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.

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