Peter Hacks Essay - Critical Essays


Peter Hacks began with historical drama from a Marxist perspective. His early plays demonstrate the force of history through the characters of so-called great men, such as Christopher Columbus, modeled after Brecht’s Life of Galileo, in Eröffnung des indischen Zeitalters, Duke Ernst of Swabia in Das Volksbuch vom Herzog Ernst, and Frederick II of Prussia in Der Müller von Sanssouci.

Eröffnung des indischen Zeitalters

In Eröffnung des indischen Zeitalters, the discovery of America is seen as the historical event that energized the merchant middle class to evolve as the most powerful class of the future. Its ascent to power is achieved at the expense of the nobility and clergy, who prove to be unable to adapt to historic changes. Columbus is far from being a great man. Like Brecht’s Galileo, he betrays his science. At the Spanish court, he is manipulated not by scientific discovery but by the imperialist and capitalist interests of the Spanish crown. Once a scientific discoverer and scholar, Columbus becomes a representative of the new bourgeois class. He does not feel compromised by his opportunism, until he sees the future of America: the rape of a continent and the enslavement of its natives in the name of historical progress.

Die Schlacht bei Lobositz

In Die Schlacht bei Lobositz, Hacks presents the perspective of the little man—in this case, an eighteenth century Swiss citizen, kidnapped for service as a mercenary in the Prussian army. This unheroic hero deserts when he realizes that officers belong to a different class, a class that is not interested in the welfare of its charges. Even if an officer shows a humane attitude, this attitude is but a trick to keep the common soldier from deserting.

Die Sorgen und die Macht

Die Sorgen und die Macht—inspired, as noted previously, by the Bitterfeld Conference of 1959—deals with the initial difficulties of brown coal production in the GDR. Criticizing the workers’ petty bourgeois self-interest and the bureaucratic socialism of the party, the play projects a path toward the communism of the future. In spite of its socialist happy ending and its vision of “true communism,” the play was severely criticized by the ruling party, and its production at a major theater in Berlin was canceled.

Moritz Tassow

In Moritz Tassow, a blank-verse comedy and parody of Goethe’s classical drama Torquato Tasso (pb. 1790; English translation, 1827), Hacks continues to deal in dialectic fashion with the problems of building a socialist society in the GDR, in this particular case with the problems of land reform and the collectivization of farms. After the defeat of Nazi Germany, Moritz Tassow, a former swineherd, takes over the estate of the local Junker and establishes a farming commune. Current party policies, however, prescribe the division...

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