Carl Zuckmayer

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Zuckmayer, Carl 1896–1977

Zuckmayer was a German dramatist, novelist, screenwriter, essayist, and poet. He began his dramatic career as an expressionist; however, after two undistinguished plays he turned to realism. It is for his realistic dramas, which show a close affinity to the work of his friend and mentor Gerhart Hauptmann, that Zuckmayer is best known. His most successful works are generally, like The Merry Vineyard, comedies which draw upon German folk traditions; or, like The Captain from Köpenick and The Devil's General, satires on the militarism of Nazi Germany. He also wrote the German screenplay for The Blue Angel. During his career Zuckmayer received many of Germany's most prestigious literary awards: the Kleist Prize, the Georg Büchner Prize, the Goethe Prize, and the Heinrich Heine Prize. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 69-72.)

Diether H. Haenicke

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[Carl Zuckmayer] ironically was dismissed from his post as dramatic producer of the theater at Kiel because of his "complete incompetence as an artist." Following his dismissal, he wrote a comedy in the dialect of his home district on the Rhine entitled Der fröhliche Weinberg (The Gay Vineyards, 1925) for which he received the highly esteemed Kleist prize. He has since published numerous plays including the well known The Captain of Köpenick (1930). Zuckmayer's immediate success hinged heavily on his realistic and down-to-earth characters. He thus broke with the tradition of the extremely stylized characters often found on the stage of late Expressionism. Although not a renovator of the theater, Zuckmayer surely stands among the most effective creators of stage drama. (p. 369)

[In] The Devil's General, Zuckmayer's sensitivity and insight enabled him to create a genuine and convincing picture of the mood reigning within Germany without having lived there himself during the last Nazi years. The play centers around a strong character, General Harras of the German air force. He openly despises the Nazi regime and continually scoffs at their twisted Weltanschauung. The play presents the last days of the hero, who is constantly observed by the SS. A feeling of threat and dread, caused by the eternal presence, secret or actual, of the all-powerful authorities of the state pervades the play. In the midst of a group of fascinating personalities Zuckmayer places Harras, a person in conflict. His human qualities make him the ideal of many younger officers who serve the regime only because Harras remains their general. Thus, in his desire to exclude politics from his life Harras serves the purpose of the "devil" through his non-commitment. Despite the power of his engaging personality Harras remains as controversial a character as the sabotaging engineer-officer who purposely disables the planes which the pilots, often his personal friends, take into the air. At the end of the drama, the two men are placed in irreconcilable opposition. The saboteur battles against the all-consuming violence of the criminal regime but must employ violence himself and become the murderer of his comrades. The general, bound by his oath, fulfills the duties of the soldier, and his example involuntarily lends support to the ruling powers.

After the war, the play caused heated discussion about the attitude of the military during the war. Zuckmayer did not make accusations, as did many of the returning emigrants. Instead he tried to present the very difficult and frustrating situation of those who remained in the Reich. (pp. 369-70)

Diether H. Haenicke, "Literature since 1933," in The Challenge of German Literature, edited by Horst S. Daemmrich and Diether H. Haenicke (reprinted by permission of the Wayne State University Press; © 1971 by Wayne State University Press), Wayne State University Press, 1971, pp. 350-404.∗


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Both Brecht's direct influence and the...

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general vogue of anarchy and lawlessness—which were associated with America—were the potent ingredients which left their mark onPankraz Awakens. (p. 84)

[For In the Jungle] Brecht derived his notions about America in general and Chicago in particular (as well as some of his imagery, themes and motifs) from two literary sources: Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and J. V. Jensen's The Wheel…. [However,] the proximity of Brecht's early "Chicago and hinterland" was much closer to Zuckmayer's "Log cabin in the Far West" … than one would be inclined to assume…. Not surprisingly, Zuckmayer avoided an urban setting altogether; in his more conventionally realistic stage description of a rustic, if exotic, milieu which does not convey inner landscapes as do the Innenraum scenes of In the Jungle the future author of The Merry Vineyard shows his true colors. The similarity in the setting of Brecht's and Zuckmayer's plays should not induce us to conclude that Zuckmayer's choice of an American setting was due to Brecht's direct influence; rather, the general vogue of America as well as specific literary models provided the initial impetus for the selection of a certain milieu in both cases…. Zuckmayer's Far West was dependent to a considerable extent on James Fenimore Cooper and Karl May. (pp. 84-5)

