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[Image:Moving Theatre logo]Martha oder Die Mischmonder Martkt-Mägde-Mietung
Martha or The Mischmond Maid Market

A Farcical Parody with songs in 3 acts
By Johann Nestroy
Premiere: 25th January 1848

Funded by

Arts council of England

Austrian Cultural Forum

Henriette von Harriet, a rich lady with inherited wealth
Nanny, her confidante
Chevalier Wuklfort
Leinöhl (originally played by Nestroy)
Plumpsack, a farmer
Margreth, his mother
A judge
Maidservants from Waldbauren and Bohemia
Ladies and gentlemen, servants, a drummer, an innkeeper, farmers, a caretaker

The action takes place partly in Henriette's villa and partly in the marketplace in Mischmond and at a farmhouse and some woods nearby.

Act 1. [Chorus of servants] - Henriette is rich but bored with life, so Nanny advises her to fall in love, but neither of them can think of a suitable man. - [Chorus of female voices] - Nanny reports that a number of maidservants from Waldbauren and Bohemia have arrived in Mischmond to try and find service there for the summer months. Henriette decides that she and Nanny will go in disguise to the country dance and mingle with the servant girls. Her regular "gentleman caller", Wuklfort, is horrified at this proposal, but Henriette tells him he can either dress up as a farmer and escort them to the dance or be struck forever from the list of her admirers. - Two friends, Plumpsack and Leinöhl, have come to Mischmond for the famous annual "maid's market". 20 years ago Plumpsack's father, an ordinary farmer, gave sanctuary to Leinöhl's father, a refugee of some standing whose identity was a secret, and the young men grew up together. Leinöhl has in his possession a sealed letter from his father, addressed to a high personage, which he suspects will reveal his origins, but he is under oath to use it only "in extremis". - [Chorus of maids from Waldbauren and maids from Bohemia] - The traditional "Maid's Market" begins, with the local judge reading a decree by which any maid who accepts a down-payment from a prospective employer must remain in that service for 6 months without giving notice. Henriette is disguised as a maid from Waldbauren and Nanny as one from Bohemia, and Wuklfort, alarmed at their recklessness, tries to drag them from the scene before they can "do something stupid". Plumpsack and Leinöhl come to the girls' aid and hinder Wuklfort by telling all the other girls that he is very rich and looking to employ several maids. He is promptly engulfed. - The two men quickly agree a price with Henriette and Nanny, while Wuklfort finds himself having to pay to get rid of the hordes of eager women. Too late Henriette and Nanny realize they have entered the service of two single men. Despite their protests, the judge orders them to serve the full six months.

Act 2. The two women have tried to escape en route, but Plumpsack and Leinöhl manage to get them back to the farmhouse, where Plumpsack's mother Margreth keeps an eye on the recalcitrant new servants. Henriette gives her name as Martha, while Nanny calls herself Ancizka. While they try everything they can to be released from service, the men set about getting them used to the work. - ["Spinning Wheel Quartet": Leinöhl, Plumpsack, Henriette, Nanny] - Leinöhl is already in love with Henriette, but she is afraid of him, until he tells her he loves her and she bursts out laughing. Meanwhile Plumpsack is trying to punish Nanny for breaking the crockery. His mother eventually gets everyone off to bed, locking the men in their rooms to prevent any nocturnal assignations. In the middle of the night Margreth suddenly runs screaming from the house, having seen a ghost climbing in through her window. The ghost, it transpires, is Wuklfort and the girls manage to escape with him, as the young men are both locked in. Distraught, they decide to offer large rewards for the return of Martha and Ancizka.


Act 3. A society party in the woods. Henriette is unhappy, realizing that she has fallen in love with Leinöhl, a man beneath her station. Plumpsack gatecrashes the party, discovers Nanny and demands she return to his service, but the guests form a protective cordon around her while help is fetched from the village. At the same time Leinöhl finds Henriette and embraces her joyously, though he is puzzled that she is dressed like a lady of wealth and breeding. Henriette proceeds to deny any knowledge of him or a maid called Martha, and he angrily threatens to haul her before the judge. But his claims that she is his maid evoke only laughter from the guests, and when the gendarmes arrive from the village they arrest him for threatening "her ladyship". In extremis, Leinöhl tries to hand Plumpsack the sealed letter, but Wuklfort gets his hands on it and recognizes the addressee as an aristocrat of his acquaintance who also happens to be a guest at the party. He sends a gendarme with a written note, and when the officer returns with the aristocrat's reply Wuklfort reads it, then orders Leinöhl to be released. Angry but chastened, Leinöhl resolves to banish "Martha" from his mind. - The scene changes back to the farmhouse, where the two women have sought out their "former masters". From Wuklfort Henriette has discovered the contents of the sealed letter. Leinöhl's real name is "von Osten". He is the son of a wealthy banker who went bankrupt and lived out his old age in a country farmhouse. The scandal is past and Leinöhl, should he wish it, may resume his old title and restore the bank to financial health. Henriette tells him she will pledge her fortune to that purpose if he will marry her, but he remains aloof. Already anticipating this rejection, Henriette has conceived a plan, which now goes into action. Servants are busy building a replica of the Mischmond market in front of the farmhouse. When the lovesick Leinöhl sees the market stalls he immediately bursts into tears. To demonstrate the seriousness of her intent Henriette appears to him again as a maid, and Leinöhl sinks to his knees. Plumpsack does the same with Nanny, and the couples plan a double wedding in the farmhouse.


The Plays of Johann Nestroy. A directory of synopses prepared by Julian Forsyth & Zoe Svenson.
Funded by the Austrian Cultural Forum and Arts Council England. © Moving Theatre 2004