Franz Grillparzer Grillparzer, Franz (Drama Criticism) - Essay


(Drama Criticism)

Franz Grillparzer 1791-1872

Austrian dramatist, novella writer, poet, and critic.

Franz Grillparzer wrote in an age of transition, between the classical Romanticism of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller and the realism of the middle and late nineteenth century. Drawing from one period and sensing the approach of the other, Grillparzer successfully employed the poetic form and Romantic tone of the first to depict the subtle psychological states characteristic of the second. Grillparzer's work also reflects the influences of Shakespeare, the Spanish dramatists Pedro Calderón and Lope de Vega, and the popular theater of his home city, Vienna. His rich and varied oeuvre—little appreciated in his own time—is today widely studied and respected.

Biographical Information

Grillparzer was born in Vienna on January 15, 1791. His father was a court lawyer, and the family was esteemed and wealthy. The personalities of Grillparzer's moody, indulgent mother and cold father reflect the opposition between poetic idealism and reality that dominates his work. Grillparzer shared his mother's love of music, and the cadence and structure of his dramas reflect his melodic sense. The Grillparzers were involved in the rich musical culture of Vienna, and Grillparzer shared a lifelong friendship with Ludwig von Beethoven. After studying law at the University of Vienna, Grillparzer briefly acted as a tutor and worked at the court library. Eventually, he became an administrator at the Imperial Archives. In 1817 his first play, Die Ahnfrau (The Ancestress), was produced in Vienna. The censorship imposed under the rule of Prince Metternich, which intervened especially in the productions of historical tragedies such as König Ottokar's Glück und Ende (1825; King Ottocar: His Rise and Fall), hindered Grillparzer's success. In 1838, broken by Vienna's resounding rejection of his one comedy, Weh dem, der lügt! (1838; Thou Shall Not Lie), Grillparzer retreated from the theater, neither publishing nor producing another drama, although he continued to write for thirty years.

Major Works

Grillparzer's first produced play, Die Ahnfrau, was dismissed by critics as a Schicksalstragödie or “fate-tragedy,” despite its obvious poetic promise and dramatic power. In his second play, Sappho (1818), Grillparzer employed the literary effects that characterize his work from that point on: the classical blank verse form, serious subject matter derived mainly from classical or historical themes, and an emphasis on psychological motivation. His trilogy, Das goldene Vließ (1821; The Golden Fleece)—Der Gastfreund (The Guest-Friend), Die Argonauten (The Argonauts), and Medea—utilizes Greek mythology as subject matter. A few of his works, like König Ottokar's Glück und Ende and Ein treuer Diener seines Herrn (1828; A Faithful Servant of His Master), focus on the history of Vienna and its monarchy.

Critical Reception

During his lifetime, many critics deemed Grillparzer a “fate-tragedian.” This charge of sensationalism devastated Grillparzer, who always adhered to the highest artistic ideals, and he struggled during the rest of his career to shake off the label with which he was branded. Although many of his plays were commercially and critically successful, the recognition he craved did not come until after his death. Commentators agree that Grillparzer drew from the theatrical traditions of classical Romanticism, Spanish baroque, Shakespeare, and popular theater. That in synthesizing these influences he presaged the realism of the next dramatic age is testimony to the genius that has earned Grillparzer his position as the most distinguished Austrian dramatist.

Principal Works

(Drama Criticism)

Die Ahnfrau [The Ancestress] 1817

*Blanka von Kastilien 1817

Sappho 1818

Das goldene Vließ: Dramatisches Gedicht in drei Abtheilungen [The Golden Fleece] 1821

König Ottokars Glück und Ende [King Ottocar: His Rise and Fall] 1825

Ein treuer Diener seines Herrn [A Faithful Servant of His Master] 1828

Des Meeres und der Liebe Wellen [Hero and Leander] 1831

Der Traum ein Leben [A Dream Is Life] 1834

Weh dem, der lügt! [Thou Shalt Not Lie] 1838

Ein Bruderzwist in Habsburg [Family Strife in Habsburg] 1872

Die Jüdin von Toledo [The Jewess of Toledo] 1872

Libussa 1874

Tristia ex ponto (poetry) 1835

Der arme Spielmann [The Poor Fiddler] (novella) 1848

Sämlichte Werke 42 vols. (drama, novella, poetry, and criticism) 1909-48

*This is the date of composition.

