German comic stage character for the theatre of actors and puppets. The name of Hanswurst (Jack Sausage) appeared for the first time in 1519 in a re-edition of Das Narrenschiff (The Ship of Fools) by Sebastian Brant. Martin Luther used the name as the title for a pamphlet. Over the years calling somebody a Hanswurst has commonly meant to mock or insult that person as a dimwitted fool. Hanswurst, as a dramatic character, was introduced for the first time as Wursthänsel in 1597 in Thomas Sackville’s English theatre company’s repertoire, and he became popular in Germany in 17th century farces and comedies.
The character was given new life as a puppet in Vienna in 1708 by actor and puppeteer Joseph Anton Stranitzky (1676-1726). His never-varying, multi-coloured costume combined peasant- and carnival-like elements. In an illustrated booklet celebrating the new year of 1717, Stranitzky stated that the character originated from the Salzburg region. In the Wiener Haupt- und Staatsaktionen (a kind of comic melodrama about Viennese politics and society performed by actors as well as puppets), the figure of Hanswurst appeared in 1724 both during comic interludes and during the main plot, in which he played the comical servant and counterpart to the idealized, aristocratic protagonist. This interplay gave the audience an alternative, down-to-earth, plebeian point of view of reality. Before his death in 1726, Stranitzky passed on the Narrenpritsche (the Slapstick or Fool’s Sceptre) at the end of a performance to his successor Gottfried Prehauser. The latter defended the character on the Viennese stage against the attacks of supporters of a more regulated and “enlightened” theatre. At the time of Prehauser’s death in 1769 the feud that had lasted nearly twenty years ended with the official ban of Hanswurst on the Viennese theatre scene. By the late 1780s, the character of Hanswurst had disappeared from German-language stages although he continued to live on in puppet theatres as was the case in the puppet theatres of Ulm (from 1772) and Strasbourg (1781) and at the Hänneschen-Theater in Cologne (from its founding in 1802 to the present day).
Even when the name of Hanswurst was replaced, his costume was sometimes preserved, as it was in the Münchner Marionnetten-Theater of Josef Leonhard Schmid, and in any case the essence of his personality always remained. After Hanswurst had been officially banned from the Viennese theatre scene, the actor Johann Laroche (1745-1806) appropriated the character, and made his Kasperl the new audience favourite.
Although the tradition of comic character actors in the theatre of Vienna ended with the death of Laroche in 1806, by that time German puppeteers had claimed the character as a string puppet and by 1830 also as glove puppet. We can say that the Hanswurst of Joseph Anton Stranitzky still lives on as the star of German puppet theatres through the comic characters that succeeded him.