Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen

[This page by Michael Navratil]

Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen; Murderer, the Hope of Women (first performed in 1909; first published in 1910)

Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen; Murderer, the Hope of Women, written in 1907, is a short play by Oskar Kokoschka. It is often considered to be the first Expressionist play. Thematically and aesthetically, it can be regarded as a link between Viennese Modernism and Expressionism.

Set in archaic scenery, the play focuses on the conflict between ‘The Man’ and ‘The Woman’ who are the leaders of a group of warriors and a band of maidens respectively. When they meet, the Woman is both drawn to and repulsed by the Man. He commands his men to brand her; she in turn stabs him. While the warriors and maidens engage in an orgy, the Man is locked up in a cage. The Woman, who is still lustfully drawn to the Man, approaches the cage. There the Man withdraws her life energy, frees himself and slays the warriors and the maidens ‘wie Mücken’ (‘like flies’).

Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen; Murderer, the Hope of Women is marked by excessive symbolism in colours and celestial bodies, animal metaphors, dense and often cryptic language, Christian imagery and a raw depiction of cruelty, thus prefiguring the Expressionist aesthetic. Thematically, it draws on one of the key concepts of Viennese Modernism, namely the idea that rationalist (male) culture lacks life and is in dire need of a new source of vital energy. In Kokoschka’s play, this vital power is to be found in women, but can only be obtained through an act of violence. Kokoschka emphasised that there was no didactic or moral dimension to his play, rather that it was solely an expression of his own attitude to the world. Some critics consider the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud and the misogynist gender concepts of Otto Weininger as important influences for Kokoschka’s work.

Paul Hindemith based an opera of the same title on Kokoschka’s play. The opera was first performed in 1921.

Further Reading in English

Carol Diethe, Aspects of Distorted Sexual Attitudes in German Expressionist Drama with Particular Reference to Wedekind, Kokoschka and Kaiser (New York: Lang, 1988)

Henry I. Schvey, Oskar Kokoschka: The Painter as Playwright (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1982)

Further Reading in German

Horst Denkler, ‘Die Druckfassungen der Dramen Oskar Kokoschkas. Ein Beitrag zur philologischen Erschließung der expressionistischen Dramatik’, DVjs 40 (1966), 90-108

Gerlind Frink, ‘Zur Geschlechterbeziehung in Kokoschkas Einakter Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen’, in Gudrun Kohn-Waechter (ed.), Schrift der Flammen: Opfermythen und Weiblichkeitsentwürfe im 20. Jahrhundert (Berlin: Orlanda Frauenverlag, 2001), pp. 95-110

Michael Navratil, ‘“…den Schauer des Mythos neu schaffen”. Die kreative Rezeption von Nietzsches ›Geburt der Tragödie‹ in der Wiener Moderne’, Sprachkunst (forthcoming)

Monika Szczepaniak, ‘Der Mann als Erlöser? Geschlechterkampf und Hoffnungsdiskurs bei Oskar Kokoschka und Dea Loher’, Acta Germanica 35 (2007), 103-112