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By Gerhart Hauptmann
Translated from the German by Horst Frenz and Miles Waggoner
Prospect Heights, Illinois, 1991 (reissued)
ISBN: 0-88133-5404-1
218 pages

Bob Corbett
January 2016

This volume I read of Gerhart Hauptmann’s plays was uneven. I found the first play, “The Weavers” to be a very fine work, challenging, believable, touching and well written and constructed.

Alas, the other two plays in the collection weren’t quite up to the same quality for me. “Hannele” seemed a weak and unbelievable story of the death of a holy young woman, and the “comedy” “The Beaver Coat” was neither very funny and certainly, for me, not satisfying as a theater piece.

I was disappointed. Earlier on about a year and half ago, I did read a set of short stories by Hauptmann which I found to be much more satisfying than the plays of the current book I’ve just read.


This surprised me since I have discovered that Hauptmann is thought by critics to be a better playwright than a short story writer. My experience with these two collections has been the exact opposite.

Below I do make a few comments on my reading of the three plays in this collection.


This is a simply beautiful, touching and (mainly) believable play about the plight of weavers in the middle of the 19th century.

In the first act we meet the weavers, desperate souls who work at home doing piece work for a wealthy and unsympathetic owner of a large company. A stream of desperate folks come in with their small and pitiful piles of woven goods and is forced to take whatever the owner has decided.

The weavers plead and beg but are treated with brutality and with a complete lack of any care or respect for their persons.

The second act then takes us into the homes of a few of these folks where we see in a much wider range those inhuman conditions in which they live and the devastation to the lives of the whole families that these absurd and sub-human standards of living bring.

The third act moves to the local tavern which is where people meet and talk. One young man, once one of the weavers had gone away and became a soldier. He is young, cocky and a big talker of what he could do.

There is a lot of skepticism, yet his boasting dreams do move people to listen to his boast and to even further lay out their complaints and reveal their hopeless lives and prospects.

The fourth act shifts to the mansion of the owner of the mill and the complete lack of any sympathy shown to the weavers. The owner and his friends see these workers as disgusting humans or virtual sub-humans and have not the slightest sympathy for their condition.

The play’s last act recounts a revolution of sort that begins with this one mill owner and the discontent of his workers, but quickly sweeps the mill town and even moves out to other towns. A genuine revolution of the workers has begun and seems to be succeeding in creating a great victory to the weavers and the common people.

I found the play to be informative, gripping, touching, and hopeful. Gerhart Hauptmann was able to convince me of the justice of their cause and to, regretfully, having to concede that nothing short of some sort of violent rebellion would ever have brought about any change in the situation of the weavers.

It is a very powerful and persuasive play.


Hannele is a lovely young girl whose mother has died and her brutal father forces her to work to get money to feed his insatiable drinking habits. One dark night she stumbles into a simple home for the poor and she is clearly very ill. They try to care for her, but soon they realize she is actually dying.

It turns out she is a very holy young girl and God sends various angels to her to prepare her for her death in the midst of the poor house.

The play is quite mystical and a holy fantasy. Yet the portrait of the brutal father, the hopeless but God-loving daughter, is touching and rings true despite the mystical nature of the tale.


I found this play to be rather sillier than a “comedy” as it is described. Mrs. Wolff is a crook! She steals, violates all sorts of rules and such, yet is seen by most outsider her family as a hardworking washer woman of good character and a great worker. Her daughter is quickly following in her footsteps and is at least involved in stealing some wood from her boss’ house. There is also a stolen beaver coat which Mrs. Wolff is involved with.

The play is sort of an outrageous tale of Mrs. Wolff getting away with all sorts of illegal activities and yet being seen by most people, including the new judge of the area, as a simple, decent and hard working woman.

The play is called “A Comedy of Thieves in Four Acts.” It does try to be a comedy, and it is divided into four acts. However, I found it to be quite weak and not very funny.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett