Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Ride Across Lake Constance follows several of Handke’s dramatic works which have a similar direction and theatrical preoccupation. The Sprechstücke of 1966-1967 show Handke’s fascination with the language of the theater. Publikumsbeschimpfung (pr., pb. 1966; Offending the Audience, 1969), Selbstbezichtigung (pr., pb. 1966; Self-Accusation, 1969), Weissagung (pr., pb. 1966; Prophecy, 1976), and Hilferufe (pr. 1967; Calling for Help, 1970) all shun the conventional plot and characterization of a more realistic stage; each of these pieces concentrates on making the audience self-conscious about their own relationship with the events of the stage, and aware of the subtleties of language.

Although these works primarily concentrate on language rather than on physical movement, like The Ride Across Lake Constance they also subvert theatrical conventions and expectations. Kaspar (pr., pb. 1968; English translation, 1969) shows more explicitly than the earlier Sprechstücke the dangers involved in the use of language. The audience witnesses the linguistic education of the central character, the clown Kaspar, as he progresses from one sentence to a range of verbal abilities. This education, however, alters him in more fundamental ways; as in The Ride Across Lake Constance, the learning of language becomes not only a complex, but also a politically dangerous process. Das Mündel will Vormund sein (pr., pb. 1969; My Foot My Tutor, 1970) and Quodlibet (pr. 1970; English translation, 1976) also precede The Ride Across Lake Constance. These two plays focus on the interpretation and meaning of physical action and gesture as well as of language; My Foot My Tutor, for example, is a wordless play. In both these plays, Handke delves further into the exploration of the signs and words which constitute and define human activity and relationship. The Ride Across Lake Constance investigates the full range of this activity and articulates most clearly the problems and doubts with which Handke, as a dramatist, is most concerned.