Hans Sachs Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Hans Sachs was born six years before the end of the fifteenth century and lived until 1576. Sachs, the son of a tailor, began his schooling at the age of seven at one of the four Latin schools of Nuremberg. His teacher, Herr Friedel, taught him grammar, rhetoric, singing, and, later, some Latin. For eight years he remained in this school; this was the only formal schooling he ever received. At the age of seventeen, he embarked on his Wanderjahre. From Regensburg, where he first stopped and remained for two months, he went to Passau, and from there down the Inn River, via Braunau, Ried, and Wells, to Salzburg. Everywhere he interested himself not only in his training as a cobbler, but also in the life of the many people with whom he came in contact. During these formative years, his interest in literature, as well as people, grew rapidly. His earliest dated and preserved literary attempt was written in 1513. This was a Buhlscheidlied (love poem), in which he describes the pangs of separation from a beloved.

About this same time, he obtained a copy of the Augsburg edition of Heinrich Steinhöwels’s translation of some of the stories in Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron: O, Prencipe Galetto, (1349-1351; The Decameron, 1620). In 1514, Sachs continued his travels to Munich, then to Würzburg, Frankfurt am Main, Koblenz, Cologne, and to Leipzig, when, after a total of five years’ absence, he returned to his native...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Lovers of composer Richard Wagner will recognize Hans Sachs (saks), the greatest master singer of his time, as one of the principal characters in the opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1862; The Master-Singers of Nuremberg, 1892). Surprisingly, Sachs’s continuing fame does not rest on his songs and poems but on his 208 dramas, which helped keep the German theater alive in the sixteenth century.

Sachs was born and died in Nuremberg, a contemporary and disciple of Martin Luther. He apprenticed as a shoemaker and became a master cobbler about 1518, but he forsook his craft to become a wandering troubadour, the highest calling in a day when the arts were revered. Sachs became a master singer in 1520 and went on to conduct a school for master singers in Munich. He became leader of the Nürnberg singers in 1554. During about fifty years of composing, he is said to have produced more than four thousand songs, two thousand tales in verse, and 208 plays. His plays are considered the finest examples of the Fastnachtsspiel, the humorous plays for Shrovetide, a form paralleling the development of drama in England at the same time. Germany was torn by strife over the Reformation, however, and consequently had little patience with delightful trifles. When Sachs wrote The Wittenberg Nightingale to honor Luther, its immediate popularity rapidly advanced the cause of the Reformation.

The enthusiasm with which Sachs wrote, the advantageous times in which he lived, and the care with which his works were preserved all contribute to the information that is available about this man and his work. Wagner in The Master-Singers of Nuremberg was justly paying tribute to one of the great creators who had preceded him.