Arthur Schnitzler Schnitzler, Arthur - Essay


(Drama Criticism)

Arthur Schnitzler 1862-1931

Austrian short story writer, playwright and novelist.

Known for his stylistic experiments in both drama and prose, Schnitzler's works analyzed pre-World War I Vienna society. His work was influenced by some of the theories of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud.

Biographical Information

Schnitzler was born in Vienna in 1862 in an upper-middle-class Jewish family. At the Akademisches Gymnasium in Vienna from 1871 to 1879, he was considered a model student, graduating with honors. Influenced by his father and maternal grandfather, Schnitzler went to the University of Vienna in 1879 to study medicine. He received his Doctor of General Medicine degree in 1885 and became editor of the medical journal Internationale klinische Rundschau in 1887. The following year he became an assistant at his father's practice. Despite his success as a physician Schnitzler began writing Anatol, (1893) one of his most important plays. After his father's death in 1893, Schnitzler spent more time writing than practicing medicine, and in 1895 one of his most popular plays, Liebelei, (1895) was performed for the first time at the Burgtheater. Schnitzler was also a member of the Jung-Wein group, a literary movement of impressionist writers that met at the Vienna Café Griensteidl. The Jung-Wein were strongly opposed to naturalism, popular in Berlin society of the time. It was with the Jung-Wein that Schnitzler met fellow Austrian playwright Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Schnitzler died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Vienna in 1931.

Major Works

Schnitzler's plays generally focus on sex, death, and the turmoil of the human psyche. His first published play, Anatol, remains one of the most important works of his career. The play is comprised of seven one-act plays composed between 1888 and 1891; it is intended to be performed as a complete cycle, but each of the one-acts can stand alone and has been performed separately. The title character, Anatol, is a melancholy playboy given to self-analysis and narcissism. His sexual double standard—expecting purity of women while partaking in numerous dalliances of his own—is considered a conscious mirror and criticism of Schnitzler's and all of fin de siècle (a term used to describe end-of-the-century culture) Vienna's views on sexuality. Perhaps not surprisingly, the play did not escape controversy. Censors in Austria and Germany objected in particular to the episode entitled Abschiedssouper (Farewell Supper)—the first of the one-acts to be performed separately in 1893—because of its frank handling of female infidelity. Schnitzler again addressed sexuality in Liebelei (performed 1895), using the paradigm of the süβes Mädel (“sweet girl”) to examine relationships that cross class lines and, symbolically, abuses of the bourgeoisie by the upper classes. Schnitzler's most notorious play, Reigen, (1920) is also his most widely adapted. It was performed in various versions throughout the twentieth century despite the author's own ban. These versions include a film entitled La Ronde (1950). Based in form on the traditional dance in the round, Reigen consists of ten dialogues—nine of them dealing directly with various sex acts—between men and women who are involved sexually. Illustrating the dance motif of the title, one partner from each dialogue appears in the dialogue immediately following it, so that each is involved with two partners in the play. In this way Schnitzler emphasizes the pervasiveness of sexual desire across class and gender lines. Paracelsus (performed 1899) is set in sixteenth-century Basel and written in verse.

Critical Reception

Schnitzler's plays experienced widely divergent attention in his lifetime. Zwischenspiel, (1905) Der junge Medardus, (1910) and Professor Bernhardi (1912) received awards. On the other hand, many of his plays, including Professor Bernhardi, were censored, excoriated, and outright banned at one time or another, especially Reigen which Schnitzler banned himself, and remained banned until his son Heinrich lifted the ban in 1981. In their published form his plays were considered more accessible than those of his contemporaries, so he maintained a wide reading audience. But the increasingly hostile anti-Semitic atmosphere of early-twentieth-century Austria and Germany often led to public protests over the staging of works by Jewish writers such as Schnitzler. Additionally, his frequent exploration in his plays on the mores of the upper-middle-class Viennese resulted in an unfortunate stereotype of Schnitzler as a writer of frivolous, one-dimensional drawing-room comedies despite his concurrent focus on issues of ethics and mortality. Towards the late twentieth century, critical opinion of Schnitzler's plays shifted to recognize his subtle social criticism and psychological depth. He is now considered a serious, sophisticated examiner of the human condition.

