Steve Dowden. A number of conspicuously able and ambitious writers of the nineteenth century foundered and sank from view in their own time. The resurrection of these sacrificial victims in the twentieth century helped to shape the identity of literary modernism. The sensibility of this strange novel, lost on Melville's mid-century contemporaries, spoke with great urgency to the readers who rediscovered him in the s. All three writers' lives conform to the proto-modernist pattern of unacknowledged achievement followed by withdrawal into exiles of various sorts. In the late eighteenth century, the world of German letters was much taken with the "noble simplicity and tranquil grandeur" exemplified in Johann Joachim Winckelmann's idyll of Greek antiquity.
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German Literature. Search this site. Navigation Home. Guide Books. Parallel Texts. Hall of Fame. Early Modern. Web Links. Similarly to the Der zerbrochene Krug; The Broken Jug , the twenty-four scenes of Penthesilea have a momentum which derives from their lack of division into acts.
The eponymous heroine is Queen of the Amazons and she and her people attack the Greeks who are enmeshed in the war against Troy. The attack is pointless in military terms because the Greeks constitute no threat to the Amazons.
But it becomes clear that Penthesilea is overcome with desire for Achilles. The rules of her nation dictate that the Amazons must conquer men before any form of love can be admissible. When Penthesilea wrongly thinks that she has overcome Achilles, she declares her love for him. When, however, as the Greeks leave, she realizes that she has been conquered by him, she pursues him relentlessly. He allows her to triumph, knowing that this is the only way to enable her to acknowledge her love.
But in her frenzy she kills him and tears his body with her teeth. When she realizes what she has done, she is overcome by grief and dies. Penthesilea must be one of the most ferocious plays ever written. But Kleist takes the argument much further than a mere act of cultural riposte. He explores the relationship between sexuality and notions of dominance and submission, between desire and blood lust with extraordinary intensity.
Time and again metaphors link the human sphere to animal fury. Eerily, as Penthesilea tenses her bow to shoot Achilles as though he were a stag caught in a thicket, the two ends of the weapon are described as kissing:. His antlers betray the stag, she shouts And stretches, with the power of a madwoman, at once Her bow so tight that the ends kiss. The animal metaphors turn into literal fact as Penthesilea becomes a dog amongst dogs, a crazed creature devouring the body of the man she desires.
When her fury abates and she sees the mutilated body of Achilles, she is horrified and wants to know who has perpetrated the crime. When she learns the truth, her reaction is an eerie parody of all notions of tragic insight, of anagnorisis:. Kisses, bites, They rhyme, and whoever loves with a true heart, Can easily take the one for the other.
She has done just that:. I have truly done it word for word: I was not as crazy as it may have seemed. And he suggests that that agency, which supremely enshrines human self-consciousness and reflectivity, which can be a source of insight, wisdom and beauty, can also make possible utter depravity.
An army of Amazons sets out to conquer Greek heroes for the purpose of stocking their women's state with new female offspring. They blast into the midst of the Trojan War, confusing Greeks and Trojans alike and for a moment forcing those enemies into a terrified alliance. When Achilles, the pride and mainstay of the Greeks, and Penthesilea Pen-te-sil-lay-uh , queen of the Amazons, meet, a chase begins,. Thus begins a tragedy of love in a world governed by the rules of war, on which "the gods look down but from afar. Heinrich von Kleist was virtually forgotten until the beginning of the twentieth century, when Rilke, Kafka, and Thomas Mann hailed him as a master of German prose and European dramatic literature.
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Penthesilea is a tragedy by the German playwright Heinrich von Kleist about the mythological Amazon queen, Penthesilea , described as an exploration of sexual frenzy. The Amazons, a fierce race of female warriors, have a sacred tradition: they can marry only those warriors whom they have defeated in battle. Nor may they choose their partners voluntarily even from the ranks of the defeated, but must submit to random pairing at a Festival of Roses. The Amazons therefore intervene in the Trojan War to fight against the Greeks so that they can gain captives. The drama opens on the battlefield before the gates of Troy , where the Greeks are besieging the city and are interrupted by belligerent Amazons who attack and endanger the Greek princes. At a parley, the Amazon queen Penthesilea and the Greek prince Achilles come face-to-face and fall in love; from now on she will devote all her energy to overcoming Achilles in battle so that she may win him as her husband.
Penthesilea: A Tragic Drama
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