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Heiner Muller After Shakespeare: Macbeth and Anatomy of Titus - Fall Of Rome


Heiner Müller After Shakespeare makes available for the first time Macbeth and Anatomy Titus Fall of Rome, the last of the Shakespeare-inspired plays of the renowned German author to be translated into English. His reflections on the importance of his chosen dramatic model are highlighted in the text of his address Shakespeare A Difference, also included in the volume. Müller (1929-1995), whose Hamletmachine is a contemporary classic, is regarded as one of the most profound visionaries of twentieth-century drama...
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Heiner Müller After Shakespeare makes available for the first time Macbeth and Anatomy Titus Fall of Rome, the last of the Shakespeare-inspired plays of the renowned German author to be translated into English. His reflections on the importance of his chosen dramatic model are highlighted in the text of his address Shakespeare A Difference, also included in the volume. Müller (1929-1995), whose Hamletmachine is a contemporary classic, is regarded as one of the most profound visionaries of twentieth-century drama and at the time of his death was one of Europe’s leading intellectual figures. His Shakespeare plays are startling in their imagery and poetry and uncompromising depiction of the violence of power and politics. Truly, they are plays for our age.

Since first introducing his work to the English-speaking world in 1983 with Hamletmachine and Other Texts for the Stage, PAJ Publications has also published several other volumes by the author: Explosion of a Memory, The Battle, The Heiner Müller Reader. They include his dramatic works as well as poems, speeches, and interviews. Hamletmachine and Other Texts for the Stage is one of PAJ’s best-selling titles, with over 10,000 volumes in print.

The volume is translated by Carl Weber and Paul David Young. Weber has edited and translated all the Müller volumes, as well as plays by Kleist, Handke, and Kroetz. Also a director, he is professor emeritus at Stanford University. Young is the recipient of the Kennedy Center’s Paul Vogel Playwriting Award. He is currently working on a film version of his play In the Summer Pavilion.

“Heiner Müller was one of the greatest writers of the 20th century and will undoubtedly be among the most indispensable of the 21st, the terrors of which his plays seem to have anticipated and anatomized. As Shakespeare’s dramatic poems emerged from an historical moment of a great linguistic and cultural synthesis, Müller’s gorgeous, mind-bending and altering upgrades of Shakespeare mark our present crisis-moment of linguistic and cultural discombobulation, if not disintegration.” - Tony Kushner, playwright

“Heiner Müller’s unmistakable voice—ferocious and brilliant, brutal and profoun — burns through in pitch-perfect translations. Macbeth and Anatomy Titus Fall of Rome are the perfect Shakespearean vehicles for Müller’s vision of the bloody twentieth century. These plays are not just great theatre—and they are great theatre—they are indispensable documents of European culture.” - Oskar Eustis, artistic director, The Public Theater

“Heiner Müller’s plays, astonishing in their punch and poetry, are imbued with muscularity, richness and theatricality. His influence on the field is palpable and PAJ’s publications of brilliant translations will help to ensure that Müller’s wide-open vision of the theatre will proliferate. We urgently need his combination of the political, personal and aesthetic in our current culture.” - Anne Bogart, artistic director, Siti Company

“A new volume of Heiner Müller’s coruscating, deeply damaged performance prose/ poetry arrives just in time for further chapters of the continued degradation and decline of the West. His theatre pieces take on galling new dimensions as democracies all over the world are in crisis and citizens of Arab countries pour into the streets to demand self-determination.… Heiner Müller was a connoisseur of tyranny. The violence and the decay are already in the language, and thus his rendezvous with Shakespeare.… After the fire, there is space for new growth in an old forest." - Peter Sellars, director

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555541521
  • Publisher: Theatre Communications Group
  • Publication date: 1/1/2013
  • Pages: 198
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

HEINER MÜLLER is widely regarded as the most important German-language playwright since Bertold Brecht. His Hamletmachine is considered one of the great plays of the end of the twentieth century. Müllers´s plays are not merely adapted translations but texts that follow the narrative of the originals only to a degree and are new plays in their own right.

