Earth Spirit (play)

Last updated

Earth Spirit (1895) (Erdgeist) is a play by the German dramatist Frank Wedekind. It forms the first part of his pairing of 'Lulu' plays; the second is Pandora's Box (1904), both depicting a society "riven by the demands of lust and greed". [1] In German folklore an erdgeist is a gnome, first described in Goethe's Faust (1808). Together with Pandora's Box, Wedekind's play formed the basis for the silent film Pandora's Box (1929) starring Louise Brooks and the opera Lulu by Alban Berg (1935, premiered posthumously in 1937).

Play (theatre) form of literature intended for theatrical performance

A play is a form of literature written by a playwright, usually consisting of dialogue or singing between characters, intended for theatrical performance rather than just reading. Plays are performed at a variety of levels, from Broadway, Off-Broadway, regional theater, to Community theatre, as well as university or school productions. There are rare dramatists, notably George Bernard Shaw, who have had little preference as to whether their plays were performed or read. The term "play" can refer to both the written texts of playwrights and to their complete theatrical performance.

Germany Federal parliamentary republic in central-western Europe

Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central and Western Europe, lying between the Baltic and North Seas to the north, and the Alps to the south. It borders Denmark to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east, Austria and Switzerland to the south, France to the southwest, and Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands to the west.

Frank Wedekind German playwright

Benjamin Franklin Wedekind, usually known as Frank Wedekind, was a German playwright. His work, which often criticizes bourgeois attitudes, is considered to anticipate expressionism and was influential in the development of epic theatre.


In the original manuscript, dating from 1894, the ‘Lulu’ drama was in five acts and subtitled ‘A Monster Tragedy’. Wedekind subsequently divided the work into two plays: Earth Spirit (German: Erdgeist, first printed 1895) and Pandora’s Box (German: Die Büchse der Pandora, first performed 1904). The premiere of Earth Spirit took place in Leipzig on 25 February 1898, in a production by Carl Heine, with Wedekind himself in the role of Dr Schön. Wedekind is known to have taken his inspiration from at least two sources: the pantomime Lulu by Félicien Champsaur, which he saw in Paris in the early 1890s, and the sex murders of Jack the Ripper in London in 1888. [2]

Pandora's Box is a 1904 play by the German dramatist Frank Wedekind. It forms the second part of his pairing of 'Lulu' plays, the first being Earth Spirit (1895), both of which depict a society "riven by the demands of lust and greed".

Félicien Champsaur (1858–1934) was a French novelist and journalist.

A lust murder is a homicide in which the offender searches for erotic satisfaction by killing someone. Lust murder is synonymous with the paraphilic term erotophonophilia, which is sexual arousal or gratification contingent on the death of a human being. The phrase "lust killing" stems from the original work of Richard von Krafft-Ebing in his 1898 discussion of sadistic homicides. Commonly, this type of crime is manifested either by murder during sexual activity, by mutilating the sexual organs or areas of the victim's body, or by murder and mutilation. The mutilation of the victim may include evisceration, displacement of the sexual organs, or both. The mutilation usually takes place postmortem. Although the killing sequence may include an act of sexual intercourse, sexual intercourse does not always occur, and other types of sexual acts may be part of the homicide.


In a Prologue, the characters in the drama are introduced by an ‘Animal Tamer’ as if they are creatures in a travelling circus. Lulu herself is described as “the true animal, the wild, beautiful animal” and the “primal form of woman”.

When the action of the play starts, Lulu has been rescued by the rich newspaper publisher Dr Schön from a life on the streets with her alleged father, the petty criminal Schigolch. Dr Schön has taken Lulu under his wing, educated her and made her his lover. Wishing however to make a more socially advantageous match for himself, he has married her off to the medic Dr Goll.

In the first Act Dr Goll has brought Lulu to have her portrait painted by Schwarz. Left alone with him, Lulu seduces the painter. When Dr Goll returns to confront them, he collapses with a fatal heart attack.

In Act Two, Lulu has married the painter Schwarz, who, with Schön’s assistance, has now achieved fame and wealth. She remains Schön’s mistress, however. Wishing to be rid of her ahead of his forthcoming marriage to a society belle, Charlotte von Zarnikow, Schön informs Schwarz about her dissolute past. Schwarz is shocked to the core and “guillotines” himself with his razor.

In Act Three Lulu appears as a dancer in a revue, her new career promoted by Schön’s son Alwa, who is now also infatuated with her. Dr Schön is forced to admit that he is in her thrall. Lulu forces him to break off his engagement to Charlotte.

In Act Four Lulu is now married to Dr Schön but is unfaithful to him with several other men (Schigolch, Alwa, the circus artist Rodrigo Quast and the lesbian Countess Geschwitz). On discovering this, Schön presses a revolver into her hand, urging her to kill herself. Instead, she uses it to shoot Schön, all the while declaring him the only man she has ever loved. She is imprisoned for her crime.