[It is] their concept of America as the embodiment of sensationalism and exoticism [that] provides the common link…. Zuckmayer's drama is hardly less conspicuous [than Brecht's] in the depiction of gruesome, sensational events and the mysterious, strangely unfathomable behavior of its characters. Despite the differences of the two plays in their presentation of spectacular happenings, ill-disposed critics could not be deceived concerning the literary relationship between Brecht and Zuckmayer. In his extremely negative review of Pankraz Awakens Felix Hollaender wrote: "Brecht engendered Zuckmayer—and God save us from the offspring which Zuckmayer will bring forth." It is hardly surprising that in plays in which such spectacular happenings take place, one cannot expect an even remotely authentic description of America or the reflection of actual conditions…. Not without good reason does Eric Bentley speak of the "menagerie" of strange characters which populate Brecht's shadowy, mythical, and grotesque Chicago. (pp. 85-6)

If sensationalism, exoticism, and the presentation of an America that was largely inspired by literary sources were the only basis for a comparison of In the Jungle and Pankraz Awakens; if, in fact, these elements constituted the substance of the plays in question, then one might agree with Felix Hollaender. In his review of Pankraz Awakens he hardly felt it worth the trouble "to seriously express an opinion about this immature, bewildering stuff, this infantile mischief." An incisive critical review is justified, however, if, as may be assumed with some degree of certainty, exoticism and sensationalism are only surface phenomena which need to be penetrated to reach the substance of both plays.

Interestingly, both Zuckmayer and Brecht later realized that the artistic shortcomings of their respective plays were related to the common choice of an American milieu. Zuckmayer was slightly apologetic about the American setting of Pankraz Awakens and had only few positive things to say about the play as a whole. (pp. 86-7)

[But] there was hidden under the guise of exoticism the attempt to come to grips with profound issues confronting modern man. Without doubt, in Brecht's case it is the dramatic presentation of man's alienation (Entfremdung), the all-pervasive theme of In the Jungle, which constitutes such a weighty issue.

All the important ingredients of In the Jungle, including its baffling obscurity and complexity which are, in part, due to the aphoristic quality of its dialogue, are also to be found in Pankraz Awakens—modified, to be sure, but still recognizable. (p. 88)

We would not do justice to Zuckmayer's achievement were we to assume that he was merely a passive recipient of Brecht's ideas and suggestions. There is at least one piece of evidence for a collaborative effort, a fragmentary poem of ten lines "after Zuckmayer and Brecht," entitled "liebestod."… Interestingly, this poem is an almost verbatim verse rendering of Alit's dream [in Pankraz Awakens]…. The "poetically" inspired diction of both prose narration in Pankraz Awakens and verse rendering in "liebestod" resembles that of Zuckmayer rather than that of Brecht; yet, the themes of death by drowning and inevitability of dissolution as well as the imagery depicting a submarine realm relate "liebestod" to the world of Brecht's early poems…. In a sense, Brecht's and Zuckmayer's different views of "Love-Death" are symptomatic for their treatment of sexual relationships in Pankraz Awakens and In The Jungle respectively.

