Heinrich von Kleist's Amphitryon: Romanticism, Rape, and Comic Irresolution.
With its mingling of the tragic and the comic, Kleist's treatment of such an unfunny subject as rape has led beyond the "Verwirrung des Gefuhls" on the part of the characters that Goethe perceived in Amphitryon (Goethe, qtd. in Sembdner 144) to a good deal of critical bewilderment. Despite its seemingly straightforward subtitle, "A Comedy after Moliere," Amphitryon has consistently been recognized as containing disturbingly tragic elements. The recasting of rape as part of an erotic adventure, however, allows for an accommodation of the "not unserious" aspects of the work within a larger comic structure. In reshaping Moliere's comedy, which emphasizes "the humour of cuckoldry" (Clouser 275), Kleist may well have added undeniably solemn features, normally associated with the characters'-- especially Alcmena's--crises of identity, but when all is said and done, critical consensus still locates his Amphitryon within that pleasing body of "comic literature aimed at a humorous portrayal of desire and its effects" (McGlathery 72). One of Kleist's most notable innovations, the emphasis on Alcmena rather than on Amphitryon, infuses a classical social comedy with unsettling tragic elements--Goethe's "confusion of emotion"--but at the same time it allows the play to be retrieved as a farcical tale of cuckoldry. Indeed, the idea of "a witty, divine joke" continues to inform stagings of Amphitryon; in Gerd Heinz' 1973 production in Darmstadt, for example, the last utterance of the drama, Alcmena's famous "Ach!", expressed "her dismay at losing the more desirable mate," Jupiter (Reeve 65), who at the end of the play abandons Alcmena forever to her merely mortal husband.
Rape triggers the comic action in both Amphitryon and "The Marquise of O...," with the supposed complicity of the violated woman apparently helping to bring about the desired resolution. In "The Marquise of O...," the rape of the title character, indicated textually only by the dash near the end of the second paragraph, is reconstructed as a spontaneous action, an impetuosity on the part of the passionate young Count, whose "unthinking vitality" (Greenberg, Stories 34) has often been viewed in the critical literature as contributing, through this instance of "romantic transport" (McGlathery 83), to the erotic reawakening of the unfortunately widowed and therefore celibate Marquise. In this reading, the Count does not so much take advantage of a young woman who lies unconscious as participate in a love story, albeit a somewhat complicated affair; unfulfilled in her cloistered life and at some level desiring this "erotic happening" (Cohn 133), an urge to which she can surrender only under cover of a faint, the Marquise ultimately owes her sexual rejuvenation to the Count, who pursues their mutual attraction. The context of Romanticism, with its aesthetic of spontaneity and freedom, would seem to support such an interpretation, which finally focuses on the family's forgiveness of the Count in a happy ending that conforms to the conventions of romantic comedy. The Russian officer wins the hand of the Marquise in marriage, and a "whole series of young Russians" follows the first, conceived the night on which the virile comic hero successfully mounted his attack, taking both the fortress and the woman "by storm" (Kleist, "Marquise" 113, 69).
In Amphitryon, an impulsive stranger (the god Jupiter in the guise of Alcmena's husband) similarly violates a sexually inactive woman (her husband is away at war) and impregnates her; the events of the night are once again referred to after the fact rather than enacted; and here too the perpetrator is ultimately forgiven by the family, to the point of his receiving Amphitryon's thanks for the sign of "divine favor" (Kleist, Amphitryon 163) bestowed upon them, the promise of the birth of Hercules. Just as the structure of comedy allows the rape of the Marquise to be read as a desirable challenge to the established order, a necessary shock both to a highly repressed society and to a young widow whom it brings "back out of virtuous retirement into life" (Greenberg, Stories 35), so Jupiter's foray into the most protected reaches of the Theban palace can be understood in terms of its infusion of energy into a scene of sexual deprivation. Alcmena finds herself intoxicated after an extended night of pleasure, which nevertheless seemed all too brief; having been separated from her husband for five long months, she desires the prolongation of an encounter experienced as fleeting, but in actuality drawn out for more than seventeen hours by the gods. In contrast to what one critic calls the rather "undersexed" mortal men in the play, the Olympians "evidence almost no shame or repression" (McGlathery 72-73), and thus the outcome of the contest between Amphitryon and the amorous Jupiter, like that between the repressed father of the Marquise and her energetic suitor--in the conventional terms of comedy, the alazon and the comic hero (Frye 163-86)--would seem to be a foregone conclusion. Kleist's Romantic belief in the power of spontaneous feeling thus finds expression in his mastery of comic form; in the play, as in the novella, the happy ending celebrates a resolution of the conflict set off by the challenge of the rape, a reconciliation in which the potency of unmediated desire, symbolized by the promise of new life (Hercules in Amphitryon, the whole series of young Russians in "The Marquise of O..."), rejuvenates a society and even brings it, in the case of Amphitryon, overwhelming "triumph" and "high fame" (164).
