Grabbe, Christian Dietrich

(1801-1836)
   Playwright. Grabbe's plays seldom found audience favor during his lifetime, but the 20th century was kinder to him. He studied law in Leipzig while endeavoring unsuccessfully in Dresden to become an actor or do theater work in some capacity. In Berlin during the 1820s, he wrote several plays, most notable among them Scherz, Ironie, und tiefere Bedeutung (Jest, Irony, and Deeper Significance, 1822). It was not produced until 1907, however, largely because his contemporaries found the play an unstageable, disconnected series of gloomy scenes in which most of the characters seemed incomprehensible. Grabbe returned from Berlin in 1824 with a law degree to his native Detmold, where he worked in a military judge advocate's office from 1826 to 1834. That period of regular employment afforded him the time and resources to complete several other plays, including Don Juan und Faust and Napoleon, oder die Hundert Tage (Napoleon, or the Hundred Days). The former was successfully premiered at the Detmold Court Theater, but the latter did not premiere until 1895. The modest success of Don Juan und Faust, however, encouraged him to quit his job and move to Düsseldorf as Karl Lebrecht Immermann's dramaturg. When the Düsseldorf enterprise began to crumble, Grabbe quarreled with Immermann and returned to Detmold. He died soon thereafter of tuberculosis in his boyhood home, a jailhouse of which his father had been warden.
   A literary society in Detmold now bears Grabbe's name and has its headquarters in that home, which houses an archive and a small experimental theater. A spectacular production of Napoleon staged by Leopold Jessner at the Berlin State Theater in 1922 was to date the most significantly attended of any Grabbe play. Grabbe's anti-Semitism found wide resonance during the Third Reich, when dozens of theaters did his plays; Nazi authorities even instituted "Grabbe Festival Weeks" in Detmold, inviting theaters with Grabbe plays in their repertoire to Detmold for special performances. Don Juan und Faust and Scherz were the most frequently performed during the Third Reich. In the 1970s a modest Grabbe revival took place among some German theaters, who staged several of his early, formerly unproduced plays.

Historical dictionary of German Theatre. . 2006.

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