Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks

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Eulenspiegel (pronounced "oil-in-shpe-gal", was a character in medieval German eschatology (literature having to do with the Second Coming of Christ). Arguably the most popular of these was the novella 'Til Eulenspeigel's Merry Pranks, published in 1345 as an anonymous work but widely supposed to been leaked to the press by the Karlsberger Rove and Louis "Cooter" Libby. The great composer Richard Strauss later wrote a symphonic poem based on 'Til Eulenspiegel.

The Legend of Eulenspiegel

The traditional medieval German eschatology-play begins with a menacing march played on sackbutts, psaltries, and kettledrums. As the curtain opens the audience sees the shadow of God projected on a scrim (of course it was forbidden to actually portray the Lord God in the flesh, so He was represented only in silhouette). God, portrayed as an immensely fat burgher, is seen at table before a plate piled high with boiled turnips and wursts. He is heard to belch mightily, and proclaim "I'M BORED!" (Ich werde gebohrt!) "I THINK I'LL END THE WORLD."

Eulenspiegel

Herr Eulenspiegel, as portrayed by Erasmus Holbein the Fat on the frontispiece of 'Til Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks.

The audience usually greeted this opening with laughter and cries of "Eh, dieser lustige Gott!" and "Dieser Gott ist solch eine Spassvogel!".

The play then goes on to portray Jesus overseeing the tormenting of the unrighteous (represented as Englishmen and Italians), and directing the plagues and wars of the End-Times. The Auntie-Christ appears, along with the Uncle-Christ (a lesser-known figure, known as the Demon of Inappropriate Touching). At this point Eulenspiegel comes onstage as a comic counterpoint to the Auntie-Christ.

As the evil Auntie-Christ parades about the stage tempting the peasants to evil by shouting "Gekommen zu mir, Neffeen! Küssen Sie mich!" (Come to me, nephews! Kiss me!) Eulenspiegel slips around showing the peasants a mirror in which they see themselves reflected as roasted geese in Satan's oven. Eulenspiegel also administers wedgies to the men and puts herrings down the women's blouses.

Then everybody dies and goes to Hell.

The Merry Pranks Novella

'Til Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks expands on the standard medieval play. Eulenspiegel is now portrayed as central to God's plan for torturing His children -- until Eulenspiegel appears, the full horror of God's divine persecution is not revealed.

Instead of a comic counterpoint to evil, the Merry Pranks Eulenspiegel is a sadistic jokester much like God Himself (though of course not nearly so almighty). He offers several "bargains" to humans during the course of God's end-time punishments, each bargain designed to increase people's suffering while making fools of them as well.

For example, Eulenspiegel's encounter with the Baker runs as follows (translated from the German by Nigel Limberthing).

 Next Mr. Eulenspiegel met the Baker on the street, bemoaning his bread which was spoilt.
For this was the curse upon the Baker: that the yeast would not rise and his dough 
remained flat.
 "Good morrow, Baker," said Mr. Eulenspiegel, smiling merrily. "What news in these dark
and strange times?"
 "What news indeed, Sir Eulenspiegel!" replied the Baker, for after his adventures with
the Knight and the Monk, Mr. Eulenspiegel was well known throughout the land. "Only that
the dough does not rise and there is no bread for the townspeople. Alas! That I had not
lived to see this day."
 "Equally then," said Mr. Eulenspiegel with a twinkling eye, "I also wish that you were
dead."
 "Er, that's not quite what I meant..."
 "The Lord has decreed that many will wish to die, but death will be denied them," Mr. 
Eulenspiegel continued. "While I have not the power to change the judgements of the Lord, 
I can offer you a bargain. For as communion bread is the flesh of the Lord Jesus, so I 
can make your Earthly flesh as the well-risen good bread."
 "A bargain?" said the Baker cautiously. "What do you ask in return?"
 "Not much," said Mr. Eulenspiegel. "Only that you agree to what is obvious: that this
Judgement of the Lord is a violent and evil business."
 "O I agree with that!" said the Baker. "For the suffering of mankind in these times is
horrible, and bloody, and cruel beyond all reason. What else is evil but horror and 
bloodthirstiness and cruelty?"
 "So be it," said Mr. Eulenspiegel, and smiled. Upon that moment the flesh of the Baker
began to puff up and swell.
 "Dear God," screamed the Baker, "what is this torture? I am being torn apart from the
inside! Sweet blood of Jesus, make it stop!"
 "But my good friend," said Mr. Eulenspiegel, "does not a baker know that good bread
must rise and increase itself fourfold? Dear Baker, your body will swell likewise until
your skin splits and your bones break. And as much as you have called the Lord a worker 
of evil, I believe you have made an appointment with the torturers of Hell as well.
So again I bid you good morrow!"
 And Mr. Eulenspiegel went on his way, whistling merrily.

The implication of the novella is that until Eulenspiegel has finished his "merry pranks" the Judgement will not be complete.

The Death of Eulenspiegel

Till took his pranking one step too far when he thought it would be amusing to fly a plane. Unfortunatley no one saw the funny side of this and was sentenced to death. Luckily for all his followers he resurrected, grew a beard, embraced Islam and declared war on the West. Till now lives in a cave in Afganistan. This would be the sick continuation of someone who does not appreciate German Folk tales

Thus Spake Zarathustra

Richard Strauss' famous tone-poem, featured prominently in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, was inspired both by 'Til Eulenspiegel and by Strauss' trenchant German patriotism. The opening fanfare (dum...DUM...DUM-DUM!!) is a transcription of the traditional sackbutt-and-psaltry march from the Eulenspiegel plays, and the rest of the piece depicts Strauss' fantasy of Clara Schumann caressing him with a buttered waffle.

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