The reemergence of spontaneity in "The Marquise of O...," however, can hardly be taken at face value, the parodic structure of the novella subverting the happy ending and its announcement of a new, reconciled, and free society (Wilson 287-91). The Count, with all his vitality and energy, finds himself ultimately controlled by the Marquise's conventionally respectable family, while the reunion of father and daughter, a scene ostensibly of restored spontaneous affection, must be viewed as a highly ironic reconciliation. Not only is it, like the betrothal of the decidedly reluctant Marquise and the man who violated her, engineered by the mother, preoccupied with at least the appearance of familial harmony and social acceptability, but the posture of father and daughter in this remarkably graphic display recalls the initial transgression, the rape of the Marquise by the Count. Indeed, with the happy end "upholding the status quo" (Winnett 80) and the scenes of reconciliation only mimicking what Northrop Frye would call a general comic movement "from law to liberty" (181), the old order of things comes closer to being reestablished than overturned. The rape cannot lead unproblematically to the sexual liberation of the Marquise or to the social rejuvenation of her rigidly ordered world because it remains a function of the system it ostensibly had challenged; accordingly, the outcome of the story elicits "a distinct sense of violation that arouses a discomfited resistance" on the part of the reader (Furst 61). Resistance is aroused not least to the implicit Romantic narrative of renewed intimacy, vitality, and freedom--to the idea of rape as a kind of "fall," to echo Kleist's words in "The Marionette Theatre," "back into a state of innocence" (SW 3:345; translation mine).
Unlike "The Marquise of O...," Amphitryon is explicitly designated a comedy, "ein Lustspiel nach Moliere," and various elements combine to make it appear more unequivocally that "humorous portrayal of desire and its effects" referred to above. In contrast to her counterpart in Kleist's novella, who is raped while lying in a dead faint, Alcmena attests to her active participation in the encounter with Jupiter, subsequently assuring her husband, who she thinks was the person with whom she had sex that night, "I really gave you all I had" (117). Her violator wants the events of the night to remain a guilty little "secret" (105), but Alcmena calls upon the "entire corps / Of servants in [the] palace," the "stones . . . the trees, / The dogs that wagged their tails" (119) to bear witness to what she is fully conscious of as an exceptional experience, which she remembers in intimate detail. Echoing Jupiter's accurate, if ironic, reference to his actions as "diesen Raub" (SW 1:260),4 Alcmena emphasizes her heightened awareness, even her appreciation of the delights of the previous night: "Ah! What the country robs me of, I did / Not feel, Amphitryon, until today" (106). The happy ending to this particular tale does not require that the violated woman marry her assailant, and her pregnancy, rather than being a source of shame, is from the moment of annunciation something to be celebrated: "To you will be born a son / And 'Hercules' shall be his name; no hero / Of former ages shall match his renown" (163). Not only does everything end well, but throughout the play the humorous antics of Sosia and his double, Mercury, provide a lighthearted tone that makes it easy to overlook the "not unserious" matter of rape lying at the heart of the comic action.
