The Historical Experience in German Drama

The Historical Experience in German Drama

From Gryphius to Brecht

Alan Menhennet


Camden House



A survey of 17th- to 20th-century German dramatic works that not only treat historical events but yield a historical experience.
In what is still the standard survey of German historical drama, Das deutsche Geschichtsdrama (1952), Friedrich Sengle understands "historical drama" as that in which objective history is blended with an idea that is the basis of its dramatic coherence and force. This idea inevitably becomes the engine of a dramatic action, inclining the theatergoer to become wholly engaged with dramatic characters in a dramatic present, rather than with "real" figures in a historical past. Such plays (for instance Schiller's Maria Stuart) may remain broadly "true to history," but the experience they afford is often not historical; that is, it may be emotionally and intellectually compelling, but it will not be historical in the sense of causing us, in our present, to become engaged with our relationship with past figures and events and their continued relevance for us. Alan Menhennet identifies and analyzes examples of German drama that are historical in the stricter sense: not only in terms of the provenance of the material, but also in that, while remaining dramatic in nature, they do convey a historical experience. By means of a critical survey extending from the seventeenth century to the twentieth, in the contexts of literary history, the philosophy of history, and German history from the Thirty Years' War to the Second World War, Menhennet provides a complement to Sengle's still-valuable study. Major figures treated include Gryphius, Lessing, Schiller, Goethe, Grillparzer, Hebbel, Schnitzler, and Brecht. There is no competing work in English.

Alan Menhennet is Professor Emeritus of German at the University of Newcastle, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK. He is author of Grimmelshausen the Storyteller (Camden House, 1997).

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November 2002
198 pages
9x6 in
Studies in German Literature Linguistics and Culture
ISBN: 9781571132550
Format: Hardback
Camden House
BISAC LIT004170, LIT013000, HIS016000
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Table of Contents

Historical Drama of the German Baroque: Andreas Gryphius
The Age of Enlightenment: Aufklärung
Weimar Classicism: Friedrich Schiller
Herder, Goethe and the Romantic Tendency: Götz von Berlichingen
The Emergence of Austria: Franz Grillparzer
Non-Austrian Historical Drama: C.F. Hebbel
The Modern Age (Schnitzler and Brecht)
Works Cited


Well argued and well written, [t]his critical survey poses important questions about community, theater and history. GERMAN QUARTERLY

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