Peter Hacks abandoned a career as a scholar and critic of German literature to devote himself to the writing of plays, for which he is best known; he has also written a large number of articles on the theory of drama. In addition to his works for and about the theater, Hacks has published a number of well-received children’s books and has translated works from English, including plays by William Shakespeare and John Millington Synge. In 1994, Hacks published a volume of short stories, and in 2000, an expanded version of his collected poems appeared.
In his critical introduction to postwar German literature of 1970, Peter Demetz claimed for Peter Hacks the distinction of being Bertolt Brecht’s most sophisticated disciple. Whether this title should go to Heiner Müller rather than to Hacks is still an open question. Müller and Hacks have been the leading dramatists of the East German theater, and both have been known as representatives of dialectic theater in the Brechtian tradition. Brecht provided the ideological and aesthetic basis for their development as dramatists. Both have continued this tradition in a most creative and even challenging manner. Müller can be called the better dialectician, while Hacks has had a greater talent for comedy. During the 1960’s and early 1970’s, Hacks’s plays were among those most often performed on the stage in East and West Germany. Although Hacks also had his share of problems with the official cultural policies in East Germany during the 1960’s, Müller has perhaps been more controversial during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Müller, however, exerted significant influence on the theater in East Germany and abroad, whereas Hacks’s influence had begun to diminish after the late 1970’s, both because of a lack of publications and productions and, in West Germany, because of his support of government policies in the expulsion of poet and singer Wolf Biermann from East Germany in 1976. Furthermore, the West German stage of the 1960’s and 1970’s saw the debuts of younger playwrights such as Peter Handke, Franz Xaver Kroetz, and Botho Strauss.
Inspired by Brecht’s ideas of an epic, or non-Aristotelian, theater, Hacks developed...
Demetz, Peter. Postwar German Literature: A Critical Introduction. New York: Pegasus, 1970. Survey of German literature between 1945 and 1970 with chapters on individual authors.
Huettich, H. G. Theater in the Planned Society: Contemporary Drama in the German Democratic Republic in Its Historical, Political, and Cultural Context. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1978. Monograph on theater and drama in the GDR until 1976.
Mitchell, Michael. Peter Hacks: Theatre for a Socialist Society. Glasgow: Scottish Papers in Germanic Studies, 1990. An examination of Hacks’s plays and his political positions.
Scheid, Judith R. “Enfant terrible” of Contemporary East German Drama: Peter Hacks in His Role as Adaptor and Innovator. Bonn: Bouvier, 1977. Study of text adaptation and innovation in Hacks’s plays through the 1970’s.
Waidson, H. M. “Peter Hacks.” In Twentieth Century German Dramatists, 1919-1992, edited by Wolfgang D. Elfe and James Hardin. Vol. 124 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1992. Survey article of Peter Hacks’s plays through the 1980’s.