Kleist, Heinrich von

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Kleist, Heinrich von

(hīn`rĭkh fən klīst), 1777–1811, German dramatic poet. He is one of the most evocative and disturbing of the German Romantic writers. Kleist served (1792–99) in the Prussian army and led an unhappy life that ended in suicide. His comedies include Der zerbrochene Krug (1806, tr. The Broken Pitcher, 1961) and Amphitryon (1807), after Molière. Among his passionate tragedies is Penthesilea (1808). Käthchen von Heilbronn (1810) is a tale of chivalry; his masterpiece is The Prince of Homburg, (1821, tr. 1956), a historical tragedy. Kleist's terse, dynamic style and his sense of conflict—between reason and feeling, divine law and human law—are also evident in his novellas. Best known of these is Michael Kohlhaas (1810–11, tr. 1967) and The Marquis of O (1810–11, tr. 1978).


See the biography by J. Maas (1983); studies by W. Silz (1961), J. Gearey (1968), J. M. Ellis (1979).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Kleist, Heinrich Von


Born Oct. 18, 1777, in Frankfurt an der Oder; died Nov. 21, 1811, in Wansee, near Potsdam. German writer.

In the tragedies The Schroffenstein Family (published in 1803), Robert Guiskard (a fragment was preserved), and Penthesilea (1805–07; published in 1808) and in the drama Käthchen of Heilbronn, or Trial by Fire (1807; published in 1810), Kleist sought to combine elements of verisimilitude with the irrational and pathological in the actions of his protagonists. The comedy The Broken Pitcher (published in 1811) contains elements of social satire.

On the eve of the movement of liberation against Napoleon’s France, Kleist turned to national problems in verse, drama (The Warrior’s Battle, 1808; published in 1821), and the pamphlet (The German Catechism, 1809). At the same time, Kleist remained faithful to the Prussia of the Junkers, whose past he glorified in the drama Prince Friedrich of Homburg (1810; published in 1821). Kleist’s Short Stories (1810–11) are tensely dramatic and avoid any romantic idealization of the characters. The most important of the short stories is “Michael Kohlhaas” (1810).

Kleist’s legacy is the focus of pointed ideological debate. Marxist literary scholarship attempts to elucidate the humanistic tendencies characterizing his best works.


Werke, vols. 1–2. Weimar, 1961.
In Russian translation:
P’esy. Moscow, 1962.
Dramy, Novelly. Moscow, 1969.


Mering, F. “Kleist.” In his book Literaturno-kriticheskie stat’i, vol. 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1934.
Berkovskii, N. Ia. “Kleist.” In the book Nemetskaia romanticheskaia povest’, vol. 2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1935.
Heinrich von Kleist. Darmstadt, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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