Date of this Version
“Oskar Blumenthal and the Lessing Theater in Berlin, 1888-1904,” Text and Presentation XXV (2004): 24-37.
Oskar Blumenthal (1852-1917) was Berlin’s most feared theatre critic in the early years of the new German Reich. He had the audacity of referring to Goethe as “an egghead” who had no understanding of what made plays effective for audiences, and in other critiques he ridiculed Kleist, Hebbel, and other “important” playwrights—prompting an adversary publicly to call him a “one-man lynch mob.” In the 1880s Blumenthal himself began writing plays, and he was so successful that many self-appointed cultural guardians accused him of damaging the German theatre beyond repair. His became the most frequently performed plays on any German stage well into the new twentieth century, and when he built the Lessing Theater in 1888 he became a theatrical entrepreneur whose triumphs were unsurpassed. Then he leased the Lessing to the man who had criticized him most vociferously and general rejoicing followed “Bloody Oscar” into retirement. Extremely few since Oskar Blumenthal have matched his record as influential critic, successful playwright, and prosperous theatrical entrepreneur. Even fewer have any idea who he was, when he lived, or what he accomplished.