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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 305

The Prince of Homburg by Heinrich von Kleist is a play that details a war between Germany and Sweden. Prince Frederick Arthur of Homburg is a military leader who has just returned from a battle and is preparing to go into another one. While he is taking a brief respite...

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The Prince of Homburg by Heinrich von Kleist is a play that details a war between Germany and Sweden. Prince Frederick Arthur of Homburg is a military leader who has just returned from a battle and is preparing to go into another one. While he is taking a brief respite in Fehrbellin, he begins to act strangely; he weaves a laurel wreath which the elector takes from him, and he snatches one of Natalie's gloves.

The next battle does not go well for the prince. When the battle orders were given, he was distracted by Natalie, whom he is in love with. Because of this, he gives the wrong orders to his men and they do not perform their duties properly. The elector is thought to be dead, though it turns out that he survived. The elector sees that the prince failed to follow orders and he sentences him to death.

The prince is allowed to see the electress, and he makes his case to her. She agrees with him and decides to help Natalie plea for the prince's life. A hearing happens, where the blame is passed around, but ultimately the elector relents, giving the prince an opportunity to make his case if he believes his punishment to be unjust. However, the prince has come to see that he was at fault in the battle so he turns down the offer. He is eventually brought before the elector where, though he is prepared to accept his sentence and die, he does plead his case. Here, he finds out that one of the terms of peace is that Natalie will be married to a Swedish lord. The prince begs the elector to reconsider. The elector relents, destroys the death warrant, orders the troops back to the battlefield, and the prince is seen as a hero.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 969

After three days spent heading a cavalry charge in pursuit of the Swedes, Prince Frederick Arthur of Homburg has returned to Fehrbellin. Exhausted and battle-weary, the prince falls into a dreamlike sleep, weaving a laurel wreath as he half dozes. The elector of Brandenburg, Frederick William, is informed by Count Hohenzollern of the prince’s strange condition, and the elector, the electress, and their niece, Princess Natalie, arrive in the garden where the prince is sleeping. The elector takes the wreath from the prince, entwines it in his neck chain, and gives it to Natalie. They back away as the somnambulistic prince follows, murmuring incoherently, and as they retreat inside, the prince snatches a glove from Natalie’s hand. When the prince awakes, he tells Count Hohenzollern about the occurrence, which he thinks was a dream. Hohenzollern reproves him for his romantic fantasies and urges him to make ready for the coming battle with the Swedes.

The field marshal of Brandenburg dictates the orders of battle to his officers, but the prince, who is to play an important role in the battle, is absorbed in his own thoughts. Hoping to remember from whom he obtained the glove he has found in his possession, he wears it in his collar. The electress and Natalie are present, and plans are being formed to send them to a place of safety. As the field marshal reaches the section of the orders that pertains to the prince, Natalie, preparing to depart, suddenly realizes that she has but one glove. The prince, who loves Natalie, quickly becomes aware that he holds the missing glove. In order to be sure it is hers, he drops it on the floor in front of him to see if Natalie will claim it. When she does, the prince, in a fit of ecstasy, fails to hear his battle orders clearly, though his mission is to be a key one.

The battlefield of Fehrbellin resounds with cannon, and the elector’s forces are sure of victory. As the rout of the Swedes becomes apparent, the prince precipitately gives orders to advance. His colleagues make an effort to dissuade him from this impetuous action, and they insist that he hear the order of battle again, for he is supposed to remain in his position until a particular signal is given. However, the prince rebukes Kottwitz, an elderly colonel, for lack of fervor, and Kottwitz, rather than appear unpatriotic, joins the prince in the advance.

The electress and Natalie have paused during their journey to safety at a house in a nearby village, where news reaches them that the elector has died in battle; both he and his great white horse are reported to have been killed during the bombardment. The prince seeks out the women and takes the opportunity to tell the distraught Natalie of his love for her and to offer her his protection. The elector was her only relative, and now that he is dead she is alone in the world.

The elector is not dead, however. He had changed horses with one of his officers, and that officer, astride the white horse, was mistakenly identified as the elector. The same messenger who brings word that the elector is still alive also brings news of further cause for rejoicing: The war is over for the time being, and the elector has returned to Berlin.

It is apparent to the elector that Prince Frederick ignored the battle order, and, although terms for peace with the Swedes are being discussed, the strong military spirit of the elector prompts him to punish the prince for failing to follow orders. The prince is sentenced to die and is placed in prison to await the day of his execution. He is, however, given permission to visit the electress, and he seeks clemency through her. She is touched by his plea, as is Natalie, who throws herself at the feet of the elector to beg for the prince’s life. Given Natalie’s plea and the fact that the officers of the elector’s army have circulated a petition asking that the prince’s life be spared, the elector at last agrees to pardon him.

Natalie takes the letter of pardon from the elector to the prince’s cell. In the letter, the elector specifies that the prince’s sword will be returned to him if the young man thinks the elector has been unjust in his sentence. The prince thereupon refuses the pardon, for his military training and nationalistic spirit prompt him to realize that the sentence is just.

The officers of the army visit the elector to plead on the prince’s behalf. Count Hohenzollern makes the strongest case, noting that had the elector not deceived the young prince by snatching the laurel wreath and entwining it with his neck chain, the prince would not have felt an uncontrollable destiny forcing him into battle. It was therefore the elector’s own fault that the prince’s mind was clouded by what he thought was a vision foretelling valorous deeds. The elector counters by blaming Count Hohenzollern himself for the whole affair, for he was the one who led the elector to the sleeping prince.

When the prince appears before the assembled officers and the elector, he is ready to die; nevertheless, he makes such a strong plea to the elector that he is able to save himself. In the meantime, peace with Gustaf Karl of Sweden has been effected through the promise of Natalie’s hand in marriage to a Swedish nobleman. The prince begs the elector to revoke the agreement and attack the Swedes instead. The elector, ordering his troops to resume battle, tears up the death warrant. Prince Frederick Arthur is hailed as the hero of the field of Fehrbellin.

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