Whereas in In The Jungle homosexual love is the "apex" of intrapersonal relationships, in Pankraz Awakens it is Pankraz's incestuous desire for his daughter Alit. Potentially harmonious relations between man and woman tend to become perverted by powerful sexual desires which reduce partners to mere objects but still create "profound lust" … during the moments of union. (p. 91)

While the sexual relationships in In the Jungle do not bridge "in human life the estrangement made by … speech" … as Shlink states, the "mercy" springing from "love, the warmth of bodies in contact … the union of the organs" … in the realm of animals is occasionally experienced by human beings in Pankraz Awakens. The encounter between Alit and Teton, Alit's sacrificial death are acts based on something akin to genuine love. Ultimately, there is hope for man in the chaotic world of Pankraz Awakens. (p. 92)

Nature imagery occurs in both Brecht's and Zuckmayer's plays. Yet there is a distinct contrast. The very fact that Garga's existence at the beginning of [Brecht's] play is based on dealing with or lending of lifeless objects whereas Pankraz's life is associated with living organisms, the trees in his forest, is indicative of a different emphasis…. [Brecht's] excremental view of nature which does not alleviate man's isolation is entirely foreign to Zuckmayer. (pp. 92-3)

Whereas Brecht equates the existence of man with the fight for mere survival in an inhospitable jungle without transcendence, Zuckmayer presents man as capable of redemption in a chaotic world in which the antagonistic forces in nature symbolize the principle of life—the recurrence of the life-death cycle within a dimly perceived divine order. Indicative of the different emphases in both plays is that Zuckmayer employs the warm Föhn wind … which hastens the decomposition of organic matter and thus prepares the fertile soil for new life, while in Brecht's play the cold "black wind" … casts a chill on everything. (pp. 95-6)

[The] subsequently famous author of such non-Brechtian plays as The Merry Vineyard, The Captain of Coepenick, and The Devil's General fell temporarily under the young Brecht's spell. Although Pankraz Awakens cannot be entirely explicated in terms of Brecht's direct influence, the fact remains that Zuckmayer created a work which in milieu, motifs, theme, characters, situations, songs, and dialogue is largely indebted to Brecht's early work in general and to In the Jungle in particular. Ultimately, Zuckmayer did not succumb to the fascination exercised by Brecht but succeeded in finding his own style. Nevertheless, Zuckmayer never failed to acknowledge his indebtedness to Brecht…. (p. 98)

Siegfried Mews and Raymond English, "The Jungle Transcended: Brecht and Zuckmayer," in Essays on Brecht: Theater and Politics, edited by Siegfried Mews and Herbert Knust (© University of North Carolina Studies in the Germanic Languages and Literatures 1974), The University of North Carolina Press, 1974, pp. 79-98.∗

Arnold Bauer

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Zuckmayer belongs among the relatively few humorists Germany has produced. He has a depth of warmly reflective perception that never fails to hit the target. His generally well-constructed plays produce theatrical effects that ultimately silence many a critical objection. His talent as a storyteller, developed by study of the best traditions, impressively reveals an open, realistic, and humane commitment to the world. Strong imagery abounds in his poetry and epic descriptions of nature.

The sources from which Zuckmayer draws his inspiration can be found in the themes of popular art, songs, fairy tales, chronicles, and anecdotes. Such a basis in the natural and folkloristic is essentially a romantic trait and is most apparent in his poems, stories, and early plays, but it does not preclude astute observation and lifelike characterization of his country-men as real people. (p. 2)

The Merry Vineyard [1924] is a well-made play, based on the best dramatic rules; it is deft and exhilarating and has a hardy eroticism without—according to today's standards—shocking the audience through "pornographic" excursions. But, since it must have seemed rather rustic to a metropolitan public, and its dialect form limited it regionally, no one could have foreseen that it would be universally received with such vociferous exultation. Nor can the humorous depiction of real life or its timely political sidelights fully account for its success. The plot is not even particularly well focused dramatically; rather, a picturebook sequence of scenes is well seasoned with nightclub "gags."

