Leisewitz, Johann Anton

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Leisewitz, Johann Anton (1752-1806): German Playwright.

A lawyer by profession and a prolific author, Leisewitz is now remembered mainly for the drama Julius von Tarent, written in 1774 for a competition on the theme of fratricide first performed in 1776. Other publications range from satires and dramatic fragments to translations from English and plans for the re-organization of almshouses in Braunschweig.

As it appeared anonymously, there was speculation that Julius von Tarent had been penned by Goethe, Johann Wolfgang. The play concerns two brothers' love for the same girl, a frequent theme in the drama of the period (for example, Klinger, Friedrich Maximilian von, Die Zwillinge, and Schiller, Johann Christoph Friedrich von, Die Braut von Messina). The siblings, Julius and Guido, are antithetical individuals. Julius is thoughtful and inclined towards philosophy, while his brother and rival is an active and passionate soldier. The object of their shared admiration, Bianca, is provisionally dispatched to a nunnery. Julius attempts to elope with her, but Guido comes to hear of the plan and, attempting an ambush, accidentally kills his brother. Their father executes his remaining son and withdraws to a monastery.

Leisewitz successfully combines an intensely dramatic tale of uncompromising rivalry with a modern, Rousseauesque acknowledgement of the primacy of passion. The play is often cited as a textbook example of Sturm und Drang drama. The heroes are locked in an insoluble dispute which has a social and an emotional component, and the proposed escape to some remote and idyllic spot, an elusive opportunity often hinted at in the drama of the period, offers little real hope. As his father's heir, Julius has a moral obligation to concern himself with matters of government, which, like the Prince in Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim's Emilia Galotti, he neglects in order to satisfy a private hunger for love.

Further Reading:

M. Kirby, "'Julius von Tarent' and the Theme of Fraternal Strife in the 'Sturm und Drang'," Forum for Modern Language Studies 19 (1983): 348–63.

Osman Durrani

University of Kent