Kotzebue, August Friedrich von

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Kotzebue, August Friedrich von (1761-1819). German, Theater.

The sentimental, entertaining dramas of August von Kotzebue were once immensely popular with German theater-goers, and abroad, particularly from 1789 through 1815. However, in terms of originality and artistic quality, literary history ranks him as a minor figure.

Kotzebue is known as a sentimental writer, but his plays also contain fantasy, intrigue, and social satire. He tried to emulate Goethe, Johann Wolfgang and Schiller, Johann Christoph Friedrich von, but lived to see his reputation begin to fade. Kotzebue’s own life was rather melodramatic. Son of a Weimar civil servant, he studied law, achieved noble rank, and held important government and theatrical posts. He lived for years in Russia, where he was falsely imprisoned in Siberia, then pardoned by the Tsar for whom he later became a correspondent. He held unpopular political and religious views for which he was eventually stabbed to death by a radical fraternity youth.

Most successful of Kotzebue’s over 200 plays was the heart-rending domestic drama, Misanthropy or Repentance or The Stranger (1789). Also well-known are the comedies The Two Klingsbergs (1801) and The German Townsfolk (1803), and the melodramas The Spaniards in Peru (1795), and The Parrot (1791).

The English writer Sheridan, Richard Brinsley adapted several of his plays, and a Kotzebue scene is rehearsed in Jane Austin’s novel Mansfield Park (1814). Besides contributing to German popular theater and influencing Viennese comedy, Kotzebue paved the way toward more artistic middle-class drama.

Further Reading:

Edward T. Larkin, “August von Kotzebue,” Ed. J. Hardin and C. Schweitzer, German Writers inthe Age of Goethe, 1789-1832, 1990.


Pamela S. Saur

Lamar University

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