The Broken Jug is a play written by Bernd Heinrich Wilhelm Von Kleist, a German poet, novelist, dramatist, journalist and a short story writer. Kleist Prize, a prestigious prize for German literature is named after him. His best known works are the theatre plays Das Käthchen von Heilbronn, The Broken Jug, Amphitryon, Penthesilea and the novellas Michael Kohlhaas and The Marquise of O. These books have been translated to other language. The Broken Jug sometimes called The Broken Pitcher has been adapted to plays and films. The Broken Jug is a comedy which looks at the judiciary at that time in a lighter vein.
Adam is the town judge and Light is the Clerk. The play opens with some exchanges between Adam and Light. Light notices that Adam has been badly hurt on his face and Adam tells that he slipped and fell. He states that some people carry ‘stones of stumbling’ within themselves and he stumbled and got hurt. Then Light says that Walter the court counsellor was coming for his inspection and he had already finished it in Holla and would soon come to their town Huisum. Adam does not believe it first and then there is panic as Adam was not ready for it. Light goes on to tell that in the previous town, the judge was suspended and he was about to commit suicide. All this only aggravates the panic.
Soon a servant announces that the Walter the court counsellor would be arriving soon. Adam calls his maid and tells then to arrange the registers and tells one to fetch his wig. But she does not find it and both of them vows that he had come home the previous night without it. Then he asks one of them to borrow it from the sexton. She leaves and before Walter enters the scene. He introduces himself and without much ado gets straight to the point. He wants to check the registers and see the proceedings of the court.
The first case that comes there is the case of a ‘broken jug’ brought by Frau Martha Rull. She blames Ruprecht to have entered her house to see her daughter Eve and broke he jug which was passed on for generations and which had many historical events eteched on it. The anger of AMrtha was justified but it did not deserve a court hearing. At first it seems a very silly case and Adam also handles the case shabbily. But when the defendant Ruprecht starts to present his case, the case takes on a more serious turn.Ruprecht argues that he did go Martha’s house to see Eve but there was someone there and he tried to chase and him and find out who it was. So in the melee the jug fell and broke.
Adam tries to investigate as best as he could but it does not reach anywhere. While Martha insists that it was Ruprecht who broke the jug, Eve her daughter denies it but she, who knew the person refuses to divulge the truth. Then FrauBrigitta comes into the picture. She is called and when she enters she brings a wig that she found in Martha’s garden. By the turn of these events Walter drops his role of court counsellor and takes the role of judge. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that it was Adam who had been to Martha’s place and the wounds on his face were the beatings he received from Ruprecht. Adam escapes from the place but is punished for his deed. The story ends with Martha asking for justice for her broken jug.
Characters in the play
Adam the judge is a person not to be trusted and this is established right in the beginning of the play. The reason he gives Light for getting hurt seems unbelievable. For each bruise he extends the story already given which makes it clear that he is cooking up a story and is not telling the truth. His story of a cat laying its kittens on his wig is also far-fetched. When he hears he court counsellor was coming he gets into a panic mode and this also indicates that he had something to hide. Light the clerk is straightforward and one who had a clear thinking. Eve is Martha’s daughter who was an honest girl but the story pulls on because she refuses to reveal the name of Adam. Adam liked her but she could not reciprocate it as she like Ruprecht. Moreover it seems Adam might be much older than her. Martha is Eve’s mother and she brings the case of the broken jug. She is fouled mouthed and sure that Ruprecht had broken the vase. Ruprecht the defendant tries his best to prove that he was innocent and implores Eve to tell the truth but she does not. Viet is the father of Ruprecht who stands by his son. Frau Brigitta has a small role in the play but it is a crucial role. She is the one who helps to reveal the true identity of Adam. She is forthright and had the courage to follow the footprints and it lead to Adam’s house. Walter the court counsellor is the most level headed person there and he easily sees through Adam’s lies.
The Broken Jug is a comedy woven over the situation and also the ludicrous presented and the use of words. The idea that appearances can be deceptive forms the central theme of the play. The judicial system of those times is taken a dig at. Adam is both a judge and a criminal. At the beginning of the play Light asks Adam whether his fall was figurative or physical. Adam says he really fell; there is an indication right at the beginning about the fall of Adam. The names Adam and Eve have been chosen to give the biblical connect of the fall of Adam and Eve. The ‘broken jug’ in German is a phrase used to indicate that the chastity was lost.
The whole play is mostly set in the court room in Holla, a Dutch town near Utrecht. The courtroom has been the inspiration of the play. The courtroom is the living room of the judge Adam. It is not a well-kept room, as food and files are seen together. There is confusion between private and public realms and this is a pointer to Adam’s frame of mind. Frau Martha’s house is also brought in during the play. As the plot thickens, this setting gains importance.