Skip to content


The Play

Georg Büchner left four separate manuscripts of the play, fragmentary and with several overlapping material. Many scholars and writers have attempted to organize/complete the play. It has now become one of the most performed plays in German theater repertory. See production history for some more information on the performances and adaptations.


The scenes in Woyzeck are usually very short and diverse, which would make the scene changes extremely difficult and ineffective. However, the short, distinctive scenes in fact play a large role in differentiating Woyzeck from other plays. In the notes by Henry J. Schmidt included in a version of Woyzeck, the play is described as being “epic theater”:

Woyzeck rejects classicism in tone and in form: it belongs to the genre of epic theater, which centers the dramatic focus on the scene rather than on the act. In a classical play a linear plot develops with little or no interchangeability of the scenes, which are dependent on one another in their progression toward or away from a point of climax. In epic theater the scenes are autonomous units spaced in in a generally circular pattern around a unifying theme. Each scene in Woyzeck is a little “slice of life,” beginning in medias res and ending at times with startling abruptness (Schmidt 79).

It is therefore essential to maintain the briefness of the scenes to best of the stage manager’s abilities. Much detailed information regarding the actual staging of the show, including props, content of each scene, position, etc. can be found in the commentary section of Michael Ewan’s translation of the play (see works cited section).

Such short, distinct scenes serve to emphasize the contrast between the public and private situations:

There is…contrast in the play, between public scenes, in which Woyzeck and/or Marie interact with humanity at large, and private scenes, in which they can be themselves; alone, or with only one or two other relatively congenial people…both contrasts must be established clearly, for a production to succeed. There must be a striking alternation in the set and/or the lighting between the open expanse of bare stage in the scenes set in the world of nature, and the cramped quarters of the town and interior scenes; also the number of actors and the playing style must establish, consciously and conspicuously, the contrast between public and private scenes (74).

This “striking alternation in the set and/or the lighting” is essential in producing powerful scenes faithful to the original.

In choosing the sequence of scenes (as the playwright left parts of the script not in any particular order), this article would be helpful (see further reading section).

Another obstacle in staging the show would be the prevalence of animals, which serves a thematic purpose. There are a well-trained monkey dressed as a man, a horse, and a cat later on. Ewans suggests the following:

The aristocratically dressed monkey should be played by a small member of the cast, to reinforce the animal/human dialogue which is fundamental to the scene. The traditional pantomime horse suit with two men in it is not suitable for the astronomical horse; a mechanical horse is better, both because it embodies the main theme of the play in an effective visual form, and also because one operator can produce the two required functions, head-shaking and defecation, from inside (Ewans 90).

As for the cat, however, Ewans is unable to provide a solution:

A less practical aspect of the scene is the cat. A live one could not be relied on to conform to the stage directions; and although Woyzeck can easily mime grappling with a stuffed animal, as if it were live, it would need to be thrown away, so losing the point of the Doctor’s last line on the subject (110).

“The last line” here refers to the cat running away. Because of this part, the matter of the cat becomes very difficult. “Büchner’s stage directions, though economical, rarely omit essentials; but an important one is absent in this scene” (110).

On Casting

It is important to understand the characters fully before casting the actors to accurately portray them. On Woyzeck Ewan writes:

Woyzeck ‘thinks too much’ (as three of the other leading characters tell him); and he thinks principally about the tiny barrier which separates civilized, moral behaviour, to which we all aspire, from natural, bestial behaviour- to which he himself reverts in the end (Ewan 73).

Eli Rozik, in his book Generating Theatre Meaning: A Theory and Methodology of Performance Analysis, also notes that Woyzeck is a thinker:

Woyzeck is characterized as a natural poet-philosopher-prophet…his predicament should be conceived as a dramatization of an inner struggle among various constituents of the human soul (Rozik 257).

Learning about the real Woyzeck would also be helpful in deciding what kind of character he would be on stage, along with some of the themes that relate directly to his specific character.

Works Cited:

Ewans, Michael. Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck: Translation and Theatrical Commentary. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 1989. Print.

Rozik, Eli. Generating Theatre Meaning: A Theory and Methodology of Performance Analysis. Portland, Oregon: Sussex Academic Press, 2008. Print.

Schmidt, Henry J. Notes on the Text and on Production from Woyzeck by Büchner, Georg. New York, NY: Avon Books, 1969. Print.

Further Reading:

Pierce, Roger. “The Sequence of Scenes in “Woyzeck”: An Approach to Directing the Play.”Educational Theatre Journal 20.4 (1968): 567-77. Web. 5 Dec 2009. <>.