Heinrich von Kleist
Heinrich von Kleist
|Born||Bernd Heinrich Wilhelm von Kleist|
18 October 1777
Frankfurt (Oder), Margraviate of Brandenburg, Holy Roman Empire
|Died||21 November 1811 (aged 34)|
Kleiner Wannsee, Berlin, Kingdom of Prussia
|Occupation||poet, dramatist, novelist, short story writer|
|Notable works||The Broken Jug, The Marquise of O, Michael Kohlhaas, Penthesilea, The Prince of Homburg|
Bernd Heinrich Wilhelm von Kleist (18 October 1777 – 21 November 1811) was a German poet, dramatist, novelist, short story writer and journalist. His best known works are the theatre plays Das Käthchen von Heilbronn, The Broken Jug, Amphitryon, Penthesilea and the novellas Michael Kohlhaas and The Marquise of O. Kleist committed suicide together with a close female friend who was terminally ill.
Kleist was born into the von Kleist family in Frankfurt an der Oder in the Margraviate of Brandenburg. After a scanty education, he entered the Prussian Army in 1792, served in the Rhine campaign of 1796, and retired from the service in 1799 with the rank of lieutenant. He studied law and philosophy at the Viadrina University and in 1800 received a subordinate post in the Ministry of Finance at Berlin.
In the following year, Kleist's roving, restless spirit got the better of him, and procuring a lengthened leave of absence he visited Paris and then settled in Switzerland. There he found congenial friends in Heinrich Zschokke and Ludwig Wieland (1777–1819), son of the poet Christoph Martin Wieland; and to them he read his first drama, a gloomy tragedy, The Schroffenstein Family (1803).
In the autumn of 1802, Kleist returned to Germany; he visited Goethe, Schiller, and Wieland in Weimar, stayed for a while in Leipzig and Dresden, again proceeded to Paris, and returning in 1804 to his post in Berlin was transferred to the Domänenkammer (department for the administration of crown lands) at Königsberg. On a journey to Dresden in 1807, Kleist was arrested by the French as a spy; he remained a close prisoner of France in the Fort de Joux. On regaining his liberty, he proceeded to Dresden, where, in conjunction with Adam Heinrich Müller (1779–1829), he published the journal Phöbus in 1808.
In 1809 Kleist went to Prague, and ultimately settled in Berlin, where he edited (1810/1811) the Berliner Abendblätter. Captivated by the intellectual and musical accomplishments of the terminally ill Henriette Vogel(de), Kleist, who was himself more disheartened and embittered than ever, agreed to do her bidding and die with her, carrying out this resolution by first shooting Vogel and then himself on the shore of the Kleiner Wannsee (Little Wannsee) near Potsdam, on 21 November 1811.
According to the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, "Kleist's whole life was filled by a restless striving after ideal and illusory happiness, and this is largely reflected in his work. He was by far the most important North German dramatist of the Romantic movement, and no other of the Romanticists approaches him in the energy with which he expresses patriotic indignation."
A life with a plan
In the spring of 1789, the 11-year-old Kleist wrote a letter to his half-sister Ulrike in which he found it "incomprehensible how a human being can live without a nice pair of shoes" (Lebensplan). In effect, Kleist sought and discovered an overwhelming sense of security by looking to the future with a definitive plan for his life. It brought him happiness and assured him of confidence, especially knowing that life without a plan only saw despair and discomfort. The irony of his later suicide has been the fodder of his family.
Relationship with Henriette Vogel and murder-suicide
Kleist met Henriette Vogel in 1809 through his friend Adam Müller and a sexual relationship flourished between them. They shared a fondness for music, and according to Ernest Peguilhen, Henriette Vogel asked her friend to explain to her the art of sex, as well as to teach her fencing, for the dramatist had been a soldier. The relationship between the two became more intimate in the autumn of 1811. According to their contemporaries, there was no fire of passion but a purely spiritual love. It was Adam Müller's point of view, who in fact had been in love with Henriette for a while. Marie von Kleist, who was the most important sponsor and confidant of Heinrich von Kleist, also made sure that this claim was widely spread.
