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Clavigo by Goethe Summary - Johann Wolfgang Goethe's Clavigo Summary

Updated on August 16, 2013

Clavigo by Johann Wolfgang Goethe

First Act

Clavigo is a young man who seems to be a promising writer. The play is set in Spain. He talks with his friend Carlos who says back in the days, where he was in love, his writing was more passionate, but it is still very good.

Sophie, Marie (Clavigo’s former girlfriend) and Buenco live at Guilbert’s apartment (Guilbert is Sophie’s husband). Marie was left by Clavigo, because Marie is a migrant from France and she is from a lower class than Clavigo. For Clavigo’s career, this would be toxic! Marie doesn’t understand the world anymore and feels extremely sad. That’s why her brother, Beaumarchais, was informed of Marie’s grief and he’s on his way to her (her brother comes from France) in order to support her. Beaumarchais is a lawyer. He is also the Sophie’s brother.

After his arrival, he promises that he will go to the bastard Clavigo and figure out what’s really going on.

Second Act

In the second act, Beaumarchais and his friend Saint George arrive at Clavigo’s place. Clavigo doesn’t know them and is fairly confused by the arrival of the two unknowns. Beaumarchais tells him that he has also made a name outside of Spain as a smart person and flattens Clavigo with other flatteries. He then goes on to a story. He tells the story of a father of many children, who lived in France. He had money problems, but one day, a rather noble man arrived at his place and liked the foreign language. He asked the father whether he might take two girls, the oldest and one of the younger ones, with him to Spain. The noble man was an old man, without relatives or a wife, and the two girls would have a nice life. The man accepted and the two girls went to Madrid with him. Later, a young man from the Canarian islands arrives in Spain and despite his class and the low amount of money, which he possessed, he was received at the place, where the two girls lived. The young girl fell in love with him, passionately and eternally, and so did the young man.
The young man was promised a high position as soon as there is one, but he had to leave his beloved girl. It took six years until a position was free. The left girl got a letter which said if she was to try anything in order to get her beloved man back she would have to leave Spain and lose everything. In deep desperation, she wrote these events to her brother, which came as fast as he could to help, give advice and to avenge her.

It becomes obvious that Beaumarchais was playing with Clavigo and that it became more and more obvious that Clavigo was the young man and the girl Marie etc.

The brother quickly finds out that Marie never did anything which would give reason to Clavigo that he may insult her or leave her. He makes Clavigo write a paper. This paper is basically about a confession which would end Clavigo’s career. Clavigo gets some days in order to seek forgiveness. After this time period, this paper will be printed and distributed.

Third Act

Clavigo visits Marie and the others and he holds a mawkish speech. Marie is overwhelmed by all the feelings, sadness, hate, vengeance, but also love, passion, happiness and in the end she makes a gesture of forgiveness. Clavigo is overly happy and calls Beaumarchais his brother. Marie is brought in another room, because all the emotions are too much for her.

Forth Act

Clavigo talks with Carlos. He tells him about the coming marriage and how happy he is and will be. Carlos is a bit disappointed, because he thought; Clavigo isn’t driven by his feelings anymore. He speaks clear text to him and presents to him the two outcomes of his future life:
He marries Marie and has a calm, civil life or he doesn’t marry her and pursues his career as a journalist and writer and with this educates the people and works for the higher good and the general well-being.

Clavigo opts for the later and Carlos tells him that he will imprison Beaumarchais, but only for a short time and he will be in a good prison, and tells Clavigo, he always has a place, where he can hide himself for a while.

At Guilbert’s place, Beaumarchais tells his sisters that he couldn’t find Clavigo at home, the servant said he was gone on a journey, no one knows where and why. Marie suddenly feels very weak and starts to panic inwardly. Beaumarchais orders Sophie to go and get the others like Buenco, Guilbert and so on. They get a letter, which is from Clavigo. He sues Beaumarchais, because he supposedly came at his place under a wrong name and threatened him with a gun and made him write an embarrassing paper. Beaumarchais wants to kill Clavigo, because he wasn’t able to protect his sister from him, but the others want him to leave Spain as fast as possible. This stress is too much for Marie and all these sudden changes of emotions overwhelmed her so much that she died in the end.

Fifth Act

At night, Clavigo is with a servant who should bring him to Carlos’ place, where he could hide for a while. He sees some men holding a coffin and other people following them. He finds out the person in the coffin is Marie and he becomes extremely sad. He stops them and Beaumarchais becomes extremely angry. They have a quick fight. Beaumarchais stabs him and Clavigo falls on the coffin, on Marie. He asks them for forgiveness and they do forgive him. Sophie says the last word which Marie said was his name, Clavigo, without even saying good-bye to the others. Clavigo follows Marie (metaphorically; both are dead), where they can finally be together.

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© 2013 Slaven Cvijetic

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