Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1758
Friedrich Schiller 1759-1805
German dramatist, poet, historian, philosopher, and essayist.
One of the towering figures in German literature, Schiller was a universal genius whose dramatic writings, poetry, philosophy, and historical works give eloquent voice to the themes of justice and human freedom. His early plays, which reflect his affinity with the Sturm und Drang movement, feature the passionate struggles of revolutionaries as they seek to overthrow corruption and tyranny. The later works, characterized by more realistic and Classical subjects and forms, move from the external events that shape the choices and actions of his characters to their inner struggles, as the playwright shows how humans may rise above corruption and attain dignity through non-violent means. As a dramatist of ideas, Schiller is concerned, especially in his later plays, to put on stage those notions which he believes can be morally instructive to his audience. He portrays, especially in his later plays, characters who, after deliberation and sometimes anguish, overcome their desires to make moral choices based on their reason. However, he does this not merely with polemics but appeals to the senses and emotions of his audience, portraying with high drama the tragic conflict that is central to human experience. Although Schiller is no longer widely read in the English-speaking world, he is revered as a national treasure in Germany, and is regarded, along with his contemporary Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, as one of the pillars of German literary achievement.
Schiller was born in Marbach, Württemberg, the son of an officer and surgeon in the army of the Duke Karl Eugen. At age seven he was enrolled in the Latin School at Ludwigsburg, to prepare for a career in the clergy. However, at age fourteen, at the insistence of the Duke, Schiller was placed in the elite Karlsschule, a military academy, where he would eventually study medicine. Schiller distinguished himself in his technical studies at the rigidly disciplined academy, but found the environment oppressive. He secretly studied literature, including the works of William Shakespeare, and clandestinely began writing his first play. After graduating in 1780, he was assigned a post as a military surgeon in Stuttgart. The following year he completed and self-published his first play, Die Räuber, which drew the attention of Wolfgang von Delberg, director of the Mannheim National Theater. After having to rewrite portions of the manuscript to pass the censors, Schiller saw his work performed at Mannheim to enthusiastic audiences. However, the play caused considerable controversy because of its revolutionary tone and ecstatic poetry, and the Duke forbade his officer to publish anything further except medical research. Schiller thereupon fled Stuttgart and moved to Mannheim, where he lived for a time on the aid of friends. His health had always been poor, and it was further undermined by the the stress of his exile and his financial difficulties.
In Mannheim, he entered into a contract with von Delberg to write plays for the theater, but it was an uneasy relationship and Schiller found himself continuing to live off the kindness friends and was constantly in debt. His second play, Die Verschwörung des Fiesko zu Genua received only lukewarm reviews, but the production of Kabale und Liebe in 1784 was a resounding success, and established the young writer as one of the masters of German drama. In 1785 Schiller broke with von Dalberg and moved to Leipzig on the invitation of his friend Christian Gottfried Köner. In Leipzig he edited the theatrical magazine Die Rheinische Thalia, published poetry, and completed his third play, Don Karlos.
For the next ten years Schiller wrote no plays, concentrating instead on historial and philosophical works. In 1787 he moved to Weimar, where he would meet the great poet and dramatist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; the two writers formed a strong personal friendship and literary and intellectual alliance that lasted until Schiller's death. It was at Goethe's recommendation that Schiller was appointed Professor of History at the University of Jena in 1789. Having gained some measure of financial security, in 1790 he married Charlotte von Lengefeld. While at the university he devoted much time to studying philosophy, particularly the writings of the German idealist Immanuel Kant. He published prodigiously at this time, producing works of history and major aesthetic treatises based on Kant's philosophy.
1798 marked the beginning of Schiller's second great period of dramatic composition. In 1799 he completed his Wallenstein trilogy, which was staged by Goethe the following year. Schiller's health by this time was in serious decline, most likely due to tuberculosis. But he continued to write and produce plays at the rate of one or more per year: from 1800 to 1804 he wrote and saw the production of Maria Stuart, Die Jungfrau von Orleans, Die Braut von Messina, and Wilhelm Tell. He was working on another play, Demetrius, when he died of pneumonia in 1805.
Schiller's eleven major dramatic works span two distinct literary periods. His three earliest plays belong to the period of Sturm und Drang, the earliest dramatic manifestation of the romantic movement that was to sweep Europe. Die Räuber, which established his reputation, is a bombastic, sweeping tale of a rebel who, with his band of thieves, attempts to overthrow a corrupt political order. His second play, Fiesko, which deals with a struggle for power in the republic of Genoa, also involves a revolution, but this time the revolutionary becomes more corrupt than the system he endeavors to destroy. In Kabale und Liebe, a story of a pair of lovers who are forced apart because of social barriers, a despotic court not only thwarts romance but forces young German recruits to be sent to fight in America on behalf of the English. All these early plays feature passionate struggles of heroes who pursue freedom and justice in hypocritical societies, but also point out that reaction against tyranny can itself assume the form of oppression.
Don Karlos is seen by most critics as a “transitional” play. It is the first play written in verse, and in many ways anticipates the style of Schiller's later Classical works, but has as its theme the plea for freedom that marks his early efforts. The play, set in sixteenth-century Spain, about the attempt of the heir apparent Don Carlos to assume responsibilty and power from his father, treats political themes with considerable complexity and introduces philosophical ideas that were to figure prominently in the later dramas.
Schiller's later, Classical, plays were written after his ten-year immersion in historical and philosophical study, and they embody his newly developed aesthethic theories—including the idea that tragedy should be an instrument for humans' moral perfection. In his writings on aesthetics, Schiller distinguishes between “naive” works of art, which are the outpourings of genius, and “sentimental” works, which have goals. A naive work of art is moral, while a sentimental work has a moral. His particular brand of classicism, he claimed, was concerned with universal balance, and in his plays he depicts a movement toward this harmony as the soul triumphs over desire. In the trilogy of plays, Wallensteins Lager, Die Piccolomini, and Wallensteins Tod, which depict the downfall of a general suspected of treason during a brief period during the Thirty Years' War, the sentimental qualities of the title character are contrasted to the naive qualities of the young officer who idolizes him. The plays also marks a shift in Schiller's socio-political ideas, as he rejects the notion that freedom can be attained through revolution and seeks to show rather how individual and spiritual freedom may be achieved through moral self-discovery.
The theme of inner victory through moral regeneration is played out in the plays composed during Schiller's last years. In Maria Stuart and Die Jungfrau von Orleans, in which Schiller depicts the lives of the historical figures Mary, Queen of Scots and Joan of Arc, we see how each heroine rises above the corruption of Church and government to attain her own sense of moral victory and spiritual freedom. Die Braut von Messina, which is constructed along the lines of a Greek tragedy and concerns two brothers who are fated to fall in love with their sister, explores the tension between predestination and free will. Schiller's last finished work, Wilhelm Tell, also concerns the moral autonomy of the main character, the legendary Swiss hero who shoots an apple from his own son's head, but recalls too the theme of revolution that was a concern in the earlier dramas.
Schiller's reputation as a boldly original thinker and artist was established with his controversial but highly successful first play, Die Räuber. By the age of twenty-four, with the production of Kabale und Liebe, he was recognized as one of the great masters of German drama. During his lifetime he was lauded as one of the figures who raised the stature of German literature, which hitherto had been overshadowed by the achievements of artists in England, France, and Italy. His plays were often met with standing ovations, and audiences and critics alike thrilled at his ability to portray with immediacy and complexity the sufferings and triumph of the human spirit. After his death he became a national icon, with monuments erected in his honor, and his works were and continue to be part of the German literary curriculum. Thinkers such as Carl Gustav Jung, Friederich Nietzche, Friederich Hegel, and Karl Marx were indebted to the ideas he set forth in this philosophical and aesthetical works. The attention paid to his works by German literary critics can be compared to that accorded to Shakespeare in the English-speaking world. In the nineteenth century, British critics such as Thomas Carlyle and the American poet William Cullen Bryant admired his taste and feeling and his concern for human freedom. Schiller's name is not a familiar one among English-speaking readers today, however, and he does not enjoy the same recognition as does his great contemporary Goethe, for example. Contemporary critics have suggested that Schiller's dramas are less accessible to modern readers due to their flamboyant, sometimes bombastic language. However, most agree that there are to be found in the plays themes and concerns—political and individual freedom, the complexity of human endeavor, the struggle between the rational and sensual aspects of the self—that are of remarkably contemporary concern. Twentieth-century commentators writing in English tend to stress the philosophical underpinnings of the plays; the political themes; the impact of Schiller's historical study on his dramatic practice; the shift in concern in the later plays from external to internal events; and the dramas' rootedness in human life.
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Die Raüber: Ein Schauspiel [The Robbers] 1781
Die Verschwörung des Fiesko zu Genua: Ein republikanisches Trauerspiel [Fiesco; or, The Genoese Conspiracy] 1783
Kabale und Liebe: Ein bügerliches Trauerspiel in fünf Aufzügen [Intrigue and Love: A Tragedy in Five Acts] 1784
Don Karlos, Infant von Spanien [Don Carlos, Infant of Spain ] 1798
Wallensteins Lager [The Camp of Wallenstein] 1800
Die Piccolomini [The Piccolominis] 1800
Wallensteins Tod [The Death of Wallenstein] 1800
Maria Stuart: Ein Trauerspiel [Mary Stuart: A Tragedy ] 1801
Die Jungfrau von Orleans: Ein romantische Tragödie [The Maid of Orleans: A Romantic Tragedy] 1802
Die Braut von Messina, oder feindlichen Brüder: Ein Trauerspiel mit Chören [The Bride of Messina] 1803
Wilhelm Tell: Ein Schuspiel [William Tell] 1804
Demetrius (fragment) 1815
Anthologie auf das Jahr 1782 (poetry) 1782
An die Freude ein Rundgesang für freye Männer. Mit Muzik (poetry) 1786
Der Geisterseher: Eine interessante Geschichte aus den Papieren des Grafen von O*** herausgegeben aus Herrn Schillers Thalia [The Ghost-Seer] (essay) 1788
Geschichte des Abfalls des vereinigten Niederlande von der Spanischen Regierung: Erster Theil enthaltend die Geschichte der Rebellionen bis zur Utrechtischen Verbindung [History of the Defection of the United Netherlands from the Spanish Empire] 1788
Historischer Calender für das Jahr 1791-1793: Geschichte des Dreiβigjärhigen Kriegs [History of the Thirty Years' War] 1791
Über Naive Und Sentimentalische Dichtung [On Naive and Sentimental Poetry] (essays)
Friedrich v. Schiller Sämtliche Werke, 12 vols. [Collected Works] (drama, poetry, essays) 1812
The Philosophical And Aesthetic Letters And Essays 1845
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SOURCE: “Ideal Freedom,” in Schiller, Basil Blackwell, 1949, pp. 165-86.
[In the following essay, Witte argues that Maria Stuart, Die Jungfrau von Orleans, and Die Braut von Messina embody and illustrate Schiller's idea of the tragically sublime: the triumph of the moral self over the human being's material existence, emotional impulses, and physical nature, or the victory of spiritual freedom over the bondage of the flesh.]
The years that remained to Schiller after the completion of Wallenstein were devoted almost entirely to the drama. After the self-imposed discipline of historical study and philosophical reflection, after the tardy growth of Wallenstein, the tempo of his dramatic production suddenly increased in a spectacular way: from now on, plays poured from his pen at the remarkable rate of one a year. This spate of creative work came at a time when Schiller was once again in close contact with the practical affairs of the stage; having moved to Weimar in December, 1799, he was able to assist Goethe in the management of the Weimar Court Theatre. With patient enthusiasm the two friends pursued their aims, seeking to improve the actors' performances (and the taste of the public) by insisting on careful rehearsal, proper delivery, and a uniform style of acting in a well-balanced ensemble. In order to add good plays to the repertoire, Schiller busied himself with translations whenever illness or weariness forced him to interrupt his own work; among other things he provided a German version of Macbeth (1800)—remarkably unShakespearean, it is true, with its transformation of the witches and the porter scene, yet remarkably effective—a charming adaptation of Gozzi's Commedia Turandot (1801), and an excellent rendering of Racine's Phèdre in German blank verse (1805), composed (in less than a month) when already the shadow of death was upon him.
Schiller had given hard and earnest thought to the thorny problem of tragedy during the years that preceded his return to the drama. Having formulated his conclusions in various theoretical writings, he now felt the urge to translate critical theory into dramatic practice. Considered from this point of view, Maria Stuart, Die Jungfrau von Orleans, and Die Braut von Messina reveal a marked affinity, though they are very dissimilar in other respects. These three plays embody and illustrate Schiller's idea of the tragically sublime—the triumph of man's higher moral self over the limitations of his material existence, over his emotional impulses, and over the sufferings of his physical nature: a vindication of spiritual freedom, if need be at the cost of self-immolation. When the happy equilibrium of duty and desire which characterizes the ‘virtuoso’1 becomes impossible, when natural instincts conflict irreconcilably with moral obligation, and ‘moral grace’ is no longer sufficient to cope with a supreme crisis, then the man who wants to keep his soul inviolate must entrench himself in the citadel of his moral freedom.
‘Fälle können eintreten, wo das Schicksal alle Außenwerke ersteigt, auf die er seine Sicherheit gründete, und ihm nichts weiter übrig bleibt, als sich in die heilige Freiheit der Geister zu flüchten. …’2
In doing so he rises to that sublime dignity which surrounds the tragic hero. Such a situation, culminating in a victory of the spirit over the flesh, provides the tragic poet with a fit theme. It is a spectacle that exalts and inspires, despite the dark and harrowing elements in it, for it carries the welcome assurance that man is not wholly determined by his physical nature and its material conditions; plucking inward triumph from outward failure, he proves that he is not just an unprofitable servant: with part of his being at least he belongs to a higher, ultimate order of things. The fate that threatens the hero may be not only hard but positively unjust by any ordinary standards of justice; the nexus between his actions and their consequences may be obscure; common sense may refuse to hold him responsible for the outcome and to interpret the tragic issue as a judgment on his frailties. But the hero, resolutely shouldering the tragic burden, rises superior even to a malign fate: by accepting the consequences of his deeds, unforeseeable and unmerited though they may appear, by willing his own destruction, he ceases to be a mere victim of hostile circumstance, and stands forth as a shining example of man's unconquerable mind. The fiery ordeal makes a new man of him; he emerges from it spiritually regenerate. As he meets the strain of a great crisis, his hidden strength is revealed; and while we sorrow over his anguish, we rejoice to witness his moral rebirth. The feeling with which we are left at the end is one of serenity after deep emotion. Like the chorus in Milton's tragedy we are dismissed, if not with any dogmatic assurances regarding the unsearchable dispose of highest wisdom, at any rate with peace and consolation, ‘And calm of mind all passion spent’.
