Thea, Wendla, and Martha are walking down the road together, commenting on the wild weather and how it affects them. Wendla, clearly the ringleader, suggests that they go to the bridge to see the flooded waters. She also mentions that the boys have a raft on the river and that Melchior almost drowned the night before. Thea and Martha make disparaging comments, insisting that Melchior can swim, but Wendla corrects herself, saying that if he had not been able to swim he would have drowned. Thea comments that Martha's braid is coming undone, and Martha informs the others that she hates her hair; she's not allowed to wear it short like Thea's or loose like Wendla's because her parents forbid her to do so. Wendla says that she'll cut Martha's hair, but Martha says that her father would beat her for it and that her mother would lock her up for three days.
Martha then goes on to tell her friends about her most recent altercation with her parents: she had threaded a blue ribbon through the trim of her nightdress (something both other girls are allowed to do), and in response to this "transgression" her mother pulled her out of bed by her braids. Her father then came in and ripped off her nightdress, forcing Martha to sleep naked on the floor in a sack. Wendla says that she wishes she could take Martha's place, and asks Martha what they beat her with. Martha doesn't really answer, changing the subject slightly to ask Thea and Wendla whether their mothers think it's "indecent to eat in bed."
Martha talks about how when she has children she'll treat them differently, comparing them to flowers in a garden. Thea says that she'll dress her children in pink clothes with black stockings. Wendla seems surprised that Martha and Thea are so sure they'll have children; after all, not every woman they know has children. Martha offers Aunt Euphemia as an example, but Thea explains that she has no children because she's not married. Then Wendla names her Aunt Bauer, who has been married three times, but has never had children.
Martha asks Wendla whether she'd want to have boys or girls, and Wendla insists that she only wants boys. Thea says that girls are boring, and Martha says that if she were a boy she'd never want to be a girl. Wendla says that she would never want to be a boy, but that she only wants to have boys, because it must be much better to be loved by a man than by a girl. Martha and Thea begin teasing Wendla for being so proud of herself for being a girl, but she shakes off their jests, insisting that if she was not a girl she would kill herself so she could come back as one - an interesting digression from traditional religious ideas.
Wendla's outburst is cut off when Thea notices Melchior passing by and comments on how handsome he is. Martha suggests that he looks like a young Alexander the Great, and Thea starts joking about how little she can remember about Greek history. Wendla offers that Melchior is supposed to be third in his class, and Thea says that he could be first if he wanted. Martha mentions that she thinks Moritz has a more "spiritual" look, and the other girls are surprised. Wendla comments that Melchior told her once that he didn't believe in God or Heaven.
Melchior and some other boys are playing in the park in front of their school. Melchior wants to know where Moritz is, and George and Otto report that he's going to get in enormous trouble, because they saw him sneaking into the Faculty Room. The boys excitedly discuss how he got in and how he will be punished when he's caught. Then they see him coming, and Melchior comments that Moritz is white as a sheet. Moritz tells them jubilantly that he's been promoted to the next grade, and the boys realize that he was not caught looking through the files. Moritz explains that for the last three weeks he's been waiting for his moment, and today the door was unlocked. He went in, turned to the right page of the register, and read his name on the list of students that are to be moved on.
Hanschen asks whether Ernst Robel has gotten a promotion as well, and Moritz says that he has. Roberts says that's impossible, because if both Moritz and Robel were admitted, the class would be too big. Moritz explains that at the end of the first term one of them will have to leave, that their promotions are only provisional; however, now that he's come so close "to the edge," he insists he will buckle down and study. Otto bets him five marks he'll be the one to go, but Moritz insists that he is going to succeed, for if he hadn't gotten his promotion he was going to shoot himself. The boys react with disgust, calling him a show-off and a coward. Melchior ignores them and suggests that Moritz come with him to the keeper's cottage. The other boys are annoyed at Melchior's reaction, but he continues to ignore them. As they depart, two of their teachers, Starveling and Bonebreaker, pass by. They comment that it is strange that their best and worst students can be such good friends.
Melchior and Wendla meet in the woods. Melchior is extremely surprised to see Wendla. Melchior says he might have taken her for a dryad in the woods, but Wendla doesn't seem to understand the joke. She asks what he's doing, and he says he's having his own thoughts. Wendla is looking for woodruff, a plant her mother uses to make wine. She found a basketful under the bushes, but now she's a little bit lost, and she doesn't know what time it is. Melchior tells her it's half past three, and Wendla is relieved. She spent a long time lying by the stream, dreaming, and she was worried it might be much later.