Carl Weber is a director and translator who early in his career worked as an assistant director to Bertolt Brecht and actor at the Berliner Ensemble. He has directed plays in major theatres in the U.S., Europe and Canada. Weber has also translated the work of Peter Handke, Franz Xaver Kroetz and several PAJ Publications titles by Heiner Müller, including Hamletmachine and Other Texts for the Stage. He is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Theater and Performance Studies at Stanford University.

Paul David Young is a recipient of the Kennedy Center’s Paula Vogel Playwriting Award. His plays have been produced at MoMA PS1, Marlborough Gallery, the Living Theatre, Lion Theatre, Kraine Theater, the Red Room, and at the Kaffileikhusid (Reykjavik). A Fulbright Scholar in Germany, he graduated from Yale College, Columbia Law School, and New School for Drama. His critically acclaimed In the Summer Pavilion is being made into a feature film. He is a Contributing Editor at PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art and writes for Art in America.

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Read an Excerpt

Excerpted from Preface: A Life-long Discourse with Shakespeare by Carl Weber

Heiner Müller was thirteen-years-old when he read Hamlet in its English original for the first time, despite the warning of one of his teachers that the text would be too difficult for him. As he later noted: “I guessed more than I actually understood, but the leap creates an experience, not the step.”

Throughout his life as a writer, he was to continue what could be called a “discourse” with Shakespeare’s work, by way of public statements and, foremost, in his writings. He adapted what he considered Shakespeare’s worldview, as he perceived it, in the texts of the Bard from his own perspective of living in the Europe of the twentieth century. It was a life that he defined with the title of his autobiography: War without Battle. Life in Two Dictatorships. His perspective corresponded closely to the one articulated by the Polish critic Jan Kott in his seminal book Shakespeare Our Contemporary.

Shakespeare a difference, the text of an address Müller gave at a conference of Shakespeare scholars, Shakespeare Tage, in Weimar, April 1988, appears in this volume with his plays. It was delivered less than two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and alludes to “Real Existing Socialism,” the ruling party SED’s characterization of the socio-economic system in the DDR. Among the historical figures mentioned in the text are Pol Pot, Friedrich Hölderlin, Friedrich Nietzsche, W. H. Auden, and Vasily Grossman. Müller often quotes the original English, whose passages are indicated by asterisks. He writes: “Shakespeare is a mirror through the ages, our hope a world he doesn’t reflect anymore. We haven’t arrived at ourselves as long as Shakespeare is writing our plays.”

Already in his early years as a writer, in 1950, Müller attempted an adaptation of Timon of Athens. He completed only the opening scene of a text he titled The Golden Calf. Judging from the few extant pages, he aspired to write a satiric comment on capitalism’s treatment of the arts and artists as commodities. But he then turned to writing plays—and poetry—that reflected and critically observed the creation of a Socialist economy and its corresponding society in the young East-German state GDR, which had to be achieved with a citizenry who in their majority had been Nazis or more or less loyal to Hitler’s Nazi system. Müller was fully committed to the new socialist society and refused to join his parents when they defected to capitalist West Germany.

Deeply impressed by Brecht’s theatre at the Berliner Ensemble, Müller emulated a Brechtian dramaturgy in the plays he wrote during the fifties, texts that dealt with the societal changes and the ensuing problems of the East- German Socialist republic. However, he increasingly adopted what could be called Shakespeare’s dramatic model, beginning with The Resettled Woman or Life in the Countryside. He himself called this satiric comedy in fifteen scenes about the quandaries of early post-war East-German agriculture, from the 1946 Socialist land reform to the government-enforced transition to collective farming in 1960, “a history, a play in a Shakespeare dramaturgy.” In the character of the alcoholic Fondrak, who leaves the GDR for the West, Müller created a contemporary character quite comparable to Shakespeare’s fools. The first production of the play, in the fall of 1961, was closed by the cultural government authorities after one preview and resulted in Müller’s exclusion from the Writers Association, in addition to an extended period during which his texts could neither be published nor performed in the GDR. In his next play about societal controversies during East Germany’s early decade, The Construction Site of 1965. It could not be performed in the GDR until 1980. Müller employed nearly throughout Shakespearean blank verse to structure a realistic contemporary dialogue.

