Amphitryon: A Comedy

Amphitryon: A Comedy

Amphitryon: A Comedy

Amphitryon: A Comedy

Excerpt

Bernd Wilhelm Heinrich von Kleist was born in Frankfurton-Oder in 1777, the son of the retired Major Joachim Friedrich von Kleist and the latter's second wife, Juliane von Pannwitz. By the time young Kleist was sixteen, he had lost both his parents. His best friends were the theologian Christian Ernst Martini and his stepsister Ulrike von Kleist. His close relationship with his sister was to continue throughout the rest of his life.

Kleist had entered the Prussian army in 1792, served in the Rhine campaign of 1796 and retired from the army as a lieutenant in 1799. He considered the army years lost time and explained in a letter to Martini that the army was not for him, because a man cannot live in steady conflict with himself. As a human being, one wants to act in one way; as an officer, one has to obey orders. Raising a problem which later confronts his Amphitryon, Kleist asked: "Can there be a situation in which a rational being should put more trust in the convictions of another man than he puts in his own?"

When he was asked what plans he had for earning his living, Kleist became most disdainful. He chose to study mathematics, physics, philosophy and law. To Martini he wrote that the day laborer leads a truly idyllic life; to be sure, "deprivation and poverty surround him; his whole life seems to be nothing but eternal worry, work, and deprivation. But contentment shines from his eyes; joy smiles from his face . . ." Kleist goes on to define happiness: "I call those rich and abundant enjoyments which we derive from the contemplation of our own moral beauty, happiness." The whole person, at one with himself, as Alkmene before the start of Ampbitryon, is then a happy person.

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