Blaubart − Hoffnung der Frauen

[This page by Michael Navratil]

Blaubart − Hoffnung der Frauen; Bluebeard − the Hope of Women (1997)

Blaubart − Hoffnung der Frauen; Bluebeard − the Hope of Women is a play by Dea Loher which premiered in Munich in 1997. Its male protagonist Heinrich Bluebeard turns into a serial killer after a first, traumatic love affair. At the end of the play, he himself is killed by his last love.

Loher’s play is composed of three different kinds of scenes: the experiences of Bluebeard with different women, most of whom he ultimately kills; conversations between Bluebeard and the blind girl; and monologues of either of the aforementioned two. Similar to some of the characters in Bertolt Brecht’s plays, Loher’s protagonists have a double consciousness, on the one hand experiencing the situations they are involved with while on the other hand being able to comment on their own actions and perceptions. Drawing on the aesthetics of Epic Theatre, the play thus alternates between emotional immersion and intellectual distanciation.

At the beginning of the play, Heinrich Bluebeard, a plain shoe seller, meets a young girl named Julia in a park. They fall in love and perform a private wedding ritual. But when Bluebeard is incapable of confessing his love as passionately as Julia desires, she commits suicide (an obvious reference to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet). After this experience, Bluebeard is not able to enter into a functioning relationship any more and consecutively kills five women who fall in love with him; but these women too are incapable of seeing him for what he is; instead, they use him as a projection screen for their own fantasies.

The last woman Bluebeard encounters, a blind girl, shows obvious parallels with his first love (including the name Julia), but refuses to be drawn into the fantasy space constituted by Bluebeard’s initial trauma. The blind girl, who is herself in love with Bluebeard, saves herself by killing him. But this act of violence does not delineate a liberation from delusions; her murder can rather be regarded as a desperate act which delivers her of the obligation to face the disappointments of actual human relations. After her act, the blind girl expresses her hopes to be able to see the sky at least once − a wish that can never come true for her; in the end, illusion prevails.

The play’s title is reminiscent of two literary texts: firstly, the tale of Bluebeard (originally written by Charles Perrault, later also adapted by the brothers Grimm), the story of a wealthy aristocrat who murders all his wives but the last one, whose brothers come to her rescue at the last moment and kill the fiend. Secondly, the proto-Expressionist play Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen; Murderer, the Hope of Women by Oskar Kokoschka, written in 1907. In Kokoschka’s version of the archaic struggle between the sexes, it is the man who draws all the vital energy out of the woman and transforms himself into an omnipotent warrior. Women seem to serve as a vital corrective to the overly rational nature of men here, but their libidinal attachment to men ultimately results in death. Loher complicates this misogynist notion of gender roles, thereby demonstrating its faultiness: in her play, women dream about the redeeming love of men; but so does the male protagonist, who is himself killed in the end. The stereotypical attribution of violence, emotionality, activity, passivity etc. to only a certain gender is no longer operative here. Rather, all the characters in Loher’s play are deluded in their longing for love, searching for a very specific kind of partner instead of actually engaging with the individuality of another person. Anything but a simple feminist reversal of power relations, Loher’s Blaubart − Hoffnung der Frauen; Bluebeard − the Hope of Women is a play about the harmful projections governing human relationships and the violent, yet ultimately tragic attempts to break free from structures of delusion.

Further Reading in German

Birte Giesler, ‘Überall Täter: Geschlechterkritik in Dea Lohers “Blaubart − Hoffnung der Frauen”’, Forum modernes Theater 20:1 (2005), 77-93

Birgit Haas, Das Theater der Dea Loher: Brecht und (k)ein Ende (Bielefeld: Asthesis, 2006)

Brigitte E. Jirku, ‘Zu Dea Lohers Stück “Blaubart − Hoffnung der Frauen”’, in Montserrat Bascoy et al. (eds.), Gender und Macht in der deutschsprachigen Literatur (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2007), pp. 69-81

Monika Szczepaniak, ‘Der Mann als Erlöser? Geschlechterkampf und Hoffnungsdiskurs bei Oskar Kokoschka und Dea Loher’, Acta Germanica 35 (2007), 103-12