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Religion in Contemporary German Drama

Religion in Contemporary German Drama: Botho Strauß, George Tabori, Werner Fritsch, and Lukas Bärfuss

Sinéad Crowe
Volume: 131
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell & Brewer,
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    Religion in Contemporary German Drama
    Book Description:

    Critics often claim that the twenty-first century has seen a sudden "return" of religion to the German stage. But although drama scholarship has largely focused on politics, postmodernity, gender, ethnicity, and "postdramatic" performance, religious themes, forms, and motifs have been a topic and a source of inspiration for German dramatists for several decades, as this study shows. Focusing on works by four major dramatists - Botho Strauß, George Tabori, Werner Fritsch, and Lukas Bärfuss - this book examines how, why, and to what effect religion is invoked in German drama since the late 1970s. It asks whether contemporary German drama succeeds in developing religious insights or is at most quasi-religious, exploiting religious signs for aesthetic, theatrical, or dramaturgical ends. It considers the performative and historical intersections between drama and religion, contextualizing the playwrights' treatments of religion by exploring how they lean on or repudiate the traditions of modern European drama, especially that of Strindberg, the Expressionists, Artaud, Grotowski, and Beckett. It also draws on the sociology, anthropology, and psychology of religion, exploring how these works reflect the changing place of religion and spirituality in the world, from secularization to the "alternative" modes of religiosity that have proliferated in Western society since the 1960s. Sinéad Crowe is a Teaching Assistant at the University of Limerick, Ireland.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-844-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Definitions and Themes
    (pp. 1-14)

    In the early years of this millennium, religion “returned” to the stage, causing a good deal of surprise, interest, and exaggeration among observers of German theater. “Neuerdings beschäftigt sich das Theater wieder ganz gern mit der Religion” (The theater has recently become quite preoccupied with religion again), asserted Matthias Heine in the newspaper Die Welt.¹ “Glaubens- und Religionsthemen erobern die deutschen Bühnen” (Themes of belief and religion are conquering the German stages), wrote Christine Dössel in the Süddeutsche Zeitung.² In the 2005 German studies yearbook Jahrbuch für Internationale Germanistik, Katharina Keim maintained that there had been a “Wiederkehr des Religiösen...

  5. 1: The Relationship between Theater and Religion
    (pp. 15-22)

    Insofar as religion and the arts both attempt to interpret and give meaning to human existence, it could be argued that they have always been linked, and indeed that together they belong to the roots of culture.¹ It is often claimed, however, that theater has an especially close bond with the ritual dimension of religion. This chapter aims to introduce briefly some important ideas about the nature of this bond. I begin by discussing the theory that ancient and medieval theater emerged out of cultic and Christian rites. I then turn to contemporary performance theory, which leaves aside the question...

  6. 2: Religion in Modern European Theater and Drama
    (pp. 23-48)

    In 1888, August Strindberg declared that both religion and theater were on the verge of extinction in an increasingly rationalistic world. “Nowadays,” he wrote, “the primary process of intuition is giving way to reflection, investigation and analysis, and I feel that the theater, like religion, is on the way to being discarded as a dying form which we lack the necessary conditions to enjoy.”¹ Yet Strindberg himself became one of the many modern dramatists and theater-practitioners whose work was heavily influenced by religion. Ironically, proponents of one “dying form” began looking for inspiration to another cultural form that no longer...

  7. 3: “No One Wants to Get to God Anymore”? Botho Strauß’s Groß und klein and Die eine und die andere
    (pp. 49-66)

    Because of its striking use of religious imagery, Botho Strauß’s Die eine und die andere: Stück in zwei Akten (The one and the other: A play in two acts, 2005) was cited by Germany’s foremost theater journal, Theater heute, as exemplifying religion’s twenty-first century “return” to German theater.¹ However, this ignored the fact that religion has been present in the theatrical texts of Strauß — one of Germany’s most acclaimed writers and regarded by some as the voice of his generation² — since the beginning of his long, prolific career. Indeed, religion played an especially prominent role in Strauß’s breakthrough...

  8. 4: Theological Farce: George Tabori’s Mein Kampf
    (pp. 67-90)

    Since first coming to prominence in Germany with Die Kannibalen (The cannibals, 1969), a comedy depicting cannibalism among prisoners at Auschwitz, George Tabori has been best known as a taboo-exploding “memory worker” who uses black humor to confront audiences with the atrocities committed during the Nazi regime. Scholarship has been so preoccupied with assessing Tabori’s contribution to the “Theater of the Holocaust” that the important role played by religion in his work has been greatly neglected.¹ This chapter seeks to redress the imbalance somewhat by exploring the place of religion in Tabori’s most successful play, Mein Kampf: Farce (1987),² taking...

  9. 5: “The Last Refuge for Metaphysics”: Werner Fritsch’s Theater Theory
    (pp. 91-106)

    Werner Fritsch’s theoretical and programmatic writings repeatedly refer to religion in their attempts to redefine theater’s potential in the late capitalist, virtual age. For example, they highlight the performative affinities between theater and religion, affirming the old notion that these two dimensions of human activity are closely related. One of these texts declares that contemporary theater’s task is to fill the metaphysical vacuum that has been left by the decline of organized religion. Elsewhere, theater’s ethical significance is compared to that of the Last Judgment. But despite the fact that religion appears to be a major source of inspiration for...

  10. 6: “The Feeling of Faith”: Fritsch’s Wondreber Totentanz and Aller Seelen
    (pp. 107-130)

    Wondreber Totentanz: Traumspiel and Aller Seelen: Traumspiel, two explorations of the National Socialist past set in or around his native Upper Palatinate region of Bavaria, are prime examples of the memory work for which Fritsch is best known. They both demonstrate the religiose quality that is also characteristic of Fritsch’s theater, for religious elements pervade virtually all semiotic levels, from the titles, characters, and language to aspects of the mise en scène such as stage decoration, costumes, music, and lighting. In fact, the religious signs are too numerous to examine exhaustively in one chapter. This chapter therefore focuses on some...

  11. 7: Belief and Unbelief in the Twenty-First Century: Lukas Bärfuss’s Der Bus (Das Zeug einer Heiligen)
    (pp. 131-142)

    Awarded germany’s most prestigious theater award, the Mülheim Dramatists’ Award, and selected by the journal Theater heute as the best play of 2005, Swiss playwright Lukas Bärfuss’s Der Bus (Das Zeug einer Heiligen) was by far the most celebrated of the wave of plays exemplifying the “return” of religion to the German theater in the 2000s. Acclaimed for raising urgent questions about secularity, faith, morality, and meaning in the twenty-first century, it consolidated Bärfuss’s reputation as a provocative young playwright whose work tackles the most topical issues. A reviewer for Die Welt, for example, described the play as “ein fulminantes,...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 143-146)

    The departure point of this study was that religion did not “return” to German theater of the 2000s, as has been widely claimed. I identified several major works from the past four decades in which religion plays a prominent role. This role is complex and variegated, however. We have seen that a wide variety of dimensions of religion are invoked, including its beliefs, practices, myths, ethics, and experiential aspects, across various elements of theater, from its themes, forms, language, and characters to aspects of its mise en scène. Furthermore, religious elements serve a broad range of aesthetic, theatrical, and dramaturgical...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 147-160)
  14. Index
    (pp. 161-168)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 169-169)