(For technical details regarding staging that relate to the animals in the play, please consult this page).
There is a prevalence of animals and references thereof in Woyzeck. They serve to indicate the level to which the character Woyzeck has been taken down. This page serves to analyze the animal/human dialectic in the play. Such comparisons between humans and animals serve to illustrate the “dehumanized world” (Rozik 257) Woyzeck lives in.
Animals in Woyzeck
There are primarily three live animals that play significant roles in the play. They are the monkey, the horse, and the cat.
In the fairground scene we see a well-trained monkey dressed up as a man to entertain the audience. The Barker says:
The monkey’s a soldier- not that that’s much, lowest form of animal life. Hey! Show us your bow. Now you’re a baron. Blow us a kiss. [He plays the trumpet.] The little blighter likes music (112).
There are a couple of important ideas to take from the monkey and the Barker. First, Woyzeck is a soldier, which the Barker compares the monkey to. When the Barker says it’s the “lowest form of animal life,” it is not exactly clear if he is referring to the monkey or a soldier. Either way, a soldier like Woyzeck is portrayed as being as low a human being as an animal.
Secondly, the Barker makes monkey perform tricks that involve human actions such as bowing and blowing kisses. As soon as the monkey bows the Barker says that it is “now” “a barron”. When the monkey plays the trumpet as it probably was trained to, the Barker makes it sound as if the monkey was acting on its own accord for its own entertainment (“the blighter likes music”), which certainly renders the animal as being human-like. By comparing a monkey to a human, namely a soldier, the playwright insinuates that a man, conversely, can easily be compared to an animal.
Monkeys closely resemble humans and are known to be very intelligent; therefore, a monkey dressed up as a man who can mimic certain human actions definitely blurs the line between what is human and what is animal.
Another intelligent animal in the play is a horse in a lit booth. A Showman says:
Show them your paces. Show them your horse sense. Put human society to shame. Gentlemen, this beast you see here with four hooves and a tail behind is a member of all the learned societies and a professor at the university…now show us what you can do when you use your powers of reason. Is there an ass in this learned company?
[The horse shakes its head.]
See that? That’s the power of reason. A horse of a different colour. This is no dumb animal, this is a person. A human being in animal form- but still a beast, still an animal (112-113).
He says directly that the horse is not an animal, but a person in animal form. This blatant statement supports the ideas established earlier by the Barker and the monkey. An animal can be human with the power of reason. When Woyzeck kills Marie he seems to be without such power, which thereby could portray him as an animal in human form.
The horse, however, behaves “indecently,” or defecates (Ewans 90), which prompts the Showman to say further:
That’s right, put society to shame. You see, this animal is still in a state of nature. Unidealized nature. Take a lesson from him. Ask your doctor; it’s very harmful not to. The message was: Man, be more than dust, sand, and slime? Look here if you want to know what reason is: he can do arithmetic but he can’t count on his fingers. Why? He just can’t express himself, can’t explain things. He’s a transmogrified human being (113).
This is a significant point that the Showman makes. The “theme is brought to bear directly on Woyzeck; he is the implied parallel when the Showman claims that his horse, who can count, but not inform others of the results, represents ‘human nature transformed’. Woyzeck too can think but cannot communicate” (Ewans 87).
The most blatant parallel between Woyzeck and an animal, however, is later in the play when the Doctor lectures to a group of young men.
Dehumanization as a Human Research Subject
The Doctor first experiments with the cat. Then, when Woyzeck says he is “all of a tremble,” the Doctor becomes “delighted”; for monetary compensation Woyzeck had been subject to the Doctor’s experiment in having him eat nothing but peas for months. The following is the Doctor’s words in response to Woyzeck:
Are you indeed! [Rubs his hands, takes the cat.] What’s this, gentlemen? A new species of animal louse. And a very fine one.
[Produces a magnifying class. The cat runs away.]
Animals have no scientific instincts. I’ll show you something else instead. Observe. For three months this man has eating nothing but peas. Note the effect, Feel for yourselves. What an irregular pulse- and the eyes! (Büchner 123-124)
The Doctor dehumanizes Woyzeck as a complete animal to be tested and to be observed. He even offers his students to “feel” for themselves and the men “palpate his temples, wrists, and thorax” (124).
When Woyzeck does not wiggle his ears at the Doctor’s demand, the Doctor becomes frustrated:
You clown, do I have to wiggle them for you? Are you going to behave like the cat? There you are, gentlemen; another case of progressive donkeyfication, a frequent result of feminine upbringing and the use of the German language. Your mother’s been pulling out your hairs for souvenirs- its getting quite thin these days. That’s the peas, gentlemen. The peas (124).
Here the Doctor compares Woyzeck directly to the cat and makes a joke. Ewans points out:
The presence of both the cat and Woyzeck as objects for study ensures that the animal/ human dialectic is explored throughout the scene, and the focal point, right at the end, comes when the Doctor makes one of his jokes out of the descent to animality which is the fundamental theme of the play. He thus brings out explicitly the parallel between Woyzeck and the four-footed beasts, which was implied by the Showman’s spiel in scene 3 (Ewans 108).
As a human research subject Woyzeck is treated like an animal. This is one of the most significant portrayals of dehumanization in Woyzeck. However, there are many other parts of the play where several characters refer to others as animals, mostly in derogatory terms.
Referring to People as Animals
There are many parts of the play in which people are compared to animals. Marie compares her love interest, the drum-major, to a lion: “The walk of him – like a lion” (Büchner 110). Then later she says he is “broad as an ox and [has] a beard like a lion” (116). When he puts his arm around her and she demands that she be let go crossly, he calls her a “wildcat” (117).
Other instances, however, are mostly derogatory. The Doctor compares Woyzeck to a dog in reference to how Woyzeck urinated in the streets against a wall (115). The Captain compares Woyzeck’s running legs to “a spider’s shadow” and calls the image “grotesque” (119). Both Woyzeck and Marie often refer to the latter as a “bitch” (120) or as a “she-wolf” (122). The Jew who sells Woyzeck the knife to kill Marie with calls Woyzeck a dog (126). When Woyzeck refers to Marie and the drum-major dancing, he jealously remarks:
Let them fall on each other in their lewdness. Male and female, man and beast. Do it in broad daylight. Do it on a man’s hand like flies. The bitch is in heat. [Jumps to his feet.] Look at him pawing her, all over her body He’s got her, like I had her once (122).
His references to “beast,” “flies,” “bitch…in heat,” and “pawing” all draw attention back to the prevalence of animals and mentions thereof in the play. Such references are effective in indicating how low a level Woyzeck has sunk down to due to the medical experiments, general mistreatment by others, poverty, jealousy, and more that would eventually lead him to the infamous murder.
Büchner, Georg. Danton’s Death; Leonce and Lena; Woyzeck. Oxford, Great Britain: Oxford University Press, 1971. Print.
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.