What Is the Genre of Woyzeck?

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By examining what is meant by the concept of theatrical ‘genre’, how would you characterize the genre of Woyzeck? Today, whenever somebody is asked to think of a typical Tragedy, his or her immediate answer would be; Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, possibly even King Lear. This is because these plays constitute what is conventionally known as a Tragedy. They mostly follow the conventions outlined in Aristotle’s Poetics, and have characteristics recognisable of a Tragedy, for example, the tragic hero being of upper class or noble background, and the tragic hero’s actions leading to inevitable consequences.

As Buchner’s Woyzeck does not solely fit into this template, its genre can be deemed as a little confusing. However, Woyzeck is undoubtedly a Tragedy, with the play dealing with issues of death, and there also being clear parallels between the character Woyzeck and other tragic heroes such as Othello. Woyzeck also has his own downfall, similarly to the likes of other tragic heroes, and the audience react with “pity and fear” towards this play like we do to other tragedies like Hamlet or Othello. Woyzeck, although not completely similar to other tragedies can be deemed as a “working class tragedy”.

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In Tragedies, the tragic hero, in this case Woyzeck, always has a downfall. For example, at the start of Othello, he is the leader of his bla bla bla, has the love of his woman Desdemona and is respected by his peers; by the end he has lost all that. Although Woyzeck does not have a great deal because he is “poor, that’s what I am”, he has the best in which he can hope to strive for and achieve. He has a woman and a child in which he loves, and he brings home money for Marie, “ here’s some more money, Marie, me wages and a bit from me officer”, so that she can provide for their child.

By the end of Buchner’s play, Woyzeck has appeared to have lost the little he had at the beginning of the play. Woyzeck’s fall is evident in the last few scenes of Buchner’s play, especially in scene 22 where he kills Marie, scene 25, and scene 28 where his child rejects him, which encapsulates everything that Woyzeck has lost. In scene 22, the language and the way that Woyzeck acts is extremely bizarre, and even Marie picks him up on this, “you’re acting so queer! ” Woyzeck says, “Are you cold, Marie?

But you’re warm all the same. How hot your lips are! Hot, hot, breath of a whore. ” Through using the word “whore” to describe Marie, it alludes to the audience that Marie’s affair with the drum-major has driven Woyzeck to this course of action. Also Buchner’s clever use of the two similes “Moon’s coming up as red as red. Like a bloody knife” implies an apocalypse to the audience, suggesting that Marie’s actions have brought about the end of the world for Woyzeck, as he loved her so dearly.

At the end of this scene Woyzeck stabs Marie, “ take that, and that! Can’t you die? There! There! Dead are you? Dead! Dead! ” The death of Marie, the woman he loved so dearly and probably the one good, stable thing in his life is part of Woyzeck’s downfall, similarly to Othello once he has killed Desdemona. Michael Billington refers to Woyzeck’s actions as “violence prompted by sexual rage” and this is uncannily similar to the actions of Othello, who violently kills Desdemona out of jealousy and sexual rage over her infidelity.

There are many parallels between the two tragic heroes Woyzeck and Othello. In scene 25, Woyzeck is alone on stage delivering his monologue. He appears lost and confused, and cries out for Marie “Marie? Oh Marie! ” Capturing him as lost and vulnerable on stage, when in the previous scene there were many people on stage is particularly poignant as this suggests that without Marie, Woyzeck is alone and is nothing. Scene 28 is also the final scene which portrays Woyzeck’s downfall. (Tries to cuddle the child, it turns away and screams) Oh my God! ” The rejection from his child, on top of killing the woman he loves encapsulates Woyzeck’s downfall. He has lost everything that he had at the beginning, and he no longer has anything. In Aristotle’s Poetics he refers to tragedy as: An imitation of an action…concerning the fall of a man whose character is good whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity but by some error or frailty…with incidents arousing pity or fear.

This is certainly true of Woyzeck, as Woyzeck himself does all that he can to earn money for Marie and his child. He bears all the scientific experiments for the love of Marie, facing the humiliations of the Doctor and the Officer, and because of this the audience regard Woyzeck as a character that is inherently good. On finding out that Marie has had an affair, Woyzeck’s world, meaningful only through his love, breaks down, and consequently we cannot help but feel immense pity for him, even though he does kill Marie.

