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A Children's Tragedy
By Frank Wedekind, Jonathan Franzen
Faber and Faber, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Frank Wedekind
All rights reserved.
A living room.
WENDLA: Why did you make me such a long dress, Mother?
MRS. BERGMANN: It's your fourteenth birthday!
WENDLA: If I'd known you'd make my dress so long, I wouldn't have wanted to be fourteen.
MRS. BERGMANN: This dress is not too long, Wendla. What do you want me to do? Can I help it if my baby is two inches taller every spring? Now that you're a grown-up girl, you can't expect to go out in a pinafore.
WENDLA: At least my pinafore looks better on me than this bathrobe. — Please let me keep wearing it! Just for the summer. This sackcloth is going to fit me the same whether I'm fourteen or fifteen. — Let's put it away till my next birthday; I'd only be stepping on the hem and tearing it.
MRS. BERGMANN: I don't know what to say to you. I'd love to keep you just the way you are, baby. Other girls your age are skinny and gawky. You're the opposite. — Who knows what you'll be like when the others are fully developed.
WENDLA: Who knows — maybe I won't be around anymore.
MRS. BERGMANN: Baby, baby, where do you get these ideas?
WENDLA: Don't, Mommy; don't be sad!
MRS. BERGMANN: (kissing her) My dearest darling!
WENDLA: I get them at night when I can't fall asleep. I don't feel sad at all, and I know I'll sleep all the better then. — Mother, is it sinful to think about things like that?
MRS. BERGMANN: Go and hang the sackcloth in the closet! Put your pinafore back on, for heaven's sake! — When I have a chance, I'll sew a ruffle on the bottom.
WENDLA: (hanging the dress in the closet) No, in that case I'd rather go ahead and be twenty ...!
MRS. BERGMANN: Just as long as you don't get too cold! — That little dress used to be plenty long for you; but ...
WENDLA: Now, when it's almost summer? — Oh, Mother, even children don't get diphtheria in the back of their knees! You're such a worrier. A person doesn't get cold at my age — your legs least of all. Would it be better if I got too hot, Mother? — You can thank the good Lord if your dearest darling doesn't cut her sleeves off one of these mornings and run into you some evening in the twilight without any shoes and socks on! — When I wear my sackcloth, I'm going to be dressed like a fairy queen underneath ... Don't be angry, Mommy! No one will ever know it then.
MELCHIOR: This is too boring. I'm going to quit.
OTTO: Then the rest of us will have to stop too. — Have you done the homework, Melchior?
MELCHIOR: Just keep playing!
MORITZ: Where are you going?
MELCHIOR: For a walk.
GEORGE: It's getting awfully dark.
ROBERT: Have you done the homework already?
MELCHIOR: Why shouldn't I go for a walk in the dark?
ERNST: Central America! — Louis the Fifteenth! — Sixty lines of Homer! — Seven equations!
MELCHIOR: Damn this homework!
GEORGE: If only the Latin paper wasn't due tomorrow, too!
MORITZ: There's nothing you can think about without homework getting in the way!
OTTO: I'm going home.
GEORGE: Me too, I've got homework.
ERNST: Me too, me too.
ROBERT: Good night, Melchior.
MELCHIOR: Sleep well!
(All except MORITZ and MELCHIOR leave.)
MELCHIOR: What I'd like to know is what are we doing in this world, anyway?
MORITZ: As far as school is concerned, I'd rather be a cab horse! — What do we go to school for? — We go to school so they can give us exams! — And what do they give us exams for? — So we can flunk. — Seven of us have to flunk, if only because the upstairs classroom doesn't hold more than sixty. — I've felt so peculiar since Christmas ... I swear to God, if it weren't for my dad I'd pack a bag tonight and go to Altona Harbor!
MELCHIOR: Let's talk about something else. —
(They go for a walk.)
MORITZ: You see that black cat there with its tail in the air?
MELCHIOR: Do you believe in omens?
MORITZ: I'm not sure. — It came from over there. It doesn't mean anything.
MELCHIOR: This is a Charybdis that I think everyone falls into if they've managed to escape the Scylla of religious superstition. — Let's sit down here under the beech tree. There's a warm spring wind blowing over the mountains. I'd like to be a young dryad now and spend the whole long night up there in the woods, swinging and rocking in the highest treetops ...
MORITZ: Unbutton your vest, Melchior!
MELCHIOR: Ha — the way it makes your clothes puff out!
MORITZ: God, it's getting so pitch-dark you can't even see your hand in front of your face. In fact, where are you? — Don't you agree, Melchior, that a human being's sense of shame is merely a product of his upbringing?
MELCHIOR: I was giving this some thought just the day before yesterday. No matter what, the feeling does seem to be deeply rooted in human nature. Imagine that you're supposed to take off all your clothes in front of your best friend. You wouldn't do it unless he was doing it himself at the same time. — I guess it's also more or less a fashion thing.
