Martersteig, Max

(1853-1926)
   Actor, director, manager, historian. Martersteig has the distinction, shared with few others, of success as both a German theater artist and a chronicler of German theater history. He was an actor in Rostock, Weimar, Aachen, and Frankfurt an der Oder; a director in Mainz, Aachen, and Kassel; and a manager in Mannheim, Cologne, and Düsseldorf. Martersteig's books on Pius Alexander Wolff and Johann Wolfgang Goethe's acting theory, and especially his monumental study of the German theater's development during the 19th century, mark him as a singular and insightful observer. His writing is furthermore unlike most other historical accounts at the time, since his use of extended metaphors makes for engrossing and informative reading.
   His acting career began in 1873, and critics praised his Hamlet in Rostock. Informed subsequently that he was "too ugly for romantic roles, and too stupid to play character parts," Martersteig began to work as a director, staging several productions in Kassel before assuming management of the Mannheim National Theater from 1885 to 1890. For the next six years, he ran the Deutsches Theater in Riga, then worked as a freelance director in Berlin until 1905, when he became intendant of the Cologne City Theaters. Martersteig finished his career in Leipzig, as intendant there from 1912 to 1918. As a manager, Martersteig was an advocate of Henrik Ibsen and Friedrich Hebbel, though his productions of Shakespeare were his most noteworthy.
   Martersteig's contribution to scholarship concomitant with active theater production is perhaps his greatest achievement. His Das deutsche Theater im 19. Jahrhundert (The German Theater in the 19th Century) was among the first comprehensive and methodical approaches to theater's place within German social culture. He regarded theater as "a completely social product," taking into account the vagaries of numerous political movements, legislation, warfare, and social trends that shaped the German theater over 10 decades. With the unification of Germany, he said, there was a general consensus that the "German Nation" had a mission: "to help fulfill the awakening and transmission of a humane Germanic culture to the rest of the world" (Das deutsche Theater, 517). His was also a masterful account of economic factors that persistently bedeviled court, city, and commercial theaters, while recounting the maneuvers both actors and playwrights undertook in efforts to make their work remunerative. Martersteig was a shrewd drama critic as well, exploring important but now forgotten playwrights such as Wilhelm Hackländler, Karl Töpfer, Eduard von Bauernfeld, Ernst Raupach, Roderich Benedix, David Kalisch, and the formidably successful Charlotte Birch-Pfeiffer. His work is also valuable for describing the careers of significant 19th-century actresses who "were prepared to go the limits in perfecting their travesty of sex and woman as an instrument of pleasure, with a seductive clarity on the boards of the stage" (506).

Historical dictionary of German Theatre. . 2006.

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