The most important element of a tragic drama to Aristotle was the idea of Catharsis, and so if we are to follow Aristotle’s views of tragedy, then because of these “incidents arousing pity and fear” in us, then Woyzeck is undoubtedly a Tragedy. There are however some aspects to Woyzeck that make characterizing it as a tragedy slightly difficult. Traditionally within tragedies the tragic hero is of noble stature and has greatness, as common people did not interest Aristotle. It is evident to the audience however, that Woyzeck is from a working class background.

In Scene 6 when Woyzeck is shaving the Officer, Woyzeck repeatedly states that he is poor, “Poor, that’s what we are. ” “You see, us common folk,” “ But poor, that’s what I am. ” Also tragic heroes are meant to have the tragic flaw of hubris, which is defined as tragic over confidence. However, the opposite is true for Woyzeck, as he suffers from immense insecurity, and is constantly internalising his thoughts, much like Hamlet, “ but you think too much, it eats away at you, you always look so worked up. In a way, Aristotle’s definitions of tragedy are far too specific, as it often excludes plays which are tragedies, as they do not follow his strict guidelines, for example Shakespeare. It has been suggested that “we tend to describe, define, and judge tragedy in terms of certain formal or structural characteristics which we assert must pertain to all tragedies, as if a tragedy were a sonnet or a sonata, a symphony or a Chinese landscape scroll”. This proves that although Bucher’s Woyzeck does not include all characteristics of a conventional Tragedy, it is still most definitely a tragedy.

Kenneth Pickering suggests in Key Concepts in Drama and Performance: Modern tragedy from Ibsen to Eugene O’Neill and Beckett has continued to explore human kind struggling against societal, moral, political and cosmic forces. Human vulnerability in the face of such pressures seems, inevitably, to lead to destruction. This is certainly true of Buchner’s Woyzeck, which can be seen as a tragedy commenting on social conditions. Michael Billington says that “Woyzeck is the victim of social and economic forces,” as he suffers at the hands of the Doctor and the

Officer whom he shaves. It’s in Scene 6 where Woyzeck is patronised by the Officer, and Scene 8 where Woyzeck is “treated as a guinea pig by the military doctor” that the audience see how Woyzeck is being mistreated by society, which inevitably leads to his destruction. In scene 6, the Officer patronises, and verbally abuses Woyzeck; “God you’re stupid, so abysmally stupid. Woyzeck, you’ve got no morals,” and he is repeatedly dismissive of him throughout the scene, “Woyzeck, there’s no virtue in you, no virtue at all. In Scene 8, the audience learn how the Doctor mistreats Woyzeck as he is so desperate for money, for example he puts him on a diet of purely peas, “ Eating your peas? Loads of ‘em Doctor. ” It is evident through these scenes that it is the dismissal and rudeness from the Officer that increases Woyzeck’s insecurity, and it is the experiments from the Doctor, which is having a negative effect on Woyzeck’s state of mind, which eventually leads to Woyzeck murdering Marie. He is unable to rationalise the news when he discovers her affair as his mind is so damaged from the constant experiments.

In Aristotle’s views on tragedy, he stated that the hero’s misfortune was not wholly deserved, and this is true of Woyzeck. Woyzeck undertakes all these experiments as he is so poor, and so he can provide for Marie and their child, but it is these experiments that contribute to Woyzeck’s poor mental state, and eventually his fall. To conclude, although Buchner’s Woyzeck does not include all characteristics of a conventional tragedy by Aristotle’s standards, it is undoubtedly still a tragedy.

It deals with the issue of death, the tragic hero has his own downfall, and the audience feel immense pity for Woyzeck, which Aristotle thought was imperative to a tragic drama. Raymond Williams says, as highlighted in Pickering’s Key Concepts in Drama and Performance, “it is the bare, irreparable fact, whatever the form of the tragic drama, audiences experience a sense of profound and irreversible loss” and this is absolutely true of Woyzeck. For this reason, it is completely fair to say that Woyzeck is a tragedy and that “in Woyzeck, Buchner created the first working class tragic hero. ”

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What Is the Genre of Woyzeck?. (2018, Feb 13). Retrieved from


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