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Table of contents

Adam H. Dresden: Arnold, Marion Sonnenfeld as Amphitryon: A Comedy. New York: Ungar, Penthesilea: Ein Trauerspiel.

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Tbingen: Cotta, Eric Bentley. London: Mayflower, ; New York: Doubleday, Phbus: Ein Journal fr die Kunst. Kleist and Adam H. Erzhlungen, vols. Berlin: Realschulbuchhandlung, comprises vol. Oxenford as Michael Kohlhaas, in Tales from the German.

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Heinrich Roche as The Marquise of O. New York: Roy, ; vol. Domingo, Tr. Ernest N. London: Oxford, ; Der Findling, Tr. Oxenford as St. New York: Criterion, Berlin: Realschulbuchhandlung, Elijah B. London: Simpkin, Marshall, Frederick E. New York: Oxford, Berliner Abendbltter. First quarter, nos. Der Zerbrochne Krug: Ein Lustspiel. Poet Lore, 45 : Germania an ihre Kinder. Das erwachte Europa.

Heinrich Heine: Dreams in A Winter's tale. A New Historicist Approach.

Berlin: Achenwall, Hinterlassene Schriften. Ludwig Tieck. London: Trbner, ; Tr. Kuno Francke and W. Gesammelte Schriften. Berlin: Reimer, Politische Schriften und andere Nachtrge zu seinen Werken. Rudolf Kpke. Berlin: Charisius, Werke: Kritisch durchgesehene und erl. Schmidt, G. Minde-Pouet, and R. Leipzig: Bibliographisches Institut, Smtliche Werke und Briefe in vier Bnden.

Ilse-Marie Barth et al. Frankfurt a. Smtliche Werke. Roland Reu and Peter Staengle. Published, as the first of his works to appear under his name, by his friends while he was in a French prison, it was sold, in his own opinion, well below its value, having been thrust on a publisher by Gottfried Krner with a claim that the imprisoned author was in need of support Sembdner , Of Kleists five preserved comments on the play, four deal with the financial aspect Sembdner , Interpretation does not commonly stress the fact that Kleist was virtually destitute throughout his creative years, a dependent of his relatives to a degree that was damaging to his selfesteem.

It has long seemed to me that despite his intermittent suicidal moods and the existential pathos of his last days, if some congenial nobleman had provided him with shelter, sustenance, and cultivated companionship on his estate, he might have managed much longer. The dearth of authorial guidance to our interpretive work is characteristic of Kleist generally; in the Heimeran series of authors commentaries on their own works, the Kleist volume just cited is the slenderest.

It is impossible to follow his literary and cultural reading exactly, which sometimes leads to inflated claims for his erudition and memory for texts. Amphitryon appeared with a commentary by Adam Mller, who, in the flush of his newfound Catholic faith, gave it a Christological interpretation, which, in turn, contributed to Goethes distaste for it he used a copy of it for wrapping paper Sembdner , ; see Grathoff This apprehension long endured Wegener 32 , even echoing into more recent times see, for example, Milfull 11; Zimmermann Thomas Mann was not mistaken to characterize it as grlich und beleidigend and to charge Goethes recoil from the pathological Kleist with a petulance inconsistent with his own imaginative range Mller1 Seidel , 52, While the publication aroused some interest.

It was long thought to be unplayable Wegener To be sure, it is difficult to cast; as with Shakespeares Comedy of Errors, a literal rendition would require as actors two sets of identical twins. Otherwise, considerable suspension of disbelief is required of the audience. In addition, the work comes before the public as a translation, Ein Lustpiel nach Molire Kleist Molires play, though not one of his most canonical, was well known to literary connoisseurs of the time; what was so important about a translation?

When leafing through it, one must get well into act 2 before realizing that it is a good deal more than a translation or adaptation. Once Kleists ingenuity had been grasped, criticism took the opportunity to value his German depth and spirituality at the expense of the alleged French shallowness and frivolity of Molires court entertainment.

This was still the view of Thomas Mann while claiming to know nothing about Molire; Mller-Seidel , ; only relatively recently has German criticism found ways to rehabilitate Molires work, lately in its critically ideological dimension Szondi; Jauss ; Hller. But most disconcerting has been an enduring resistance to interpretation.