Although Alcmena grows troubled by her developing awareness that she was with someone other than her husband that night, her dilemma appears less grave in light of the fact that she is not the only one who has been tricked. Sosia, Amphitryon's servant, has also been deceived, assaulted, and robbed--of nothing less than his very identity--but he appears to emerge unscathed. In fact, the butt of the "joke" played by the gods on the mortals ends up being in the one case the cuckolded husband, Amphitryon, and in the other Sosia's scorned wife, Charis; the focus shifts subtly from Alcmena and Sosia's experiences of violation to the implications of these "act[s] of thievery" (101) for their respective spouses. And in the end, although Jupiter has won the day, Amphitryon is encouraged to make the triumphal discourse his own, as he claims his new role as prospective father of Hercules, Jupiter's violation of Alcmena having been clarified as divine visitation:
Amid your household Zeus has been well pleased, Amphitryon, and of his divine favor A sign shall be made manifest to you. Let your black woe and care be now dispelled, And open up your heart to triumph. (163)
In conformity with the conventions of comedy, where "as many people as possible" are "reconciled or converted," all the citizens of Thebes appear to be included in the rejuvenated society that forms around the comic hero, Jupiter, the one with the desire and energy to prevail, the one who ultimately "[has] his will" (Frye 165, 163).
Appearances, of course, can be deceiving, especially, as we know, in Kleist, and many features of the play undermine its comic structure, subverting, as in "The Marquise of O...," the notion of rape as an unproblematic catalyst for the ultimately liberating conflicts of comedy. Although critics and directors alike often contrast the roles of Alcmena and Sosia, associating them with the play's tragic and comic potential respectively, the two characters occupy remarkably similar subject positions, and together they serve a subversive function in the drama. Productions of the play frequently mask the commonality of the two roles by highlighting either the obvious slapstick of Sosia's interactions or "the more solemn . . . triangle" (Reeve 65) involving Alcmena, who rather more introspectively ponders the potentially serious implications of mistaken identity. Arguably, however, near the beginning of act 2, Alcmena's verbal rehearsal of the previous night's erotic delights offers as rich a source of ironic humor as any of the scenes involving Sosia's banter; she has just nonplussed her poor husband, recently returned from a long absence, with the ominous greeting, "What? Back so soon?" (116). On the other hand, Sosia's desperate plea to Mercury in the second scene of the play, "Stop your molesting me!" (100), reveals the "not unserious" nature of the servant's experience of violation. To interpret Sosia's encounter with Jupiter's underling Mercury as mere comic relief, a humorous doubling of Alcmena's at least temporarily grave situation, is to ignore that the "honor" he has been granted of "having had a thrashing from a god" (105) is no less dubious than the "favor" accorded Alcmena. Although Sosia, unlike Alcmena, does not for a moment enjoy the divine touch he receives, beatings are a regular occurrence and can be abided. It is the violation of self, the theft of identity, that torments him: "I can't annihilate / Myself, transform myself, slough off my skin" (101). Alcmena, for her part, may have experienced a night of sexual pleasure, but the realization that she literally has been had reduces her to a state similar to that of the subjugated Sosia, the latter forced to bow to Mercury, whose "stick makes [him] the master of [Sosia's] life" (100). Even in their apparent defeat, however, these two characters manifest forms of resistance that expose the arbitrary and therefore fragile positions of their supposed masters, raising the question of who ultimately wins and who loses in this highly ironic play.
As Moliere's classical treatment of the humorous complications of mistaken identity gives way, in Kleist, to a drama that reflects profound anxiety about the constitution of the self, it is Alcmena and Sosia who articulate most strikingly the play's central concern with problems of subjectivity. Kleist omits the "prologue in heaven," thrusting us immediately into a radically destabilized existential situation, where more than one character poses that trickiest of all trick questions: "Who am I?" In the showy rivalry between Jupiter and Amphitryon, both competitors use the question as a club--as a means of establishing their authority, of focusing their proprietary claims and having them validated. It is a question of who will be acknowledged as "lord in Thebes," of whose identity, publicly constructed, will allow the assertion, "Mine all the herds that feed among the pastures, / Mine too this house, and mine its lady mistress" (150). "Survey me head to foot and up and down," commands Amphitryon before the entire citizenry, "And then pronounce and speak and answer me: / Who am I?" (156). "Who are you?" echo the good citizens of Thebes: "Amphitryon!" (156). At the end of the play, Jupiter almost literally props himself up-- with a thunderbolt seized from an eagle swooping down from the heavens--as he, like Amphitryon, seeks public confirmation of his position of power: "Who am I?" (163). "It is the dread god Jupiter himself!" respond the officers of the Theban army, and as if this were not clear enough: "You are the mighty thunderer," affirms Amphitryon, "And yours is all that I possess" (163). From the first word of the play to the last, however, the language of Sosia (who has the first word) and Alcmena (who has the last) undermines the terms of this contest between Jupiter and Amphitryon, which would appear, in the end, to have been so happily decided. Alcmena and Sosia respond to their respective situations in ways that complicate the dominant, triumphal discourse and expose the arbitrariness of its seemingly natural assumptions of identity, its assertions of power.