Principal Works

(Drama Criticism)

Das Abenteuer seines Lebens 1891

*Anatol 1893

Das Märchen 1893

Liebelei 1895

Freiwild 1896

Das Vermächtnis 1898

Der grüne Kakadu 1899

Paracelsus 1899

Der Schleier der Beatrice 1900

Lebendige Stunden 1902

Der Puppenspieler 1903

Der einsame Weg 1904

Zwischenspiel 1905

Der Ruf des lebens 1906

Komtesse Mizzi oder der Familientag 1909

Der junge Medardus 1910

Der Schleier der Pierrette The Bridal Veil 1910

Das weite Land

Professor Bernhardi 1912

Komödie der Worte 1915

Fink und Fliederbusch 1917

Die Schwestern oder Casanova in Spa 1920

Reigen 1920

Komödie der Verführung 1924

Im Spiel der Sommerlüfte 1929

Der Gang zum Weiher 1931

Anatols Grössenwahn 1932

Die überspannte Person 1932

Halbzwei 1932

Sterben: Novelle (novel) 1895

Die Frau des Weisen: Novelletten (novella) 1898

Leutnant Gustl: Novelle [None But the Brave] (novel) 1901

Frau Bertha Garlan: Novelle (novel) 1901

Die griechische Tänzerin: Novelle (novel) 1905

Dämmerseelen: Novelle (novel) 1907

Masken und Wunder: Novelle (novel) 1912

Frau Beate und ihr Sohn: Novelle [Beatrice: A Novel] (novel) 1913

Gesammelte Werke in zwei Abteilungen 9 vols. (collected works) 1913-23

Casanovas Heimfahrt: Novelle [Casanova's Homecoming] (novel) 1918

Fräulein Else: Novelle (novel) 1924

Die Frau des Richters: Novelle (novel) 1925

Traumnovelle [Rhapsody: A Dream Novel] (novel) 1926

Spiel im Morgengrauen: Novelle [Day-Break] (novel) 1927

Buch der Sprüche und Bedenken: Aphorismen und Betrachtungen (aphorisms) 1927

Die Erwachenden: Novelle (novel) 1928

Flucht in die Finsternis: Novelle [Flight into Darkness: A Novel] (novel) 1931

Abenteurernovelle (novel) 1937

Über Krieg und Frieden [Some Day Peace Will Return: Notes on War and Peace] (nonfiction) 1939

Jugend in Wien: Eine Autobiographie [My Youth in Vienna] (autobiography) 1968

Briefwechsel mit Otto Brahm [edited by Otto Seidlin] (letters) 1953

Georg Brandes und Arthur Schnitzler: Ein Briefwechsel [edited by Kurt Bergel] (letters) 1956

Der Briefwechsel Arthur Schnitzlers mit Max Reinhardt und dessen Mitarbeitern [edited by Renate Wagner] (letters) 1971

The Correspondence of Arthur Schnitzler and Raoul Auernheimer, with Raoul Auernheimer's Aphorisms [edited by Donald G. Daviau and Jorun B. Johns] (letters and aphorisms) 1972

The Letters of Arthur Schnitzler to Hermann Bahr [edited by Donald G. Daviau] (letters) 1978

*This work is comprised of the following seven one-act plays: Die Frage an das Schicksal, Weihnacht seinkaüfe, Episode, Denksteine, Abschiedssouper, Agonie, and Anatols Hochzeitmorgen. Anatol was performed in English translation on numerous occasions; it was also performed in English as The Loves of Anatol in 1985.

†This work was performed in English translation as Flirtation, 1905; The Reckoning, 1907; Light-o'-Love, 1912; Playing with Love, 1914, and Flirtations, 1981.

‡This work was performed in English translation as La Ronde in 1960; it was also published in English as Hands Around in 1920. It was adapted to film as La Ronde in 1950.

Joseph W. Bailey (essay date 1920)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Bailey, Joseph W. “Arthur Schnitzler's Dramatic Work.” Texas Review 5, no. 4 (1920): 294-307.

[In the following essay, Bailey addresses the supposed amorality that other critics found in Schnitzler's works, arguing that Schnitzler rightly puts his art above the “interests of a prudish morality.”]