In a work of printed or, rather, typed pages was entirely devoted to the history of Amphitryon criticism Wegener ; and after twenty more years of labor, we now have a wide-ranging, garrulous, page effort recapitulating many of the problems and proposing to set them right at last, not least um den groen Teil der Kleistliteratur beiseite zu schieben Fetscher Perhaps we should rejoice at this indeterminability; after all, it is the infinite interpretability of texts that justifies the permanent institution of literary scholarship.

There never can be too many prayers, Kernan once remarked, even if some of them are mumbled One might think of Wellberys demonstration of the availability of Das Erdbeben in Chili to a variety of contemporary theoretical modes. But in view of the fact that Kafka is constantly and relevantly adduced in the discourse about Kleist see Furst , one might as well think of The Commentators Despair, the title Corngold gave to his arrangement, in alphabetical disorder, of the conflicting and contradictory interpretations of Die Verwandlung by probably unconscious analogy, Fldnyi has recently sequenced ninety-six Kleistian motifs on the same principle.

The problem is not peculiar to Amphitryon; Ribbat. In the same vein, De Man observed of the endless discourse about the dialogue on the marionette theater: The spectacle of so much competence and attention producing so little result certainly puts to the test any attempt to add one more reading to those that have already been undertaken. More often than not the diversity that becomes manifest in the successive readings of a text permits one to determine a central crux that works as a particularly productive challenge to interpretation.

Not so with Marionettentheater; this brief narrative [sic] engenders a confusion all the more debilitating because it arises from the cumulative effect produced by the readings. A reviewer of Wegeners survey commented mockingly that his cosmopolitan perspective had apparently crippled Wegeners ability to contribute anything significant of his own to the issues of reading Amphitryon Leonard Schulze in Erdman But this strikes me as an utterly reasonable and unastonishing consequence of the experience. It seems that we cannot take step one in the interpretive process: collectively agree on the simplest questions or the superficial meaning of the text.

For example, what is its genre?

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Most seem to agree that it is a drama; but is it a comedy, as Kleists subtitle clearly states, erhaben-heiter, metaphysisch-vershnlich Nordmeyer , 6? Or should we just disbelieve Kleists designation Wegener and declare it a tragedy of Alkmene, a view that seems first to have been proposed by Heinrich Meyer-Benfey in Wegener 42? Or is it a tragicomedy, the term that Plautus waggishly coined for his progenitor text, thus not comic but potentially tragic Guthke ; cf. Wegener 87? Then: who is the hero, or protagonist? One of my eminent teachers once astonished us by declaring that a first task of interpretation was to establish who is the good guy and who is the bad guy.

Contemplating Kleist makes this precept much less simple-minded than may at first appear. Most observers agree, with some exceptions or modifications Nordmeyer , ; cf. Wegener ; Michelsen ; Guthke , that the hero of Amphitryon is not Amphitryon, an eitle[r] Laffe and Hahnrei Fischer 66 whose bare-faced dictatorship Allan 8 the drama exposes. Is, then, Alkmene the heroine, as was once widely thought and still often is Lange 30? Should not the drama have been named for her, as was Euripides lost tragedy Hlscher ; Silz 47 48, 51? Or, as came to be suggested, notably by Ryan, is the hero or, at least, the elevating and educative figure Jupiter?

This view has been much disputed but continues to live on in the Reclam commentary Bachmaier 61 and the new critical edition Kleist , I should think that no other syllable in the history of German letters has generated such a corpus of incompatible exegesis; Greenbergs Ah! The history of criticism is not completely chaotic; the modes come in waves: nationalistic, idealistic, existentialist, close reading.

But the s brought an attempt at a marked revaluation: Alkmene, long revered as a figure of pure feeling and resolute integrity whom nobody, as Wegener has pointed out , had thought of as guilty, came to be regarded as the butt of the comedy: narrowly fixated on marriage, in empiricist false consciousness wrongly idolizing her husband, and in need of elevation of her spiritual horizon by Jupiter. The perspectives of reading the text came to be defined by this difference to such a degree that I began to suggest to students that interpreters could be divided, even retrospectively, into Jupiterists and Alkmenists.