In the sixties during which his own writings were banned in the GDR, Müller tried to support himself by doing translations, from the works of Sophocles, Molière, Chekhov and Mayakovsky. His commissioned literal translation of As You Like It successfully premiered at the Residenz Theater of Munich in 1968. It was Müller’s first truly close encounter with a Shakespeare text. He observed: “It was [an experience] as if I worked in his body. I obtained a feeling for the double sexuality, the combination of snakes and beasts of prey in his language, in the dramaturgy of his plays. Since then I believed I knew him personally.” Müller discovered in Shakespeare, as he later claimed, an “antidote” to Brecht who had been his revered model since he began to write for the theatre.

In 1969, he had occasion to closely examine the narrative of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, within a contemporary GDR context, in a play called Horizons. The text, written by Gerhard Winterlich, transposed the summer night scenes from Shakespeare’s forest to an East German environment, for a performance Winterlich had staged with amateur actors, namely the workers of a petroleum refinery. In this performance the summer night events took place in the East German countryside near the refinery, during a holiday weekend. The artistic director of the East Berlin Volksbühne Theater, Benno Besson, asked Müller to rework Winterlich’s text for a professional production he was to direct at his theatre, in 1969. The performance as much as Müller’s version of the play were rejected by critics and audiences.

In 1970, Müller got word that the theatre in the provincial town of Brandenburg planned a production of Macbeth for the 1971-72 season. He offered, and was invited, to provide a new translation of the Shakespeare play. Starting with the text of the first scene, he recognized that he could not leave it as is: “I would have to fully accept this idea of predestination, that the chain of events is programmed by supernatural forces. Therefore I first eliminated that scene, and this resulted in an increasing number of changes.” Among the features that he felt needed change he cited Shakespeare’s belief in the divine institution of kings and the total absence of Scotland’s underclass in the narrative. While working on his adaptation, Müller went back to Shakespeare’s source for the text, Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland.

The Brandenburg premiere of his play, in 1972, triggered an animated controversial debate among critics and scholars with extremely opposing responses. Some reviews welcomed Müller’s Macbeth after Shakespeare as a play in its own right, while others rejected the adaptation and accused Müller of “historical pessimism” and the lack of a humanistic worldview. Müller rejected such criticism: “In Macbeth there is an optimistic element of history, the witches. Every revolution needs a destructive element, and in my play that is the witches, they destroy without exception all those who possess power.”

Müller added a significant number of new scenes to the text and introduced with them numerous characters from the lower classes. Whereas in Shakespeare we witness exclusively the conflicts among Scotland’s ruling class, Müller’s lower-class characters, be they peasants, servants or soldiers, are in no way idealized. They are brutalized by the ruling aristocracy, and they themselves in turn brutalize their own kind. This quite realistic perspective was rejected by some East German critics, who claimed the text was “inadequate as a Socialist interpretation of Shakespeare.” The play received a number of West German productions, and there the critical reception was often equally negative and the text was dismissed as “too brutal.”

In 1982, Heiner Müller himself staged the play at the East Berlin Volksbühne (where the artistic director, Benno Besson, had hired him as the company’s dramaturg), in collaboration with his then wife Ginka Cholakova. He remembered in his autobiography the performance as “a medium-sized scandal.” The set represented the inner court of a typical Berlin working class apartment building, with a telephone booth, the metal poles to hang carpets for beating them clean, and trash heaps. The role of Macbeth was cast with three actors to highlight the diverse components of the character’s narrative. Müller wanted to shift the focus from a single individual character and instead emphasize the recurrent structure and mechanisms of the power struggles in the play. He later remarked: “One can say a lot of things about Stalin with a production of Macbeth.” He also complained that the comic aspects of the performance had not been perceived, namely that in his production “the power struggles of the ruling class were viewed with a sneering perspective from below.” Müller viewed his production in the tradition of a “popular theatre” where, as he wrote, the performance Gestus is derived “from the Grand Guignol rather than [the poetic style of ] the Bread and Puppet Theatre.”

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Table of Contents

Preface: A Life-long Discourse with Shakespeare Carl Weber 1

Macbeth: After Shakespeare 11

Anatomy Titus Fall of Rome: A Shakespeare Commentary 77

Shakespeare a Difference 172

About the Translators 176

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