von Franz Xaver Kroetz
«Goodness doesn’t pay, I could have told you that in the first place.»
«Agnes Bernauer», first performed in the GDR in 1977, starts like a stop-motion fairy tale: after the death of her mother, Agnes is sent out to work by her bankrupt father. But she is unable to believe that she will find a profession that «gives her pleasure», and decides to marry money. Her rise in society happens quickly: Agnes becomes pregnant and takes Albrecht as a husband: a squeamish only child and mother’s boy who is pampered in the golden cage of the Werdenfels’ family business.
She talks about him like the Prince in a fairy tale and asks her mirror what to do to remain happy «because it’s not easy when there’s such a big difference ». The fairy tale component is a device that Franz Xaver Kroetz uses to conduct a close examination of social conditions – and the author sends his leading character on an adventure. After numerous encounters with the workers whose precarious piece work is the source of the Werdenfels’ wealth, she asks her stepfather to pay a fair wage. But he, who was not born in privileged circumstances himself, does not see his origins as a source of social responsibility. So Agnes is forced to examine her conscience and see whether it can be right to live wrongly: either she will have to cultivate a certain myopia as the beneficiary of social injustice or she will have to leave for an uncertain future.
The story of the historical Agnes Bernauer, the lover of Albrecht III, has been the subject of numerous dramatisations including those of Friedrich Hebbel and Carl Orff. Kroetz frees the story from its historical context and does not allow Agnes to be crushed by the forces of circumstance. Influenced by the folk plays of Marieluise Fleißer and the epic theatre of Bertolt Brecht, Franz Xaver Kroetz tells the story of an emancipation not through knowledge, but through empathy.