SACHS, HANS (1494-1576), German poet and dramatist, was born at Nuremberg on the 5th of November 1494. His father was a tailor, and he himself was trained to the calling of a shoemaker. Before this, however, he received a good education at the Latin school of Nuremberg, which left behind it a lasting interest in the stories of antiquity. In the spring of 1509 he began his apprenticeship, and was at the same time initiated into the art of the Meistersingers by a weaver, Leonhard Nunnenpeck. In 1511 he set out on his Wanderjahre, and worked at his craft in many towns, including Regensburg, Passau, Salzburg, Munich, Osnabrück, Lübeck and Leipzig. In 1516 he returned to Nuremberg, where he remained during the rest of his life, working steadily at his handiwork and devoting his leisure time to literature. In 1517 he became master of his gild and in 1519 married. The great event of his intellectual life was the coming of the Reformation; he became an ardent adherent of Luther, and in 1523 wrote in Luther's honour the poem beginning Die wittenbergisch Nachtigall, Die man jetzt höret überall, and four remarkable dialogues in prose, in which his warm sympathy with the reformer is tempered by counsels of moderation. In spite of this, his advocacy of the new faith brought upon him a reproof from the town council of Nuremberg; and he was forbidden to publish any more Büchlein oder Reimen. It was not long, however, before the council itself openly threw in its lot with the Reformation. After the death of Hans Sachs's first wife in 1560 he married again. His death took place on the 19th of January 1576.
Hans Sachs was an extraordinarily fertile poet. By the year 1567 he had composed, according to his own account, 4275 Meisterlieder, 1700 tales and fables in verse, and 208 dramas, which filled no fewer than 34 large manuscript volumes; and this was not all, for he continued writing until 1573. The Meisterlieder were not printed, being intended solely for the use of the Nuremberg Meistersinger school, of which Sachs was the leading spirit. His fame rests mainly on the Spruchgedichte, which include his dramatic writings. His “tragedies” and “comedies” are, however, little more than stories told in dialogue, and divided at convenient pauses into a varying number of acts; of the essentials of dramatic construction or the nature of dramatic action Sachs has little idea. The subjects are drawn from the most varied sources, the Bible, the classics and the Italian novelists being especially laid under contribution. He succeeds best in the short anecdotal Fastnachtsspiel or Shrovetide play, where characterization and humorous situation are of more importance than dramatic form or construction. Farces like Der fahrende Schüler im Paradies (1550), Das Wildbad (1550), Das heiss Eisen (1551), Der Bauer im Fegefeuer (1552) are inimitable in their way, and have even been played with success on the modern stage.
Hans Sachs himself made a beginning to an edition of his collected writings by publishing three large folio volumes (1558-1561); after his death two other volumes appeared (1578, 1579). A critical edition has been published by the Stuttgart Literarischer Verein, edited by A. von Keller and E. Goetze (23 vols., 1870-1896); Sämtliche Fastnachtsspiele, ed. by E. Goetze (7 vols., 1880-1887); Sämtliche Fabeln und Schwänke, by the same (3 vols., 1893). There are also editions of selected writings by J. Tittmann (3 vols., 1870-1871; new ed., 1883-1885) and B. Arnold (2 vols., 1885). See E. K. J. Lützelberger, Hans Sachs (1876); C. Schweitzer, Étude sur la vie et les œuvres de Hans Sachs (1887); K. Drescher, Hans Sachs-Studien (1890, 1891); E. Goetze, Hans Sachs (1891); A. L. Stiefel, Hans Sachs-Forschungen (1894); R. Genée, Hans Sachs und seine Zeit (1894; 2nd ed., 1902); E. Geiger, Hans Sachs als Dichter in seinen Fastnachtsspielen (1904).