Introduction
  Benjamin, Walter
  Bismarck, Otto v.
  Brecht, Bertolt
  Celan, Paul
  Döblin, Alfred
  Fontane, Theodor
  Grosz, George
  Grünbein, Durs
  Heartfield, John
  Honigmann, Barbara
  Isherwood, Christopher
  Johnson, Uwe
  Kleist, Heinrich v.
  Kollwitz, Käthe
  Kracauer, Siegfried
  Lang, Fritz
  Lasker-Schüler, Else
  Liebermann, Max
  Liebknecht, Karl
  Luxemburg, Rosa
  Marc, Franz
  Ossietzky, Carl v.
  Riefenstahl, Leni
  Ruttmann, Walther
  Schinkel, Karl Friedrich
  Speer, Albert
  Tieck, Ludwig
  Tucholsky, Kurt
  Ury, Lesser
  Varnhagen, Rahel
  Wenders, Wim

 

 
Kleist, (Bernd) Heinrich (Wilhelm) von

Bio Part 1 Bio Part 2 Works Resources & Credits

Biography Part 2

In Dresden (1807-1809) he became a member of a large circle of writers, painters, and patrons and, with the political philosopher Adam Müller, published the periodical Phöbus, which lasted only a few months. While he was in prison his adaptation of Molière's Amphitryon (published 1807) attracted some attention, and in 1808 he published Penthesilea, a tragic drama about the passionate love of the queen of the Amazons for Achilles. Although this play received little acclaim, it is now thought to contain some of Kleist's most powerful poetry, with the grimness of plot and intensity of feeling that have made his place unique among German poets. In March 1808 Kleist's one-act comedy in verse, Der zerbrochene Krug (The Broken Pitcher), was unsuccessfully produced by Goethe in Weimar. The play employs vividly portrayed rustic characters, skillful dialogue, earthy humour, and subtle realism in its depiction of the fallibility of human feeling and the flaws inherent in human justice. It ranks among the masterpieces of German dramatic comedy. Toward the end of 1808, inspired by a threatened rising against Napoleon, Kleist wrote some savage war poems and a political and patriotic tragedy, Die Hermannsschlacht (1821; "The Warrior's Battle"), and in 1809 attempted to found a political periodical that would call all Germany to arms. Between 1810 and 1811 his Das Käthchen von Heilbronn (1810; "Katherine of Heilbronn"), a drama set in Swabia during the Middle Ages, was performed in Vienna, Graz, and Bamberg. But the Berlin stage remained closed to him.

Kleist also wrote eight masterly novellas, collected in Erzählungen (1810-11), of which Michael Kohlhaas, Das Erdbeben in Chili ("The Earthquake in Chili"), and Die Marquise von O . . . have become well-known as tales of violence and mystery. They are all characterized by an extraordinary economy, power, and vividness and by a tragic subject matter in which men are driven to the limits of their endurance by the violence of other men or of nature. Kleist's last drama, Prinz Friedrich von Homburg (published posthumously in 1821 by Ludwig Tieck), is a brilliant psychological drama. The play's problematical hero is Kleist's finest figure, reflecting Kleist's own conflicts between heroism and cowardice, dreaming and action.

For six months Kleist had edited the daily newspaper Berliner Abendblätter, of which the contributors included Adam Müller, Achim von Arnim, and Clemens Brentano. When it ceased publication, he lost his means of livelihood. He obtained an audience with the king, petitioning to be reinstated as a military officer, and in September 1811 visited his relatives in Frankfurt to ask them for a loan to cover the expenses ralated to that reinstatement. In response to his request for financial help he was called "ein ganz nichtsnutziges Glied der menschlichen Gesellschaft" (an absolutely useless member of society). Disappointed in life and embittered by the lack of recognition accorded him by his contemporaries, particularly Goethe, he came to know a terminally ill woman, Henriette Vogel, who begged him to kill her. This gave Kleist the final incentive to end his tragic life, and on Nov. 21, 1811, he shot Henriette and himself on the shore of the Wannsee.

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