In that classic of literary criticism which Mr. Joseph Conrad has appended as a preface to his inimitable novel, The Nigger of the Narcissus, we are given a statement of the author's artistic creed:

To arrest, for the space of a breath, the hands busy about the work of the earth, and compel men entranced by the sight...

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Martin Swales (essay date 1971)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Swales, Martin. “Tragedy and Comedy.” In Arthur Schnitzler: A Critical Study, pp. 181-214. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.

[In the following essay, Swales explores elements of tragedy and comedy in Liebelei and Zwischenspiel.]

Liebelei is the nearest Schnitzler comes to writing tragedy. Here, he explicitly measures the sexual behaviour of the young man-about-town, of the Anatol figure, against the possibility of total and passionate surrender to love, and judges the young man accordingly. In this play Schnitzler takes issue with many of the moral conventions of his time. In this sense Liebelei recalls Ibsen, although it lacks the...

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Reinhard Urbach (interview date 1973)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Urbach, Reinhard. “Early Full-Length Plays.” In Arthur Schnitzler, pp. 35-71. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1973.

[In the following excerpt, Urbach provides critical overviews of Anatol, The Fairy Tale, and Light-O'Love.]


A superficial man soon finds something profound.

—Johann Nestroy

The cycle of seven loosely connected scenes entitled Anatol concerns a young bachelor, Anatol, who in each act experiences a new love affair and discusses it with his friend Max.

Scene 1: Ask...

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Stephanie Hammer (essay date 1986)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Hammer, Stephanie. “Fear and Attraction: Anatol and Liebelei Productions in the United States.” Modern Austrian Literature 19, no. 3-4 (1986): 63-74.

[In the following essay, Hammer examines the American production histories of Anatol and Liebelei to unearth American perceptions of Schnitzler in particular and of European art in general.]

The American production histories of Anatol (complete cycle 1910) and Liebelei (1902) are both intriguing and revealing. The divergent fortunes of Schnitzler's two seminal theatrical works in this country provide a useful comparative basis for measuring the image and impact of his...

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Criticism: Anatol (La Ronde)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Walton, Luverne. “Anatol on the New York Stage.” Modern Austrian Literature 2, no. 2 (summer 1969): 30-44.

[In the following essay, Walton discusses the production history of Anatol on the New York stage.]

The dramas of Arthur Schnitzler were introduced to New York theater audiences in 1897, when Liebelei made its debut at the Irving Place Theater. The next two years witnessed the American premieres of Freiwild and Das Vermächtnis, plays equally somber in mood as Liebelei, and identified Schnitzler as a writer of tragedy. It was not until after the turn of the century that the world of this “leichtsinniger...

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Criticism: Der Schleier Der Pierrette

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Sullivan, Lawrence. “Arthur Schnitzler's The Bridal Veil at the American Laboratory Theatre.” Dance Research Journal 25, no. 1 (spring 1993): 13-20.

[In the following essay, Sullivan explains the ways in which Schnitzler's Der Schleier der Pierrette allowed stage directors to break away from realist conventions and explore abstract and symbolist theatrical effects.]

Whatever the particular intentions of the playwright, Arthur Schnitzler's Der Schleier der Pierrette (The Veil of Pierrette), a ballet-pantomime first performed in Dresden, January 22, 1910, with music by Ernst von Dohnányi, became, in the first year of its...

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Criticism: Die Schwestern Oder Casanova In Spa

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Schneider-Halvorson, Brigitte L. “Die Schwestern oder Casanova in Spa.” In The Late Dramatic Works of Arthur Schnitzler, pp. 15-43. New York: Peter Lang, 1983.

[In the following excerpt, Schneider-Halvorson provides a plot overview and critical analyses of Die Schwestern oder Casanova in Spa.]


The drama Die Schwestern oder Casanova in Spa1 was published in 1919 by S. Fischer Verlag and produced a year later with some success at the Burgtheater on March 26, 1920. It is one of the rare productions which the author designated as “Lustspiel.” He seems to have...

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Hunter G. Hannum (essay date January 1962)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Hannum, Hunter G. “‘Killing Time’: Aspects of Schnitzler's Reigen.Germanic Review 37, no. 1 (January 1962): 190-206.

[In the following essay, Hannum locates Reigen within the Austro-Germanic fin de siècle literary trend, focusing on the play's preoccupation with time.]

