Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz Analysis

Other Literary Forms

Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz was the author of one of the few lasting theoretical works to emerge from the Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) period in German literature. His Anmerkungen übers Theater nebst angehängten übersetzten Stück Shakespears (1774) served as a dramaturgy for the short-lived movement. Fully in line with the thinking of Johann Gottfried Herder, the young Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Friedrich Maximilian Klinger, Lenz rejected rules for drama composition. Like them, he attacked the French theater as superficial, disparaged the unities of time and place, and asserted that the greatest drama is conceived by emotion rather than reason.

Lenz wrote two volumes of poetry, two novellas, and a number of other theoretical essays; he also translated several plays by Plautus and made a substantial beginning on a novel. Yet his reputation as one of the leading writers of the Sturm und Drang movement and as a seminal drama theorist rests on the dramatic uvre and on Anmerkungen übers Theater nebst angehängten übersetzten Stück Shakespears.


Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz’s contributions to German drama are best understood within the context of the Sturm und Drang movement, a movement mirrored not only in his plays but also in his life. The movement flourished during the 1770’s as both a reaction to and a further development of the European Enlightenment. The latter movement was then well into late middle age, and its insistence on the primacy of reason in human affairs had become progressively more normative. Enlightenment ethics and poetics tended to be detailed and prescriptive. The Sturm und Drang movement countered with an assertion of the supremacy of the creative genius unfettered by sterile rules.

Lenz’s dramas confronted a theater tradition based on French classicism and affirmed by the German Enlightenment with such innovations as the realistic depiction of everyday life, the use of short scenes in sequence, and the critical treatment of burning social issues that involved the ruling aristocracy. The works for which he is famous could not be understood as Aristotelian tragedies or comedies. In fact, modern scholarship often describes Lenz as the father of the German tragicomedy . Terminological nuances aside, Lenz was one of the first to experiment with a dramatic form better suited to the new middle-class audience for theater that had grown to maturity during the early and middle decades of the eighteenth century. His disavowal of tragedy—because its appeal was supposedly limited...

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Diffey, Norman R. Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Bonn: Bouvier, 1981. Diffey examines the influence of Rousseau on Lenz’s work. Includes bibliography.

Guthrie, John. Lenz and Büchner: Studies in Dramatic Form. New York: Peter Lang, 1984. Guthrie compares the techniques used by Lenz and Georg Büchner in their dramatic works. Includes bibliography.

Kieffer, Bruce. The Storm and Stress of Language: Linguistic Catastrophe in the Early Works of Goethe, Lenz, Klinger, and Schiller. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1986. Kieffer examines Lenz’s work, along with that of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Maximilian Klinger, and Friedrich Schiller, in the context of the Sturm und Drang movement. Includes bibliography and index.

Leidner, Alan C., and Helga S. Madland, eds. Space to Act: The Theater of J. M. R. Lenz. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1993. A collection of essays about the Sturm und Drang playwright from a symposium on Lenz held at the University of Oklahoma in 1991. Includes bibliography and index.

Leidner, Alan C., and Karin A. Wurst. Unpopular Virtues: The Critical Reception of J. M. R. Lenz. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1999. The authors look at the critical reception of Lenz’s dramatic works. Contains bibliography and index.

Madland, Helga Stipa. Image and Text: J. M. R. Lenz. Atlanta, Ga.: Rodopi, 1994. Madland offers an interpretation and criticism of the Sturm und Drang playwright’s works. Includes bibliography and index.

O’Regan, Brigitta. Self and Existence: J. M. R. Lenz’s Subjective Point of View. New York: Peter Lang, 1997. O’Regan examines the dramatic works of Lenz with an eye to his portrayal of the self and the philosophy that pervades his works. Includes bibliography.