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Der Unbedeutende

[Image:Moving Theatre logo]Der Unbedeutende
A Man of No Importance

A Farce with songs in 3 Acts
By Johann Nestroy
Premiere: 2nd May 1846

Funded by

Arts council of England

Austrian Cultural Forum

Baron von Massengold
Fräulein Ottilie, a relative of the Baron
Hermine, the Baron's ward
Puffmann, a secretary
von Gröning, a young Dutchman
von Packendorf, von Lockerfeld, von Seewald, von Althof, friends of the Baron
Tupper, a butler
Rumpf, a watchman
Heinrich, servants
An innkeeper, a waiter

Peter Spann, a carpenter (originally played by Nestroy)
Klara, his sister
Thomas Pflöckel, a carpenter
Frau Hussbergerin, a laundress
Hansi, her son
Klopf, a plumber
Frau Klopfin
Netti, their daughter
Kübler, a cooper
Frau Küblerin
Susi, their daughter
Schmalzer, a plumber
Frau Schmalzerin
Flachs, a weaver
Frau Flachsin
Biegel, `
Leicht, apprentice tailors
Citizens of Kobelstadt, watchmen, waiters, musicians

The action takes place in a town, at the mansion of Baron von Messengold, and by a river.

Act 1. Baron von Massengold is due to marry his ward Hermine. But as the play begins, his own secretary Puffmann is helping a young Dutchman to elope with Hermine by forging the young woman's birth certificate. Puffmann is paid 1,000 guilders for his pains, but his motives are not only mercenary: he is concerned that marriage between Hermine and her guardian would reduce his own influence over the Baron. Puffmann's fellow-plotter is the Baron's cousin Ottilie. She has furthered the elopement for reasons of revenge: the Baron had once spurned her advances. But she is shocked when Puffmann tells her about the forgery, fearing she will be charged as an accomplice. Having sent the young couple on their way and parted from Ottilie, Puffmann makes a dash to the river to hail a boat to take him back to his post before Hermine's absence can be discovered. A carpenter, Thomas, steps out of the bushes and addresses him, and from one or two remarks and hints Puffmann concludes that this carpenter must have eavesdropped on his plotting with Ottilie. He gives him 10 guilders in an attempt to get rid of him, but Thomas insists on accompanying him back to town, and his disconcertingly amiable manner persuades Puffmann that it would be wise to give him a further 20 guilders. - Puffmann's chief concern is now to establish an alibi for the time of Hermine's disappearance. The new connection with Thomas, unwelcome though it may be, gives him an opportunity. He learns that Thomas's son Josef is to marry Klara, the sister of another carpenter called Peter, and Puffmann cleverly uses a young boy of their acquaintance to create a rumour that will give him an alibi. He tells the boy, Hansi, that he will give him 3 talers if he promises not to tell anyone that he has seen him coming out of Klara's rooms late in the evening. The boy takes the money and runs off to tell his mother about the strange gentleman whom he saw with Klara and who paid him not to tell anyone what he he'd seen.

Act 2. Massengold is devastated by Hermine's disappearance, and asks Puffmann if he has helped her to elope. Ottilie is also under suspicion. Puffmann, apparently embarrassed, "confesses" to his employer that he spent the evening in question with the sister of an ordinary carpenter in town. Sure enough, enquiries by the Baron's friends confirm his story: gossip about Klara's "gentleman caller" is rapidly spreading through town. - Thomas now reappears and asks Puffmann for 500 guilders to buy his son Josef out of the army. Puffmann reluctantly pays up, hoping this will finally buy the man's silence. - Meanwhile Peter begins to notice that people are behaving strangely towards himself and his sister, and when Klara and Thomas dance together at the carnival ball, all the other couples demonstratively leave the dance floor. The rumours come out in the open, little Hansi shows Thomas the money paid for his silence, and Klara's tearful collapse is construed as an admission of guilt. Her brother resolves to clear his sister's name.


Act 3. Ottilie is increasingly worried that she is under suspicion, although Puffmann assures her there is nothing to link either of them with the elopement. - Meanwhile Peter wants Hansi to identify the gentleman who paid him, but Hansi has forgotten what Puffmann looks like. So Peter persuades Hansi to go up to every gentleman in town and thank him on his mother's behalf for the generous gift of 3 talers. Puffmann falls into the trap, and pays Hansi another 3 talers to leave him alone. - Having established the slanderer's identity, Peter now sets out to prove his sister's innocence by bringing Klara and Puffmann together. - In the meantime Thomas approaches Puffmann again and asks this time for 2,000 talers. He explains that he needs the money because his prospective daughter-in-law's reputation has been destroyed by scandal, and he and the young couple must move to another town where they can marry in respectability. Peter now arrives with Klara, confirms at once that she and Puffmann are complete strangers to each other, and accuses the baron's secretary of maliciously slandering an innocent woman. Puffmann tries to deny it, then offers to pay him off, only to discover that this "man of no importance" is impervious to bribes. He finally tries to have Peter arrested. However, Massengold's friend Packendorf, who has been alerted by a worried Klara, intervenes to prevent the arrest. When Massengold and Ottilie also arrive, Puffmann is required to clarify exactly where he was on the evening of Hermine's disappearance. Thomas now steps forward to testify that he had seen Puffmann at the hour in question. Puffmann is aghast that, having blackmailed him out of the best part of 3,000 guilders, the carpenter is about to reveal the incriminating conversation by the river between himself and Ottilie. But to his amazement it turns out Thomas had heard nothing at all of the conversation. What he had seen was a gentleman dashing to the river, whom he had intercepted and insisted on accompanying back to town, in the belief that he had been just in time to prevent a suicide attempt! The gentleman was apparently both wealthy and grateful to Thomas for saving his life, since he had immediately offered him money, more than once, and had generously paid him further sums when Thomas was in urgent need of funds for a very good cause. Puffmann realizes that, to confirm the alibi that Thomas has unexpectedly given him, he must think of a plausible reason for attempting suicide. He announces that he is suffering from unrequited love, and the Baron concludes that the object of this tragic passion can only be his cousin Ottilie. Puffmann clutches at this straw, but whispers to Ottilie that his love must stay unrequited and that marriage is out of the question. Ottilie, however, is far too worried about attracting further suspicion to herself to pay attention to such details. A delighted Massengold announces that the loss of his ward will be compensated by the approaching double wedding of Josef to Klara and Puffmann to Ottilie.


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