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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Comedy in Four Acts

Almost everyone interested in Sherlock Holmes has seen, read, or at least heard of the play of that name by William Gillette. But have you have heard of Sherlock Holmes by Ferdinand Bonn?

I'll give you a hint: The subtitle of Bonn's 19o6 play is "Detektivkomödie in vier Aufzügen."

Through the kindness of Carolyn and Joel Senter, proprietors of Classic Specialties, I own a copy of this play as published by Baskerville Bücher in 1994. The volume is very instructive because it includes an introduction in English as well as German, along with a scene by scene synposis in English. The play itself is in the original German.

The illustration on the cover is quite satisfactory, giving us a line drawing of a very Pagetesque Holmes.

According to the introduction by Michael Ross, more than 10 different Sherlock Holmes plays appeared in German-speaking countries between the years 1905 and 1913 alone. Curiously, most of them -- like Bonn's play -- were comedies or farces.

Bonn's was among the most successful. It was performed for 239 nights at the author's own Berliner Theater and was published in the year of its first performance.

Although the plots draws heavily on Gillette's play and on the Canon (especially "The Final Problem" and "The Adventure of the Empty House"), a look at the "Personen" of the drama shows that many of our favorite characters are AWOL. There is no Irene Adler, no Professor Moriarty, no Lestrade, no Mrs. Hudson, no Mycroft. Even (shudder) Dr. Watson is missing!

No wonder, then, that this work -- however admirable it might be in some ways -- is not well known in English. Still, I am most grateful to have it in my library.

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