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NEWSLETTER

JOB IN FRANKFURT SCHAUSPIELHAUS

In Gilchrist’s Life we find the record of a conversation between Samuel Palmer and William Blake concerning the Job illustrations. Palmer recollects that he “asked him [Blake] how he would like to paint on glass, for the great west window [of Westminster Abbey], his ‘Sons of God shouting for Joy,’ from his designs in the Job. He said, after a pause, ‘I could do it’ kindling at the thought.” (Gilchrist, 1863, I, 303). Almost 150 years after Blake’s death this idea—mutatis mutandis—was finally put into practice, not in Westminster Abbey and not by Blake himself, of course, but on stage at the Frankfurt Schauspielhaus by the scenic designer Erich Wonder. On 5 June 1977 I went to see the first performance of Tankred Dorst and Horst Laube’s new play, Goncourt oder: Die Abschaffung des Todes—itself, I thought, rather disappointing. The stage directions for scene 16, however, demanded the interior of a small Gothic chapel where members of the 1871 Paris Commune were to be seen during one of their last meetings prior to their final defeat, which was inflicted upon them by the troops[e] of the reactionary Thiers. The design for the one “stained glass window” shown in the scenery was taken from Blake’s Job watercolors. A giant transparency enlargement of the Butts version of “When the Morning Stars Sang Together” had been cut into the shape of a slightly pointed twelfth-century Gothic window, thus spreading some spiritual comfort and hope on the representation of that otherwise desperate[e] moment in history. Whether Erich Wonder in his stage design did so with or without knowledge of the Blakean context I cannot say. For me—and I hope some others in the audience too—the appearance of that reproduction both meant that the sufferings of the Commune members were related to the sufferings of the Biblical patriarch, and that at the same time there was a promise for their final redemption (which will be ours too).

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