New Theatre Quarterly

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Research Article

Hanswurst and Herr Ich: Subjection and Abjection in Enlightenment Censorship of the Comic Figure

Karen Jürs-Munby

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The well-known ‘banishment’ of the popular comic figure Hanswurst from the German stage by Gottsched and the Neuber acting troupe in the early eighteenth century is usually read as part of the historical movement from improvised folk theatre to bourgeois literary theatre. In this article Karen Jürs-Munby goes beyond that received wisdom to discuss what kind of acting, what kind of body, and what kind of relationship between stage and audience were censored by banishing Hanswurst. Considering this censorship as part of the larger historical relationship between discourses on acting and the emergence of a modern self in the Enlightenment, she argues that the osmotic body and stage that Hanswurst stood for prevented the aesthetic mirroring relationship sought by eighteenth-century stage reformers in an increasing need for bourgeois self-representation. The Hanswurst banishment can be theorized with reference to Julia Kristeva as an abjection of grotesque acting – a form of acting whose political power to question the autonomous bourgeois subject was to be rediscovered by practitioners in the twentieth century. Karen Jürs-Munby is a lecturer in Theatre Studies at Lancaster University; she has published articles on theories and discourses of acting in the eighteenth and twentieth centuries and recently translated Hans-Thies Lehmann's Postdramatic Theatre.