When Jupiter says to Amphitryon, "A man so much concerned about his name / Must have shaky grounds for bearing it" (149), he knows whereof he speaks, for, like Amphitryon, his position and identity are neither independent nor secure, and the success of his venture is by no means assured. The god's project turns out to be not just getting into bed with Alcmena--this has already happened before the play opens--but to have her accept his distinction between lover and spouse; Jupiter, who succeeds in gaining access to Alcmena by appearing in the guise of her husband, subsequently wants to be acknowledged not as the spouse, but solely as the lover. To a considerable extent, the identities of both Amphitryon and Jupiter thus depend on Alcmena, who, for her part, resembles Sosia in making few proprietary gestures of her own. Alcmena is identified as part of her husband's property, of which he has been robbed--"my wife, dominion, name" (151)--and she therefore is not one to claim, but to be claimed. Similarly, Sosia makes it clear that "it is / Not in [his] power to contend . . . / And claim to be some other than [he is]" (99). Unlike Amphitryon and Jupiter, neither Alcmena nor Sosia ever resorts to the coercive asking of the question "Who am I?"; neither, of course, is in a position to attempt such a thing. Sosia explains to Mercury that he has never assumed "the right" of "taking" the name he bears: "I didn't take it, it was given to me. / My father can account to you for it" (99). Throughout the play, however, the two characters expected to act as props are the very ones who expose the insecurity and limitations of their masters.
In asking "who [he is]" and accepting to be anything, as long as he is "something" (104), Sosia indicates the servant's awareness of the significance of social role in the construction of identity. His is not to define, but to be defined: "Ah! / I'm what you say I am. Command what I / Must do; your stick makes you the master of my life" (100). In contrast to the Romantic belief in continual self-definition and in pushing the limits of what may be, Sosia exposes the reality of the constraints placed upon him: "You're the master, I'm the servant, / . . . you should set the tone of the discussion" (111). Far from being free to assert or to invent himself, as in the Quixotic dictum, "I know who I am . . . and who I may be, if I choose" (Cervantes 49)--a prototypically Romantic expression of the dream of unbounded subjectivity--Sosia constantly, fearfully, tries simply to please, feeling compelled, for instance, to practice his role, "rehearse [his] part" (94), on the way home to Thebes to announce Amphitryon's military victory. Yet his constant exposure of unequal power relations serves to highlight the arbitrariness of the sociopolitical order that defines him. Even the passages of slapstick humor function subversively to unsettle normative assumptions, as in the following exchange:
Mercury: What kind of standing have you? Sosia: Kind of standing? Why, I stand on two feet, as you can see. Mercury: I mean, are you a master or a servant? Sosia: That all depends on how you look at me. (97)
As accustomed to beating the other servants as to being beaten by Amphitryon, Sosia, head servant, harbors no illusions. Despite the ease with which he conforms to social expectations, however, his discourse unrelentingly points to their absurdity. When he does suggest an alternative construction of identity, the prospect of sharing a name, of "eat[ing] out of one dish," so to speak, Mercury's insistence on having his "own full serving" (153) underscores the exclusionary logic upon which the dominant modes of social interaction are based. Although Sosia fails to act on the possibility of the new relational models he envisions, the play suggests that a move toward such repositionings might nevertheless be a struggle worth engaging in, unlike that between Jupiter and Amphitryon, which ultimately changes nothing.