While the moral emphasis in all this is unmistakable, it is equally clear that Schiller does not think of tragedy ‘as a divine law court, in which the dooms are proportioned to the mistakes of head or heart’3 Nothing is further from his mind than the suggestion that tragedy should exhibit a consistent and rational moral order, readily intelligible to our finite judgment, a world in which everyone is served according to his deserts, excluding all the hazards, the accidents, the moral perplexities that form so prominent a feature of our common human experience. There is no question of any such balancing of moral accounts, with an interim dividend on virtue, as was practised by the playwrights whom he ridicules in Shakespeares Schatten. Gundolf, it is true, asserts that Schiller's drama is founded on moral valuations and that it postulates a moral order as its ultimate system of reference; but if this claim is to be upheld, it must be interpreted in rather a special sense. It cannot be taken to mean that Schiller seeks to justify the tragic hero's suffering in terms of reason, thus obscuring or mitigating the tragic fact. What it does mean is that Schiller invites us to admire the sublime greatness of soul which, even in face of physical annihilation, attests its belief in the primacy of spiritual values by a supreme act of faith, and thus saves the spectacle of tragic suffering from being merely depressing. Schiller knows better than to press tragedy into the service of any religious or philosophic doctrine. But without seeking to extract from it any proof of a transcendental cosmic harmony, he is aware of what has been called the paradox of tragedy—the challenging and mysterious fact that ‘its conclusions are not contained within its premises, that it radiates light from darkness, destroys hope and harbours it; that do what disaster may with these heroes they gain the more upon us … when Nature has vanquished and cast them out they continue to reign in our affections, in a kingdom inaccessible to Fortune, uncircumscribed by time and with a relish of remoter duration’.4
Maria Stuart exemplifies this conception of tragedy most clearly and, on the whole, most satisfyingly. Once again Schiller wrought his design from historical material, employing the same method as before in the imaginative re-creation of historic events. Having first made a fairly careful study of the period, he then proceeded to treat the data of history with the full freedom of the artist, suppressing what did not suit him, rearranging or inventing incidents (for example, the meeting of the two queens), and taking all manner of liberties with chronology and geography.5 As for the interpretation of his heroine's character, he could not have asked for greater latitude, seeing that Mary Queen of Scots has to this day remained an enigmatic figure, a puzzle and a challenge to successive generations of historians. Saint or sinner, ambitious schemer or helpless victim, passionate lover, sensualist, or frigidly consenting party? The mystery seems to deepen with every new attempt to solve it. From such conflicting readings, Schiller was able to choose what fitted in with his purpose. He makes Mary a woman of great beauty and vitality in whom quick-witted discernment is at times blinded by the emotional impulses of a passionate nature; a queen who, throughout the long years of her captivity, remains proudly conscious of her royal blood. Her moral regeneration forms the main theme of the play. Using the analytic technique which he had studied and admired in the Oedipus of Sophocles, Schiller contrived to concentrate the whole action within the space of three days—the last three days of the heroine's life. All the events that lead up to the final crisis belong to the past. Mary's youth at the court of France, her brief French marriage which left her, in her own phrase, the widow of the greatest king in Christendom, her entrance upon her Scottish heritage, her marriage to Darnley, the Rizzio episode, her association with Bothwell and the murder at the Kirk-o’ Field, the last defeat at Langside, her flight to England, her long, increasingly strait imprisonment, and her trial—all these are called to mind by the skillful and effective use of reminiscence, pleading, and altercation. The art of dramatic exposition, perfected in Wallenstein, is now applied with conscious virtuosity; and the prisoner at Fortheringhay, ‘the Daughter of Debate,’ though passive and powerless herself, is shown as the fulcrum of political forces in the outside world.
The concentration and spiritualization of the action, as well as the deliberately symmetrical architecture of the play, suggest a certain affinity with French tragedy; so does the quasi-forensic technique, the careful marshalling of the arguments for and against the execution of the death sentence (for example, in I, 7, and in II, 3-4). Although Schiller's attitude towards French drama always remained highly critical, with whole-hearted censure much more readily forthcoming than occasional qualified praise,6 the influence of the Weimar circle kept his interest in it alive. Both Goethe and Humboldt insisted on the positive merits of the French style of dramatic composition, its clarity, its harmony of design, and its perfect control. In spite of his aversion to the stiffiness and dry artificiality which he found in many French plays, Schiller endeavoured to assimilate their good qualities; nowhere more so than in Maria Stuart, which of all his plays is the one most closely akin, in spirit and in technique, to the tragédie classique. It is not surprising to find Mme de Staël singling it out as ‘de toutes les tragédies allemandes la plus pathétique et la mieux conçue’.
The decisive emphasis falls on the inward struggle. Mary is under sentence of death for her alleged complicity in Babington's plot against the life of Elizabeth; she has been tried by a tribunal composed of the first peers of the realm, and found guilty. Elizabeth has every reason to desire the death of her royal cousin: even behind prison walls, Mary acts as a focus of Catholic disaffection in the country, supported by the powerful forces of Roman Catholicism abroad. Moreover, Mary regards herself as the rightful heir to the throne of England; and the mere existence of a pretender whose claims are based on an unspotted lineage constitutes a permanent threat, because it perpetuates the doubts that exist in men's minds about the legitimacy of Elizabeth's succession. In addition to these political considerations, there is a strong personal motive: the jealous antipathy of a sexually frustrated older woman against a younger one who had never cherished any ambition to go down to posterity as a virgin queen. Nevertheless, Elizabeth hesitates to sign the death-warrant. Though she would like to see Mary dead, she shrinks from the odium of sanctioning the execution of her unfortunate rival. Her chief councillors offer conflicting advice. Talbot's generous humanity and incorruptible sense of justice prompt him to plead for Mary; Cecil, on the other hand, insists that only Mary's death can safeguard the peace and unity of the realm. While Elizabeth hesitates, others are active in Mary's behalf. Mortimer, a fanatical young partisan of Mary's cause, and desperately in love with Mary herself, is plotting to liberate her by a daring coup de main. At the same time, the Earl of Leicester, Elizabeth's favourite of many years’ standing, and formerly a candidate for Mary's hand, endeavours, for reasons of his own, to bring about a gradual reconciliation between the two queens. Both plans miscarry. Leicester persuades Elizabeth to meet Mary, but the meeting ends disastrously. Mary humbles herself in vain; Elizabeth merely gloats over her stricken enemy's misfortune. When at last Mary realizes that no self-abasement will avail, her imperious, passionate spirit reasserts itself, and the interview ends in a violent quarrel. Grief and long-nourished resentment put deadly venom into Mary's taunts; she emerges victorious from the battle of words. For a few brief moments at the end of this emotional scene Schiller shows us the prisoner at Fotheringhay transformed into her former self, proud, rash, and tempestuously beautiful—Mary Stuart as she was during the stormy years of her Scottish reign.
Soon after the fatal meeting of the two queens, Mortimer's plot is foiled by the premature action of one of his accomplices, who makes an unsuccessful attempt on Elizabeth's life as she is returning to London. Mary's fate is sealed; after what has happened, she cannot hope for mercy from Elizabeth, while the new plot against the sovereign adds weight to Cecil's arguments. Elizabeth signs the warrant, and the sentence is carried out; the discovery that it was based on false evidence comes too late to stay the execution. Elizabeth tries to put the blame on Cecil and on her secretary Davidson; but Talbot's refusal to hold office any longer and Leicester's flight show that she cannot escape responsibility.
From the first rising of the curtain the heroine's death looms ahead. All attempts to avert it prove futile and serve only to accelerate the catastrophe. Being the kind of woman she is, placed in the circumstances in which we find her, Mary cannot be saved; inexorably the pressure of events impels her towards her doom. This sense of fatality which is present from the first does not, however, preclude suspense; nor can it be validly objected that the tragic ending, being prescribed by history, is in any case a foregone conclusion. Knowledge of how things turn out in the end is clearly not incompatible with suspense—otherwise no one could feel suspense when seeing Lear or Othello for the second time. As for the issue being, as it were, prejudged by history, there is no reason to assume that Schiller would have allowed the historian in him to stand in the way of the playwright: witness, for instance, the entirely unhistorical ending of Die Jungfrau von Orleans.
Hostile forces clash in the play: Mary's sympathizers oppose her enemies, and behind these contending parties we sense a vaster struggle—the rising power of Protestant England asserting itself against the Roman Catholic world. The essential conflict, however, is fought out, not between external forces, but in the mind of the heroine. The question at issue is whether she is to reconcile herself to the fate which she cannot hope to avert, or whether she is to meet her death defiantly, insisting on her rights, railing against fate, and denouncing the infamy of her enemies. The decision is rendered more difficult by the fact that Mary is innocent of the particular crime of which she stands accused and for which she is sent to the scaffold. In a strictly juridical sense, the case against her is not proven, and her execution is, as Hettner has pointed out, a miscarriage of justice. Unjust though the tribunal's sentence may be from an objectively legal point of view, however, Mary eventually comes to accept it as a necessary expiation—not of the crime for which she was tried and which she never committed, but of the sins of bygone days. By this act of deliberate self-abnegation, Mary lays the ghosts of her past; and, her conscience cleared, she rises superior to her temporal judges. Whatever crimes and follies she may have been guilty of in her time—when the hand of death is upon her, she knows herself to be once again every inch a great queen:
—den Menschen adelt, Den tiefstgesunkenen, das letzte Schicksal. Die Krone fühl’ ich wieder auf dem Haupt, Den würd’gen Stolz in meiner edeln Seele!(7)
Schiller does not hesitate to introduce the ritual of a Catholic sacrament in order to give visible expression to the heroine's change of heart: as she prepares to receive the wages of sin, Mary at the same time receives absolution and the promise of grace from one who, according to her faith, holds the keys of the kingdom of heaven.
It has been said that this sublimation comes too late to be fully convincing. The historical Mary was a prisoner in England from her arrival in 1568 until her death in 1587. Schiller has shortened the period of her captivity in his play, thus making his two queens much younger than their middle-aged prototypes in history. But even on Schiller's own showing, about seven years are assumed to have elapsed between the murder of Darnley and Mary's execution: years during which, though troubled by pangs of conscience, she continues to cherish worldly ambitions, hoping for a return to freedom and power. This time-lag between her crime and its expiation is held to impair the sense of inevitability which is essential for a fully tragic effect.8 Plainly such a criticism is founded on the assumption that tragedy should vindicate the rationality of events, exhibiting a clearly traceable causal connection between guilt and just retribution. There is no reason to think, however, that Schiller believed in so simple a formula. Schiller's tragedy is not exclusively concerned with the question of the heroine's moral responsibility; another aspect, no less important, is the way she meets the calamity that befalls her—a calamity rendered inevitable by the pressure of hostile circumstances as well as by her own conduct. It is the final ordeal that reveals her true mettle; snared in an evil time, she acts with a dignity that turns defeat into triumph. She is no longer blinded by her old passions; suddenly she sees her whole life in a new perspective, and what might have appeared unjust and meaningless from a less exalted standpoint falls into place as part of the pattern when viewed sub specie aeternitatis. This change of outlook cannot be other than sudden:
Man löst sich nicht allmählich von dem Leben!
Mit einem Mal, schnell, augenblicklich muß
Der Tausch geschehen zwischen Zeitlichem
Und Ewigem …9
If it be argued that the strong sense of guilt which brings about the final change of heart is incompatible with Mary's cherishing all kinds of worldly hopes during her imprisonment, the answer is that such criticism underrates the capacity of the human heart for harbouring contradictory impulses.
While the essence of the tragedy is to be found in the inward crisis, the external conflict between Mary and Elizabeth provides the play with its main structural principle; its scenes are evenly and symmetrically divided between Elizabeth's court and Mary's prison (an arrangement which combines with the severe concentration of the action to give the work its appearance of classical regularity), and the characters of the two queens tend to overshadow the male roles. Nevertheless, the men are more than mere foils. Burleigh is a carefully drawn portrait of a patriotic statesman, far-seeing, realistic, resourceful, who thinks in terms of political necessity, setting aside moral scruples if need be. Mortimer (modelled on Babington) is a clever study of a mentally and morally unstable person, with a convert's zeal and the desperate bravery of the fanatic. His fierce sensuality (which seems to have shocked some of Schiller's contemporaries) serves an important dramatic purpose: at a crucial moment, it conjures up the daemon of reckless passion which ruled Mary's past, and which would lie in wait for her again should she regain her freedom:
mortimer. Der ist ein Rasender, der nicht das Glück Festhält in unauflöslicher Umarmung, Wenn es ein Gott in seine Hand gegeben. Ich will dich retten, kost’ es tausend Leben, Ich rette dich, ich will es—doch so wahr
Gott lebt! ich schwör's, ich will dich auch besitzen.
maria. O will kein Gott, kein Engel mich beschützen! Furchtbares Schicksal! Grimmig schleuderst du Von einem Schrecknis mich dem andern zu. Bin ich geboren, nur die Wut zu wecken? Verschwört sich Hass und Liebe, mich zu schrecken?(10)
The portrayal of Leicester, on the other hand, is rather less convincing. His double-dealing and his ineffectual opportunism somehow tend to blur the outline of his character from a dramatic point of view. Some traits (his gift of flattery, for instance, and his proud bearing) are taken from history; but on the whole Schiller's Leicester is only the pale shadow of the historical Robert Dudley as he emerges from the pages of his latest biographer11—the first courtier of his age, known throughout Europe as ‘the Great Lord’, and invested by a loving sovereign with a title previously borne only by princes of the blood, regardless of the fact that he was ‘noble onely in two descents, and both of them stained with the Block’, and moreover, ‘fleshed in conspiracy against the Royall bloud of King Henries children in his tender yeares’.12 One does not quite believe that Schiller's Leicester could have long maintained his position as Elizabeth's undisputed favourite—except in so far as Schiller's Elizabeth, too, falls far below her historical counterpart. It suited Schiller's dramatic purpose to emphasize the unlovable features in Elizabeth's nature: the vanity and coquetry which she had inherited from her mother, her capriciousness, her cynicism. But there is hardly any trace in his portrait either of Good Queen Bess or of Gloriana.