The core of the plot involves a colorfully mixed group of characters who congregate at the estate of a vineyard owner at the time of grape picking. Couples search for each other but fail to get together or are separated again…. Clearly it cannot have been the raw material of the plot alone, skillfully as it may have been constructed, that created euphoria in the German audience of 1925, eliciting volleys of laughter. Not just one element, but a whole complex, was responsible for the reaction. After all the poetic ecstasies of expressionist drama and the intricate problem plays of the early postwar years, the theater audience—provided it was not just looking for shallow entertainment—was starved for fresh fare…. With his prolific versatility in portraying scenic atmosphere as well as social situations, Zuckmayer was able to reach large and very different groups of spectators. Beneath the uncontestedly gross buffoonery in many of his stage effects there was a level of social satire that satisfied even the more sophisticated demands of an intelligent audience, despite some critical reservations. (pp. 36-8)

Of all Zuckmayer's plays, The Merry Vineyard probably remains the most popular…. The Merry Vineyard and others of his early plays may be viewed as conscious attempts at naturalism, stylistically expanded through topical insertions of actual quotations and contemporary speech. (p. 39)

What distinguished Zuckmayer from his contemporaries and helped him to be continuously successful was his remarkable ability to strike a balance between the tragic and the brighter side of life. This was particularly true in regard to his rustic scenes and his skillfully drawn characterizations of simple people and their earthy humor.

Zuckmayer's skill at enlivening the action with colorful images and scenes added to his popularity. Perfectly chosen local accents sustained the atmosphere of tension in the plot. During the love scenes between Johann Bückler and his Julchen [in Schinderhannes (1972)], the language turned soft and plain, almost like a folksong. Without sentimentality, many scenes attain the melodious tone of pure poetry. Zuckmayer's folk romance—as Schinderhannes might best be called—once again gave to the theater what was typical of the theater: moments of emotion, at times lyrical and at others dramatically tense. (p. 43)

Zuckmayer's subsidiary characters, especially figures in the mob, are often more true to life than some of his overdrawn or idealized heroes and heroines. However, Schinderhannes and his Julchen maintain their proper folk tone until the final curtain. That tone, now familiar on the stage, was the voice of the people. (pp. 45-6)

For a long time Zuckmayer contemplated the idea of a play on the theme of Till Eulenspiegel. The character of the Low German roguish jester and popular hero had always captivated him, and he intended to place the figure in a situation of contemporary relevance. But his ideas never crystallized into a clear concept. (p. 50)

[However, a dramatization of the true story of the Captain of Köpenick appealed to him as] a satire on Prussian militarism. The proverbial "Köpenickiad" was still fresh in the memory of his contemporaries, and the crafty swindles of the poor cobbler and recidivist convict had truly Eulenspiegel-like traits. At least one characteristic was shared by the false captain and the medieval thief: both used the weapon of the underdog cunning, to pull the mighty by the nose, thereby preserving the appearance of innocence….

Eulenspiegel had been the clever rebel among despised and oppressed peasants. The cobbler Voigt—the alleged captain—belonged to the poorest of the poor, "the fifth estate," to whom the state and the authorities refused even the right to live and work. The social implications of the popular rascal of legend were probably of secondary importance to Zuckmayer. He, like many others, saw first of all a situation in which the apparent prestige of the military caste and authoritarian state could be unmasked and ridiculed.

Zuckmayer subtitled [The Captain of Köpenick (1931)] … "A German Fairytale in Four Acts." Like other such stories, it could produce tears and laughter at the same time. The fate of the homeless, haunted man was tragic, but everything cheered up when the tables were turned, as if by magic. And Zuckmayer's fairy tale actually included a magic charm: the uniform. It was a long shot, but he used it masterfully. While adapting the rather undramatic anecdote to the stage, he found in the uniform (a necessary item of the plot) a secondary, magical meaning. It became the counterpart of the small, insignificant man. (pp. 51-2)

Not with the teasing probes of the bitter satirist, but with the sympathy of a compassionate though bemused observer, the playwright fused his images into a realistic whole. The "burlesque" of the discarded uniform ran parallel to the shoemaker's thorny road. It was a superb comic device…. (p. 54)

Although Zuckmayer lacked the biting wit of the true satirist, the character of this frustrated strategist, who becomes the unwitting cause of the comedy about the uniform, has all the earmarks of satire. In the first part of the play …, he created a masterpiece of social parody. It might even have been interpreted as a model for the theater of the absurd…. But as a realist, Zuckmayer never allowed his audience to forget that he was presenting, not the product of a ludicrous imagination, but an apparent historical reality in all its grotesque contradictions. (pp. 54-5)

In The Captain of Köpenick Carl Zuckmayer unequivocally confirmed the humanistic creed of his youth. With this play he clearly rejected the powers responsible for the German catastrophe [of World War I]….

