Franz Grillparzer Censored by Hapsburgs

Date: 1819, 1823-1824, 1826, 1828, 1838

Region: Europe

Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion

Medium: Literature Theatre

Artist: Franz Grillparzer (1791 - 1872)

Confronting Bodies: The Hapsburg monarchy

Dates of Action: 1819, 1823-1824, 1826, 1828, 1838

Location: Austria

Description of Artwork: Grillparzer became famous with his early plays The Ancestress (1817), Sappho (1818), and the trilogy The Golden Fleece (1821). Grillparzer first encountered censorship with his poem Campo vaccino in 1819 which questioned the authority of the cross in the face of the cultural achievements of pagan Rome. His next work to face censorship was the play King Ottocar: His Rise and Fall. This play, modeled on Shakespeare's histories, personalizes the medieval power struggle between the Bohemians and the Hapsburgs for control of the Holy Roman Empire. Belief in authority and longing for freedom were the two dominant themes in his writing. He also frequently wrote of the weakness of rulers but their legitimate claim to power. His fictional rulers reflected his belief in a strict social order and civil obedience as well as individual freedom.

The Incident: Grillparzer's first encounter with censorship came in 1819 with the publication of his poem Campo vaccino, which the authorities deemed as blasphemous. The censors confiscated all printed copies, Grillparzer was officially reprimanded and his bureaucratic career halted. In 1823 he submitted King Ottocar: His Rise and Fall to the censors. It was banned because the play gave the Bohemians personality and character, and because any political allusion--even if it was loyal--was not looked well upon. A few months later the authorities allowed it to be published but not performed. A year later a censored version was finally allowed performance. In 1826 Grillparzer's house was raided because of his connections to a literary society. The emperor tried to buy the rights for his next play, A Faithful Servant to His Master, but Grillparzer fought this attempt, knowing it was just a bribe to try and remove the play from circulation. After the censors turned down his 1838 comedy Thou Shalt Not Lie Grillparzer began to practice diligent self-censorship. He continued to write, but did not allow the performance of any of his plays. In 1840 he abandoned work on Esther, because it dealt with religious issues to which censorship was very sensitive.

Results of Incident: After 1848 Grillparzer's plays became highly esteemed and the writer was made a member of the Upper House in 1861. He became an icon of German-Austrian literature after the founding of the German empire in 1870. After World War II, when Austria was seeking to re-establish its identity, Grillparzer's plays once again became very popular.

Source: Censorship: A World Encyclopedia