Carl Zuckmayer’s apprenticeship in the theater during the early 1920’s and particularly the failure of Pankraz erwacht eventually led him to an important insight:For the first time I recognized my limits. . . . I had neither the gift, nor intention of founding a new literary epoch, a new theatrical style, a new direction in art. . . . But I knew that a revitalized impact and revitalized values (eine neue Lebendigkeit der Wirkung und der Werte) can be achieved by human artistic means which transcend the limitations of time, which will never become obsolete. . . . I wanted to approach nature, life, and truth, without distancing myself from the demands of the day, from the burning subject-matter of my time.
Although Zuckmayer said that this statement was not intended as a “program” for his future dramatic production, the fact is that after Pankraz erwacht, he wrote only “realistic” dramas with plots structured according to Aristotelian principles, intended to inspire “pity and fear” in the audiences of serious dramas and to celebrate life with all its folly in comedies. One of the most important touchstones for the success or failure of a drama is the question of characterization and audience identification with the protagonists. Those plays that contain a fairly large number of full-bodied, “round” characters have the greatest effect on the audience. In Zuckmayer’s case, such characters are usually firmly rooted in regions he knew well, and they speak languages or dialects he knew well.
Der fröhliche Weinberg
A case in point is Der fröhliche Weinberg. This rollicking comedy is set in Rhenish Hesse, Zuckmayer’s home district. The time of the action is the fall of 1921 during the grape harvest. Jean Baptiste Gunderloch, a rich winegrower (and a widower), has resolved to give half of his vineyard and half of his other possessions to his daughter Klärchen as a dowry, to auction off the other half, and to live from the proceeds during his retirement. Klärchen is being wooed by a student named Knuzius, but she really loves Jochen Most, the owner of a freighter plying the Rhine. Gunderloch has set a condition that must be met before he will consent to Klärchen’s marriage to anyone: She must be pregnant by the man in question, and she must be involved in the matter “voluntarily and with pleasure.” In other words, Gunderloch wants to be sure of having a grandchild, and he wants his daughter to have a happy sex life. Klärchen confesses to Annemarie, her father’s housekeeper, who is Jochen’s sister, that she does not love Knuzius, that he “has no talent for love,” and that she believes he is only after her dowry. Her major problem is how to rid herself of Knuzius’s assiduous attentions long enough to be able to see Jochen and clear things up with him. Annemarie advises Klärchen to tell Knuzius that she is pregnant. In this way she will be able to plead sickness and absent herself from the party to be held that night. When Klärchen does make her “confession” to Knuzius at the end of act 1, his first and only reaction is to shout “Hey! Gunderloch! Father-in-law!” Her suspicions are thus confirmed.
The entire act 2 is devoted to a big party in the village inn. The party is given by Gunderloch for this season’s wine buyers, for the prospective bidders at the auction to be held the following morning, and for his friends in the village. As the richest vintner in the region, he is also obliged by custom to provide free cider for a group of veterans who have formed a choir. The party is very boisterous, the wine flows in streams, and there is dancing and singing. While Knuzius dances with Babettchen, the innkeeper’s daughter, Klärchen tries to explain to Jochen that she is not engaged to Knuzius and that she is not pregnant, but he stubbornly refuses to listen to her; all he wants is to beat Knuzius to a pulp. He soon gets his chance because the bleating “singing” of the veterans so infuriates Gunderloch that he wants to throw them out of the room. There ensues a monumental general brawl that Gunderloch survives as the sole victor. Act 3 takes place before sunrise in the courtyard of the inn. It consists of a series of declarations of love and offstage lovemaking. First, Gunderloch realizes that he is far too young and full of vitality to retire and to live alone. He and Annemarie (who has loved him secretly for a long time) quickly reach an understanding, and their love is consummated in an arbor in the garden. Then Knuzius, who is totally drunk, declares his love to Babettchen and denounces Gunderloch and Klärchen. Babettchen tells him to sleep off his inebriation, but she intimates that she might be interested in him. Next, Jochen and Klärchen are finally able to communicate and to clear up the misunderstanding between them. They also make love immediately. Finally, one of the wine buyers and the daughter of one of the prospective buyers of the vineyard enter the courtyard, only to disappear quickly thereafter in the barn. The play ends as Gunderloch announces that he will not sell any of his possessions and that he and Annemarie, and Jochen and Klärchen will marry. Babettchen will marry Knuzius, and the wine buyer will marry the girl he seduced during that memorable night.
The main characters of Der fröhliche Weinberg consist of several stock characters in folk comedy, such as a country girl who is mistakenly attracted to an educated or upper-class man from the city, a dowry hunter, and a kindhearted but clever confidante. Zuckmayer used these stock characters to construct an effective comic plot. Beyond that, he imbued his main characters with an aura of contemporaneity, and he surrounded them with an entourage of secondary characters designed to accentuate this aura. For example, when Knuzius asks for Babettchen’s hand in marriage, he uses the anti-Semitic language and concepts typical of the Nazis: “As I ask for her hand . . . I am not only striving for the fulfillment of personal wishes, but also for the restoration of our nation’s health in view of its virtue, its fitness for military service, its cleanliness, its loyalty, and its racial purity.” While these words are met by laughter and applause, their meaning is surely undercut by the fact that they are spoken by the impecunious dowry hunter who, according to Klärchen, has no talent for love. It is also noteworthy that Knuzius spends the night sleeping on a pile of manure while the other protagonists are making love. Similarly, when some of the veterans and the teacher direct anti-Semitic remarks at the Jewish wine buyers, these remarks are consistently rejected and proved nonsensical by other characters. Incorporating these topical concerns in his comedy seemed to be Zuckmayer’s way of achieving his goal of not “distancing [himself] from the demands of the day.” Indeed, these topical allusions, and particularly the characterization of Knuzius, prompted several protests against the play from right-wing groups. The most important aspect of the play, however, is its joyful affirmation of life. This affirmation is expressed in the almost ritualistic rash of marriages at the end of the play, in the unabashed sensuality of the four protagonists, and in several instances of vivid nature imagery. When Gunderloch, Annemarie, Jochen, and Klärchen meet in the morning, for example, they notice that the vineyards are steaming, that the trees are laden with fruit, and that the fragrance of blossoms is rising from the soil. Nature’s bounty and human love become fused in Annemarie’s words, “now...
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