Judith, pr. 1840 (English translation, 1974)
Genoveva, pb. 1843
Maria Magdalena, pb. 1844 (English translation, 1935)
Julia, pb. 1848
Herodes und Marianne, pr. 1849 (Herod and Marianne, 1930)
Michel Angelo, pb. 1851
Agnes Bernauer, pr. 1852 (English translation, 1904)
Gyges und sein Ring, pb. 1855 (Gyges and His Ring, 1914)
Der gehörnte Siegfried, pr. 1861 (The Horned Siegfried, 1921)
Siegfrieds Tod, pr. 1861 (Siegfried’s Death, 1969)
Kriemhilds Rache, pr. 1861 (Kriemhild’s Revenge, 1921)
Die Nibelungen, pr. 1861 (includes The Horned Siegfried, Siegfried’s Death, and Kriemhild’s Revenge)
Demetrius, pb. 1864
Three Plays, pb. 1914
Schnock: Ein niederländisches Gemälde, 1848
Neue Gedichte, 1848
Gedichte von Friedrich Hebbel, 1857
Mutter und Kind, 1859
Tagebücher, 1885-1887 (2 volumes)
Christian Friedrich Hebbel (HEHB-uhl) was born in Schleswig-Holstein to a poor mason who was hostile to his young son’s ambitions. “Poverty,” Hebbel wrote of him years later in his interesting diary, “had taken the place of his soul.” When Hebbel was fourteen, his father died, and the future dramatist was recommended by a teacher to a local magistrate, whom he served as secretary for eight years. During this time, he read widely, wrote verse and drama influenced by Johann Ludwig Uhland and Friedrich Schiller, and participated in amateur theatricals.
The editor of a Hamburg magazine offered Hebbel money toward a university education if he would come to Hamburg. Spending the next few years there at the University of Heidelberg and in Munich lecturing, studying law, and writing, Hebbel suffered from bitter poverty, which was partially relieved by his liaison with a seamstress whom he met in Heidelberg in 1836. During this period, he was developing his philosophical position; when he returned to Hamburg in 1839, he was ready to embark upon a career as a playwright. He completed Judith in 1840, Genoveva (in verse) in 1841, and Maria Magdalena in 1843; the last period he spent in Paris, where he had gone upon receiving money from the king of Denmark.
Hebbel went to Rome in 1844 and to Vienna in 1845. Moved by the warm reception he received there, he settled permanently. Despite the claims upon him of the woman who had borne him children, Hebbel married an actress whom he met in Vienna in 1846 and entered upon another important period of playwriting. Herod and Marianne, Agnes Bernauer, Gyges and His Ring, and his Die Nibelungen trilogy were, like his earlier plays, not immediately able to be staged in puritanical Vienna. When they were finally performed, with Hebbel’s wife playing leading roles, they met with widespread acclaim and secured for him the Order of Maximilian in Bavaria and the Schiller Prize in Berlin.
Although Hebbel wrote several volumes of verse and some stories, his reputation rests on his dramas. Applying Hegel’s dialectical method to the analysis of character, he showed how the act of self-assertion, which was necessary and not in itself evil, often led to destruction. Several of his plays describe relationships between male and female heroes of history and legend in which the assertive male brings about his own destruction through his blindness to the true nature of woman. His plays dealing with contemporary life, notably Maria Magdalena, often considered his masterpiece, make clear the sociological basis of his work, for he shows how strongly social conventions and values influence the actions of men and women. It is not surprising that Henrik Ibsen acknowledged Hebbel as one of his teachers.