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The Art of Comedy and Social Critique in Nineteenth-Century Germany

Charlotte Birch-Pfeiffer (1800-1868)


Rinske Pritchett

During the mid-nineteenth century, Charlotte Birch-Pfeiffer pursued a fifty-year career as a playwright and theater manager in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland at a time of the transformation of court theaters and itinerant troupes into commercial establishments staffed by middle-class professionals and subject to market forces. Although she has been undervalued by some critics past and present who considered her mainly as an adapter of contemporary novels, this study shows that with her thorough knowledge of the European dramatic tradition, her skill as a playwright, and above all her professionalism she overcame institutional and gender bias to develop a form of drama that integrated the social and economic changes of her time. The analysis focuses on her use of the subversive genre of comedy, the strategies she used to evade the censor, and her employment of assertive female and working-class characters. She revived commedia dell’arte techniques of the past while devising innovations that anticipated the subsequent course of drama as well as the film techniques of today.
Contents: Reception – Theory and Methodology – Scope of Work and Selection of Plays – Sociohistorical Context – Analysis of the Comedies.