In Maria Stuart, as in Wallenstein, Schiller had viewed the principal character with deliberate detachment. In his next play we find a different kind of approach; his personal interest in his heroine becomes a dominant factor. Fascinated by the story of Joan of Arc, a story of divinely inspired genius in a world shattered by war, he decides to shelve his plans for a tragedy on the subject of Perkin Warbeck, and very shortly after the completion of Maria Stuart his letters show him busily at work on Die Jungfrau von Orleans.
‘Dieses Stück [as he told Göschen later on] floss aus dem Herzen und zu dem Herzen sollte es auch sprechen.13
He sounds the same note of enthusiasm in the poem Das Mädchen von Orleans, originally entitled Voltaires Pucelle und die Jungfrau von Orleans. In Voltaire's scurrilous epic, which had been enjoying a tremendous vogue, Joan of Arc's name had been dragged through the mire; and while Schiller has to admit that many readers derive amusement from La Pucelle, he feels that the world is the poorer for Voltaire's irreverent mockery:
Dem Herzen will er seine Schätze rauben,
Den Wahn bekriegt er und verletzt den Glauben.14
But the Muse of dramatic poetry will wipe out the Voltairean stigma; by a sympathetic and idealizing portrayal, she will restore Joan to her rightful place among the immortals:
Mit einer Glorie hat sie dich umgeben—
Dich schuf das Herz! Du wirst unsterblich leben.15
Schiller's warm sympathy with his heroine influenced his dramatic technique. In his desire to unfold the whole of her story before our eyes, he abandons the compactness of Maria Stuart in favour of a broader, more discursive manner. In both plays the heroine pits the power of her soul against untoward events, and, conquering, achieves spiritual purification. But whereas in Maria Stuart we have only the last phase, everything that precedes it being dealt with by means of an expository tour de force, in Die Jungfrau von Orleans Schiller leads up to the crisis in more leisurely fashion, presenting all the antecedent facts on the stage. In five acts and a Prologue he follows the heroine's whole career, from the time when, at her native village of Domrémy in Lorraine, celestial visions and voices bid the humble peasant girl go forth and bring succour and victory to her hard-pressed king. We witness the main stages in the accomplishment of her mission. We see her arriving at Charles VII's court at a moment when the French cause seems lost, inspiring everyone with fresh confidence by her prophetic fervour and by the tidings of her first success. We see her in battle, spreading terror and confusion in the ranks of the English. We see her bringing about a reconciliation between the French leaders and Duke Philip of Burgundy (an event which, in historical fact, did not happen until long after Joan's death).16 We see her yielding, for a brief but fateful moment, to an impulse of love, and thus, in her own eyes, forfeiting her virgin purity and becoming unworthy of her exalted mission. We see her at the king's consecration in Reims, outwardly at the height of her fame, but inwardly rent and tortured by an intense feeling of guilt which prevents her from repudiating the accusations of witchcraft hurled at her by her old father, and melodramatically punctuated by claps of thunder. (When Schiller writes to Goethe
‘Der Schluß des vorlezten Acts ist sehr theatralisch und der donnernde Deus ex machina wird seine Wirkung nicht verfehlen’17
one feels that one would like to be able to construe his comment in a Pickwickian sense.) We see her suddenly deserted by all those who had previously acclaimed her, an outcast, shunned even by the poorest of the poor, and eventually a prisoner in enemy hands. We see her stoically suffering afflictions which she regards as having been sent to purge her of her guilt; and the ordeal proves her to possess qualities of character which ‘demonstrate her claim to the role of a prophetess’.18 Her old powers return as she regains her inner security of heart; in the end we see her, after a decisive victory on the battlefield, passing away in an ecstatic vision of eternal bliss.
The historical Joan of Arc was found guilty of heresy and black magic by a tribunal of her enemies, and the ‘fell banning hag’, ‘Pucelle, that witch, that damned sorceress’,19 was burned to death in the market place of Rouen in May, 1431, protesting her innocence to the end, in spite of the formal abjuration which her judges had wrung from her. As usual, Schiller has no hesitation in departing from historical fact to suit the requirements of his plot. In this case the ending of his play may be said to anticipate, by implication, not only the reopening of her case which, twenty-five years later, led to a revision of the original judgment and to her rehabilitation in the eyes of the world, but her canonization as well, although this did not take place until 1920.
It has often been remarked that in his later plays Schiller strove to combine elements of the Shakespearean type of drama with those features which he had come to admire in the Greek tragedians and, to a lesser extent, in the French tragédie classique—their restraint, their harmony of design, their simplicity, their use of a deliberately stylized poetic diction, their emphasis on the universally significant. There was a time when such a synthesis would have appeared to Schiller as a contradiction in terms. At that earlier stage of his development, Shakespeare had appealed to him primarily as a naturalist, with his sense of arresting detail, his freedom of construction, and his individualizing technique, placing the accent on character. The writings of Lessing and Herder, however, as well as his own reflection and experience, led Schiller to realize that not a few of the qualities which impressed him in classical drama were to be found in Shakespeare too. Later on, therefore, he sees no contradiction in presenting Shakespeare in the guise of Hercules (cf. the poem Shakespeares Schatten), or in linking his name with the Greek dramatists as the guiding stars of the German tragic Muse (in the poem on Goethe's adaptation of Voltaire's Mahomet).
Schiller's endeavour to steer by these two stars in his later plays resulted in a kind of zigzag course. In Maria Stuart and Die Braut von Messina, the emphasis is on the classical side, whereas Die Jungfrau von Orleans, Tell, and Demetrius are more Shakespearean in technique. The subtitle ‘Eine romantische Tragödie’, which Schiller chose for Die Jungfrau von Orleans, is intended to stress this affinity, although its significance does not end there. It refers, in addition, to the use of motifs frequently found in literature of the romantic kind: Catholic symbolism, for example; the influence of supernatural agencies; the conventions of mediaeval chivalry; nostalgic echoes of the minstrels' song, such as the Dauphin's description—in I, 2—of ‘good King René’ and of his endeavour to revive the spirit of the old amour courtois. (It is interesting to note that in this instance Schiller's Dauphin displays a more sympathetic, more ‘romantic’ attitude than Scott's young Arthur de Vere in his encounter with the King of the Troubadours.20) In a sense it may be said, therefore, that in Die Jungfrau von Orleans Schiller ‘pays his tribute to the new Romantic movement’.21 At the same time it should be remembered that as regards the appreciation of mediaeval Catholicism, the author of the essays on the times of the Crusades and on the events preceding the reign of Frederick Barbarossa22 hardly needed any guidance from the Romantic school. Nor does he stand indebted to the Romantics in his handling of the supernatural, though in this respect he would have gained by modelling himself on them. Here, as elsewhere, Schiller shows himself lacking in that sense of the eerie, the demonic, the elemental, which Shakespeare and Goethe possessed in such marked degree and which some of the Romantic poets knew how to cultivate. No scene in the whole play is less convincing than that of the spectral black knight who issues ambiguous words of warning just before Joan's encounter with Lionel (III, 9). It is a scene in which everything depends on atmosphere; to make it succeed, the poet would have had to create a feeling of strangeness, of mystery, a half-light in which haunting fears take on visible shape. ‘The earth hath bubbles, as the water has,’ but Schiller's black knight is not of them, though he is meant to be. There can be no doubt whither he is vanished as he disappears through his trapdoor—nor does anyone feel disposed to exclaim, ‘Would he had stayed!’
The supernatural element is, in point of fact, the crux of the play in more ways than one. As she appears in the Prologue and in the first three acts, Joan has no will of her own; in a kind of emotional trance she carries out the commands of a higher power. Her encounter with Lionel finally breaks the spell. She feels that she has betrayed her mission and, weighed down by her sense of guilt, she accepts the afflictions that follow as a means towards her moral regeneration. Joan's own attitude towards her lapse and its consequences is thus made perfectly clear; but can we share it? It is difficult to hold her responsible for the half-conscious stirring of a natural sex impulse over which she has no control; and there remains the uncomfortable feeling that the divinity which singled her out as its blind instrument, raising her out of her accustomed sphere, transforming the simple shepherdess into a conquering national heroine, abandons her to an unmerited fate, withholding its guidance when she is most in need of it.
It might be argued that Joan's heavenly voices are simply projections of her own inner consciousness, externalized manifestations of the powers of her soul which respond to her country's need; and that her vow of complete chastity, in thought as well as in deed, is bound up, in her own mind, with the success of a mission that demands a completely dedicated life. Viewed in that light, the story of Joan is seen as the tragedy of genius—genius battling against inertia and selfishness, carrying a sceptical world with it for a time, but overthrown in the end by ingratitude and distrust. Joan, who intuitively understands the signs of the times, appears as a herald of Protestant and nationalist ideals as opposed to scholastic dogma and feudalism. A vivid imagination being a frequent attribute of genius, it is not at all surprising that Joan should have clothed her desire for action in the imagery of her religion, visualizing it in the shape of blessed saints who came to lay a divinely appointed task upon her. Shaw has demonstrated that such an interpretation, on strictly psychological lines, can be made dramatically effective; his heroine, a sane and shrewd country girl of extraordinary strength of mind and hardihood of body, ‘a born boss,’ may or may not be like the historical Joan, but her personality and her achievements certainly lose none of their glory by being thus divested of their legendary halo.
The fact remains, however, that Schiller did not choose to treat the subject in that way. He makes no attempt to account for the miraculous in terms of human psychology, as Shaw does;23 in Die Jungfrau von Orleans a miracle is not simply (in the words of Shaw's Archbishop) ‘an event which creates faith’, but, in the words of the dictionary definition, ‘a marvellous event due to some supernatural agency’. The supernatural element is not used symbolically as an expression of Joan's faith in her mission; it is represented as having independent and objective existence, a force intervening from outside: witness Joan's inexplicable foreknowledge of the Dauphin's prayer and of Salisbury's death (I, 10 and 11), her invincibility in battle (II, 6), and the superhuman feat she performs when she bursts her chains and escapes from her prison in order to turn the rout of the French into victory (V, 11-12).24
This direct and active participation of divine Providence in the events of the play impairs the dramatic effect by confusing the tragic issue. To show where the weakness of the plot lies, it is not enough to point out the absence of any real guilt on the heroine's part: as has been remarked before, there is room in the world of Schiller's tragedy for the unaccountable hazards in human affairs. The reason why the play leaves us unsatisfied and rather ill at ease is that Schiller wants to have it both ways. He introduces an all-wise, all-powerful, and beneficent divinity, not merely as an object of faith, but as an active participant; having thus introduced it, he makes it act in a manner that is out of character, capriciously degrading Joan after having exalted her, and restoring her just as arbitrarily. Like Samson, whose example she invokes in her last desperate prayer, Joan is a chosen vessel suddenly cast aside; and if Samson's fall was too grievous for the trespass or omission’, then Joan's ordeal is even more so, inasmuch as her passing regard for Lionel is hardly to be compared with Samson's wayward amorousness. Thus some of the reflections which the chorus in Samson Agonistes address to an inscrutable deity apply with peculiar force to Schiller's heroine:
God of our Fathers, what is man!
That thou towards him with hand so various,
Or might I say contrarious,
Temperst thy providence through his short course …
Nor do I name of men the common rout,
That wandring loose about
Grow up and perish, as the summer flie,
Heads without name no more rememberd,
But such as thou hast solemnly elected,
With gifts and graces eminently adorn’d
To some great work, thy glory,
And peoples safety, which in part they effect:
Yet toward these thus dignifi’d, thou oft
Amidst their highth of noon,
Changest thy countenance, and thy hand with no regard
Of highest favours past
From thee on them, or them to thee of service.
In most of his plays Schiller uses characters and incidents from history, suitably adapted to his purpose, to give dramatic expression to his beliefs, his ideas, his experiences, and his sense of values. In Die Braut von Messina, however, he abandoned that procedure and relied entirely on his own imagination to provide him with the kind of story he wanted. That story takes up a theme which he had treated before, in his first play: the theme of the hostile brothers who are in love with the same woman. Twenty years had passed since Die Räuber had set the contemporary world by the ears; and although Die Braut von Messina caused much controversy too, it does not conjure up the perturbed spirits of Karl and Franz Moor. Not that the problem of human freedom had lost its perennial fascination for Schiller; but (as Goethe explained to Eckermann)
‘die Idee von Freiheit … nahm eine andere Gestalt an, so wie Schiller in seiner Kultur weiterging und selbst ein anderer wurde. In seiner Jugend war es die physische Freiheit, die ihm zu schaffen machte, und die in seine Dichtungen überging; in seinem spätern Leben die ideelle.’25
In falling back upon a familiar Storm-and-Stress type of subject, Schiller—the mature Schiller who, according to another remark of Goethe's, seemed to grow week by week in wisdom and judgment26—had no intention of retracing his steps; indeed it might well be said that no two plays of Schiller's are more completely opposed than Die Räuber and Die Braut von Messina. In emphatic contrast with the unrestrained naturalism of Die Räuber, Die Braut von Messina is the most severely stylized of Schiller's plays—‘a domestic drama in a royal house,’ presented as a tragedy in the grand and simple antique manner, in which
‘das Interesse nicht sowohl in den handelnden Personen, als in der Handlung liegt, so wie im Oedipus des Sophocles.’27
The comparison with Oedipus, as well as the implied reference to the celebrated passage in the Poetics where Aristotle speaks of the plot as the soul of tragedy, both bear witness to the classical orientation of the play. So do numerous other passages in Schiller's correspondence. He comments with satisfaction on the ‘Aeschylean’ quality of his new tragedy; on other occasions he speaks of having engaged in ‘a little contest with the ancient tragedians’, and wonders whether he, too, might have won an Olympic prize had he been born as a contemporary of Sophocles.28 The affinity with Oedipus, suggested in the first place by the technique of retrospective analysis, is further enhanced by the main features of the plot: the ancestral curse which rests upon a proud and noble family; the infant who was to be exposed and whose life is spared; incestuous love; the murder of a near relation; and, finally, a sinister prophecy, the fulfilment of which is hastened by the protagonists’ efforts to prevent it from coming true.
