Published online by Cambridge University Press: 26 May 2022
Du kannst das Buch als ein Geschenk von mir betrachten,
denn sein Inhalt muß nicht gelesen, sondern gelernt
werden. Ich bin begierig ob Wall[enstein] den Carlos bei
Dir verdrängen wird. Ich bin unentschieden.—Heinrich von Kleist
THE SCHOLARLY, ARTISTIC, and pop-journalistic tendency to treat Heinrich von Kleist (1777–1811) as a unicum of the “Sattelzeit” (bridge period) between Enlightenment and Modernity, and thus estrange him from his progressive artistic and philosophical contexts, has obscured his dialogic engagement with paradigmatic source texts that would otherwise warrant serious attention. A significant case in point is the relative scholarly silence regarding the description of the jug in Der zerbrochne Krug (The Broken Jug, 1802–1806/1811), which Kleist began writing less than two years after the publication of Friedrich Schiller's (1759–1805) Wallenstein (1799–1800) and less than two years after Kleist suggested in a letter to his fiancée Wilhelmine von Zenge (1780–1852) of January 11 and 12, 1801 that Schiller's lengthy dramatrilogy should not merely be read but memorized. The fact that the striking metaphorical and functional parallels between the descriptions of Schiller's Bohemian cup in Wallenstein and Kleist's broken jug are not mentioned in any Kleist or Schiller edition is a symptom of a scholarly divide regarding the awareness of the aesthetic and political relationship between the two authors and the two plays that has significant consequences for the metaphorical integrity and political coherence of Kleist's dark comedy. This divide is perhaps foremost a function also of the lack of awareness of Kleist's admiration for Schiller, which—with some prominent exceptions, among them Claudia Benthien's recent essay—is evident in the paucity of scholarship on Kleist's relationship to Schiller in his letters and works, and in the self-evident parallels and only relatively recent divergence in their reception histories. For all of their biographical differences—Schiller grew up as a feudal subject and the poor child of an army captain, while Kleist's death ended a line of Prussian nobility marked by distinguished military service—and the differences in their literary careers—Schiller was a canonical author by his mid-twenties while Kleist only became one almost a century after his death—the similarities between their dramatic and prose works resulted in intersecting reception trends into the post-World War II era in Germany.