translated by Gregory Motton
Georg Buchner's play Woyzeck is one of the most performed and influential plays in German theatre. Based on a real-life murder trial that took place in Germany in the 1820s, the play was written in 1837, but left incomplete at the author's death from typhus in February that year. It was not staged until 1913, when it was premiered in Munich. There is ongoing debate regarding the extent to which the surviving text is complete, and the intended order of the scenes.
This English translation by Gregory Motton was published by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series in 1996. It follows the ‘definitive’ order of scenes established by Werner R. Lehman in 1967. Also included, in an appendix at the end, are several fragments, too short or too puzzling to have found secure places in the main text.
The play comprises a series of short, self-contained scenes. Franz Woyzeck, a lowly soldier stationed in a provincial German town, is bullied by his superiors and starved by the regiment's doctor in the name of scientific experiment. His only pleasures in life are his lover Marie and their innocent young son. But when Woyzeck learns that Marie has been unfaithful with the regiment's handsome Drum Major, he murders his lover in a fit of rage and hopelessness.
In his introduction to the published text, theatre scholar Kenneth McLeish writes that the play 'is like a jigsaw, gradually built up before our eyes. Each of its twenty-four scenes is self-contained. None flows out of or into any of the others. Our picture of each character, and of the developing situation, does not grow organically, like a plant (as happens in earlier drama). Rather, it is a kind of collage, in which each new piece changes the total picture, by juxtaposition rather than development. This method became standard in the arts of the twentieth century – examples are film montage, ‘block construction’ in classical music, ‘epic theatre’ in drama, cubism in painting – but in 1836 it was unprecedented.'