MORITZ: I've been thinking that when I have children, little boys and girls, I'm going to start them out sleeping in the same room, if possible in the very same bed, and have them help each other get dressed and undressed every morning and every night, and when the weather's hot both the girls and the boys are not going to wear anything all day except short white woolen tunics with leather belts. — It seems to me that, if they grow up like this, then later on they're bound to be more relaxed than we are, as a rule.
MELCHIOR: That's definitely my opinion, Moritz! — The only question is, what happens when the girls start having babies?
MORITZ: What do you mean having babies?
MELCHIOR: Well, in this regard, I believe in certain instincts. I believe, for example, that if you take a male cat and a female cat and you shut them up together when they're still young, and you keep the two of them isolated from all contact with the outside world — that is, if you leave them entirely to their own inclinations — that sooner or later the female is going to get pregnant, even though neither she nor the male had anyone whose example they could follow.
MORITZ: I guess with animals it eventually just happens.
MELCHIOR: All the more so with people, is what I think! Listen, Moritz, if your boys are sleeping in the very same bed with the girls, and all of a sudden they feel their first masculine stirrings — I'll bet you anything ...
MORITZ: You may be right about that. — But still ...
MELCHIOR: And when your girls reached the proper age it would be exactly the same with them! Not that a girl is quite ... there's obviously no telling exactly what ... still, it's reasonable to assume ... and you can count on curiosity to play its part as well!
MORITZ: One question, by the way —
MORITZ: You sure you'll answer?
MECHIOR: Of course!
MELCHIOR: Cross my heart. — — Yes, Moritz?
MORITZ: Have you done the essay yet??
MELCHIOR: Come on, spit it out! — Nobody's listening, nobody can see us.
MORITZ: It goes without saying that my children would have to be working all day, in the lawn and garden, or amusing themselves with games that entailed physical exertion. They would have to ride, climb, do gymnastics, and, above all, not sleep on soft beds at night like we do. We're terribly soft. — I don't think you dream at all if you sleep on a hard bed.
MELCHIOR: From now until after the harvest I'm not sleeping on anything but my hammock. I put my bed behind the stove. It folds up. — Last winter I had a dream where I whipped our Lolo until he couldn't move a single limb. That was the most horrible thing I've ever dreamed. — Why are you giving me that funny look?
MORITZ: Have you already been feeling them?
MORITZ: How did you put it?
MELCHIOR: Masculine stirrings?
MORITZ: M — hm.
MELCHIOR: — I sure have!
MORITZ: Me too. ------------------------------
MELCHIOR: It's been going on for quite a while, in fact! — Almost a year now.
MORITZ: It hit me like a bolt of lightning.
MELCHIOR: You'd been dreaming?
MORITZ: But only very briefly. ... ... ... about some legs in turquoise tights that were trying — it's more accurate to say I thought they were trying — to climb over the podium at school. — I only saw them for a second.
MELCHIOR: George Zirschnitz dreamed about his mother.
MORITZ: He told you that?
MELCHIOR: Over on Gallows Hill!
MORITZ: If you knew what I've suffered since that night!
MELCHIOR: Pangs of guilt?
MORITZ: Pangs of guilt? ----------- Fear of death!
MELCHIOR: Good Lord ...
MORITZ: I thought I was incurable. I thought I was suffering from some internal injury. — The only thing that finally calmed me down was when I started to write my memoirs. Yes, yes, my dear Melchior, the last three weeks were a Gethsemane for me.
MELCHIOR: When it happened to me, I was more or less prepared for it. I felt a little ashamed. — But that was all.
MORITZ: And you're almost a full year younger than me, too!
MELCHIOR: That, Moritz, I wouldn't worry about. To the best of my knowledge there's no definite age limit for the first appearance of these phantoms. You know the big Lämmermeier kid with the straw-blond hair and the hook nose? He's three years older than me. According to Hansy Rilow, he still doesn't dream about anything but sponge cake and apricot jelly.
MORITZ: Oh, please. How can Hansy Rilow know a thing like that?
MELCHIOR: He asked him.
MORITZ: He asked him? — I wouldn't dare ask anybody.
MELCHIOR: You asked me.
MORITZ: God, you're right. — It's possible that Hansy already had his will drawn up. — Truly a strange game they play with us. And we're supposed to be grateful! I don't remember ever feeling a longing for this kind of emotional turmoil. Why couldn't they have let me sleep in peace until everything was quiet again? My dear parents could have had a hundred better children than me. And now I've come, I don't know how, and I'm supposed to be responsible for not having stayed away. — Haven't you ever wondered yourself, Melchior, how we actually landed in this whirlpool?
MELCHIOR: You mean you still don't know, Moritz?
MORITZ: How can I be expected to know? — I see how chickens lay eggs, and I hear that supposedly my mother carried me "under her heart." But is that all there is to it? — I can also remember that even when I was five years old I was embarrassed whenever someone turned up the queen of hearts, with her décolletage. I don't get that feeling anymore. But now there's hardly a girl I can talk to without thinking something abominable, and — I swear to you, Melchior — I don't know what.
