The word (drama)

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Title: The word
Genus: Tragic comedy in five acts
Original language: German
Author: Arthur Schnitzler
Publishing year: 1966
Premiere: 1969
Place of premiere: Theater in der Josefstadt , Vienna
  • Anastasius Treuenhof
  • Ferdinand Neumann
  • Gleissner
  • Rap
  • Franziska Langer
  • Willi
  • Berta , her children
  • Hofrat Rudolf Winkler , her brother
  • Van Zack
  • Lisa , his wife
  • Mimi , her sister
  • Mrs. Flatterer
  • nightingale
  • Two disciples of Treuenhof
  • Section Councilor Mayer
  • Albine
  • Tini
  • A waiter
  • Maid

The word is a tragic comedy by Arthur Schnitzler that began in 1904 and was reworked until 1927, but ultimately remained unfinished. Unpublished during his lifetime, a version was edited in 1966 and the world premiere took place in 1969 in the Theater in der Josefstadt . A young man abandoned by his lover kills himself after a writer explains that this is the right behavior in his situation.


1st act

In a not very fine Viennese coffeehouse (“Czech”), various figures around the literary figure Anastasius Treuenhof meet. The writer Flatterer came from Berlin to get to know the poet. The culture costume tailor van Zack brings his wife Lisa with him, who is admired by everyone. The young painter Willi Langer also returns from a long trip to Italy, who immediately becomes interested in Lisa and invites her to sit with him as a model.

2nd act

Mrs. Langer and Berta talk about the changed character of Willis since Lisa was available to him for a picture. Treuenhof comes to pick Willi for the costume ball at Van Zack's and turns down the offer of a permanent position, he would rather live on donations. Willi, in turn, confesses to his mother that Lisa van Zack will be leaving because of him. The mother asks him not to make rash decisions, as Willi had tried to kill himself in a previous love affair. At the same time, she and Winkler are planning to set up a home for children out of wedlock in Kierling , for which the site is to be acquired by Klosterneuburg Abbey .

3rd act

Ball at van Zacks. Quick change of groups of people. Willi learns from Lisa that she has not yet told her husband that she is leaving. Treuenhof advises van Zack to let Lisa go so that she has a chance to return. Zack asks Lisa to make up her mind in two weeks, but she is not allowed to see Willi during that time.

4th act

In the Atelier Willis, who is packing. Berta tells him to leave for as long as possible. Lisa comes and says she'll need some time, days, weeks, maybe a month, until she can sort everything out with Van Zack. This has gone away and has not yet come back. After Lisa comes van Zack, from whom Willi learns that he has long been back, that Lisa has already decided on him and that Lisa has lied to him. Finally Treuenhof comes to say goodbye to Willi. When asked for advice, he says that you have to kill yourself early enough at a young age, otherwise it will be too late.

5th act

In the van Zack house (without van Zack) a meeting takes place to found a support association for Treuenhof. An envoy from the ministry offers Treuenhof a job as an editor (if he then writes the right thing about the government). Lisa thinks that Treuenhof does not have to be supported, but should - for the sake of its work - not be artificially kept alive. Treuenhof complains that he doesn't want to die. Van Zack brought the news that Willi had killed himself. Winkler confronts Treuenhof, but Treuenhof believes Willi's mother will forgive him.

Background of the creation

A true incident forms the tragic background of the play: The son of women's rights activist Marie Lang , Heinz Lang committed suicide on August 27, 1904 in Kidderminster , England. He had previously been in the circle of Peter Altenberg in Vienna , where he also met Adolf Loos and his wife Lina Loos, who was married in July 1902 . A passionate love affair arose between Lina Loos and Heinz Lang in 1903. After Loos discovered Lang's love letters from his wife and confronted them with them, she ended her relationship with Lang. Heinz Lang turned to Peter Altenberg in his need. According to Hugo von Hofmannsthal's notes, the latter answered him as follows: “What should you do? Shoot yourself. What will they do? Live on. Because they are as cowardly as I am, as cowardly as the whole generation, hollowed out inside, a liar like me. ”Whereupon Heinz Lang shot himself with a revolver in England, where he had waited in vain for Lina Loos.

The word is likely to have remained a fragment out of sympathy for Altenberg, although largely completed.

Key piece

The following decryption of the main characters was made:

  • Anastasius Treuenhof - Peter Altenberg
  • Willi Langer - Heinz Lang
  • Lisa van Zack - Lina Loos
  • Mr. van Zack - Adolf Loos
  • Gleissner - Alfred Polgar
  • Rapp - Stefan Grossmann
  • Winkler - Arthur Schnitzler

Winkler has similarities with the figure of the same name in Professor Bernhardi and is there treated as a literary portrait of Max Burckhard .


The piece not only addresses responsibility towards language, what is said and heard, but is also to be understood as a work that is skeptical of language. So Schnitzler lets Treuenhof say words are nothing , then he is replied to words are everything. We have nothing else.

Parallels in terms of language and content - especially the characters Neumann, Treuenhof, Rapp and Gleissner - were drawn by Reinhard Urbach to Schnitzler's story Der tote Gabriel and Der Weg im Freil.


  • Schnitzler, Arthur: The Word. Tragic comedy in five acts. Fragment. Edited from the estate and introduced by Kurt Bergel . Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 1966 ( online ).
    • The shortcomings of the edition make clear: Reinhard Urbach : “'Talkers are criminals'. Comments on Schnitzler's drama fragment 'Das Wort' , Literature and Criticism, Vol. 3 (1968), pp. 293-304.
  • Ulrich Weinzierl : Vienna, turn of the century - The young Alfred Polgar . In: AP: Blocked Seat. Ed. UW Wien: Löcker 1984, pp. 234–243.
  • Christoph Brecht: The word. In: Schnitzler manual. Ed. Christoph Juergensen, Wolfgang Lukas, Michael Scheffel. Weimar: 2014, pp. 145–146.

Web links

Individual evidence

  2. See Schnitzler: Diary entry from November 21, 1907
  3. See Weinzierl, pp. 237 and 243.
  4. Urbach (1968), pp. 302-304
  5. Evaluation only of Bergel's introduction, Urbach's criticism is ignored, Lina Loos is called (as wrongly with Bergel) "Obertimpler" and the world premiere is not mentioned.