Death still comes to Everyman, but this study of three twentieth-century German plays shows the harder challenge of living without salvation in an age of war and unprecedented mass destruction.
Death comes to everyone, and in the late-medieval morality play of Everyman the familiar skeleton forces the universalized central figure to come to terms with this. Only his inner resources, in the forms of Good Deeds and Knowledge, ensure that he repents and is redeemed. Three important twentieth-century German plays echo Everyman - Toller's Hinkemann, Borchert's The Man Outside, and Frisch's The Arsonists/Firebugs - but the unprecedented scale of killing in the First and Second World Wars changed the view of death, while in the Cold War the nuclear destruction literally of everyone became a possibility. Brian Murdoch traces the heritage of Everyman in the three plays in terms of dramatic effect, changes in the image of Death, and especially the problem of living with existential guilt. Death, now over-fed, still has to be faced, but Everyman has the harder problem of living with the awareness of human wickedness without the possibility of salvation.
All three plays have tended to be viewed in their specific historical contexts, but by viewing them less rigidly and as part of a long dramatic tradition, Murdoch shows that all present a message of lasting and universal significance. They pose directly to the theater audience questions not just of how to cope with death, but how to cope with life.
This monograph reveals that the plays by Toller, Borchert, and Frisch are due for a re-evaluation: that there are untapped means by which they can connect with today's audiences. Even more than that, it will reinvigorate discussion around mid-twentieth-century German drama. * Erwin Warkentin, Memorial University of Newfoundland * Brian Murdoch reads three plays, by Toller, Borchert, and Frisch, against the backdrop of the late medieval "Everyman" morality play and its philosophical and theological mindset, making the point that there are less than immediately obvious, indeed surprising and significantly revealing "links" with the English work, which he detects with remarkable philologic and hermeneutic acumen. . . . The overall effect throughout is that of a stimulating, far-ranging tour through literary and philosophical landscapes one thought one was already familiar with but was not, guided by a learned and perceptive expert willing to be surprised himself and able to communicate such surprise to the reader. All in all, then, an eye-opener of a book, with a lucidly presented, commanding thesis, written by a clearly experienced critic, scholar, and thinker conversant with the highways and byways of the intellectual history of the West. * Karl S. Guthke, Kuno Francke Research Professor of German Art and Culture, Harvard University *