Glossary of terms and concepts
Travesties is a play about artists, writers, and thinkers, and is full of quotes and allusions to the work of cultural figures like James Joyce (Ulysses), Oscar Wilde (The Importance of Being Earnest), Lenin,Tristan Tzara, Marx, Shakespeare, and their colleagues. We don’t include all the references here, and you certainly don’t need to know them to enjoy the play, but we hope you enjoy picking them out when you see it!
POLITICAL REVOLUTION AND REVOLUTIONARIES
Lenin and his Marxist Revolution
1905 revolution: The 1905 Russian Revolution, sparked by the massacre of peaceful demonstrators in St. Petersburg (“Bloody Sunday”), was a wave of mass political and social unrest that spread through vast areas of the Russian Empire. It included worker strikes, peasant unrest, and military mutinies. It led to the establishment of limited constitutional monarchy, the State Duma of the Russian Empire, the multi-party system, and the Russian Constitution of 1906.
Bolshevik party: founded by Vladimir Lenin, a mass organization consisting primarily of workers governed by the principle of democratic centralism (which Lenin defined as freedom of thought and discourse, followed by unity of action). The Bolsheviks sought to overthrow the Tsar through a mass workers' revolution.
Bourgeoisie: in Marxist theory, the class that owns the means of producing wealth and is regarded as exploiting the working class.
Communism: the political theory or system in which all property and wealth is owned by all the members of a classless society.
dialectical materialism: a strand of Marxism synthesizing Hegel’s dialectics. It proposes that every economic order grows to a state of maximum efficiency, while simultaneously developing internal contradictions and weaknesses that contribute to its systemic decay.
Marx and Marxism: Karl Marx was German economist and philosopher in the 19th century whose social philosophies are collectively referred to as Marxism. Marx argued that in order for a country to progress from an autocracy to a socialistic state, it must first pass through a capitalistic stage, dominated by the bourgeoisie. He was heavily critical of capitalism, believing it to be run by the wealthy middle and upper classes purely for their own benefit, and predicted that it would inevitably produce internal tensions which would lead to its self-destruction and replacement by a new system: socialism, in which the workers would hold the power. He believed that socialism would, in its turn, eventually be replaced by a stateless, classless society called pure communism.
proletariat: “the organized industrial workers.” In Marxist theory, the proletariat is the class of a capitalist society that does not have ownership of the means of production and whose only means of subsistence is to sell their labor power for a wage or salary.
Provisional Government: When Tsar Nicholas II abdicated on March 13, 1917 a Provisional Government, headed by Prince George Lvov, was formed. Despite a sweeping set of reforms, Lvov's unwillingness to withdraw Russia from the First World War made him unpopular with the people and on July 8, 1917, he resigned and was replaced by Alexander Kerensky. Kerensky’s continued support for the war effort made him unpopular in Russia. With the Bolsheviks controlling the Soviets, and now able to call on 25,000 armed militia, Kerensky was unable to reassert his authority. On November 7, Kerensky was informed that the Bolsheviks were about to seize power. The Provisional Government was replaced by an administration headed by Vladimir Lenin.
Tsar: Tsar Nicholas II was the last Tsar of Russia. His reign saw Imperial Russia go from being one of the great powers of the world to economic and military collapse. Critics nicknamed him Bloody Nicholas because of the Khodynka Tragedy, Bloody Sunday, the anti-Semitic pogroms, his execution of political opponents, and his pursuit of military campaigns on an unprecedented scale. As head of state, he approved the Russian mobilization of August 1914, which marked the beginning of Russia's involvement in World War I, a war in which 3.3 million Russians were killed.
Zimmerwaldists: Socialists loyal to the principle of internationalism during the war—so named for their adherence to the program of the International Socialist Congress held in Zimmerwald, Switzerland in 1915. The Zimmerwald Left was a revolutionary minority faction at the Zimmerwald Peace Conference of 1915, headed by Lenin. It was the first step towards forming what later became the Communist International.
ARTISTIC REVOLUTION AND REVOLUTIONARIES
Tristan Tzara and his Dada
“Admiral Seeks House To Let”: a simultaneist group poem performed by Hugo Ball, Richard Huelsenbeck, Tristan Tzara, and Marcel Janco. All the performers participated at once with whistling, singing, speaking, and making “noises.”
