Oskar Kokoschka, Murderer, The Hope of Women, 1909
How can a murderer be the hope of women - or of men, for that matter? And what have hope and murder of women to do with art? In his memoir Oskar Kokoschka, who was known more for his visual art than for his theatrical experiments, tells us that "art gives renewed hope as often as the world fails"; and insists that the answer is not in words per se but in the experience of the performance.
Oskar Kokoschka, Poster for "Murderer, the Hope of Women" (Vienna Summer Theatre), 1909
Originally staged in Vienna in 1909, Murderer, The Hope of Women is generally regarded as the first Expressionist play. Its obsession with sex and death is expressed in grand gestures and archaic language, while its physical risks, and its chants and screams, so vividly presaged the theories and plays of Antonin Artaud that it could almost be called a paradigm of the Theatre of Cruelty.
Heinrich Maria Davringhausen, Der Lustmörder (The Ripper), 1917
When Kokoschka’s play was performed, it was met with considerable criticism and controversy. Its extreme visual aspects, with its dramatic and disturbing costumes and violent imagery, made it the first expressionist drama for many critics. The playwright Paul Kornfeld praised the revolutionary drama as a breakthrough art form, calling it a “verbally supported pantomime”. Similarly, drama critic Walter Sokel admired the work’s departure from traditional realism and its exploration into the surrealism underlying its biblical and mythical allusions.
George Grosz, John, the Lady Killer, 1918
Many interpreted the play as an effective theatrical portrayal of Otto Weininger’s idea of gender relations as a battle between man and woman. According to Weininger, Sexuality was a conflict between superior male spirituality and debased female bestiality. Otto Weininger was widely read at that time, and it might well be that he also had some influence on this early Otto Müller painting:
Otto Müller, Standing Nude with Dagger, 1903
By the way, there is a nice song by Momus with the same title. Don't miss it.