Frank Wedekind: A German Dramatist of the Absurd?


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

While it is almost common nowadays to find Frank Wedekind numbered among the predecessors of the Theater of the Absurd, it is equally common to have the matter summarily dismissed with a few lines to the effect that Wedekind "has always been acclaimed" as a principal forerunner to the modern avant-garde (Absurd) theater, and that that theater's "debt" to him cannot be denied. For example, the "sell" to the prospective buyer on the back cover of a recent Fawcett paperback, The Lulu Plays, concludes with the impressive statement that it is difficult "to overestimate Wedekind's role in contemporary drama, as a vital force in modern expressionism and as a direct forebear of our Theater of the Absurd."1 Now in the first place it is debatable whether Wedekind's importance for the modern theater has ever been "acclaimed" or "overestimated." For the most part, references to him rarely move beyond simplifications of the kind cited above. Wedekind's admirers have concentrated principally-and quite legitimately--on his role as a forerunner to much that took place in the theater during the Expressionist movement, and subsequently in the theater of Bertolt Brecht. But with the greater attention paid to his successors, Wedekind's position has become almost entirely an historical one, and in that quarter his significance has become very generalized. Secondly, such claims all but imply that Wedekind exerted a genuine "influence" on the much later Absurdists, although the evidence now available would not justify our assuming that they paid Wedekind's works any significant attention; at least none have acknowledged even the slightest debt to him.

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