There could be no question, however, of a mere imitation of classical models, least of all of the Oedipus, the classical fate tragedy par excellence. Schiller certainly wanted to recapture the imaginative effect of the Sophoclean play, the feeling of solemnity and awe that broods over it; but he knew very well that he could not produce this effect with the means used by the Greek poet. The idea of an ineluctable outward Fate, familiar to the ancients as part of their mythology, is repugnant to modern feeling which, in spite of all merely logical arguments to the contrary, insists on believing in the freedom of the will. Therefore, the tragic outcome had to be brought about, not by the unalterable decree of some external agency, but through the characters themselves. Still, Schiller takes care to show how those characters have become what they are through heredity and environment. Once again we witness only the last phases of a story which has its beginnings in an earlier generation; all the events on the stage are like windows opening on long vistas of time. Unlike Oedipus, Die Braut von Messina is not all analysis, not just the gradual discovery of what happened long ago and what is therefore immutable. There is action in Schiller's play; important things happen before our eyes. Yet these things are (or, at any rate, are meant to be) merely the last links in a chain of causation stretching far back into the past.
The scene is laid in mediaeval Sicily, where the races and religions of the West meet and mingle with those of the East. Although Christianity has become the dominant religion, the pagan mythology of the Greeks survives, blended with elements of Mohammedan fatalism and remnants of primitive superstition. A changing succession of conquerors have left their imprint on the island's chequered history; as a result the life of the people lacks political as well as religious stability.29 There is something feverish and oppressive, something truly volcanic about the world of this play—a world in which the radiant beauty of the South is overhung by the ever-present threat of sudden, unpredictable disaster, and therefore an appropriate setting for a drama of passion, violence, and blood-guilt. The very first scene plunges us into this atmosphere of uncertain apprehensiveness. The ruling Prince of Messina, a hard, ruthless autocrat of Norman descent, has died; the bitter enmity that divides his two sons, Don Manuel and Don Cesar, threatens to disrupt the state. In order to put an end to the war of rival factions, the widowed princess, Isabella, has persuaded her sons to call a truce and to agree to a parley in her presence. In the past the two young princes had stubbornly refused to accept their mother's mediation, but now their hearts are softened by a new experience: they are both in love. Consequently they prove more amenable to Isabella's entreaties; their meeting ends in a complete, unfeigned reconciliation. Isabella is overjoyed at the prospect of welcoming her sons' brides to their new home, where all the members of her family will henceforth live peaceably together. At this happy moment she discloses a secret which she had kept for many years: Don Manuel and Don Cesar are shortly to meet a sister of whose existence they had not been aware. When, in the early years of her married life, Isabella had given birth to a daughter, the old prince had ordered the infant to be killed, because a dream had warned him that she would cause the death of his sons and thus bring his dynasty to utter ruin. Isabella, however, accepting a more hopeful-sounding interpretation of a dream of her own, had contrived to save the child's life and had had her brought up in the seclusion of a nearby nunnery, in complete ignorance of her parentage. The mother's joy and pride are shortlived. Don Cesar, on finding the woman he loves in Don Manuel's arms, stabs his brother in a fit of jealous rage; and the full horror of the situation is revealed when it becomes clear that that woman—the woman with whom both brothers had fallen in love—was none other than their long-lost sister Beatrice. When he realizes the heinousness of his deed, Don Cesar resolves to take his own life. Isabella, in the first mad paroxysm of grief over Manuel's death, disowns and curses her younger son; but it is not long before she repents and tries to dissuade Don Cesar from his purpose. But although Beatrice joins her mother in pleading with him, Don Cesar remains firm. Being the highest in the land, he cannot be called to account by anybody; and as he cannot live with the stigma of his crime upon him, he must execute his own sentence, exorcising, by a free sacrifice, the ancient curse upon his house.
Nicht auf der Welt lebt, wer mich richtend strafen kann,
Drum muß ich selber an mir selber es vollziehn.
Den alten Fluch des Hauses lös’ ich sterbend auf,
Der freie Tod nur bricht die Kette des Geschicks.30
Although such paraphernalia of the fate tragedy as dreams and prophecies are freely employed, Schiller obviously does not intend to present the events of the play as being preordained by some remote and superpersonal agency, acting independently of the dramatis personae. It is true that the element of fate is emphasized repeatedly. When Isabella, in her grief at Don Manuel's death, pours scorn on ambiguous oracles and lying auguries, on the hollow shams of astrology and divination, her sons' followers affirm their belief in prophecies and inescapable destiny in accents of complete conviction. But apart from the fact that the views expressed by a character in a play need not represent the author's own, the exposition shows Schiller endeavouring to motivate the conduct of his protagonists in terms of character, heredity, and background. The superstitious fears of the old prince and his ruthless cruelty, Isabella's and Manuel's secretive ways, Don Cesar's lack of self-control—all these factors contribute to the tragic outcome.
Unfortunately, however, they are not in themselves enough to precipitate the catastrophe. At several points where a revelation of the true facts seems practically inevitable, Schiller has to resort to very questionable artifices in order to avoid a premature dénouement. In II, 2,31 Beatrice, struck dumb by Don Cesar's unexpected appearance, has to remain speechless throughout, because a single word from her would explain the whole situation. In II, 6, Isabella withholds information which she should be only too anxious to give. In the same scene, Don Manuel has to fall into a kind of trance, and subsequently has to be removed from the stage, just when his presence and his undivided attention would have cleared up everything. Such deliberate manipulation defeats its own ends. The playwright falls between two stools: he loses the effect, grand though depressing, of inescapable destiny, and, on the other hand, the character tragedy is vitiated by the intrusion of blind chance. Instead of reminding us of Goethe's dictum
‘Unser Leben ist wie das Ganze, in dem wir enthalten sind, auf eine unbegreifliche Weise aus Freiheit und Notwendigkeit zusammengesetzt’,32
he creates a feeling of bewilderment, and even irritation, by wavering between two points of view.
It is not until the end that Don Cesar's tragedy comes clearly into focus. The scenes after Don Manuel's death owe nothing to the idea of fate; Don Cesar's bearing in those final scenes exemplifies once again Schiller's conception of the tragically sublime. A life of long drawn-out penance is impossible for a man of Don Cesar's temperament. By his act of voluntary self-immolation, he rises superior to the evil that encompasses him, while at the same time remaining true to himself.
don cesar. Nein, Bruder! Nicht dein Opfer will ich dir
Entziehen—deine Stimme aus dem Sarg
Ruft mächt’ger dringend als der Mutter Tränen
Und mächt’ger als der Liebe Flehn—Ich halte
In meinen Armen, was das ird'sche Leben
Zu einem Los der Götter machen kann—
Doch ich, der Mörder, sollte glücklich sein,
Und deine heil’ge Unschuld ungerächet
Im tiefen Grabe liegen—das verhüte
Der allgerechte Lenker unsrer Tage,
Daß solche Teilung sei in seiner Welt—
—Die Tränen sah ich, die auch mir geflossen,
Befriedigt ist mein Herz, ich folge dir.33
Once more—for the last time—Die Braut von Messina reveals the dual aspect of Schiller's tragedy: pessimistic inasmuch as it recognizes the tragic fact—suffering, both deserved and undeserved, crime, cruelty, evil in all its forms; optimistic in that it asserts its faith in the powers and the nobility of the human soul.
Schiller's desire to recapture something of the spirit, the atmosphere, and the style of Greek tragedy prompted him to revive in his play one of the most characteristic features of ancient drama: the chorus. Unlike its classical models, however, his chorus is divided into two groups, formed by the followers of Don Cesar and Don Manuel. This arrangement helps to justify its twofold role. Part of the time its function is that of an ideal spectator who discusses the happenings in the play with calm detachment; at other times its two groups assume the character of active partisans, reflecting the moods and passions of their leaders. In his prefatory essay Über den Gebrauch des Chors in der Tragödie, Schiller describes the introduction of the chorus as an open declaration of war on all naturalism in dramatic art. It serves to remind the audience that the world of high tragedy is an ideal and symbolic world of the imagination, not a copy of everyday experience. If suitably handled, it helps to raise the poetic level of the whole work; above all, its reflective comments provide that element of repose which is essential to the enjoyment of great art.
No feature of this problematic play has been more adversely criticized, in spite of Schiller's attempts to meet the objections of actors and producers by assigning the choric parts to a number of individual speakers. He was being over-confident when he wrote to Körner
‘… sie sollen mir das Stück spielen, ohne nur zu wissen, daß sie den Chor der alten Tragödie auf die Bühne gebracht haben’;34
and although he maintained that a dozen plays of this type would suffice to popularize the genre,35 he did not repeat the experiment. Before long we find him admitting that Die Braut von Messina is lacking in popular appeal,36 and that plays in the Greek manner present an awkward problem on the modern stage.37 But however dubious a dramatic asset his chorus may be, no one can deny that he made it the vehicle of some of his noblest poetry. The great choric speeches, with their varied metrical structure, realize the ambition which Schiller expresses in his preface: they clothe the hard outlines of the action in a rich garment of lyrical beauty; reflecting on things past and things to come, enforcing the lessons of wisdom, the chorus moves with godlike steps among the great issues of human life.
Cf. Part II, ch. 3 (The Legacy of Shaftesbury), s.f.
‘Cases may arise when Fate takes all the outworks on which a man relied for his safety, and when nothing remains for him but to take refuge in the sacred freedom of the spirit. …’ (Über das Erhabene)
W. Macneile Dixon, Tragedy (London, 1938), p. 138.
Ibid., p. 145.
J. G. Robertson quotes the view that Maria Stuart is ‘the least veracious of all Schiller's historical dramas (Schiller after a Century, p. 112). It is difficult to see, however, in what sense it can be said to be less ‘veracious’ than Die Jung frau von Orleans.
Cf., for instance, his letter to Goethe of May 31, 1799, and his poem on Goethe's adaptation of Voltaire's Mahomet for the German stage (An Goethe, als er den Mahomet von Voltaire auf die Bühne brachte). In view of such utterances—and the examples could easily be multiplied—it seems a trifle fanciful to speak of Schiller's Latin outlook upon life, his Latin attitude towards nature, motive, and character’ (J. G. Robertson, Schiller after a Century, p. 131). Even if one makes full allowances for the self-evident fact that a man's professed convictions need not square with his practice, the statement that ‘he led German tragedy back to the Canossa of French classicism’ (ibid., p. 125), picturesque though it may be, remains none the less misleading.
The most degraded criminal's ennobled
By his last sufferings, when he meets his fate;
I feel again the crown upon my brow,
And noble pride possess my swelling soul!
(Adapted from the translation by Joseph Mellish; cf. The Works of Frederick Schiller, vol. 3, Bohn's Standard Library, London, 1847, p. 312)
L. Bellermann, Schillers Dramen, II, pp. 198 ff.
Not by degrees can we relinquish life;
Quick, sudden, in the twinkling of an eye
The separation must be made, the change
From temporal, to eternal life …
(Translation by J. Mellish)
These lines echo a passage in the essay Über das Erhabene.
moritmer. He is a madman who neglects to hold His bliss in never-ending close embrace When Providence has placed it in his grasp. I will deliver you, and though it cost A thousand lives, I do it: but I swear, As God's in Heaven, I will possess you too! mary. Oh, will no God, no angel shelter me? Dread destiny! thou throw'st me, in thy wrath, From one tremendous terror to the other! Was I then born to waken nought but frenzy? Do hate and love conspire alike to fright me? (Adapted from the translation by J. Mellish)
Milton Waldman, Elizabeth and Leicester; 2nd ed., London and Glasgow, 1945.
Copie of a Leter Wryten by a Master of Arte of Cambridge to his friend in London, popularly known as Leycester's Commonwealth, and doubtfully attributed to one Robert Parsons; reprint, edited by F. J. Burgoyne, London, 1904; pp. 22 and 35.
‘This play came from my heart, and was meant to speak to the heart.’ (February 10, 1802)
‘He seeks to rob the heart of man of its treasure; in his fight against superstition, he strikes at faith.’
‘She has surrounded thee with glory—The heart created thee: thou art immortal.’
To translate the duke's sudden change of heart and allegiance into terms of drama was a difficult undertaking, and it cannot be said that Schiller has been wholly successful. The corresponding scene in the First Part of Henry VI (III, 3) is even less convincing—‘turn, and turn again,’ as Joan rightly remarks.
‘The conclusion of the last Act but one is very theatrical, and the thundering deus ex machina will not fail of his effect.’ (April 3, 1801)
Cf. Letter to Goethe, April 3, 1801.
Cf. I Henry VI, Act V, Scene 3, and Act III, Scene 2.
Cf. Anne of Geierstein, chaps. 29 and 30.
J. G. Robertson, A History of German Literature, p. 388.
Universalhistorische Übersicht der vornehmsten an den Kreuzzügen teilnehmenden Nationen and Universalhistorische Übersicht der merkwürdigsten Staatsbegebenheiten aus den Zeiten Kaiser Friedrichs I. These essays appeared in the Allgemeine Sammlung historischer Memoires which Schiller edited from 1790 till 1793.
For example, in the scene where Joan, on arriving at court, picks out the Dauphin from among his courtiers; cf. Saint Joan, Scene 2, and Schiller's totally different treatment in Die Jungfrau von Orleans, I, 10.
From the actors' and the producer's point of view, Scene 11 presents almost insuperable difficulties.
With Joan's passionate prayer for divine intervention in this scene, cf. Judges xvi. 28 and Acts xii. 5-7.
