When Kokoschka’s play was first performed in 1909, it met with considerable criticism and controversy. Its extreme visual aspects, with its dramatic and disturbing costumes and violent imagery, made it the first Expressionist drama for many critics. The playwright Paul Kornfeld praised the revolutionary drama as a breakthrough art form, calling it a "verbally supported pantomime.".
Many contemporary critics found Murderer, the Hope of Women to be highly disturbing and altogether ineffective. In the 1917 edition of the Frankfurter Zeitung, Bernhard Diebold condemned the play as nothing but a collection of "screaming images" and a "pretentious Decoration Drama.". It was utterly devoid of any character development, language, and purpose, he argued. Though disagreeing with Diebold on the uselessness of the play’s aesthetic ornament, the critic Robert Breuer also complained about the low importance of language in the play, writing that "the words, which were simultaneously spoken, are remembered only as the subtitles under the extremely powerful images.
The drama critic Walter Sokel has admired the play's departure from realism and its exploration into the surrealism underlying its biblical and mythical allusions. Many interpret the play as an effective theatrical portrayal of Otto Weininger’s idea of gender relations as a battle between man and woman. According to Weininger, sexuality was a conflict between superior male spirituality and debased female bestiality. Such criticism views the defeat of the Woman as the ultimate victory of the spirit over lust. Regardless of the many varying appraisals of its stylistic methods, the play may be read as embodying a clash between aesthetic modernity and masculinity.
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