Hans Sachs Analysis

Other Literary Forms

In addition to writing sixty-one tragedies, sixty-five comedies, and eighty-one Fastnachtspiele (carnival plays), Hans Sachs was a popular poet. He was undoubtedly the most notable German poet during the first half of the sixteenth century. His literary production was enormous; Adalbert Keller, his principal bibliographer, indicates the number of his pieces of verse to be more than 4,275, with more than fifty thousand lines. Hans Sachs also wrote Erzählungen (tales), Schwänke (farces or amusing stories), and Fabeln (fables) in addition to his Lieder (songs) and Gedichte (poems).

That Sachs was touched by the stirring events of his age is seen in the fact that he wrote several impassioned poems on the brutality and menace of the Turks. For a time, his relationship with the Lutheran Reformation was an active participation. In 1523, he published his famous Die wittenbergisch Nachtigall (nightingale of Wittemberg), in which he lauded Martin Luther and criticized the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church. Later, he published a group of Reformation prose dialogues (his only works written in prose), including the well-known Disputation zwischen einem Chorherren und einem Schuchmacher (1524; dispute between a choirmaster and a shoemaker).


Hans Sachs, the Nuremberg “shoemaker-poet,” has been acclaimed and immortalized by readers—for more than four hundred years—for his literary contributions. The general consensus of most readers, critics, and scholars of German literature is that great as his achievements were in all phases of German literature, Sachs’s art is at its best in the Fastnachtspiele, or carnival plays.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, perhaps Germany’s best-known author and dramatist, wrote on one occasion that Sachs was the true initiator of German secular drama. Composer Richard Wagner showed his obvious admiration by immortalizing Sachs in his opera entitled Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1868; the meistersinger of Nuremberg).

It must be remembered that in Germany, as elsewhere, popular drama grew out of church plays representing biblical events. In time, humorous actions or anecdotes were gradually introduced into the performances for the amusement of the people. Eventually, these bits of humorous anecdotes or episodes were lengthened—to the delight of the spectators—and were acted out as a separate unit or “one-act,” as in the case of the Fastnachtspiele.

The genre existed before Sachs, but whereas previous playwrights had only hinted in form and substance, Sachs created imaginative and colorful plots that moved rapidly with unity and dramatic cohesiveness. He became the master in creating and bringing to...

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Aylett, Robert, and Peter Skrine, eds. Hans Sachs and Folk Theatre in the Late Middle Ages: Studies in the History of Popular Culture. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1995. A study of Sachs and the popular theater of Germany that contains information on the staging of his works. Provides the most complete examination of both the stage history and critical analysis of the Fastnachtsspiel.

Beare, Mary, ed. Hans Sachs: Selections. Durham: University of Durham, 1983. The preface and introduction to this collection of poetic works by Sachs provide details of Sachs’s life and critical analysis of his works. Bibliography.

Bernstein, Eckhard. “Hans Sachs.” In German Writers of the Renaissance and Reformation, 1280-1580, edited by James Hardin and Max Reinhart. Vol. 179 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1997. A detailed overview.