Emilia Galotti  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Emilia Galotti is a play in five acts by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729 - 1781), which premiered on 8 March 1772 in Braunschweig (Brunswick). The work is a classic example of German bürgerliches Trauerspiel (bourgeois tragedy). Other works in this category include Schiller's Kabale und Liebe and Hebbel's Maria Magdalene. The story is based upon the Roman myth of Verginia.

Emilia Galotti is a drama of the Enlightenment, though it doesn't precisely follow the standard French model of the era. Although love is a central theme, in reality Emilia Galotti is primarily a political commentary. The arbitrary style of rule by the aristocracy is placed in stark contrast to the new and enlightened morality of the bourgeoisie. The more feudal ideas of love and marriage thus come into conflict with the growing tendency to marry for love, rather than family tradition and power. This combination results in a rather explosive situation.



  • Emilia Galotti
  • Odoardo Galotti, father of Emilia Galotti
  • Claudia Galotti, mother of Emilia Galotti
  • Pirro, servant of the Galottis
  • Hettore Gonzaga, prince of Guastalla
  • Marinelli, chamberlain of the prince
  • Camillo Rota, one of the prince's advisors
  • Conti, a painter
  • Count Appiani
  • Countess Orsina
  • Angelo, a robber
  • Battista, servant of Gonzaga


Set in Italy, Emilia Galotti tells the story of a virtuous young woman of the upper middle class. The absolutist prince of Guastalla, Hettore Gonzaga, becomes obsessed with the idea of making Emilia his lover after their first meeting. He thus gives his conniving Chamberlain, Marinelli, the right to do anything in his power to delay the previously arranged marriage between Emilia and Count Appiani. Marinelli then hires criminals who shortly thereafter murder the count on his way to the wedding. Emilia is quickly brought to safety in the prince's nearby summer residence. Unlike her mother Claudia, Emilia does not yet recognise the true implications of the scheme. A few moments later, Countess Orsina, the prince's former mistress, comes to the residence as well. Out of frustration over her harsh rejection by the prince, she attempts to convince Odoardo, Emilia's father, to avenge Count Appiani by stabbing the prince to death. Odoardo, however, hesitates in agreeing to this proposal and decides to leave the revenge in the hands of God. Emilia, who must remain under the protection of the prince due to another intrigue on Marinelli's behalf, attempts to convince her father to kill her in order to maintain her dignity in light of the prince's exertions to seduce her. The father agrees and stabs her, but immediately feels appalled by his deed. In the end Odoardo leaves the matter to the prince. He subsequently decides that Marinelli is responsible for the catastrophe and has him banned from his court. Ultimately Emilia's father recognises God as the absolute authority.


Lessing's work of course comprises an attack against the nobility and its powers. Lessing depicts aristocrats as having unfair powers in society and as ruining the happiness of the emerging middle class. With that play Lessing directed criticism to the tyranny of the reigning class.


  • In The Sorrows of Young Werther, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a copy of Emilia Galotti lies open near where the hero commits suicide.
  • It appeared in The Reader
  • In Arthur Schopenhauer's "The Art of Literature", he criticised Emilia Galotti as a play with a "positively revolting" end, an example of a poorly done tragic work

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Emilia Galotti" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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