Interpretive reading: Project 4: The Play “Living Hours” Arthur Schnitzler

Objectives & Evaluation

Objectives: ·                     To adapt a play for interpretive reading

·                     To portray several characters in one reading, identifying them to the audience through voice changes and movement

Time: 12 to 15 minutes
Evaluation: ·                     Were the characters vocally, physically, and emotionally distinct? Were character changes smooth and quick?

·                     Did the pitch or tempo of any character distract you?

·                     Was the plot of the play clear? Was the play properly cut so it flowed smoothly? Were transitions clear?

·                     How did the speaker build to the climax of the play?

·                     Did the speaker have eye contact with the audience? Was eye contact appropriate for this presentation?

·                     What could the speaker have done differently to improve the presentation?

·                     What did you like about the presentation?


Living Hours was written by Arthur Schnitzler. It is set in Vienna and came out in 1911. I choose it largely because it was short and thus needed minimum edits, had 2-3 male characters, had clean language, and was free.

The scene is an adorable garden late in high summer with glorious weather, but the distinct threat of frost. The characters are Herr Hausdorfer the owner of the gardens and Herr Henrich the son of a late old friend known as Frau Councillor. Haudorfer loves his garden and has vested his energies into them since forced into early retirement from professional life. Henrich belongs to the avant-garde of young creative intelligentsia and has reappeared following his mother’s funeral having gone travelling to get his head straight and find his Mojo. Each still grieves Frau Councillor.

The Play

HAUSDORFER: [turns away] Yes, yes. But go on. You went to Munich, looked at the pictures and were consoled.

HEINRICH: Only as long as I stayed in the cool stillness of the gallery. I’d hardly reached the street when the effect was gone again. And then the evenings–the endless lonesome evenings! I tried to work, to think–it was impossible. I was completely upset. [Pause. He rises.] How long will it last?

HAUSDORFER: It must be terrible, if one is so used to being at work–

HEINRICH: Used to being at work? But I’m not, any longer. That is just it. For two or three years I have been utterly unable to accomplish anything whatever. You know yourself–

HAUSDORFER: Yes, yes, to be sure.

HEINRICH: It was an utter impossibility. To see a being one loves, to see one’s mother, suffer, suffer like that, and know she is fighting with death, and that she longs for it! That was the most frightful part of it. I saw the longing in her eyes, nights when I sat by her bed and read to her. [A long pause.] I have given up the house.

HAUSDORFER: Oh, you have? Well, it is really too large for you, by yourself.

HEINRICH: Yes: and anyhow, I could never write another line in it. I should hear, night after night, those moans from the room next to mine, that used to cut into my heart, and annihilate every faculty, every wish to create, even the very desire to live. Oh, my God! [Long pause.] Did you know what Doctor Heuffer said to me the Sunday before she died?


HEINRICH: That she might live two or three years longer.

HAUSDORFER: [almost beside himself] Two or three years? [Controlling himself, more quietly.] That she might live two or three years longer?

HEINRICH: Yes. And that was just when the worst came. She never went out of her room again, never had another hour in the garden she loved so well. [Looks at the empty reclining chair.]

HAUSDORFER: Perhaps I might have made up my mind to come in occasionally.

HEINRICH: [rather ashamed] Ah, my dear Herr Hausdorfer, here I am talking about myself all the time. Yet I am young, with a future before me, of some kind or other. But how much you have lost!

HAUSDORFER: Very much, indeed.

HEINRICH: I know what my mother was to you, I always knew it, even in those days.


HEINRICH: I was not such a very small child, when my father left us.


HEINRICH: I can remember the day when my mother told me, “Papa has gone away.” When he didn’t come back, I imagined for a long time that he had died, and I often wept bitterly about it at night. But after a while I met him in the street and with him was that woman for whom he left my mother. I stood inside a doorway so that he might not see me. I, a child, was ashamed in his presence. Yes, I soon understood that my mother was quite free, free as if she had really been widowed.

HAUSDORFER: Then you excused us, you mean. [A little distantly.]

HEINRICH: Pardon me, I express myself badly. [More warmly.] But why should not we speak naturally of simple and natural things, especially at such a time? I felt impelled to take your hand as if it were indeed my father’s, for I know how dearly my mother loved you.

[It has grown gradually dark. Outside the fence, in the street, the lamps have been lighted.]

HAUSDORFER: Loved me! That would be strange indeed. When one is young, all the world is in love. Friends, Heinrich, we were–old people, old friends. Do you understand? Or has the word no meaning when one is young? And how could you understand it, you young people, with the whole world before you–not to speak of a man like you with the prospects you have.

HEINRICH: There you mistake, Herr Hausdorfer, I understand very clearly. If I could bring my poor mother back to you, to us–my God! What would I not give to have her sitting here with us for one single evening!

HAUSDORFER: What would you give– [bitterly] how much?

HEINRICH: [hesitating] I think–it seems to me I would give my whole future, with everything that I might accomplish in it.

HAUSDORFER: Don’t be a fool, Heinrich–you don’t mean what you say.