†Trilogy comprised of the plays Der Gastfreund [The Guest-Friend], Die Argonauten [The Argonauts], and Medea.

F. W. Kaufmann (essay date June 1936)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: “Grillparzer's Relation to Classical Idealism,” in MLN, Vol. 51, June, 1936, pp. 359-63.

[In the following essay, Kaufmann examines the major influences on Grillparzer's work, in particular the effect of classical idealism.]

Literary criticism rather early recognized the fact that Grillparzer followed Schiller's model in his earliest dramatic attempts and plans, as in Lucretia Creinwell, Seelengrösze, Robert von der Normandie, and that from about 1809 on, besides that of Shakespeare and the Romanticists, he yielded more to the influence of Goethe, as e. g., in his Faustplan, Irenens Wiederkehr and the dramatic sketch Spartakus. As to Grillparzer's mature works, Goethe's influence is especially seen in the characters of Sappho and Hero and in the Greek setting of Sappho, Das goldene Vlies, and Des Meeres und der Liebe Wellen; a Goethean desire for classical simplicity and harmony is attributed to the recurring inspiration from Iphigenie.

This more or less exterior influence, however, is not the subject at hand. Our question is rather: what was Grillparzer's inner response to classical idealism, and what influence had this response as such on the composition of his dramas?

Blanka von Kastilien most closely follows the example of Schiller's Don Karlos. The classic-idealistic antithesis of despotism and political freedom, of moral heteronomy and autonomy is still noticeable in the theme of Grillparzer's drama. Especially the impudent passion of Maria de Padilla, the cold rationalism of Rodrigo de Padilla's intrigue and the brutality of King Pedro reflect the dependence on the classical model. The antipole, however, is no longer moral antonomy in the classic-idealistic meaning of the word. Fedriko's conception of duty toward the king is not based on an insight into the moral value of allegiance, but on tradition; it is heteronomous and amoral, if not immoral, according to classical standards; and his relation to Blanka is, in spite of all Schillerean influence, just as much determined by a conventional respect for the empty form of a marriage which hardly ever existed in fact. The logic of this situation requires a non-Schillerean solution; but only death is allowed to join those who naturally belong together. This uncertainty with respect to moral decisions, proves that Grillparzer tries to break away from classical idealism, that he begins to doubt absolute moral postulates and their realization; that, on the other hand, he is still dependent on those postulates, that he does not dare yet to substitute for them a solution which would do better justice to the life situation of his drama.

This doubt grows to skepticism in Grillparzer's Die Ahnfrau, a play which suggests not only the often made comparison with Schiller's Braut von Messina, but also with Goethe's Iphigenie. Schiller submits his characters to fate, in order to show how the moral freedom of man is able to maintain itself against the strongest pressure of necessity; and Goethe's Orestes is lifted through the sisterly love of Iphigenie to the idealism of humanity. The difference in Grillparzer's treatment is not sufficiently explained by a reference to the fate-dramas of the late Romanticists. It is at least as important to state that the idealistic moral postulate manifests itself in his drama. The Ahnfrau herself impersonates the conflict between idealistic and vitalistic will, a conflict which is clearly expressed in Günther's words:

Haszt sie die vergangne Sünde,
Liebt sie die vergangne Glut.

It is significant for Grillparzer's own dilemma that Jaromir is longing for a life of innocence and goodness and that he hopes to find the realization of this ideal through...

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T. C. Dunham (essay date October 1938)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Monologue as Monodrama in Grillparzer's Hellenic Dramas,” in Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Vol. 37, October, 1938, pp. 513-23.

[In the following essay, Dunham analyzes the structure and motivation of the dramatic monologues in three of Grillparzer's dramas: Sappho, Das goldene Vließ, and Des Meeres und der Liebe Wellen.]

