Wednesday, June 5, 2019


The major theme of Walter Hasenclever’s play The Son represents the hostility between Father and Son. The Father, who proudly points to his dueling scar that was considered as a badge of courage, discipline and honor, portrays the repressive order of Wilhelm’s bourgeois society.  The character of The Son is in revolt against this level of authoritarianism and its values. The play is an early representation of this revolutionary issue which was frequently portrayed in later Expressionist drama. The father/son conflict created in this play may have exaggerated the bitter conflict that was embedded in German family life, but it portrayed a situation that was representative of many young men’s feelings.

Once World War One was underway, The Son and other dramas with a similar theme take on an additional meaning. When the Expressionists realized that the current war would not result in the creation of the new society they had envisioned, they focused on characters such as The Son. Son began to be understood as a representation of the “new man,” who was envisioned as a revolutionary. In this role he would preside over peace and social justice.  Once the role of The Son took on this additional significance, the play was heralded as an outstanding and revolutionary drama.

The first reading of the completed version of The Son was presented in 1914 at Berlin’s Das Gnu (The Antelope). This literary club founded by Kurt Hiller (1885-1972) sponsored social gatherings for young poets and intellectuals, especially those interested in expressionist writings. Hiller was the leader of expressionism as a movement for activism. Hasenclever was politically influenced by his friendship with Hiller and the playwright claimed that the character of The Friend is partly based on Hiller.

Since German censorship was very strict when the war commenced, numerous private clubs and theatre groups were founded to present plays that took issue with aspects of the war or the home front culture. Readings of these plays as well as staged performances were produced by these private groups. The Son had its first closed performance on September 30,1916 in the Kammerspiele (the smaller theater) of Prague’s Deutsches Landestheater. Hasenclever was in the military when this production opened.

A second production took place in Dresden on October 8, 1916 with Ernst Deutsch (1890-1969) playing The Son. It was Deutsch’s performance in the title role that began to create an expressionist style of acting that fit the exaggerated characterizations.  Kurt Pinthus (1886-1975) a literary and film critic, reviewed Deutsch’s performance as “surprising, convincing, overwhelming.” By 1920 Deutsch was regarded as an expert on expressionist acting.

                                                       ERNST DEUTSCH as THE SON

Director Adolf Licho (1876-1944) who emigrated to Germany from Ukraine, a part of Russia at the time, directed the production. He is best remembered for his work in film. Otto Reigbert (1890-1957) designed the sets for this production.  A newspaper article in The Guardian (London) dated January 30, 1922 is titled THEATRE ARTS—The Exhibition at Amsterdam. This event was The International Theatre Exhibition and the reviewer stated: “The wild abandon of Reigbert’s settings for Hasenclever’s “Der Sohn” and for Knut Hamsun’s “Game of Life” are examples of the modern spirit revolting against romanticism.” There are photos on-line of several of Reigbert’s designs for The Son.

The first performance of The Son for the general public opened in Vienna at the Volksbuhne Wein on January 25, 1917.  This production was followed by another one at the Pfauentheater in Zurich on June 20, 1917. The first public performance in Germany, after the censorship laws were lifted, was in Mannheim on January 18, 1918. Fritz Odemar (1890-1955) played the role of The Son. Richard Weichert (1880-1961) directed the production and he staged it so that the development of the Son’s character became more extreme as he moved away from under his father’s strict control. Weichert was also responsible for the introduction of new lighting techniques that projected The Son’s thoughts and feelings through symbolic images. This production, after receiving eighteen curtain calls on opening night, was an instant success.

The next major production was directed by Max Reinhardt (1873-1943) in Berlin opening on November 22, 1918. The role of The Son once again starred Ernst Deutsch.  This theatrical version of the play had a very successful first season and it was repeated during many following seasons. The Observer in London had an article titled DRAMA EXPERIMENT IN BERLIN—"Young Germany” Ceases to Exist and dated September 19, 1920. This story reported that The Son “is one of few that have been accepted by ordinary canons and included in this season’s repertory of Reinhardt’s ‘Deutaches Theater.’”  As the popularity of the play spread to different countries in eastern Europe, its message applied to a greater portion of the younger male generation who recognized their own struggles against authoritarianism at home as well as political authority in their countries. The character of The Son grew in significance as their model for independence.

I have not found any information about The Son being performed in England. I did find an article in the New York Times dated September 17, 1922.  It reported that Phillip Goodman, an American, bought the rights for forty-five plays in Germany that included Hasenclever’s The Son. Goodman was very proud of having secured the rights to produce this drama since The Son “had one of the longest runs in Germany of any play in the last five years.” I did not find any references to The Son ever being produced in the United States.

PHOTO: ERNST DEUTSCH as The Son. This photo appears in Spreizer, Christa. From          Exppressionism to Exile--The Works of Walter Hasenclever.  Rochester:Camden House, 1999.

There is an earlier post on this blog discussing another World War One Play by Hasenclever titled ANTIGONE (1916).