Betrachte die Herde, die an dir vorüberweidet: sie weiß nicht, was Gestern, was Heute ist, springt umher, frißt, ruht, verdaut, springt wieder, und so vom Morgen bis zur Nacht und von Tage zu Tage, kurz angebunden mit ihrer Lust und Unlust, nämlich an den Pflock des Augenblicks, und deshalb weder schwermütig noch überdrüssig. Dies zu sehen...

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Gerd K. Schneider (essay date 1986)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Schneider, Gerd K. “The Reception of Arthur Schnitzler's Reigen in the Old Country and the New World: A Study in Cultural Differences.” Modern Austrian Literature 19, nos. 3-4 (1986): 75-89.

[In the following essay, Schneider addresses differences in reactions to the stage, book, and film versions of Reigen in various countries.]

Since the reception of Schnitzler's Reigen up to 1925 is generally known, only a few points need to be emphasized. The play was written in the winter of 1896-97 and was published in 1900 in a private printing that was not for sale. The work was well received by his friends, but as early as 1903, the year scenes...

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Gail Finney (essay date 1989)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Finney, Gail. “Female Sexuality and Schnitzler's La Ronde.” In Women in Modern Drama: Freud, Feminism, and European Theater at the Turn of the Century, pp. 25-50. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1989.

[In the following excerpt, Finney uses Schnitzler's ambivalence toward Freudian psychoanalysis as a starting point in addressing the playwright's focus on women and sexuality in La Ronde.]


I will make a confession which for my sake I must ask you to keep to yourself and share with neither friends nor strangers. I have tormented myself with the...

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Ian F. Roe (essay date July 1994)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Roe, Ian F. “The Comedy of Schnitzler's Reigen.Modern Language Review 89, no. 3 (July 1994): 674-88.

[In the following essay, Roe examines comic elements in Reigen, noting that critical analysis of and audience reaction to the play have historically neglected these elements.]

It is now a decade since the ban on the performance of Schnitzler's Reigen came to an end, and the productions that have been mounted during that time have only added to the controversies surrounding what is arguably the most famous and certainly the most infamous of Schnitzler's works. Surprisingly, however, there has been no marked shift of emphasis in the...

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Criticism: Im Spiel Der SommerlüFte

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Schneider-Halvorson, Brigitte L. “Im Spiel Der Sommerlüfte.” In The Late Dramatic Works of Arthur Schnitzler, pp. 113-135. New York: Peter Lang, 1983.

[In the following essay, Schneider-Halvorson discusses various critical commentary, as well as Schnitzler's use of themes and symbols in the play Im Spiel Der Sommerlüfte.]


The first performance of Schnitzler's play Im Spiel der Sommerlüfte took place on December 21, 1929, at the Deutsches Volkstheater in Vienna.1 First publication was in 1930 by S. Fischer Verlag, Berlin.2 According to Schnitzler's diary...

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Criticism: Der Gang Zum Weiher

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Schneider-Halvorson, Brigitte L. “Der Gang Zum Weiher.” In The Late Dramatic Works of Arthur Schnitzler, pp.83-111. New York: Peter Lang, 1983.

[In the following essay, Schneider-Halvorson discusses various critical commentary, as well as Schnitzler's use of themes and symbols in the play Der Gang Zum Weiher.]


Although Schnitzler had reached a preliminary conclusion of this play by June 11, 19211 and had written in 1924 to his friend Georg Brandes “[…] und ein Versstück wird vielleicht auch bald fertig sein […],”2 this five-act verse play was not...

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Further Reading

(Drama Criticism)


Alter, Maria P. “From Der Reigen to La Ronde: Transposition of a Stageplay to the Cinema.” Literature Film Quarterly 24, no. 1 (1996): 52-56.

Comments on the differences in tone between Reigen and its film version, La Ronde, noting in particular the less banal, romanticized attitude towards sex depicted in the film.

Nehring, Wolfgang. “Schnitzler, Freud's Alter Ego?” Modern Austrian Literature 10, nos. 3-4 (1977): 179-94.

Uses Freud's letters to Schnitzler to address the extent to which Schnitzler may have been influenced by Freudian psychoanalysis in his plays and...

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