HEINRICH: If it were a possibility–if it lay in my power–

HAUSDORFER: That’s a lie, Heinrich. If you did have that power–I know you! I know you all, every one of you, I know what you are!

HEINRICH: All of us? I did not know it was necessary for me to answer for anyone except myself.

HAUSDORFER: You do not answer for anybody but yourself. When I say “all of you,” I know what I mean, and I mean what I say. There was a young fellow at the office once, the story is nearly ten years old now: he played a little in his odd moments, one of the chapters of the choral society brought out something of his–Franz Thomas, his name was. Well, his only child died, a boy seven years old, bright and beautiful as a picture. I knew him, for he sometimes came with his mother to fetch his father home from the office. The child died of diptheria, in one night, and I went to offer my sympathy. He, the father I mean, was sitting at the piano and playing–playing! The dead child was laid out in the same room, I saw it; and he didn’t even stop playing when I came in, but just nodded to me, and when I stood behind him he said softly: “Listen, Herr Hausdorfer, that is for my poor little son. The melody pleases me very much.” And the dead child was lying right there in its shroud–it gave me the shivers, I can tell you.

HEINRICH: [has been listening with visible interest and gratification] Yes, I can well understand how many very excellent men might feel a sort of horror at such a thing.

HAUSDORFER: Horror–yes, that is the right word for it.

HEINRICH: And yet, Herr Hausdorfer, do you not think those very people are to be envied for their power to absorb themselves in their calling; their art? They have the wonderful capacity of molding their sorrow into imperishable form, instead of letting it dissipate itself in useless tears.

HAUSDORFER: And this molding their sorrow into imperishable form–will that bring back the dead?

HEINRICH: As little as the tears themselves. I do not say that joy in one’s work outweighs one’s sorrow for a departed loved one. But isn’t our work the one thing that is left to us at last? Shall you not work in your garden again? And for myself–yes, I long for the day to come when I am again capable of working, of just creating something, as I once did. We must resign ourselves to the inevitable.

HAUSDORFER: To the inevitable, yes.

HEINRICH: This was inevitable.


HEINRICH: [astonished] Most surely it was. What notion are you torturing yourself with? You yourself asked the doctor, six weeks ago, and he did not hesitate to tell you the truth. It had to come.

HAUSDORFER: But not now–not so soon.

HEINRICH: How can you make such an assertion, Herr Hausdorfer? You can’t assume that there was any lack of care–

HAUSDORFER: Oh no, no. Forgive me. There could be none.

HEINRICH: Then why–

HAUSDORFER: But you said yourself that she might have lived two or three years more.

HEINRICH: Alas, yes. That is true. But the doctor also mentioned the possibility of a sudden death, as you know.

HAUSDORFER: Sudden–yes, quite right. [Hesitatingly, then with sudden determination.] But natural–that is another question.

HEINRICH: [startled] What? Why–no, I cannot understand what you mean by a conjecture of which not the slightest–why, the doctor would have known it.

HAUSDORFER: How? Couldn’t one empty a bottle of laudanum and be found dead in bed next morning–if the family expected it already?

HEINRICH: You speak as if you knew–did my mother express any–

HAUSDORFER: I am not mistaken–let that satisfy you.

HEINRICH: Since you have said so much, Herr Hausdorfer, it is only natural–

HAUSDORFER: I am sure of it–don’t ask any further!

HEINRICH: Ah,yes. The letter, on her writing-table–

HAUSDORFER: [nods his head] Yes. [Pause.]

HEINRICH: [overcome] Yes–yes. And yet, why am I so dumbfounded? [Pause.] When I have asked myself, how often, in those terrible nights–yes, I confess it to you, at the risk of your thinking me horrible, too–what it is that makes us wretched human creatures endure such misery, such martyrdom, when it lies in our own power to put an end to it at any time.


HEINRICH: If my mother did do what you say you know she did, she was right, quite right.


HEINRICH: That is my honest opinion.

HAUSDORFER: Because you don’t understand, Heinrich–because you know nothing! She would have gone on living and enduring, as long as the good God gave her life. She would have lived for my sake and her own–here for these few hours in the garden, so full of recollections of our young days and our happiness; but she is dead, and she died for you, Heinrich, for you, for your sake!

HEINRICH: [more and more overcome] For me, for my sake? But I can’t understand, in the least–for my sake–what do you mean?

HAUSDORFER: Then you really don’t know? Can’t you imagine? When you spoke of it yourself, just now?

HEINRICH: Of what?

HAUSDORFER: Why, didn’t you tell me how it affected you, and you thought your mother didn’t see it.

HEINRICH: What did she see?

HAUSDORFER: That her suffering upset you, that you couldn’t work, that you were worried for fear it might be all up with your art, that you–you!–were the tortured, the martyred one–she saw all that, and so–

HEINRICH: And so–! But it is impossible!

HAUSDORFER: Impossible? She was your mother, and that made it possible.

