Performing Vienna: Theatricality in Jelinek's 'Burgtheater' and Bernhard's 'Heldenplatz'

in German Politics and Society

Where better to begin talking about Viennese identity in the late twentieth century than in the work of Elfriede Jelinek and Thomas Bernhard—specifically, in two plays whose titles immediately evoke the city as well as pregnant moments in its history: Jelinek's Burgtheater (published 1982; premiered 1985 in Bonn) and Bernhard's Heldenplatz (premiered 1988 in Vienna's Burgtheater). Insofar as the two plays dramatize the extent to which National Socialism took hold and persisted in Austria, they epitomize both authors' perennial roles as keen observers and harsh critics of Austrian society. Burgtheater and the scandal it generated established Jelinek's function as "Nestbeschmutzerin," whereas Heldenplatz, appearing the year before Bernhard's death, can be regarded as the capstone of his career as a critic of Austrian mores and politics.