Johann Christian Woyzeck

Johann Christian Woyzeck, a key figure in a murder case that took place on June 3, 1821 in Leipzig, Germany. Johann Christian Woyzeck was titled as a criminal after he confessed to stabbing his 46 year old wife to death. In a state of jealous rage he stabbed her a total of seven times.

Johann Christian Woyzeck had a tough upbringing, as well as being raised into poverty Woyzeck had a unsettled life, aimlessly drifting through a variety of professions; barber, solider, tailor, bookbinder, manservant, till finally he decided upon of the life of a criminal.

The murder case dragged on for years after, becoming sensational news. The majority of the legal delays were a due to the question of Woyzecks mental state before and after the crime. It was said that Woyzeck was mentally unstable and suffered from diminished mental capacity. This was the first time in German history that an insanity defence was used. Doctors were required to investigate his sanity further and report back to the courts. Forensic expert Dr. J.A Clarus examined Woyzeck over a three year period. Within the first three months of Woyzecks arrest, it was announced that despite his mental condition and behaviour Woyzeck was still capable of understanding the concept of ‘right and wrong’ and therefore would therefore take full responsibility for his actions and should receive punishment. Woyzeck was sentenced to death, however, a year and a half later this sentence had still not being carried out, therefore Dr. Clarus was to examine the prisoner further. Due to Woyzecks time as a prisoner awaiting a death sentence, his condition, though worsened was still regarding as sane enough to receive punishment.

A further eighteenth months later Woyzeck was beheaded. A public execution took place in the main square of Leipzig on August 27, 1824. This same year Dr. J.A Clarus published his findings which medically suggested that Woyzeck was borderline schizophrenic.

This true story is now loosely based on the famous play Woyzeck by George Buchner, written in 1836, but not performed until 1914. It is interesting to consider why Buchner may have used this particular case to influence his writing. During the period in which the crime of Johann Christian Woyzeck took place, Georg Buchner would have been seven years old, but as mentioned previously the crime produced a huge amount of exposure, Buchner potentially, could have read or seen some of these accounts. It seems relevant to compare Georg Buchner to character of Woyzeck. Perhaps Buchner himself could in some way relate to Johann Christian Woyzeck as person, therefore writing the character of Woyzeck in the play as a reflection of him

Although Woyzecks character was influenced by Woyzeck the person, maybe Buchner saw a side of himself in both. There are some connections between the key moments in Buchners life that may reflect or have at least influenced the play. For example, Buchner himself was involved in a crime, less malicious than in Woyzeck, Buchner was wanted for arrest after attempting to bring about a revolution, starting with the distribution of Der Hessische Landbote (The Hesse Country Messenger) Which was a pamphlet aimed at the peasantry, but also viewed as an act of treason. Buchner escaped arrest, but remained under strict police surveillance for his political undertakings. Also involved in Buchners rebellious politics, a man named Minnegerode, best friend of Buchner, who ended up taking the punishment. Buchner witnessed the torture and starvation upon Minnegerode that lead him to his death. The stress and guilt that Buchner carried triggered his gradual decline in sanity. Buchner died at the age of 23, from what was actually a survivable fever, however his mental state caused by his tormented conscience left him with no strength.

The fragmented play Woyzeck left behind reveals very similar reflections from Buchners own experiences. A clear observation that Woyzeck was not only based on the murder case of Johann Christian Woyzeck, but contains flashes on Buchners life as well.

The picture below is a German Newspaper Announcement. Translated into English at the right if the picture.

German Newspaper Annoucement:

The hereinafter named GEORG BÜCHNER, a medical student from Darmstadt, has       absented himself from the Judicial Enquiry into his alleged participation in treasonable activities by leaving the Fatherland.

The authorities, both at home and abroad, are hereby requested to arrest this man on sight and to deliver him safely to the office below.

Darmstadt 13 June 1835.

High Court Judge of the Archduchy of Hesse, appointed Judge of the Upper Hesse Court of Enquiry.


Height: 6 shoes, 9 thumbs (new Hessian measure)
Hair: Fair
Forehead: Prominent and Rounded
Eyebrows: Fair
Nose: Large
Mouth: Small
Face: Oval
Colouring: Fresh
Figure: Powerful, Slender
Special Peculiarities: Short-sighted


Websites: (Accessed on 02/03/11) (Accessed on 02/03/11) (Accessed on 02/03/11)

(Written By Amie)

The Real Woyzeck

I found this in the appendix section of the Danton’s Death, Leonce and Lena, and Woyzeck book, just after the Woyzeck play on page 133. It is interesting to see how accurate Büchner was being when he wrote the play about Woyzeck. I think some things may have been tweaked slightly to make it more of a liner story.

