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?