Friday, May 24, 2019


Walter Hasenclever (1890-1940) wrote his play The Son (Der Sohn) prior to the start of World War One. It was written between summer of 1913 and early 1914. It was published in the same year by Kurt Wolff (1887-1963). This play expressed the developing sentiments of the younger generation.  Hasenclever, who was raised by an authoritarian father, depicts in this play the repressive environment under which many Prussian sons were raised.

                                                            WALTER HASENCLEVER

The Son is a five act Expressionistic play with many segments of it utilizing realistic dialogue. It has multiple scenes in each act that are modeled on the French scene. The play is set in the “Present” which the printed script dated as 1914.  The action of the play takes place over the three days following Son’s failure of his final exam.  Act I, Scene one is set in The Son’s room which has a large window with a view.  This room is in his father’s house. It is one hour before sunset. Son is twenty years old. Since his mother died at Son’s birth, he has been raised by his father. Son fears his father’s reaction to his failed exam. The scene ends when The Tudor plans to send The Father, who is out of the city, a telegram regarding Son’s failure. 

Scene two is in Son’s room. He is alone ruminating poetically about life and death as he looks out his window. As the sun sets, Son decides to live. Scene three. Friend enters Son’s room. Son, who has never experienced love wants Friend, with his experience, to give him clues as to how to proceed to woo a woman. Scene four. Fraulein, who works in the house, enters.  This four-line scene establishes that she will bring Son his dinner and a lamp. She leaves. Scene five. Friend declares Fraulein is beautiful.  Son has dinner with her every night. Friend suggests that Son should begin his sexual awakening with Fraulein. Scene six. Son attempts to seduce Fraulein, but he is not successful and she bids him good night.  Scene seven has Son thinking maybe he will succeed tomorrow.

Act II. Scene one. It is the next day in Son’s room after sunset. Son and Fraulein are having dinner. Fraulein promises to come to Son later tonight.  Suddenly Son sees his Father’s car arrive at the house and Son promises to confront his Father. Fraulein leaves the room. Scene two. Father enters the room and he is very angry about Son’s failure of the exam. He rejects all of Son’s requests for freedom and locks Son in the room.

Scene three. The Friend arrives, but he is not allowed to enter the house. Friend then appears at the window and tells Son to leave through the window. “We will take you in our midst.  Don’t be afraid.” Then Friend disappears. Scene four. Son rushes to his closet and rummages through the contents.  He finds his tailcoat and begins to dress as “the finale from the Ninth Symphony is sung in the background.”  Scene five. Fraulein unlocks the door to Son’s room. Son tells her he is leaving the house tonight. Suddenly Friend’s face appears in the window and then disappears. A few minutes later Son bids Fraulein goodbye. He jumps from the window and disappears. Scene six is Fraulein alone at the window describing Son’s flight and her best wishes for him.

Act Three. Scene one takes place a few hours later in the anteroom to an auditorium. Two of the four organizers of this event are there.  They discuss how they organized the club named “For the Survival of Joy.” Scene two starts when the third member of the organizers arrives.  He is Prince Scheitel. The three men discuss their ideas for the organization. Scene three starts as The Friend suddenly enters the anteroom.  He informs them that he knows what they are discussing and restarts the argument about who will speak at this rally and what will be discussed. Eventually Friend stops the bickering and opens the door as he calls to someone.  Scene four opens as The Son, wearing a black mask and the tailcoat, enters. Son cannot see due to the mask, so Friend introduces him to the others before pushing him onto the stage. His command to Son is “Now talk to them.  No longer a dead man—you are free!” Scene five is Son’s rousing speech. At its conclusion everyone sings the Marseillaise.

Act Four. Scene one is in a hotel room the next morning. The Son and Adrienne, a prostitute, has spent the night together and he is enamored of her. The scene ends as she leaves the room. Scene two starts as The Friend enters. He gets Son to focus on keeping the flame of revolution against the older generation alive. Friend confides that he has told Son’s Father where Son is. Friend bolsters Son by emphasizing that Father must die and urges him to kill Father. He gives Son a revolver. Scene three. Inspector arrives to take Son back to his Father’s house. Scene four immediately follows the exit of Son and Inspector. Friend is alone in the hotel room. He contemplates death, but he decides against it and leaves the room to meet Adrienne.

Act Five. Scene one. A few hours later. This scene takes place in the Father’s consultation room in his house. The Inspector has brought The Son back to this house and The Father wants to hear about Son’s apprehension. The Father discusses how he plans to teach Son a lesson.  When The Father wants to know if The Inspector shares the same view of how this should be done, the Inspector diplomatically disagrees. Eventually the Inspector leaves.  Scene two. Son enters still wearing the tailcoat.  Father and Son are very formal with each other. An argument ensues and The Father dies of a stroke when Son points the revolver at The Father’s chest. Scene three. Fraulein enters and she see The Father is dead. It is at this point Son proclaims:
                        With me for what is vital to unite
                         I have not shunned Death’s eternal might.
                         Now man’s greatest power to proclaim
                         Toward freedom, is my heart’s new aim!

The Son was presented on stage for private performances in Eastern European cities from 1916 through the end of the war. When World War One was concluded, The Son was presented in theatres for the general public.  The Son was recognized as a significant drama.

