La Ronde was first published in 1900 for private circulation. In 1903, the first German-language edition was published in Vienna, but was censored a year later. It was not publicly performed until 1920, some two decades later, when it elicited violent critical and popular reactions against its subject matter. Schnitzler was attacked as a Jewish pornographer and the outcry came to be known as the "Reigen scandal." The titles of the play - in German Reigen and in French La Ronde- refer to a round dance, as portrayed in the English nursery rhyme Ring a Ring o' Roses. The imagery suggests the transmission and diffusion of venereal disease (specifically syphilis) throughout all social classes.
The play scrutinizes the sexual morals and class ideology of its day through a series of encounters between pairs of characters (shown before or after a sexual encounter). By choosing characters across all levels of society, the play offers social commentary on how sexual contact transgresses boundaries of class.
Photograph by Alastair Muir