MELCHIOR: I'll tell you all about it. — I've gotten some of it from books, some of it from illustrations, and some of it from my observations of nature. You'll be surprised; it immediately made an atheist of me. I told George Zirschnitz, too! George Zirschnitz wanted to tell Hansy Rilow, but Hansy Rilow had already learned it all from his governess when he was little.
MORITZ: I went through Meyer's Abridged from A to Z. Words — nothing but words and words! Not one single straightforward explanation. Oh, this sense of shame! — What's the use of an encyclopedia that doesn't answer the most obvious question about life?
MELCHIOR: Have you ever seen two dogs running across the street?
MORITZ: No! — — You'd better not tell me anything today, Melchior. I still have Central America and Louis the Fifteenth hanging over my head. Plus the sixty lines of Homer, the seven equations, the Latin paper — I'd be falling on my butt all day again tomorrow. The only way I know how to grind is to be as dull as an ox.
MELCHIOR: Just come back to my room with me. In forty-five minutes I'll have the Homer, the equations, and two papers. I'll mix a couple of minor mistakes into yours, and you're all set. Mama will make us some more lemonade, and we'll have a nice cozy talk about reproduction.
MORITZ: I can't. — I can't have nice cozy talks about reproduction! If you want to do me a favor, you can give me your information in writing. Write down everything you know for me. Make it as short and clear as you can and stick it in between my books during gym tomorrow. I'll take it home without knowing I have it. At some point I'll come across it unexpectedly. I'll have no choice but to glance through it, with a weary eye ... If it's absolutely unavoidable you might also add a couple of illustrations.
MELCHIOR: You're like a girl. — Anything you say, though! It's the only work that completely interests me. — — One question, Moritz.
MELCHIOR: — Have you ever seen a girl?
MELCHIOR: Completely, though?
MELCHIOR: So have I! — Illustrations won't be necessary, then.
MORITZ: During the shooting matches, in Leilich's Anatomical Museum! If I'd been caught, they would have thrown me out of school. — As pretty as the light of day, and — oh, so lifelike!
MELCHIOR: Last summer I was with Mama in Frankfurt. — You're leaving already, Moritz?
MORITZ: I've got homework. — Good night.
MELCHIOR: See you later.
(THEA, WENDLA, and MARTHA are coming up the street arm in arm.)
MARTHA: The way the water gets in your shoes!
WENDLA: The way the wind whistles around your cheeks!
THEA: The way your heart pounds!
WENDLA: Let's go out to the bridge! Ilse said the river's full of trees and bushes. The boys have a raft on the water. I heard Melchi Gabor almost drowned last night.
THEA: Oh, he can swim!
MARTHA: You can say that again, girl!
WENDLA: If he couldn't swim, he'd have drowned for sure!
THEA: Your braid's coming out, Martha; your braid's coming out!
MARTHA: So? Let it come out! It annoys me every hour of the day. I can't wear my hair short like you, I can't wear it loose like Wendla, I can't have bangs, even at home I have to keep it up — all because of my aunts!
WENDLA: I'll bring some scissors to confirmation class tomorrow. You can be saying, "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked," and I'll cut it off.
MARTHA: For God's sake, Wendla! Papa will beat me to a pulp and Mama will lock me in the coal cellar for three nights.
WENDLA: What does he hit you with, Martha?
MARTHA: Sometimes I think they'd feel something was missing if they didn't have a nasty little brat like me.
THEA: Now, now, now.
MARTHA: Weren't you allowed to run a sky-blue ribbon through the yoke of your chemise?
THEA: Pink satin! Mama says pink looks good on me with my pitch-black eyes.
MARTHA: Blue looked so cute on me! — Mama dragged me out of bed by my braids. I fell on the floor with my hands out — like this. — You see, Mama prays with us every night ...
WENDLA: If I were you, I would have run away a long time ago.
MARTHA: "There you have it! That's what she's up to! — There you have it! — But we'll see about that — oh, we'll see about that! — At least she'll never have her mother to blame ..."
THEA: Hoo — Hoo —
MARTHA: Can you imagine what Mama meant by that, Thea?
THEA: Not me. — You, Wendla?
WENDLA: I would have just asked her.
MARTHA: I lay on the floor and screamed and howled. Then Papa comes in. Rrrrip! — off comes my chemise. I'm out the door. "There you have it! She wants to go out on the street like that now ..."
WENDLA: That can't be true, Martha.
MARTHA: I was freezing. I opened the door. I had to sleep in a gunnysack all night.
THEA: I couldn't sleep in a sack to save my life!
WENDLA: I'd be very happy to sleep in your sack for you sometime.
MARTHA: As long as a person doesn't get beaten.
THEA: But you could suffocate in there!
MARTHA: Your head stays out. The sack gets tied under your chin.
Excerpted from Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind, Jonathan Franzen. Copyright © 2013 Frank Wedekind. Excerpted by permission of Faber and Faber, Inc..
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