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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama

Spring Awakening

Frank Wedekind

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Spring Awakening

Title: Spring Awakening
Author: Frank Wedekind
Genre: Drama
Written: (1891) (Eng. 2007)
Length: 84 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Spring Awakening - US
Spring Awakening - UK
Spring Awakening - Canada
L'éveil du printemps - France
Frühlings Erwachen - Deutschland
  • A Children's Tragedy
  • German title: Frühlings Erwachen
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Jonathan Franzen (2007)
  • Previously translated by, among others: Francis J. Ziegler (1909), Eric Bentley (1960), Edward Bond (1974), and Ted Hughes (1995)

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Our Assessment:

A- : powerful stuff, reasonable new translation

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 1/10/1910 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) grim and ugly tragedy. (...) The dialogue is extraordinarily fresh and actual, and the short, varying glimpses that place the characters and the situation before you are vivid as life itself." - The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In his Introduction translator Jonathan Franzen rails at length against the recent award-winning Broadway musical version of Wedekind's play (see their official site), arguing that the "maiming" it has undergone in this "insipid" adaptation is worse than the bowdlerizations it was subjected to a century earlier. Wedekind completed his play in 1891 but it was only finally first performed in 1906, and even after that remained hugely controversial. It isn't so much the frank sexuality that is seen as dangerous now, but rather the depiction of teenagers that necessitates destroying the integrity of the play to give it mass-appeal in modern times, so Franzen:

Frank Wedekind's most grievous offense: he makes fun of teenagers -- flat-out laughs at them -- to the same degree that he takes the seriously. And so now, more than ever, he must be censored.
       Franzen finds that: "what's really shocking about Spring Awakening [...] is how casually and thoroughly amoral the play's action is." Yet Wedekind's play is surely meant to expose the dangers of a rigid moral code at odds with reality. It is the failure of adults (and the educational system) to make youths aware of moral issues that might arise that leaves them ill-equipped to deal with reality -- and leads to catastrophe.
       One girl is regularly beaten by her father, another envies her and would do anything to take her place. Lust is pervasive and all-consuming, but the teens remain in the dark about what it is that has come over them and don't know how to channel it; inevitably, there comes a point where they can't contain themselves and go too far. Suicide, beatings, rape, teenage pregnancy, abortion, masturbation: it's all here -- and almost every time one can't help but think: they know not what they do.
       Pregnant young teen Wendla, who still believed the stork brought babies, sums it up with her too-late recrimination:
Oh, Mother, why didn't you tell me everything !
       But it's a society so hide- and rulebound that the openness that could have saved the girl is unthinkable. As mom answers Wendla:
Tell that to a fourteen-year-old girl ? Goodness, I'd sooner have watched the sun go out.
       Similarly, when confronted with a suicide epidemic at school the adults make no effort to determine (much less fix) what might be behind it. They refuse to even acknowledge the possibility that the system may be at fault; instead, they do whatever they can to preserve the system. It is all they know.
       Much of the appeal of the play is in its comedy: these characters are indeed often shockingly amoral, or ridiculous in their adult rigidity, but Wedekind presents almost all the scenes with comic elements, an unnerving juxtaposition that makes all these terrible fates haunting in a far different way than a typical tragedy.
       This isn't a play about innocent victims. There is little true innocence here. What the children -- and they are, largely, really just children -- are is often completely ignorant, trying to fit what they do know and -- more importantly -- feel within the set-in-stone expectations and demands of society. They're aware that something is off -- that what they're told and what is demanded of them doesn't square with reality -- but can't figure out how to handle that. Naturally, most are shattered by experience.
       It's surprisingly effective, and though much of the detail is dated -- for the overwhelming most part children simply aren't treated this way any more -- Wedekind's theatrical craft makes the play as a whole still feel fresh. Constantly shocking as well as surprisingly funny, Spring Awakening remains very readable (and watchable).
       Jonathan Franzen's translation is certainly adequate, and captures the spirit of the play well enough. He writes in his Introduction that his first priority was to: "leave nothing out", and that he also wanted to: "render Wedekind's lines in such a way that an English-speaking actor has some hope of sounding natural while speaking them", and he seems to have succeeded with these goals. There are any number of word-choices one can (and which we would) debate, but a quick, casual comparison suggests his overall approach seems a distinct improvement over the earlier translations.

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Spring Awakening: Reviews (of the text and performances, in this and previous translations): Frank Wedekind: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Notorious German playwright Frank Wedekind lived 1864 to 1918.

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© 2007-2010 the complete review

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