UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Nestroy taken at his word : a study of Nestroy’s language as a key to the understanding of his plays Neufeld, Alfred


It is the intent of this study to examine the work of the Austrian playwright Johann Nepomuk Nestroy (1801-1862) through a close analysis of his original and unique use of language. The introductory chapter presents a cursory biographical background of the author. This is followed by a brief discussion of some secondary literature which is of pertinence to this dissertation. The concluding part of the chapter consists of the methodology of approach employed in this thesis. Chapter II consists of a comparison between Nestroy and Adolf Bauerle (1786-1859), a contemporary of Nestroy, equally popular in the "Wiener Volkstheater." The plays singled out for comparison are "Die Verbannung aus dem Zauberreiche" and "Gegen Torheit gibt es-kein Mittel" by Nestroy, and "Wien, Paris, London und Constantinopel" and "Die Burger in Wien" by Bauerle. There are also numerous supportive references from other Nestroy plays. The comparison seeks to identify and examine primarily the fundamental differences as reflected and manifested in Nestroy's revolutionary use of language, which contrasts sharply not only with that of Bauerle, but with the entire foregoing language tradition in the plays of the "Wiener Volkstheater." This difference provides an appropriate approach to Nestroy's work, as it suggests how several significant themes permeating his whole work are reflected in his use of language. The focus on language continues to narrow in Chapter III, which includes firstly an analysis of the ironic use of words and expressions as understood by the audience, which I call "the boomerang effect." This is illustrated by an analysis of the language of Simplicius, the protagonist of "Gegen Torheit gibt es kein Mittel". The second part of this chapter deals with what I call "the thumbprinting quality" of language, by analyzing the playwright's ability to show how an individual's linguistic patterns tend to reflect his basic nature. An examination of a given character's language throughout a whole play reveals what Nestroy considers an important aspect of human nature, namely man's basic unchangeability. This is exemplified in the language of Peter and Puffmann in "Der Unbedeutende". Chapter III develops the discussion of the boomerang aspect and thumbprinting quality of language, as well as the unchangeability of human nature. However, what becomes increasingly significant in an exegesis of Nestroy's language is the calculated use and abuse of language, as seen in the figure of Puffmann in "Der Unbedeutende". For Puffmann, who uses language in a deceptive manner, the deception aimed at others becomes a web in which he is ultimately caught himself. In the final chapter, there is an explication of the language used by Titus Feuerfuchs, who is the protagonist in "Der Talisman", and one of the great masters of language manipulation in all of Nestroy's plays. This figure combines to a certain extent the linguistic habits of both Peter and Puffmann. The discussion not only reiterates the dominant elements found in the previous chapters, but seeks to emphasize that language, when no longer used as an instrument of truthful communication, but molded opportunistically to achieve a certain impact, becomes destructive to its user. In order to elucidate this, a lengthy and detailed textual analysis has been undertaken. An analysis of Titus Feuerfuchs' rise and fall in the structured Viennese society which surrounds him, shows that his opportunistic use of language, which in its initial stages seemed to be justifiable as a defensive measure, ultimately leads directly to a development of destructive linguistic habits, which treat language as concealing and twisting, rather than discovering and communicating truth. Thus, screened behind sparkling and entertaining comedy, the playwright has constructed a modern analysis of the misuse of language, which contradicts its very purpose.

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