The broken jug

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Title: The broken jug
Genus: Comedy
Original language: German
Author: Heinrich von Kleist
Publishing year: 1811 (first complete print version)
Premiere: March 2, 1808
Place of premiere: Court theater in Weimar
  • Walter, councilor
  • Adam, village judge
  • Light, scribe
  • Mrs. Marthe Rull, widow, owner of the pitcher
  • Eve Rull, her daughter
  • Veit Tümpel, a farmer
  • Ruprecht Tümpel, his son, Eve's fiance
  • Mrs. Brigitte, a witness, neighbor of Mrs. Marthe and aunt of Ruprecht
Adolph von Menzel : Act I (1877)

The Broken Jug is a comedy by Heinrich von Kleist and one of his most famous works. The comedy is written in blank verse . The piece belongs to the canon of German literature , is widely used in school reading and has served as a template for operas and films several times .

Analytical drama and role models

Village judge Adam has to sit in judgment over an act that he himself committed. The action consists mainly of a court hearing, which is reproduced in full and in the natural course of time . What is being negotiated, however, happened in the past and is only gradually being revealed. Like Sophocles' King Oedipus, the play is therefore considered a prime example of an analytical drama . Like the comedies of Shakespeare and Molière , The Broken Jug has a serious core and touches on the tragic in some places .


Playbill for the Weimar premiere

At the center of the action, which took place around 1685 in the courtroom in Huisum, a fictional Dutch village (in the province of Utrecht ), is the eponymous broken jug, which belongs to Ms. Marthe Rull. She accuses Ruprecht, her daughter Eve's fiancé, of having destroyed the jug in her house the previous evening. Ruprecht, on the other hand, assures that a stranger broke into the house and escaped through a window, knocking the jug off the window sill.

Court clerk Licht surprises Judge Adam in the morning when he bandages fresh wounds. Adam explains that when he got up he stumbled and fell against the stove. For the time being, Licht is satisfied with that, but lets it be seen that he rather believes in an erotic adventure of his superior, in which a strong rival got in his way.

Judge Walter can be reported. He is posted from Utrecht to check court coffers and files. Adam panics, especially since his judicial wig has disappeared and there is no replacement on hand. On top of that, it is still court day, the plaintiff, defendant and witnesses are already waiting in front of the door. The judge suspects why they came, he had a terrible dream. He entrusts him to his scribe light:

I dreamed that a plaintiff had seized me
And dragged me to the judge's chair; and me,
I would still be sitting there on the bench
And peel and punch and loop me down,
And judge my neck in the iron.

When judge Walter arrives, he demands to be present at the court hearing, the check of the accounts and files will take place later.

Now judge Adam, like King Oedipus once, is forced to judge an act that he himself has committed. But in contrast to the ancient hero, he knows this from the start; also that the deed is an outrage and he himself a villain. Accordingly, he does everything in his power to prevent the clarification of the case, in which apart from the jug an engagement also broke apart.

The way in which he tries to conceal his perpetration by conducting a process that mocks all the rules of judicial impartiality, and sometimes influences and confuses the witnesses with threats, sometimes with sweet words, is highly comical . Like a snake, he twists and turns in order to direct suspicion to others, which gives him scorn. Sweating with fear, however, he is cornered, which gives rise to human compassion. The vigorous imagination with which he always comes up with new excuses makes him almost sympathetic at times.

But judge adviser Walter and Schreiber Licht are not blinded by it. Both are interested in the clarification of the case, albeit for very different reasons. Walter is interested in reforming the administration of justice in rural areas, and Licht himself would like to become a village judge. Step by step, the following facts are revealed during the negotiation:

The stranger who hastily escaped through Eve's bedroom window on the eve of court day and pushed the jug off the ledge was he, Judge Adam himself. It was neither the defendant, Eve's fiancé Ruprecht, nor his alleged rival Lebrecht, nor the devil, like the witness Mrs. Brigitte, who examined the crime scene together with light, stiffly and firmly asserts:

What do I find you for a trail in the snow?
Always fine and sharp and nicely edged on the right,
A proper human foot
And on the left, misshapen, roughly dumped
An enormous, clumsy horse's foot.

This statement fits the judge perfectly into the concept. Adam to the judge and to the scribe:

My soul, sir, the matter seems serious to me.
One has a lot of acidic writings,
Who do not want to confess that there is a God;
However, as far as I know, the devil has
No atheist has yet been flushed away.

But the evidence speaks a clearer language than the plaintiff, defendant and witness:

There are the two head wounds that Adam sustained when Ruprecht twice knocked the door handle over the head of the unrecognized fleeing man - the jealous man had previously kicked the door down and stormed the room. There is Adam's clubfoot, who naturally explains the trail from the crime scene across the village to his apartment. Finally there is the missing judge's wig: Frau Brigitte proudly lays it on the table, it got stuck in the wine trellis under Eve's chamber window.

