(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Franz Woyzeck is a conscript fusilier, a poor, simple soldier with a peasant’s slow mind and a peasant’s superstitions. The only happiness he has in his wretched existence comes from his relationship with his sweetheart Marie and their small son. Because his army pay does not suffice for the support of his household, he is forced to earn additional money by performing menial tasks about the camp and in the garrison town where his regiment is stationed.

Serving as a barber’s apprentice in his youth, he is often called in to shave his Captain. The officer, a man of speculative, ironic temperament, likes to talk about such topics as time and eternity, matters often beyond Woyzeck’s comprehension. Sometimes the Captain jokingly reproves the poor fellow for his lack of morals, since he fathered a child without benefit of a wedding ceremony. Woyzeck always declares that if he were a gentleman with a laced coat and a cocked hat he, too, could be virtuous. He considers virtue to be a privilege of the educated and great, and not intended for miserable creatures such as himself.

An eccentric Doctor also pays Woyzeck a few coins to act as the subject of fantastic medical experiments. The soldier is supposed to live on a diet of peas and to hold his water for stated periods of time. When Woyzeck tries blunderingly to explain his views on nature and life, the Doctor is delighted. He thinks Woyzeck’s halting remarks show an interesting aberration, and he predicts that the man will end in a madhouse.

One day, Woyzeck and his friend Andres go into the country to cut wood for the Captain. Woyzeck begins to talk wildly about the freemasons, claiming that they burrowed under the ground and that the earth they hollowed out is rocking under his feet. Their secret signs were revealed to him in dreams, and he is fearful of their vengeance. Andres, usually a matter-of-fact fellow, becomes rather alarmed when Woyzeck pictures the Last Judgment in the glowing colors of the sunset. Returning home, Woyzeck tries to explain to Marie the vision he saw in the sky. She is hurt because in his excitement he fails to notice his son. That afternoon, a handsome, bearded Drum Major ogled Marie while she stood at her window and talked to a friend outside. She wonders about Woyzeck and his strange thoughts. Marie is hearty and earthy. It is easier for her to understand people’s emotions than their ideas.

Woyzeck and Marie go to a fair. As they enter one of the exhibits, the Drum Major and a Sergeant come by and follow them into the booth, where the barker is showing a horse that can count and...

(The entire section is 1070 words.)