The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

According to the playwright’s instructions, the first person to enter the theater where Kaspar is being staged should find the curtain open, with stage props (tables, a few chairs, a sofa, a rocking chair, a wardrobe) arranged randomly and out of context with one another. After the lights in the auditorium are dimmed, the spectators become aware of movement behind the backdrop which suggests that a person is trying to find the partition of the curtain for an entrance onto the stage. Finally, Kaspar, wearing a mask expressing astonishment and confusion, stumbles through the slit in the curtain. He walks with great difficulty and finally falls down. Sitting in the lotus position in the middle of the stage, he begins to repeat his one sentence over and over, varying pitch and intonation: “I want to be someone like somebody else was once.”

As Kaspar addresses this sentence, the only speech of which he is capable, to various objects on the stage, the voices of the three Prompters begin to drone from loudspeakers on all sides of the stage. They bombard him with commentary about his sentence and what that single sentence means to him. The fact that he knows that one sentence, they insist, means that he can learn other sentences. Gradually and reluctantly, under strong pressure from the constant indoctrination of the Prompters, Kaspar abandons his precious sentence; his sentence has been “exorcised,” and he stands mute for a few moments. Then, with increasing intensity, the prompters teach him new sentences and force him to adopt them by the sheer quantity of the speech material with which they assault him.

Kaspar, deprived of his own sentence, which might help him resist their brainwashing, learns “orderly sentences,” but the process is painful and his head begins to hurt. The “orderly sentences” are not merely grammatically correct; they also teach him to “order” his world and to adapt himself to the social order. Consequently, he begins to arrange the stage props in a manner the audience would call “orderly”: The random arrangement of tables, chair, and wardrobe is transformed into an inhabitable room. The process of language education turns into a process of forced socialization. Kaspar’s original wish to “be someone like somebody else was once”...

(The entire section is 942 words.)