Franz Seraphicus Grillparzer (15 January 1791 – 21 January 1872) was an Austrian writer who is chiefly known for his dramas. He also wrote the oration for Ludwig van Beethoven's funeral.
Franz Grillparzer was born in Vienna, Austria. His father, E.J. Grillparzer, was a severe pedant and a staunch upholder of the liberal traditions of the reign of Joseph II, and was an advocate of some standing. His mother, Anna Franziska, was a nervous, highly-strung woman who belonged to the well-known musical family of Sonnleithner. His father destined Grillparzer for the legal profession, and, after a desultory education, Grillparzer entered the University of Vienna in 1807 as a student of jurisprudence. Two years later his father died, leaving the family in difficult circumstances. After obtaining his degree from the university in 1811, Franz first became a private tutor for a noble family; then in 1813, he entered the civil service as a clerk at the Imperial and Royal Hofkammer (Exchequer) in Austria. In 1821, he unsuccessfully applied to the position of scribe at the Imperial Library, and later that same year, he was relocated to the Ministry of Finance. In 1832, he became director of the archives at the Imperial and Royal Hofkammer, a position he held until his retirement in 1856. Grillparzer had little capacity for an official career and regarded his position merely as a means of independence. From early youth, Grillparzer displayed a strong literary impulse. He devoted especial attention to the Spanish drama, and nearly all his writings bear marks of ths influence of Calderón. His autobiography, which was written in 1853 and brings down the narrative of his life to 1836, is a model of clear, simple, and elegant prose, and it throws much interesting light both on his personal character and on the tendencies of his time. Among his posthumous writings are many fragments of literary, philosophic, and political criticism, all of them indicating a strong and independent spirit, not invariably just, but distinct, penetrating, and suggestive. It is characteristic of him that he expresses extreme dislike of Hegel's philosophy on the ground that its terms are unintelligible. On the other hand, he gives evidence of careful and sympathetic study of Kant. Of modern literary critics, Gervinus was most repugnant to him, mainly because of the tendency of this writer to attribute moral aims to authors who created solely for art's sake. He rather maliciously says that Gervinus had one advantage and one disadvantage in writing his history of German literature, — the advantage of common sense, the disadvantage of knowing nothing of his subject. Of a quiet contemplative nature, Grillparzer shunned general society. He never married. To a stranger he seemed cold and distant, but in conversation with any one he liked his real disposition revealed itself; his manner became animated, his eyes brightened, and a sarcastic but not ill-natured smile would play upon his lips. It was one of his sayings that the art of writing poetry can neither be taught nor learned, but he also held that inspiration will not visit a poet who neglects to make himself master of his subject. Hence before writing a play he worked hard, striving to comprehend the spirit of the age he wished to represent. He was exceedingly fond of travel, and at different times visited all the leading European countries. After 1840, when his solitary comedy was rejected by the public, he almost passed from the memory of his contemporaries. Fortunately for him, his admirer Heinrich Laube settled in Vienna in 1849 as artistic director of the court theatre. By and by Laube reintroduced on the stage some of Grillparzer's forgotten works, and their success was immediate and profound. To his own surprise, Grillparzer became the most popular author of the day; he was ranked with Goethe and Schiller, and lauded as the national poet of Austria. On the eightieth anniversary of his birthday all classes from the court downwards united to do him honour; never, probably, did Vienna exert herself so much to prove her respect for a private citizen. He was buried with an amount of ceremony that surpassed even the pomp displayed at Klopstock's funeral. He was originally buried in the Währinger Cemetery in Vienna, now known as Schubertpark. He now lies in Hietzinger Friedhof.
In 1807–1809, Grillparzer wrote a long tragedy in iambics, Blanca von Castilien, modeled on Friedrich von Schiller's Don Carlos. He also produced the dramatic fragments Spartacus and Alfred der Grosse (1809). When Grillparzer began to write, the German stage was dominated by the wild plays of Werner, Müllner, and other authors of the so-called “fate-tragedies.” Grillparzer's play The Ancestress (German: Die Ahnfrau), published in 1816, was penetrated by their spirit. It is a gruesome fate-tragedy in the trochaic measure of the Spanish drama, already made popular by Adolf Müllner in his Schuld. A lady, who has been slain by her husband for infidelity, is doomed to visit “the glimpses of the moon” until her house is extinguished, and this end is reached in the tragedy amid scenes of violence and horror. Its general character is similar to that of Werner's dramas; it only differs from them in containing individual passages of much force and beauty. It reveals an instinct for dramatic as opposed to merely theatrical effect, which distinguishes it from other fate-dramas of the day. Unfortunately, its success led to the poet being classed for the best part of his life with playwrights like Müllner and Houwald. In 1817, the first performances of The Ancestress made Grillparzer famous.The Ancestress was followed by Sappho (1818), a drama of a very different type; in the classic spirit of Goethe's Torquato Tasso, Grillparzer unrolled the tragedy of poetic genius, the renunciation of earthly happiness imposed upon the poet by his higher mission. An Italian rendering of this play fell into the hands of Lord Byron, who, although the translation was very bad, expressed his conviction that the author's name would be held in reverence by posterity. It is full of the aspiration of the Romantic school, but its form is classic, and its chastened style presents a striking contrast to the noise and fury of The Ancestress. The problem of the play has some resemblance to that of Goethe's Torquato Tasso, for in both we find the struggles of a poetic nature which is unable to reconcile itself to the conditions of the actual world. Grillparzer's conceptions are not so clearly defined as Goethe's, nor is his diction so varied and harmonious; but the play has the stamp of genius, and ranks as one of the best of those works in which an attempt has been made to combine the passion and sentiment of modern life with the simplicity and grace of ancient masterpieces. In 1821, Grillparzer completed his The Golden Fleece (Das goldene Vlies) trilogy, a project that had been interrupted in 1819 when his depressed mother committed suicide, and by Grillparzer's subsequent visit to Italy. The trilogy opens with a one-act prelude, Der Gastfreund, then depicts, in The Argonauts (Die Argonauten) Jason's adventures in his quest for the Fleece. Medea, a tragedy of classic proportions, contains the culminating events of the story of Medea, which had been so often dramatized before. The theme is similar to that of Sappho, but on a larger scale. It is again the tragedy of the heart's desire, the conflict of the simple happy life with that sinister power, be it genius or ambition, which upsets the equilibrium of life. There is delicate art in the delineation of the mingled fascination and repulsion which Medea and Jason feel for each other, and when at last repulsion becomes the dominant force, the dramatist gives splendid utterance to the rage of the disappointed wife and mother. Medea, her revenge stilled, her children dead, bears the fatal Fleece back to Delphi, while Jason is left to realize the nothingness of human striving and earthly happiness. The end is bitter disillusionment; the only consolation renunciation. Some critics consider Medea Grillparzer's highest achievement.
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