Waldfriedhof München Grosshadern, Stadtkreis München, Bavaria (Bayern), Germany
Benjamin Franklin Wedekind (July 24, 1864 – March 9, 1918), usually known as Frank Wedekind, was a German playwright. His work, which often criticizes bourgeois attitudes (particularly towards sex), is considered to anticipate expressionism and was influential in the development of epic theatre. Wedekind's two famous ‘Lulu’ plays, which inspired Alban Berg's opera, are Erdgeist (Earth Spirit, 1895/ 1903) and Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora's Box, 1904). They feature the lesbian Countess Geschwitz, who accompanies the heroine, Lulu, in her ‘decline’ from the position of (through marriage) society lady to London prostitute. She finally dies trying to protect Lulu from Jack the Ripper. Berg presumably drew inspiration for the lesbian Countess Geschwitz from his sister Smaragda, herself a passionate musician, who freely professed to having relationships with women for years, which was rather unusual for the time. In his introduction to the third edition of Pandora's Box, Wedekind makes the interesting claim that the tragic heroine of the play is not Lulu, but Countess Geschwitz. He notes that, in the furore of moral outrage that followed the appearance of the play, none of the judges called upon to pronounce on its legal status objected to ‘the terrible fate of unnaturalness that weighs upon this human being’ (i.e. Geschwitz's homosexuality). Wedekind claims that he chose to portray such a character because he felt inspired by the need to awaken public sympathy for homosexuality. In Georg Wilhelm Pabst's film version, Die Büchse der Pandora (1929), with Louise Brooks as Lulu, Alice Roberts's Geschwitz is a peripheral but explicitly lesbian character.
Benjamin Franklin Wedekind was born on July 24, 1864, in Hanover, German Confederation, Große Aegdienstraße 13 (today: Friedrichswall 10). His mother was Swiss and became pregnant with him in San Francisco. His father, a German, had a Swiss castle in which Wedekind grew up, after the family had left Hanover in 1872. Until World War I, when he was forced to obtain a German passport, he was an American citizen and traveled throughout Europe. He lived most of his adult life in Munich, though he had a brief period working in advertising, for the Maggi soup firm, in Switzerland in 1886. Having worked in business and the circus, Wedekind went on to become an actor and singer. In this capacity, he received wide acclaim as the principal star of the satirical cabaret Die elf Scharfrichter (The Eleven Executioners), launched in 1901. Wedekind became an important influence on the tradition of German satirical writing for the theatre, paving the way for the cabaret-song satirists Kurt Tucholsky, Walter Mehring, Joachim Ringelnatz and Erich Kästner among others, who after Wedekind's death would invigorate the culture of the Weimar Republic; "all bitter social critics who used direct, stinging satire as the best means of attack and wrote a large part of their always intelligible light verse to be declaimed or sung". At the age of 34, after serving a nine-month prison sentence for lèse-majesté (thanks to the publication in Simplicissimus of some of his satirical poems), Wedekind became a dramaturg (a play-reader and adapter) at the Munich Schauspielhaus. His sex life was promiscuous and he frequented prostitutes, contracting syphilis. He also enjoyed the pleasure of platonic female company and kept his tendencies toward homosexuality and sadism in check. He had an affair with Frida Uhl who bore him a child. In 1906, he married the Austrian actress Tilly Newes, 22 years his junior and became strictly monogamous. His relationship with his wife was turbulent, with Wedekind prone to jealousy and he felt pressure to maintain strenuous creative and sexual activity in order to please her. They had two daughters, Pamela and Kadidja, but his jealousy led his wife to attempt both separation and suicide. Near the end of his life, Wedekind underwent an appendectomy and immediately began acting again, leading to a hernia. His doctor refused to operate immediately but Wedekind insisted and complications from the surgery led to his death at the age of 53 on March 9, 1918. Tilly Wedekind went on to appear in such films as Travelling People and was romantically linked to the author Gottfried Benn. In 1969, at age 83, she published an autobiography in German, Lulu: Die Rolle meines Lebens (Lulu: The Role of My Life).
Wedekind's first major play, Frühlings Erwachen (Spring Awakening, 1891), which concerns sexuality and puberty among some young German students, caused a scandal as it contained scenes of homoeroticism, implied group male masturbation, actual male masturbation, sado-masochism between a teenage boy and girl, rape and suicide, as well as references to abortion. The "Lulu" plays Erdgeist (Earth Spirit, 1895) and Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora's Box, 1904) were probably his best known works until the 2006 adaptation of Spring Awakening. Originally conceived as a single play, the two pieces tell a continuous story of a sexually-enticing young dancer, who rises in German society through her relationships with wealthy men but who later falls into poverty and prostitution. The frank depiction of sexuality and violence in these plays, including lesbianism and an encounter with Jack the Ripper (a role which Wedekind played in the original production), pushed the boundaries of what was considered acceptable on the stage at the time. Karl Kraus also helped Wedekind stage it in Vienna. Der Kammersänger (The Court-Singer, 1899) is a one-act character study of a famous opera singer who receives a series of unwelcome guests at his hotel suite. In Franziska (1910), the title character, a young girl, initiates a Faustian pact with the Devil, selling her soul for the knowledge of what it is like to live life as a man (reasoning that men seem to have all the advantages). A number of Wedekind's works have been translated into English by Samuel Atkins Eliot Jr.
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