Master or servant, spouse or beloved, god or mortal, first or second--such distinctions fuel the contest between Jupiter and Amphitryon, which hinges on questions of priority. Like Sosia, Alcmena resists the terms of this struggle, meant to establish not only the identity of each of the rivals, but her identity as well. From the outset, she rejects as meaningless the separation Jupiter desires between husband and lover, for in her experience the gods have "conjoined one and the other" (107). Even when Jupiter, still disguised as Amphitryon, persists in forcing the discussion, Alcmena prevails, refusing to validate the terms of her interrogator's discourse and grant the distinction he so desperately seeks. Responding finally in a remarkably, impossibly, complicated sentence, Alcmena compels Jupiter, in order to save face, to overlook its complexity and accept it as the answer for which he has been looking:
If you, the god, held me in your embrace And now Amphitryon were to appear, Yes--I would then be sad, and I would wish That he were then the god, and that you would Remain Amphitryon, as you surely are. (139)
Although critics often set the innocence and purity of Amphitryon's young wife against the experience of a seasoned and duplicitous Jupiter, it is Alcmena whose interrogatives emerge as most unsettling, her questioning of her own identity revealing a complex awareness of self that exposes the simplistic nature of Jupiter and Amphitryon's declarative posing of the question, "Who am I?". Alcmena seeks to understand how identity is constituted, wondering, like Sosia ("Yet when I pinch myself I still would swear / This body's Sosia's body yet" ), how even to relate to her own body. The growing suspicion that she has mistaken an intruder for her husband leads her to ask, "Is this hand mine? And is this bosom mine? / Is my reflection in the mirror mine? / Would he be stranger to me than myself?" (127). Throughout the long fifth scene of the second act, Alcmena successfully resists the god's attempts to "compel [her] thoughts" (136), but by the end of the play, she is forced back into the binary terms of the competition between Jupiter and Amphitryon, pressed in the final scene to tell what others conceive of as the truth, to identify in a public declaration "the real Amphitryon" (159).
While Alcmena appears to have been accorded a high degree of authority--"The one his wife accepts must be the real one" (159)--she in fact finds herself subjected once more to an abusive exercise of power. Indeed, as in Kleist's "Marquise of O...," the scene of reconciliation uncomfortably recalls the initial transgressive encounter, particularly if we understand this encounter to include Jupiter's subsequent attempts to force upon Alcmena "[His] own desire . . . to have seemed a being quite unique, / [Her] conqueror" (107). Then too Alcmena was put in the position of having to declare herself in impossible terms: "Disclose your inmost heart and tell me whether / It was your legal spouse whom you received / Today or whether it was your beloved" (106). At the end of the play, when Alcmena is forced to choose between the two men, she chooses incorrectly, selecting Jupiter rather than Amphitryon, as Sosia, significantly, had done in scene 5 of act 3. The vehemence of her subsequent verbal attack on Amphitryon derives from her renewed and compounded experience of betrayal and manipulation;6 at the beginning of the play violated by a single individual in the relatively private space of her home, Alcmena finds herself at the end of the play shamed before (and by) literally a whole army of men, when the voices of Jupiter, Amphitryon, and all the commanders and colonels hound her to "Pronounce," "Speak," "Declare [herself]" (159-60). The power of public opinion clearly contributes to the pressure exerted on Alcmena in this scene, for just as Amphitryon's identity is publicly constructed--"Fame crowns him, so the whole world says, and honor" (93)--so too is that of his "lady mistress." Well aware of this fact, Alcmena has long been fearful of what her husband and his field commanders, those "suspicious men" (129), will make of the evidence of her infidelity. Once again, however, Alcmena's position resembles that of Sosia, who gets the better of his master by compelling him either to have a servant tell him what he does not want to hear or to hear nothing: "Sir, if you are annoyed, I will be silent / And we will talk about some other topic" (113). Likewise, Alcmena is at once compliant and defiant; she avoids capitulation to her masters by both telling them and not telling them what they want to hear. On the surface she conforms to their will, submits to their terms and their logic: she chooses. But she chooses the wrong man: an absurd identification in an absurd identity contest. Her declaration, moreover, preserves a subtle ambiguity that gently mocks the stark public demand for an exclusive selection, a pronouncement of "not this one, but that one": "Amphitryon," says Alcmena, "is here beside me"(160).7 In its omission of an exclusionary clause, Alcmena's response is reminiscent of Sosia's reflection on the identity of Mercury: perhaps "he's really me, as well as I am" (103). Strictly speaking, Alcmena can be said to choose neither Jupiter nor Amphitryon, but rather "Jupiter-Amphitryon" (Gustafson 122), as indeed she had done hypothetically toward the end of act 2, in the earlier scene of interrogation.
