in a small-time circus act, Wedekind's way of establishing biblical precedents for the action to follow. In the opening scenes, Lulu is married to Dr. Goll, who kills himself when he discovers Lulu with a painter who finds her irresistible. In the next act, Lulu has married the painter, but Lulu finds him boring. She is excited by Alwa Schön, a homosexual theater producer; Alwa's father, the rich Dr. Schön, becomes her lover, but he prepares to marry a more socially acceptable young lady. The painter discovers the Lulu-Schön relationship and kills himself. In the next act, Lulu has become a theater showgirl, pursued by aristocrats. Dr. Schön begs Lulu to behave herself; he cannot tear himself away from her, but he also lacks the courage to break off his engagement. Lulu says he should marry his fiancée anyway and takes delight in his weakness. She then sits him down and dictates a letter to the fiancée that he will sign, breaking off the engagement. In the final act, Lulu has married Dr. Schön but has also initiated a lesbian affair with Countess Geschwitz. Schön is in despair, realizing he has no power whatsoever over Lulu. She next seduces his son Alwa, and there is a touching father-son reconciliation. Meantime Lulu "entertains" schoolboys in the next room—but the Schöns, father and son, return with a pistol. The father demands that Lulu shoot herself. There is a struggle, and Lulu pumps several shots into him. Lulu pleads with Alwa to tell police that she shot only in self-defense. As the police pound at the door, a schoolboy emerges from the bedroom and laments, "They'll kick me out of school for this!"
   While the events of the play are sensational, Wedekind's remarkable dialogue keeps the play riveted to his original intention. The characters do not speak to each other, nor do they listen to each other. They instead "speak past one another," a form of dialogue some have termed Aneinandervorbeireden, incorporating a conspicuous absence of intimacy. The character of Lulu has predictably sparked enormous controversy since the play's premiere (in which Wedekind himself at a late point in the production's run played Dr. Schön). Lulu has been depicted as the personification of female sexuality, the female Don Juan, an erotic Angel of Death, an anarchic femme fatale, the projection of male wish fulfillment, and a host of other representations. Lulu in Wedekind's creation is, however, a force of Nature who transcends—or at least frustrates — most attempts at literary analysis.
   See also Die Büchse der Pandora.

Historical dictionary of German Theatre. . 2006.

Look at other dictionaries:

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