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)