HEINRICH: No, Herr Hausdorfer. Your grief makes you imagine what could not possibly be true. I grant that the condition of my mind could be no secret to my mother, I was so greatly distressed; but that there could be any ground for–

HAUSDORFER: [interrupting him passionately] Can’t you believe me–do you think I am lying to you–do you? Well, then! [Pulls a letter from his pocket.] Read it, read it–she wrote it when her mind was perfectly clear, it was the one that was on her desk–she wrote it that last night, and half an hour after–you can read it all–she saw you suffer–she saw you suffer!–and so she died–died before her time!

HEINRICH: [runs through the letter] Mother! Mother! [Sinks down into the reclining chair.] For me! On my account–because I was– Oh, my God, my God!

[Heinrich Buries his head against the arm of the chair. Hausdorfer gazes at him and nods his head. Long pause.]

HEINRICH: [gets up] I will go now. I know my presence must be painful to you. Here is the letter. [He still holds it in his hand.] It was written when her mind was perfectly clear, and it tells the truth. I do not doubt it any longer. [After some hesitation.] May I call your attention to one point?


HEINRICH: This. Where my mother implores you [pointing with his finger] “I entreat you”, not to let me know the contents of this letter: to let me rest in the belief that she died a natural death. This letter was intended for your eyes alone–not for mine, in any event.

HAUSDORFER: I intended it for you! I intended it for your! I let you read it–you’ll get over it.

HEINRICH: And by your meddling you have destroyed the whole effect of this spontaneous sacrifice. She did not intend me to feel that I had murdered her, to go through the world with her blood on my head! Perhaps you will come after a while to feel that you have done not only me but her a wrong that outweighs mine.

HAUSDORFER: I accept the responsibility, Heinrich. I have told you. You will get over it. It will not last long–no, you will recover, live, create again.

HEINRICH: That is my right, perhaps my duty as well. There is nothing left for me to do–either kill myself, or else try to prove that my mother–did not die in vain.

HAUSDORFER: Heinrich! A month ago she was alive, and you can say that! She killed herself for you, and you can wash your hands of responsibility–in a few days you will be beginning to think it was her own fault. Am I not right–aren’t you after all just like the others–all stuck full of arrogance, little and big! What does all your scribbling amount to, even if you were the greatest genius in the world, in comparison with one hour here in the garden, one living hour, when your mother sat in her chair, and talked to us or else we were silent together–yet whether she talked or not, there she was, in the flesh, with us, her very self, alive, alive!

HEINRICH: Living hours! Those living hours of yours live just so long as the last person who remembers them. And thus it is, that his is not the meanest of destinies, in whose power it lies to give such hours immortality. Farewell, Herr Hausdorfer. Your sorrow gives you the right to misunderstand me. Next Spring, when this garden of yours is once more in bloom, we shall meet again. For you, too, will live on.

[Heinrich goes up the terrace, across which a broad lane of lamp-light streams into the gardens.]

Reflections and feedback

It was a challenge to start presenting in a gloomy room with emergency lighting.

Chair2 Chair1

  • The empty chair with hat and flower worked well.
  • Very challenging project, the novelty of which interested many
  • Good examples of emotional vocal variety
  • Great story and choice
  • Well paced mostly
  • Generally good introduction, some would have wanted a spot more background
  • Good build up of emotional tension, but room for more “Anger”
  • Well editted to find a good start and run out to the end.


  • Lectern was an obsticle
  • Needing to read blocked much eye contact
  • Split opinion on body language and movement
  • Ran over time at 15 mins 40 ..that may have been the knock on of a longish introduction
  • A few more pauses to pace it a little better
  • Stronger vocal differentiation between the character would have helped.

I still find it a challenge to memorize other people’s work to the point I can escape the lectern. I did practice this a lot, but maybe taped or video playback would help me to work harder on the pacing and vocal differentiation.

I am really glad I found and did this peace, despite Stephanie’s reservations that is was dark, morbid, and sad. It did fit well with the Easter theme of the meeting.


HAUSDORFER: Heinrich! A month ago she was alive, and you can say that! She killed herself for you, and you can wash your hands of responsibility–in a few days you will be beginning to think it was her own fault. Am I not right–aren’t you after all just like the others–all stuck full of arrogance, little and big! What does all your scribbling amount to, even if you were the greatest genius in the world, in comparison with one hour here in the garden, one living hour, when your mother sat in her chair, and talked to us or else we were silent together–yet whether she talked or not, there she was, in the flesh, with us, her very self, alive, alive!

Curated from Living Hours – a one-act play by Arthur Schnitzler


a play in one-act

by Arthur Schnitzler

translated by Porter Davitts

The following one-act play is reprinted from Ten Minute Plays. Pierre Loving. New York: Brentano’s, 1923. It is now in the public domain and may therefore be performed without royalties.



BORROMAUS, the gardener


[A small well-trimmed garden in a Viennese suburb. In the rear a cottage with a porch from which three steps lead down into the garden. In front two benches and a comfortable reclining chair. It is early autumn, towards nightfall, and very quiet. Borromaus, the gardener is seen digging; an old man

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