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REFUND - Fritz Karinthy


  • Wasserkopf
  • The Principal
  • The Mathematics Master
  • The Physics Master
  • The History Master
  • The Geography Master 
  • The Servant
  • The Staff
  • Leaderer


The play Refund is written by Fritz Karinthy, a famous Hungarian playwright in 1938. He is known for his works You Write Like This, A Trip Around My Skull and Professor. The one-act play Refund was adopted and translated by the American playwright Percival Wilde

The Refund is an absurd and satirical play. It satirises the present-day education system, which doesn’t prepare students for their career. It is full of humour which deals with an unusual situation. The play is about a former student of a school in Hungary named Wasserkopf. In German Wasserkopf means a “Waterhead”, an eccentric/abnormal person. He is a good- for- nothing fellow who goes back to the school in which he had studied and demands a refund of the fees he had paid. He claims that he had learnt nothing at school. 

Wasserkopf is forty years old and unable to get any employment. Even if he succeeds in getting a job, he cannot keep it for a long period. Wherever he goes the people tell him that he is fit for nothing and hasn’t learned anything worth in the school. Once he meets his old classmate Leaderer in the street and when he tells about investment in foreign exchange and the Hungarian currency, Wasserkopf expresses his inability to understand them. He starts asking questions about foreign exchange. For which Leaderer says that if he doesn’t know about such a small thing, he hasn’t learned anything in the school. 

Absurd, is it? It’s a good idea. It’s such a good idea that I didn’t get it out of my own head, thanks to the education I got here, which made nothing but an incompetent ass out of me. My old classmate Leaderer gave me the idea not half an hour ago. 

(nodding violently) Like that. Here I was walking along the street, fired from my last job, and wondering how I could get hold of some cash, because I was quite broke. I met Leaderer. I said, ‘How goes it, Leaderer?’ ‘Fine!’ he says. ‘I’ve got to hurry to the broker’s to collect the money I made speculating in foreign exchange.’ ‘What’s foreign exchange?’ I said. He says ‘I haven’t got the time to tell you now, but, according to the paper, Hungarian money is down seventy points, and I’ve made the difference. Don’t you understand?’ Well, I didn’t understand. I said, ‘How do you make money if money goes down?’ and he says, ‘Wasserkopf, if you don’t know that, you don’t know a damn thing. Go to the school and get your tuition fees back.’ Then he hurried away and left me standing there, and I said to myself, ‘Why shouldn’t I do that?’ He’s right, now that I’ve thought it over. So I came here as fast as I could, and I’ll be much obliged if you give me back my tuition fees, because they amount to a lot of money, and I didn’t get anything for them.

Hence better he goes back to his school and gets his tuition fees back. For Wasserkopf, who is jobless and broke (penniless) that idea appeals and seems beneficial to him. So, he comes back to his old school after eighteen years and demands for his tuition fees back claiming he hasn’t learned anything and they haven’t taught him anything worth. The principal is shocked after hearing such an absurd demand. Wasserkopf even threatens to go to the education minister if justice is denied to him. He demands a re-examination and if he fails in it, he must get back his money. The staggered/shocked principal finds himself in a peculiar situation and calls for an urgent meeting of all the teachers. The Mathematics Master designed the examination.  He advised the Principal and other teachers that they should prevent Wasserkopf  from failing because he would demand the refund of the tuition fees. So whatever his answers, the teacher must prove that his answers are correct.  They all agreed to this proposal.They decide to conduct the re-examination and agree to prove his answers, whether right or wrong, correct. Because they realise that Wasserkopf would intentionally give wrong answers to fail in the exam and to get back the refund. So, they decide to outsmart him and to help each other by sticking together. 

