Ernst Toller: The Redemptive Power of the Failed Revolutionary

  • Frank Trommler
Part of the Warwick Studies in the European Humanities book series (WSEH)


In his dramatisation of Ernst Toiler’s biography as a revolutionary, the playwright Tankred Dorst gives an unflattering, though not unsympathetic portrait of him. Dorst’s play of 1968, Toller, a montage of historical scenes in the style of Erwin Piscator’s political theatre, concentrated on Toiler’s vanity, on the way he ‘acted out’ his political mission. Supported by the testimony of contemporaries in the 1920s and 1930s describing Toiler as an engaging humanitarian and an impressive public speaker who carried his ego prominently into every encounter, Dorst focused on Toller’s capacity for self-dramatisation as the clue to his fame as a political writer. Toller, the play, is intended to deconstruct this self-dramatisation in order to arrive at a better understanding of the role of the writer in politics, a topic which drew particular interest in the years of the students’ revolt. In Dorst’s own words:

Toller dramatises himself. He sees himself as a hero and a man of suffering, standing in the spotlight on the Expressionist stage of humanity. It was suggested that I adapt Toiler’s recollections for the stage. That would have produced naive theatrical theatre. What interested me about Toller was not the scenes that Toiler describes, but the process of self-dramatisation on the part of an individual in a particular situation. In his case a political situation. A play about Toller would have to be a realist drama. This meant denouncing Toller’s own dramatisations, not following them. Toller the actor.1


Expressionist Emotion Expressionist Writer Weimar Republic Lunatic Asylum Political Writer 
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© Richard Dove and Stephen Lamb 1992

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  • Frank Trommler

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