Places: The Broken Jug

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1811 as Der zerbrochene Krug (English translation, 1830)

First produced: 1808

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Comedy

Time of work: Late eighteenth century

Places DiscussedHuisum

Huisum Broken Jug, The (HI-sum). Fictional Netherlands village, surrounded by cultivated fields, not far from the real city of Utrecht. Its occupants, who farm the land and raise livestock, are mostly illiterate. Characters need to make frequent trips to Utrecht for goods and services as well as for business. Economic dependence on Utrecht reflects its political position as provincial seat, location of the superior court.


Courtroom. Heinrich von Kleist has noted that the inspiration for this play came from a Dutch etching that showed a courtroom with a trial in progress and included a broken jug as well as characters analogous to those in this play. The courtroom serves also as Judge Adam’s living room. The cabinets in the courtroom contain a messy mix of cheese, ham, and sausage interspersed with or wrapped in various legal files. The confusion of private and public realms, which compromises Adam as a civil servant, is indicated.

Frau Martha’s house

Frau Martha’s house. From the garden, Eve’s bedroom window on the second floor is visible. Posts, reaching from the ground to Eve’s window, support a trellis covered with grapevines. As the scene of the crime, this geography becomes important during the trial. The grapevine hints at sensual desire and entanglement; and Eve’s room, like the jug in it, is a symbol of her chastity and honor, which appear to have been violated by an intruder who broke the jug during his hasty retreat.

BibliographyDoctorow, E. L. Introduction to Plays by Heinrich von Kleist, edited by Walter Hinderer. New York: Continuum, 1982. Doctorow discusses the farcical nature of The Broken Jug. The translation in this volume remains true to nineteenth century colloquial English, which imparts a rustic tone to the play.Greenberg, Martin, trans. The Broken Jug. In Five Plays by Heinrich von Kleist. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988. Excellent translation of The Broken Jug into colloquial English that successfully brings out the coarse and bawdy sense of humor of the original. The volume also contains a fine introduction to the plays.Maass, Joachim. Kleist: A Biography. Translated by Ralph Manheim. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1983. A light treatment of the writer, written in an anecdotal, humorous style. Discusses the psychological torment of Kleist’s characters. Presents a succinct analysis of Adam’s corrupt but likable character.McGlathery, James M. Desire’s Sway: The Plays and Stories of Heinrich von Kleist. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1983. Refers to The Broken Jug as a sexual comedy. Cleverly interprets Adam’s various statements as expressions of his sexual fantasies.Reeve, William C. Kleist on Stage: 1804-1987. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1993. An excellent reference source for a history of productions of Kleist’s plays. Gives an account of various interpretations of The Broken Jug and discusses the merits of actors who have played the part of Adam.
Categories: Places