Botho Strauss was born in Naumburg an der Saale. He studied German literature, theater, and sociology for five semesters at the universities of Cologne and Munich. He found his way to the theater first as an actor in amateur performances. From 1967 to 1970 he wrote theater reviews for Theater heute, the most important German journal for contemporary drama.
Then he turned to practical theater work as dramaturge in Berlin from 1970 to 1975, where he collaborated with Peter Stein, one of Germany’s most influential theatrical directors. Their work was groundbreaking, and Strauss contributed extensively to the 1974 production of Maxim Gorky’s Dachniki (pr., pb. 1904; Summer Folk, 1905), which shows affinities with Strauss’s own work.
In the mid-1970’s, at about the time that Gorky’s Summer Folk premiered and toured internationally, Strauss’s plays met with increasing success. His breakthrough as a dramatist came in 1978 with Big and Little. A popular playwright by the end of the 1970’s, he became one of the preeminent German-language playwrights of the 1980’s and has remained a prolific and influential writer.
Botho Strauss (shtrows) was born on December 2, 1944, to middle-class parents in the Ruhr region of Germany. He attended school in that area and went on to study German literature, theater history, and sociology at the University of Cologne and the University of Munich during the early 1960’s. From 1967 to 1970, he served as critic and editor of the well-known West German journal, Theater heute. In 1970, he began work as a producer with the theatrical group Schaubühne am Hallischen Ufer. Strauss has received a number of literary prizes and awards, and several of his works have been made into films.
Strauss’s writings present examples of the style that has been termed the “new subjectivity,” a trend that emerged in German literature during the early 1970’s. The works of Peter Handke and Karin Struck are also included in this movement. Many of the writers of the 1960’s had focused on political themes and had sought to promote a socially committed literature. Authors such as Strauss and Handke, however, began to write about the more personal themes of the individual’s existential and psychological alienation. Strauss’s texts seek to uncover not the political factors that shape the individual’s existence but rather the unconscious and irrational forces that seem to determine so much of the conscious personality. This focus is motivated, in part at least, by the belief that true social change must first begin within the self.
Strauss’s first major play, The Hypochondriacs, is set in Amsterdam in 1901 and involves a rather complicated murder-mystery plot. The traditional conventions of this genre—open questions concerning the identity of the murderer and the motivation for the act—make the concepts of interpretation, meaning, and a transcendent order to events problematic. Strauss’s deliberately convoluted plot confounds notions of “reality” and forces the viewer to confront his subjectivity and the essential impenetrability of experience. Three Acts of Recognition, one of Strauss’s better-known plays, presents a series of characters who are visiting an art exhibition and who, as they come and go on the stage, make observations on topics such as art, love and marriage, careers, and friendships. The plot serves as a vehicle for Strauss’s comments on the complex and alienating nature of modern life and the various types of personalities that modern society has produced. Many of the characters suffer from a profound sense of isolation and an inability to establish...