Danton's Tod, II.5: Language, Guilt and Memory

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Danton’s Tod, Act II, Scene 5, is centrally concerned with the formation and formulation of memory, and with an attempt to overcome it. Danton wakes from a nightmare, haunted by his part in the Paris massacres of September 1792. He is calmed by the assurance that he acted in self-defence, but in turn, he is horrified at the idea that his hand was forced. This chapter first explores the significance of ‘September’ in Büchner’s principal historical sources. Their ambiguous evaluation of the massacres after the Revolution’s end – that they were terrible, but necessary – is reproduced in Büchner’s scene, where Danton is contrite on the one hand but sees his actions as justified on the other. The chapter seeks to resolve this contradiction by suggesting that Danton’s plea of necessity is part of a practised dialogue. He and Julie rehearse events in a version tried and tested to calm him down. He lapses, however, from the routine and fails in his attempt to force order onto the past. The scene, and the drama, are shown to exemplify the range of the ‘formats’ of shared memory proposed by Aleida Assmann, and the awkwardness of their connection. Finally, the chapter asks to what extent Danton’s self-interrogation here may fit, or complicate, models of ‘perpetrators’ memory’.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGeorg Büchner
Subtitle of host publicationContemporary Perspectives
EditorsRobert Gillett, Ernest Schonfield, Daniel Steuer
Place of PublicationLeiden
PublisherBrill Academic Publishers
Number of pages15
ISBN (Print)9789004338593
Publication statusPublished - 10 Mar 2017

Publication series

NameAmsterdamer Beiträge zur neueren Germanistik
ISSN (Print)0304-6257

Bibliographical note

6,750 words


  • Büchner, Georg
  • Danton's Tod
  • memory
  • perpetration
  • French Revolution
  • Assmann, Aleida


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