Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 375
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s work is, above all, a tale of intrigue, a conflict between various aristocratic figures over a single prize. Human life is afforded very little worth in comparison to this prize, as evidenced by the assassination of Count Appiani for the crime of frustrating the prince’s intentions. Characters such as Marinelli embody the classic archetypal schemer within the courts of European aristocracy, the cunning whispering advisor who facilitates his master’s plans with a combination of ingenuity and deception. In contrast to this, figures like Emilia’s father characterize the bluff simplicity of principle and honor, which often clashes with Marinelli and those like him.
As stated above, the male characters in this work are in conflict for a prize—namely, ownership over Emilia. During the course of the novel she passes from the ownership of her father to the Count Appiani, then to the prince, and finally back to her father. She rarely expresses her own agency. Other feminine archetypes are also evoked. Emilia’s mother Claudia demonstrates the hysteria characteristic of women, and often of mothers, portrayed in a variety of works in Lessing’s time period. Meanwhile, the Countess Orsina, in her bitterness and hatred toward the prince, calls to mind the trope of the spurned and vengeful mistress.
A third key theme of this work is honor, or more broadly, a sense of the moral high ground for which all characters strive. Even the prince, after successfully kidnapping Emilia, seeks to portray himself as righteous, both in the gallant mask he wears when conversing with her and in his insistence to her father that he intends to honor the judicial processes in that country.
Ordordo also bases his actions on a firm sense of principle. He initially appeals to the prince that, as her father, he has a right to bring Emilia home with him, and his decision to stab his daughter rather than permit her and himself to suffer dishonor exemplifies how he values such principles above what are implied to be lesser concerns such as human relationships. Dishonor is portrayed as reaping its just rewards in the text, especially in the case of the prince, whose designs on Emilia are ultimately frustrated.
Cite this page as follows:
"Emilia Galotti - Themes" eNotes Publishing Ed. eNotes Editorial. eNotes.com, Inc. eNotes.com 15 Aug. 2022 <https://www.enotes.com/topics/emilia-galotti/themes#themes-themes-863084>
Note: When citing an online source, it is important to include all necessary dates. The citation above will include either 2 or 3 dates.
- If there are three dates, the first date is the date of the original publication in traditional print. The second is the date of publication online or last modification online. The last date is today's date — the date you are citing the material.
- If there are two dates, the date of publication and appearance online is the same, and will be the first date in the citation. The second date is today's date — the date you are citing the material.