Spring Awakening: 1891: Franz Wedekind

by Julia Evans on January 1, 1891

Frank Wedekind ‘Spring Awakening’[i] published at Wedekind’s expense in 1891.

An English translation of Wedekind’s ‘Spring Awakening’ is available here.

(See Spring Awakening: 1891: Franz Wedekind (here), Freud & Reitler comment on ‘Spring Awakening’: work-in-progress (here),  Comments on Wedekind’s ‘Spring Awakening’: 1907: Sigmund Freud (here),  Spring Awakening: September 1st 1974: Jacques Lacan (here))

Description of the play ‘Spring Awakening’ by Franz Wedekind given in 1907

Footnote 1: Minutes 13 of Scientific Meeting on February 13 1907[ii]


Frank Wedekind (1864-1918) called his play ‘Frühlingserwachen, Eine Kinder-tragödie’ [A Children’s Tragedy], and he was indeed less concerned with individuals than with the minor and major tragedies of young people awakening to sex without knowledge and without guidance, misunderstood and derided by parents and teachers. The plot is simple: the student Melchior and fourteen-year-old Wendla find answers to their questions in a hayloft. Wendla becomes pregnant; before she dies during an abortion, she asks her helpless mother, “Why did you not tell me these things?”


Melchior’s friend Moritz commits suicide because of bad marks in school. His distraught father, searching through Moritz’s room, finds an obscene treatise on coitus in a strange handwriting, which is discovered to be that of Melchior. Melchior is expelled from school and, fleeing from his parents who want to send him to a reform school, he comes to the cemetery. While reading the inscription on Wendla’s tombstone, he suddenly sees Moritz, who has stepped out of his grave, come toward him with his head in his arms. Moritz attempts to lure his living friend into his realm but then the “Vermummte Herr” [“The Masked Gentleman”] appears to chase the phantom back into his grave and to take Melchior with him. It is life itself which personified by the “Masked Gentlemen”. It is “To the Masked Gentleman” that the play is dedicated by the author.


Scientific Meeting on February 13 1907

Present: Freud, Adler, Federn, Heller, Hitschmann, Kahane, Reitler, Rank, Sadger.

Minutes 13[iii]


Presentation: ‘Spring’s Awakening’ by Wedekind

Speaker: Dr Reitler

Reitler begins with a characterization of the three main figues: Moritz Stiefel, who remains arrested at the stage of infantile sexuality (autoerotism); his friend Melchior Gabor, who develops beyond infantile sexuality to normal sexuality (intercourse with Wendla); and Wendla who has marked masochistic tendencies. In the very first scene, Wendla betrays her fear of awakening sexuality (thoughts of death, and the like).


Reitler then goes through the drama, scene by scene, giving his interpretations as he goes along. He shows, for instance, how Wedekind connects the incipient atheism and the simultaneous loss of parental authority with the knowledge of parental sexual activity. He mentions the writing of a diary as a sort of psychic discharge.


Reitler understands the story of the headless queen (Maria) and the king with two heads, who gives one to the queen, as a symbolic representation of bisexuality.


In the last scene, Reitler interprets the ghost of Moritz as a representation of the wish to return to infantile sexuality, whereas the Masked Gentleman represents the sexuality of the adult. Both figures are merely projections of the struggle which is going on in Melchior’s soul.


From the standpoint of the theory of sexuality, no fault can be found with Wedekind. One might possibly consider it an omission that he does not sufficiently emphasize the important of the erotogenic zones in presexual life [for later development].


In commenting on the process involved in Wedekind’s creativity, Reitler refers to Professor Freud’s observation that Jensen in his ‘Gradiva’ gives a correct clinical description of the development of a delusional idea[iv]. Replying to an inquiry, Jensen stated that he came upon this intuitively, without any knowledge of the clinical picture, let alone of the mechanisms of delusional ideas. Wedekind cannot be considered equally uninformed.


End quote.


Sigmund Freud starts the discussion which is also available on LacanianWorks.



[i] An English translation of Wedekind’s ‘Spring Awakening’ is available here.

[ii] Quoted from: Minutes of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, Volume I: 1906-1908  edited by Herman Nunberg & Ernst Federn, translated by M. Nunberg, International Universities Press, Inc. New York, 1962, Page 111


[iii] Quoted from: Minutes of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, Volume I: 1906-1908  edited by Herman Nunberg & Ernst Federn, translated by M. Nunberg, International Universities Press, Inc. New York, 1962  Page 111-112


[iv] Footnote added by Julia Evans: Quote ‘Norbert Hanold’s condition is often spoken of by the author as a ‘delusion’, and we have no reason to reject that designation. We can state two chief charateristics of a ‘delusion’, which do not, it is true, describe it exhaustively, but which distinguish it recognizably from other disorders. In the first place it is one of the group of pathological states which do not produce a direct effect upon the body but are manifested only by mental indications. And secondly it is characterized by the fact that in it ‘phantasies’ have gained the upper hand – that is, have obtained belief and have acquired an influence on action.’ Sigmund Freud in Chapter II of ‘Delusions and dreams in Jensen’s Gradiva’ (published 1907 [written 1906]), p 77 Penguin Freud Library: Vol 14: Art and Literature, 1985. First published in English in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud by the Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis, London: Vol IX: 1959