Benjamin Franklin Wedekind, the second of the six children born to Friedrich Wilhelm Wedekind, a physician, and Emilie Kammerer, a German singer and actress, was born in Hanover on 24th July, 1864. The family moved to Lenzburg in Switzerland, where his father had purchased a castle.
In 1884 Wedekind entered the University of Lausanne, and then moved to the University of Munich. He studied law and literature, but abandoned his studies and took a job as a publicity agent for the Swiss soup company Maggi.
Wedekind eventually returned to Munich where he attempted to make a living from acting. Wedekind also wrote plays and in 1891 he produced Spring Awakening. The sexual content of the play created great controversy and was immediately banned in Germany due to its frank portrayal of abortion, homosexuality, rape, child abuse and suicide. According to the authors of the The Concise Oxford Companion to the Theatre: "The play harks back to Büchner in its staccato structure and intensified realism, but looks forward to Expressionism and Symbolism in its grave-yard and schoolroom scenes in which it analyses the situation of two 14-year-old lovers who pay with their lives for the moral dishonesty of their tyrannical parents."
Dennis Kennedy has added: "Containing scenes of homosexual love, masturbation, and flagellation, the piece is a disturbing condemnation of how an oppressive society deals with puberty. Its provocative content, episodic structure, abrupt language, and two-dimensional and symbolic characters, like the Man-in-the-Mask played at its première by the author, all anticipate expressionism."
In 1896 Albert Langen, the son of a Rhineland industrialist, started the left-wing journal, Simplicissimus. Wedekind was an early contributor to the journal. Others writers and artists involved in the project included Thomas Heine, Thomas Mann, Rainer Maria Rilke, Olaf Gulbransson, Rudolf Wilke, Walter Trier and Edward Thony. The journal constantly attacked the German establishment. One right-wing journal in Germany, Augsburger Postzeitung, complained about the influence that it was having on young students and called for it to be banned as is was creating a "real danger to school discipline".
Wedekind's next play, Earth Spirit, was produced in Leipzig on 25th February 1898. This was the first of his "Lulu plays", which have as their central figure Lulu, a purely sexual creature who drives men to ruin. According to one critic: "Finally she meets her nemesis by being murdered by Jack the Ripper, one creature of instinct destroyed by another." Wedekind admitted that "she was created to stir up great disaster. "
Later that year Kaiser Wilhelm II objected to an article by Wedekind and a cartoon by Thomas Heine that appeared in the journal during his visit to Palestine. The issue was confiscated and a lawsuit was brought against Wedekind, Heine and the publisher, Albert Langen. Following the advice of his lawyer, Langen fled to Switzerland and remained in exile for five years. Both Wedekind (seven months) and Heine (six months) were imprisoned in the fortress of Köningstein for their attack on the German monarchy.
Wedekind developed a reputation for promiscuous behaviour and had an affair with Frida Uhl, the former wife of August Strindberg. She eventually gave birth to his child. He mixed with a group of bohemian artists and political activists including Erich Mühsam, who was a strong advocate of free love.
On the stage Wedekind often collaborated with the young Austrian actress Tilly Newes. They acted together in the second of his Lulu plays, Pandora's Box, in Vienna, at a private performance in 1905. Tilly played Lulu and Wedekind took the role of Jack the Ripper. The writer Karl Kraus played Kung Poti.
It has been argued that Wedekind "deliberately sought to outrage bourgeois society" and that he reflected the "perceived threat of powerful women" current at the time. In 1906, Wedekind married Newes, 22 years his junior. He rejected his previous promiscuous behaviour and became intensely jealous of his young wife.
The theatre critic, John Simon, has pointed out: "Wedekind acted in his plays and performed his cabaret songs with a quirky but insidious individuality, and championed freedom of expression, women's rights, anti-anti-Semitism and other worthy causes. His drama was the fountainhead of not just one form of German modernism, but of all three movements that superseded naturalism: Symbolism, Expressionism and that tertium quid whose creator, Bertolt Brecht, acknowledged him as his master."
Frank Wedekind died from complications during surgery in Munich on 9th March, 1918.