In terms of public opinion, which conceives of the sociopolitical order as the natural order, Alcmena's acceptance of "that stranger there" (160) constitutes a perversion that needs to be put right; how could she, "vine-like," as they say, have failed to "wreathe her tendrils" (159) around her tree? Just as Jupiter earlier wearies of attempts to wring from Alcmena the desired distinction between lover and husband, and has to pretend she has given him what he wants, so in this case he and Amphitryon join forces to recover control of the competition and ensure that it end properly--that is, happily rather than absurdly. Amphitryon upholds Alcmena's verdict, enabling Jupiter to concede that the real husband is the one who has shown such faith in his wife: "Good, then.--You are Amphitryon" (162). Accordingly, when Jupiter subsequently reveals himself, Amphitryon recognizes the god's authority: "You are the mighty thunderer! / And yours is all that I possess" (163). Oblivious to Alcmena's cries of outrage and despair as the "riddle is . . . resolved" (162), the two former rivals work together to restore order and harmony, and then celebrate with all the citizenry the "triumph" that has been won" (161, 164). The multiple ironies of the comic conclusion, however, raise the question of to whom the triumph belongs. Not only have the competitors had to lay down their gloves, as it were, to manipulate their own happy ending, but neither has emerged the clear victor, the comic hero who "has his will." Amphitryon has had to accept the secondary role of foster father to Hercules, Jupiter the role of imitator, forced to assume the guise of the husband in order to gain access to the wife. Amphitryon has had to concede possession of his "lady mistress" to Jupiter, while the latter fails to win from Alcmena the specific recognition he desires. As for the woman lies unconscious as the comic resolution is achieved, who hears nothing of the annunciation of Hercules, and who ultimately finds her language "reduced to [the] single 'Ach!'" that ends the play (Gustafson 123), it would seem that any triumph she might enjoy would be a highly qualified one indeed. However one interprets Alcmena's final sigh--that inexhaustible source of critical debate--there remains a high degree of uneasiness about this scene of reconciliation, which has not, in the end, resolved much more than the embarrassing problem of a woman who seems not to know how to play along. Indeed, far from being complicitous in the comic resolution, the violated woman continues to resist its supposedly liberating terms. It turns out that the play does not revolve as much around the conduct or misconduct of a young woman, virtuous or not, as around substantial public desires for order and for the maintenance of stable identities. Represented, as Alcmena puts it, by those "suspicious men," it is the conservative will of the public that finally triumphs in Kleist's ironic comedy, and not any particular character in the play, nor, to be sure, any romantic notion of sexual and social rejuvenation.
Cervantes, Miguel de. Don Quixote. Trans. and ed. Samuel Putnam. New York: The Modern Library-Random House, 1949.
Clouser, Robin. "'Sosias tritt mit einer Laterne auf': Messenger to Myth in Kleist's Amphitryon." Germanic Review 50 (1975): 275-93.
Cohn, Dorrit. "Kleist's 'Marquise von O...': The Problem of Knowledge." Monatshefte 67 (1975): 129-44.
Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957.
Furst, Lilian R. Through the Lens of the Reader: Explorations of European Narrative. Albany: State U of New York P, 1992.
Gelus, Marjorie. "Patriarchy's Fragile Boundaries under Siege: Three Stories of Heinrich von Kleist." Women in German Yearbook 10. Ed. Jeanette Clausen and Sara Friedrichsmeyer. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1995. 59-82.
Greenberg, Martin. Introduction. Five Plays. By Heinrich von Kleist. Trans. Martin Greenberg. New Haven: Yale UP, 1988. ix-li.
----. Introduction. The Marquise of O-- and Other Stories. By Heinrich von Kleist. Trans. Martin Greenberg. 1960. New York: Ungar, 1973. 27-38.