[Retreating from Germany to Austria,] Zuckmayer enjoyed a time of contemplative creativity in his country hideaway from 1933 to 1938. His literary efforts of that period, especially the prose pieces inspired by the landscape, as well as poetry and plays, reveal that he was anxious to avoid direct involvement in politics. It might be called an escape into nature, or at least a covert withdrawal and contemplation of his true impulses and inclinations…. [He] did not avoid the problems of his time but transposed them into events and figures that became timeless mirrors of the dissonances in the world. (p. 57)

As an epic creator, always cognizant of the fullness of life, Zuckmayer was apparently not satisfied with the tragic theme [he created for his novel Salwàre (1936)]. He invented a series of subsidiary plots: a love story … and additional secondary incidents that form a sort of detective story. Such intertwining, suspenseful plot elements are characteristic of the traditional novel. Zuckmayer's main characters appear somewhat romantically overdrawn; the tragic pathos of their behavior is stretched to the very limits of the probable. As usual, the secondary characters seem more realistic and closer to life. But the author is most successful in his visually impressive description of the colorful South-Tyrolean landscape. Despite the quality of these literally "picturesque" scenic descriptions, the reader is asked to breathe rather more mountain air than is good for him. (pp. 60-1)

In its revised version [The Music and Life of Carl Michael Bellman (1938)] has been produced under the title Ulla Winblad…. Bellman, known in the history of literature as the "Villon of the Swedish rococo," was a man with whom Zuckmayer could identify…. It was the first of Zuckmayer's plays to use a ballad-like epic style, a sequence of tableaux rather than a dramatic progression of scenes. Typical of this style were the interludes, in which characters of Bellman's imagination appeared to offer commentary, as well as the insertions of original songs by the Swedish poet into the scenes. Quotations and notes supported the action on the stage, a procedure not entirely unlike that used by Bertolt Brecht.

Like many other dramatizers of actual events, Carl Zuckmayer contented himself with a few selected approximations to historical facts [as background]…. [In the foreground] were the antics of Bellman, a man addicted to wine, women, and song. His sweetheart, Ulla Winblad, also a historical figure, was freely transformed. (pp. 62-3)

[In this play, Zuckmayer] achieved an almost unpolitical view of international politics. According to his ideal conception, the meaning of art was "the blending of utmost freedom with utmost discipline." Love was to complement reason. When Zuckmayer's king and other characters express such gems of wisdom as that the state, as a work of art, should mean more than an ant hill, they are no doubt revealing the author's political beliefs. Yet the true poetry of the play rests less on its pseudo-political pronouncements than on the inventive creation of imaginary characters….

Although many passages of Bellman mirror the fate of a man without a country, that fate is always romantically transformed. (p. 64)

[In 1945 Zuckmayer finished The Devil's General.] Set in the Third Reich and featuring a "flying ace" from Hitler's Luftwaffe, the play became Carl Zuckmayer's second great and lasting hit. It dominated the repertory of German theaters during the first years after the Second World War as The Merry Vineyard had done during the 1920s.

The Devil's General has remained controversial ever since its first performance in Germany in 1947…. [It] elicited highly ambivalent analyses and opinions among reviewers and in the critical history of contemporary literature…. The author himself …, after weighing the pros and cons,… later decided to rewrite certain controversial passages.

