The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Frank Wedekind originally planned to make his revolutionary Lulu character—the ultimate embodiment of female eros—the focus of a single Monstretragödie (gigantic tragedy). The unwieldiness of this project, however, coupled with severe restrictions imposed on his works by German censors, forced him eventually to break the gigantic tragedy down into two separate plays: Erdgeist (pb. 1895, pr. 1898; Earth Spirit, 1914) and Pandora’s Box.

Earth Spirit introduces many of the characters who will later play an important role in Pandora’s Box: Lulu, her lesbian admirer Countess Geschwitz, the vagrant Schigolch, and Alwa Schön, a writer who eventually becomes one of Lulu’s many lovers. This play also provides background information on Lulu herself: that she is known by many other names (her lovers call her Nelli, Eva, and Mignon), that she has no parents, that she was reared by the mysterious Schigolch and later educated—in Pygmalion-like fashion—by Alwa’s father, the newspaper editor Dr. Schön, and that she possesses no conscience, no soul, no feelings, and no morals and consequently represents the complete antithesis of bourgeois society as it existed during the Victorian age.

In Earth Spirit, the ravishingly beautiful Lulu, using a lethal combination of naïveté and charm, lures a number of respectable German burghers into her web of sexual excess, moral debasement, and, in certain cases, even death. Her husband, Dr. Goll, becomes her first victim. This elderly gentleman, who constantly attempts to keep Lulu’s eros in check, finds her in the arms of the painter Schwarz; he dies of a heart attack as he rushes to separate the pair. Lulu then marries Schwarz, who hopes to transform her into a perfect middle-class wife. After learning of Lulu’s immoral past, however, he commits suicide, thus becoming her second victim. Lulu’s final victim in Earth Spirit is Dr. Schön, her educator and mentor, who had previously kept her as a mistress. The play ends as Dr....

(The entire section is 845 words.)