By Heinrich von Kleist
Whilst Amphitryon, the general of the Thebans, is away fighting her wars, Jupiter, the mighty Thunderer, to whom high Olympus without love is but a desert, descends and visits Alcumene having assumed the form of Amphitryon for the purpose. He has purposely sought out this chastest of women in order to test her and see how she will react to the knowledge of her surrender to one of the Immortals. Alcumene who is completely deceived, believes that she has received Amphitryon and when he returns to Thebes from his victorious compaign he learns that a double of himself has been with his wife and accuses her of infidelity. She who adores her Amphitryon, declares that she will die if she should conceive a child and both she and her husband are on the brink of despair when Jupiter appears and clears up the confusion he has himself caused. He reveals himself and announces to Amphitryon that Alcumene will become the mother of the hero Hercules who will fill the world with the story of his deeds and is destined to be taken up into Olympus to become one of the Immortals.
This divine myth is bluntly parodied in the secondary plot in which the messenger of the gods, Mercury, is transformed into Sosias, the sturdy servant of Amphitryon's. What Amphitryon and Alcumene suffer by the confusion of their senses as a result of this mischievious. trick is repeated and reflected satyrically in the case of Sosias and his wife, Charias. – This Greek myth which was first given form to in the Attic comedy and dramatised by Plautus, has constantly appealed to the poets of the west and the most important dramatisations, apart from the versions of Perez di Oliva, Camœns, Dolce and Rotron, are those of Molière and Kleist. If Molière had seen in the treatment of this old legend a courtier's opportunity for a clever parody whose application to the society of Louis XIV's court could not be missed, lively, graceful, full of brilliant stage effects, amusing, Kleist on the other hand created a play based and built up on very different perceptions. It is true that he allows events to follow the same course, he even uses Moliere's play to the extent of translating literally parts of it. But the interpretation of the events is raised to the metaphysical level and becomes a mystery of the inner relationship of God to Man, a parable of the absolute certainty of human feeling that can hold its own even when the divine Omnipresence and Ommpotence penetrates the region of the Earthly.
(Originally published in 1937 – please, contact, if something is not correct: