Germany’s Political Theatre: The Rise and Fall of Historical Tragedy

  • John Orr
Part of the Edinburgh Studies in Culture and Society book series


From 1880 onwards there developed in the German theatre two alternative routes to modern tragedy. One was through Hebbel and Ibsen, the other through Georg Büchner. The playwright in whom both routes converged was Gerhart Hauptmann, who has been generally recognised as the leading naturalist writer in the German theatre between 1875 and 1900. Initially influenced by Ibsen, Hauptmann’s famous political drama The Weavers (1885) shows an unmistakable turn in the direction of Büchner, whom Hauptmann had read but never seen performed. Indeed, although Büchner preceded Ibsen historically speaking, his literary impact postdates him. Büchner’s two major works, Danton’s Death and Woyzeck, both written in the 1830s, were not produced for the stage until the turn of the century some seventy years later. By that time Ibsen had already made a tremendous impact on German drama and Hauptmann’s reputation as Germany’s leading dramatist had already been established. Yet the posthumous emergence of Büchner drastically altered the course of German drama. The initial development of the so-called ‘Naturalist’ school of drama, both as a source of plays and as a critical movement, waned after 1900 as Strindberg’s work made its mark and as the plays of Frank Wedekind hastened the transition to Expressionism. While Büchner was clearly influential in the development of Expressionism, he was also instrumental in the development of the new political theatre of Piscator and Brecht which superseded it. Indeed his seminal influence on the development of modern drama has been as great, in its own way, as that of Ibsen.


Europe Coherence Volatility Tempo Defend 


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  1. 1.
    For a detailed study of the domestic tragedies see Edward McInnes, German Social Drama 1840–1900 (Stuttgart, 1976)Google Scholar
  2. John Osborne, The Naturalist Drama in Germany (Manchester, 1972).Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Ralf Dahrendorf, Society and Democracy in Germany (London, 1968);Google Scholar
  4. Fritz Ringer, The Decline of the German Mandarins: The German Academic Community, 1890–1933 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard U. P., 1969).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    For a detailed study of the relation between the political writings and the drama, see Maurice R. Benn, The Drama of Revolt: a Critical Study of Georg Büchner (Cambridge, 1976) chap. 2.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    For this aspect of Brecht’s work, see Walter Benjamin’s studies of the epic theatre in Understanding Brecht, trans. Stanley Mitchell (London, 1973) pp. 1–25.Google Scholar
  7. 18.
    For Marx’s analysis of the historical significance of the Commune, see The Civil War in France (London, 1941).Google Scholar
  8. 19.
    The transcript of Brecht’s testimony can be found in Eric Bentley (ed.), Thirty Years of Treason (New York: Viking Press, 1971 ) pp. 207–25.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© John Orr 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Orr
    • 1
  1. 1.University of EdinburghUK

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