‘The idea of freedom assumed a different form as Schiller advanced in his own development and became a different man. In his youth it was physical freedom that preoccupied him and that found its way into his works; in later life it was spiritual freedom.’ (January 18, 1827)
Gespräche mit Goethe, January 18, 1825.
… as in the Oedipus of Sophocles, the interest lies not so much in the characters as in the plot.’ (Letter to Körner, May 13, 1801)
Cf. Letters to Körner, September 9, 1802; to Iffland, April 22, 1803; and to W. von Humboldt, February 17, 1803.
Cf. the graphic account of these conditions in Schiller's Universalhistorische Übersicht der merkwürdigsten Staatsbegebenheiten aus den Zeiten Kaiser Friedrichs I.
No judge lives on this earth to punish me,
Hence I myself must wield the avenging sword.
Dying, I exorcise the ancient curse;
Death self-imposed alone can break the chain of fate.
The division into acts and scenes derives from the stage copies; in the published version Schiller dispensed with it, in deference to the practice of the ancients.
‘Our lives, like the universe to which we belong, are mysteriously composed of freedom and necessity.’ (Dichtung und Wahrheit, Part III, Book 11)
don cesar. I will not rob thee, brother!
The sacrifice is thine:—Hark! from the tomb,
Mightier than mother's tears, or sister's love,
Thy voice resistless cries:—my arms enfold
What could bring heavenly joy to earthly life—
But, having killed thee, shall I live in bliss,
While in the tomb thy sainted innocence
Sleeps unavenged? Thou Ruler of our days,
All-just, all-wise, let not thy world behold
Such rank injustice! No—I saw her tears
Flowing for me: I too was dear to her—
I am content, and now I follow thee!
(Adapted from the translation by A. Lodge in The Works of Frederick Schiller, vol. 3, Bohn's Standard Library, London, 1847, p. 516)
‘… they are to perform the play without even realizing that they have been introducing the chorus of ancient tragedy.’ (February 6, 1803)
Cf. Letter to Iffland, April 22, 1803.
Cf. Letter to Körner, October 16, 1803.
Cf. Letter to Goethe, February 8, 1804.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10295
SOURCE: “Necessity and Freedom,” in Friedrich Schiller's Drama: Theory and Practice, The Clarendon Press, 1954, pp. 126-54.
[In the following essay, Stahl discusses Schiller's last plays, Die Braut von Messina, Wilhelm Tell, and the fragment Demetrius, and finds in them several new features—notably the exploration of the tension between necessity and free will, the external rather than the internal compulsion of characters, and tragic action based on the transformation of the hero's character—that indicate a shift in style and emphasis in Schiller's dramatic works and a development in his notion of tragedy.]
The new features of Schiller's last plays are striking enough to make us question once more how far his theory of tragedy may assist in the interpretation of his creative work. Whereas the theory is unthinkable without the notion of a single hero, neither Die Braut von Messina nor Wilhelm Tell possesses an individual protagonist. Moreover, these dramas portray human beings acting under compulsion far more strongly than the earlier plays. The tragic problem no longer appears to hinge on the interaction of character and circumstance; it seems to embrace a wider question involving the relation between necessity and free will in wholegroups of characters as well as individual persons.
Here Über das Erhabene, first written between 1793 and 1795 and probably rewritten before publication in 1801, gives an indication of the movement of Schiller's thought. He identifies nature with fate and glorifies the triumph of the human will over ‘savage and destructive nature’.1 This view of nature is in striking contrast to the opinions he expressed in Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung and it should warn us that his conception of fate is not the normal one. He includes in the concept of fate or necessity the notions of injustice and tyranny which we should assign primarily to the realm of social responsibility,2 so that the opposition he envisages in the conflict between the human will and nature may be said to represent a collision between rational and irrational forces. This view is also suggested by his inclusion of sensuous impulses and instincts in the idea of fate. As far as he was concerned it was immaterial whether the irrational force operated in the human or nonhuman world, for he believed that the supremacy of the will could and should manifest itself in combat with both worlds. We must bear in mind his conception of the struggle between fate and free will when we examine Don Cesar's motives for committing suicide in Die Braut von Messina and Tell's motives for killing Geßler, and ask ourselves whether these are sublime actions in Schiller's original sense.
Soon after he had completed Die Jungfrau von Orleans he wrote to Körner that he felt ‘a keen desire to try my hand at writing a simple tragedy in the strictest Greek style’ and mentioned a plot which was entirely his own invention.3 He invented the story of Die Braut von Messina in order to treat his material ‘nach der strengsten griechischen Form’ without adhering too closely to the Greek idea of fate. He also chose the setting of the play with deliberate care: the action takes place after the Norman conquest of Sicily. As he pointed out in another letter to Körner, this choice of time and place enabled him to give his work a composite mythological character:
Das Ideenkostüm, das ich mir erlaubte, hat dadurch seine Rechtfertigung, daß die Handlung nach Messina versetzt ist, wo sich Christentum, griechische Mythologie und Mohamedanismus wirklich begegnet und vermischt haben. … Die Vermischung dieser drei Mythologien, die sonst den Charakter aufheben würde, wird also hier selbst zum Charakter.4
He did not wish to offer a direct imitation of Greek tragedy. While the influence of Sophocles is again unmistakable—in his letter to Körner he mentions Oedipus as his model—the invention of a legend not derived from Greek sources, and the fusion of the fate theme with that of the incestuous love of two brothers for their sister, give the drama an individual stamp. Its modern features were no less obvious to Schiller's contemporaries than its Greek characteristics,5 for a view similar to Herder's idea of fate underlies the presentation of the tragic complications: ‘Nur also durch Menschen-charaktere wirke das Schicksal, doch so, daß jene unter der Gewalt dieses wirken.’6 The decisive factor in the action of Die Braut von Messina is not an inscrutable supernatural power, but the behaviour of the principal characters, and in the last resort Isabella's responsibility is shared by her deceased husband and their three children.
Throughout the tragedy the reigning family is described as ‘the alien race’, and Isabella herself recognizes that the inhabitants of the city bear a deep hatred towards her and her family:
Wie könnten sie's von Herzen mit euch meinen,
Den Fremdlingen, dem eingedrungnen Stamm,
Der aus dem eignen Erbe sie vertrieben,
Sich über sie der Herrschaft angemaßt?7
Yet Schiller does not motivate the tragedy from this circumstance.8 It is not the fact that the deceased Prince has been a foreign usurper per that brings about the downfall of his race. The disaster is caused by conditions prevailing within the family rather than by political opposition. The Prince's despotic rule over his children is the primary cause of the tragedy. In her first speech to the elders of Messina, Isabella describes his tyrannical nature, and later the chorus gives an account of his original guilt:
Auch ein Raub war's, wie wir alle wissen,
Der des alten Fürsten eheliches Gemahl
In ein frevelnd Ehebett gerissen,
Denn sie war des Vaters Wahl.
Und der Ahnherr schüttete im Zorne
Grauenvoller Flüche schrecklichen Samen
Auf das sündige Ehebett aus. …
Ja, es hat nieht gut begonnen,
Glaubt mir, und es endet nicht gut,
Denn gebßt wird unter der Sonnen
Jede Tat der verblendeten Wut.
Es ist kein Zufall und blindes Los,
Daß die Brüder sich wütend selbst zerstören,
Denn verflucht ward der Mutter Schoß,
Sie sollte den Haß und den Streit gebären.9
If there is a supernatural power dominating the Prince's family, it is Nemesis rather than chance: the sins of the father are visited upon the children.
The Prince's intemperate character is the first, but not the only, cause of the tragic entanglements depicted in the play. When Don Manuel refuses to reveal the name of his bride, Isabella recognizes his secretiveness as an inherited trait:
Des Vaters eignen Sinn und Geist erkenn’ ich
In meinem erstgebornen Sohn! Der liebte
Von jeher, sich verborgen in sich selbst
Zu spinnen und den Ratschluß zu bewahren
Im unzugangbar fest verschlossenen Gemüt!10
This failing taints all the members of the family. The father is not its sole begetter, for the children inherit it from their mother as well.11 Isabella's actions are just as surreptitious as those of her husband when she secretly consults the monk about her dream and conceals Beatrice in a convent, and she bears much of the blame for the situation that arises because she unnecessarily delays the discovery of her secret. The magnitude of her guilt is recognized by Don Cesar when he lays his fearful curse on her.
The difference between Sophocles and Schiller becomes clear when we consider this point. In Oedipus Rex the tragedy is not caused by the operation of an hereditary curse, nor is the secret intentionally devised by any of the characters, as is the case in Die Braut von Messina. Here all the characters are under a curse and by their acts of concealment as well as their intemperate conduct they bring about the catastrophe. Only through their inability to curb their passions are the oracles fulfilled whereby the sister both unites her brothers and encompasses their destruction.
Isabella's guilt lies in her secretive and dominating bearing. She ‘clings to a position resting on the force of fear and power alone’.12 An even more serious flaw is her total lack of moral sense: her attitude to the outside world is animated by hatred and arrogance. This is true of her relationship not only with the citizens of Messina but also with the gods. She never admits that her husband's guilt and her own are the real cause of her family's misfortune. Twice she uses the image of pouring lava to describe the deadly feud of her sons, only to profess her ignorance of its origin:
Hier ist das Mein und Dein,
Die Rache von der Schuld nicht mehr zu sondern.
—Wer möchte noch das alte Bette finden
Des Schwefelstroms, der glühend sich ergoß?13
Lacking humility she attributes her unhappiness to a Verhängnis, a Schicksal, a tückisch Wesen or neid'scher Dämon. This attitude culminates in her defiance of the gods:
Was kümmert's mich noch, ob die Götter sich
Als Lügner zeigen, oder sich als wahr
Bestätigen? Mir haben sie das Ärgste
Getan—Trotz biet’ ich ihnen, mich noch härter
Zu treffen, als sie trafen—Wer für nichts mehr
Zu zittern hat, der fürchtet sie nicht mehr.14
It is difficult to believe that Schiller intended us to feel admiration or pity for Isabella when she exclaims these passionate and rebellious words. A comparison between her behaviour and that of Johanna in the fourth act of Die Jungfrau von Orleans suggests that it was not his purpose to portray Isabella as a sublime character.
We come to a similar conclusion when we consider Don Cesar. His death is the only instance we have in Schiller's dramas of self-immolation which is an act of outright suicide, and in this respect it differs even from Posa's self-sacrifice. Is it also an example of das Erhabene der Handlung dictated by Reue and Buβe? True, when the chorus reminds him that the wrath of heaven may be ransomed by ‘fromme Büßung’, Cesar replies:
Bußfert’ge Sühne, weiß ich, nimmt der Himmel an,
Doch nur mit Blute büßt sich ab der blut’ge Mord.
Later he declares that the curse upon his family can only be redeemed by an act of free will:
Den alten Fluch des Hauses lös’ ich sterbend auf,
Der freie Tod nur bricht die Kette des Geschicks.15
These sentiments may be called sublime in Schiller's sense: by committing suicide Don Cesar vindicates the principle of freedom. Yet his suicide is also dictated by a passionate urge:
Mich laß dem Geist gehorchen, der mich furchtbar treibt,
Denn in das Innre kann kein Glücklicher mir schaun.16
He explains this impulse in his reply to Isabella's plea that a life of penance would bring him peace and forgiveness:
Lebe, wer's kann, ein Leben der Zerknirschung,
Mit strengen Bußkasteiungen allmählich
Abschöpfend eine ew’ge Schuld—Ich kann
Nicht leben, Mutter, mit gebrochnem Herzen.
Aufblicken muß ich freudig zu den Frohen
Und in den Äther greifen über mir
Mit freiem Geist—Der Neid vergiftete mein Leben,
Da wir noch deine Liebe gleich geteilt.
Denkst du, daß ich den Vorzug werde tragen,
Den ihm dein Schmerz gegeben über mich?17
Don Cesar's motives for committing suicide, like those of Posa for courting death, compound idealism with egotism: his resolve to kill himself is an emotional rather than a moral decision.
One cannot say that Schiller abandoned his ideal of sublimity when he wrote Die Braut von Messina, but in Isabella and Don Cesar he portrayed the defeat of that ideal through the supremacy of passion. While arousing sympathy for them he did not wish to excite admiration in equal measure. The distinctive feature of the play is its emphasis on the emotional behaviour of its leading characters, the rational and reflective tones being assigned in the main to the chorus. Not even in Die Räuber or Don Carlos do we find conduct so consistently motivated from the irrational springs of human nature. Schiller uses the influence of heredity in Die Braut von Messina as nowhere else in his dramatic work. What strikes one in some of his earlier dramas is the decisive, yet unaccountable, difference in the character of members belonging to the same family, such as the brothers in Die Räuber and father and son in Kabale und Liebe or Don Carlos. In Die Braut von Messina the children take after their parents: they obey ‘the voice of nature, the power of blood’.18 The power which drives them to their doom is not merely an external force; their fate is in their blood. It would be absurd to claim Die Braut von Messina as a forerunner of Ghosts, for Schiller's conception of heredity derives from the doctrine of original sin rather than from biological theory. Yet it is remarkable that behind the statuesque form of his most severely classical play he revealed a source of life lying deeper than the mainsprings he had hitherto recognized.
That he wished to accentuate this aspect may be inferred from the importance he gave to the contrast between the destructive power of human passion and the idyllic landscape of Messina, just as he had stressed the beauty of Sicily in his Universalhistorische Übersicht when he opposed the bounty of nature in the island to the devastating passions of its conquerors.19 In this respect the idea of fate in Die Braut von Messina is narrower than in Über das Erhabene, where Schiller describes the destructive power of nature in order to assert the high value of man's sublime conquest of nature:
Wer bestaunt nicht lieber den wunderbaren Kampf zwischen Fruchtbarkeit und Zerstörung in Siziliens Fluren … Niemand wird leugnen, daß in Bataviens Triften für den physischen Menschen besser gesorgt ist als unter dem tückischen Krater des Vesuv. … Aber der Mensch hat noch ein Bedürfnis mehr, als zu leben und sich wohl sein zu lassen. … 20
Significantly, it is left to Isabella in Die Braut von Messina to dwell on nature's destructiveness without asserting the ideal of sublimity. The chorus, on the other hand, remarks on the contrast between human and inanimate nature which underlies the tragic developments of the drama:
Wohl dem! Selig muß ich ihn preisen,
Der in der Stille der ländlichen Flur,
Fern von des Lebens verworrenen Kreisen,
Kindlich liegt an der Brust der Natur.21
In one of his letters to Körner, Schiller states that he intended the chorus to serve two different functions. It stands outside the action and speaks directly to the audience; it also participates in the action with Don Manuel and Don Cesar. In the first instance it is meant to represent a ‘forum of justice’, in the second an embodiment of popular superstition and zeal.22 By giving his chorus an active as well as a passive role, Schiller intentionally departed from the practice observable in the best-known Greek dramas: he also gave point to the idealistic nature of his play. Moreover, by frankly conceding this feature of the work in the brilliantly written preface, Über den Gebrauch des Chors in der Tragödie, he gave the best defence of his artistic purpose.