Melchior suggests they lie under the oak tree a bit longer, and says that he will carry her basket home for her afterwards. Melchior asks Wendla about her visits to the poor. He wants to know whether she wants to go, or whether her mother makes her go. Wendla says that her mother sends her, but that she genuinely loves going, even though (as Melchior says) the houses are not very pleasant places and the men seem to hate her. Wendla says that it makes her happy to be able to help those less fortunate than she. Melchior wants to understand whether she visits the poor because it makes her happy, or because they are poor. Wendla insists that she visits them because they are poor, but that she can't help it if doing so gives her pleasure.
Melchior then asks whether a man can help it if it doesn't give him pleasure to help the poor. Wendla simply replies that it would give Melchior pleasure. Melchior is still interested in his philosophical conundrum - he wants to write it up and send it to their Pastor. If the pastor can't explain it to him, then Melchior will refuse to be confirmed. Wendla thinks that's a poor idea because it will only hurt his parents. Melchior expresses his frustration at all of the wickedness and hypocrisy he sees around him that makes it impossible for him to be happy and content.
Melchior then asks Wendla what she had been dreaming about before he came upon her. Wendla tells him that she dreamt she was a poor child who had to beg all day for money and food, and when she went home her father would beat her if she had not brought enough money. Melchior says that Wendla has gotten all that from children's stories, but she insists that her friend Martha is beaten night after night. She says that she often cries into her pillow thinking about Martha and wishes she could take her place for a week. Melchior says that someone should report Martha's father, but Wendla is not interested in practical advice. She confides to Melchior that she has never been beaten and wishes she knew how it felt. Melchior says he does not think it makes children better. Wendla asks Melchior whether he would like to hit her with a switch from the tree. He refuses, but she continues to goad him. Finally, he hits her once, but she cannot feel anything through her skirts. She pulls up her clothes and he hits her leg, and she taunts him for "just stroking" her. Finally, Melchior throws away the switch and beats her with his fists until she yells. He runs away, crying desperately.
The beginning of scene iii foreshadows later events in the play, for the manner in which Wendla talks about Melchior suggests her preoccupation with him. The scene ends with Wendla calling Melchior handsome and revealing that she has made an effort to find out information about him. Thea's knowledge that Melchior could be first in his class if he tried suggests that all the girls are aware of Melchior's superiority; however, it is clear from Thea's attitude that there is already some special relationship between Wendla and Melchior. These few interchanges prepare the audience for the events that later transpire between Wendla and Melchior.
As the girls begin to discuss Martha's hair and her recent punishment, Wedekind provides a contrast to Melchior and Moritz's discussion about adolescent male sexuality. It is clear that Martha's parents are terrified of the idea that Martha will somehow become corrupt. She is not allowed to wear her hair short or loose - hairstyles that make Wendla and Thea look more attractive. When she threaded a ribbon through her nightdress, she was punished because her actions suggested that she wanted someone to see her in her nightdress and think she looked attractive. Indeed, Thea has threaded a pink satin ribbon through her nightdress because her mother "maintains that pink suits [her]." Ironically, Thea is completely oblivious to the implications of this ribbon, as she goes on to comment:
If I have children I'll dress them all in pink. Pink hats, pink dresses, pink shoes. Only the stockings - the stockings shall be black as night.
Martha, however, tells the girls that when her mother discovered the ribbon, her father came in and ripped off her nightdress, so Martha ran outside naked. She came back inside only because of the cold. It is this story that sets off Wendla's questions about Martha's beatings. Wendla's later ruminations on Martha's suffering circle around this story.
Melchior hazarded earlier that girls of the same age must probably have the same urges as boys; however, this scene suggests that girls are kept far more ignorant than boys. None of the girls can make any sense of the fact that a married woman might not have children. The discussion of this quandary begins an exploration of how men and women are different, and of how they perceive each other. The girls think men are better off, or perhaps superior. However, the fact that women have babies certainly affects their relationship with or perception of gender.
