Many people have written about Kaspar Hauser, his life and death, his origins, his influence on people during his lifetime and since, his “enigma”. Who was he? Who could he have been if he’d lived longer?
These are fascinating subjects and questions, that indeed merit the time and eloquence various authors have used to try and explain Kaspar. Not least of all, Rudolf Steiner.
But my inspiration for writing this play was not really concerned with any of these more “esoteric” themes. It came from somewhere else. If there is one word to describe this, it would be - Empathy.
It began in the Summer of 1993 while I was doing the third year of my Eurythmy Therapy training in Peredur School for the Arts in East Grinstead, West Sussex. All the students had to go away and work in some kind of clinic, school or therapy centre with patients, under the supervision of a doctor or another therapist, and bring back a report on what they had learned. Many of the students had done very interesting things, but one in particular caught my attention.
This young man had worked with children in a school near Paris. Out of all the children he had worked with, one girl had proved the most difficult. She was in Class One of the Rudolf Steiner School there, tall with fair hair and blue eyes, very dreamy, but always drooling at the mouth. She came from a rich family, with little contact to her parents; her only friend was her beloved nurse. When this nurse left, the girl stopped talking and started acting like a baby, always lying on the floor, making no contact with anyone.
When he first met her, she was sitting very upright and anxious in a chair, with her doctor, teacher and parents watching. She had no strength in her feet or hands, she couldn’t even walk, or jump, keep a rhythm or imitate at all. He decided to work with her for a whole year, two or three times a week, beginning at the start of term in September.
At first she only wanted him to carry her around, so he did, singing and walking rhythmically, but she hardly responded. All she would do was pinch him very hard at the end of each session. Since she wouldn’t stand, but only lie on the floor, he decided to lie down next to her to see if she would notice. He started to pretend he was a fish, wiggling his stretched-out arms and legs and swimming all around her. Soon she learned to have fins too and swim, though awkwardly at first. Then they become lizards, a little higher off the ground, then cats, and dogs. She was starting to imitate, to play even, to have fun.
After they sat up like dogs to be fed, he taught her to crawl, then be an elephant with a long trunk, a tall giraffe looking out the window; then finger games, making a crab crawling along, or birds flying, or a caterpillar. She used her hands and feet, and finally after Christmas, she never lay on the floor again, or pinched him. Back in class she was at first quiet and subdued, but after Christmas she became quite aggressive, wild even, screaming a lot. But she started to talk to others and do some simple eurythmy exercises with him for the first time.
At the end they began to build an imaginary house together, stepping out the square, laying the foundations, building the walls, doors, windows and roof, then digging a garden. This was the first time she had really played. Soon she was playing with other children and after Easter she began doing the eurythmy therapy exercises regularly with him and became outwardly normal. She later went away to a special school for a year and then back to the Rudolf Steiner School. It was an amazing success story and everyone was overwhelmed at the change in the girl.
My interpretation of this is - not only did the therapist understand that he couldn’t force this girl to do the eurythmy exercises he thought would be good for her, but he had to start where she was, he had to try to get into her space, her feelings, her state of mind and work from there. This, to me, was an incredible leap into empathy, a letting go of one’s own ideas and desires and becoming immersed in someone else’s world. The therapist had done this totally, and it worked. It was a brave move, and could have gone badly wrong, but the girl responded and eventually regained her “normality”.
Ten years later when I read Jacob Wassermann’s novel about Kasper Hauser, “The Enigma of the Century”, the connection that teacher Georg Friedrich Daumer had to his teenage charge seemed to echo this situation with the therapy student and child in that they both had to use the power of empathy to break through the wall of silence and fear that surrounded the girl in Paris and Kaspar. Daumer, though trying to be the strict pedant, even to experimenting with Kaspar’s extraordinary gifts, in the end had to let that go and enter into Kaspar’s world. Though Kaspar was never “cured”, a real bond had been made.
The play I wrote then tried to amalgamate these two experiences, adding a third with Kaspar’s voice reading out the pages of his later diary which he kept to try and remember and explain what had happened to him. Altogether, these three elements would, I hoped, bring the audience closer to Kaspar in a real way, helping them to sink down into that fragile, almost paradisiacal consciousness, and emerge with a new insight into themselves and humanity in general.