On November 21, 1811, the two traveled from Berlin to Wannsee. Prior to their departure, they both penned farewell letters, which along with an account of the final night they spent at the inn Gasthof Stimming, are now part of world literature. Upon their arrival in the vicinity of the Wannsee in Potsdam, Kleist first shot Henriette and then turned the gun on himself. They were buried together in a common grave at Kleine Wannsee (Bismarckstrasse), which has become a tourist attraction. It was redesigned by the time of the bicentenary of their deaths. On that occasion direct access from Wannsee station to the grave was built. The gravestone, erected by the Nazis in 1936, was turned round and now shows engraved original text written by Max Ring and the Pater Noster's request: "forgive us our guilt" as well as the names and data of Henriette Vogel and Heinrich von Kleist.
His first tragedy was The Schroffenstein Family (Die Familie Schroffenstein). The material for the second, Penthesilea (1808), queen of the Amazons, is taken from a Greek source and presents a picture of wild passion. More successful than either of these was his romantic play, Käthchen of Heilbronn (Das Käthchen von Heilbronn) (1808), a poetic drama full of medieval bustle and mystery, which retained its popularity for many years.
In comedy, Kleist made a name with The Broken Jug (Der zerbrochne Krug) (1808), while Amphitryon (1808), an adaptation of Molière's comedy, received critical acclaim long after his death. Of Kleist's other dramas, Die Hermannsschlacht (1809) is a dramatic work of anti-Napoleonic propaganda, written as Austria and France went to war. It has been described by Carl Schmitt as the "greatest partisan work of all time". In it he gives vent to his hatred of his country's oppressors. This, together with the drama The Prince of Homburg (Prinz Friedrich von Homburg oder die Schlacht bei Fehrbellin), which is among his best works, was first published by Ludwig Tieck in Kleist's Hinterlassene Schriften (1821). Robert Guiskard, a drama conceived on a grand plan, was left a fragment.
Kleist was also a master in the art of narrative, and of his Gesammelte Erzählungen (Collected Short Stories) (1810–1811), Michael Kohlhaas, in which the famous Brandenburg horse dealer in Martin Luther's day is immortalized, is one of the best German stories of its time. The Earthquake in Chile (Das Erdbeben in Chili) and St. Cecilia, or the Power of Music (Die heilige Cäcilie oder die Gewalt der Musik) are also fine examples of Kleist's story telling as is The Marquise of O (Die Marquise von O). His short narratives influenced those of Kafka and the novellas of the Austrian writer Friedrich Halm. He also wrote patriotic lyrics in the context of the Napoleonic Wars.
Work in rhetoric
Kleist's work also delved into the realm of rhetoric. Most notable for his use of error and understanding its importance, Kleist's devices used were misspeaking, misunderstanding, mistaken identities, and other confusions of the sort. In his works one can see the most prevalent use of rhetoric within Penthesilea. In the story moments of violence, seduction and war all hinge upon errors in language. Through these errors, Kleist shows how error can influence everyday situation and can be the causation of serious problems. As a sum, Kleist's use of error explores what one can make of ironic errors within speech.
Kleist is also famous for his essays on subjects of aesthetics and psychology which, to the closer look, show a keen insight into the metaphysical questions discussed by philosophers of his time, such as Kant, Fichte and Schelling.
