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Prince of Homburg


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A: Heinrich von Kleist W: 1810 Pf: 1821, Vienna Pb: 1821 Tr: 1875 G: Drama in 5 acts; German blank verse S: The battlefield of Fehrbellin and environs, 1675 C: 13m, 2f, extrasThe Prince of Homburg is general of the cavalry in the army of Friedrich Wilhelm, the Elector of Brandenburg, who is preparing to confront the Swedish forces at Fehrbellin. Homburg, in a somnambulistic state, dreams of glory and of the love of the Elector's niece Princess Natalie. When the orders are given out, he hardly pays attention, so that in the ensuing battle he attacks before the command is given. Although he achieves a resounding victory, he is placed under arrest for disobedience. At first he is terrified of the impending death sentence and pleads with Natalie to intervene on his behalf. However, when the Elector offers to free him if Homburg is able to protest his innocence, Homburg agrees that he must die. He asks only that the Elector does not make peace with the Swedes but pushes home his victory. Blindfolded, Homburg is led out for his ‘execution’, only to be given the hand of Natalie and to be hailed by the army as the victor of Fehrbellin.

A: Heinrich von Kleist W: 1810 Pf: 1821, Vienna Pb: 1821 Tr: 1875 G: Drama in 5 acts; German blank verse S: The battlefield of Fehrbellin and environs, 1675 C: 13m, 2f, extras

This is an extremely problematic play. On the one hand, it would seem to glorify Prussian military discipline – and the Nazis happily appropriated it for this purpose. On the other, the play so powerfully reflects on the insubstantiality of real experience that the play can equally be seen to question the Prussian ethic. Tellingly, when the Prince is led out to his mock execution and then has his blindfold removed amidst the adulation of his comrades, he asks: ‘Is this a dream?’ He is answered: ‘A dream, what else?’ This latter reading of the play was embraced in Peter Stein's memorable production in Berlin in 1972, significantly subtitled Kleist's Dream of Prince Homburg. That Kleist shot himself less than a year after writing the play also suggests disillusionment rather than nationalistic commitment.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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