You are here:
Synopsis index
Frühere Verhältnisse

[Image:Moving Theatre logo]Frühere Verhältnisse
Past Circumstances

A farce with songs in 1 act
By Johann Nestroy
Premiere: 7th January 1862

Funded by

Arts council of England

Austrian Cultural Forum

Herr von Scheitermann, a timber merchant
Josephine, his wife
Anton Muffl, a servant (originally played by Nestroy)
Peppi Amsel, a cook

Scene: A large town.

Josephine and Scheitermann are having to make do without domestic help, having just dismissed both their servants. Scheitermann is always afraid that his wife, a Professor’s daughter, will one day find out about his “past circumstances”. He is the son of an ordinary cobbler and has been in service himself. – [Song, Peppi: “Oh theatre, theatre”] – Peppi used to be Josephine’s father’s cook but is now the leading juvenile in a travelling theatre company. Her efforts are not exactly crowned with success, so she hopes to return to her “past circumstances” and re-enter service with her former employer’s daughter. Josephine gladly takes her on and immediately tells her what has been troubling her: that her husband has some guilty secret that he is keeping from her, which may be of a criminal nature. She wants Peppi to help her solve the mystery.
[Song, Muffl: “There are many good people, but bad folks as well”] – Muffl has a sad story to tell: he had a textile company that went bankrupt through the fault of his partner. He managed to salvage 10,000 guilders. At a spa he got to know an actress to whom he became engaged. Soon after she left him for two rich foreigners. He began to travel around and took up drinking until, poor and bedraggled, he decided to enter domestic service. He is now applying for the vacancy with Scheitermann. The two men look at each other with astonishment. Scheitermann had once been in service with Muffl. At first he denies it and tries to get rid of this unwelcome ghost from his past, but Muffl explains his situation and threatens to expose Scheitermann’s “past circumstances” if he won’t give him the job. Scheitermann reluctantly agrees.
Muffl now meets Peppi, recognises her as his former girlfriend, but mistakenly thinks she is the lady of the house. Peppi does not enlighten him, and tries to use her status to get rid of him, but Muffl threatens to expose her “past circumstances” to the master of the house.
Josephine is annoyed that her husband has taken on an itinerant servant without consulting her. Peppi now tells her that the newcomer seems to know something of her husband’s secret. Josephine confronts Scheitermann and insists he send Muffl away, or she will dismiss him. Scheitermann tries to reason with Muffl, but instead of conceding, Muffl tells Scheitermann that his wife is not all she claims to be either. Far from being a Professor’s daughter, she is actually the offspring of a waiter and a laundress, and has worked as a maid, a cook and an actress. She was also engaged to Muffl, left him when he was unfaithful to her twice, and is, as far as he can tell, still in love with him. Peppi has tried to eavesdrop on this conversation but partly misunderstood and thinks Scheitermann has confessed to robbery and murder. She reports back to Josephine, but Scheitermann bursts in and demands to know the truth about his wife. Josephine counters with the same request. There are further misunderstandings, with Scheitermann believing he has really exposed his wife and she believing her husband has gone mad. Only when Muffl, Josephine and Peppi are brought together does the confusion end. It transpires Josephine has known all along of her husband’s “past circumstances”. She promises to help Muffl and Peppi marry and set up a shop together in some faraway town.


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