Arp, Hans (a.k.a. Jean): a German-French, or Alsatian, sculptor, painter, poet, and abstract artist. Arp was a founding member of the Dada movement in Zürich in 1916.
Ball, Hugo: a German author, poet, and Dada artist often cited as the inventor of “sound poetry.” In February 1916, he founded the Cabaret Voltaire in the Spiegelgasse. Ball was at odds with Tzara over Tzara's ambition to make Dada into an international movement with a systematic doctrine. He left Zurich in May 1917 and did not again actively participate in Dada activities.
Cabaret Voltaire: a nightclub in Zurich, Switzerland. It was founded by Hugo Ball and his companion Emmy Hennings in 1916 at the Meirei Bar as a cabaret for artistic and political purposes.
Dada or Dadaism: an international nihilistic movement among European artists and writers that lasted from 1916 to 1922. It rejected all religious and moral principles and maintained that nothing had a true existence. Dada attacked conventional standards of aesthetics and behavior and stressed absurdity and the role of the unpredictable in artistic creation.
Huelsenbeck, Richard: After being invalided out of the army, he fell in with the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich and became a Dadaist. He went on to form the Berlin Dada group and was a lifelong Dadaist.
Janco, Marcel: Romanian artist who was one of the founding artists of Dada, creating iconic visual art and participating in performance events that exemplified early Dada.
Mayakovsky, Vladimir: a Russian and Soviet poet and playwright. He is among the foremost representatives of early-20th century Russian Futurism and a canonized revolutionary poet of the Soviet Union.
nihilists: people who believe in nothing (“nothing matters”).
Picabia, Francis: a French painter and poet and one of the most anarchistic of modern artists, involved in Cubism, Dadaism, and Surrealism.
James Joyce and his Ulysses
“Bahnhofstrasse”: This short poem was composed in Zurich around 1918, after Joyce’s first attack of glaucoma on Zurich’s Bahnofstrasse. The poem’s pensive mood reflects Joyce’s two-fold concern about his growing blindness and the process of aging.
“burned by a bigoted Dublin printer”: a 1909 dispute over the content of a chapter in Dubliners (“Two Gallants”) which the Dublin printers, Maunsel and Roberts, refused to publish. Joyce offered to pay the printing costs himself, but when Joyce arrived at the printer's they refused to surrender the printing sheets and burned them the next day. Joyce managed to save one copy.
Christian Catechism: a basic explanation of religious beliefs in question-and-answer format. The “Ithaca” chapter in Joyce’s Ulysses is written in the form of the Catechism.
Elasticated Bloomers: Carr’s title for Joyce’s Ulysses. It is a pun on the name of the central character Leopold Bloom and the ladies undergarments know as bloomers.
Hibernia: the Classical Latin name for the island of Ireland.
Trieste: a city and seaport in northeastern Italy, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Joyce lived there before moving to Zurich.
Ulysses: a groundbreaking Modernist novel by James Joyce. In it, Joyce retells the story of Homer’s Odyssey but sets it in 1904 Dublin. It is told in 18 episodes, each with their own distinctive narrative style. Much of Ulysses was written during the First World War when Joyce was living in Zurich.
HENRY CARR’S WORLD: EDWARDIAN ENGLAND AND WARTIME ZURICH
Café Odeon: a café in Zurich. Lenin held court there with comrade Trotsky and an assortment of other Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. For James Joyce, the Odeon was a frequent stop off point during his nightly pub crawls, together with the artist Frank Budgen. Stefan Zweig, the Austrian novelist, and playwright Frank Wedekind were regulars. The noisiest guests were the Dada crowd.
Civil List: an annual grant that covers some expenses associated with being a government official or prominent individual.
Consular Service: an organized body of public officers maintained by a government in the important ports and trade centers of foreign countries to protect the persons and interests of its nationals.
Eton: a prestigious British school for boys aged 13 to 18.
Goneril: the eldest of King Lear's daughters in William Shakespeare's King Lear.
H.M.G.: Her or His Majesty’s Government.
hock: an English term for German wine from Hockheim; also used to describe wine from the Rhine regions and sometimes all German wine.
