What is IS


play about martin heidegger



MARTIN HEIDEGGER (b 1889) was pre-eminent as a philosopher during the Nazi regime. In the course of his life he switched from existentialism to Nazism and then  back again.

In 1933 just after Hitler came to power Heidegger was elected rector of FREIBURG UNIVERSITY a hugely important post for an academic seeking to influence the path of philosophy in this period of newly discovered German consciousness.   His rectorial address can be conjectured as a cynical exercise approving and applauding the tenets of National Socialism.  He Aryanised the university, refusing doctorates and professorships to academics of Jewish ancestry.

Ironically since 1926 he had been having a passionate liaison with…

HANNAH ARENDT (b 1906) one of his Jewish students who remained close to him throughout her life and became famous herself as a Philosopher, and the author of a number of books on anti-Semitism and Nazism (Eichman in Jerusalem, The Anatomy of Totalitarianism) etc.  She appeared and spoke for Heidegger at his De-Nazification tribunal, which profoundly influenced his restoration to academia. Although she married (another professor) she never ceased her connection with Heidegger and remained true to him throughout her life.

Heidegger was also greatly affected by the work of  PAUL CELAN whose soaring atavistic poetry had an enormous effect on post war German literature, even though he was himself a self lacerating broken reed, forever guilt ridden and mourning the death of his parents in the holocaust.  Celan, born in Romania, but trained (as a doctor) in France, wrote in German; he looked upon it as the language which, in its classical form, would replace ancient Greek as the messenger of poetry and philosophy.  His poems serve as witness to the trauma of being a holocaust survivor; and when the prop he relied upon failed him and he felt he wasn’t being listened to, like Primo Levi, he erased himself.

For the purposes of this play I have allowed interaction between the three characters (much as Stoppard did in TRAVESTIES) However, there is no evidence that Hannah and Paul actually met, although they would have been aware of each other through Heidegger.


Here’s the first few pages of What is IS. If you would like to read more please send us an email and we will be happy to email back a full rehearsal script.

The play opens in Heidegger’s room at Freiburg.  He is sitting in a swivel chair at a desk near the window, looking out.  There is distance from door to window and we at first see him in silhouette. From the back he is stiff and tense. Hannah enters, quietly,  initially trying to remain unobserved but as she moves towards the desk  Martin turns and calls out.



Martin:                Come in Hannah


Hannah stops.


Hannah:               How did you know it was me?


Martin:                I’ve been expecting you.


There is a slight pause.  She moves further in.


Hannah:           (confused)  Oh… I… I thought I would give you a surprise. Perhaps  a shock even!


Martin:              Well you have caught me unawares. Does that please  you?


Hannah:           I wasn’t sure I’d find you


Martin stands up and they face each other


Martin:              It was only a matter of time…


Hannah:           And being?


Martin:            No, no!  Being and Time are dead…   A philosopher cannot now speak through his work alone.

Everything has become subjective. Even Socrates today would first have to defend himself against abuse of young boys


He looks her up and down avidly


Hannah:           And girls Martin?


Martin:             Mm…You haven’t changed


Hannah:           No


Martin:             Have you  come with more indictments


She sits down, crossing her legs


Hannah:           Perhaps I’ll just settle for further abuse?


Martin:             No indeed. You haven’t changed


Hannah:           And you’re the same old Martin

Martin:             I’m afraid so.


Hannah:           Don’t be afraid…. Anyway, you’ve barely looked at me


Martin:              I saw you through the window. coming across the courtyard


Hannah:           A glance only.  Should I say also that you haven’t changed


Martin looks at her quizzically


Martin:             Are we in danger of having a bourgeois tête-à-tête?


Hannah:           We’re both rejected by the bourgeoisie. We’re outside; looking in


Martin:             Then you have changed indeed Hannah


They both feel a sense of strangeness


Hannah:           Ten years on. I find it difficult  to begin


He doesn’t help her


Hannah:           There’s a piece of music at the end of Bizet’s L’Arlessiene where two  old lovers meet after many years.  So sad, so beautiful


Martin:             You are still beautiful Hannah.  But sad?  No.




Hannah:           No, I don’t feel sad


He comes closer.  Taking her hands


Martin:              So you will tell me why you’ve come


Hannah:           Well, your door was open.


Martin:          …I know.  I left it open


He moves slightly closer


Hannah:           For me?


He folds his arms and leans back deliberately distancing himself from her.


Martin:           Of course. Who else?


They hold each others gaze for an instant


Hannah:           So. Why didn’t you contact me when you came back to Freiburg?


Martin:            Why would I Hannah, why would I?


She looks at him coquetishly


Hannah:           Just to say…your door was open.


Martin:                An open door means little.  A closed door only – can say ‘please enter’.


Hannah:              Touche


Martin:                I had no idea that you would wish to see me


Slight pause


Hannah:           Aren’t you happy for me to be here?


He looks at her quizzically


Martin:            In a minute…in a minute I’ll let you know if I’m  happy


Hannah:           What should I do in the meantime?


Martin:              Were you always so primitive?


Hannah:           You said I hadn’t changed.


Martin:             Unfortunately not


Hannah:           Unfortunately?


Martin:            …  My heart is pounding Hannah.  You look the same, you smell the same, you sound the same.  Is that sufficient?


Hannah:             A pounding heart? Yes, that is… Everything I hoped for.


