Christian Dietrich Grabbe Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Christian Dietrich Grabbe wrote various critical articles on the theater, including reviews of his own dramatic works. A notable article, “Über die Shakespearo-Manie,” written and published in 1827, marks his attempt to free himself from the dramatist who had influenced him most since his school days. It strongly opposes the William Shakespeare cult in Germany and calls for national originality on the German stage. Despite Grabbe’s assertions, Heinrich Heine, among others, has identified Grabbe’s strong kinship with William Shakespeare.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Three-quarters of a century ahead of his time, Christian Dietrich Grabbe was a direct precursor of Friedrich Hebbel’s realism, Gerhart Hauptmann’s naturalism, the expressionist theater of the 1920’s, and Bertolt Brecht’s epic theater. In the early nineteenth century, both Georg Büchner and Hebbel studied Grabbe’s dramatic techniques. It was not, however, until the vogue of naturalism in the last decades of the century that Grabbe was rediscovered for the stage. In the twentieth century, expressionism brought a second rediscovery. Technically, Grabbe’s theater represented a strong move away from the rounded plot and the unities of the classical theater to an “open” form. Instead of the traditional five acts, his plays juxtaposed numerous separate scenes to light up the theme from many sides. In their general tone, his plays, like the man himself, “poured the corrosive acid of the intellect” on feelings with a relentlessness that resulted in nihilism: “My intellect is empty and feeling destroyed.”

Grabbe’s life was dramatized by Hans Johst in a play entitled Der Einsame (pr. 1917; the lonely man). Brecht’s Baal (wr. 1918, pb. 1922; English translation, 1963) was written as an ironic reply to Johst’s sentimentality and seems to reflect a dynamic poète maudit such as Arthur Rimbaud or Paul Verlaine rather than the more passive, shattered figure of Grabbe.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Cowen, Roy C. Christian Dietrich Grabbe. New York: Twayne, 1972. A basic study of Grabbe’s life and works. Includes bibliography.

Nichols, Roger A. The Dramas of Christian Dietrich Grabbe. The Hague: Mouton, 1969. An analysis of the works of Grabbe. Bibliography included.

Sutherland, Margaret Anne. The Reception of Grabbe’s “Hannibal” in the German Theatre. New York: Peter Lang, 1984. Sutherland examines Grabbe’s Hannibal, paying particular attention to how it was produced and staged as well as how it was received. Contains bibliography.