Ancient Drama and Reception of Antiquity in the Theatre and Drama of the German Democratic Republic (GDR)


  • Bernd Seidensticker Freie Universität Berlin



Theatre in the German Democratic Republic, state propaganda machine, party, classical Greek drama


Theatre in the German Democratic Republic was an essential part of the state propaganda machine and was strictly controlled by the cultural bureaucracy and by the party. Until the early sixties, ancient plays were rarely staged. In the sixties, classical Greek drama became officially recognised as part of cultural heritage. Directors free to stage the great classical playwrights selected ancient plays, on one hand, to escape the grim socialist reality, on the other to criticise it using various forms of Aesopian language. Two important dramatists and three examples of plays are presented and discussed: an adaptation of an Aristophanic comedy (Peter Hack’s adaptation of Aristophanes’ Peace at the Deutsche Theater in Berlin in 1962), a play based on a Sophoclean tragedy (Heiner Müller’s Philoktet, published in 1965, staged only in 1977), and a short didactic play (Lehrstück) based on Roman history (Heiner Müller’s Der Horatier, written in 1968, staged in 1973 in Hamburg in West Germany, and in the GDR only in 1988). At the end there is a brief look at a production of Aeschylus Seven against Thebes at the BE in 1969.


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Author Biography

Bernd Seidensticker, Freie Universität Berlin

BERND SEIDENSTICKER, emeritus Professor of Classics, Freie Universität Berlin, member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Akademie der Wissenschaften, visiting professor at Austin, Berkeley, Harvard, Princeton, Urbana. He studied classical philology and German studies at the universities of Tübingen and Hamburg with Hartmut Erbse, Wolfgang Schadewaldt and Bruno Snell and was a fellow of the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes. In 1965 he became research assistant in Hamburg. In 1968 he received his doctorate with the dissertation Die Gesprächsverdichtung in den Tragödien Senecas. In 1973–74 he was a Junior Fellow of Harvard University at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, DC. In 1978 he completed his habilitation in Hamburg with his study on comic elements in the Greek tragedy, Palintonos Harmonia: Studien zu komischen Elementen in der griechischen Tragödie, and became professor in 1980. In 1987 he moved to the Freie Universität Berlin. In 1989 he was a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. Since 1993 he is a member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Akademie der Wissenschaften, where he chairs the Commission for Classical Studies. He has held numerous visiting professorships: Austin (1974–75, 1976–77, 1980, 1986, 1990), Berkeley (1981), Harvard (1986) and Ann Arbor (1992). He has been Junior (1973/4) and Senior Fellow (2000-2005) at the Center for Hellenic Studies and managing editor of the Philologus. His main research interests include Greek and Roman drama and theatre; and reception of antiquity.