Author Archives: lplimpto

Every Generation is Lost: Woyzeck as a figure of social exclusion and disillusion

Buchner’s Woyzeck tells the story of “one of the numberless forgotten pawns of the world” turned mad and murderous. Buchner’s plays, including Woyzeck, are an integral aspect of theater across history, which begs the question, why? Woyzeck, one of Buchner’s most produced works, explores the psyche of the “doomed hero,” a relatable figure to every generation. As Ginters explains, Woyzeck “centers on the disenfranchised, powerless and socially excluded, Woyzeck has an enduring strong appeal both in interpretation and indeed by those who produce it.” As the world around Woyzeck slowly deteriorates with Marie’s disloyalty, so his psyche breaks down, finally culminating in her murder and an unfinished ending. Across history, there are always “doomed heroes” – completely powerless and disillusioned. In many ways, Woyzeck represents this universal figure whether it be the war veterans littered with bullet holes and suffering from PTSD or today’s youth lost in technology, suffering from drug and alcohol addictions and a lack of ambition. He is young, impulsive, a pawn of the institution, deeply introspective, and mentally ill. The play represents the tragic view of man’s existence – resonating with reality for many.

Kovarik describes the evolution of the computer from a big brother, unrelatable figure to the creation of a “man-computer symbiosis.” The development of the computer represents an ability of a “system that could handle polynomial equations needed for astronomical tables and artillery ballistics calculations” – it is not only extremely complex but “mechanizes intellectual work.” The development of the computer allows for even more creative approaches to works ahead of their time, like Woyzeck. Woyzeck’s segmented, non-linear nature and themes of disillusionment and mental illness beg for the inclusion of mechanized projections. We have also discussed in class that Buchner’s works rely heavily on his scientific knowledge of cranial nerves and in many ways, the computer represents the human brain– it works to quantify human knowledge with mechanical projections and codes similar to that of a neuron. Similar to the computer, Woyzeck’s motions are mechanical, controlled by the institution, and segmented. However, in moments of impulse, the murder of Marie, he succumbs to his naturalistic, animal impulses and rejects the mechanized order of society.

“Woyzeck, it frightens me to think that the earth rotates in one day – what a waste of time, what will come of that?” – Captain.

This line inspires the set up of the stage: two circles – one outer and one inner separated by the audience. The outer circle is where all of the scenes without the Captain, the Doctor, and Woyzeck occur. The stage rotates between scenes with wires connecting the different locations – the field, the town, the carnival and so on. The connecting wires light up as the scenes change both representing the connections of a computer and the wiring of the brain – constant motion, constant firing of information. The center circle does not move. In the center circle is a desktop computer circa 1995, a desk, and a chair. Here, all of the scenes between Woyzeck, the Captain, and the Doctor take place. The Doctor and Captain are figures from a chat room. As Woyzeck communicates with them, the content of the conversation is projected onto a screen surrounding the outer circle. The Captain and the Doctor both represent semi figments of Woyzeck’s imagination and a source of introspection. Only when he is sitting at the computer discussing life with one of the two does he have power over his existence. When Woyzeck is not communicating with the Doctor or Captain, a gray, brick wall is projected on the screen surrounding the outer circle. As the play continues, the wall slowly falls down representing the deterioration of Woyzeck’s mind. In the last scene as Woyzeck disposes of the knife, there is no wall but only sunny, blue sky projected on the screen. In this moment he has broken from the mechanized institutions of society and succumbed to his natural instincts, he is free.

The play takes place in a nondescript time – making it relatable to every generation. The only hint of the year is the computer. It begins with the grandmother’s speech setting up themes of desolation (“everything was dead and no one was left in the whole world”) and disappointment (“the sun was a wilted sunflower and when it got to the stars, they were little golden flies stuck up there like the shirke sticks ‘em on the black thorn.”).


What role does setting play in understanding or interpreting Woyzeck?

What role does music play in Woyzeck? Why do you think Buchner chooses to include song throughout the play?

