Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Clara, a young girl who, to prove her love, gives herself physically to the man she loves. She is crushed when he does not want to marry her and seizes as his excuse the fact that Clara’s brother has been accused of theft. Feeling that her pregnancy and its disgrace may drive her father to suicide, Clara thinks of killing herself. The arrival of an old suitor who still wants to marry her only puts off the action for a time. Clara drowns herself in the household well.
Leonard, Clara’s lover and fiancé. He is a selfish, calculating young man. As a means of getting a job, he courts the mayor’s daughter. Finding that the girl loves him, he throws over Clara, despite her pregnancy, and marries his new love. Leonard is killed in a duel by the secretary, a suitor who loves Clara.
The secretary, a childhood sweetheart of Clara. He wants to marry her, though she is pregnant by Leonard. He vows to fight a duel with Leonard, does so, and is fatally wounded.
Karl, Clara’s brother. Because of his unsavory reputation, he is accused of theft and thus gives Leonard an excuse to break off with Clara. Later, Karl is cleared of any guilt.
Anthony, Clara’s father. He is a simpleminded cabinetmaker who does not understand what happens to his family. The secretary, dying, accuses Anthony of Clara’s death because of his pride and weakness. Anthony, unable to comprehend the mysteries of life, fails to see how he can be at all responsible for his daughter’s suicide.
Anthony’s wife, Clara’s mother. She is a respectable, God-fearing woman who wishes only the best for her family. The accusations leveled against her son are enough of a shock to kill her.
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Flygt, Sten G. Friedrich Hebbel. New York: Twayne, 1968. A useful plot summary with interpretive observations. Discusses Maria Magdalena as Hebbel’s first masterpiece; all characters belong to the lower middle class, which is presented as being ripe for change.
Glenn, Jerry H. “The Title of Hebbel’s Maria Magdalena.” Papers on Language and Literature 3, no. 2 (Spring, 1967): 122-133. An excellent analysis of the entire play. Like the Pharisees in the Bible, the members of Hebbel’s bourgeois society are quick to condemn. The title suggests the Christian message of love and forgiveness that is so conspicuously absent in the play.
Weiss, Hermann F. “Animal and Nature References in F. Hebbel’s Maria Magdalena.” Semi-nar 7, no. 3 (October, 1971): 191-200. Anthony is associated with a hedgehog since he maintains a defensive position. Leonard, the villain of the play, is seen as a snake. The negative animal imagery emphasizes the inhumanity of society’s moral standards.
Wells, G. A. “Hebbel’s Maria Magdalena and Its Critics Past and Present.” Quinquereme 6, no. 2 (1983): 141-154. Good formal and stylistic analysis of the play, with a critical overview of its reception. The characters Anthony, Leonard, and Friedrich are fatally flawed by their concern with “what people will say.” A tragedy of narrow-mindedness.
Wright, J. D. “Hebbel’s Klara: The Victim of a Division in Allegiance and Purpose.” Monatshefte 38 (1946): 304-316. A carefully reasoned analysis of Clara’s doubly tragic situation. Although in love with Friedrich, she allows herself to be pressured into premarital sex with Leonard. Then, instead of concentrating on persuading Leonard to marry her, she gets Friedrich involved and loses them both.