born Nov. 25, 1878, Magdeburg, Ger.
died June 4, 1945, Ascona, Switz.
leading German Expressionist dramatist.
Kaiser’s father was a merchant, and
he apprenticed in the same trade. He
went to Argentina as a clerk but
contracted malaria and was forced to
return to Germany. During a long
convalescence he wrote his first plays,
mainly satirical comedies that attracted
little attention. His first success was
Die Bürger von Calais (1914; The
Burghers of Calais). Produced in 1917 at
the height of World War I, the play was
an appeal for peace in which Kaiser
revealed his outstanding gift for
constructing close-knit drama expressed
in trenchant and impassioned language.
He followed this with a series of plays
in which he showed man in deadly
conflict with the modern world of money
and machines: Von Morgens bis
Mitternachts (1916; From Morn to
Midnight), and the Gas trilogy,
consisting of Die Koralle (1917; The
Coral), Gas I (1918), and Gas II (1920).
Written in terse and fragmented prose,
these plays established him as a leader
of the Expressionist movement.
In 1920 Kaiser was arrested for
selling the furniture of a house he was
renting. Arguing that artists deserve
special treatment before the law, he
defended his actions as necessary for
his work, but he was convicted of
embezzlement and jailed for six months.
In his subsequent plays he showed that
Expressionism was only a phase in his
career. These plays, considered the
products of his artistic maturity, are
more intimate and embody a deep
experience of love: Oktobertag (1928;
The Phantom Lover), Der Gärtner von
Toulouse (1938; The Gardener of
Toulouse), Alain und Elise (1940), and
In 1938, after the Nazis had banned
his plays for their antiwar stance,
Kaiser went into exile in Switzerland,
where he continued his prolific output
of over 60 plays until his death. His
last work, published posthumously in
1948, was a mythological trilogy of
verse dramas: Zweimal Amphitryon (Twice
Amphityron), Pygmalion, and Bellerophon.