Franz Theodor Csokor Essay - Critical Essays


With a dramatic career spanning both world wars, Franz Theodor Csokor and his dramatic work provide a panorama of the main developments in twentieth century Austrian drama and of the social and political upheavals that shook this era. In contrast to the resignation and ironic distancing so typical of many of the Austrian fin de siècle writers, Csokor always stressed the importance of political activism and the strident defense of humanist ideals in a world rapidly abandoning such principles. Even his early plays written under the influence of Strindberg and the early expressionists not only urge an examination of an increasingly materialistic world (Die rote Strasse) and the battle of the sexes (Der Baum der Erkenntnis) but also advocate strong personal engagement to bring about a change in traditional values and attitudes. In his plays of the 1920’s and 1930’s, Csokor tries to come to terms not only with the catastrophic consequences of World War I, in particular the death of his only brother, but also with the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian multination empire and the resulting rise of increasingly aggressive chauvinist nation states in Europe. His plays of that period are often based on historical events in which the main theme is the defense of individual freedom against totalitarian ideologies, both religious and secular, and the responsibility of the individual to fight for the preservation of humanist ideals threatened by these ideologies. Like many of his protagonists, notably Ignatius of Loyala in Gottes General and Stipe in The Prodigal Son, Csokor lived his own life according to the principles he advocated, even when they endangered his life and his economic well-being.

Csokor’s post-World War II plays continue this examination of individual responsibility and the moral dilemmas confronting people in modern society, notably in the play Das Zeichen an der Wand, inspired by the Adolf Eichmann trial. Although the themes of his plays transcend specifically Austrian problems, only a few have been translated into English, probably because of his extensive use of dated Austrian vernacular and his attachment to expressionist characters and structures, even in the representational plays of his later life. However, a good translation of the three plays in the critical edition of his European Trilogy has been available since 1995 and allows the English-speaking reader access to his most often performed and most highly praised plays. The plays in the trilogy appeared individually and were gathered under this title in 1952 to reflect a thematic rather than a chronological sequence.

November 3, 1918

November 3, 1918 is a quasi-historical drama taking place mainly during and after the signing of the armistice between Austria-Hungary and the Entente. The action takes place in a military convalescent home high on a snowbound mountain in southern Austria. Eight officers and men representing all the national and ethnic groups of the empire coexist there in relative harmony, bonded by their service in the imperial army and their fight against a common foe. Kaczuk, a Polish Marxist sailor, enters to bring them the news of the armistice and the subsequent dissolution of...

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