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Tradition or Innovation?
Shakespeare at the Burg in the post-war decade

Elke Mettinger-Schartmann

Historians have repeatedly pointed out that post-war Vienna was characterised by tradition and continuity. In the post-war decade Shakespeare, the "third German classic", was the most frequently performed playwright at the Burg. This project seeks to acknowledge innovations that were nevertheless recognisable in the various components that constitute the Burg as a site of Bourdieu's field.

Historians have repeatedly pointed out that post-war Vienna was characterised by tradition, restoration and continuity rather than by innovation or new beginnings. The Burgtheater as a repertoire and educational theatre has always staged Shakespeare who in the post-war decade was even the most frequently performed playwright with nine plays in new productions. But close scrutiny reveals the assumption of continuity to be oversimplified. Discontinuities and innovations have to be acknowledged in the various components that constitute the Burgtheater as a site of Bourdieu's field:


As the Ronacher stage which had to serve as home until 1955 offered limited space and lacked technical equipment improvisation became necessary.


Hamlet, Julius CaesarRichard IIOthello, Antony and Cleopatra, A Midsummer Night's DreamThe Taming of the ShrewTwelfth NightMuch Ado About Nothing

In contrast to the war period (five comedies, two tragedies) there is a slight dominance of tragedies, which is evidence against the purpose of harmless entertainment.

Stage Directors:
Most of the stage directors were exiles who prevented a return to routine, namely Leopold Lindtberg (HamletMuch Ado About Nothing), Josef Gielen (Julius CaesarTwelfth Night) and Berthold Viertel (Richard IIOthelloAntony and Cleopatra). Guest director Walter Felsenstein directed The Taming of the Shrew and Herbert Waniek AMidsummer Night's Dream.

Stage Designers:
Teo Otto (OthelloAntony and CleopatraMuch Ado About Nothing), Caspar Neher (Julius CaesarRichard II) and Stefan Hlawa (HamletTwelfth Night) all contributed to the modern stage. Heinz Pfeiffenberger; guest designer who worked with Felsenstein, designed a realistic stage for The Taming of the Shrew.

Actors and Actresses:
Only half of the ensemble was available in 1945, but there were nevertheless no double roles (as in the Elizabethan theatre). There was a mixture of ensemble and individual 'stars'. Some actors had fled to the West, others were still in exile or were forbidden to work or underwent various stages of "rehabilitation".

Lothar Müthel had staged a notoriously antisemitic Merchant of Venice in 1943 and stepped down on pressure in April 1945. Raoul Aslan was then appointed head by his Burgtheater colleagues. His inauguration speech confirmed the traditional role of the Burgtheater. Josef Gielen followed him in 1948.

August Wilhelm Schlegel's canonical translations were used for most plays, namely HamletJulius CaesarTwelfth Night and adapted by Berthold Viertel for Richard IIAntony and Cleopatra. Wolf Heinrich Graf von Baudissin's translations were adapted by Viertel for Othello and slightly modified by Lindtberg for Much Ado About Nothing. Richard Flatter's new translations were used for A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Taming of the Shrew.

Theatre Critics:

1945 saw the re-establishment of theatre criticism as opposed to NS-"Kunstbetrachtung". Theatre criticism was to a large extent actors' criticism as a concession to the public wish.


The subscribers seem to have remained faithful to the Burg and still wanted to see their favourite actors. The more innovative and partly newly translated comedies seem to have been acclaimed even more than the – also successful – tragedies.

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