On October 19, Professors Leora Auslander, Christine Mehring, and David Levin provided lectures from the perspectives of memory, art, and performance to examine Leopoldstadt. Here are 9 key takeaways from the fascinating third session of our Deep Dive program.
- The Merz family is inspired by the family of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Wittgenstein was a philosopher of logic, math, and language. Wittgenstein had a large extended family as well and wrote about concepts such as “family resemblance.”
2. The title is meant to draw our attention not only to the district, but also the character Leo, who resembles Stoppard.
Leopoldstadt is about a lost world and also acts as a claim of affiliation with it.
3. Stoppard’s life in an industrial town of Czechoslovakia was middle class
However, he portrays the upper bourgeoisie of the community, perhaps because he identifies more with the intellectualism and highly cultured character of their world.
4. Gretl’s portrait
Klimt’s work is highly symbolic in the play. At the time it is set, Klimt is a contemporary artist, with the painting still being created at the beginning of the play. He is in the middle of his rise to fame in Vienna and would eventually be a cofounder of Viennese Secession. He is known for his decorative excess in his later work with his earlier pieces being wall paintings and society portraits. The Klimt portrait has relevance at the time, but the art history it captures grows outdated.
5. Vienna Secession
The Vienna Secession was an art movement. Hermann runs a textile business. Textiles were important in the Secession as interior design became elevated as its own art. However, the Merz apartment as furnished is not a model of modernity as its decorations still carry the past into the present.
A photo album frequently appears in the play. Visual art features as a manifestation of cultural history. Artforms are objects of this history and become historical artifacts that linger even as people die. Grandma Emilia at the beginning recounts the shift from photography as a precious form that was not accessible to something that no longer aided memory, but drowned it as the pictures existed but the identities of who the pictures portrayed can be lost.
7. The play can be confusing.
This characteristic is due to the large cast. However, this confusion is a way to reinforce that the family is in question itself. The identity of its members is also in question, specifically the musings of “who am I and who am I in this family” with respect to the character of Leo. These questions resonate in the textual world.
8. Confrontation around name
Nathan confronts Leo asking him whether he is Leo, Leonard, or Leopold. This question brings up whose world we’re occupying (that of the Viennese-Jewish Leopold or the removed English Leonard) and remains open even in the end. Self-indictment of the autobiographical resonances of the play is also relevant in this conversation. The “self” here is in question as well—it has elements of Stoppard himself due to the autobiographical elements but also refers to the character of Leo. The playwright indicts the figure who may or may not stand in for the playwright.
9. Bossy setting?
Stoppard writes extremely detailed, specific instructions for anyone who wants to stage the piece. It is important to render the fixity it aspires to. However, due to the endless creativity of theatre, some things can be changed, such as how photo albums are presented. There is an opportunity for re imaginability within a set frame of fixity.
Want to dive deeper into Stoppard’s play? Tune into our next session!