- (1761-1819)Playwright. Kotzebue's dramatic output was prodigious, thought to have exceeded 220 plays. Many of them have been performed thousands of times. His life as a diplomat, theater director, editor, and spy, and his death by assassination, were the stuff of legend throughout the 19th century. Critics in most cases dismissed his work as superficial and formulaic. Johann Wolfgang Goethe staged 87 different Kotzebue plays in Weimar, and Kotzebue's plays were on the bill more than 600 times under Goethe's management in Weimar alone. Other court and municipal theaters, especially in Berlin, Mannheim, Vienna, and Munich, featured Kotzebue productions in their repertoires for decades. Most German theaters outside Europe performed Kotzebue more often than any other playwright; for the first play performance ever in Chicago, for example, Kotzebue shared the bill with Shakespeare.Kotzebue was born in Weimar and studied law in nearby Jena. He earned a law degree in Duisburg and thereafter worked for the Prussian foreign service, serving first in St. Petersburg. In 1785 he became president of the Prussian judicial council in the province of Estonia and was raised to the nobility, adding "von" to his name. In the same year, he began writing plays. The most successful of his initial play-writing efforts was Menschenhass und Reue (Misanthropy and Repentance), which premiered in 1789. In the 1790s he concentrated his efforts on playwriting instead of diplomacy, even as Europe was in the midst of the Napoleonic wars. He returned to Russia in 1800 but was promptly arrested and sent to a Siberian prison camp; his friend and patron Tsar Paul I (1754-1810) saw to his release from the prison camp and named him director of the Deutsches Theater in St. Petersburg. Unfortunately, the tsar was assassinated the following year, which forced Kotzebue to leave St. Petersburg immediately and return to Berlin. With the occupation of Berlin by Napoleon's troops in 1806, Kotzebue returned to his estate in Estonia (inherited from his Russian wife, who had died in 1790) and remained there until 1813. In 1817 he accepted espionage assignments from Tsar Alexander I, whose foreign office sent him to Germany. Two years later, Kotzebue was assassinated in Mannheim by a university student with nationalist passions.Throughout his travels, Kotzebue had continued to write plays, for he had developed an often infallible sense for plots and characters that pleased and entertained audiences. To this day, few scholars or critics dispute his status as the "Father of Trivial Dramatic Literature," but few likewise grant him approbation as a significant contributor to German theater. That his plays provided employment throughout the 19th century to thousands of actors, scenic artists, and even playwrights who imitated him seems today of little consequence; among his non-German imitators were Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816) and William Dunlap (1766-1839). Kotzebue is accused of strengthening the public's taste for sensationalism, since many of his plays (e.g., Die Spanier im Peru The Spaniards in Peru, 1797) call for elaborate scenic investiture. Johann Wolfgang Goethe stated that if Kotzebue had devoted himself to developing his enormous playwriting talent with the same energy he used merely to churn out plays, he would have been in the front rank of German playwrights. Friedrich Nietzsche, on the other hand, said he was already in the front rank, and indeed claimed that Kotzebue's was the only "real" talent among the Germans.
Historical dictionary of German Theatre. William Grange. 2006.
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Kotzebue, August von — ▪ German playwright born May 3, 1761, Weimar, Saxony [Germany] died March 23, 1819, Mannheim, Baden German playwright widely influential in popularizing poetic drama, into which he instilled melodramatic sensationalism and sentimental… … Universalium
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