The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Minna von Barnhelm

MINNA VON BARNHELM. Lessing's ‘Minna von Barnhelm or The Soldier's Fortune,’ a comedy of five acts in prose — begun 1763, published 1767 — is most important for the rise of modern German literature since it was the first dramatic work of timely interest growing out of great national events (consult Goethe, ‘Dichtung und Wahrheit’ (Book 7). It takes place at a hotel in Berlin about six months after the conclusion of the Seven Years' War (1756-63), and, according to Goethe, purposes to relieve in a simile, as it were, the hostile tension between the defeated Saxons and the victorious Prussians. The Prussian Major von Tellheim desires to be guided above all by his rigid sense of honor, which forbids him to owe his entire good fortune to a woman or to make a woman share in a life which, as far as appearances go, may be exposed to contempt. Minna von Barnhelm, his fiancée, a beautiful and rich young lady of Saxony, fixes her eyes steadily upon Tellheim's sterling character, disregards the opinion of the world and by a well-meant artifice makes him realize that love's highest gratification is to stand by the beloved person in trouble. Minna conquers. True love proves superior to an extreme feeling of honor, although the value of the latter is by no means denied. In ‘Minna von Barnhelm’ a deep moral problem is proposed and carried almost to a tragic turn. But the charm of Minna and the naturalness of Franziska and the sergeant captivate the spectator; the rascals are easily seen through, the atmosphere is conciliatory, the jokes to the point. For all this the genuine spirit of comedy is ever present, and ‘Minna von Barnhelm’ can maintain its place among the best specimens of the higher type of comedy. Consult edition of Lessing's works in ‘Deutsche NationalLiteratur’ (1882-98, Vol. II); English translation in Harvard Classics, Vol. XXVI; Kettner, G., ‘Ueber Lessings Minna’ (Berlin 1896; Kettner, G., ‘Lessings Dramen in Lichte unserer Zeit’ (Berlin 1904); von Stockmayr, ‘Die deutschen Soldatenstiicke des 18. Jahrhunderts seit Lessings Minna von Barnhelm’ (Weimar 1898).