Her escape from prison with the aid of Countess Geschwitz and subsequent career down to her death at the hands of Jack the Ripper in London are the subject of the sequel, Pandora’s Box. It is now customary in theatre performances to run the two plays together, in abridged form, under the title Lulu.

Jack the Ripper unidentified serial killer

Jack the Ripper was an unidentified serial killer generally believed to have been active in the largely impoverished areas in and around the Whitechapel district of London in 1888. In both the criminal case files and contemporary journalistic accounts, the killer was called the Whitechapel Murderer and Leather Apron.


The play has attracted a wide range of interpretations, from those who see it as misogynistic to those who claim Wedekind as a harbinger of women’s liberation. [3] Central to these divergent readings is the ambiguous figure of Lulu herself. Arguably, she embodies not so much the “primal form of woman” (a nebulous and subjective concept) as perceptions – in particular, male perceptions – of that “primal form”. It is significant that we never learn Lulu’s true name, only the names imposed on her by a succession of lovers. [4] To Schigolch she is “Lulu”, an asexual name suggestive of children’s earliest speech. To Schön she is “Mignon”, the name of the mysterious girl in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship who pursues the hero with submissive fidelity. To Schwarz she is Eve, mankind’s first mother but also alleged agent (in the biblical narrative) of our undoing. Each man, secure in the patriarchal society to which she is a potential affront, finds in her what he wants to see; her own needs, meanwhile, remain obscured. A key stage prop throughout the play (and its sequel) is Schwarz’s portrait of Lulu, which depicts her dressed as Pierrot. By further associating his heroine with this “naïve, comic, yet also pathetic” figure, Wedekind reminds audiences of her “essential vulnerability”. [5]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 18th/19th-century German writer, artist, and politician

Johann Wolfgang (von) Goethe was a German writer and statesman. His works include four novels; epic and lyric poetry; prose and verse dramas; memoirs; an autobiography; literary and aesthetic criticism; and treatises on botany, anatomy, and colour. In addition, there are numerous literary and scientific fragments, more than 10,000 letters, and nearly 3,000 drawings by him extant.

Eve biblical figure

Eve is a figure in the Book of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible. According to the creation myth of the Abrahamic religions, she was the first woman. Eve is known also as Adam's wife.

Pierrot stock character of pantomime and Commedia dellArte

Pierrot is a stock character of pantomime and commedia dell'arte whose origins are in the late seventeenth-century Italian troupe of players performing in Paris and known as the Comédie-Italienne; the name is a diminutive of Pierre (Peter), via the suffix -ot. His character in contemporary popular culture—in poetry, fiction, and the visual arts, as well as works for the stage, screen, and concert hall—is that of the sad clown, pining for love of Columbine, who usually breaks his heart and leaves him for Harlequin. Performing unmasked, with a whitened face, he wears a loose white blouse with large buttons and wide white pantaloons. Sometimes he appears with a frilled collaret and a hat, usually with a close-fitting crown and wide round brim, more rarely with a conical shape like a dunce's cap. But most frequently, since his reincarnation under Jean-Gaspard Deburau, he wears neither collar nor hat, only a black skullcap. The defining characteristic of Pierrot is his naïveté: he is seen as a fool, often the butt of pranks, yet nonetheless trusting.


The play was adapted for film twice, in 1923 by Leopold Jessner, starring Asta Nielsen, [6] and by Walerian Borowczyk for French television in 1980, starring Anne Bennant. [7] It is currently being adapted for comics by John Linton Roberson. [8]

Earth Spirit (German:Erdgeist) is a 1923 German silent drama film directed by Leopold Jessner and starring Asta Nielsen, Albert Bassermann and Carl Ebert. It is based on the play of the same name by Frank Wedekind. It premiered in Berlin on 22 February 1923.

Asta Nielsen Danish actress

Asta Nielsen was a Danish silent film actress who was one of the most popular leading ladies of the 1910s and one of the first international movie stars. Seventy of Nielsen's 74 films were made in Germany where she was known simply as Die Asta. Noted for her large dark eyes, mask-like face and boyish figure, Nielsen most often portrayed strong-willed passionate women trapped by tragic circumstances. Due to the erotic nature of her performances, Nielsen's films were heavily censored in the United States and her work remained relatively obscure to American audiences. She is credited with transforming movie acting from overt theatricality to a more subtle naturalistic style. Nielsen founded her own film studio in Berlin during the 1920s, but returned to Denmark in 1937 after the rise of Nazism in Germany. A private figure in her later years, Nielsen became a collage artist and an author.

Walerian Borowczyk film director

Walerian Borowczyk was an internationally known Polish film director described by film critics as a 'genius who also happened to be a pornographer'. He directed 40 films between 1946 and 1988. Borowczyk settled in Paris in 1959. As a film director he worked mainly in France.

