The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Hands Around consists of ten short scenes in the form of dialogues between a man and a woman. The central concern of each is conversation before and after sexual intercourse, which is itself not depicted onstage. The playwright’s inspiration may have been William Hogarth’s two 1736 engravings “Before” and “After.”

The first partners are the prostitute and the soldier. Leocadia is so attracted to Franz that she offers herself to him free of charge. Since the swaggering soldier is not willing to accompany her to her room, they perch precariously on the banks of the Danube Canal while making love. Throughout this terse encounter, the brutish man prefers to remain faceless and anonymous.

The second instance of the recurring dialectic of persuasion and reluctance is the encounter between the soldier and the maid. Having met Marie at a dance in the Prater, Vienna’s amusement park and pleasure ground, Franz takes the initiative and has his way with her on the grass. Afterward he agrees to take her home, but not until he has had some more fun dancing with another girl.

In the third scene, the maid is seduced by Alfred, the blasé, feckless young gentleman of the house, in his bedroom. After intercourse, eager to restore (or continue) the master-servant relationship, he orders her to answer the doorbell and rushes off to his favorite café.

The young gentleman is next shown with the young wife. This time Alfred does not improvise a seduction but carefully and aesthetically prepares for a visit from Frau Emma, who arrives heavily veiled at the apartment he has rented for the assignation. After overcoming her scruples, he finds himself impotent, possibly because she is not his inferior but his socioeconomic equal. Alfred attempts to rationalize, intellectualize, and poetize his failure by recounting a Stendhal story in which some cavalry officers were unable to perform with the women they desired the most. One of them wept for joy with his lover for nights on end, presumably because their love was so pure. Frau Emma’s attractiveness and experience finally enable the young gentleman to function after all,...

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Hands Around Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The story is told (in Yiddish) about a man who attends his first play and then sums up his impression of the theater in these words: “First he wants to and she doesn’t. Then she wants to and he doesn’t. When they both want to, the curtain falls.” In print, Arthur Schnitzler discreetly indicated sexual intercourse by a series of dashes or asterisks, and he thought that on the stage the conversational prelude and postlude might be separated by a brief curtain or blackout.

Schnitzler chose a circular structure for his play. Reigen, its title in the original German, denotes a round dance or roundelay; the word also means a sequence or series. In English it has been variously titled La Ronde, Hands Around, Round Dance, Couples, Merry-Go-Round, Circle of Love (in a film version), and Dance of Love. The last-named renders the playwright’s working title, Liebesreigen, and La Ronde has prevailed since the film versions of Max Ophuls (1950) and Roger Vadim (1964).

Since each erotic encounter is so unsatisfying, the not-so-merry-go-round could be continued indefinitely. The sequence of scenes is determined by social possibilities, with a gradual progression up the socioeconomic ladder. The characters in the sexual rotation are not, however, interchangeable; an affair between the soldier and the young wife would be unthinkable. Schnitzler presents the...

(The entire section is 404 words.)

Hands Around Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Hannum, Hunter G. “Killing Time: Aspects of Schnitzler’s Reigen.” Germanic Review 37 (1962): 190-206.

Liptzin, Solomon. Arthur Schnitzler. Riverside, Calif.: Ariadne, 1995.

Reik, Theodor. “Hands Around.” In The Secret Self: Psychoanalytic Experiences in Life and Literature. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Young, 1952.

Roberts, Adrian C. Arthur Schnitzler and Politics. Riverside, Calif.: Ariadne, 1989.

Sanders, Jon Barry. “Arthur Schnitzler’s Reigen: Lost Romanticism.” Modern Austrian Literature 1 (1968): 56-66.

Swales, Martin. Arthur Schnitzler: A Critical Study. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1971.

Urbach, Reinhard. Arthur Schnitzler. New York: Ungar, 1973.

Weinberger, G. J. Arthur Schnitzler’s Late Plays: A Critical Study. New York: Lang, 1997.

Wisely, Andrew C. Arthur Schnitzler and the Discourse of Honor and Dueling. New York: Lang, 1997.