Here he states his opinion that the introduction of the chorus in Greek tragedy was a natural development reflecting the normal Greek method of conducting public affairs in the open air, whereas in northern countries assemblies take place behind closed doors. This observation leads him to offer a significant explanation of the poet's function in modern times: ‘Der Dichter muß die Paläste wieder auftun, er muß die Gerichte unter freien Himmel herausführen, er muß die Götter wieder aufstellen. …’23 The Preface is his last public affirmation of his aesthetic creed entailing the rejection of naturalism in poetry and dramatic art. He recognizes the introduction of the chorus as a valid means of achieving his idealistic aims:
Die Einführung des Chors wäre der letzte, der entscheidende Schritt—und wenn derselbe auch nur dazu diente, dem Naturalism in der Kunst offen und ehrlich den Krieg zu erklären, so sollte er uns eine lebendige Mauer sein, die die Tragödie um sich herumzieht, um sich von der wirklichen Welt rein abzuschließen und sich ihren idealen Boden, ihre poetische Freiheit zu bewahren.24
In his earlier plays he had used crowds to a different end: the robbers in Die Räuber and the soldiers in Wallensteins Lager are partisans; they act solely as foils to the enterprises of the heroes. Die Braut von Messina is Schiller's only tragedy in which the crowds are also ‘ideal spectators’ and commentators upon the actions of the principal characters, thus partly expressing the author's own judgements and feelings. In this way he was able to import into tragedy a subjective element which is, as he recognized in agreement with Goethe, not necessarily incompatible with the objective presentation demanded by the genre.25 And since this subjectivism manifests itself in the expression of states of mind as well as ideas, a lyric strain pervades his choric odes. He envisaged a musical setting for these odes26 and used all the resources of the lyricist's art at his command—intricate patterns of rhythm and rhyme, supple and suggestive word-formations and numerous refrains of phrases, lines, and stanzas—to promote this end. The choric songs of Die Braut von Messina are among the best lyric poetry he wrote. The growth of a lyric strain in his dramas since Maria Stuart has been noticed, and here Die Braut von Messina represents his best achievement, to be equalled only by Demetrius.
Wilhelm Tell is the final product of Schiller's development in a different way. The compulsion on the principal figure is entirely external. This profoundly affects the moral issue. When we consider Schiller's presentation of guilt and moral responsibility in the dramas written after he worked out his theory of tragedy, we note a gradual shift of emphasis. Maria Stuart's culpability can still be clearly defined: in Die Jungfrau von Orleans we have to ask ourselves to what extent the heroine is responsible for her transgression. Johanna incurs guilt although she is, at least partly, ruled by a power beyond her own control. The problem of her responsibility is much more complex than that which confronts us when we consider the crimes of Schiller's earlier heroes, and the same is to a large extent true of Don Cesar. The tragic problem in these later plays may be stated in the terms which Herder used to describe the issue implicit in the Greek tragedians' conception of necessity: ‘Hier war die Frage nicht: Warum solche Schicksale die Menschen treffen? Sondern, wenn und weil sie sie treffen, wie sind sie anzusehen, wie zu ertragen?’27 The crux is not merely the origin of guilt, but the moral demand consequent on the visitation of guilt, and here Schiller's idea of sublime conduct still holds good. We have also seen that he altered the Greek conception of necessity by imputing a human origin to fated calamities, although he dealt with this side of the tragic actions more summarily than in his earlier plays. For this reason it is also true to say that in Die Jungfrau von Orleans and Die Braut von Messina he still presents a moral issue, though he does not treat the problem of responsibility as resulting from a premeditated act of guilt.
By contrast, such a tragic problem is of secondary importance in Wilhelm Tell. True, the Schauspiel contains hidden depths of tragedy.28 When Schiller began to write it he remarked in a letter to Wilhelm von Wolzogen that he planned eine gro[b.beta ]e Tragödie.29 But the finished work is not a tragedy: it is his only dramatic composition to avoid a tragic issue. In this respect it resembles Goethe's Iphigenie, on which Schiller passed a severe judgement: ‘Jede Wirkung, die ich von diesem Stücke teils an mir selbst, teils an andern erfahren, ist, generisch poetisch, nicht tragisch gewesen, und so wird es immer sein, wenn eine Tragödie, auf epische Art, verfehlt wird.’30
The remark may be applied to Wilhelm Tell with more justice. Schiller undertook to dramatize the revolt of the Swiss cantons at Goethe's suggestion when the latter abandoned his plan to write an epic on the subject. Goethe's choice of genre was clearly the right one, if it is true that a national war is a theme that lends itself more readily to epic than dramatic treatment. The story of Tell offered potential material for a tragedy only if his aims and methods could be made to conflict with those of his fellow countrymen or if he was made to perform a deed which either he or his compatriots should subsequently disavow. Neither of these contingencies arises in Schiller's play. Although his Tell refuses to make common cause with the confederates of the Rütli and goes his own way, there is no question of a real conflict between them or within Tell himself. The much criticized ‘Parricida scene’ in Act V shows the total absence of such a conflict in Tell: far from revolting against his own assassination of Geßler, he utterly denies that he has done wrong, and the last scene of the play proves beyond doubt that he also enjoys the acclamation of his fellow countrymen. He has no need to exhibit moral sublimity, since in Schiller's presentation he has not committed a crime demanding expiation by means of Reue und Verzweiflung.31
When Schiller considered writing eine gro[b.beta ]e Tragödie he may have had in mind a conflict like that mentioned by Tschudi in Chronicon Helveticum, where Tell's independent action arouses the displeasure of the confederates. On the other hand he may have contemplated a struggle similar to that in Die Jungfrau von Orleans. There is some evidence for believing that the latter was his original intention. On 17 March 1802 he wrote to Körner:
Du wirst mich fragen, warum ich denn den Warbeck habe liegen lassen; ich habe viel über das Stück gedacht, und werde es auch unfehlbar mit Success ausführen. Aber ein anderes Sujet hat sich gefunden, das mich jetzt ungleich stärker anzieht, und welches ich getrost auf die Jungrau von Orleans kann folgen lassen.32
In other letters written at about the same time he calls his material ‘accursed’ and the problem he set himself ‘an infernal task’ because he found it difficult to treat a specific and localized event in such a way as to give it general validity.33 When he began the work his mind was ruled by the idealistic principles he had hitherto followed in composing his tragedies: he was preoccupied with the invention of a moral crisis not vouchsafed by history but essential to his conception of tragedy. In the first stages of writing Wilhelm Tell his aims were thus not very different from those he followed when he invented the heroine's guilt in Die Jungfrau von Orleans.
A change occurred when he decided to produce a Schauspiel dealing with the liberation of the Swiss Cantons as the principal theme, rather than a tragedy embodying the idea of sublimity. The change appears to have taken place towards the end of 1803. His final decision to write a Volksstück explains why Wilhelm Tell became such a singular work among his dramas. It owes its instantaneous and lasting appeal to his success in carrying through this design. Yet his idealistic principle remained inviolate despite the concessions he made to popular taste, as may be seen when we examine his reasons for dividing the dramatic action into two parts and separating the Tell-Geßler episode from the main plot. Although the play is one of his most effective stage productions, its lack of unity is an obvious flaw which is first discovered in the motivation of Tell's absence from the Rütli meeting.
In Act I, Scene 3, Tell is exhorted to make common cause with the representatives of the Cantons, but he refuses to take part in their deliberations:
Ich kann nicht lange prüfen oder wählen;
Bedürft ihr meiner zu bestimmter Tat,
Dann ruft den Tell, es soll an mir nicht fehlen.34
Subsequently he kills Geßler without having been called upon by the confederates and without reference to their resolutions. In one important respect his independent action is contrary to the policy they have adopted in obedience to Stauffacher's exhortation:
Bezähme jeder die gerechte Wut
Und spare für das Ganze seine Rache:
Denn Raub begeht am allgemeinen Gut,
Wer selbst sich hilft in seiner eignen Sache.35
The uprising of the Swiss is a bloodless revolt. Its incentive is not strictly revolutionary but conservative. The rebels do not wish to inaugurate a new order: they try to preserve the ancient rights which their Austrian rulers threaten to take away.
In another respect, however, Tell's deed accords with the policy of the Rütlibund. It is inspired not by vengeance but by the necessity to ward off further danger.36 In his crucial monologue beginning ‘Durch diese hohle Gasse muß er kommen’ he ponders the danger threatening his family rather than the wrong Geßler has already done to him, and in his encounter with Johann von Schwaben he rejects the comparison of Parricida's crime with his own deed.37
It is noticeable that neither in his monologue nor in this scene does Tell mention the national cause, although he reassures Hedwig, in the second scene of the last act, that he has defended his family as well as saved the country from tyranny by killing Geßler. When he kills Geßler the national idea is far from his mind. Schiller made it quite clear that the assassination was not inspired by patriotic motives and he stressed the point in a letter to Iffland which also contains some interesting information about his method of writing the play. Iffland had requested him to send in each act as soon as it was completed, and Schiller replied that he could not do that, since he did not compose each act separately:
Gerne wollte ich Ihnen das Stück aktenweise zuschicken, aber es entsteht nicht aktenweise, sondern die Sache erfordert, daß ich gewisse Handlungen, die zusammen gehören, durch alle fünf Akte durchführe, und dann erst zu andern übergehe. So z. B. steht der Tell selbst ziemlich für sich in dem Stück, seine Sache ist eine Privatsache, und bleibt es, bis sie am Schluß mit der öffentlichen Sache zusammengreift.38
From all we know about Schiller's method of writing his other plays, as for instance when we consider the evidence of the scenarios he made for Don Carlos and for Demetrius, this piecemeal procedure was not his customary manner. In Wilhelm Tell it was dictated by his resolve to keep the two actions of the play as widely separate as possible. Was he justified in claiming that Tell's private cause coincides with the public cause at the end of the play? It surely comes as a surprise to hear Tell acclaimed the country's saviour and to see him accept the homage of the assembled people in the final scenes. The closing tableau, from which the freedom-loving Bertha and the former renegade Rudenz are not missing, is an effective dramatic device: it is also Schiller's belated attempt to establish a unity which the play, in effect, does not possess. The coherence of the original conception was destroyed when he changed the gro[b.beta ]e Tragödie into a Schauspiel and made the national theme its dramatic pivot, without either reducing Tell's importance in the work as a whole or raising him to the position of national leader.
In many ways Schiller closely followed the accounts of the Swiss revolt in his principal sources, Etterlin's and Tschudi's chronicles; he borrowed a large number of incidents, references, words and phrases from them. In one respect, however, he departed from his authorities. They bring out the fact that, although Tell was present at the Rütli meeting and took the same oath as the other conspirators, his later actions were contrary to his oath and aroused the disapproval of his fellow men. Tschudi also makes it clear that the murder of Geßler did not influence the course of the national revolt. Similarly, in Johannes von Müller's Geschichte Schweizerischer Eidgenossenschaft (1786-8) Tell's deed is presented as a mere episode. He is a member of the Bund, but, although he kills Geßler for patriotic reasons, the war is fought without his active participation and he does not assist in the counsels of those who promote it.39
The complete detachment of Tell from the Bund is Schiller's innovation. He had good reasons for making such an absolute separation, although it involved him in serious technical difficulties. When we consider why he gave Tell a dominating role without also making him the real hero of his play, we must take his political views into account, particularly his judgement of the French Revolution. Their relevance may be seen from the dedicatory poem accompanying the presentation copy he sent to Erzkanzler von Dalberg in 1804. Here he distinguishes between the just and the unjust use of violence in the fight for freedom. In Briefe über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen he similarly condemned the employment of physical force to bring about social and political change and relied on aesthetic education as the only safe means of redressing the balance of right and wrong in society. But he condoned the use of violence as a purely defensive measure, provided that it did not exceed humane limits, for instance
… wenn ein Volk, das fromm die Herden weidet,
Sich selbst genug nicht fremden Guts begehrt,
Den Zwang abwirft, den es unwürdig leidet,
Doch selbst im Zorn die Menschlichkeit noch ehrt. …40
This view led him to idealize the rising of the Swiss and characterize it as a limited resistance movement. He presented it as a bloodless war led by rightminded Biedermänner like Stauffacher and Walther Fürst, not as a revolt of the infuriated lower orders, and eliminated its social aspect, the battle of the peasantry against their aristocratic masters. The romantic Bertha-Rudenz episode, an invention on Schiller's part, serves to obscure this side of the popular movement in the interest of portraying the Swiss as a compact and harmonious nation. Nothing could be more at variance with historical fact than the last line of the play. The liberation of the serfs was not the magnanimous deed of a socially minded aristocracy, but the achievement of the peasants after a long and arduous struggle. These facts are only important in so far as they help to explain Schiller's presentation of the material.
