Egmont by Johann Wolfgang Goethe

   Premiered 1791. Egmont marks Goethe's distinct departure from the emotional excesses of the Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) movement, though the play remains a hagiographie treatment of a hero's struggle. The hero is the title character, based on a historical Flemish figure executed during the Spanish occupation of the Low Countries. Egmont appears as an aristocratic man of the people, irresistibly charming and manly, yet impulsive to the point of impracticality. His love interest is Klärchen, whose infatuation with him produces swoons of desire that end in suicide. Egmont also has a magnetic effect on Margaret of Parma, sister of King Philipp and regent of the Low Countries until the arrival of the tyrannous Duke of Alba. Egmont can only forestall the inevitable after Margaret's departure; his desire for his country's liberation is impractical, especially when contrasted with that of his fellow conspirator William of Orange. Both William and Egmont are summoned before Alba; William wisely escapes, but Egmont foolishly complies — though it requires 50 armed men to carry him off to his waiting prison cell. In the play's concluding act, Egmont awaits his execution; Alba's son Ferdinand visits him in admiration, an implausible counterpoint to his father's oppression. The crowning touch of apotheosis comes at the play's conclusion, when a vision of Klärchen pervades the prison cell: she is the Spirit of Liberty, infusing Egmont with the courage he needs to face his execution as the sacrificial offering for the emancipation of his people.

Historical dictionary of German Theatre. . 2006.

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