Places: Danton’s Death

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Dantons Tod, 1835 (English translation, 1927)

First produced: 1902

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Tragedy

Time of work: March-April, 1794

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Paris

*Paris. Danton’s DeathCapital of France and center of revolutionary activity in which the play is set. The locations of many of the play’s scenes are only vaguely identified, such as “a room” and “a street”; however, all the crucial locations of the Terror are carefully included, in telling sequence. One crucial scene in act 1 takes place in a Jacobin Club, and a scene in act 2 is set in the National Convention (the Revolutionary government). Act 3 moves back and forth between the Luxembourg prison, the Revolutionary Tribunal (the court that issued condemnations), a meeting of the Committee of Public Safety (which determined its policy) and the Conciergerie (the prison of the Palais de Justice, whose voluble inmates include Tom Paine, author of The Rights of Man). Scenes 7 and 9 of act 4 are set in the place de la Révolution, the site of the guillotine, toward which Danton is irresistibly moved by implacable fate, taking the ideals of the Revolution with him.

The various anonymous rooms and streets used as settings are unidentified because they do not need to be, but the differences between the discussions to which they play host are glaring; the interior debates are thoughtful and mostly idealistic, but insulated from a full awareness of the forces that they have already unleashed; their exterior counterparts are more casual, more abrupt, and more confused. Once Danton is condemned to make his final trip from the interior to exterior, however, he reaches his philosophical conclusion: that the world is chaos, and its god, awaiting birth, is nonexistence.

BibliographyHamburger, Michael. “Georg Büchner.” In Contraries: Studies in German Literature. New York: Dutton, 1970. Hamburger is a distinguished critic and translator of German literature. His essay focuses on the profound boredom that saps the willpower of Büchner’s heroes.Hilton, Julian. Georg Büchner. New York: Grove Press, 1982. Hilton pays special attention to the scenic structure of Danton’s Death and to Büchner’s influence on such contemporary playwrights as Bertolt Brecht, John Arden, and David Storey.Knight, A. H. F. Georg Büchner. Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell, 1951. This is the first full-length study of Büchner in English. It examines all of Büchner’s writings thoroughly, including his letters. In the discussion of Danton’s Death, Knight examines at length Büchner’s use of historic sources.Lindenberger, Herbert. Georg Büchner. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1964. Lindenberger writes gracefully and perceptively, with particular sensitivity to Büchner’s uses of rhetoric and dramatic form. His chapter on Büchner’s forebears and descendants is illuminating.Schwartz, Alfred. From Büchner to Beckett: Dramatic Theory and the Modes of Tragic Drama. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1978. Schwartz distinguishes and traces various patterns of tragedy. He examines Büchner’s kaleidoscopic art of composition, in which each scene expresses the violent assaults of history on people’s lives.
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