springs awakening

Spring's Awakening

Written by Frank Wedekind // Translated by VC Linde.

Spring's Awakening is an adapted translation taking the original text and updating it whilst moving it into the English language. This text was written for a performance at the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe Festival where it gained wonderful reviews after being performed by an outstanding company.

- - Frank Wedekind - -
Wedekind lived for most of his adult life in Germany although he was actually an American citizen as well – hence his full name of Benjamin Franklin Wedekind. His parents, both naturalised US citizens, moved back to Germany from San Francisco after eighteen years just before he was born and they never relocated back to the USA although American heritage was never far from Wedekind as a child.  His two younger brothers both moved to America in the mid-1880s but were terribly unsuccessful. They were forced to return to Germany and moved back with the family. His thoughts on travel can be seen in ‘Spring’s Awakening’ as both Melchior and Moritz believe that leaving the country will solve their problems. They intend to flee to England and America respectively in the original and America and Australia in this translation. 

Most of his work had aspects of auto-biography within them but none more so than ‘Spring’s Awakening’ which he described as being almost completely written from actual events in his childhood. Two of his childhood friends had committed suicide while they were at school and Mr. Stiefel’s horrific reaction to his son’s death in Act III: Scene II is a transcription of one of his friends’ fathers. There was actually a series of suicides around the time that Wedekind was at school and he and his friend discovered the bodies of two young boys who had shot each other in a suicide pact, deeply affecting the young man. One of his contemporaries described how seeing the death of his friends tempted him to the same fate. Wedekind did not get on well with his father – a theme that recurs both in ‘Spring’s Awakening’ and also in his more famous works, the ‘Lulu’ plays of ‘Earth’s Spirit’ and ‘Pandora’s Box’. Wedekind and his father split completely just before he wrote ‘Spring’s Awakening’, around the time his brother Donald returned from the USA. Wedekind had decided that he wanted to pursue a career as a writer both as a journalist and playwright but his father wanted him to become a lawyer. In a heated argument he hit his father and cut off communication. Wedekind and his father did eventually reconcile but were still never close. 

Wedekind was a strong critic of the status quo and especially of the sexual attitudes of the middle classes. As a journalist he wrote articles putting forward his beliefs and in 1898 King Wilhelm II disliked one of the articles that he had written and so placed Wedekind in prison for six months for lèse-majesté. Wedekind believed that he could make an impression on people using shock. This was the core of expressionism and his work, especially with “Frühlings Erwachen”, was a long way ahead of it’s time. His forward thinking caused Marie von Sivers to comment on the “undoubtedly strong but soul-breaking talent” that he possessed.

- - Updating the Script - -
The updating of Wedekind’s script to the 1960s and the relocation to England was a decision based on the main historical basis for the original script.
1880s Germany was a time of immense change both for the elites and for the general population. There was an economic boom after the end of the Franco-Prussian war which benefitted a large proportion of the population along with the morale boost for the country after winning a war. As Wedekind was writing however, the after effects of the economic boom was starting to take it’s toll and Germany’s economy was suffering again. The end of the war also meant that Germany was unified and through key relations they had good connections with the other powers in Europe. Technological advances had been key in helping the war such as railways and the extended use of telegraphs. Germany became the key power in Europe, although the UK still had more power from their empire they were little involved in Continental affairs at the time. The 1880s was also the second stage of the Industrial Revolution, bringing demand for Germany’s resources and employment for her people. At the same time there was a burst of new and radical literature that encouraged new ideas. For scholars the publication of Freud’s “The Interpretation of Dreams” and Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” were enormously important. In the non-fiction section works by R. L. Stevenson, Zola, and Dostoyevsky were starting to be printing and get a wider circulation. 

All of these changes came into a period of political tension within the united Germany. Otto von Bismarck created a series of legislation that has led to the Welfare State that still exists in Germany today however not all of his policies were as forward thinking. The government was restrictive to the population in order to prevent the spread of socialism and so there was a restriction on the freedom of the press and of political expression. 

The 1960s were beginning to see the changes that would change the political, and more importantly, social face of Britain. British repression in the 1950s was within society rather than only being a political tool as a majority of subjects – especially contraception and abortion – concerned with adolescence and sex were still a taboo. The importance of the sexual revolution in the 60s would have had a huge impact on Wedekind’s characters and their situations within the play. If Wendla had been on the pill, had been aware of the consequences of unprotected sex or able to seek a safe abortion then she would have probably survived.
Another major benefit of placing the characters in 1960s England was that it was the stage for the change over to the Comprehensive system of education. The boys are clearly in a Grammar school rather than in a Secondary Modern as they have to take examinations to maintain their place. It is likely that the girls would have also been at a Grammar school although so little emphasis is placed on their education within school by Wedekind that it little matters. Before the change to the comprehensive system pupils took an eleven-plus examination to see whether they should be placed in a grammar school or a secondary modern. Grammar schools at the time were for those who were academically better and pushed pupils harder. Uniforms were always worn and teachers, schools were almost entirely staffed by men, were to be respected. Pupils were not allowed off the premises and there were few extra-curricula activities outside of the Combined Cadet Force for those interested in the military. Although teachers were allowed to use corporal punishment there was a second tier by the pupils, hierarchies used to bully the younger or less popular pupils. Most of these schools were single sex and many remained so even after the system change.