Now Walter advises the judge to resign, the dignity of the court is at stake. But he doesn't want to hear. Well, thinks Walter, then he should put an end to it and pass his judgment. As the tumult erupted, Adam judged the defendant's neck in the iron for impropriety, whereupon Ruprecht, cheered on by Eve, laid his hand on him. Adam slips away and escapes. This finally creates space in the room for the full truth:

Adam lied to Eve that her fiancé was threatened with military service in the East Indies , from where only one in three men is known to return. Eve gets up and says:

O heaven! How the villain lied to me!
Because with the terrible concern
He torments my heart, and came, at the time of the night,
To force a certificate for Ruprecht on me;
Proved, like an erroneous medical certificate,
Could free him from all military service;
Declared and assured and crept
To get it out to me, in my room:
So shameful, gentlemen, demanding from me
That no girl's mouth dares to speak!

But thanks in part to Ruprecht's intervention, it probably did not come to extremes, although at the time of her accusation of Adam, Eve still feared that the blackmailer had the power to snatch her fiancé from her. That is why she was silent for a long time about what had happened in the bedroom.

Although Eve expressly states that Adam did not seduce her, neither in the final version of the comedy nor in the "Variant", the original ending of the piece, which has been greatly shortened for the final version, Ruprecht is ashamed and asks her forgiveness for calling her " Metze "insulted. She gives him a kiss. The wedding can take place, Walter has done something to improve the administration of justice, the nerd light becomes the new village judge, old Adam awaits a punishment. Only the jug is no longer healed, to the annoyance of Eve's mother, the plaintiff, Mrs. Marthe. Ruprecht so eagerly accused her of the act because someone other than the fiancé in Eve's bedroom would have destroyed the good reputation of her child and house. But she was also fond of the jug. At least at the start of the negotiation, she described it as epic, and thus immortalized it, including the history of the Netherlands depicted on it.

About the creation of the piece

The poet received the impetus to write in 1802 when he was in Switzerland. The following year he put the first scenes on paper in Dresden . After he had completed the piece in Berlin and Königsberg, he had a fragment printed in the March issue of Phöbus in 1808 . Around the same time, Der zerbrochne Krug was whistled at the premiere in the Weimar Court Theater , a failure to which Goethe's division of the one-act play into three acts contributed. The full print version was published in 1811, the year Kleist died. A decade later, the success set in: "Soon the role of village judge Adam was one of the greatest and most sought-after character roles in German drama".

Le juge, ou la cruche cassée Engraving by Jean Jacques Le Veau after a painting by Philibert-Louis Debucourt

During his stay in Switzerland, Kleist cultivated friendship with other young poets, Ludwig Wieland , Heinrich Gessner (son of the painter Salomon Gessner ) and Heinrich Zschokke . Zschokke reports on a poetry contest:

“There was a French engraving in my room, La cruche cassée . We thought we recognized a sad pair of lovers in the figures, a nagging mother with a broken majolica jug, and a big-nosed judge. For Wieland this was supposed to be a satire, for Kleist a comedy, for me a story. - Kleist's broken jug won the prize. "

Kleist wrote in the draft for a preface that was only printed after his death:

“This comedy is probably based on a historical fact, but I have not been able to find any more detailed information about it. I took the reason for this from an engraving I saw in Switzerland several years ago. One noticed - first a judge, who sat gravely on the judge's seat: before him stood an old woman holding a broken jug, she seemed to demonstrate the injustice that had befallen him: the defendant, a young peasant, whom the judge was When the transfer was thundered, she defended herself, but weakly: a girl who had probably fathered in this matter (for who knows on what occasion the delictum had happened) played with her apron in the middle between mother and bridegroom ; whoever had given a false testimony could not be more contrite: and the clerk (he might have looked at the girl shortly before) now looked suspiciously at the judge aside, like Creon, on a similar occasion, Oedip, when the question was, who slay the Lajus? Underneath it said: the broken jug. - If I'm not mistaken, the original was from a Dutch master. "

Epoch assignment

Although Kleist, born in 1777, could be assigned to the generation of romantics and although the piece ends with two lovers finding each other again, the author can hardly be assigned to romanticism . Although the comedy is written in blank verse and Kleist has artfully rearranged many sentences in a manner typical for him , the text does not belong in the literary context of the Weimar Classic , especially since Kleist does not "idealize" the conditions in the village in the way Friedrich Schiller requested . The comedy lacks the humanity emphasis of the classical period as well as the infinity pathos or alternatively the ironic lightness of the early romanticism. In doing so, Kleist challenges the usual categorization of literature around 1800. So Kleist z. B. Mrs. Marthe openly talk about " King Philip's rear part", which had been separated from the rest of the body by the breakage of the jug. The comedy here and elsewhere anticipates features of naturalistic and modern drama.