My next post (THE SON--PART II) will outline why the script became meaningful to the revolution against the claustrophobic familial lifestyle imposed by the older generation who believed in Wilhelm’s authoritarianism.  The post also will include the production history of The Son prior to 1920.

PHOTO: Speizer, Christa. From Expressionism to Exile--The Works of Walter Hasenclever
                    Rochester: Camden House, 1999.

Sunday, April 28, 2019


Edmund Golding (1891-1959) was an actor playing in My Lady’s Dress by Edward Knoblauch (1874-1945) when England declared war on Germany (August 4, 1914). London’s West End theatres were temporarily closed, so Golding spent his time writing a one-act “play of the moment.” This one-act drama depicts a family in London during the initial days of war. God Save the King opened at the London Palladium on August 17, 1914.  It was the first playscript dealing with this war that was submitted to the Lord Chamberlain’s Censor. It was approved for staging to allow the censor to learn if London audiences would attend theatre presentations dealing with the current war.

The play is set in the kitchen of the Murray’s home located in South London. Mr. and Mrs. Murray live there with their two grown sons Harry and Edmund. The Murray’s have recently taken in a lodger named Heinrich Schultz, who is obviously German. The reason for having a lodger is that the family needs the money. Mr. Murray was without work and business conditions were unsettled during the initial days of the war. Most businesses were closed and banks were not allowing people to withdraw their money.  The play is set during an August 1914 evening.

Many young British men were anxious to join the armed services. Harry had previously joined the Territorial Force, a part-time volunteer unit of the British Army.  His unit has been called to serve and he is ready to leave for duty abroad.  Edmund had tried to join the army earlier that morning, but he was rejected. Edmund was told he was unfit for service since he has a “weak heart” and any exertion could kill him.

After Harry and his parents leave for the train station, Edmund and Heinrich have a conversation about war prior to Heinrich commenting on Mrs. Murray’s failing health. Heinrich offers Edmund money to send his Mother on a restful vacation if he will spy for Germany.  Edmund, who is desperate to save his mother from death, agrees to take the assignment. However, Edmund’s love of country saves him from committing a treasonous act and the play has a surprise ending.

This play illustrates the immediate fears held by the public that were related to the war, but it does not display the “grin and bear it” attitude expected of the British citizens. It clearly presents the London population’s sense of dislocation as well as the growing awareness of personal inconveniences that were quickly multiplying.  Since the play portrays a dose of patriotism, the Lord Chamberlain’s Censor allowed this play to be presented to the public.

God Save the King was also the first drama that depicted the presence of Germans living and working in England, while serving as spies for Germany. The German spy embedded in British life reflected one of the major national anxieties throughout the entire course of the war and was frequently a situation depicted on stage. 

Berte Thomas (1867-19??) an actor and playwright who faded from the London stage after the early 1920’s, wrote the one-act play titled For My Country. His wife, the well-known London actress, Frances Ivor (1860-1937) starred in Thomas’s 1917 patriotic drama.  It illustrates how an older woman living on the home-front and on the sidelines of the war effort could be faced with a difficult choice that places duty to country over family

For My Country takes place in Mrs. Ford’s flat.  It is evening.  Her son Arthur, a Captain in the British army, arrives home for a three week leave. She has not seen him in nearly nineteen months. Arthur is on leave since he had been wounded and is still recovering. Mrs. Ford quickly notices and comments on the fact that Arthur has changed. Mrs. Ford picks up on changes in his use of language as well as his increased height.  After he plays the piano and sings to her, she tells him that her son could never play the piano and sing.  She eventually gets her guest to confess he is a German spy impersonating her son. He is Captain Hartymann of the Imperial Guard.

Mrs. Ford quickly learns that while Hartymann is posing as her son, Arthur is safe from execution. Arthur is being held hostage in Germany. Mrs. Ford is placed in the position of either being a traitor to her country or causing the death of her son.

While she moves back and forth between her two options, she presses Hartymann to learn about his assignment.  When she finally gleans that the major outcome of his mission could cause the death of numerous British soldiers, she makes her phone call to the authorities.  Hartymann’s last line in the play: “Well I give my life for my Country.”  Mrs. Ford: “I sacrifice my son’s life - for mine.”

This play reminded the audience that war affects more than those serving in the armed services.  It also strongly plays upon mothers and wives contributions to the war effort even if they are not actively involved in providing some type of official work or services.

Frances Ivor received positive reviews for her role as Mrs. Ford as did C. M. Hallard (1865-1942) who played the role of Captain Hartymann.  For My Country opened on May 28, 1917 at London’s Shoreditch Empire. It returned there for a week of performances on August 27th. This production seems to have had a limited tour outside of London. It was noted in the Hampshire Advertiser on 22 September 1917 that Frances Ivor would be appearing in For My Country at the Hampshire’s Palace Theatre during the following week. These two plays illustrate that war impacts every citizen.  Very few individuals may escape the ravages war creates.

  The scripts for these two plays are available in British Literature of World War I,
         Drama.  Volume 5.  Editor: Maunder, Andrew. London & New York: Routledge, 2016.