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Professor Bernhardi (1912) is one of the best known plays written by the Viennese dramatist, short story writer and novelist Arthur Schnitzler. It was first performed in Berlin at the Kleines Theater in 1912, but banned in Austria until the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as a result of World War I.
Professor Bernhardi is a Jewish physician in a cooperative private clinic. A young woman in his care is dying of sepsis following an abortion. After weeks of suffering, she falls in a euphoric state of consciousness, not yet being aware of her true condition referring her very low chance to survive.
In this situation Father Reder, a priest summoned by a nurse, wishes to give her last rites, but Berhardi refuses him admission in order that the girl may not be made aware that she is about to die, because then she would fall back into her state of despair and suffering. While Berhandi and Father Reder are arguing, the girl dies, having been first told by the nurse that the priest is there.
A press campaign and public outcry, reflecting the intense anti-semitism of the time, causes Bernhardi to be forced from the clinic he helped found, and sentenced to two months in prison.
Before this Professor Ebenwald, a man with considerable influence among judicial officers open to bribes tries to make a shady deal with Bernhardi: he might avoid being charged if he would give preference to a Christian physician instead of Dr. Wenger, a Jewish physician preferred by Bernhardi because of his professional abilities. Bernhardi refused this, losing his post and going to prison.
However, the imprisonment is not severe, and the play ends with a philosophical discussion of the case between a relaxed Bernhardi and a friend following Bernhardi's release, followed by a heated exchange between himself and Father Reder.
Father Franz Reder
At the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs:
His Excellency Dr Flint
Privy Councillor Winkler
Dr Goldenthal, Bernhardi's Defence Counsel
At Bernhardi's Home:
- Text of the play
- Oxford Companion to German Literature, ed Henry and Mary Garland, Oxford University Press (1987) ISBN 0-19-866139-8
- Guardian review by Liz Hoggard of the Oxford Stage Company revival at the Arcola Theatre, London, March 2005
- The Stage review by John Thaxter of the Oxford Stage Company revival at the Arcola Theatre, London, March 2005