Ginters suggests that Buchner’s plays are powerful in that they resonate across history. How does Woyzeck resonate with our generation? Who or what group represents the Woyzeck’s of today?

Word Play, Irony, and Morality in Victorian England as Seen through The Importance of Being Earnest

Zarilli claims that playwrights in the early 19th century often, “turned to history for inspiration” (Zarilli, 281). Oscar Wilde, in The Importance of Being Earnest, however, takes a slightly different approach. Through a highly satirical and ironic play, he comments on current life in Victorian England. Prior to the late 19th century, when The Importance of Being Earnest was written, Zarilli explains that imperialism and a fascination with the exotic dominated theater stages (Zarilli, 280-282). Imperialism or historical plays worked to transcend the elite out of England and, “excite audiences about the temptations of an exotic” (Zarilli, 280). With the strict moral and social codes of the Victorian era, theater could act as a form of release, a time when one could laugh at the crude, smile at the scantily clad body of the “exotic,” and make fun of the rigidity of the time. As explained by Schiller in the Zarilli reading, “theatre and the other arts are necessary to the health of a society” (Zarilli, 285). Therefore, theater almost seems to exist as an outlet for a need to be immoral, ironic, and hypocritical in an otherwise strictly organized and righteous Victorian era.

From the sexualization of cucumber sandwiches to the fixation on “being earnest/Ernest,” word play and innuendo dominate The Importance of Being Earnest. By using word play, Wilde is able to provide commentary on the condition of the time without being overtly inappropriate. For example, the obvious word play with Ernest vs. earnest weaves in an out of the play. Jack creates a second persona “Ernest” who he pretends to be in order to win over Gwendolen, who is absurdly hung-up on the name “Ernest,” and, in doing so, is decidedly NOT “earnest.” Yet in the end, when he finds out that his name was Ernest all along, the fact that his name is actually Ernest seems to trump the truth: that he’d been lying for almost the whole play. Here, the absurdity of the situation mirrors the absurdity with which Victorian culture placed value on social status. Similarly to the characters in the play, Wilde proposes that Victorian England might be more concerned with being “Ernest” as opposed to earnest. In other words, as Wilde poignantly suggests, “ The truth is rarely pure and never simple” (Wilde, Act I, Line 179, pp. 779) and sincerity is over-rated.

The Importance of Being Earnest also works to satirize the private and public lives of the Victorian elite. “Jack in the country and Ernest in the city” (Wilde, Act I, Line 169-170, pp. 779) is repeated throughout the play. It suggests that Victorian elite often create a public and private persona for themselves, as if putting on a theatrical production for friends and society. With the strict moral code of Victorian England, Wilde might be suggesting a need for an immoral outlet in an alter ego. Cecily is infatuated by the immoral; she loves that Algernon might be nefarious and even calls him, “my wicked cousin Ernest” (Wilde, Act II, Line 106, pp. 792). To this, he emphatically defends himself expressing that he isn’t wicked at all. Cecily immediately shows disappointment stating, “I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and really being good all the time. That would be hypocrisy” (Wilde, Act II, Lines 110-112, pp. 793). This quote is not only highly ironic, as Algernon is in fact living a double life, but shows a fascination with the immoral: that she’d rather him actually be wicked as opposed to just pretending. This turns Victorian values on its head by placing importance on immorality, possibly suggesting that Victorian society is more immoral than they would like to admit.

Combining both the Zarilli reading and The Importance of Being Earnest I began to question:

Why is comedy so necessary in theater and media? To what degree does comedy make us uncomfortable? Is it important that it makes us feel awkward? How do you think The Importance of Being Earnest would have been received in an audience of Victorian elite?


Zarilli suggests that art can “heal the division between reason and feeling” – to what extent is this reflected in The Importance of Being Earnest?


Is reality enough to keep us entertained? The Importance of Being Earnest uses word play, innuendo, hypocrisy, and irony to create a completely absurd and hilarious play that comments on the condition of the time. But can reality, simply as it is, captivate us? Consider this in connection with the ridiculousness that is reality television today.

– Laura Plimpton