Main and state action

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Joseph Anton Stranitzky in the costume of Hanswurst

Haupt- und Staatsaktion is a name for the theater plays that dominated the repertoire of German traveling troops from the end of the 17th century to almost the middle of the 18th century . Usually it was antics that centered on a funny person , usually the buffoon . The most famous author and performer of the main and state actions was Joseph Anton Stranitzky with his performances in the Vienna Kärntnertortheater . 14 pieces of this type have survived from him and are now kept in the Austrian National Library.


The main and state action was a mixture of drama and impromptu theater : because there were only a few plays in print, and these were mostly tragedies , such texts were used by the actors as a framework for comical decorations that interested the audience most. A main and state action from Hamburg around 1719 was titled as follows:

Nero / the sixth Roman emperor / In the first 5 years of his laudable reign. / Or / The insult for love. / With / Arlequin an enthusiastic court fool. / The full decision will be made: / A funny episode.

Similar to the French divertissement , the “main actions”, i.e. the main pieces announced on the program, were accompanied by comical interludes and reenactments as side actions. They were mostly based on French and Italian dramas or operas with mostly ancient, mythological or historical-political content (hence also “state actions”).

The side actions had the task of loosening up these actions to suit the taste of the general public . The funny character of the Hanswurst , a mixture of the pickled herring of the English traveling theaters and the arlecchino (harlequin) of the Italian Commedia dell'arte , played a central role . Hanswurst was usually placed as a servant figure to the serious main character and entertained the audience with farcical appearances, rough jokes and indecentities.

Spectacular costume of the hero

The plot of the dramas, which are mostly set in court circles, was only taken superficially and greatly simplified. It took a back seat to the interludes and reenactments, which often resulted in parodies or travesties of courtly tragedies . In addition, more emphasis was placed on the most spectacular effects possible, pompous scenes (for example coronation scenes and feasts) and splendid costumes than on the poetic model or the artistic level. The scenes were in the kind of impromptu game outlined only content, without the pathetic to formulate -rührseligen dialogues. This provided space for improvisation and spontaneous changes.


The term main and State action was within the Leipzig theater reform through the main one, the literary theorist Johann Christoph Gottsched , polemically used. Gottsched was an advocate of literary enlightenment and spoke out vehemently against the spectacle pieces , which were used for amusement instead of moral instruction. He pleaded for an Enlightenment theater based on the model of French classicism . The actress and principal Friederike Caroline Neuber , who worked closely with Gottsched on the stage reform, implemented this symbolically by banning the Hanswurst from the stage in an allegorical play in 1737.

However, this had little impact on theater life. The main and state action went out of fashion by itself and gave way to new, less improvised variants of the farce after the mid-18th century.

In the time of the fin de siècle the interest in older forms of popular theater grew again . - Alexander Lernet-Holenia described his expressionist drama Demetrius (1925) as a main and state action.

The construction principle of the main and state action was taken up in the 20th century in the film The Devil's Brother (1933) with Laurel and Hardy , which is based on the opera Fra Diavolo .

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Eduard Devrient : History of German acting. Revised and continued to the present day as "Illustrated German Theater History" by Artistic Director Willy Stuhlfeld. Eigenbrödler-Verlag, Berlin et al. 1929, p. 70.


  • Karl Weiss : The Vienna main and state acts. A contribution to the history of German theater . Vienna 1854 ( digitized version )
  • Rudolf Payer von Thurn (ed.): Wiener Haupt- und Staatsaktion (= writings of the literary association in Vienna. 10 and 13, ZDB -ID 513493-6 ). 2 volumes. Publishing house of the literary association in Vienna, Vienna 1908-1910, ( digitized volume 1 , digitized volume 2 ).
  • Otto Rommel : The Viennese Hanswurst as a playwright. In: Yearbook of the Society for Vienna Theater Research. 1944, ISSN  0072-4262 , pp. 105-131.
  • Reinhard Urbach : The Viennese comedy and its audience. Stranitzky and the consequences (= Viennese themes ). Jugend und Volk, Vienna et al. 1973, ISBN 3-7141-6019-1 .