Elfriede Jelinek

The Merchant’s Contracts

‘With The Merchant’s Contracts, Jelinek immerses herself in the world of uncontrolled financial flows. Starting from a number of the business scandals that have been reported in Austria over the last few years, Jelinek, an uncompromising investigator, shows us the frenzied speculation in which bankers and managers engage. As always, however, reality is just the launch pad for an artful game of extravagant exaggeration and often melodramatic distortion. For Jelinek shows people who are driven. They take ecstatic pleasure in shifting around non-existent assets, to which they are spurred on again and again, not least by small investors’ greed for constantly increasing returns. But the bubble has burst, even if they do not want to accept as much. The hour has struck, and the writing of history, which in Jelinek’s work means a linguistic state of emergency, is just beginning. For they only have their language with which to save their skins. And no one here is innocent. It is especially the way people always claim someone else is responsible while they themselves are merely victims that proves their guilt.’
(Schauspiel Cologne)
Responses to the Play:
‘With its well over a hundred pages of solid text, Jelinek’s opus magnum is an essay, analysis, indictment, travesty and game. At times a hate-filled tirade, at times a song of lamentation, at times a stream of insults aimed at the audience and, of course, an endless loop of redundancies as well. Jelinek is tireless and uncompromising. In this work, her typical stylistic device, twisting language associatively into ever new pirouettes, becomes a principle that brilliantly matches the subject matter. She uncovers the contradictions that are already embedded semantically in our language, and it is a pleasure to trace them through this intellectual cabaret: To what extent does a corporation also serve the body politic? And she uncovers the contradictions inherent in the very facts of the situation: What kind of world is it in which people trade ‘debts’ that can never be paid back? The excessive spiral of words, continuing until sometimes all that remains is a creakily punning verbal shell […], is nothing less than a reflection of banking, real estate and credit systems that are ultimately founded on nothing but hollow values.’
(Vasco Boenisch, Theater der Zeit, June 2009)


‘In her dramatic work-in-progress, The Merchant’s Contracts, she [Elfriede Jelinek, ed.] puts long monologues into the mouths of small investors, gamblers who play the stock exchange like a fruit machine and local politicians, who describe naivety, unscrupulousness, cynicism, obedience to the system and other truths about how we handle money. In her meandering style, which combines wisdom and corny puns, analysis and aggression, a constantly updated diary is being created, a diary that chronicles her exposure of the system and has already has been used as a resource for productions at many theatres.’
(Till Briegleb, Mülheimer Theatertage 2010)
Technical Data:
Premiere: 16 April 2009, Schauspiel Cologne; 2 October 2009, Thalia Theater Hamburg
Director: Nicolas Stemann
Cast: Variable
Rights: Rowohlt Theater Verlag
Hamburger Str. 17
21465 Reinbek
Postfach 1349
21453 Reinbek
Tel:+49 40 7272270,
Fax:+49 40 7272276
theater@rowohlt.de
Translations: Theatre Library