Welcome back to Theatre Thursdays. Today we're delving into postmodern theatre. Fun!
Heiner Müller is often considered one of the most groundbreaker 20th century playwrights, but I won't pretend to know a jot about him other than his seminal work: Hamletmachine. The book of the play, depending on translation and text size, is only about 6 pages long. Usually the play itself is about 2 1/2 hours long. Yes, that's correct: 2 1/2 hours. Müller was East German and he wrote this baby in 1977 or so, at the height (or depth) of East German oppression, politics, angst, etc. The characters are Hamlet and Ophelia, with a chorus including Gertrude, Claudius, etc. and so forth, though how many actors, who speaks which lines, etc., are all arguably up to the director. (I'm sure Müller would disagree with that statement, though.) The original German text contains, where in all caps, the ORIGINAL original lines in English. (Do you see what I mean? Even if you're seeing Hamletmachine in, say, Berlin or Paris, the lines in ALL CAPS are said in English, for they are from the canon of the Western dramatic world, Hamlet.)
I do wish you'd read the whole thing, because yanking out Ophelia's monologues loses something in translation... not to mention the entirety of what little narrative there is. Herewith, Ophelia's monologues, from Carl Weber's translation, my personal favorite:
2: The Europe of the Women
Enormous room. Ophelia. Her heart is a clock.
OPHELIA (CHORUS / HAMLET):
I am Ophelia. The one the river didn't keep. The woman dangling from the rope. The woman with her arteries cut open. The woman with the overdose. SHOW ON HER LIPS. The woman with her head in the gas stove. Yesterday I stopped killing myself. I'm alone with my breasts my thighs my womb. I smash the tools of my captivity, the chair the table the bed. I destroy the battlefield that was my home. I fling open the doors so the wind gets in and the scream of the world. I smash the window. With my bleeding hands I tear the photos of the men I loved and who used me on the bed on the table on the chair on the ground. I set fire to my prison. I throw my clothes into the fire. I wrench the clock that was my heart out of my breast. I walk into the street clothed in my blood.
5: Fiercely Enduring/Millenniums/In Fearful Armour
The deep sea. Ophelia in a wheelchair. Fish, debris, dead bodies, and limbs drift by.
While two men in white smocks wrap gauze around her and the wheelchair, from bottom to top.
This is Electra speaking. In the heart of darkness. Under the sun of torture. To the capitals of the world. In the name of the victims. I eject all the sperm I have received. I turn the milk of my breasts into lethal poison. I take back the world I gave birth to. I choke between my thighs the world I gave birth to. I bury it in my womb. Down with the happiness of submission. Long live hate and contempt, rebellion and death. When she walks through your bedrooms carrying butcher knives you'll know the truth.
The men exit. Ophelia remains on stage, motionless in her white wrappings.
Acts 2 and 5