By Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Prepared for Theater-Studio, NYC., 1997
"Fassbinder was someone for whom no boundaries existed, not between the real and the absurd, nor between safety and risk; neither between man and woman nor between life and death."
The German text of WEREWOLF is deceptively simple. It is extremely colloquial and highly elliptical with a distinct Bavarian flavor. Not only is much of its subtext directed towards Germans, which means that the translator must strive to create an equivalent subtext in English without betraying the original, but the entire theme and even the title of the play mean something to Germans that can not really be reproduced for an English-speaking audience.
The first association most Americans are likely to have with the word "werewolf" is the actor Lon Chaney Jr. and a series of 'Thirties films about a certain creature. Germans are likely to have two quite different associations with this word. The first springs from the actual incident on which the play is based, since a similar story enjoyed great fame in Germany during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries and even made its way to England. The tale concerns a notorious individual called "Der Stubbe Peeter" who killed scores of people and animals during the time frame shared by this play and was considered to be a werewolf. There were many accounts of his crimes and of the trial which ended in his execution, and in one case it was also claimed that he ate the brains of a victim.
Through a German merchant residing in London, a 1590 account of "Stump Peter" gained notoriety in Elizabethan England as well. In this play the author gives the werewolf's name as Franz Wals, and it is possible that Fassbinder is describing a similar case in Bavariaif so, no traces of it are readily found in American libraries. Perhaps because of his long residence in Munich, Fassbinder may have relocated the locale of these northern German incidents to a southern, Bavarian-oriented ambiance. A brief description of the better-known case by an authority on "lycanthropy" and an edited version of the 1590 account modernizing its Elizabethan spellings are found at the end of these notes.
A second possible association with the word "werewolf," likely to be shared by all Germans of Fassbinder's generation and earlier has its roots in the last months of World War II. As defeat became increasingly likely, Germany's leaders attempted to organize a corps of kamikaze-like guerillas who would continue to resist their conquerors by destroying bridges and committing various other acts of terrorism after the end of the war. But once the war was over, the members of this corps simply vanished into the woodwork. Only their name remains: they were called Werwölfe or werewolves. While Fassbinder may or may not have intended this association, it would have been unavoidable for early audiences of this play.
The characters are named A, B, C, D, and E. A is clearly and consistently "the werewolf" throughout the play, but it is not possible to identify any of the other four roles so certainly. In addition to the many musical selections in the play, the text itself is to some extent a tone poem, an ongoing commentary on German rural life and violence, a "theme and variations" with many voices. For instance, B appears to be an interrogator in Scene 1 but turns up as an itinerant blacksmith in Scene 22 . C starts off as one of the werewolf's victims but transmutes into A's mother. In Scene 17, D and A discuss the war and killing as experienced veterans, though in Scene 12 D had been approached sexually by C. At one point, E appears to be B's mother, at another point one of A's other victims. Essentially all the characters melt in and out of various roles as the play goes on and to some extent serve as a chorus commenting on the action.
They also seemingly melt in and out of various sexual roles, a process Fassbinder would most likely have viewed with approval. Scene 27 is clearly one of male homosexual seduction, most likely prior to A attacking and killing D. The sexes of D and C in Scene 12 may not be important, and the only possible guidance here may come from learning the anatomical sex of the players in the original production. The sale and subsequent fate of a farm animal is discussed in Scenes 11 and 24. In the first scene the animal is a cow, in the latter one it is a bull. Perhaps this is an image describing the entire play.
Many of the images, phrases, and associations remain somewhat obscure not only to the translator but to most native German speakers. If these obscurities turn out to create any problems for the actors or the director, it might be wise to turn to the Fassbinder Foundation or others closely connected with Fassbinder's oeuvre for further enlightenment. The translator wishes to express his gratitude to his friend and highly qualified colleague Helmut Leuffen for sitting with German text in hand during a reading of the entire translation and for suggesting solutions for various Bavarianisms and colloquialisms. He is also grateful to his wife for reading the text with him to ensure that the lines can both be spoken and acted.
The translator found it useful while working to construct a list of the play's scenes with brief summaries of each. This list is appended here, in case it proves useful.
Scene 1. A & B. The werewolf and an interrogator.
Scene 2. A & C. The werewolf and a victim.
Scene 3. Dancing. "Save the Last Dance for Me."
Scene 4. D & B. They argue over what B has "caught."
Scene 5. C & E. They discuss slaughtering, harvesting turnips, and Toni's obesity.
Scene 6. D, E, & B. Discussion of an upcoming wedding.
Scene 7. B, D, E, & A. B sings, D describes the role of the devil in the crime. A & E argue.
Scene 8. B & A. They argue about A's food portions.
Scene 9. Narration. Identity of narrator not specified.
Scene 10. B & E. They discuss B's father and "Franz."
Scene 11. C & B. They reach a bargain as C sells a cow to B.
Scene 12. D & C. C apparently takes sexual liberties with D in a church.
Scene 13. A, B, D, & E. Wolves, rats, and final outcomes are discussed.
Scene 14. C, E, & A. Death and madness are discussed.
Scene 15. C & B. They discuss having inflicted considerable pain on someone.
Scene 16. E, B, D, & C. They discuss an arrest and a blue stone.
Scene 17. D & A. They tell wartime tales of rifles and killing.
Scene 18. C & A. The werewolf confides in his mother.
Scene 19. Hymn.
Scene 20. Monologue. Speaker not specified.
Scene 21. B, E, & D. They discuss stupidity.
Scene 22. B & C. B as an itinerant blacksmith seeks lodging from C.
Scene 23. B. Monologue.
Scene 24. D, C, & B. They discuss putting an old bull out to pasture.
Scene 25. C & B. B seeks money from C to go into town to visit his dying father.
Scene 26. Second Song.
Scene 27. D & A. A attempts to seduce D, possibly as a prelude to killing him.
Scene 28. A & B. Identical with Scene 1.
The following brief description (and a brief excerpt from the extended account) of the Stubbe Peeter story come from Charlotte F. Otten's A Lycanthropy Reader, 1986.
A true Discourse
Declaring the damnable life
and death of one Stubbe Peeter,
a most wicked Sorcerer, who in the Iikenes of
a Woolfe, committed many murders, continuing this diuelish practise 25. yeeres,
killing and deuouring
Men, Woown, and Children.
Who for the same fact was taken
and executed the 31. of October
last past in the Towne of Bedbur
neer the Cittie of Collin in Germany.
Trulye translated out of the high Duch, according to the Copie printed in Collin, brought ouer into England by George Bores ordinary Poste, the xj. daye of this present Moneth of Iune 1590. who did both see and heare the same.
Printed for Edward Venge, and are to be
solde in Fleet-street at the signe of the
¶ A most true Discourse,
declaring the life and death of one
Stubbe Peeter, being a most
Those whome the Lord dooth leaue to followe the Imagination of their own hartes, dispising his proffered grace, in the end through the hardnes of hart and contempt of his fatherly mercy, they enter the right path to perdicion and destruction of body and smile for euer : as in this present historie in perfect sorte may be seene, the strangenes whereof, together with the cruelties committed...
[The report ends with this extended Elizabethan report on werewolves.]
This piece is Copyright © 1997
by Alexander Gross. It may be
reproduced for individuals and for
educational purposes only. It may
not be used for any commercial (i.e.,
money-making) purpose without
written permission from the author.
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