Hans Sittenberger in his essay “Der Monolog”1 distinguishes three types of monologue: (1) the expository monologue; (2) the lyric monologue; (3) the dramatic monologue. The dramatic monologue, according to his definition, is the one which not only fits into the dramatic structure of the play, but...

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T. C. Dunham (essay date March 1960)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: “Symbolism in Grillparzer's Das goldene Vliess, in PMLA, Vol. 75, March, 1960, pp. 75-82.

[In the following essay, Dunham offers a symbolic study of Das goldene Vließ, maintaining that the many symbols give the trilogy “its rich texture and poetic power.”]

In an age when symbols are being discovered in literary works where critics of an earlier period would never have dreamed of looking for them there is probably little need to defend a study of symbolism in Grillparzer's work.1 Indeed Grillparzer himself recognized that there is a symbolic element in all art and reproached his own time for its refusal to acknowledge the symbolic...

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Walter Silz (essay date 1964)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: “Grillparzer's Ottokar,” in Germanic Review, Vol. 39, 1964, pp. 243-61.

[In the following essay, Silz provides a character study of the protagonist in König Ottokars Glück und Ende, King Ottokar, challenging the critical interpretation of the character as a brutal, swaggering tyrant.]

King Ottokar of Bohemia, the hero of Grillparzer's tragedy König Ottokars Glück und Ende, is a person of many aspects and qualities, more perhaps than Grillparzer himself realized; more, certainly, then interpreters of the play have recognized. In the extensive Grillparzer literature, Ottokar is regularly typed as the brutal, blustering tyrant whose many...

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Egbert Krispyn (essay date March 1964)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: “Grillparzer and the Chorus,” in MLQ,, Vol. 25, No. 1, March, 1964, pp. 46-56.

[In the following essay, Krispyn traces Grillparzer's views on the function of the chorus in drama as evinced in his critical and dramatic work.]

Grillparzer's remarks in “Über die Bedeutung des Chors in der alten Tragödie” have received scant attention in critical literature. Symptomatic of the literary historian's attitude toward this essay is Hartel's study on Grillparzer and antiquity, which mentions it only once in passing.1 The most extensive treatment of “Über die Bedeutung des Chors” is to be found in the dissertation of Fritz Strich, whose comments...

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Gerard M. Sweeney (essay date March 1970)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Medea Howells Saw,” in American Literature, Vol. 42, No. 1, March, 1970, pp. 83-9.

[In the following essay, Sweeney differentiates Grillparzer's Medea from Euripedes' version and contends that Grillparzer's play was the one that influenced W. D. Howells' A Modern Instance.]

The connection between A Modern Instance and Medea has long been an accepted fact. Regarding the genesis of the novel, we are told by William M. Gibson that when Howells “witnessed Francesca Janauschek's fiery re-creation on the stage of Medea's love for the self-centered Jason as it turned into hatred and engendered terrible acts of revenge, he said to...

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R. K. Angress (essay date April 1971)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: “Weh dem, der lügt: Grillparzer and the Avoidance of Tragedy,” in Modern Language Review, Vol. 66, No. 2, April, 1971, pp. 355-64.

[In the following essay, Angress compares Weh dem, der lügt to Ein treuer Diener seines Herrn and Das goldene Vließ in order to “shed new light on the theme, structure and aesthetic intention of Weh dem, der lügt.]

Grillparzer's comedy has gone through a variety of vicissitudes since its disastrous first performance in 1838, which notoriously caused its author never to write for the stage again. Perhaps no less notoriously, it was later labelled one of ‘the three great German...

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Penrith Goff (essay date 1974)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Play within the Play in Grillparzer's Des Meeres und der Liebe Wellen,” in Studies in Nineteenth-Century and Early Twentieth-Century Literature: Essays in Honor of Paul K. Whitaker, edited by Norman H. Binger and A. Wayne Wonderley, APRAPress, 1974, pp. 22-8.

[In the following essay, Goff offers a structural analysis of Des Meeres und der Liebe Wellen, particularly the “play-within-a-play” technique.]

