The Prince of Homburg

by Heinrich von Kleist

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 318

The Prince of Homburg is a play by German dramatist and poet Heinrich von Kleist. The play was first performed a decade after von Kleist's death. The first major theme in the play is the fictionalization of the real-life Prince of Homburg, Friedrich von Hessen-Homburg, and the prince's experiences during the Battle of Fehrbellin. The historical Friedrich von Hessen-Homburg and the titular character based on him in the play bear minimal similarities.

Related to this theme is the heroism applied to the legacies of historical figures, especially noblemen and military leaders. In imperial countries, military and political leaders were shown in a positive light. In Kleist's play, the romanticized version of Hessen-Homburg is depicted as a daring military strategist who went against orders in order to win the battle. However, this event was not documented by historians and is believed to have never occurred. Kleist used creative license to turn the unfounded anecdote into an integral part of the play's narrative, and to make his protagonist more endearing to the audience.

The other major theme in the play--which is interlinked with the first theme--is the concept of insubordination. The dramatist could have used various documented instances of insubordination during the Battle of Fehrbellin and other wars as inspiration for his protagonist's actions. During the period that the play's narrative takes place, internal rebellion within the military and within the rigid royal hierarchies were as severely punished.

However, the events in the play, especially the relations between the Elector and the Prince, provoke the question of truly has the power within the hierarchy of the military-political structure. Can a prince be reprimanded for disobedience by a lower-ranking official, or does his status give him immunity from the law? Another theme in the play is the everyman-portrayal of the Prince, who sleepwalks and is fooled by the Elector in a grand scheme to teach the Prince a lesson for disobedience.

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