Until the publication of this book, edited and with commentary by Douglas A. Russell, there was no collection of Austrian dramas available to the English-speaking world, only translations of individual plays that invariably appear in anthologies devoted to the development of German dramatic art - an incongruous misplacement, Professor Russell thinks, that often confuses the reader, who is apprehending the play in an improper context.
An Anthology of Austrian Drama begins with an extensive introduction to the history of the Austrian theater - beginning with the fifteenth century and concluding with the present decade. In supplying valuable historical and cultural background material - such as information about the long-standing, strict censorship laws - the essay places in proper perspective the half-dozen plays that follow, written by six of Austria's finest playwrights.
The Talisman (1840) by Johann Nestroy was an immediate popular success, then was subsequently forgotten, only to become popular again in recent years because of its timely comic statement about prejudice.
King Ottocar, His Rise and Fall (1823) by Franz Grillparzer (possibly Austria's most famous playwright) is a historical drama about the rise to power of Rudolf I, the first Hapsburg emperor. The play has a special place in the hearts of the Viennese.
La Ronde (1896) by Arthur Schnitzler has been produced and filmed many times. It is a fast-moving comedy in ten scenes, a sprightly and erotic dance involving a chain of sexual partners.
Electra (1903) by Hugo von Hofmannsthal transforms classical restraint into Freudian repression and violence, reflecting the inner hysteria and fears that plagued Viennese society during the old empire's final decade of decay.
Goat Song (1921) by Franz Werfel (also produced for a long period of time in the U.S.), based on a newspaper clipping about a monster and a Slavic rebellion in the late eighteenth century, is a symbolist-expressionist allegory of the brutality of man in rebellion.
The Raspberry Picker (1965) by Fritz Hochwälder is a strong satiric comedy depicting the reaction of a small bourgeois village to the possible visit of a great exterminator from the former Nazi regime.
Each of these representative plays is preceded by an introduction that details its playwright's distinct contribution to an obviously rich and honored tradition whose presentation is long overdue.