Grillparzer's mastery of dramatic effect, gesture, imagery, and symbol in Des Meeres und der Liebe Wellen has been abundantly and justly praised; he himself attached great importance to the visual aspects of theater.1...

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Hugo Schmidt (essay date 1974)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: “Realms of Action in Grillparzer's Ein Bruderzwist in Habsburg,” in Studies in the German Drama: A Festschrift in Honor of Walter Silz, edited by Donald H. Crosby and George C. Schoolfield, The University of North Carolina Press, 1974, pp. 149-61.

[In the following essay, Schmidt places Grillparzer's drama Ein Bruderzwist in Habsburg in its historical and intellectual context, asserting that this lends layers of meaning to the play.]

In trying to come to terms with Grillparzer's Ein Bruderzwist in Habsburg, the reader will experience the frustrating sensation that T. S. Eliot formulated so well in his line “That is not what I meant at...

(The entire section is 6322 words.)

William A. Little (essay date Fall 1975)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: “Grillparzer's Esther: A Fragment for Good Reason,” in Michigan Germanic Studies, Vol. 1, No. Fall, 1975, pp. 165-79.

[In the following essay, Little speculates on the ending of Grillparzer's fragment, Esther, and on the reasons why the playwright abandoned the work.]

With no perceptible voice of dissent critics have perennially acclaimed Esther as one of Grillparzer's finest, most mature works, although the poet left it a torso. In 1874 Wilhelm Scherer called it “seine genialste Dichtung,”1 and nearly a century later Heinz Politzer described it as “ein Produkt aus des Dichters bester Zeit.”2 In the...

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Bruce Thompson (essay date April 1976)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: “An Off-Stage Decision: An Examination of an Incident in Grillparzer's Ein Bruderzwist in Habsburg,” in Forum for Modern Language Studies, Vol. 12, No. 2, April, 1976, pp. 137-48.

[In the following essay, Thompson considers the lack of dramatic action in Ein Bruderzwist in Habsburg,contending that there is a significant dramatic moment in Act IV.]

The title of Grillparzer's Ein Bruderzwist in Habsburg suggests a political conflict on a grand scale, involving, as had been the case in his previous Habsburg drama König Ottokars Glück und Ende, possible battle scenes or at least dramatic confrontations of the two principal...

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Bruce Thompson (essay date 1981)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Early Tragedies (1816-23),” in Franz Grillparzer, Twayne Publishers, 1981, pp. 27-54.

[In the following essay, Thompson offers a thematic and stylistic overview of Grillparzer's early dramas.]



For several reasons Die Ahnfrau [The Ancestress] represents, both in subject-matter and style, an unusual choice for Grillparzer to have made to mark his debut on the Viennese stage. For example, it bears little resemblance to Blanka von Kastilien, the tragedy of his youth which had been rejected by the Burgtheater, and which most commentators...

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Marianne Burkhard (essay date 1984)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: “Love, Creativity and Female Role: Grillparzer's ‘Sappho’ and Staël's ‘Corinne’ Between Art and Cultural Norm,” in Jahrbuch fur Internationale, Vol. 16, No. 2, 1984, pp. 128-46.

[In the following essay, Burkhard explores the role of the female poet in Sappho and in Madame de Staël's Corinne.]

Poets and writers are a powerful magnet for the modern imagination. They are considered vivid examples of a complex existence yoked to both the private and the public sphere, the inner laws of creative work and the demands of outside reality. Endowed with nothing but the force of words and images, set against a world of facts and deeds, writers are...

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Further Reading

(Drama Criticism)


Baker, Christa Suttner. “Structure and Imagery in Grillparzer's Sappho.Germanic Review 48 (1973): 44-55.

Perceives a “dynamic balance between independence and interdependence among the various acts rather than stasis resulting from such autonomy seems to characterize Sappho.

Gordon, Philip. “Franz Grillparzer: Critic of Music.” Musical Quarterly 11, No. 2 (October 1916): 552-61.

Highlights Grillparzer's role in the Viennese musical circle, tracing its effects upon his work.

Hitchman, Sybil. The World as Theatre in the Works of Franz Grillparzer....

(The entire section is 441 words.)