Author: Frank Wedekind, translated by Francis J. Ziegler
Published: Feb 2012 by Methuen Drama. Written 1890-1. First performed 1906.
Length: 192 pages
Warnings: rape, suicide, child abuse, and abortion
Source: Project Gutenberg
Summary from Student edition: Wedekind's notorious play Spring Awakening influenced a whole trend of modern drama and remains relevant to today's society, exploring the oppression and rebellion of adolescents among draconian parents and morals. This seminal work looks at the conflict between repressive adulthood and teenage sexual longings in a provincial German town. Highly controversial and with themes of sexuality, social attitudes and adolescence, the play is a popular and provocative text for study, especially at undergraduate level.
Review: Late 1800s Germany. Schoolboys and girls discover sexuality. It really does not go well. Among other things, Wedla Bergmann does not understand how babies are made, Moritz Stiefl is tormented by erotic dreams, and Melchior Gabor, having read about sex, now believes in nothing. In a series of scenes, we follow the teens as they try to navigate growing up.
You may have heard of the rock musical that got adapted from this play. It’s the controversial one that deals with rape, suicide, child abuse, and abortion. When the play first came out in 1906, it was criticised for sexuality, puberty, and homosexuality as well, but to be honest, that’s the least of everyone’s problems. As someone who quite enjoyed the musical and enjoys reading/seeing source material, I knew I’d have to read it someday.
I felt that some characters were quite underdeveloped. Martha’s story is only mentioned in passing, most girls don’t get any characterisation beyond fancying Melchior, and I didn’t really care for what happened to the boys other than Melchior and Moritz. We do get good characterisation for the three main characters, and we did get to know what some people were thinking in detail (see next paragraph). It could have been better though.
Giant monologues. Ugh. I know monologues are a standard part of drama, and I don’t mind a couple. But they seem to drag on and on and on, Hanschen’s “have you prayed tonight, Desdemona” one in particular, and if I were seeing this live, I would probably want the actors to just be quiet.
The plot is mostly driven by subtle indications of what’s happening. There are not that many stage directions, and if I didn’t know the story from the musical, I’d have had to reread quite a few scenes to make sure I understood what was going on.
What I really like about this play is that while it was written to criticise the repression of the 1800s, despite 120 years passing, it’s still relevant today: the young people are unprepared for life due to the inadequacy of adults. There’s a scene after Moritz dies in which the teachers are going to start discussing what to do about his death, but then they spend ages arguing over what window should be opened, which is the clearest example of adults failing to care for young people, a theme also seen when Wedla’s mother does not tell her about conception until it’s too late. The young people are victims of the society that forces academic knowledge on them (if they’re boys), does not tell them about life (for almost everyone) and leaves them to discover it on their own, which leads to tragedy.
Overall: Strength 3 tea to a tragedy that showcases perfectly what happens when sex-ed fails.