His characterization of the Swiss owes much to Johannes von Müller, who stressed the humanitarian nature of the popular revolt. The two writers held the same political views and Schiller accepted the Swiss historian's account of the uprising as being based on the people's historic rights. He did not, however, accept von Müller's justification of Geßler's murder. For Schiller it could not be justified on political grounds but only as a defensive act in a Privatsache revealing ‘das Notwendige und Rechtliche der Selbsthilfe in einem streng bestimmten Fall’.41 Thus Schiller's Tell is not faced with a tragic dilemma. His monologue in Act IV, Scene 3, differs from the monologues of Fiesco and Wallenstein at similarly decisive moments in that he does not consider the rights and wrongs of his projected deed, nor has he any cause to do so. He is not aware of any conflict between duty and inclination because such a conflict does not arise. He obeys the moral law; he does not transgress it. Moral necessity impels him and he freely chooses to submit to its compulsion. He follows the dictates of reason, not passion, and thus, unlike Maria Stuart or Johanna d’Arc, he has no need to achieve either das Erhabene der Fassung or das Erhabene der Handlung, although he exemplifies an untragic form of sublimity by his willing performance of an arduous task:
Diese Sinnesart aber, welche die Moral unter dem Begriff der Resignation in die Notwendigkeit und die Religion unter dem Begriff der Ergebung in den göttlichen Ratschluß lehret, erfordert, wenn sie ein Werk der freien Wahl und Überlegung sein soll, schon eine größere Klarheit des Denkens und eine höhere Energie des Willens, als dem Menschen im handelnden Leben eigen zu sein pflegt.42
In Wilhelm Tell Schiller created his only non-tragic sublime hero. By separating the Geßler action from the main plot he presented both the national uprising and the assassination as morally justifiable. He could not allow Tell to participate in the deliberations on the Rütli or figure in the organized revolt, since the revolt would have been prejudiced by being directly linked to the killing of the Landvogt. The national victory had to be won by storming and burning the castles without bloodshed. Walther Fürst praises his followers for having gained their victory in this irreproachable way:
Wohl Euch, daß Ihr den reinen Sieg
Mit Blute nicht geschändet.43
In the same scene Stauffacher proclaims Tell the founder of Swiss freedom. The contradiction is not resolved. Iffland had urged Schiller to complete the work as quickly as possible and he was the first to recognize that the conclusion lacked sound motivation.
Again, it was Iffland who called Schiller's attention to the theatrical qualities inherent in the material, and the author did not fail to show his dramaturgic skill in the grouping and movement of masses on the stage and the employment of tension and surprise. In this respect the work is a masterpiece. Thus during the apple-shooting scene our attention is diverted from Tell by the skilfully prepared intervention of Rudenz and Bertha whereby the effectiveness of Tell's success is heightened. Similarly, Geßler's assassination is ingeniously handled: our expectations are successively aroused, retarded, intensified, and finally fulfilled. Such masterly scenes assured the play instantaneous applause.
It was hailed as a masterpiece of realistic stagecraft. Yet unqualified realism was not what Schiller aimed at producing, in spite of his frequent use of Swiss idioms in the peasants' homely speech. He did not wish to make the peasants true to life. The word Biedermann occurs frequently and is an apt description. It fits Schiller's Swiss citizens very well and here Tell is the true representative of his people, an exemplar of idealized middle-class virtues.44 All the characters indulge in the habit of expressing themselves in aphorisms, and none more consistently, and even tediously, than Tell. His speech abounds in maxims, apophthegms, generalizations, and their theme is usually the dignity and the duty of man. Schiller brings out this moralizing bent from the beginning and thus we have no cause to be surprised when this side of his character asserts itself in his meeting with Johannes von Schwaben. Some critics discern a development in Tell from the peace-loving citizen at the beginning of the play to the unwilling criminal at the end. This is reading too much into the work. In truth Wilhelm Tell remains throughout a model of propriety. Schiller's last Schauspiel is also his only authentic tribute to bourgeois virtue in dramatic form.
In this respect the play is more closely allied to poems like Der Spaziergang and Das Lied von der Glocke than to his other dramatic work. When he had completed Der Spaziergang in 1795 he wrote to Wilhelm von Humboldt that he was planning to write an idyllic poem in the reflective style, a pendant to the elegiac poem he had just finished:
Ich will eine Idylle schreiben, wie ich hier eine Elegie schrieb. Alle meine poetischen Kräfte spannen sich zu dieser Energie noch an. … In der sentimentalischen Dichtkunst (und aus dieser heraus kann ich nicht) ist die Idylle das höchste, aber auch das schwierigste Problem.45
His plan did not mature, but we may look upon Wilhelm Tell as the fulfilment of his long-cherished desire.46 There can be little doubt that he intentionally competed with Goethe when he undertook to dramatize the story of Tell. His profound admiration for his friend did not exclude a sense of rivalry. ‘He has aroused in me a peculiar mixture of hate and love’ he had written in 1789.47 When their acquaintance ripened into friendship, Schiller's ‘hatred’ mellowed into a keen awareness of the fundamental differences between their natures and their art. This is clearly shown in Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung. The section on idyllic poetry evinces his desire to rival Goethe's achievement. He exhorts the reflective poet to vie with and even surpass the ‘naïve’ writer by relinquishing pastoral subjects and depicting perfection in higher forms of social and cultural life:
Er mache sich die Aufgabe einer Idylle, welche jene Hirtenunschuld auch in Subjekten der Kultur und unter allen Bedingungen des rüstigsten feurigsten Lebens, des ausgebreitetsten Denkens, der raffiniertesten Kunst, der höchsten gesellschaftlichen Verfeinerung ausführt, welche, mit einem Wort, den Menschen, der nun einmal nicht mehr nach Arkadien zurück kann, bis nach Elysium führt.48
‘Der Begriff dieser Idylle’, Schiller continues, ‘ist der Begriff eines völlig aufgelösten Kampfes sowohl in dem einzelnen Mensch en als in der Gesellschaft, einer freien Vereinigung der Neigungen mit dem Gesetze, einer zur höchsten sittlichen Würde hinaufgeläuterten Natur. …’49 The story of Wilhelm Tell and the Swiss uprising offered him an opportunity to portray such an ‘idyllic’ ideal of harmony in the individual and in society. Despite its singular position in the body of his dramatic work, Wilhelm Tell represents a culmination of his poetic development.
However important one may consider the difference between Wilhelm Tell and his other dramas, there is little justification for believing that it denotes a radical change in his outlook. His decision to write a Schauspiel does not mean that he resolved a tragic problem inherent in his earlier plays, if we mean by that a tragic problem of a personal kind such as the one that troubled Heinrich von Kleist. Problems of this kind did not exist for Schiller: they were ruled out by his adherence to the doctrine of harmony. The new task he set himself in Wilhelm Tell was no more than technical, namely to write a drama in the ‘idyllic’ manner.
In a different way the composition of Demetrius marks the execution of a project of some years' standing without denoting, as far as we can judge from the evidence at our disposal a decisive turn in the author's development.50 There are several new features in this fragmentary work and they are not lacking in significance, but there does not appear to be any fundamental difference between Demetrius and the dramas that immediately preceded it: Schiller again explores the relation between necessity and free will.
The beginnings are closely linked with his plan for a tragedy on Perkin Warbeck which he first formed in 1799. On 20 August of that year he wrote to Goethe outlining his views on the difference between a comic and a tragic treatment of the subject. In the former case the contrast between the pretender's claims and his inability to play the desired part would form the centre of interest; in the latter case the claims would seem to be substantiated by the pretender's capacity to act the chosen role. The tragedy would consist in the fact that he was being exploited by those who supported him, not in the fact that he was incompetent or that he was defeated by his enemies:
Was die Behandlung des erwähnten Stoffs betrifft, so müßte man, däucht mir, das Gegenteil von dem tun, was der Komödiendichter daraus machen würde. Dieser würde durch den Kontrast des Betrügers mit seiner großen Rolle und seine Inkompetenz zu derselben das Lächerliche hervorbringen. In der Tragödie müßte er als zu seiner Rolle geboren erscheinen und er müßte sie sich so sehr zu eigen machen, daß mit denen, die ihn zu ihrem Werkzeug gebrauchen und als ihr Geschöpf behandeln wollten, interessante Kämpfe entstünden. Die Katastrophe müßte durch seine Anhänger und Beschützer, nicht durch seine Feinde … herbeigeführt werden.51
This passage is interesting for several reasons. It shows how little justified one is in seeking a purely personal bias behind Schiller's idea of tragedy: this thesis is disproved by his readiness to contemplate treating the same subject in a comic and a tragic manner. The passage also specifies his conception of the inward nature of tragic conflicts by his prescription that the catastrophe should be brought about through the hero's friends rather than his enemies.
Schiller soon found that he was unable to write the kind of tragedy he had in mind because the story of Perkin Warbeck was devoid of dramatic action and ended inconclusively. Instead he chose the history of Dmitri which commended itself for the ‘greatness of its subject and scope’.52 It offered him what the story of the English pretender lacked: Dmitri did become Czar of Russia, whereas Warbeck's whole enterprise miscarried. Dmitri's success, attended by an awareness that his claims were false, presented itself as the climax of a tragic action:
Der am höchsten hervorragende Punkt oder der Gipfel der Handlung ist der Einzug des falschen Demetrius als wirklicher Czar zu Moskau, mit dem Bewußtsein, daß er ein Betrüger. Auf diese Partie fällt das höchste Licht der Darstellung. Bis dahin ist alles Streben und Hoffnung; von da an beginnt die Furcht und das Unglück.53
Schiller thus conceived the action as a development from innocence to consciousness of guilt in the hero himself. One of the main problems was to motivate the pretender's claim to the throne, and here Schiller decided to make his hero a victim of deceit, the tool of a vindictive enemy of the ruling Czar: ‘Hauptsächlich ist zu erfinden, wie Demetrius für den Zaarowitz erkannt wird, ohne selbst zu betrügen, und wie auch er getäuscht wird. Jemand muß schlechterdings sein, der diesen Betrug absichtlich schmiedet, und die Absicht muß klar und begreiflich sein.’54 The invention of such a fabricator doli kept him busy for a long time, and he finally decided in favour of ‘a vengeful and intriguing priest whom Boris [the ruling Czar] has mortally offended’.55 The heritage of the Sturm und Drang is evinced once more.
Demetrius manifests the continuity and the development of Schiller's tragic themes in another way. He described the drama as das Gegenstück of Die Jungfrau von Orleans—an apt description, since he was again portraying an inner conflict arising from an external struggle. Both Johanna and Demetrius have a mission, but whereas the former violates the terms of her vocation, the latter is tragic because his quest is a false one and he fails to give it up when his true origin is revealed to him. Dramatically, his guilt is more intimately linked to his enterprise, although he is, to begin with, a victim of circumstance. In Schiller's words Demetrius ‘first appears in a state of happy innocence, for the real tragedy lies in the fact that the circumstances finally plunge him into guilt and crime’.56 It is, however, significant that his claims are disproved before he ascends the throne, so that he still has a chance to give up his undertaking. This he fails to do; he is a tragic figure not merely because he is a victim of the priest's intrigue, but also, and perhaps predominantly, because he does not summon, or even possess, the moral strength to renounce his false pretensions while there is time. Like Wallenstein he succumbs to temptation without recovering his moral integrity by achieving sublimity. His tragedy, however, is not as ambiguous as Wallenstein's, for his enterprise is not tainted by selfish desires at the outset, nor is it backed up by a belief in astrology or a similar realist creed.
Demetrius may also be compared with Die Verschwörung des Fiesco zu Genua.57 Both dramas deal with the theme of usurpation. But Schiller had moved far since writing his second tragedy. According to his Studienheft, one of his principal interests in his last and incomplete work was the hero's change of character resulting from his change of fortune, the ‘Glücks- und Sinneswechsel des Demetrius' or, in a similar phrase, ‘Demetrius Glückswechsel und Charakterwechsel’.58 This conception opened up new possibilities of treating one of his abiding tragic themes. In his earlier dramas he had shown how the misfortunes of his heroes were caused by an inherent weakness of character. Their tragedy was occasioned by their natural predispositions no less than the situations in which they found themselves. Schiller had adhered to the psychological views of those eighteenth-century thinkers who regarded human beings as fixed entities and ruled out the notion of change.59 Now, at the end of his life, he envisaged a tragic action based upon a radical transformation of the hero's character:
Der falsche Demetrius glaubt an sich selbst bis auf den Augenblick wo er in Moskau soll einziehen. Hier wird er an sich irre, einer entdeckt ihm seine wahre Geburt und dies bringt eine schnelle unglückselige Veränderung im Charakter des Betrogenen hervor.60
The motivation of Fiesco's lust for power must be sought in himself: he is the sole instigator of prevarication and deceit. Demetrius' case is different. He is not predisposed to tyranny because he has been slowly corrupted by a like craving: a sudden change is wrought in him from without by the unexpected revelation of the truth.61
When Schiller abandoned the Warbeck plan in favour of Demetrius, he had come to realize the greater tragic potentiality of usurpation based on deceit over mere ambition. He also felt that the Russian story offered a larger number of splendid dramatic situations which encouraged the application of a special technique. In the introductory note to his Szenar for the play he observed that the material required the construction of a rapidly moving action: there should be no reversion to earlier events, and continuous progress must only be arrested at the peak of each episode. To fulfil these demands he elected to compose acts and scenes that were to be self-contained and complete in themselves to an unusual degree:
Weil die Handlung groß und reichhaltig ist, und eine Welt von Begebenheiten in sich begreift, so muß mit einem kühnen Machtschritt auf den höchsten und bedeutungsvollsten Momenten hingeschritten werden. Jede Bewegung muß die Handlung um ein merkliches weiter bringen. … Was dahinten gelassen wird, bleibt dahinten liegen, der gegenwärtige Moment verdrängt den vergangenen. … Jeder Moment aber, wo die Handlung verweilt, ist ein bestimmtes, ausgeführtes Gemälde, hat seine eigene vollständige Exposition und ist ein für sich vollendetes Ganze.62
The two acts which he had almost completed when he died prove his ability to write a drama in this new style. The action is still a continuous series of events—eine fortlaufende Handlung—but it no longer begins with a single situation representing the starting-point of tragic analysis. The scene in the Polish Diet is a most impressive opening: it does not contain the seeds of the whole plot, nor does the second act develop organically from it. Each of the acts has its own exposition and climax. The contrast between the bustling Krakau Reichstag and the tranquil scene at Marfa's convent is no less impressive.
