Ferdinand Raimund is known only for his plays. There exist a few poems from his hand, notably an ode to Friedrich Schiller and a poem “An die Dunkelheit” (to darkness). His letters have been collected, and later editors have compiled separate editions of the most famous couplets (songs) from his plays.
Ferdinand Raimund has been called “the first great humoristic dramatist of the Germans in the nineteenth century.” He freed the Viennese Popular Theater from coarseness and bawdiness and elevated it to the level of literary acceptability. This Popular Theater, which had its roots in the Baroque and its first significant representative in the famous J. A. Stranitzky at the beginning of the eighteenth century, achieved its fulfillment with the plays of Ferdinand Raimund between 1823 and 1834, and reached its conclusion with Raimund’s sardonic rival Johann Nestroy , who died in 1862. Both Raimund and Nestroy were actors initially, and both began writing plays because they were dissatisfied with the comedies in which they acted. Although the younger Nestroy embraced the new age of heightened realism, which ridiculed idealism and the dreamy fairyland of a waning Romantic age, Raimund clung to this idealism and made the dreamworld an integral and often overwhelming part of his plays. Raimund’s comedies are marked by a sensitivity that sometimes descends to sentimentality; Nestroy was incapable of either, and his plays were frequently criticized because of his return to the somewhat bawdier robustness of a former era.
Raimund, the idealist, also attempted to free the Popular Theater from another tradition inherited from the Italian commedia dell’arte, that of excessive improvisation, which related the plays all too closely to the affairs of the day. Raimund thus was searching for eternal truth and beauty beyond the moment; he sometimes overshot his goal with too much pathos. Nestroy, on the other hand, returned the Viennese posse (comic play) to the realm of improvisation, abandoning the carefully constructed play in favor of the incidental comical situation or word.
Measured against the volume of more than eighty plays that Nestroy wrote during his lifetime, Raimund’s achievement seems rather small. In little more than ten years, he wrote all of his eight finished plays and perhaps worked on but abandoned a ninth one; its title is said to have been “Eine Nacht auf dem Himalaja” (a night in the Himalayas). He did not labor on his plays for long periods of time; most of them were written within a span of two to three months. Raimund’s extreme sensitivity, his rather fragile and hypochondriac nature, seem to have required rather lengthy periods of rest and reflection, when he also devoted himself entirely to his acting again. Doubt of his own ability apparently forced him to withhold a finished play from the stage for as much as a year and a half, as was the case with Die gefesselte Phantasie (phantasy in chains), which had been finished in the fall of 1826, but did not reach the stage until January of 1828.
Such self-doubt can perhaps be attributed to Raimund’s lack of formal education. The author compensated for this perceived lack through high aspirations and ideals, through many allusions to names and themes of classical antiquity, and through...
Harding, Laurence V. The Dramatic Art of Ferdinand Raimund and Johann Nestroy. The Hague, Netherlands: Mouton, 1974. Harding compares and contrasts the works of Raimund and Nestroy. Bibliography and index.
James, Dorothy. Raimund and Vienna: A Critical Study of Raimund’s Plays in Their Viennese Setting. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1970. A study of Raimund’s dramatic works and their setting in Vienna. Bibliography.
Kimbell, Edmund. Introduction to TheBarometer-maker on the Magic Island and The Diamond of the Spirit King, by Ferdinand Raimund. New York: Peter Lang, 1996. In his introduction to his translation of two of Raimund’s plays, Kimbell provides critical analysis and useful insights. Bibliography.
Michalski, John. Ferdinand Raimund. New York: Twayne, 1968. A basic biography of Raimund that covers his life and works. Bibliography and index.
Yates, W. E., and John R. P. McKenzie, eds. Viennese Popular Theatre: A Symposium. Exeter, England: University of Exeter, 1985. This group of essays on the Viennese popular theater examines Raimund as well as Johann Nestroy and the theater of Austria. Bibliography.