The theme for the “playing time” of the season 2012 at the Grillo-Theater, Essen, (as featured earlier) was RESISTANCE. With only about 10 days in my native city, I clearly couldn’t catch all the plays under this heading, but I managed three:
- Ulrike Maria Stuart – Elfriede Jelinek
Schiller occupies, together with Goethe, the same sort of pedestal in Germany that Shakespeare inhabits in Britain.
Here they are in the major location of their creativity: Weimar.
Goethe on the left, Schiller on the right
His play carries the sub-title ‘A bourgeois tragedy’ – where ‘bourgeois’ refers to the lower middle-class background of the female lead character, and is not – as one might assume – a pejorative judgement, as employed by the characters of Jelinek’s play, who were extreme left-wing terrorists. One of the connections made is Jelinek’s use of Schiller’s ‘Maria Stuart’, by casting Ulrike Meinhof and Gudrun Ensslin (the two major female forces behind the Red Army Faction of the First Generation) as the rival queens, Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart. The other is the theme of resistance, or more to the point, the attempt to tear down existing boundaries, social inequalities, and the armed response to oppressive regimes. At the same time, all three plays pose the question of individual versus collective responsibility, and – ultimately - confront the audience (entertained or not, stirred or not, applauding or not) with characters who were all prepared to die for their beliefs:
Luise and Ferdinand die of poison because their love has no future in a world governed by class.
Ulrike Meinhof, Gudrun Ensslin and Andreas Baader also commit suicide because their interpretation of ‘the end justifies the means’ is not shared by a sizeable proportion of the West German population.
And most of the resistance fighters against fascism in the epic Weiss novel(s) turned play are executed by the respective totalitarian regime they had fought.
Fitting plays for a time when ‘to die for’ refers to nothing more than a consumer commodity??!!