Silz, for example, can appear in this light as an Alkmenist, as can Graham, basically; Arntzen and Jancke as Jupiterist; Thomas Mann, while typically ambiguous, tends to the Jupiterist side when he treats Alkmene as childish Sembdner , The distinction affected the generic reading: the Jupiterists tended to the comic tone, the Alkmenists to the tragic Silz again, and, in a modified way, Guthke. This duality may have come to be less noticeable in recent criticism, which has been refined into esoteric theoretical contexts rather large for Kleists intellectual resources and mental furniture.

Yet there are still echoes of the debate, and it is indicative that Allan opened his recent general study with a reference to the dispute between Ryan and Wittkowski that made the distinction notorious 1. Wegener, for example, came down on the Alkmenist side ; Jauss , and n.

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Stephens, an Alkmenist sympathetic to her suffering, logically sees her role as belonging to a tragedy encapsulated within a comic context Nlle, on the other hand, who thinks that Jupiter steps out of his role for Alkmenes sake in order to comfort her for Amphitryons failures as a husband, seems quite Jupiterist , , as are Oellers, who believes that Alkmene has been enriched by her experience 72 , and Bachmaier, who gets quite impatient at her mulish inability to grasp Jupiters superior claim Allan, who finds Alkmene mistaken for supposing herself perfectly in love with her husband and blames her for asserting the reality of an unreal husband in order to deny the existence of a real god, is, at any rate, not.

The translator Greenberg is distinctly Jupiterist in a manner that suggests influence from Ryan xxxixxxv. To what extent these differences indicate gender biases on the part of the critics is a question I leave to others, though it is interesting to see Fetscher argue that the Alkmenists, at least of the past, are the patriarchal ones, insofar as they ascribe to Alkmene alle Klischees, welche im Patriarchat gngige Mnze sind: Naturverhaftung, aber ohne Erotik, Empfngnis in Unschuld, Heimat und Herz ohne Krper, Unschuld in der Fgsamkeit, Intuition, aber nie Intellekt In an appropriate spirit of intimidated trepidation, I should like to suggest how some of these issues appear to me as a nonspecialist observer.

This will be more of a commentary than an interpretation; since originality in this case seems virtually impossible, or at least beyond my powers, I shall keep a persistent eye on a representative portion of the extant criticism. One good place to begin would be at the beginning, with the appearance of Sosias and his confrontation with his double, Merkur. This beginning is already an example of the insecurities that beset interpretation. That it closely follows the base text in Molire need not concern us much, since Kleist shows himself quite able to adapt Molire when it suits him.

Somewhat more of a concern is the generic question. We seem to be in quite conventional comedic territory here, low comedy at the expense of the low-born. While a recent effort has been made to see Sosias intertextually, as a Bakhtinian carnivalesque figure who restores the Hanswurst role driven from the German stage in the preceding generation Zeyringer , there has been a recurring interpretive strain that takes a contemptuous view of him as fatuously vain, materialistic, and, above all, cowardly, dwelling on a moral level that contrasts with the elevated realm of Amphitryon, Alkmene, and, presumably, the gods e.

Even worse things have been said about him: that he yields to force like the German people under Hitler Nordmeyer , or, worst of all for todays critical fashions, that he does not understand the problem of language Schulze But it seems to me, as it has occasionally seemed to others, that one might take a friendlier view of him. It is true that his habit is to keep his head down and his rear covered, but this may not be a contemptible posture. Kleist was by no means an unambiguous admirer of heroism.

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At the age of nineteen he grieved at the inhumane killing the military profession required, and at twenty-one,. One might think not only of Prince Friedrich, paralyzed by the fear of death, but of even more dubious fighting men such as Count F. As early as Wilhelm Scherer claimed that Kleist polemicized against stoic heroism more than anyone in his time as cited by Fetscher It may be true, as Fetscher suggests, that Kleist had a vision of an ideally pure heroic age, but there is a large gap in his world between wishing something were so and the way it really is.

The ideal is only a memory maintained in myth, and it becomes grotesque in reality Wickert As for the problem of language, it is true that Sosias is a literalist, as has been long observed of Kleist himself, and it is the play with words, especially his desperate efforts to protect his first-person pronoun, that supplies much of the comedy of the drama.