Gustafson, Susan E."'Die allmahliche Verfertigung der Gedanken beim Reden': The Linguistic Question in Kleist's Amphitryon." Seminar 25 (1989): 104-26.
Kleist, Heinrich von. Amphitryon. Trans. Charles E. Passage. Plays. Ed. Walter Hinderer. New York: Continuum, 1982. 91-164.
----. "The Marquise of O..." The Marquise of O... and Other Stories. Trans. David Luke and Nigel Reeves. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978. 68-113.
----. Samtliche Werke und Briefe in vier Banden. Ed. Helmut Sembdner. Munchen: Hanser, 1982.
Luke, David, and Nigel Reeves. Introduction. The Marquise of O . . . and Other Stories. By Heinrich von Kleist. Trans. David Luke and Nigel Reeves. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978. 7-49.
McGlathery, James M. Desire's Sway: The Plays and Stories of Heinrich von Kleist. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1983.
Reeve, William C. Kleist on Stage 1804-1987. Montreal: McGill-Queen's UP, 1993.
Sembdner, Helmut, ed. Heinrich von Kleists Lebensspuren: Dokumente und Berichte der Zeitgenossen. Erweiterte Neuausgabe. Frankfurt am Main: Insel, 1977.
Wilson, Jean. "'Taking by Storm': The Discourse of Spontaneity in Kleist's 'Die Marquise von O...'." Seminar 32 (1996): 283-92.
Winnett, Susan. "The Marquise's 'O' and the Mad Dash of Narrative." Rape and Representation. Ed. Lynn A. Higgins and Brenda R. Silver. New York: Columbia UP, 1991. 67-86.
 My argument here builds upon insights I developed in an earlier article on "The Marquise of O..." ("'Taking by Storm': The Discourse of Spontaneity in Kleist's 'Die Marquise von O...'." Seminar 32 : 283-92).
 Luke and Reeves caution readers to take neither the story nor the ending of "The Marquise of O..." "too solemnly: as in the case of Amphitryon, Kleist's treatment hovers ambiguously between the serious and the comic" (18).
 Cf. Martin Greenberg: "Amphitryon is a comedy that is very serious, very grave, without ceasing to be a comedy, without turning into a tragedy, and without being a tragicomedy either" (Plays xxx).
 "Ein Raub" can mean both "an act of theft," "a robbery," and "an abduction," "a rape." Here, Jupiter, disguised as Amphitryon, ostensibly refers to the moments "stolen from the war . . . in sacrifice to love." The world, he warns, "might misconstrue this act of theft" (105). Alcmena responds, "Ach was das Vaterland mir alles raubt, / Das fuhl ich, mein Amphitryon, erst seit heute" (SW 1: 260).
 See Reeve 60.
 Whereas Jupiter, upon entering with Alcmena at the beginning of the scene, speaks of the "beloved" and the "husband" in the same breath (158), Amphitryon, now in the position of the imposter, appeals to Alcmena first as his "wife" (159), and then later as his "beloved" (160), thus evoking the humiliating distinction forced upon her initially.
 Although the original German, "Hier dieser ist Amphitryon" (SW 1: 316), is not quite as ambiguous, the key issue remains the omission of an exclusionary phrase.
 As noted above, there is a marked contrast between "The Marquise of O...," in which the title character is raped while unconscious, and Amphitryon, whose violated protagonist exhibits a keen awareness of having had sexual intercourse. A related 8 As noted above, there is a marked contrast between "The Marquise of O...," in which the title character is raped while unconscious, and Amphitryon, whose violated protagonist exhibits a keen awareness of having had sexual intercourse. A related contrast has to do with the comic resolution, which in Amphitryon occurs while Alcmena lies unconscious, but in "The Marquise of O..." occurs during a state of heightened awareness. I am grateful to one of the journal's anonymous readers for illuminating comments on these contrasting features.
Jean Wilson is Associate Professor of German and Comparative Literature at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. She is also appointed to McMaster's interdisciplinary Arts & Science programme, and is actively involved in Peace Studies, Women's Studies, and the Institute on Globalization and the Human Condition.
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|Publication:||Papers on Language & Literature|
|Article Type:||Critical Essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2001|
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