Peter Weiss

Peter WeissPainter, film director, novelist, and playwright Peter Weiss was born near Berlin, Germany, on November 8, 1916. Half-Jewish, Weiss was forced to flee Germany with his family in 1934 because of Nazi persecution. The family settled temporarily in London, Switzerland, and Czechoslovakia before finally adopting Sweden as their new homeland in 1939.

Weiss studied at several institutions including the Polytechnic School of Photography in London and the Art Academy in Stockholm before beginning his career as a writer and painter. His first art exhibition took place in 1936, and his first produced play was Der Turm or The Tower (1950). He joined the Swedish Experimental Film Studio in 1952 and made films with a decidedly surrealistic influence. During this period, he also taught painting at Stockholm's People's University.

In 1964, Weiss established an international reputation with the production of The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade at the Schiller Theater in Berlin. Marat Sade evoked an extraordinary response from the press who hailed Weiss as "the new Brecht". The play revolves around the Marquis de Sade who composes and stages a play in 1808, in the lunatic asylum at Charenton, about the assassination of Marat in 1793. The play deals with the conflict of individuality versus the need for revolution. In the original version, the debate ended at an impasse, but Weiss later reworked the play to favor Marat's argument, and as the play ends, the inmates of the asylum, worked into a frenzy, call for revolution. Marat Sade was immediately recognized by critics as one of the most important works of the modern theatre. The following year, legendary director Peter Brook (who also directed the 1966 film version) staged a famous production of the play in New York City. TIME Magazine, reviewing the production, described the play as:

"... a hypodermic needle plunged directly into the playgoer's emotional bloodstream. It hypnotizes the eye and bruises the ear. It shreds the nerves; it vivisects the psyche--and it may scare the living daylights out of more than a few playgoers!"

Weiss' next play, Der Ermittlung or The Investigation (1965), continues the theme of political drama as it presents the playwright's version of events at the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials of 1963-65. Described by Weiss as an "oratoria with 11 cantos", the play confronts the men who carried out the mass murders at Auschwitz. Other political plays by Weiss include Gesang vom lusitanischen Popanz or Song of the Lusitanian Bogey (1967), Vietnam-Diskurs or Vietnam-Discourse (1968), and Trotzki im Exil or Trotsky in Exile (1970). Weiss also wrote three novels: The Shadow of the Body of the Coachman (1960), The Leavetaking (1961), and Exile (1962).

In 1970, Weiss suffered a heart attack, and his writing began to slow down. He adapted a few pieces from works by other authors such as Kafka and Strindberg, but for the most part, after 1973, his pen grew silent. He died in Stockholm on May 10, 1982.

Weiss' awards include the Charles-Veillon Prize (1963), the Lessing Prize (1965), the Heinrich Mann Prize (1966), the Carl Albert Anderson Prize (1967), the Thomas Dehler Prize (1978), the Cologne Literature Prize (1981), the Büchner Prize (1982), the Bremen Literature Prize (1982), the De Nios Prize (1982), and the Swedish Theatre Critics Prize (1982).

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Weiss' Plays  |  Other Works  |  Biographies/Studies  |  Weiss' Films


Weiss' Plays

Other Works


Weiss' Films

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