GERHART HAUPTMANN'S first play, BEFORE SUNRISE, was produced in 1889 at the German Free Theater, and was acknowledged as the beginning of an important new literary movement for Germany just as Strindberg's MASTER OLAF had been recognized as the beginning of Swedish literary independence.
Hauptmann's dramatic genius is incontestable, but he has never seemed able to settle on any one form as best suited to express his dramatic intentions. THE WEAVERS, for example, a play that caused considerable stir on its presentation in 1892, is most unusual in that it is concerned with a whole community and has neither hero nor heroine. THE SUNKEN BELL, on the other hand, is centered around one man's struggle for expression. In MICHAEL KRAMER it is two men who hold the center of interest.
Gerhart Hauptmann's father was a Silesian innkeeper and the boy was originally intended for a farmer. His instincts, however, were artistic rather than agricultural. After two years of study in a school of art, a year of more general education at the University of Jena, and considerable continental travel, he settled down in Rome as a sculptor. Regard for health soon brought him back to the more bracing climate of Germany, and there, after some hesitation, he gave up art for a literary career.
At the time Hauptmann's BEFORE SUNRISE appeared, cultivated Germans had apparently forgotten the greatness of Germany's own Goethe and Schiller and Lessing. They read only French, Russian and Scandinavian authors. In spite of a recognition of his importance, the acceptance, therefore, of Hauptmann's first play was by no means universal. He persisted, however, with other realistic plays uncluding DRAYMAN HENSCHEL, LONELY LIVES and, most notable, THE WEAVERS. By 1910 he had the satisfaction of seeing the German realistic movement fully established.
But realism alone did not satisfy Hauptmann's artistic cravings. In 1893 he turned to Romanticism with the dream play, HANNELE, and followed it in 1897 by a "study in artistic temperament" called THE SUNKEN BELL. This play is without a doubt Hauptmann's best-known work, although not his most representative one.
Some critics regard drama as Hauptmann's least happy choice in the form of literary expression. Many consider him as one of the finest poets of modern times. He has also written many well-known novels of which ATLANTIS, appearing in 1912, is probably the most famous. That, incidentally, was the year that brought Hauptmann the Nobel Prize for literary achievement.
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