Friedrich Hebbel Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Although Friedrich Hebbel is best known as the leading German dramatist of the mid-nineteenth century, he also wrote outstanding poetry and literary criticism. His poems have been issued in independent editions and are part of the poetic canon in anthologies. In addition, Hebbel wrote essays on literary theory, including “Mein Wort über das Drama” (1843), and the “Vorwort zu Maria Magdalena” (1844; the preface to Maria Magdalena); a hexameter epic, Mutter und Kind (1859); and finally, a number of short stories, first published in various periodicals, then in book form as Erzählungen (1855). Aside from these literary “works” in the strict sense, Hebbel left a journal, originally published in two volumes as Tagebücher (1885-1887), and referred to by Wilhelm Scherer as a “literary-historical monument of the first order.” Hebbel’s letters also provide many fascinating insights into his thought and times.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Starting in his own lifetime and continuing into the present, Friedrich Hebbel has evoked contradictory responses from audiences, readers, and critics. Arthur Schnitzler in a letter to Hugo von Hofmannsthal stated, “Hebbel probably was next to Goethe the greatest mind the Germans had in this century.” Yet other authors, such as Adalbert Stifter, found his works to be insignificant and weak. Lesser voices in Hebbel’s day also injected either adulation or venom into their reviews. Articles showing objective, balanced assessments were indeed in the minority. In part, Hebbel’s personality may have been responsible for the varied reception of his work. Never a member of a literary circle or school, he was opposed by such groups, especially the Young Germans. In spite of these circumstances, Hebbel moved slowly from success to success in his own time, and today his dramas are part of the repertoire of the German stage, although the popularity of specific plays seems to be affected by the shifting concerns of the day. Maria Magdalena, in which a woman is driven to suicide when the dominant male value system leaves her no other alternative, is the most frequently produced Hebbel play.

Numerous authors have admitted, or are assumed to have, various degrees of indebtedness to Hebbel, including Gottfried Benn, Franz Kafka, and, among playwrights, Henrik Ibsen and Bertolt Brecht. Translations of Hebbel’s works have appeared in the common languages of Europe as well as in Chinese, Esperanto, Hebrew, Japanese, and Turkish. Scholarly works about Hebbel number in the thousands.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Campbell, T. M. The Life and Works of Friedrich Hebbel. Boston: R. G. Badger, 1919.

Flygt, Sten Gunnar. Friedrich Hebbel. New York: Twayne, 1968.

Flygt, Sten Gunnar. Friedrich Hebbel’s Conception of Movement in the Absolute and in History. 1952. Reprint. New York: AMS Press, 1966.

Garland, Mary. Hebbel’s Prose Tragedies: An Investigation of the Aesthetic Aspect of Hebbel’s Dramatic Language. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1973.

Kofman, Sarah. Freud and Fiction. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1991. A look at Hebbel’s Judith, among other works, for the influence of Sigmund Freud. Bibliography and index.

Mason, Gabriel R. From Gottsched to Hebbel. London: Harrap, 1961.

Niven, William John. The Reception of Friedrich Hebbel in Germany in the Era of National Socialism. Stuttgart, Germany: H. D. Heinz, 1984.

Purdie, Edna. Friedrich Hebbel: A Study of His Life and Work. 1932. Reprint. London: Oxford University Press, 1969.

Rees, G. Brychan. Hebbel as a Dramatic Artist: A Study of His Dramatic Theory and of Its Relationship to His Dramas. London: G. Bell and Sons, 1930.