Harro Müller-Michaels summarizes the thesis: “In addition to Classical and Romanticism, Kleist's dramas form their own trace in literary history.” Heinrich von Kleist's approach to his comedy also speaks for his handling of Goethe's criticism of it Piece. In 1807 he criticized that the drama The Broken Jug belonged to "the invisible theater" and that it lacked an action worthy of the name. In this way, Goethe showed that, in the tradition of Aristotle , he expected a mimesis even in a comedy . Kleist, on the other hand, took the view that his work is not a depiction, a mimesis of an existing reality, but arises in the creative process. It should be understood as a continuous process.


Village judge Adam as a comedian

A societal interpretation will see Adam as the embodiment of a corrupt judicial system in which the private and the public are mixed. On the other hand, he is of course also a figure in the tradition of the old - so to speak pre-literary - vital comedy, the representatives of which stood out for their instinct-controlled excesses in relation to eating and drinking, one actually has to say, through "eating" and "drinking", and their insatiable sexual drive . As a lustful old man, Adam represents an old type of comedy whose behavior more or less violates social norms. But this is not about relapsing into a pre-literary form of comedy, because Kleist has succeeded in integrating this old type of comedy into a "regular" literary form.

The Biblical Myth of the Fall

The play is about a “second fall from man”. Just as Adam, the first person, becomes a victim of his pride because he wants to “be like God”, the village judge Adam also succumbs to vice , and in his case to the lust that makes him do it (apparently not for the first time; cf. Lichts allusion to his “Adam's Fall”), wanting to “fall into a bed”. Village judge Adam is also expelled from his "paradise" (the judge's office and the prosperity that goes with it). In the similarity of the judge and the progenitor of mankind, "the fact that Adam, in contrast to the creation story, is not the seduced but the seducer does not change anything."

According to the motif of the “second fall from man”, Eve should also have “sinned”. This conclusion is obvious for Waltraud Wiethölter: “Adam and Eve - they are silent; Only their names speak for themselves, which suggest that considerably more than just a jug could have broken at this rendezvous. "

Historical context of the comedy

The jug as a “shattered fact” is a tangible symbol of how world events are reflected in the history of the village. If the pictures of the jug represented the founding scene of the Dutch state, then as the pictures break, the representation as that which repeats and overshadows the fictitious positing character of the law becomes fragile. Only with the liberation from the Spaniards do the Dutch become the social subject of their state, the state becomes their own, symbolically embodied in the depicted founding of the state on the jug, which, captured by a Spaniard, is now placed in one's own house. According to Dirk Grathoff, the fact that the jug has now been broken by the civil servant Adam indicates a new historical situation, the dawn of a new era. The Dutch have now, for the second time, become a “social object”, but not through foreign rule, but through their own state. Up to the present of the drama, "modern times" have finally found their way into the state of Holland, as the old social object-being has returned under changed conditions.

The time the drama was written, the first decade of the 19th century, is also reflected in the play. The theme in the background of the comedy would be the modernization processes following the French Revolution, which shifted rule over bourgeois subjects more and more to bureaucratic processes.



Radio plays


Audio book


Title page of the first complete edition

Work edition

Secondary literature

  • Anne Fleig: The feeling of trust in Kleist's dramas “Die Familie Schroffenstein”, “Der Zerbrochne Krug” and “Amphitryon”. In: Kleist Yearbook 2008/2009 , pp. 138–150 ( online )
  • Dirk Jürgens: Text analysis and interpretation of Heinrich von Kleist: The broken mug. King's Explanations and Materials (Vol. 30). C. Bange Verlag, Hollfeld 2013, ISBN 978-3-8044-1997-1 .
  • Ethel Matala de Mazza: Right at face value. Institution and legal force in Kleist's “Broken Krug”. In: Kleist-Jahrbuch 2001 , pp. 160–177. ( online )
  • Wolfgang Schadewaldt : “The Broken Jug” by Heinrich von Kleist and Sophocles “King Oedipus”. In: Sophocles King Oedipus . Translated and edited with an afterword and three essays on the history of the impact. by Wolfgang Schadewaldt. Insel Taschenbuch 15, 11th edition Frankfurt a. M. 1994, ISBN 3-458-31715-5 .
  • Monika Schmitz-Emans: The disappearance of images as a historical-philosophical parable. “The Broken Jug” in the light of the relationships between image and text. In: Kleist-Jahrbuch 2002 , pp. 42–69. ( online )
  • Elmar Schürmann u. Herbert Hähnel: Sexual coercion, deprivation of liberty, perversion of the law. The trial of Adam et al. a. before the district court of Osnabrück. Edition of the court records. In: Heilbronner Kleist-Blätter , 17 (2005), ISBN 3-931060-83-7 , pp. 88-130. [A mock trial of literary characters.]
  • Helmut Sembdner : Heinrich von Kleist: The broken jug. Explanations and documents. Reclams Universal Library No. 8123, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-15-008123-8 .
  • Volkhard Wels: Love and trust in the “Broken Jug”. In: Walter Delabar, Helga Meise (ed.): Love as a metaphor. Frankfurt am Main 2012, pp. 151–174. ( Online )

