Gerhart Hauptmann

Definition

Theater

  • (1862 - 1946) German playwright, novelist, and poet. Amajor figure in European naturalism, he was arguably themost notable German dramatist since Schiller. A native of Silesia, Hauptmannattended art school and worked as a sculptor in Rome before devoting himselfto writing. His best work was done before World War I, earning him theNobel Prize for literature in 1912. In the 1930s he initially condemnedNazism but eventually aligned himself with it, leading the Britishcritic Eric Bentley to remark, "What Hauptmann lacks is themoral and intellectual stature of a great artist".

    Hauptmann became an overnight success with his first playBefore Dawn, produced in 1889 by Otto Brahm and his Freie Bühnein Berlin. The play shocked theatregoers with its frank depictionof alcoholism in a newly enriched peasant family. With its absenceof a hero and lack of plot, Before Dawn was hailed as a newlandmark in German drama and established Hauptmann's main theme ofcompassion for suffering.

    Hauptmann's most famous work, The Weavers (1892), wasa historical drama written in his native Silesian dialect. Using thecase of a failed revolt by Silesian weavers in 1844 to highlight thecost of industrialization, The Weavers was the first tragedyin which the crowd assumed the role of hero; as such it was highlyinfluential on later writers. The play received its premiere in NewYork in 1915 and was powerfully revived in the 1960s. Other worksby Hauptmann notable for their social comment include The Rats(1911), a depressing play set in the slums of Berlin, and the satiricalanti-Prussian comedy The Beaver Coat (1893).

    Although mainly naturalistic, Hauptmann's work occasionallyveered towards symbolism. His 'dream play' The Assumption of Hannele(1893) similarly prefigured expressionism. The romantic TheSunken Bell (1896) opened in New York in 1900 and London in 1907,while his mystical fairy drama And Pippa Dances (1906) was successfullyperformed throughout Europe.

    Hauptmann's final work was Die Atriden (1945), a belatedcondemnation of Nazism. In 1962 Erwin Piscator produced thisfour-part dramatic cycle as one work, using a translucent stage litfrom below and screens with back projections.

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