The supplement to the general school system was that of the juvenile correctional facilities. The most extreme of these were the borstal institutions which were effectively children’s prisons with a fringe of education. Pupils were generally sent to these by the state for punishment rather than being recommended by teachers or parents. Approved Schools were not as strict but were also generally used by the courts to educate young offenders. Rather than placing Melchior simply in a different grammar school it seems to highlight the shame and fear that his parents feel to place him in an institution with boys who have probably broken the law. Approved schools were educational facilities and were reasonably easy to get out of which made them less of a burden on the state. These establishments were run at the discretion of the Headmaster and punishments were decided by teachers. Under the 1933 Act they were not allowed to use corporal punishment on the boys and also boys were not allowed to punish any of the other boys. 

The title “Frühlings Erwachen” has been translated into both “Spring Awakening” and “Spring’s Awakening”, for this translation, “Spring’s Awakening” has been chosen. Rather than showing the awakening of spring by adding the apostrophe it also adds a little more debate as to what ‘Spring’ refers to. It could quite easily be the awakening of spring in the children as they enter adolescence. It could also be the literal space of time in which the play is set as the whole piece occurs between May and November within one year; using the frame of Wendla’s birthday and death.

- - Extract from Act Two: Scene Seven - -

Moritz: This is the best choice - -I don’t fit here. I don’t care what happens to them. I’m closing the door - -I’m free, from them. I can’t be pushed around anymore. I didn’t ask for any of this – I didn’t make a deal with God. I was forced. I’m not blaming my parents - - but they were old enough to know the consequences. If I’d known better I’d have been born as someone else.
       It was just chance that I was born and I’m now supposed to be grateful. I’ll die of laughter. It’s strangely quiet tonight – calm. All of the earth and all of the sky joined like a cobweb. Everything is peaceful - - as in tune as a song. I haven’t danced since Mary Ann’s birthday. Her dress was so low, both back and front. Down to her waist and then at the front - - - it made me dizzy. I can’t think about that now.
        - - - - - - - - - - - - -
       That’s one reason to stay. So strange – it must be like suddenly being swept downstream. It’s not right to have lived and not had the most human part of life. ‘Dear boy, you went to Egypt and didn’t see the pyramids?’ I’m not going to cry today. I’m not thinking of my funeral. Melchior by my grave. My parents with the Vicar. Rushworth reading the Address. I probably won’t have a headstone – not that I’ll miss it. Graves are there for the living not the dead.
       I’d never leave if I had to say goodbye to everyone. People aren’t actually as bad as I thought. They all try hard at least. I feel sorry for the ones that had to put up with me.
       I can feel the anticipation - - of making it all better. A deep shaking sadness. Life’s given up on me. I can see their kind, earnest faces looking at me. The headless queen again – waiting with compassion. The foggy illusion’s gone away. Life has to be something to take or leave.

- - Extract from Act Three: Scene Seven - -

Melchior: All the others can’t follow me in here. They can search for me in the strip clubs. - - I need to think. Plan. My clothes are a wreck – I couldn’t defend myself from a little girl. When it’s light I need to find the way through the woods. The flowers will all be frozen tonight. Bare ground in the cemetery. This is worse than getting out of the school window.
       I’m not ready for this. Balanced on the edge. If only I’d never left. Why did she die? Why am I alive?
       No one can understand fate. I would have suffered the worst for her.
       How am I still standing? I go from one sin to the next – sinking lower. I have no strength left. I can’t even end it.
       I wasn’t bad. I wasn’t wrong. I wasn’t evil.
       No one’s ever looked at gravestones with as much envy.
       I haven’t the courage.
       The wind sounds different to each individual stone. Heartbreaking songs. Flowers are rotting on each place, they fall apart so the petals line the grass below my feet – a coloured sky for the dead. Dried stems like horrid scarecrows on each grave to frighten off evil spirits. Glittering letters to tell such a short story - - and some too long. Tree branches touching right to the ground – just like the willows.
       Clouds drift through the changing darkness to sweep across a sky lonely without its stars. Evergreen branches are protecting this stone from the torment of the others. Evergreen, to last. Her.
“Here lying with God”
Wendla Bergmann
5. May 1948 – 27. October 1962
Died of Anaemia.
“Blessed are the pure of heart.”
       I killed her. I put her there, down, in this ground. My tears don’t belong with her, not here. I need to go – get out - - get away. 

For further extracts or more information about either the original play, other translations or my own translation please do not hesitate to email me at vclinde@gmail.com

<All text copyright of VC Linde>