Savile Row: a street in London where the most prominent tailors had their shops.
WORLD WAR I
blighty: a wound which would get a soldier sent back home. Also a slang term for Britain during WWI; “Dear Old Blighty” was a common sentimental reference.
“brave little Belgium/Serbia”: Great Britain declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914, less than 24 hours after Germany invaded Belgium, and almost 3 months after Serbian gunmen assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on June 28, 1914, over an ongoing dispute of control over the Balkans.
Dardanelles: The Dardanelles separate Europe (the Gallipoli peninsula) from the mainland of Asia. In 1915, the western Allies sent a massive invasion force of British, Indian, Australian, and New Zealand troops to attempt to open up the strait. At the Gallipoli campaign, Turkish troops trapped the Allies on the beaches of the Gallipoli peninsula. Withdrawal was ordered in January 1916, after 10 months fighting and more than 200,000 casualties.
“Dawn breaking over no-man’s land”: The area between opposing trench lines (known as “no man's land”) was fully exposed to artillery fire from both sides. At dawn, it was no doubt a scene of immense casualties from the previous night’s battle.
invalided out: a chiefly British term for a soldier declared too ill or damaged to return to duty.
“sixpounders pounding in howitzerland”: sixpounders were small, mobile cannons initially issued in World War II. The Howitzer was the standard British Empire field (or “light”) artillery of the First World War era.
Suez Canal: The First Suez Offensive (January – February 1915) took place between the Ottoman Empire and the British Empire in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign of the First World War. It ended with the failure of the Ottoman forces to capture the Suez Canal.
“They give us the mincing machine”: a reference to the 1916 Battle of Verdun, where nearly a million casualties from the battle (among them 163,000 French and 143,000 German) led to the battle being called “the Mincing Machine of Verdun.”
“Tickety boo, tickety boo…”: “all going well” or “that’s the ticket”; also a refrain from a song about the trenches.
trenchfoot: gangrene from standing in flooded trenches.
“we’re here because we’re here”: from a sad song about soldiers in the trenches.
“What did it do in the Great War, Dada?”: a play on the British WWI recruiting slogan, “What did you do in the Great War, Daddy?”
PLAYS, MUSIC, AND CREATIVE TYPES REFERENCED
Appassionata: another name for Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57. It was composed in 1804, just after Beethoven accepted the irreversibility of his encroaching deafness. Considered by Beethoven to be one of his most tempestuous, emotional piano sonatas.
Cricket on the Hearth: a novella by Charles Dickens, the third of Dickens’ five Christmas books. Adapted for the stage by Albert Richard Smith in 1845.
Gilbert and Sullivan: refers to the Victorian-era theatrical partnership of the librettist W. S. Gilbert and the composer Arthur Sullivan. The two men collaborated on 14 comic operas between 1871 and 1896, of which H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, and The Mikado are among the best known. Others include Iolanthe, Patience, and Ruddigore.
La Dame aux Camélias : a novel by Alexandre Dumas, first published in 1848, and subsequently adapted for the stage in 1852. It is a love story between a courtesan suffering from tuberculosis and a young provincial bourgeois.
La Rochefoucauld: a noted 17th-century French author of maxims and memoirs. His theories on human nature concern self-interest and self-love, the passions and the emotions, love, conversation, and sincerity (and the lack of it).
The Lower Depths: a play by Maxim Gorky first performed in 1903 at the Moscow Art Theatre. Subtitled “Scenes from Russian Life,” it depicts a group of impoverished Russians.
Mister Dooley: a satirical song written by Jean Schwartz and William Jerome for the Broadway stage in 1902.
“Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Shean”: one of the most famous songs to come from vaudeville, it lampoons current fads and events (“Cost of living went so high/That it's cheaper now to die”). The song itself gave rise to many parody versions.
Tolstoy: Russian novelist. In addition to his landmark works of War and Peace and Anna Karenina, Tolstoy was a staunch advocate for the poor. Transformed by his own austere and unique practice of Christianity (based on the Sermon on the Mount), Tolstoy remained dedicated to advancing the underprivileged through nonviolent resistance.
Uncle Vanya: a play by the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov.