Star-Crossed Lovers: Fate in Buchner’s Leonce and Lena (Revised)

A bizarre fiction of power and obedience; a ludicrous tale of politics and love. Georg Buchner’s Leonce and Lena depicts a tale of two royal youths, determined to flee the futures that have been laid out for them by their handlers, who find their rebellious intentions intercepted by fate. While some may argue that fate— best defined by as “the universal principle or ultimate agency by which the order of things is presumably prescribed”— plays a minimal or even nonexistent role in the lives of human beings, Buchner strives throughout his tale to assert the idea that fate is the driving force in the events of our lives. Buchner’s Leonce and Lena serves not only to entertain readers with a tale of two star-crossed lovers, but also to inspire readers to believe that human lives are controlled not by chance but by fate.

Fate as the controlling factor in human lives is a concept that has been prevalent in literature for the entirety of its existence. From the philosophical works of Origen and Cicero— a theologian and a philosopher/statesman, respectively— to Shakespearean tragedies such as Romeo and Juliet to modern works like the Game of Thrones series, fate has been used as the primary medium by which people meet and events occur. Characters fall in love because it is their “destiny” to do so, and worlds collide because the fates make it so. The literary prevalence of the theme of fate being in control of human life suggests that this is true not only for characters in novels, but for human beings in general. That writers so often include themes of fate and destiny in their works conveys their belief in the powers of fate not only in fiction but in life as well. This is no less true for Buchner as he writes Leonce and Lena, conveying the reoccurring theme of fate as the primary control over the events in human lives.

At the beginning of Leonce and Lena, King Peter declares that his son Leonce must marry in order to inherit his royal station. Leonce, a silly and dreamy man with a childish disposition, clearly does not desire to take part in an arranged marriage with the woman to whom he is betrothed, so he resolves to run away from his kingdom with his lazy and irreverent friend Valerio. The first indication that fate is at work in the play is that just after Leonce resolves to flee his kingdom and his arranged marriage, Buchner introduces Lena, who also wishes to escape the confines of the arranged marriage that she is being subjected to. While she does not seem to find the institution of marriage as problematic in itself, she is reasonably apprehensive of marrying “a man for which [she] feel[s] no love”, likening the ring on her finger to a “viper’s sting” and questioning why one should “drive a nail through hands that never sought each other?” (Buchner 91). The parallel attitudes towards arranged marriage expressed by Leonce and Lena are very telling of what may happen later on in the play, especially considering how both characters and their ideas are introduced one after the other, suggesting that their shared attitudes will collide further into the action of the play. That Lena also decides to flee and escape the situation is also quite telling, and it represents another instance in which Leonce and Lena exhibit the same wills and behaviors. The presentation of the characters and their situations allows the reader to see the already existing connection between the two characters as they attempt to run from their fates, directly into each other’s arms.

Another strong indication of the role of fate as the driving force in Leonce and Lena’s lives is the abundant foreshadowing in the play. The myriad instances of foreshadowing serve as blatant indications of the events to come, as characters unwittingly call the fates to draw Leonce and Lena together. For example, after Lena flees with her governess to the countryside, they spend time musing over their experience and wondering what is to come. At one point, the governess expresses her frustration with the situation, exclaiming that there was “[…] not the slightest chance of a wandering prince” in the area that they were, meaning that their efforts to find a man for Lena to love were in vain (94). This serves as both dramatic irony—as readers know that Leonce is also wandering in search of a beautiful woman—and clear foretelling, highlighting future events that are now evident in the eyes of the readers. Due to this prefiguring readers can now anticipate the eventual meeting of Leonce and Lena and the love that will result from it. The governess’s words arouse the reader suspicion that there is already a predetermined end to the searches of Leonce and Lena in which the two will find each other and fall in love. At the end of the play when Leonce and Lena are married and the unlikely events of their meeting are brought to light, readers are reminded of the governess’s foreshadowing as she exclaims that Lena did find her “wandering prince,” thus bringing the play full circle and highlighting the role of the signs of destiny.

Additionally, foreshadowing is employed as the play indicates works of fate in Leonce and Lena when the two royals finally encounter each other in the inn. At the time Valerio muses about his belief that he and Leonce are merely playing cards in the games of God and the Devil. He declares himself the Jack and Leonce the King, and states “all we need is […] a beautiful Queen[…],” and at that very moment Lena walks in with her governess; a more blatant suggestion of fate at play could hardly be conceived (96). That Lena would walk in at the very moment Valerio called on a beautiful woman could not be more telling, and the metaphor of the characters as playing cards of God is a clever way for Buchner to solidify his inclusion of fate, often controlled by a higher power, as the driving force in Leonce and Lena’s meeting. This metaphor suggests that God brought the two together and that it was their destiny to meet each other under these circumstances, despite trying to escape lives predetermined for them by their handlers.

It is within the realm of possibility that some readers may dispute the idea that Leonce and Lena were brought together by fate, and thus the idea that Buchner was asserting that fate is the driving force in the lives of human beings. Some may argue that the events in Leonce and Lena’s lives—their running away at the same time, trying to escape each other but unwittingly running towards each other—were simply chance events. That Buchner paralleled the feelings towards arranged marriages of both characters, as well as their decisions to run away, could be written off as a stylistic choice taken by Buchner in order to introduce both characters in a way that would be both interesting and memorable to the readers. Likewise, the instances of seemingly blatant foreshadowing could simply have been included for the purpose of suggesting the events to come in the play, thereby adding suspense and encouraging the reader to anticipate what could happen next in the adventures of Leonce and Lena. While these counterarguments are valid, the idea that Buchner was in fact trying to highlight the idea of fate as the driving force in the story and in human lives in general is far more plausible due to the aforementioned detail and methods that he uses in the plot.

When it is revealed that the “automata” used to marry Leonce and Lena in effigy are actually the royals themselves, Valerio makes a statement that most effectively calls the idea of fate into question. He declares, “By chance your highnesses happen to have happened on each other” (107). Some readers may interpret this statement as a suggestion that Buchner himself believed that it was purely by chance that Leonce and Lena fell in love. However, one must remember that the character of Valerio is often crass and irreverent, and therefore his usage of the words “chance” and “happen” is merely his flippant way of addressing the surprising turn of events in the play. Readers must remember all of the instances in which Buchner strongly indicates the effects of fate in the lives of his characters in order to be able to discount Valerio’s word choice as part of his characterization and move forward with the idea of the role of fate in human lives.

When looking at the tale of Leonce and Lena as a whole, the idea of fate as the driving force in human lives is evident, as it permeates the piece not only through its organization but also through Buchner’s use of foreshadowing. That Buchner introduced the characters of Leonce and Lena, as well as their feelings on their arranged marriage and their decision to run away, in a parallel structure is a strong indication of the fates aligning in order to bring Leonce and Lena together. Additionally, the prefiguring of their eventual meeting through the musings of the governess and Valerio further suggest the workings of fate, especially when Valerio likens them to playing cards in God’s games. This metaphor is the most blatant suggestion of the fates at work, as God brings Leonce and Lena together in the game of life that he is believed to so frequently play with human beings. While some may argue as to the validity of these points, the evidence in Buchner’s play that supports the idea of fate as the driving force in human life is very clear throughout the piece. The tale of Leonce and Lena serves as one of many literary reminders of the influence and inescapability of fate, a theme that has permeated both fictional and non-fictional works of literature since its advent and will continue to do so for centuries to come.

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