Gerhart Hauptmann Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Gerhart Johann Robert Hauptmann was born on November 15, 1862, in Obersalzbrunn, Silesia. His grandfather on his father’s side had been a weaver in his youth and was later an innkeeper; his father, Robert Hauptmann, owned a hotel. Silesia forms the background and the inspiration for many of Hauptmann’s works. He said that his works were rooted in his native soil and that he drew his strength as a writer from this region. Between 1874 and 1878, Hauptmann attended Realschule (high school) in Breslau, but he was a mediocre student. In the years following his graduation, he shifted from one possible vocation to another. In 1880, after working as an agricultural apprentice on an uncle’s farm in Silesia, he enrolled in art school in Breslau, intending to become a sculptor. In 1882 and 1883, he studied at the University of Jena, where he heard lectures on history, philosophy, literature, and archaeology. He also heard lectures by the most important disciple of Charles Darwin in Germany, Ernst Haeckel, whose theories were important in Hauptmann’s early plays.

In 1883, Hauptmann visited the Mediterranean and lived several months in Rome as a sculptor. Like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, whom Hauptmann emulated, he was fascinated by the Mediterranean world, and it had a strong impact on his writing. In 1884 and 1885, he studied for two semesters at the University of Berlin, during which time he attended many theatrical performances. Indeed, Hauptmann thought for a while that he would...

(The entire section is 613 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Gerhart Hauptmann (HOWPT-mahn), probably Germany’s greatest modern playwright, was born the son of an innkeeper in the Silesian village of Obersalzbrunn. As a child, he grew up under the influence of his parents’ Moravian religion in a home that was remarkable for its air of piety and mysticism. As a young man, Hauptmann failed to prepare himself adequately for a career at one of the German universities and as a result studied agriculture for a time. He left the soil, however, to study art at the Royal College of Art at Breslau in 1880-1881. He went to Rome to study sculpture in 1883. Between these two periods of study, he traveled throughout western Europe. Leisure for him to begin a career of writing was afforded by a marriage to Marie Thienemann, a wealthy young German woman, in 1885. He and his wife divorced ten years later. The marriage left its scars upon Hauptmann, who later referred to it as a time of torture.

As early as 1885, Hauptmann became interested in politics, especially in the liberal social-democrat movement. He joined a liberal literary society called “Through” and soon became associated with Otto Brahm’s Freie Buhne (Free Stage) in Berlin. His Before Dawn was produced in the theater’s first season. The play, a study of degeneracy among newly rich Silesian peasants, was a sensation at the time because of its naturalism. Hauptmann described the degeneracy with frankness, and he used the appropriate German dialects for each character. The play indicates the influence of Émile Zola’s naturalistic fiction on Hauptmann’s dramatic theory and practice. During the next three years, Hauptmann wrote plays such as The Reconciliation and Lonely Lives, stories of middle-class and domestic misery which remind the modern reader of Henrik Ibsen’s drama. The Weavers, produced in 1892, brought Hauptmann world fame. In this drama about starving workers in eighteenth century Germany, Hauptmann made use of a collective hero, a device often utilized by later collectivist authors in every genre. As might be expected, liberal groups throughout Europe hailed The Weavers as a rallying point for socialism and labor. Before imparting to the...

(The entire section is 903 words.)