Theses Doctoral

Words Full of Deed: Prophets and Prophecy in German Literature around 1800

Walsh, Patrick Joseph

In this dissertation, I consider the role of prophets and prophecy in German drama and dramatic discourse of the Romantic period. Against the backdrop of the upheaval wrought by the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, such discourse exhibits a conspicuous fascination with political and social crisis in general as well as a preoccupation with imagining how the crises of the present could provide an opportunity for national or civilizational renewal. One prominent manifestation of this focus is a pronounced interest in charismatic leaders of the legendary or historical past—among them prophets like Moses, Muhammad and Joan of Arc—who succeeded in uniting their respective societies around a novel vision of collective destiny. In order to better understand the appeal of such figures during this period, I examine works of drama and prose fiction that feature prophets as their protagonists and that center on scenarios of political or religious founding. Reading texts by major authors like Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Friedrich Schiller and Achim von Arnim alongside those by the lesser-known writers such as Karoline von Günderrode, August Klingemann and Joseph von Hammer, I analyze the various ways these scenarios are staged and situate them within their specific political, intellectual and literary contexts. In so doing, I show that the figure of the prophet—a figure whose authority is based not on their own wisdom, talent, or cunning, but rather on their claim to speak for a higher, superhuman power—offers authors a paradigm of political and cultural innovation that radically displaces the agency of the rational subject in favor of non-rational factors like language, performance, history, myth and the emotions. Moreover, I argue that this figure reveals an important connection between the history of drama in this period and an emergent, post-Enlightenment political discourse concerned with the origin and nature of sovereignty.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Germanic Languages
Thesis Advisors
von Mücke, Dorothea
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 23, 2017