Franz Grillparzer: Exploring the Life and Works of an Austrian Dramatist


Who was Franz Grillparzer? Information on Austrian dramatist Franz Grillparzer life story, biography, works and writings.

Franz Grillparzer was a renowned Austrian dramatist whose works contributed to the development of Austrian literature. In this post, we’ll delve into the life and legacy of Franz Grillparzer, from his early years to his literary achievements. We’ll explore his most famous works, such as “The Golden Fleece” and “Sappho,” and examine his impact on Austrian literature and culture. Additionally, we’ll discuss Grillparzer’s unique style and themes, as well as his personal struggles and experiences. Join us as we discover the fascinating world of Franz Grillparzer.

Franz Grillparzer


Franz Grillparzer; (1791-1872), Austrian dramatist. Heir and continuator of the great German classicists, Grillparzer was aware of differing from them as an Austrian and as the child of a more modern and complicated age. His poetic character is a unique blend of the Greek heritage, the Viennese baroque tradition, German classicism and romanticism, and mid-19th century realism.

Life and Works

Grillparzer was born in Vienna on Jan. 15, 1791. Following the early death of his father, a lawyer, he gave up his studies and spent more than 40 years (1813-1856) in the Austrian civil service—uncongenial work, but it supported him in his “other,” productive life. He first won fame with Die Ahnfrau (1817), a “fate-tragedy” of superior poetic quality. Quite different is Sappho (1818), which treats, in the style of Goethean classicism, the conflict between art and ordinary life.

Das goldene Vliess (1821), a powerful trilogy, presents in Jason and Medea essentially modern marital and cultural problems and ends in bitter disillusionment and resignation. Work on this play was interrupted by family troubles: Grill-parzer’s mother, a high-strung woman from a gifted musical family, hanged herself in a fit of melancholy, and the young poet was left to care for three brothers of more or less precarious mentality. Consciousness of his own problematic heredity, increasing pessimism, and doubts as to their compatibility prevented Grillparzer from marrying Katharina Fröhlich, to whom he had long been engaged.


König Ottokars Glück und Ende (performed 1825), a historical tragedy depicting the conflict of the 13th century Rohemian king with Rudolf, the first Habsburg emperor, is distinguished by vivid realism of milieu and character. This play had difficulties with governmental censorship, as did Ein treuer Diener seines Herrn (performed 1828), his second venture into Austrian history. Forced back into the field of Hellenic legend, Grillparzer produced in Dei Meeres und der Liebe Wellen (1831)—the Hero and Leander story—the most beautiful love tragedy in the German language. Classical grace of form and mellifluous diction are combined in the play with realistic stage effects and psychological finesse.

Der Traum, ein Lehen (1834), a dream play that has often been called the “Austrian Faust” and is considered, technically, Grillparzer’s masterpiece, preaches his pessimistic doctrine of the hazard of enterprise and the vanity of worldly ambitions; inward peace alone remains desirable. This is the first of Grillparzer’s plays to end happily, and he wrote in Weh dem, der lügt (1838) his first and only comedy. However, the comedy’s deep philosophical humor was grossly misunderstood by the public, and disgusted by the fiasco of its premier, Grillparzer turned away from the stage forever. Three of his maturest works, thus withheld, became known only in 1873, after his death: Die Jüdin von Toledo, the tragedy of a ruler in 12th century Spain; Ein Bruderzwist in Hause Habsburg, a profound historical tragedy of the pre-Thirty Years’ War period; and Libussa, the deepest of all Grillparzer’s dramas, concerning the mythical founding of Prague. The dramatic fragment Esther dates from 1861.

The revolution of 1848, which overthrew the Metternich regime that had shackled Grillparzer’s genius, came too late to help him. “Too late” was Grillparzer’s despondent answer to the various honors that now came to him in tardy recognition. Deafness robbed him of the consolation of music, which had always been of extraordinary importance to him. He died in Vienna on Jan. 21, 1872.


Grillparzer combines a lively stage sense with deep and subtle character motivation and polished form. His view of life is tinged with an Austrian melancholy even more basic than the pessimism induced by Metternichian repression. His prose writings and verse epigrams, some of the latter trenchant and bitter, contain very shrewd observations on his times. His aesthetic and critical studies, notably those on the Spanish drama, of which he was a genuine connoisseur, are of great interest and value. Grillparzer’s poems are more self-revelatory and thoughtful than melodious; his finest lyrical verse occurs in his dramas. He wrote two notable novelettes: Das Kloster bei Sendomir (1828) and the masterly, largely autobiographical Der arme Spielmann (1848).

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