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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1882

Article abstract: Schiller’s main contribution to German literature was in the field of drama, especially historical drama. In philosophy, his contributions were mainly in the areas of ethics and aesthetics. Belonging to the school of German classicism, he was one of the leading contributors to German Idealism in literature and philosophy.

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Early Life

Born at Marbach in Württemberg, the son of an army surgeon, Friedrich Schiller went to school in Ludwigsburg, the residence of the Dukes of Württemberg. Though Schiller wanted to become a Protestant minister, his father was ordered by Duke Karl Eugen of Württemberg to send his son to the Hohe Karlsschule, the newly established military academy, located near Ludwigsburg. At this academy, young men at an early age were prepared for the civil and military service of the state of Württemberg. Schiller studied first law and then medicine from 1773 until 1780. He was graduated with a degree in medicine and became regimental surgeon of a regiment stationed in Stuttgart. During his time at the academy, Schiller wrote poetry and his first drama, Die Räuber ( The Robbers, 1792), written in 1777-1780 and published in 1781. This play is rightly regarded as the most representative drama of his Sturm und Drang (storm and stress) period. When Schiller attended the first performance of his play at the Mannheim National Theater in 1782 without leave of absence from his regiment in Stuttgart, he was reprimanded by Karl Eugen, his commander in chief, and forbidden to engage in any further writing with the exception of medical treatises. Rebelling against this punishment and the strict discipline of military life, Schiller deserted in 1782 and fled to Mannheim, where his first drama had been performed with great success, in order to pursue a career as a dramatist. For almost a year, the fugitive stayed in hiding in the small village of Bauerbach in Thuringia. In 1783, Schiller was appointed Theaterdichter (stage dramatist) of the Mannheim National Theater. During his stay in Mannheim, both his dramas Die Verschwörung des Fiesko zu Genua (1783; Fiesco: Or, The Genoese Conspiracy, 1796) and Kabale und Liebe (1784; Cabal and Love, 1795) were performed on the Mannheim stage. His drama Don Carlos, Infant von Spanien (1787; Don Carlos, Infante of Spain, 1798) remained a fragment during those years. In 1784, however, his contract in Mannheim was not renewed, so Schiller followed an invitation from his friend Christian Gottfried Körner to come to Leipzig and later to Dresden.

In 1787, Schiller went to Weimar, which had become the intellectual center of Germany, where he met Johann Gottfried Herder and Christoph Martin Wieland, while Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was in Italy. During the next year, Schiller stayed in the towns of Volksstädt and Rudolstadt, where he met Charlotte von Lengefeld, his future wife. During this time, he began his career as a historian and philosopher, concentrating in his philosophical studies on the major works of Immanuel Kant. These philosophical and historical preoccupations mark Schiller’s transition from his Sturm und Drang subjectivity to the objective idealism of his classical period. His dramatic production came almost to a standstill during this time.

Life’s Work

On the basis of his Geschichte des Abfalls der vereinigten Niederlande von der spanischen Regierung (1788; The History of the Defection of the United Netherlands from the Spanish Empire , 1844), Schiller was appointed professor of history at the University of Jena in 1789 upon the recommendation of Goethe. He was married to Charlotte von Lengefeld in 1790. After a serious illness in 1791, from which he never completely recovered and which led to his early death in 1805, Schiller visited Körner in Dresden and his homeland, Württemberg, in 1793. His friendship with...

(The entire section contains 1882 words.)

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