Religious Imagery in Woyzeck

There is a tremendous amount of religious imagery in the play, which I think is often overlooked by some.

Specifically, Buchner uses the figures of Christ, the Virgin Mary to underscore his points about human nature and suffering. After all, Woyzeck is born on the day of the Feast of the Annunciation, which celebrates Christ’s conception. Also, he is the same age Christ was supposed to be at the time of his death. Maries name has a direct connotation to the Virgin Mary, and we often see her in the manner of the virgin with her innocent child. Woyzeck and Marie are also inherently good people, just like Christ and Mary, and both are forced to suffer at the hands of society who takes no time to understand them, almost fearing them instead. Woyzeck is forced to endure a huge amount physical and psychological torment at the hands of the Doctor and the Captain, just as Christ were forced to. His allusions to Christ and Mary only heighten the sense that Woyzeck and Marie’s shameful actions are not part of their nature but rather, products of an unjust social structure.

The imagery is repeated so often that I think it is one of the recurring themes of the play – but one that is often lost and forgotten in it’s study. There are also some direct (some subtly) references to religion. Here are my top three biblical references:

  1. The very first piece of religious imagery comes in the first scene when Woyzeck describes what he sees as “It’s all glowing above the town, glowing… A fire raging in the sky and clamour there below like trumpets” and again, later “nothing but silence, as it the world was dead”. This is a reference to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah from Genesis 19:24 where Abraham was spared from the destruction from the town for his pious behaviour. Perhaps Woyzeck feels that he has been manipulated and persecuted by humanity and now being spared as the city burns.
  2. A reference that can be missed is the story of Bathsheba, where David spied Bathsheba in the bath and eventually ended up marrying her to become King. The Doctor makes a reference to himself being like David, spying (or attempting to spy) such beauty but only ever ending up seeing the boarding school knickers. Thus suggesting that the Doctor believes himself to be destined for great things, but only ever gets the rubbish left overs!
  3. Woyzeck says in Scene 5 “Suffer little children to come unto me” from Luke 19:14 saying that Jesus saw no difference in any child of God and that all should be treated fairly and equally. Woyzeck here is arguing his case to the Captain that he, his wife and (possible) child should be treated equally and not manipulated or persecuted. Something that that Captain, who of course has no intelligence at all, completely misses.

One that I have missed, but I can’t go without mentioning is Marie asking for forgiveness for her sins and washing feet with tears and drying it with her hair.

I’ve also completely glossed over the massive imagery of the ending, the re-birth of Marie and both her and Woyzecks Baptism at the end. But that is for another blog entry!



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