Web links

Commons : The Broken Jug  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: The Broken Jug  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. Wolfgang Schadewaldt: "The broken jug of Heinrich von Kleist and Sophocles King Oedipus", in: Insel Taschenbuch 15, 2004.
  2. So in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing . Kleist alludes to this piece in the seventh appearance.
  3. cf. Hamacher, Bernd (2010): Heinrich von Kleist. The broken jar. Explanations and documents. Stuttgart: Reclam. Pp. 42-43. With the timing of the plot, Hamacher refers to verses 2058-2061 of the first version of the final scene ("Variant"): "Such a colonial war took place in 1685, the so-called Bantamian War, in which the East Indian societies of the English and the Dutch for the Fought supremacy on the island of Java, pitting the local kings against each other. "
  4. Third appearance.
  5. Eleventh appearance.
  6. Eleventh appearance.
  7. Twelfth appearance.
  8. See seventh appearance.
  9. Robert Keil (Ed.), From the diaries of Riemer, the trusted friend of Goethe , in: Deutsche Revue about the entire national life of the present 11 . October 4 - December 1886, pp. 20-38; therein: "The broken jug" in Weimar , 1808, p. 22f. ( online )
  10. Michael Titzmann: Lemma "The broken jug", in: Kindlers Literatur Lexikon im dtv , Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich 1986, vol. 12, p. 10372.
  11. ^ Heinrich Zschokke: Selbstschau (1842). Quoted from Eduard v. Bülow (Hrsg.): Heinrich von Kleist's life and letters. With an appendix , Berlin 1848, p. 26 f. Cf. Bibliotheca Augustana ( Memento of the original dated December 3, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  12. Heinrich von Kleist: Complete Works and Letters , Vol. 1, Munich 1984, p. 176. Cf. Bibliotheca Augustana ( Memento of the original dated December 3, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  13. Heinz Drügh: "The most beautiful mug is broken in two". Comedy in the materiality of the body and the sign . Research Frankfurt 2/2011
  14. Harro Müller-Michaels: Heinrich von Kleist's Dramas - Myth and Present ( Memento of the original from December 22, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . Lecture at the symposium "Mythos - Drama - Kleist" on September 15 and 16, 2011 at the Literary Colloquium Berlin @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  15. ^ Kleist's fight with Goethe . Heinrich v. Kleist portal
  16. Harro Müller-Michaels: Heinrich von Kleist's Dramas - Myth and Present. Lecture at the symposium "Mythos - Drama - Kleist" of the Landesverband Berlin-Brandenburg in the German Association of Germanists eV ( Memento of the original from December 22nd, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . Berlin, September 15 and 16, 2011 @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  17. Didactic guide to the edition volume - Heinrich von Kleist: Der zerbrochne Krug ( Memento of the original from December 18, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . Ernst Klett Publishing House. Stuttgart 2009  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  18. Dieter Heimbüchel: The broken jug . In: Kindlers Literatur Lexikon, 3rd completely revised edition. Edited by Heinz Ludwig Arnold. Quoted from (June 9, 2014)
  19. Waltraud Wiethölter: One of the most famous dashes in world literature: »Here - he met [...].« . In: Research Frankfurt . Edition 2/2011, p. 59
  20. Dirk Pilz: Brandauer glorification theater . In: Berliner Zeitung , September 15, 2008; quoted from: Esther Slevogt: Ambition to the great parable . Night review
  21. Marianne Schuller: The comical and the law. According to Kleist's comedy “Der zerbrochne Krug” ( memento of the original from November 29, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . Karlsruhe 2010. p. 5 @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  22. Dirk Grathoff, The case of the jug. On the historical content of Kleist's comedy. In: Kleist yearbook. 1981/1982, pp. 290-313, here p. 297
  23. Michael Mandelartz; The corrupt society. History and economics in Kleist's “Zerbrochnem Krug”. In: Kleist yearbook 2008/2009 . Pp. 303-323
  24. The Broken Jug (1959) in the Internet Movie Database (English)
  25. The Broken Jug (1965) in the Internet Movie Database (English)
  26. Jungfer, I Like You (1969) in the Internet Movie Database (English)
  27. The Broken Jug (1990) in the Internet Movie Database (English)
  28. The Broken Jug (2003) in the Internet Movie Database (English)