The Origin of German Tragic Drama  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels (The Origin of German Tragic Drama, 1928) is a work of dramatic theory by Walter Benjamin concerned with tragedy.

It is the theoretic and empirical analysis of German politics and culture during the Counter-Reformation (1545–1648), via the critical study of the 18th-century theatrical Trauerspiel (Bürgerliches Trauerspiel, Bourgeois Tragedy) genre, that Walter Benjamin in 1925 presented to the University of Frankfurt as the (post-doctoral) dissertation meant to earn him the Habilitation (qualification) to become a university instructor in Germany.

In the changing political climate of German society in the 1930s, Walter Benjamin expected that the Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels (The Origin of German Tragic Drama, 1928) would culturally relate to the German belief in political and historical progress, by demonstrating the intellectual futility of raw historicism, and, like-wise, demonstrating that in the Trauerspiel the resuscitation of historical object and fact is infeasible. In the event, the abstruse (theoretically complex and referentially obscure) dissertation proved inaccessible to its academic judges when submitted for earning the Habilitation for Benjamin to be officially granted venia legendi (permission for lecturing).

Professor Schultz of University of Frankfurt found The Origin of German Tragic Drama inappropriate for his Germanistik department (of German Language and Literature), and passed it to the department of æsthetics (philosophy of art), the readers of which department likewise dismissed Benjamin's dissertation. In the event, in 1925, the University (among them Max Horkheimer) recommended to Walter Benjamin that he withdraw Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels as a Habilitation dissertation, and avoid formal rejection and concomitant public embarrassment; he heeded the advice, and three years later, in 1928, he published The Origin of German Tragic Drama as a book.

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