Peter Ulrich Weiss was born on November 8, 1916, in Nowawes, near Berlin, the son of a Swiss mother and a Czechoslovak father. Weiss’s Jewish father had converted to Christianity, so Weiss was reared as a Lutheran, attending school in Nowawes and Berlin. In 1934, the rise to power of National Socialism forced the Weiss family to emigrate to Great Britain, where Weiss studied photography. Two years later, Weiss returned to the Continent to study at Prague’s Academy of Art, but because he was intensely unhappy there, he moved to Switzerland in 1938. In 1939, he finally settled in Sweden, where he met and married Gunilla Palmstierna, an artist who designed the costumes for his plays. In Stockholm, Weiss began to shift his attention away from painting. After producing a series of documentary and surrealistic short films—as well as one feature-length work entitled The Mirage (1959)—Weiss began, in the late 1950’s, to concentrate his energies on writing. A meeting with his boyhood guru, Hermann Hesse, in Montagnola was most encouraging to the young writer, and other acknowledged influences on the early Weiss were Kafka, Alfred Kubin, and the Surrealists. Primary among the specifically dramatic influences were August Strindberg, Bertolt Brecht, and Samuel Beckett.
Weiss’s early dramatic efforts met with only scant success and were not accepted in German theaters until after the success of Marat/Sade, when Weiss was already in his late forties. Although he eventually became a Swedish citizen, Weiss continued to write in German until his death in Stockholm, in May of 1982.