Heinrich von Kleist: A Critical Analysis of His Essay "Uber das Marionettentheater" in Relation to Selected Major Dramas

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German, Heinrich von Kleist, dramas, playwriting, literary criticism, self-awareness


Comparative Literature | Dramatic Literature, Criticism and Theory | German Language and Literature | Philosophy | Playwriting


The purpose of this paper is to investigate the relation, if any, between Heinrich von Kleist's essay "Uber das Marionettentheater" and his plays Amphitryon, Penthesilea, Das Kathchen von Heilbronn, and Prinz Friedrich von Homburg. The stand taken in the paper is that Kleist felt strongly enough about the principles espoused in his essay to incorporate them--in various forms and guises--in his other works; the essay, his last major work, is viewed as a summary of his ideas concerning Bewusstsein 'a higher state of conscious awareness' and its possible effects on the state of Grazie 'grace' and Anmut 'charm, inner beauty' of each individual. Kleist's essay delineates that awkwardness, that Ziererei 'affection' which results from self-consciousness or self-awareness. His two examples, the youth attempting to imitate a graceful motion unconsciously made and the fencing bear which cannot be deceived by feints, have many parallels in the four plays studied. The means by which Kleist portrays these are analogies of vis motrix 'moving force' or soul, and Schwerpunkt 'center of gravity.' Each of the characters analyzed has his moments of Anmut, though there are also periods of Bewusstsein and Ziererei for each. At the other extreme is the "Durchgang durch das Unendliche" 'transit through the infinite,' epitomized by Prinz Friedrich, who goes full circle through total inability to see anything but his own plight to sudden "unendliches Bewusstsein" 'infinite conscious awareness' in which he sees himself in the proper relation to his time and culture. This state is said by Kleist at the close of his essay to be "das letzte Kapitel von der Geschichte der Welt" 'the last chapter of the history of the world,' which has been interpreted in the paper as a new state of innocence, a new beginning, rather than a Last Judgment.

Department 1 Awarding Honors Status


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