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Gerhart Hauptmann, Before Daybreak, First Performed to a Scandalized Reception (October 20, 1889)

The German writer and dramatist Gerhart Hauptmann (1862-1946) was one of the chief representatives of the Naturalist movement. In 1912, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. His first drama, Before Daybreak [Vor Sonnenaufgang], debuted on October 20, 1889, and created an immediate scandal. The audience was not used to Hauptmann’s language, which combined local dialect with hard-hitting dialogue. The sensitive subject matter added to the éclat, bringing together such themes as environmental protectionism, alcoholism, suicide, and the impact of heredity. (In the play, Alfred Loth, a young socialist, falls in love with Helene Krause, the sister-in-law of a former college friend who had since become a ruthless coal-mining engineer after coal was discovered on his land. Eventually Alfred leaves Helene, who then kills herself.) Because of the commotion that engulfed the theater, the actors could barely finish the performance. This excerpt cannot convey the full impact of the play, but it does offer a taste of the language Hauptmann used and his sensitivity to the plight of the lower classes.

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KRAUSE, landowner
MRS. KRAUSE, his second wife
HELEN Krause's daughter by his first marriage
MARTHA Krause's daughter by his first marriage
HOFFMANN, engineer, married to Martha
WILLIAM KAHL, Mrs. Krause's nephew
MRS. SPILLER, companion to Mrs. Krause
BEIBST, hired hand on Krause's farm
GUSTE maidservant on Krause's farm
LIESE maidservant on Krause's farm
MARIE maidservant on Krause's farm
BAER, known as "Hoppy Baer"
EDWARD, Hoffmann's servant
MIELE, Mrs. Krause's housemaid
GOLISCH, cowherd

Act 1

[ . . . ]

MRS. KRAUSE appears, dreadfully overdressed. Lost of shiny silk and expensive jewelry. Both bearing and garb betray callous arrogance, absurd vanity, and the pride born of stupidity.

HOFFMANN. Ah, there you are, Mother! Permit me to introduce my friend, Dr. Loth.

MRS. KRAUSE. (Improvises a grotesque curtsey.) Pleased-t'meetcha. (After a short pause.) Now first, Doctor, I gotta ask ya not to have no hard feelin's toward me, 'n I'm properly sorry, so 'scuse me, will ya? – 'Scuse me on account o' the way I acted afore. (The longer she speaks, the faster she speaks.) Y'know, y'unnerstan', we got a whoppin' big bunch o' bums comes bummin' their way in 'n outa these parts. . . . Ya wouldn' believe the kind o' trouble we got with them moochers. Bunch o' magpies'll swipe anythin' ain't nailed down. An' it ain't 'zackly 's if we was tight, ya know. A penny one way or t'other don't mean nothin' to us . . . or a Mark neither. Not on yer life! Now, you take Ludwig Krause's ol' lady, she's 's cheap 's they come; wouldn' give ya th' time o' day. Her ol' man dropped dead in a fit o' rage 'cause he lost a lousy two thousan' playin' cards. Well, we ain't that sort, ya know. See that buffet over there? Set me back two hunnert – 'n that don't even include the shippin' costs. Baron Klinkow himself ain't got nothin' better.

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