Heinrich von Kleist, Das Käthchen von Heilbronn - Inhaltsangabe (1935, englisch)

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The vehmgericht which in olden times, when the big barons ruled the country at their own free will, helped the persecuted to their right, is meeting at a secret place. The aged armourer of Heilbronn, Theobald Friedeborn, charges Count Friedrich Wetter vom Strahl with the seduction of his daughter, the artless, beautiful and lovable Käthchen. The child is only fifteen ycars old. She has seen the Count at her father's smithy, and in trying to follow him has jumped out of the window and broken both legs. Hardly has she recovered when she follows the knight wherever he goes, even going to his castle and sleeping in the stables. Count Wetter vom Strahl confirms these statements, but protests that he has done everything to send the child back to her father. Käthchen is led before the secret court. The sight of the masked judges frightens her, and she bows before the accused knight whom she loves with a moving and humble love, and to whom alone she will answer. She openly confesses that no blame can be put on the Count. The judges who can hardly understand the strange behaviour of the beautiful child have to acquit both. Wetter vom Strahl, however, who pretends to be harsh to the girl, persuades her to go away with her father. Alone with himself, unobserved, and free from the rules of the secret court, the Count knows that he loves Käthchen, whom he treats harshly only because the distinction of rank makes marriage impossible. The servant Gottschalk tells the Count of the arrival of the Knight Flammberg, a messenger from his mother. He brings news of a feud with Rheingraf vom Stein who has been instigated by the beautiful Kunigunde of Thurneck to fight against Wetter vom Strahl.

During a thunderstorm soldiers appear before a charcoal-burner's house: the Burggraf of Freiburg whom Fräulein Kunigunde has deserted has with the aid of his friends kidnapped his former mistress and they now hide the fettered lady with the charcoal-burners. While the Burggraf, pleased with his success, is speaking to his friends of his plan of revenge for his rejected love, Count Wetter vom Strahl appears with his followers, hears from a boy of the imprisoned Lady, becomes her liberator and wounds the Burggraf; only then coes he find out that his adversary Kunigunde is in his hands.

At Wetterstrahl Castle old Brigitte tells Kunigunde that once when he was ill the Count dreamt of the Emperor's daughter as of his future wife. Kunigunde receives Count Wetter and his mother in a friendly spirit and wants to have all differences between herself and her liberator over their possessions forgotten. The Count thinks of marrying her.

Theobald, Käthchen's father, takes her to a monastery; but the old man wants to relieve her from her secret cares, and offers to allow her to go and visit the Count. This, however, Käthchen declines and declares herself ready to return to Heilbronn with her grieved father.

Rheingraf vom Stein, Kunigunde's fiance, suspects that his mistress who is now staying with Wetter vom Strahl at Thurneck is betraying him. His suspicions are confirmed by his messenger Eginhardt. The Rheingraf decides to take Kunigunde's castle after obtaining absolution for his plans.

At Thurneck Castle Käthchen sees Count Wetter, who is annoyed at her visit. Through Gottschalk she hands the Count a letter which she has intercepted and which tells of the Rheingraf's plans. The Count wants to make good his harsh behaviour towards Käthchen when he finds the castle besieged. Kunigunde asks Käthchen to get her a picture out of the burning castle; she is saved as by a miracle. Kunigunde is dissatisfied with Käthchen, but the Count is happy to find Käthchen alive. The attack is repulsed.

Count vom Strahl pursues the Rheingraf. Käthchen follows him closely, bearing the Gase which Kunigunde wanted her to get and which Käthchen later found in the ruins. lt contains a deed of donation from Strahl to Kunigunde.

Strahl finds Käthchen sleeping; he wants to know why she follows him so faithfully. He watches her dreaming and feels that they are destined for each other as they have already met in dreams. Käthchen awakes frightened. But Strahl sends her to his castle.

Kunigunde is bathing in a grotto; Käthchen who sees her there leaves the grotto horrified at what she has detected an Kunigunde. Kunigunde persuades her chamber-maid to poison Käthchen who knows of the secret of her ugliness. Divine judgment in a duel before the Emperor in Worms is to decide between Theobald and Strahl. But the old man is paralysed with fear when Strahl looks him into the eyes.

The Emperor finds out that the rumour is true that Käthchen is his daughter. Käthchen escapes Kunigunde's contrivances, and the Count confesses his love to her. Käthchen as the daughter of the Emperor becomes Katherine of Suebia. Strahl marries her. Kunigunde is furious to find her plans thwarted. The stately wedding-procession rewards Käthchen's innocent and faithful love and is punishment for Kunigunde's heartless falsehood.