maandag 25 oktober 2010

penthesilea - von kleist

Penthesilea, a one-act tragedy in more than 3, 000 lines of blank verse by H. von Kleist written in 1807, and published in Phöbus in 1808. In its 24 scenes Kleist reversed the post-Homeric legend of the slaying of the Amazon Penthesilea by Achilles during the Trojan War.

The action opens with Penthesilea in pursuit of Achilles as she leads the Amazons against the Greeks. According to Amazon law the women warriors are bound to make war in order to take male prisoners, who at the subsequent festival of roses (Rosenfest) will provide for the continuity of the state. In singling out Achilles, Penthesilea breaks the special law forbidding the Amazons to choose their individual opponents. She fails to win Achilles, but the campaign is otherwise successful. Ignoring the warnings of the High Priestess, Penthesilea sets out in quest of Achilles. She suffers defeat and loses consciousness, and he follows her into the Amazon camp. As Penthesilea regains consciousness she cherishes the delusion that she has gained Achilles in fulfilment of a prophecy made by her mother. Achilles, who loves her and wishes to carry her off, undeceives her. When the situation becomes clear to him, he sends her a challenge with the intention of surrendering to her, and goes forth unarmed. Penthesilea mistakes his action for scorn, and in a fury of mad despairing rage sets her hounds on him and joins them in rending his body. When she becomes aware of what she has done she defies state and god, casts away her sword, and through the power of her will undergoes a death of repentance, love, and hope, which looks forward to her reunion with Achilles in the Elysian realm.

Goethe rejected Kleist's radical presentation of tragedy after Kleist had sent him the MS. in the hope that it might be performed under Goethe's auspices in Weimar. The play embodies, in its action and its free adaptation of classical form, a powerful denial of the classical ideals of the Weimar stage. It was not performed until 1876, and even then in an adaptation in three acts.