Slight Pause.


Martin:                Ah!  So all is well!      What about your door Hannah.  What does your door say?


Hannah:                To you – the message. Same as ever… Didn’t you know that?


Martin:                  I’ve thought about you  often..  Now look at you.  The world has been transmogrified – but you remain…the eternal Hannah?




Hannah:           …The minute has gone by


Martin:             Ach, then yes…  I ­am pleased to see you


Hannah:           Good.  Not everyone is as pleased,  In New York and Tel Aviv  I am stigmatised


Slight pause.    Hannah takes out a pack of cigarettes.  She offers one to Martin


Hannah:           Ciggy?


Martin shakes his head.  She lights up and inhales deeply


Hannah:                      You remember that I sometimes smoked?


Martin:                        I remember – And always after sex


Hannah:                      Well that hasn’t changed.  Except now I do it all the time


Martin:                        Sex, or smoking>


Hannah:                       Bo-th.  Still both.


Martin:                        I’ll open a window.


Slight pause, as he does so


Hannah:               However… You’re definitely looking at a subterfuge . These last years; all of us have changed – and changed again. Nobody is quite the same. Inside, I’m in conflict


Martin:                 You mean, coming here?


Hannah:              That as well; in fact coming here is remedial. Therapy. I feel the time before, and the time after. And that empty space between.

I know it’s there but I seem not to want to remember… It has been grinding at me.  It’s one reason I had to see you


Martin:               I think we both feel that


Hannah:             Even you? That middle space. It was, I thought, your apotheosis


Martin:               Even I thought so. At the time….  It wasn’t.


Hannah:           And me?  No words for me? I’m on a tightrope, Martin, I haven’t got a net – If I fall I crash


Slight pause


Martin:                Ha! Perhaps…I’d better close the window



Hannah:           I shouldn’t bother. It’s only one floor.  In any case, these university buildings  are more appropriate for assassination than suicide…


Martin:            Have you brought the ice axe, Hannah?


Hannah:           Not this time. I refer particularly to character assassinations




Martin:             Perhaps I should search your bag? You were always the risk-taker Hannah.  I saw that in your work


Hannah:           I always had a craving to provoke you.  Trouble is now I’ve managed to provoke everybody.  They look upon me as a self-hating Jew


Martin:              You always needed help with that?


Hannah:           I’m pleased you haven’t mislaid your  sense of humour Martin


Martin:            Well I’m a self-hating philosopher.   You could join in.  We could hate each other


Hannah:           That sounds like fun


Martin:            Mockery: That too I remember


Hannah:           No, I  have been ridiculed. You have been disdained.

Martin:             By you?  Are you doing it still.?


Hannah            No.  I’ve learned lessons too.  Anyway, I’m not your student any longer, Martin…


She moves closer


Hannah:           Away from your influence Martin, I’ve learned a lot and written a lot.  And published too.


Martin:             I followed everything you did.


Hannah:           I wanted you to understand what I was saying.  Nobody else did.  Or if they did they pretended not to


Martin:               I knew that as well. Small missiles. Aimed at my heart.  From a distance.. Yes, . I was  thrilled by it…


Pause.  He turns back to the window and slumps into his chair.  He swivels round and faces her again


                         Meanwhile –  I’ve spent my time staring through this window … Seeing out – and looking back


Hannah:                 Your preoccupation – The landscape.  Always.


Martin:                  An inspiration, Hannah. Unlike us, it has an unmistakable past and an ever constant future


Hannah                  The future-  beckons us both.




Martin:                    You think I need to be dead?


Hannah:                   To have a future, yes. Some say you died already.


Martin:                    What do you think Hannah?


Slight pause


Hannah:              (enigmatic) In a minute.  In a minute, I’ll tell you!


Martin:                Ha! You see; you are as provocative as ever


Hannah:               I’m not ­­that student any longer Martin.


Slight pause


Martin:              Meanwhile – Yes, I watch the landscape.


Hannah:            It’s there Martin.  Look – where the bodies are buried


Martin:             Ah, the real Hannah – Good! I expected that


Slight pause


Hannah:           But…were you disappointed?


Martin:              Not in you.  In myself.. I have followed your career with envy…and despair


Hannah:           Despair?


Martin:             I didn’t lead. I followed everything


Hannah:           I followed too. Whatever I wrote –  Was  for you


Martin:              You were occupying my space…


Hannah:           I know. I hoped you would make contact


Martin:              I should have known


Hannah:             I despaired we would ever  meet again.   Others only read what you wrote – I absorbed its sub-text as well


Martin:                Sub-text?


Hannah:           …You, me, life.  The past, unfathomable, the future… infinitive


He moves his chair towards her and stares for a long time


Hannah:            When philosophers meet.  What should they say?


Martin:              Say.  Ach! They only talk about talk.


Hannah:           Now I know what you mean by despair


Martin::           The death of thought


Hannah:           The faculty’s final frontier?  Fucked up Philosophy?


Slight pause


Martin:            I would not have put it quite so alliteratively


Hannah:           No you would not.  Your language… was always prim Martin, despite your rural predilections Was that the Nazi speaking?


Martin:            (shrugging)  You -Only you would know


Hannah:           Only me!


If you would like to read more please send us an email via the contact page and we will be happy to email back a full rehearsal script.