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Die Papiere des Teufels

[Image:Moving Theatre logo]Die Papiere des Teufels
oder Der Zufall

The Devil’s Papers
or Coincidence

Adapted from Les Mémoires Du Diable, a farce by Etienne Arago and Paul Vermond.
A Farce with songs in 3 Acts and a prologue.
By Johann Nestroy
Premiere: Vienna, 17 November 1843.

Funded by

Arts council of England

Austrian Cultural Forum

Zwicker, private agent
Federl, his clerk and a distant relative
Stoppel, innkeeper
Dominick, mason and the caretaker of the manorhouse of Hügelfeld.
Mrs Körndlbach, widow and miller of Hügelfeld
Rab, private agent
Walpurga Hauskatz, Dominic’s mother
Hilfreich, surgeon
Seppl, Miller’s help
Dorothea Stoppel, widow
Sophie, her adopted daughter
Emilie, his wife and Stoppel’s sister
Buchfellner, Klauber, Schneck, Steining, guests at the inn
Rubinger, a farmer from the countryside
Frau Schmalner, his sister
Kathi, her daughter
Wilkner, her lover
Grill, harpist
Rosa, his wife
Anton, head waiter
Hannerl, cook

The action of the prologue takes place in the manor house, then in Zwicker’s office. The first act takes place in the mill, four months later. The second act takes place three days after the first act, at Stoppel’s inn. The final act takes place four days afterwards in the manor house.

Prologue. Stoppel the innkeeper and Zwicker contract Dominick - a mason, and caretaker of the the manor house in Hügelfeld – to wall up a casket in one of the manor house’s rooms – the so-called ‘Devil’s room’. Dominick has no idea of the contents of the casket. The devil’s room gets its name from a devil that is painted onto the wall. It has a horn, which can be used as a bell – but no one dares ring it, because everyone believes that then the devil will appear. The two men make Dominick swear that he won’t tell anyone the secret, and to ensure that he doesn’t betray it when drunk, they make him promise only to drink half a glass of wine a day. They tell him that should he break his word, the devil will come and fetch him. [Song: Federl]. Federl, Zwicker’s clerk and distant relative, tells Eva (who in spite of her age had taken a fancy to Federl) of his infatuation with Stoppel’s adopted daughter, Sophie. In a fit of jealousy, Eva tells Stoppel of Federl’s secret, in Federl’s presence. Stoppel is furious. Meanwhile Zwicker is considering how he might inherit Stoppel’s wealth, should he die. According to the marriage certificate, Stoppel’s sister and her husband, Schrollman, will inherit everything from Stoppel, neither Stoppel’s wife nor her adopted daughter Sophie receiving anything. Stoppel is in possession of some documents on which he has written ‘the devil’s papers’ to remind him what they are for. He also makes a note of the four that would allow Dominick to open the casket, but deciding this is too risky, he crosses out the words again. Not long after he is killed in an accident, and Zwicker has a heart attack. Annoyed that although he is a distant relative, Zwicker has left everything to Eva and nothing to him, Federl takes ‘the devil’s papers’ as a memento.

Act 1. Since giving his oath, Dominick has drunk only beer and lives in constant fear that the devil may come for him. Miss von Körndlbach is extremely disturbed by his strange manner. Because no will was found, Schrollman and his wife inherit all of Stoppel’s possessions, including his inn. Sophie decides to take a position in a family, and Dorothea intends to leave the premises, not however without reproaching her brother-in-law for letting her leave an impoverished widow. This leaves Schrollman utterly unmoved. The stupid and callous behaviour of the new owner soon makes him an unloved figure. Dorothea is about to set off, when Federl arrives and promises her he can return her property to her within eight days. Before he leaves, he gives her a briefcase to look after, exorting her to only look at the papers inside if he has not returned after eight days. Dominick takes Federl to be the devil – and his fears are merely confirmed when the women open the briefcase and read the words, ‘the devil’s papers’.


Act 2. The foolish Schrollman hopes to make something of his newly acquired inn, and tries to do so by entertaining his guests with song and spectacle. Federl plays the role of the devil a performance. The story is of a knight who wrongfully claims the castle of a poor widow for himself. The devil threatens the knight that should he not give back the castle, he will tell his wife of the knight’s gambling debts and payments to a lover. The knight agrees, but his wife won’t hear of returning the castle. The devil then threatens her that he will reveal her secrets to her husband – that she has a son from a previous marriage, and that she wants to leave him her possessions, as well as her infidelity. Horrified, both Schrollman and Emilie recognise themselves in the story, and independently bring it up with Federl. Federl demands that Emilie return the inheritance, otherwise betray her to her husband. To prove his claims he gives her the name ‘Zwicker’. He also makes it clear to Schrollmann that he will have no hesitation in betraying him. Meanwhile Mrs von Körndlbach, Dorothea Stoppel, Dominick the caretaker and Sophie arrive at the inn, wearing masks so that they will not be recognised. Not realising that it is Mrs von Körndlbach, in the mask, Federl flirts with her and gives her a ring, to the anger of Sophie and Dominick. The other guests threaten the disguised visitors, saying they must reveal who they are. The women refuse and only manage to escape the fury of the crowd because of Federl’s intervention.


Act 3. Federl is lying in hospital, having been badly beaten up in the inn. Sophie is on the one hand glad that Federl saved her, but on the other deeply disappointed by his unfaithfulness. Dominick continues to be convinced that Federl is the personification of the devil. Since Schrollman can’t find any papers belonging to Federl that prove any wrong-doing, he assumes Dorothea must know more about him than she is letting on. He goes to Hügelfeld to demand that the papers are made public. He pays Dominick handsomely to show him a hiding place in the devil’s room. When Schrollmann’s wife Emilie appears, with the same intention, Dominick sends her there too – neither Schrollmann nor Emilie are particularly pleased at this unexpected encounter. Nevertheless it soon emerges that they have the same aim – to drive Dorothea off her property once and for all. They decide to exploit peoples’ superstition and ring the devil’s bell. They are shocked when Federl appears the next moment: he gives Schrollman and Emilie half an hour to put their resignation of the property in writing. The unhappy Sophie shows Federl the ring that he gave Mrs. Von Körndlbach and breaks off her engagement with him. [Song: Federl]. Dorothea decides to read the papers, thinking that something must have happened to Federl – before she is able to though, Schrollmann manages to grab the papers from her and throw them in the fire. Federl enters – and is at a loss as to how to proceed, now the papers have gone. Suddenly Mrs. von Körndlbach discovers the trace handwriting, left behind on the envelope which has survived, revealing that something was walled up the day before Zwicker and Stoppel died. However much they threaten him though, Dominick refuses to reveal his well-kept secret, even though he too is in despair. All seems as though it is lost. Federl listlessly points out that it was irresponsible of Zwicker not to have pointed out to Stoppel that without a will, he was endangering the future of his wife and adopted daughter, in the event of his death. Triumphant, Schrollmann shouts out “Vivat, Zwicker, you devil.“ Dominick jumps up – it is precisely these four words which absolve him of his oath of silence. He grabs a hammer and in no time has fetched the casket – with Stoppel’s will in it. The will makes Dorothea his sole heir, and makes the adoption of Sophie official. Schrollmann and Emilie angrily leave, and Federl, thinking he has lost Sophie’s love, turns to go too, but she forgives him at the last minute. Dominic, finally released from his fear, gladly gives himself to Mrs. von Körndlbach.


The Plays of Johann Nestroy. A directory of synopses prepared by Julian Forsyth & Zoe Svenson.
Funded by the Austrian Cultural Forum and Arts Council England. © Moving Theatre 2004