The historical events and personal ties from which his plot was drawn are well known. In December, 1941, the German press reported that the commander-in-chief of the German Luftwaffe, Ernst Udet, had fatally crashed during the test flight of a new plane model. He was given a state funeral. Udet had been an old friend and war buddy of Zuckmayer, whom he had visited in Berlin as late as 1936. Although a confirmed opponent of the Hitler dictatorship, Udet had nevertheless offered his services to a government he knew to be unjust. His passion for flying, which had earned him many laurels in the past, made it impossible for him to give up his profession. (pp. 69-70)

Zuckmayer was attracted by the daring courage and the lust for adventure in this high-minded but not very clear-thinking hero, whose recognition of the horror came too late. Fervent opponents of the Hitler regime, critical advocates of internal resistance, have accused Zuckmayer of idealizing the character of Harras/Udet, who, had after all, served an inhuman system. (pp. 71-2)

The majority of the German theater audience in 1947 shared Zuckmayer's sympathy for his hero…. Implanted in the tragedy of General Harras was his creator's mythical-religious conviction about the eternal law, to which intellect, nature, and life were to be subjugated: "If it is complied with, it spells freedom."

The Devil's General would not, however, be a true Zuckmayer play if it exhausted itself in the conflict of ideas and clash of sentiments. Once again the born playwright succeeded in creating living people…. (p. 72)

Zuckmayer knew the language of all his characters and let them speak the way they really spoke. He caught each intonation exactly…. The result was a true picture of real life…. The atmosphere was right, although the tragic interpretation of what was happening on the stage—the subtitle of the last act mentions damnation—could not remain uncontroversial. After all, it had not been the principle of compensatory justice that had brought about the victory, but the rational planning and material superiority of the forces allied against Hitler's military might. (pp. 72-3)

[Zuckmayer] did not believe in a black-and-white division of nations into the "chosen" and the "damned." Every now and then the belated German romantic in him came to the fore, loving all things passionate and adventurous—in good as in evil. (p. 73)

Arnold Bauer, in his Carl Zuckmayer, translated by Edith Simmons (translation coypright © 1976 by Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., Inc.), Ungar, 1976, 92 p.

Siegfried Mews

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Zuckmayer's enormous success of approximately a decade ago [was] his autobiography Als wär's ein Stück von mir. The autobiography will, without doubt, retain a distinguished place in the annals of literary history as both a vivid account of the writer's development and a moving documentary report on the turbulent first half of our century. (p. 299)

Although Zuckmayer himself occasionally expressed his preference for his prose fiction, it is undeniable that the dramas have attracted the major share of critical acclaim and popular attention. The "German Trilogy" of Der fröhliche Weinberg (1925), Der Hauptmann von Köpenick (1931), and Des Teufels General (1946) established Zuckmayer's claim to fame, one may argue, because the individual plays come to grips with important phases of twentieth-century German history. They do so not in abstract terms but by means of vibrant theater with full-blooded characters. Thus Der fröhliche Weinberg, which did away with the abstractions of the expressionistic stage, is a zestful portrayal of life during the Weimar Republic, a state whose opponents … are ridiculed rather than taken seriously. The poor cobbler Wilhelm Voigt in Der Hauptmann von Köpenick cunningly overcomes the all-powerful bureaucracy of militaristic imperial Germany—but the specter of right-wing militarism was clearly visible in the years of economic and political crisis towards the end of the Weimar Republic when the play was written. There was no salvation, however, for the "Devil's General," Harras, whose technical expertise was at the disposal of a criminal regime in the controversial play Des Teufels General.

Zuckmayer, the politically aware writer, is less in evidence in the four prose narratives of the [Zuckmayer] Lesebuch [1976]. Yet here one aspect which pervades the writer's work becomes apparent: the profound influence of World War I…. [Two of his stories] directly reflect the writer's experiences as a soldier and officer. Particularly Engele von Loewen, which was published in German as late as 1952, exhibits distinct autobiographical traits. (pp. 300-01)

Aufruf zum Leben clearly demonstrates that Zuckmayer deserves to be recognized as an essayist of considerable caliber. In view of the fact that the majority of the essays are difficult to obtain (some are not even listed in the Zuckmayer bibliography), [this] collection is very useful because it makes accessible a hitherto neglected part of Zuckmayer's work. (pp. 303-04)

Siegfried Mews, "Special Report: Carl Zuckmayer (27 December 1896–18 January 1977)," in The German Quarterly (copyright © 1977 by the American Association of Teachers of German), Vol. 50, No. 3, May, 1977, pp. 298-308.