This article is about the stage play. For the 1979 Werner Herzog film, see Woyzeck (1979 film). For the 1994 Hungarian film, see Woyzeck (1994 film).

The 1997 production, directed by Keith Fowler. Jeff Renard as Woyzeck kneels at table (left); Ryan Paregien as the Drum Major sits opposite (right).
Written by Georg Büchner
Characters Woyzeck, Marie, Andres, Louis, Margret, Karl, Captain, Doctor, Drum Major, Apprentices, Children, People, Grandmother
Date premiered premiered 1913 in Munich
Original language German

Woyzeck (German pronunciation: [ˈvɔʏtsɛk]) is a stage play written by Georg Büchner. He left the work incomplete at his death, but it has been posthumously "finished" by a variety of authors, editors and translators. Woyzeck has become one of the most performed and influential plays in the German theatre repertory.

Büchner probably began writing the play between June and September 1836. It remained in a fragmentary state at the time of his early death in 1837. Woyzeck was first published in 1879 in a heavily reworked version by Karl Emil Franzos. It was not performed until November 8, 1913 at the Residenztheater, Munich, where it was produced by Max Reinhardt.

Woyzeck deals with the dehumanising effects of doctors and the military on a young man's life. It is often seen as 'working class' tragedy, though it can also be viewed as having another dimension, portraying the 'perennial tragedy of human jealousy'.[1] The play was admired both by the German naturalist Gerhart Hauptmann and, subsequently, by expressionist playwrights.[2] It is loosely based on the true story of Johann Christian Woyzeck, a Leipzig wigmaker who later became a soldier. In 1821, Woyzeck, in a fit of jealousy, murdered Christiane Woost, a widow with whom he had been living. He was later publicly beheaded.

In editions based on the Franzos version and at its first stage performances, the play and the title character bore the name "Wozzeck": an indication of the near-illegibility of the manuscripts with which Franzos worked. Not only did he have to cope with Büchner's "microscopically small" handwriting, but the pages had faded so badly that they had to be chemically treated to make the text decipherable at all. Franzos was unaware of the real-life basis of the drama, which was first generally disseminated through the appearance in 1921 of a new edition based on the manuscript by Georg Witkowski, which introduced the corrected title Woyzeck.[3]

Plot summary

Franz Woyzeck, a lowly soldier stationed in a provincial German town, is living with Marie, the mother of his child who is not blessed by the church as it was born out of wedlock. Woyzeck earns extra money for his family by performing menial jobs for the Captain and agreeing to take part in medical experiments conducted by the Doctor. At one of these experiments, the Doctor tells Woyzeck that he must eat nothing but peas. It is obvious that Woyzeck's mental health is breaking down and he begins to experience a series of apocalyptic visions. Meanwhile, Marie grows tired of Woyzeck and turns her attentions to a handsome drum major who, in an ambiguous scene taking place in Marie's bedroom, sleeps with her.

With his jealous suspicions growing, Woyzeck confronts the drum major, who beats him up and humiliates him. Finally, Woyzeck stabs Marie to death by a pond. While a third act trial is claimed by some, notably A. H. J. Knight and Fritz Bergemann, to have been part of the original conception (what may be the beginning of a courtroom scene survives), the fragment, as left by Büchner, ends with Woyzeck disposing of the knife in the pond while trying to clean himself of the blood.

Here Franzos inserted the stage direction "ertrinkt" (he drowns), and although this emendation according to Knight "almost amounts to a forgery", most versions employ drowning as an appropriate resolution to the story.[3]

[note: this play was left unfinished and has several alternate endings noted below]


Woyzeck is a comment on social conditions as well as an exploration of complex themes such as poverty. Woyzeck is considered as morally lacking by other characters of higher status, such as the Captain, particularly in the scene in which Woyzeck shaves the Captain. The Captain links wealth and status with morality suggesting Woyzeck cannot have morals as he is poor. It is the exploitation of the character Woyzeck by the Doctor and the Captain which ultimately pushes him over the edge.


The many adaptations of Woyzeck include:

The title character in Benjamin Hale's novel The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, a chimpanzee, stages the play at the research center to which he is confined.


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