On the Gradual Production of Thoughts Whilst Speaking
In the first of his larger essays, On the Gradual Production of Thoughts Whilst Speaking (Über die allmähliche Verfertigung der Gedanken beim Reden), Kleist claims that most people are advised to speak only about what they already understand. Instead of talking about what you already know, Kleist admonishes his readers to speak to others with "the sensible intention of instructing yourself." Fostering a dialogue through the art of "skillful questioning" is the key behind achieving a rational or enlightened state of mind. And yet, Kleist employs the example of the French Revolution as the climactic event of the Enlightenment era whereby man broke free from his dark and feudal chains in favor of liberty, equality, fraternity. It is not that easy though for Kleist. Man cannot simply guide himself into the future with a rational mind as his primary tool. Therefore, Kleist strongly advocates for the usefulness of reflection ex post facto or after the fact. In doing so, man will be able to mold his collective consciousness in a manner conducive to the principles of free will. By reflecting after the fact, man will avoid the seemingly detestable inhibitions offered in rational thought. In other words, the will to power has "its splendid source in the feelings," and thus, man must overcome his "struggle with Fate" with a balanced mixture of wisdom and passion.
His Gesammelte Schriften were published by Ludwig Tieck (3 vols. 1826) and by Julian Schmidt (new ed. 1874); also by Franz Muncker (4 vols. 1882); by Theophil Zolling (4 vols. 1885); by K. Siegen, (4 vols. 1895); and in a critical edition by Erich Schmidt (5 vols. 1904–1905). His Ausgewählte Dramen were published by K. Siegen (Leipzig, 1877); and his letters were first published by Eduard von Bülow, Heinrich von Kleists Leben und Briefe (1848).
- Der Prinz von Homburg (1960), composed by Hans Werner Henze
- Der zerbrochne Krug (1968/69), composed by Fritz Geißler
- Penthesilea (1927), composed by Othmar Schoeck
- Wie zwei fröhliche Luftschiffer (Like Two Merry Aeronauts, 1969), 85 min; written and directed by Jonatan Briel; DFFB Production. The film depicts the last three days of Kleist's life. With his lover, Henriette Vogel, dying of cancer, Kleist philosophizes about life and welcomes his planned suicide.
- Michael Kohlhaas – der Rebell (1969), directed by Volker Schlöndorff
- San Domingo (1970), directed by Hans-Jürgen Syberberg
- Earthquake in Chile (1975), directed by Helma Sanders-Brahms
- The Marquise of O (1976), directed by Éric Rohmer based on Kleist's Die Marquise von O
- Heinrich (1977), directed by Helma Sanders-Brahms; about the author
- Ragtime (1981), directed by Miloš Forman and based on a novel of the same title by E. L. Doctorow; contains a subplot which follows closely the story of Michael Kohlhaas
- Heinrich Penthesilea von Kleist (1983), directed by Hans Neuenfels; intercuts rehearsals and discussions of that play
- Die Familie oder Schroffenstein (1984), directed by Hans Neuenfels
- Il principe di Homburg (1997), an Italian adaptation of Prinz Friedrich von Homburg oder die Schlacht bei Fehrbellin directed by Marco Bellocchio
- The Jack Bull (1999), directed by John Badham; loosely based on Kleist's Michael Kohlhaas
- Il seme della discordia (2008), directed by Pappi Corsicato; a modern Italian adaptation of Kleist's Die Marquise von O
- Kohlhaas oder die Verhältnismäßigkeit der Mittel (2012), a German film directed by Aron Lehmann; loosely based on Kleist's Michael Kohlhaas.
- Amour Fou (2014), directed by Jessica Hausner, nominated in the Un Certain Regard category at the Cannes Film Festival 2014, with Christian Friedel playing Heinrich and Birte Schnoeink playing Henriette. The film purports that Henriette does not in fact suffer from any type of tumour but that her symptoms have psychological causes.
- Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas (2014), directed by Arnaud des Pallières; with Mads Mikkelsen as Kohlhaas
- One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). . Encyclopædia Britannica. 15 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 845–846.
- Chisholm 1911.
- Heinrich von Kleist, The Marquise of O– and other stories. Ed. and translated by David Luke and Nigel Reeves. (New York: Penguin Books, 1978), 7.
- Tanja Langer (2011). Wir sehn uns wieder in der Ewigkeit - Die letzte Nacht von Henriette Vogel und Heinrich von Kleist. München: dtv. ISBN 978-3-423-13981-6.
