Monday, November 26, 2012

Schnitzler and Stoppard collaborate - our love is eternal, of course, but there is a limit.

Special surprise bonus Schnitzler for the next two days!  I didn’t mean to read it, but I did.

Specifically, I read two Tom Stoppard adaptations of Arthur Schnitzler plays, Dalliance, a version of Liebelei (1895, English version performed in 1986) and Undiscovered Country, an adaptation of Das weite Land (1911, performed 1979).  Edith Grossman, telling reviewers how to do their jobs in Why Translation Matters,  demands that authors and translators be treated as creative co-equals.  In this case, I think she is correct, and will write accordingly.

I will call the composite author Schnitzpard.

Schnitzpard’s play begins with Chekhov’s gun:

FRITZ is discovered practising marksmanship with a duelling pistol…  It is clear from the way FRITZ inspects the target that he is not much of a shot.  There does not appear to be a hole in the target at all. (I., 5)

So the only question is who, by the end of Act III, is gonna get plugged.  Things are not looking good for Fritz, but who knows, his fate may end up being ironic somehow.

Fritz is just a student, but he is having an affair with a married woman, and at the same time having a fling with a seamstress who works at a theater.  The seamstress makes the mistake of falling in love.  Fritz and the seamstress each have friends who understand things better:

MIZI:  Well, next time we go out anywhere together you must wear your uniform.

THEODORE:  I only put it on for funerals [foreshadowing!].  But I’ll be wearing it for August – I’ve got manoeuvres.

MIZI:  Heavens, it won’t wait till August.

THEODORE:  No, that’s true – our love is eternal, of course, but there is a limit.  (I., 11-12)

Theodore's lines should be read in a Wildean spirit.

The very short third and final act is set backstage at the seamstress’s theater, with a rehearsal taking place on stage, meaning of course the actual backstage of whatever theater we might be in – typical Schnitzpardian theatrical playfulness – but with a point.  The contrast between the singing and botched cues in the background and the audience’s knowledge, my knowledge, that Chekhov’s gun has gone off in a duel with who knows what result while the women, knowing nothing about the duel, fret about entirely pointless problems, creates some outstanding tension.  There are lots of nice bits to quote, but they would resolve the tension a bit too abruptly.

Dalliance is a conventional play in many ways – love affairs and goofing around take up most of the action.  It is hardly as innovative as La Ronde (written 1897) or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1968) but is written with a lot of zing.  I would love to see it.

Page numbers refer to the 1986 Faber and Faber edition of Schnitzpard’s plays.


  1. Hmm, Chekhov's gun... I must be *very* careful not to introduce one into any of my posts.

    How does it compare with Schnitzler's prose work? I'm not one for plays myself, and I'm not sure how his style would work in that genre.

  2. Why not? Chekhov's guns are legitimate theatrical devices. Just make sure the gun goes off in the last act. Pow! Ouch! Uncle Vanya, not surprisingly, makes fine use of the device.

    As for Schnitzler's style, it works brilliantly in dramatic form. The emphasis shifts. The interior moves out into the world, through dialogue or symbolically charged action. Much like Chekhov, again - the plays and stories are of a piece.

    Why aren't you for plays? Here are three good reasons to read them: To experience new places and cultures, To reconsider things we think we know, and because They're often very good :).