Act I Scene 6


Outside a barber’s shop in Habsburgergasse[1]. A very agitated crowd.

CROWD:    Out, out, out! Smash the place up!

CROWD MEMBER 1 (trying to calm things):    Come on, the man hasn’t done anything! It’s because the violin seller next door’s got it in for him –

VIOLIN SELLER (haranguing the crowd):    He’s a Serb! Guilty of an insulting remark! Against an exalted public figure! I heard him myself!

BARBER (ringing his hands):    I’m innocent – I’m a court barber – I wouldn’t dream –

CROWD MEMBER 2:    You’ve only got to look at the name, he’s a Serb! Crack him over the head with his own shaving bowl –

CROWD MEMBER 3:    Lather him up! Down with the Serbian cut-throat!

CROWD:    Out, out, out! (The place is being smashed up.)

(Emerging round the corner the historians Friedjung[2] and Brockhausen[3] in conversation.)

BROCKHAUSEN:    Just today I contributed a very apposite comment on this topic to the press wherein, with compelling logic, I reject any comparison between our common people and the rabble of France and England. If you need the passage for your work, my dear colleague, I place it at your disposal, listen: ‘Those who are thoroughly steeped in historicity will draw comfort and consolation from the final verdict of historical wisdom, to wit, barbarism can never be granted a conclusive victory, something that transmits itself to the multitude instinctively. In the streets of Vienna the shrill bellowing of jingoistic patriotism never makes itself heard. Here there is no one-day-wonder, flash-in-the-pan ardour, burning for the briefest of moments. This ancient German nation has, since war began, made the finest Germanic virtues its own: a dogged self-confidence and a deep inner faith in the victory of our good and just cause.’ (He hands him the cutting.)

FRIEDJUNG:    Truly an admirable sentiment my dear colleague, it breaks the biscuit and virtually takes the mould into the bargain. I shall receive it ad notam. Well, look – we might just have an example! A crowd fired-up with patriotism, giving expression to its feelings in a restrained manner, suaviter in re, fortiter in modo[4], as befits Viennese tradition. The immediate cause is doubtless to be found in where we find ourselves, in Habsburgergasse[5]. These faithful souls obviously wished to pay the royal family’s name respectful homage, just as they would have demonstrated it, and rightly so, in Babenbergerstrasse[6] eight hundred years ago in the age of Leopold.

BROCKHAUSEN (hesitates):    But it seems to me like –

FRIEDJUNG (hesitates):    It is peculiar –

BROCKHAUSEN:    The good folk are rather noisy –

FRIEDJUNG:    In all events noisier than befits tradition –

BROCKHAUSEN:    One should not overlook the real cause of their excitement. How does it go again –

FRIEDJUNG:    Since that day when our noble monarch called thousands upon thousands of our sons and brothers to arms, there really seems to be a growing fermentation among the folk along the Danube, our Nibelung[7] stream. But however bizarrely this new wine behaves[8]

BROCKHAUSEN:    The days are gone when Austrians called themselves after Homer’s indolent Phaeacians[9]. The whirring loom of time[10]

FRIEDJUNG:    Look, I presume they all want to go into that shop, the man’s a court barber and these simple souls probably think such closeness –

SHOUTS FROM CROWD:    ‘That’s hammered him!’ ‘Right then – finish him off!’ ‘Shifty Serbian bastard!’ ‘Now he can shave his Serbian mates with shards!’ ‘The sponge’ll do for my old mum!’ ‘I’ve saved the perfume!’ ‘Give me a couple then!’ ‘Jesus, that white coat’s very nice!’ ‘Hey, lend us that spray!’ ‘God scourge England!’ ‘The bugger’s getting away!’

VIOLIN SELLER:    Didn’t I tell you! That’s a traitor that is!

BROCKHAUSEN:    Once again the crowd, justifiably agitated, assumes it is on the scent of a Serbian traitor.

FRIEDJUNG:    It really is remarkable what good noses our folk have for defending the imperial realms and territories from any assault on those of its vested interests that remain intact. Unless I am mistaken what they will find in this barber’s shop are documents relating to the Southern Slav rebels and the Greater Serbia conspiracy, I was already on the trail of that one in 1908.

BROCKHAUSEN:    It’s just the way they’re doing it that’s a bit alarming.

SHOUTS FROM CROWD:    ‘Find him!’ ‘Let him have it!’ ‘Smash the Serbs!’

FRIEDJUNG:    My dear colleague, in evident contradiction of the historically certified fact that the Viennese populace is disinclined to the shrill bellowing of jingoistic patriotism, the feelings of the violin seller are running understandably high, it may be advisable to give this a wide berth.

SHOUTS FROM CROWD:    ‘What are those two Jews up to there?’ ‘They look like they’re from the Balkans!’ ‘All they’re missing are the kaftans!’ ‘They’re Serbs!’ ‘It’s a couple of Serbs!’ ‘Traitors!’ ‘Let them have it!’

(The two historians disappear into an alleyway.)


[1] Street in Vienna’s old town.

[2] Heinrich Friedjung (1851- 1920), historian, writer, journalist; he caused a sensation in 1909 when he accused deputies in the Croatian Parliament of supporting the struggle for Serbian independence.

[3] Carl Brockhausen (1859-1951), jurist and academic, a German citizen.

[4] This misquotes a Jesuit maxim, ‘Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re’, ‘Be mild in manner but strong in deeds’. This says the opposite, ‘Aggressive in manner, weak in response’, or ‘All mouth and no trousers’.

[5] The name means Habsburg Lane.

[6] Babenberger Lane; the Babenbergs were the rulers of an initially small but expanding Duchy of Austria from 976-1246, first as margraves (an hereditary title of the Holy Roman Empire) then as dukes; only some time after the establishment of the Habsburg dynasty was there intermarriage between the Habsburgs and the Babenbergs. Six Babenberg rulers bore the name Leopold and two stand out; Leopold III (1095-1136), ‘the Pious’, was canonised in 1485 and is Austria’s patron saint; Leopold VI (1198-1230), ‘the Glorious’, was remembered as a lawmaker and patron of the arts, who made Vienna the centre of Germanic culture.

[7] The word Nibelung has a range of meanings in Germanic mythology, from the East Germanic tribe, the Burgundians, to the Nibelung dwarf Alberich who forged the magic ring in Wagner’s ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’; in the broadest terms the subject matter is the origin of the Germanic peoples, their gods and goddesses, and their ancient unity; as in Wagner’s work the Rhine is often central to the mythology. But at least one medieval version places elements of the story on the Danube, near Passau.

[8] Goethe, ‘Faust’ Pt II.

[9] The Phaeacians feature extensively in Greek legend, but it is Odysseus’s stay with them that is best known. Washed up on a beach after a shipwreck, Odysseus is discovered by Nausicaa, daughter of the Phaeacian king; the land of the Phaeacians is a place of magical beauty; the Phaeacians themselves are happy in their blessed realm and are characterised by opulence, indolence and self-indulgence. In Austria, especially in Vienna, the word was used to describe the lives of the wealthy and the powerful; it was a description the Austrians rather liked because it represented them as the antithesis of the grim Prussians.

[10] Goethe, ‘Faust’ Pt I.