Gerhart Hauptmann was the son of a prosperous innkeeper in Silesia where the weaver riots took place eighteen years before his birth. The Silesian dialect he uses in THE WEAVERS and some of his other works is the language of his childhood. Following his parents’ wishes, he attempted the study of science and agriculture. He then studied art and sculpture with little success, finally finding his medium in writing poetry and fiction. His association with politically active, idealistic circles served as an inspiration for his writing of THE WEAVERS, whose story was familiar to him from his grandfather’s tales. The work was soon acclaimed as the first German socialist drama. The controversy that immediately surrounded the work contributed a great deal to its becoming widely known. On the grounds that the nature and language of the drama were inflammatory, public performances were repeatedly banned by the police. The ban was eventually removed by court order, the controversy finally reaching the German Parliament.
The style of the drama is naturalistic, presenting starkly realistic scenes from the lives of destitute Silesian weavers. Since the work introduces new characters in every scene, and lacks a definite unity of plot, its very form as drama was questioned. The structure is in fact epic, rather than dramatic. While appearing objective, the author obviously selected aspects that created sympathy for the plight of the weavers, and, by extension, the plight of all poor and exploited people.
This was the era of Social Darwinism, and the treatment of subjects repugnant to society was in literary vogue, as was also the naturalistic style through the influence of Tolstoy, Dostoevski, Ibsen, Zola, and Flaubert. With THE WEAVERS, based on a true incident, Hauptmann pioneered naturalistic drama in Germany. While his later subjects ranged from satire on society through middle-class personal conflicts to reworking themes of Greek tragedy, he is still best known for his naturalistic works, particularly for THE WEAVERS.