The Captain of Köpenick


Wilhelm Voigt is freed from prison after fifteen years but doesn’t have proper registration papers so he is unable to find a job. He moves in with his sister and her husband but is desperate to find papers to be legitimized. He stumbles upon a military uniform and discovers that the city is ready to obey his commands when he puts in on. Now in charge, he overtakes the government and embezzles the money from the treasury. Eventually, his real identity is discovered and he is arrested.
Format: Satirical play



Zuckmayer described the story as a “German fairy tale.” The play has been adapted for film and television several times. The first film in 1931 was Der Hauptmann von Köpenich starring Max Adalbert and Paul Wagner. Notable was the 1956 version, starring Heinz Rühmann. The most recent was a TV movie version made in 2005.

Original or Prominent Production: London, 1953
Original Source Material: Based on a true event that happened in 1906. The plot heavily emphasizes (and satirically criticizes) the proverb "Kleider machen Leute" (English: "Clothes Make the Man") in the context of the German Empire's militarized society, in which the high military gets all the social privileges while the little man is left with nothing. In exploring the case of a town duped by a character impersonating an authoritative figure, the play bears some resemblance to Nikolai Gogol's Russian classic, The Government Inspector (1836). Friedrich Dürrenmatt used a similar dramaturgical structure—a visitor of a provincial town—to satirical ends in The Visit (1956).
Nationality of Author:
Original Language: German
English Language Translator: In 2013 the National Theatre again produced a version of the play in English, this time in a translation and adaptation by Ron Hutchinson