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....

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Pandora’s Box and Earth Spirit utilize a number of dramatic devices, which characterize not only these plays themselves but also Wedekind’s entire dramatic oeuvre. Most prominent among these devices is the use of grotesque characters to symbolize the unnaturalness and repressiveness of modern society vis-à-vis Lulu’s natural, innocent, and almost childlike attitude toward sexuality and life in general. In Pandora’s Box, examples of such characters are Herr Hunidei, the mute, who represents a repressed society’s inability to discuss sexual matters; Dr. Hilti, a hypocrite, who feigns respectability yet seeks out the services of a prostitute; and Jack the Ripper, a maniacal killer, who reflects society’s wish to repress and ultimately to destroy all elements that do not accord with its highly artificial and inhumane moral standards.

Another important device is the use of an impressionistically arranged series of situations in lieu of a traditional plot in both Earth Spirit and Pandora’s Box. Each situation affords a slightly different picture of the confrontation between middle-class morals and Lulu’s lack of sexual inhibition. The order of these situations is largely insignificant. They do not contribute to one another, but only to the symbolic value of the plays themselves. The only real order to be found in the Lulu tragedies exists in the fact that Earth Spirit represents Lulu’s...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Best, Alan. Frank Wedekind. London: Wolff, 1975.

Brustein, Robert. The Theatre of Revolt. Boston: Little, Brown, 1962.

Garten, Hugh. Modern German Drama. 2d ed. London: Methuen, 1964.

Gittleman, Sol. Frank Wedekind. New York: Twayne, 1969.

Hill, Claude. “Wedekind in Retrospect.” Modern Drama 3 (1960): 82-92.

Lewis, Ward B. The Ironic Dissent: Franc Wedekind in the View of His Critics. Willowdale, Ont.: Camden House, 1997.

Sokel, Walter H. “The Changing Role of Eros in Wedekind’s Drama.” German Quarterly 39 (1966): 201-207.