The retired Major Von Tellheim lives in a Berlin hotel with his faithful servant Just, with no means of subsistence. The owner of the hotel moves him from a decent room to a miserable little room. The last two months, Tellheym did not pay bills, but the room needed a “visiting person”, a young and beautiful lady with a servant. Juste, who adores his major, notes with indignation to the innkeeper that during the war the “innkeepers” were cursing before officers and soldiers, and in peacetime, they are already snatching up their noses. Von Tellheim is a Prussian officer, a participant in the internecine Seven Years’ War of Prussia against Saxony. Tellhaim fought not by vocation, but by necessity. He suffers from the fragmentation of the country, does not tolerate arbitrariness towards the loser of Saxony. Having received during the war the order to collect from the inhabitants of Thuringia a high indemnity, Tellhaim reduced the amount of the contribution and
part of the money for its payment was given to the Thuringians from their own funds. At the end of the war, the military leadership accuses Tollheim of bribery and dismisses with the threat of trial, loss of honor and fortune.
To Tellheim is the widow of his former officer and friend who died in the war. She fulfills the last will of her husband – to return the debt to the major and brings the money left from the sale of things. Tellhaim does not take money and promises to help the widow when he can. A generous major has always had many debtors, but he, who is accustomed to giving, not to take, does not want to remember them.
Tellheim offers a servant who owes his salary, make up an account and part with the poor master. He recommends Just to one wealthy acquaintance, and he will get used to do without a servant. The clever Joust makes such an account, according to which he also turns out to be in unpaid debt to the major who has repeatedly rescued him throughout the war. The servant is sure that without him, with one wounded hand, the major can not get dressed. Just is ready to beg and steal for his
master, but this does not please the major at all. Both grumbling bitterly, but remain inseparable.
Tellhaim tells Juste to lay down for money the only jewel he has preserved-a ring with the monogram of his beloved girl, Minna von Barnhelm. Young people got engaged during the war and exchanged rings. Eust refers the ring to the owner of the hotel to pay him.
Tellhma is sought by his former sergeant-major, Werner, a close friend who twice saved his life. Werner is aware of the plight of the major and brings him money. Knowing the delicacy of Tellhaim, he offers them to him on the pretext that he will retain them better than Werner himself, a gambler. Having learned that the money came from the sale of the family estate, Tellheim does not accept help from a friend and wants to keep him from going to Persia to fight the Turks, where he voluntarily gathers – a soldier should be only for the sake of the good of his homeland.
Coming with a servant who occupies the former room of Tellheim, it turns out to be his fiancee, Mina von Barnhelm, who came in search of her beloved. She is worried that after the conclusion of the peace, Tellheim wrote to her only once. Minna talks to her maid Francis only about Tellhaim, who, in her opinion, has all the possible virtues. Both girls are from Thuringia, they know how grateful its inhabitants are for the nobility shown by Tellheim in the affair.
The owner of the hotel, wishing to attach the ring of the major to the expensive, shows it to Minna, and the girl recognizes her ring and a monogram, because she wears the same ring – with the monogram of Tellheim. There is no limit to the joy of Minna, her chosen one is somewhere near. Minna with generosity buys a ring from the owner and is preparing to meet with Tellheim.
Unexpectedly, for himself, seeing Minna, Tellhaim rushes to her, but immediately stops and switches to the official tone. This Minna can not understand, playful and gay girl tries to turn everything into a joke. But the practical Francis understands that the affairs of the major are bad, he does not look happy at all.
Tellheym shies away from Minna’s embrace and bitterly says that he is not worthy of her love, and therefore “does not dare to love himself. * Reason and necessity ordered him to forget Minna von Barnhelm, since he is no longer the Tellheim she knew, not that prosperous, strong in spirit and body, the officer to whom she gave her heart, will she give him now to another Tellheim, dismissed, deprived of honor, cripple and a pauper? “Minna gives up-she takes his hand and puts it on her chest, still not taking Telllheim’s words are serious, but Tellhaim, in despair about t of her kindness, which he does not deserve, escapes and leaves.
Minna reads Tellhale’s letter, in which he refuses it, explaining his situation. Minna does not like his exorbitant pride – not wanting to be a burden to his beloved girl, rich and noble. She decides to play a joke with this “blind man”, play the role of impoverished and unhappy Minna. The girl is sure that only in this case will Tellhem will “fight for it with the whole world.” In addition, she starts a comic combination with rings, replacing the ring of Tellhaim with her own on her hand.
At this time, Minna learns that her uncle, Count von Buhval, who personally does not know the major, arrives, but is eager to get acquainted with the chosen one of his only heiress. Minna reports this to Tellheim and warns that his uncle has heard a lot about him, his uncle is riding as a guardian and as a father to “hand” Minna to a major. In addition, the earl carries the amount of money that Tellhem has lent to the Thuringians. Tellhaim feels a positive change in his case, the military treasurer has just told him that the king is removing the charge from Tellheim. But the major does not accept this news as a complete restoration of his honor, therefore he believes that he is still not worthy of Minna. Minna deserves nothing “not a stained husband.”
Now Minna is forced to play a different role. She takes a ring from her finger and returns it to Tellheim, freeing her from loyalty to her, and leaves in tears. Tellhaym does not notice that Minna gives him a ring not with his monogram, but with his, the pledge of love and fidelity, bought by her from the innkeeper. Tellhaim struggles to go for Mine, but he is held by Francis, dedicating his mistress to the “secret”. Minna allegedly ran away from her uncle, forfeiting his inheritance for not agreeing to marry at his will. Everyone left Minna, they condemn her. Francis advises Tellhaim to do the same, especially since he took his ring from Minna’s hand.
And then Tellheim is seized with a thirst for decisive action. He borrowed from the satisfied Werner a large sum for the purchase of the Minna’s ring, pledged from the owner, in order to marry her immediately. Tellhaim feels how the misfortune of a beloved girl inspires him, because he is able to make her happy. Tellhaim rushes to Minna, and she shows a frigid coldness and does not take back his “ring”.
At this time, a courier appears with a letter from the Prussian king, who fully justifies Tellhaim and kindly invites him to return to military service. Satisfied Tellhaym encourages Minna to share his joy with him and builds before her a plan for a wedding and a happy life together, in which there is no place for service to the king. But he encounters the skillfully played resistance of the girl: the unfortunate Barnhelm will not become the wife of the happy Tellheim, only “equality is the solid foundation of love.”
Tellhaym is again in despair and confusion, realizing that Minna repeats his same old arguments against their marriage. Minna sees that she goes too far with her joke, and she has to explain to the “gullible knight” the meaning of the whole intrigue.
Arriving very opportunely at this moment, Count von Buchwal, the trustee of Minna, is happy to see the young couple together. The Count expresses his deep respect for Tellhaim and the desire to have him as his friend and son.