The year is 1772, and young Goethe dreams of being a poet. But after failing his law exams, he is sent by his father to a sleepy provincial court to mend his ways as a lowly law clerk. At first, he does his best and wins the praise and friendship of his superior, Kestner (Moritz Bleibtreu). Then he meets and falls deeply in love with the beautiful Lotte, who responds to his poetry as no one else has. Lotte's father (Burghart Klaubner), however, puts his family's future well-being first and is determined that Lotte marry the wealthy Kestner.