Temptation has two primary critical contexts—as a play on the Faust theme and as a play by (and possibly about) Havel. As a Faust play, the work coheres with the myth’s emphasis upon the folly of personal intellectual ambition, while remaining sympathetic to the character’s desire for truth. Temptation also repeats the myth’s traditionally dim view of sexual pleasure; it is sex that drives Maggie mad, that inspires Vilma’s violent imagination, and that motivates the abuses of men in power. Fortunately, Havel does not partake of the worn “eternal woman” theme but rather comments ironically upon it with the mad Gretchen figure, Maggie-turned-Ophelia.
Havel tells the Faust story more directly than does, for example, Thomas Mann in Doktor Faustus: Das Leben des deutschen Tonsetzers Adrian Leverkühn, erzählt von einem Freunde (1947; Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn as Told by a Friend, 1948), yet he shares with Mann an attempt to use the myth to examine the troubled political situation of his country. The sexual politics of Temptation bear a clear resemblance to the common “government as brothel” metaphor in contemporary European writing; references to writers such as Jean Genet exist alongside allusions to a specifically Central European body of works: the fireman’s reference to the film Hoí, má panenko (1967; The Firemen’s Ball, 1968), by Milo Forman, Jaroslav Papouek, and Ivan Passer, and Poár v suterénu (pr., pb. 1974; fire in the basement), by Pavel Kohout, or the tango’s relation to Sawomir Mroek’s Tango (pb. 1964; English translation, 1966). In accord with Temptation’s Faustian context, this government is not merely corrupt but essentially evil. In that regard, Havel’s indictment is more firmly based in traditional humanism and is more severe than the satirical writing that was a normal political style in Soviet Europe.
As a play by Havel, Temptation has...
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