- Karin Reschke (1982). Verfolgte des Glücks. Findebuch der Henriette Vogel. Berlin: Rotbuch Verlag. ISBN 3-88022-266-5.
- Günter Blamberger (2012). Heinrich von Kleist. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-596-15346-6.
- Gerhard Schulz (2007). Kleist. Eine Biographie. München: Beck. ISBN 978-3-406-61596-2.
- Schmitt, Carl, The Theory of the Partisan, page 5
- Walter Hinderer, "Kleist bläst in mich, wie in eine alte Schweinsblase" in Franz Kafka und die Weltliteratur, Ed. Manfred Engel, Dieter Lamping. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006) 66-82.
- Halms Werke, Vol. 11, ed. by Faust Pachler and Emil Kuh; Carl Gerold's Sohn, Vienna, 1872, p. vii
- Sng, Zachary. The Rhetoric of Error from Locke to Kleist. Stanford. Stanford University Press. 2010. Chapter 5.
- Heinrich von Kleist, On the Gradual Production of Thoughts Whilst Speaking. Ed. and Trans. by David Constantine. (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2004), 405.
- Heinrich von Kleist, On the Gradual Production of Thoughts Whilst Speaking. Ed. and Trans. by David Constantine. (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2004), 410.
- Heinrich (1977) on IMDb
- Heinrich Penthesilea von Kleist on IMDb
- Kohlhaas oder die Verhältnismäßigkeit der Mittel on IMDb
- van Hoeij, Boyd (16 May 2014). "'Amour Fou': Cannes Review". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
- Banham, Martin, ed. (1998). The Cambridge Guide to Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43437-8.
- Croce, Benedetto (1924). "Kleist." In: European Literature in the Nineteenth Century. London: Chapman & Hall, pp. 52–59.
- Helbling, Robert (1975). The Major Works of Heinrich von Kleist. New York: New Directions. ISBN 0-8112-0563-0.
- Jacobs, Carol (1989). Uncontainable Romanticism: Shelley, Brontë, Kleist. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Lamport, Francis John (1990). German Classical Drama: Theatre, Humanity and Nation, 1750–1870. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-36270-9.
- Maass, Joachim (1983). Kleist: A Biography. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
- McGlathery, James (1983). Desire's Sway the Plays and Stories of Heinrich von Kleist. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. ISBN 978-081431-734-1.
- Meldrum Brown, Hilda (1998). Heinrich Von Kleist The Ambiguity of Art and the Necessity of Form. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-815895-5.
- Minde-Pouet, Georg (1897). Heinrich von Kleist, seine Sprache und sein Stil. Weimar: Emil Felber.
- Ohff, Heinz (2004). Heinrich von Kleist: Ein preussisches Schicksal. Munich: Piper Verlag ISBN 3-492-04651-7
- Parry, Idris (1988). "Kleist on Puppets." In: Speak Silence: Essays. Manchester: Carcanet.
- Servaes, Franz (1902). Heinrich von Kleist. Leipzig: E. A. Seemann.
- Siebert, Eberhard (2009). Heinrich von Kleist – eine Bildbiographie. Heilbronn: Kleist-Archiv Sembdner ISBN 978-3-940494-59-7
- Staengle, Peter (2009). Kleist. Sein Leben. Heilbronn: Kleist-Archiv Sembdner ISBN 978-3-940494-44-3
- Steig, Reinhold (1901). Heinrich von Kleists Berliner Kämpfe. Berlin: W. Spemann.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Heinrich von Kleist.|
- Das Kleist-Portal (in German)
- Familienverband derer v. Kleist e.V (in German)
- List of German-language playwrights
- Works by Heinrich von Kleist at Project Gutenberg
- Works by Heinrich von Kleist at Faded Page (Canada)
- Works by or about Heinrich von Kleist at Internet Archive
- Works by Heinrich von Kleist at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
- "On the Marionette Theatre," Translated by Idris Parry
- Heinrich von Kleist on IMDb