[This page by Michael Wood]


The short text, Mauser was completed in 1970, and is largely regarded as one of Heiner Müller’s most important works. In many ways, it can be considered a response to Bertolt Brecht’s 1930/31 Lehrstück ('learning play'), Die Maßnahme; The Measures Taken; not least because of a note at the end of the text in which Müller writes that Mauser is part of a trilogy (along with Philoktet; Philoctetes and Der Horatier; The Horatian), which both presupposes and criticises Brecht’s Lehrstück theory and praxis. Its première was planned to take place in the GDR in Magdeburg in 1972, but the production did not make it to the stage, and Mauser was subsequently never performed in the GDR. In this time, however, it received much success in Western theatres, and was eventually performed in the former GDR in Müller’s own production of the play at the Deutsches Theater, Berlin in 1991 (along with Quartett; Quartet, Herakles 2 oder die Hydra; Heracles 2 or the Hydra, and Wolokolamsker Chaussee V. Der Findling; Volokolamsk Highway V. The Findling).

The play is a ‘variation on a theme’ of Nobel Laureate Mikhail Sholokov’s novel Quiet Flows the Don. Mauser takes its name from the German handgun used widely in the first half of the twentieth century by Russian and German officers. It consists of two characters, A, B, and a chorus, which is often signalled to speak with A or B. The chorus resembles the revolutionary council that we find in Die Maßnahme; The Measures Taken: here, it is a form of military court, which is charged with upholding the revolution. Yet, A, whose work is to kill the enemies of the revolution is called before the chorus, as he has refused to do so. This is a similar fate which befell B. A is sentenced to death, and will be executed by his successor. Rather than opposing this sentence, A recognises his need to follow the diktat of the chorus, and speaks with them, uttering his own sentence. In the eyes of the chorus, the revolution will only succeed with the nullification of the individual; only then can collective interests win out. Thus, A is no more than a functionary of the collective, and the revolution’s enemies are his enemies. In order for the individual to survive, he must sacrifice himself whole-heartedly to the ends of the collective. Hence the repeated refrain of the play: ‘knowing, we must | tear out the grass so that it stays green.’ Müller’s text questions this position, seeing it as a paradox, which will self-perpetuate.

Further Reading

Bertolt Brecht, Die Maßnahme. Zwei Fassungen (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1998)

Sue-Ellen Case, ‘From Bertolt Brecht to Heiner Müller’, Performing Arts Journal 7:1 (1983), 94-102

Theo Girshausen, ‘“Reject it in order to possess it”: On Heiner Müller and Bertolt Brecht’, Modern Drama 23:4 (1980), 404-21

Andreas Huyssen and David Bathrick, ‘Producing Revolution. Heiner Müller’s Mauser as Learning Play’, New German Critique 14 (1976), 110-21; reproduced in Andreas Huyssen, After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1986), pp. 82-93

Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Sozialistisches Drama nach Brecht (Darmstadt and Neuwied: Luchterhand, 1974)