Related Research Articles

<i>Lulu</i> (opera) unfinished opera by Alban Berg

Lulu is an opera in three acts by Alban Berg. Berg adapted the libretto from Frank Wedekind's two Lulu plays, Erdgeist and Die Büchse der Pandora. The opera tells the story of a mysterious young woman known as Lulu, who follows a downward spiral from a well-kept mistress in Vienna to a street prostitute in London, while being both a victim and a purveyor of destruction. It explores the idea of the femme fatale and the duality between her feminine and masculine qualities. Berg died before completing the third and final act, and in the following decades the opera was typically performed incomplete. Since the 1979 publication of the version including Friedrich Cerha's orchestration of the act 3 sketches, it has become standard. Lulu is especially notable for using serialism at a time that was particularly inhospitable to it. Theodor W. Adorno wrote, "The opera Lulu is one of those works that reveals the extent of its quality the longer and more deeply one immerses oneself in it."

Lulu may refer to:

Louise Brooks American dancer and actress

Mary Louise Brooks, known professionally as Louise Brooks, was an American film actress and dancer during the 1920s and 1930s. She is noted as a flapper icon and sex symbol, and is famous for her bob hairstyle that she helped popularize during the prime of her career.

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1898.

<i>Pandoras Box</i> (1929 film) 1929 film by Georg Wilhelm Pabst

Pandora's Box is a 1929 German silent melodrama film based on Frank Wedekind's plays Erdgeist and Die Büchse der Pandora (1904). Directed by Austrian filmmaker Georg Wilhelm Pabst, the film stars Louise Brooks, Fritz Kortner and Francis Lederer. Brooks' portrayal of a seductive, thoughtless young woman whose raw sexuality and uninhibited nature bring ruin to herself and those who love her, although initially unappreciated, eventually made the actress a star.

Peter Barnes was an English Olivier Award-winning playwright and screenwriter. His most famous work is the play The Ruling Class, which was made into a 1972 film for which Peter O'Toole received an Oscar nomination.

Mía Maestro Argentine actress and singer-songwriter

Mía Maestro is an Argentine actress and singer-songwriter. She is known for her role as Nora Martinez in The Strain, Nadia Santos in the television drama Alias, as Christina Kahlo in Frida, and as Carmen in The Twilight Saga.

<i>Lulu on the Bridge</i> 1998 film by Paul Auster

Lulu on the Bridge is a 1998 American romantic-mystery drama film written and directed by author Paul Auster and starring Harvey Keitel, Mira Sorvino, and Willem Dafoe. The film is about a jazz saxophone player whose life is transformed after being shot. After discovering a mysterious stone, he meets and falls in love with a beautiful aspiring actress, but their happiness is cut short by a series of strange, dreamlike events. The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival.

<i>The Glebe</i> (literary magazine)

The Glebe was a literary magazine edited by Alfred Kreymborg and Man Ray from 1913 to 1914. The first issue was published from Grantwood, New Jersey while the rest of the run was published in New York by Albert & Charles Boni. Ten issues were produced, with a circulation of 300. Issue number 5 comprised the first anthology of Imagism: Des Imagistes.

<i>Anagrams of Desire</i>

Anagrams of Desire is an academic textbook about Angela Carter's media writings. Written by Charlotte Crofts and published by Manchester University Press in 2003, the full title is Anagrams of Desire: Angela Carter's Writing for Radio, Film and Television.

<i>Beggars of Life</i> 1928 film by William A. Wellman

Beggars of Life (1928) is a Paramount film directed by William Wellman and starring Wallace Beery and Richard Arlen as hobos, and Louise Brooks as a young woman who dresses as a young man and flees the law. The film is regarded as Brooks's best American movie.

Alice Roberts was a Belgian actress active from the late 1920s to the late 1930s.

Susanne Lothar German actress

Susanne Lothar was a German film, television and stage actress.

<i>Lulu</i> (1962 film) 1962 film by Rolf Thiele

Lulu is a 1962 Austrian crime drama film written and directed by Rolf Thiele. The film is an adaptation of Frank Wedekind's Lulu plays—Earth Spirit and Pandora's Box —and stars Nadja Tiller, O. E. Hasse, and Hildegard Knef.

<i>Melusine</i> (Reimann) opera

Melusine is a 1971 German-language opera by Aribert Reimann, on a libretto by Claus H. Henneberg after Melusine, a 1920 play in four acts by Yvan Goll which transposes the legendary water-spirit to Goll's time. The opera was written for the Schwetzingen Festival, where it premiered in May 1971. It was recorded in 2010.

Joan Carroll is an American operatic coloratura soprano who appeared in the title role of Alban Berg's Lulu at the work's US premiere at the Santa Fe Opera in 1963, and often in opera houses in Europe. She premiered vocal music by Aribert Reimann and Wilhelm Killmayer, among others.



  1. Article "Frank Wedekind" in Banham 1998, pp. 1189-1190).
  2. Finney 1989, p. 80
  3. Lewis 1997, p. 29
  4. Finney 1989, p. 89
  5. Skrine 1989, p. 89
  6. Erdgeist, "1923"
  7. Lulu, "1980"
  8. Roberson, John Linton. "Lulu"


International Standard Book Number Unique numeric book identifier

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a numeric commercial book identifier which is intended to be unique. Publishers purchase ISBNs from an affiliate of the International ISBN Agency.