Woyzeck Summary and Analysis of Scenes 17-20

Scene 17: Inn.

Back at the inn, the Drum-Major parades about importantly, looking for a fight. He tells Woyzeck that he should drink because "Real men drink." When Woyzeck whistles to taunt him, the Drum-Major beats him up and then brags loudly: "The bleeder can whistle till he's blue in the face. Ha!" He continues to sing and drink while a shaken, exhausted Woyzeck says merely: "It's one thing after a-bloody-nother."

Scene 18:

Woyzeck goes to a Jew to purchase a pistol, but finds it is too expensive. Instead, he buys a knife. The Jew half-jokes: "Straight, that is, nice and straight. Going to slit your throat with it? Well, what you doing? You won't get one cheaper nowhere else, do yourself in real cheap, you can, but not for free. So what you doing? Get yourself a nice economical death." Woyzeck admires the knife, saying only: "Cut more than bread, that will," and buys it for two groschen without another word.

Scene 19:

Marie is distraught, flipping through a Bible with her child on her lap. She tries to pray and find phrases that will comfort her in her guilt. In particular, she clings to the story of an adultress brought before Jesus who was forgiven. She calls to the Idiot, Karl, who lies in the sun babbling about fairytales. Marie remarks that Woyzeck has not come by in two days and then she opens the window, saying; "it's getting so hot in here." She returns to the story of the adultress, who, after being forgiven, washed Jesus' feet with her tears and anointed them with ointment. She then strikes her chest and exclaims: "Dead, everything dead! Blessed Saviour, if only I could anoint your feet!"

Scene 20: Barracks.

Woyzeck rifles through his belongings while Andres, now immune to his ramblings, ignores him except to say he should be hospitalized for his "fever." Woyzeck finds a document with his personal statistics that states: "Friedrich Johann Franz Woyzeck, soldier, rifleman in the 2nd Regiment, 2nd Battalion, 4th Company, born Feast of the Annunciation, 20th July, my age today is 30 years, 7 months and 12 days." He then tells Andres in a seemingly disconnected statement: "When the coffin-maker finishes a coffin, no one knows who'll end up inside it."


In Scenes 17-20, Buchner contrasts Woyzeck's cold, casual detachment with Marie's increasing sense of guilt. Woyzeck drops hints of his murder plan into his conversations with others. In the manner of Hamlet after he kills Polonius, his references to murder are somewhat cryptic to those around him, though unmistakable to the audience. At the same time, the previously "hot," highly sexualized Marie hides from the social contact in which she has been lavishing herself and turns to the Bible and her innocent child.

In the scheme of the play, when Marie is not acting adulterously, she is motherly, holding her child on her lap. Buchner creates in this one character not only a representation of the historical Marie, but a dichotomy of the Virgin Mary and the penitent Mary Magdalene. We must see her as simultaneously innocent and undeserving of murder and sinful with penitence to perform. Marie's connection to both Mary-archetypes universalizes her situation and makes us lend her sympathy. Although Marie was collectedly cocky when Woyzeck confronted her about her affair, when she leafs through her Bible she is almost frantically penitent. She beats her breast and wishes not only Christ, but Christ in person would forgive her. Ironically it is just at the moment when Marie begins to repent that Woyzeck has resolved to kill her.

In Scene 20, Buchner makes a direct connection between Woyzeck and Christ, a universal symbol of human suffering. According to John Reddick, Woyzeck's age as he reads it from the military document is the same as Christ's purported age at the time of his death, and his birthday is the Feast of the Annunciation, which marks Christ's conception. While it may seem sacrilegious for Buchner to compare a soon-to-be murderer with Christ, he does so in order to underscore his point about human nature and free will. It is not an innate madness, but rather economic circumstances and others' actions that transform the inherently good Woyzeck into a criminal. The Jew lightheartedly suggests that Woyzeck is planning an "economical death" by buying the knife instead of the expensive pistol. The joke on the Jew's part is a pun on Buchner's; the murder is not only "economical" in the sense that the knife is inexpensive, but in the sense that Woyzeck's insanity is rooted in his economic situation. Were he middle-class, he would never participate in the Doctor's experiment and be primed to go mad; he might also not lose Marie to the higher-ranking, more impressive Drum-Major. If we follow Buchner's logic in connecting Woyzeck with Christ, when Marie begs Christ for forgiveness, she is begging Woyzeck. However Marie's Christ in the form of Woyzeck is murderous instead of absolving; she is doomed. We pity Marie for this. Still, the comparison with Christ makes our sympathy lie ultimately with Woyzeck, beaten down by various forces of society and human contact to the point of derangement.