“The historical Woyzeck, according 10 the account of him by Dr J. C A. Clraus, published in 1825 in the Zeitschrift für die Staatsarzneikunde, was a rolling stone who lost his parents early and wandered all over Germany looking for work in the difficult 1790s. He became a soldier, was captured by the Swedes, and entered the Swedish armed service, only to be sent back to Germany and have his regiment disbanded by the French. He then joined the Mecklenburg army, but deserted to the Swedes again because of a girl in Stralsund, by whom he had had a child out of wedlock. Then came the Congress of Vienna, which gave Swedish Pomerania to Prussia; Woyzeck’s regiment was transferred en bloc to the Prussian army. This was not to Woyzeck’s taste, so be asked for demobilization and returned to his native city of Leipzig in search of work. He was a hairdresser. Unfortu­nately times were hard, and Woyzeck became more and more dependent on other people’s charity. He tried to enlist in the Saxon army but was turned down on the grounds that his demobilization papers were not in order. In the meantime he had formed a liaison with Frau Woost, the daughter of a surgeon; but she had a weakness for soldiers, and refused to appear in public with Woyzeck. In a fit of jealous despair he stabbed her on 21st June 1821″

Büchner. G. (2008) Danton’s Death, Leonce and Lena, and Woyzeck. Oxford world classics. Oxford

Woyzeck – The Play

This is a review on Woyzeck(dvd version) – “Woyzeck, is tormented in private by visions of the apocalypse, and tormented in public by the unbearable weight of social pressure. He descends into madness and murder.
A morality play with more than a nod toward Becket and Breecht, this adaptation of Georg Buckners play once again has Kinski in astonishing form and Herzog showing a stark, harsh reality that exposes hidden rebellion and suffering in common man.”  (accessed 1st march 2011)

I think this review is pretty much what the group is looking to achieve. Not to show that Woyzeck is insane but to show that the world around him, the pressures from society is driving him to insanity. I think we show this in the performance in the doctor scene when all the characters place their chalk covered hands all over Woyzecks body. This is a way of showing that everyone is having a touch or impact on his life, something that he has no control over.

Carry On Captain.

So, I’m playing the Captain in the shaving scene, which is a fun scene to play. As our opener for our fifteen minute Dramaturgy assessment, it is therefore important to get the characters right and set the tone for Woyzeck’s world. Victor Price tells us in the appendix to his translation of Woyzeck that in what many regard as the final manuscript:

The order of the scenes is puzzling. Woyzeck shaving the Captain, which many editors place at the beginning, comes fourth (2008, p.134.).

 This makes characterisation choices significantly varied. Depending on what scenes Buchner had placed before this one, you could play the Captain in many ways because the tone and feel of the piece would have been set already. As we have placed this scene first, however, this will be our ‘tone setter’.

It would be easy to over play the subtle humour in this scene and turn the Captain into a Captain Mainwaring (from BBC Comedy Dad’s Army) stereotype. This would not set the right overall tone for the play. Yes, there are funny moments in the play, but I think that the majority of these moments are based on relief theory. Michael Billig tells us in his book Laughter and Ridicule that;

Freud uses his relief theory to explain this type of laughter. If the theory attributes any motive to the adult audience, it is one of empathy (2005, p.170).

To me, the Captain is a man who is prone to distraction and rambling on about whatever seems to be in his head (It is this that put me in mind of the poem If by Rudyard Kipling, which I have discussed elsewhere on this blog). He is a man of some social standing; the clues are there in the text. For example, where he and Woyzeck discuss self control amongst the classes of their society. Therefore, I’ve given him an accent which I feel would suit him, and may be quite obvious and stereotypical anyway. Due to the distracted and self important nature of the character, I’ve allowed my delivery of lines to drift off, almost as if he’s going into a daydream, particularly when he talks about girls stockings!


Works cited:

Billig, Michael. (2005) Laughter and Ridicule. Towards a Social Critique of Humour. London: Sage.

Buchner, George (2008). Danton’s Death, Leonce and Lena, and Woyzeck. Translated and introduced by Victor Price. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Research – Woyzeck: Diagnosis of his illness.


Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health condition that causes a range of different psychological symptoms. These include:

  • hallucinations – hearing or seeing things that do not exist
  • delusions – unusual beliefs that are not based on reality and often contradict the evidence
  • muddled thoughts based on the hallucinations or delusions
  • changes in behaviour

Doctors describe schizophrenia as a psychotic illness. This means that sometimes a person may not be able to distinguish their own thoughts and ideas from reality.

The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown. However, most experts believe that the condition is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

How common is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is one of the most common serious mental health conditions. The 2000 National Survey of Psychiatric Morbidity in the UK found that 5 in 1000 people experienced a psychotic disorder (including schizophrenia and manic depression). Men and women are equally affected by the condition.

In men, schizophrenia usually begins between the ages of 15 and 30. In women, schizophrenia usually occurs later, beginning between the ages of 25 and 30.

Misconceptions about schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is often poorly understood and many people have misconceptions about it. Two of the most common misconceptions about schizophrenia are:

  • People with schizophrenia have a split or dual personality.
  • People with schizophrenia are violent.

Split personality

It is commonly thought that people with schizophrenia have a split personality, acting perfectly normally one minute and irrationally or bizarrely the next. However, this is not true. Although the term schizophrenia is a Greek word that means ‘split mind’, the term was first used long before the condition was properly understood.

It would be more accurate to say that people with schizophrenia have a mind that can experience episodes of dysfunction and disorder.

Violent crime

Most studies confirm that there is a link between violence and schizophrenia. However, the media tend to exaggerate this, with acts of violence committed by people with schizophrenia getting a great deal of high-profile media coverage. This gives the impression that such acts happen frequently when they are in fact very rare.

The reality is that violent crime is more likely to be linked to alcohol or other substance misuse than to schizophrenia. A person with schizophrenia is far more likely to be the victim of violent crime than the instigator.

Website: (Acessed on 28/02/11)