Wasserkopf uses abusive and derogative words to each teacher intending to be thrown out of the school. But the teachers outsmart him by proving him excellent in Manners, Physical Culture, Alertness, Perseverance, Logic, and in Ambition. In the re-examination, the Mathematics Master requested Wasserkopf  to sit on the chair, but Wasserkopf angrily said “to hell with a seat” and he would stand.  But the Mathematics Master said that the answer was excellent.  Wasserkopf meant that he did not like written examination and he liked oral exam. Secondly his physical condition was good.  Therefore Wasserkopf passed the Physical Culture subject with the highest marks.Then the first question is asked by the history master on how many years the ‘Thirty Years War’ lasted. Even though the answer is there within the question, Waaserkopf is eager to give a wrong answer and says that the war lasted for seven meters. When the history master is unable to prove his wrong answer right, mathematics master aids him. He argues that according to Einstein’s relativity theory years can be represented in terms of meter and the actual war took place only for seven years. Because the war was waged only during the half of each day (twelve hours), three hours in a day was given to eating and three hours more for non-war like activities. So, the answer seven meters given by the candidate is right in Einstein’s equivalence of seven years. 

Next, the physics master asks him whether clocks in the church become smaller if one walks away from it or is it because of optical illusion. Wasserkopf calls the master as an ass in answer. But the answer is accepted by the master as the correct one. Because an ass doesn’t have any imaginative powers as it is a sad creature. So, it must have an optical illusion and Wasserkopf has given a metaphorical answer. 

The geography master asks him to name the capital city of the same name Brunswick, a German province. Wasserkopf answers as ‘same’. The master proves the answer to the correct one by claiming the city has another name as ‘Same’ too. According to a legend, the emperor Barbarossa was once riding in the city and met a peasant girl. He asked her the name of the city after wishing her ‘God Bless You’. The girl answered ‘same to you sir’ only as she was munching a bun in her mouth. But the emperor mistook the city name as ‘Same’. So, they mark Wasserkopf excellent in geography. 

Finally, the mathematics master comes forward to ask his question and declares about asking Wasserkopf an easy question and a difficult question. First, he asks him an easy question on the circumference of 109 degrees sided polyhedron with irrelevant data for the calculation. Wasserkopf gives an incorrect answer. The mathematics master gets angry and declares that his answer is incorrect. So, he tells that Wasserkopf deserves the refund of tuition fees back. Then, he asks the exact amount which he has to get. Wasserkopf without realizing the trap tells them the exact amount 6450 crowns and 50 hellers. At that time the mathematics master declares that was his tough question and the answer is correct. 

Thus, by justifying all his answers to be correct, they mark him distinction in all the subjects and throw him out of the school. The play also shows the ability of the school teachers to manage the absurd situation and how they tackle Wasserkopf without spoiling their school’s reputation. 

The protagonist, Wasserkopf is an object of wrong doings and he commits all sorts of mistakes and finally has to give up in the hands of the principal and the professors. His mistakes act like a learning ground for the viewers and even the role players. Wasserkopf has a negative value i.e. determination but in doing wrong things.He is ready to do anything just to prove that his school has taught him nothing and his knowledge is negligible. The protagonist considers himself to be very wise. But in reality it is his mistake .True wisdom is shown in the form of the masters. They are insulted at the hands of this pupil as he addresses them as ‘old stick-in-the-mud, cannibal, hypocrite, nitwit, ass etc., but they show patience and self control in teaching him a lesson. Well in the end of the play it is ultimately proved that no doubts this ex-pupil tried to prove that his school taught him nothing, but it’s only his education which made him capable enough to calculate the correct sum in a systematic way. The story tries to show that Wasserkopf had to suffer due to his lies and corrupt values.


Gandhi, R. K. (2013). Imparting Human Values through Communication: An Emphasis on Role Play. International Journal of English and Education, 270-277. Retrieved from

Karinthy, F. (2020). Refund. In English Grade 11 (pp. 316-330). Kathmandu, Nepal: Curriculum Development Centre.

Sunitha, H. G. (2021, 5 30). Refund by Fritz Karinthy. Retrieved from


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