Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 446
Kaspar, whose name denotes a clown in German. He is described by the playwright as bearing no resemblance to any comedian; rather, he looks like Frankenstein’s monster (a creature artificially imbued with life) or King Kong (a gigantic gorilla who, on film, demolished Manhattan). He starts the play by emerging from the slit in mid-curtain only after numerous fumbling attempts. The playwright’s description of his appearance is precise about his costume (he has a round, wide-brimmed hat, a light-colored shirt, a colorful jacket with many metal buttons, wide pants, and clumsy shoes) and vague about his age and his height; Kaspar’s “face is a mask . . . pale . . . life-like; it may have been fashioned to fit the face of the actor.” Blundering about the stage, sometimes falling down, and upsetting furniture, Kaspar keeps repeating the single sentence that he knows: “I want to be a person like somebody else was once.” The playwright states that Kaspar has no concept of what the sentence means. Three prompters soon begin speaking to Kaspar; they are never seen on stage. Through the course of sixty-five brief sections, Kaspar finds himself both taught and tortured by this invisible trio. He then sits quietly, struggling futilely to keep his single sentence but finding it exorcised through the pressures of other sentences with which the prompters bombard him. Taught diverse grammatical constructions, Kaspar at first distorts them surrealistically, then gradually reproduces the conformist banalities with which the prompters indoctrinate him, such as, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” Kaspar begins to produce clones, five altogether, all interchangeable. He delivers a declaration of his new, self-confident persona in verse. No longer does he want to be someone else; he simply prefers keeping quiet. The five duplicate Kaspars express contentment, while the original Kaspar, speaking in a voice resembling his prompters, professes his accord with society’s established values and regulations but then recognizes that learning language has trapped him into social slavery. In the brief final scene, he joins the multiple Kaspars in producing extremely grating noises with files, knives, and nails, ending with Othello’s cry of disgust, “Goats and monkeys.”
Three prompters, who in the original German text are called Einsager, a made-up word literally meaning “in-sayers,” for which “indoctrinators” or “persuaders” may also be appropriate translations. They perform as Kaspar’s tutors, tormentors, censors, and chorus. The playwright insists in his stage directions that they speak without undertones or overtones, irony, humor, or warmth, and that they convey to the audience the notion that they are playing at speaking, and do so with great exertion of their voices even when they speak softly.