Thea and Martha's teasing about Wendla's pride returns to the idea of her as a match for Melchior. Both Wendla and Melchior are more independent than the other characters, and are less afraid to disagree with those around them. Another reminder of Melchior's supposed atheism simply drives home the fact that Melchior does not bow to any idea of external authority.
Scene iv stands out in Spring Awakening because it is primarily concerned with plot, rather than with ideas or conflicts. Moritz's discovery that he has one last chance to live up to his parents' expectations, but that he must beat Ernst Robel to do so, sets up many of the later events in the play. However, the interactions between Moritz and the other boys do shed interesting light on the theme of education in Spring Awakening.
The system of education in place in Spring Awakening pits the students against each other: Moritz is in competition with his classmates not just for grades or awards, but for the very right to continue his education. This system helps explain the boys' excitement as they wait for Moritz to be caught breaking into the Faculty Lounge. These boys are not impressed by his daring, or amused by his prank; they simply want to see him caught and marvel at how great his punishment is going to be. As soon as the boys learn that they are not going to get to bear witness to Moritz's humiliation, they look for a new way to secure their own positions. When, to their astonishment, they learn that both Ernst and Moritz have been promoted to the next grade, they react with jeers. Otto bets five marks that Moritz will fail because his own sense of security comes from undermining Moritz's.
The manner in which Moritz must go about acquiring knowledge is also presented as highly irregular. In order to learn that he has passed to the next grade, Moritz is forced to sneak into the Faculty Lounge and read the file for himself. He doesn't feel he has the option to simply ask a teacher. Once Moritz has read of his promotion, he feels as certain of it as if his name has been written down in the Book of Judgment. Moritz is unable to cope with or compete within this system. He does not have normal access to information - even information about himself.
Moritz's inability to function within this hierarchy is underscored by the end of the scene. Melchior rescues Moritz from the other boys' teasing by removing him from the scene. Melchior possesses all of the abilities that Moritz lacks, benefiting from education without being controlled by it. His superior abilities enable him to bow out of the power plays of the other students. Being friends with Melchior should give Moritz access to some of that power, a fact which even the teachers notice; however, Moritz is either unwilling or unable to reap the benefits of his positive social relationships within the confusing and painful sphere of his school.
Melchior constantly references Greek and Roman myths, concepts, and stories. By doing so, he reminds his audience of his intelligence, education, and independence. Melchior is connected with the pagan primarily to distinguish him from the Christian - he serves no master besides himself. This does not mean that Melchior must do wrong, but it does mean that Melchior is dangerously exposed to the possibility of making mistakes.
Wendla clearly has a stronger sense of authority than Melchior does; however, that does not mean that she always obeys it. Wendla has come to the forest to gather woodruff for her mother, but has spent most of the time dreaming. So much time, in fact, that she is now worried she has gone too far. It is interesting to note that as much as Wendla dreams of being punished, being beaten, she has no desire to displease her mother. She treads on the edge of disobedience, as if she is titillated by the possibility of punishment.
This meeting is the first of two pivotal interactions between Melchior and Wendla. This one serves to establish their attraction for each other. For Melchior, Wendla is a tantalizing combination of the conventional, the good, and the daring. Wendla dreams of being beaten, but she also goes to help the poor because her mother asks her to. She lies under a tree with Melchior, but she tells him that he should get confirmed to please his parents. Most shocking of all, Wendla tells him that she loves helping the poor, then begs him to beat her with a switch. Wendla is the living embodiment of the contradictions that Melchior gets so much satisfaction from exploring. In some ways, Melchior's relationship with Wendla is similar to his relationship with Moritz. Melchior enjoys teaching others; he enjoys being a figure of authority. Unlike Moritz, however, Wendla has knowledge of her own that she can communicate to Melchior. Explicitly, he wants to ask her about her experiences with the poor, but unconsciously, Melchior probably wants to learn from Wendla whether girls really do feel the same things that he and Moritz have begun to feel.
Wendla consciously admires Melchior because he is smart and popular. However, Wendla may also be drawn to Melchior because she senses he has the knowledge that she so desperately wants to acquire, and Melchior is independent and rebellious enough to give her that knowledge, even if he does so in an unexpected manner. Wendla yearns to be beaten, but this desire for an intense physical experience is clearly linked to a yearning for sexual experience, or at least sexual knowledge.