Legal Fallibility and the Drama of Evidence in the Works of Heinrich von Kleist
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This chapter explores the codification trends and use of gesture protocols in law and public trials in the final decades of the eighteenth century, which are linked to the dramatic exploration of error in interpreting legal evidence, testimony, and gesture in Kleist’s dramas Der zerbrochne Krug and Die Familie Schroffenstein. Positing links between rationalistic criminological texts published in the Archiv des Criminalrechts, changes in interrogation practice, Kleist’s legal education, and Kleist’s skepticism regarding theatrical practice as demonstrated in his Marionettentheater essay and his dramas, the chapter suggests that Kleist’s work serves as a response to changes in legal practice and highlight the potential errors in a legal system that proposes to extract absolute truth from objects, words, and bodies. As the legal field is becoming increasingly preoccupied with quantifying evidence and perfecting observation through testimony, Kleist is pulling the rug from under these very concepts.