During the Thirty Years War between Germany and Sweden in the 1600s, a young prince must choose whether to continue to pursue his private fantasies of becoming a romantic hero or to face the public responsibilities and obligations of his position. The resulting tale is one part costume drama, one part adaptation of a classic verse play, two-parts psychological character study with a dash of love story thrown in for spice. It begins as the Prince of Homburg, who is in charge of Germany's calvary during the war, is caught sleepwalking in the midst of a disturbing dream. It is during the somnabulistic state that he first encounters the beautiful Natalia, the daughter of the powerful Grand Elector. He sees the girl again the next day before riding into battle against Swedish invaders. During the heat of the struggle, the impassioned prince disregards the Grand Elector's orders and leads a daring counterattack that results in victory. Though he saved the day, the Prince was wrong for disobeying his superior and the Grand Elector has no choice but to order his execution. Terrified of death, the Prince begs for his life. Touched, the Elector grants him clemency, but only on one condition: to stay alive, the Prince must publicly admit his wrongdoing. If he refuses, the death sentence will be carried out. Von Kleist's verse play was written in 1811 as a means of inspiring his countrymen to stand up against Napoleon and strongly advocates the notion that the most patriotic soldiers are those who blindly follow orders. Considering that Von Kleist's play was addressing German troops, that is a chilling notion indeed from a late 20th-century perspective.
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