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Article Summary: The Function of Citations from Shakespeare in Kater Murr

Hoffmann's use of quotations in Kater Murr is both important to a thorough understanding of the novel and well-documented in critical studies. Ritchie Robertson, in particular, has presented an admirable attempt to examine the use and function of quotations from Shakespearean dramas, especially with regard to the figures of Kreisler and Hedwiga. [1] After a brief mention of the importance of citation for Murr's narrative, which Robertson sees principally as a form of name-dropping in order to "enhance [Murr's] own standing," a discussion of Romantic drama and Hoffmann's understanding of Shakespeare ensues. Kreisler's tale is compared to a Romantic tragi-comedy, combining elements of tragic intensity and comic humor in a manner similar to Shakespeare's plays. Specifically, Robertson then analyses the three Shakespeare quotes that occur during the description of the Fürstin's birthday celebrations. Hoffmann's comparison of Fürst Irenäus to King Claudius, for instance, not only ridicules the prince and his court, but implicates him in the reader's mind as guilty of a secret wrongdoing; so too, the parallel between Meister Abraham and Puck helps to define the Meister's position amongst the other characters. The metaphor of the fantastic storm can be seen, Robertson claims, as a typical Romantic image, but also a reference to The Tempest and thus an aid in understanding and clarifying Kreisler's inner turmoil.

Robertson then turns to an explication of the psychological models underlying the figures of Kreisler and Hedwiga: both of these, he maintains, have their basis in a double-sided characterization of Hamlet. The portrayal of Kreisler, it seems, is based upon Hoffmann's innovative view of Hamlet's character as one who is "wounded by his insight into the disparity between his inner world and the outer world." The outlet for this insight is, for Hamlet and for Kreisler, not only art, but also a bitter irony. Kreisler's strong expression of the "Liebe des Künstlers" is, then, equivalent to Hamlet's "spiritual homesickness." Hedwiga, however, is characterized not by irony, nor by artistry: she recognizes this duality of worlds, but cannot rise above it. In this respect, she reflects the more traditional view (as held by Goethe and others) of Hamlet as a weak, overly sensitive, and melancholy figure, therefore indecisive to a fault. Robertson points out that Hedwiga seems obsessed with the loss of virginity: she longs for Kreisler's more "pure" artist's love. This trait is combined with certain elements of contemporary psychology, such as animal magnetism, to complete the portrayal of her character. Robertson concludes his discussion with a brief conjecture as to a possible conclusion for the novel, in which Chiara would have been revealed as Hedwiga's mother, thus reinforcing the interpretation of the Princess as a clairvoyant but ultimately defenseless individual.

Robertson's analysis is, for the most part, successful, although it may leave the reader wishing at times for greater detail; in addition, the transparency of his writing style, for example his habit of postponing vital arguments for later discussion, disturbs even an attentive reader. More importantly, though, by confining his discussion primarily to the Kreisler strand of the novel, Robertson neglects some of the intriguing uses of quotes in the Murr narrative. Nonetheless, the points he makes are insightful and valid, and the article is, on the whole, very instructive.


(1)  Ritchie Robertson: "Shakespearean Comedy and Romantic Psychology in Hoffmann's Kater Murr," Studies in Romanticism, Vol. 24, Issue 2, 1985; pp. 210-222. [return to text]

Written and © Nancy Thuleen in 1995 for German 704 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

If needed, cite using something like the following:
Thuleen, Nancy. "Article Summary: The Function of Citations from Shakespeare in Kater Murr." Website Article. 12 October 1995. <http://www.nthuleen.com/papers/704Murr.html>.