Konigsberg in 1793. The Professor (whose prototype is Immanuel Kant, although his name is never mentioned) lives in a house with closed shutters – he believes that light generates bedbugs. As he’s struggling to find a mid-way between his philosophical thoughts and everyday problems, he frequently gets upset with his servant Martin who also enjoys philosophical argument and likes to throw Latin sentences into the conversation. But the house just isn’t big enough for two philosophers…. Especially since the Professor also has to debate with Leibniz who visits him in his sleep.
Once in a while the Professor allows himself to have dinner in a carefully selected company – usually politicians, philosophers and the finest members of the European intellectual elite. Their conversation revolves around philosophical, ethical and political topics, considering that the French Revolution is going on at the very moment and having an effect on the whole Europe. On this particular day the dinner is interrupted by the arrival of a mentally disturbed female patient of one of the guests. The young woman, Maria von Herbert, who’s in a hypnotic trance, tries to attack the Professor with a knife, later claiming that her name is Charlotta Corday and her goal was to kill Jean-Paul Marat. Some time later it happens that Marat is indeed killed by a woman of that name, leaving the question of whether Maria is a clairvoyant. Maria, seeing the Professor as a God-like creature, begs of him to help her find her peace of mind but the Professor is unable to help her. Rejected, Maria commits suicide. The Professor is finally left alone with his thoughts, his faithful servant Martin and his debates with Leibniz in his sleep.
The characters: Professor – professor of the Köningsberg University; elderly man (Immanuel Kant); A baroque gentleman – gentleman wearing a big wig (Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz); Johannes Gottlieb – a penniless student; Count von Thun – professor’s dinner guest; Geheimrath – professor’s dinner guest; Studiosus I – professor’s dinner guest; Studiosus II – professor’s dinner guest; Martin Lampe – professor’s servant; Maria von Herbert – Count von Thun’s patient.
Extract from the play:
PROFESSOR: There it is (Indicating towards the window.), he’s crowing again and it’s almost noon.
MARTIN: Who, Herr Professor?
PROFESSOR: The rooster, of course; who else do you think can crow, Martin?
MARTIN (listens): I cannot hear anything, Herr Professor.
PROFESSOR: You’re getting old, Martin.
MARTIN (addressing the young man who’s waiting): Can you hear it, sir?
JOHANNES GOTTLIEB (awakened from his thoughts): What?
(All three study each other thoroughly.)
MARTIN: Sir, can you hear the rooster crow outside?
(Indicates towards the window.)
JOHANNES GOTTLIEB (listens): No.
(Martin looks triumphantly towards the Professor.)
PROFESSOR (looks appraisingly at the young man): But did you hear him before?
JOHANNES GOTTLIEB (not sure what is wanted of him): Did I hear a rooster crow? Do you mean literally, without an allegory, professor?
PROFESSOR: I don’t mean what the rooster was literally saying, because you and I, young man, have no ability to know that, I mean simply the fact that the rooster made a sound, irrespective of what he was literally trying to convey.
JOHANNES GOTTLIEB: Yes, I might have heard it; I wasn’t really paying attention.
PROFESSOR: I suppose you are used to hearing roosters crow.
JOHANNES GOTTLIEB: Yes, I guess so, Herr Professor.
PROFESSOR: And what did you pay attention to, sir?
JOHANNES GOTTLIEB: Your lecture.
PFOESSOR (patiently, in a teacher-like manner): The rooster crowed after the lecture was over!
JOHANNES GOTTLIEB: I didn’t notice, Herr Professor, I was thinking about what you had said during the lecture.
PROFESSOR: It is commendable indeed, that you attended the lecture. It won’t help us to resolve the issue in hand, but ultra posse nemo obligatur. (Nobody is obliged to do more than they can. Lat.)
MARTIN: I would like to add, Herr Professor, that ex risum multo, agnoscitur stultum. (A fool can be recognised from laughing a lot. Lat.)
PROFESSOR: Martin, your Latin exasperates me even more than the crowing of that rooster.