Schiller's choice of theme and style in Demetrius, his interpretation of the tragedy inherent in the material, the technique he chose for its treatment, the quality of his verse—particularly the pure lyric strains in the opening scene of the second act—all these features suggest that the drama might well have become a crowning achievement. They suggest that the ambiguities and inconsistencies of some of his later plays are by no means proof of failing craftsmanship. It is characteristic of Schiller that he was engaged in continuous literary activity during the last months of his life despite the most debilitating physical ailments. They stimulated that activity rather than impeded it. When he died at the age of forty-six he was at the height of his creative power.
Works, xii. 278.
We recall Schiller's examples of das böse Verhängnis: ‘die pathetischen Gemälde der mit dem Schicksal ringenden Menschheit, der unaufhaltsamen Flucht des Glücks, der betrogenen Sicherheit, der triumphierenden Ungerechtigkeit und der unterliegenden Unschuld, welche die Geschichte in reichem Maß aufstellt und die tragische Kunst nachahmend vor unsre Augen bringt’ (ibid., p. 280).
Letters, vi. 277.
‘The costume of ideas which I permitted myself to use may be justified because the action is placed in Messina where Christianity, Greek mythology, and Mohammedanism really met and mingled. … The mixture of these three mythologies would ordinarily obliterate distinctive character: here it becomes characteristic.’ Letters, vii. 24. Cf. Schiller's description of Sicily after the Norman conquest in Universalhistorische Übersicht (Works, xiii, esp. pp. 146 ff.).
Cf. Buttmann, Die Schicksalsidee in Schillers Braut von Messina, pp. 60 passim. The incest motif frequently occurs in conjunction with the idea of fate in German literature at the end of the eighteenth century, for instance in Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, and in many works by Romantic writers.
‘Fate should operate only through human characters, but in such a way that the latter should only act under the sway of the former.’ Adrastea, Viertes Stück, 1801.
‘How can they mean well with you, the aliens, the tribe of invaders who drove them from their heritage and assumed dominion over them?’ Works, vii. 17.
Hegel advanced the view that the conflicts are caused by a contention for the ‘Recht zur Thronfolge’ (Die Idee und das Ideal, loc. cit., p. 288).
‘And as we all know, the old Prince's rightful spouse was forced by rape into a sinful marriage bed, for she was his father's choice. And the ancestor in his wrath poured out fearful seeds of dire curses on the sinful bed. … Yes, it has not begun well and believe me it cannot end well, for every deed of deluded rage will be avenged under the sun. It is not a coincidence and blind chance that the brothers are destroying each other, for the mother's womb was cursed and she was destined to give birth to hatred and strife.’ Works, vii. 41.
‘I recognize the father's own spirit and character in my firstborn. He always loved to ruminate in secret and to keep his counsel in his own inaccessibly barred mind.’ Works, vii. 58.
Cf. Carruth, Fate and Guilt in Schiller's ‘Die Braut von Messina’, p. 110: ‘Secretiveness is the keynote and the very atmosphere of the whole drama.’ Cf. also p. 112. In an Appendix (pp. 114-24) the author lists 100 instances of the use of words denoting concealment.
Appelbaum, Goethe's Iphigenie and Schiller's Braut von Messina, p. 58.
‘What is mine and thine, revenge and guilt, cannot be disentangled here any longer. Who is going to find the old bed of the lava stream that poured forth red hot?’ Works, vii. 19. Cf. ibid., p. 61.
‘What do I now care whether the gods show themselves as liars or prove to be true? They have done their worst for me. I defy them to strike me harder than they have done. He who has nothing more to tremble for does not fear them any longer.’ Ibid., p. 107.
‘I know that contrite penitence is acceptable to heaven, but a bloody murder can only be expiated with blood.’
‘By my death I dissolve the ancient curse on our house; only a freely chosen death can break the chain of destiny.’ Works, vii. 112.
‘Let me obey the spirit that fearfully impels me, for no happy man can see what goes on within me.’ Ibid., p. 113.
‘Let him who can, live a life of contrition and bit by bit skim off a never-ending guilt with austere mortification. I cannot live, my mother, with a broken heart. I must look up joyfully to the blessed ones and with a free spirit reach for the heights above me. Envy poisoned my life while we were still equally sharing your love. Do you think that I can endure the advantage which your suffering has given him over me?’ Ibid., pp. 115 f.
Ibid., p. 67.
Works, xiii. 149.
‘Who would not rather gaze in wonder at the remarkable struggle between fertility and destruction in the fields of Sicily … None will deny that man is better provided for in the pastures of Batavia than under the treacherous crater of Vesuvius. … But man needs more than just to live and have a pleasant time.’ Works, xii. 275.
‘Happy is he, and I call him blessed, who leans like a child in pastoral fields on nature's breast, far from the turbulent round of life.’Work, vii. 109 f.
Letters, vii. 24.
‘The poet must reopen the palaces, he must lead the tribunals into the open air, he must raise up the statues of the gods.’ Work, xvi. 124.
‘The introduction of the chorus would be the last, the decisive measure, and if it served no other purpose than to declare open and honest war on naturalism in art, it could become a living wall with which tragedy surrounds itself in order to be completely isolated from the real world and safeguard its ideal sphere, its poetic freedom.’ Ibid., p. 123.
Cf. the remarks on the mime in Über epische und dramatische Dichtung. They can be more readily applied to Die Braut von Messina than to Schiller's other tragedies.
Cf. Schiller's letter to Zelter on 28 Feb. 1803 and his view that poetry becomes musical ‘je nachdem sie, wie die Tonkunst, bloß einen bestimmten Zustand des Gemüts hervorbringt, ohne dazu eines bestimmten Gegenstandes nötig zu haben … ohne die Einbildungskraft durch ein bestimmtes Objekt zu beherrschen’ (Works, xii. 209). Cf. also the review of Matthisson's poetry.
‘Here the question was not why men are assailed by such dire events but, if and when they are assailed by them, what should one think of them, how endure them?’ Adrastea, Viertes Stück, 1801.
Cf. Moore, A New Reading of Wilhelm Tell, pp. 278 passim.
Letters, vii. 69.
‘All the impressions I have experienced from this work or observed in others have been poetic in a generic, not a tragic sense. This will always be the case when a tragedy fails because of its epic quality.’ Letters, v. 311.
Cf. Schiller's defence of the ‘Parricida scene’ in his letter to Iffland (Letters, vii. 138).
‘You will ask me why I have laid Warbeck aside. I have thought a great deal about the play and shall certainly complete it successfully. But another subject has turned up which now attracts me much more and which will be a worthy successor to Die Jungfrau von Orleans.’ Letters, vi. 369.
Ibid. vi. 415 and vii. 74.
‘I cannot tarry to probe and choose; if you have need of me for a definite task, call upon Tell; I shall not fail you.’ Works, vii. 148. Cf. also Tell's reply to Hedwig when she surmises that he has joined the confederates (ibid., p. 194).
‘Let each restrain his righteous wrath and save his revenge for the general account. Whoever acts alone on his own behalf, is guilty of harm to the common good.’ Ibid., p. 191.
Cf. Stauffacher's other exhortation:
Sprecht nicht von Rache. Nicht Geschehnes rächen,
Gedrohtem Übel wollen wir begegnen. (Ibid., p. 172.)
Ibid., p. 278.
‘I would gladly send you the play act by act, but it is not proceeding act by act; the subject requires that I should carry certain actions that belong together through all five acts and only then pass on to others. Thus Tell practically stands alone in the play. His affair is a private affair and remains so until at the end it merges with the common cause. Letters, vii. 98.
Cf. Kettner, Schillers Wilhelm Tell, pp. 9-14.
‘… when a people which grazes its herds piously and with self-sufficiency, covets no alien property, throws off the yoke it unworthily suffers, yet even in its wrath respects humanity.’ Works, ii. 88.
Cf. Buchwald, loc. cit., p. 474.
‘If this sentiment, which ethics teaches us under the heading of resigning ourselves to the inevitable, and religion under the heading of submitting to God's will, is to become a work of free choice and deliberation, much greater clarity of thought and much higher energy of will are required than human beings usually possess in ordinary life.’ Über das Erhabene (Works, xii. 266).
‘Hail to you that you have not profaned our immaculate victory with bloodshed!’ Works, vii. 264.
Cf. Hegel's report (Die Idee und das Ideal, loc. cit., p. 367) that 80 to 100 Swiss who attended the first performance of Wilhelm Tell in Jena on 17 Mar. 1804 were ‘gar nicht befriedigt und meinten, das seien doch nicht die echten Schweizer’.
‘I wish to write an idyll to compare with the elegy I have just written. All my poetic powers are screwed up to this one task. … In the realm of sentimental poetry, from which I cannot escape, once and for all, the idyll is the highest as well as the most difficult problem.’ Letters, iv. 337.
It should be remembered that for Schiller the term Idylle denoted an attitude of mind (Empfindungsweise) in the poet, as well as a poetic genre (Gedichtart) embodying that attitude, and that tragedy, like the epic and the novel, could be written in the idyllic, and likewise in the satirical or the elegiac, manner: ‘Wer daher noch fragen könnte, zu welcher von den drei Gattungen (sc. Satire, Idylle, Elegie) ich die Epopöe, den Roman, das Trauerspiel u. a. m. zähle, der würde mich ganz und gar nicht verstanden haben. Denn der Begriff dieser letztern, als einzelner Gedichtarten, wird entweder gar nicht oder doch nicht allein durch die Empfindungsweise bestimmt; vielmehr weiß man, daß solche in mehr als einer Empfindungsweise, folglich auch in mehrern der von mir aufgestellten Dichtungsarten können ausgeführt werden’ (Works, xii. 222).
Letters, ii. 218.
‘Let him undertake to write an idyll which will portray the same pastoral innocence in civilized beings and in all circumstances representing the most vigorous energetic life, the most embracing thought, the subtlest artifice, the utmost social refinement and which, in a word, since we can never return to Arcadia, will lead us forward to Elysium.’ Works, xii. 228.
Cf. above, p. 69.
A view held by Fricke, Deubel, Gumbel.
‘As far as the treatment of this subject is concerned one would, I believe, have to do the opposite of what the writer of a comedy would make of it. The latter would arouse laughter by contrasting the pretender's great role with his lack of competence for it. In a tragedy he would have to seem born to assume this role and he would have to appropriate it so completely that interesting conflicts would arise with those who wish to use him as their tool and treat him as their creature. The catastrophe would have to be brought about by his adherents and protectors, not his enemies.’ Letters, vi. 74. Mr. T. S. Eliot has a high opinion of Ford's Perkin Warbeck and commends the author for his performance of a task similar to that which Schiller had in mind. Cf. Selected Essays, p. 200.
Schillers Demetrius, ed. Kettner, pp. 115 f.
‘The most outstanding point or summit of the action is reached when the false Demetrius enters Moscow as actual Czar, though aware of the fact that he is a deceiver. The highest light of portrayal falls on this part. Previously all is hope and striving; now fear and misfortune begin.’ Ibid., p. 114.
‘The principal invention concerns the way in which Demetrius comes to be recognized as Czarewitch without himself practising deceit and how he too is duped. There will have to be somebody who intentionally forges this deceit, and his intention must be clear and intelligible.’ Ibid., p. 206.
Ibid., p. 214.
Ibid., p. 205, n. 2.
Schiller first came to know the story of Dmitri when he was writing this drama in 1782. Cf. ibid., p. xvi.
Ibid., pp. 115 and 84.
Cf. Dessoir, Geschichte der neueren deutschen Psychologie; Schmid, Schillers Gestaltungsweise, pp. 157 passim. It should, however, be noted that Schiller described change of character in the hero of Der Verbrecher aus verlorener Ehre. Works, xi. 191 ff.
‘The false Demetrius believes in himself until he is about to enter Moscow. Here he loses faith in himself; somebody reveals his true birth to him and this brings about a rapid and disastrous change in the character of the deceived man.’ Kettner, loc. cit., p. 206. Kettner is not justified in saying that Demetrius shows a tyrannical Herrschernatur from the beginning. Schiller frequently stresses his initial innocence.
This point may be explained by reference to one of Coleridge's remarks: ‘A flash of lightning has turned at once the polarity of the compass needle: and so, perhaps, now and then, but as rarely, a violent motive may revolutionize a man's opinions and professions. But more frequently his honesty dies away imperceptibly from evening into twilight, and from twilight to utter darkness. He turns hypocrite so gradually, and by such tiny atoms of motion, that by the time he has arrived at a given point, he forgets his own hypocrisy in the imperceptible degrees of his conversion’ (Table Talk and Omniana, p. 341). Schiller's Demetrius may be cited as an example of the former, Fiesco of the latter process. Cf. also Schiller's account of the influence of ‘material ideas’ on the constitution of character, as quoted above, pp. 20 f.
‘Since the action is important and abundant and contains a wealth of incident, in the highest and most significant moments one must advance with bold and commanding steps. Every movement must advance the action palpably. … What is left behind is left behind for ever and the present moment supplants the last one. … But every moment on which the action dwells is a clear and detailed picture, containing its own exposition and forming a complete and independent whole.’ Kettner, loc. cit., p. 114.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7289
SOURCE: “Schiller: Poet of Politics,” in A Schiller Symposium: In Observance of the Bicentenary of Schiller's Birth, University of Texas Department of Germanic Languages, 1960, pp. 31-48.
[In the following essay, Seidlin asserts that the “complexities and perplexities of political man” is one of Schiller's most persistent themes, and claims that in his works the dramatist brings to life the ironies and paradoxes of political action—for example, that political ideals, however lofty, must be bound up with humans' particular desires and ambitions in order to be put into practice, but in being so bound lose their purity as ideals.]
A Quarter of a century ago, when darkness descended upon Schiller's native country, a darkness that was to engulf all of mankind in the shortest possible time, a theater in Hamburg produced one of Schiller's great dramatic works, Don Carlos. It is the play which culminates in the stirring climax of its third act, the confrontation scene between King Philip of Spain and the Marquis Posa, the powerful verbal and intellectual battle between the rigid and autocratic monarch, contemptuous of mankind and gloomily convinced that only harsh and tyrannical suppression can preserve peace and order in his vast empire, and the young, enthusiastic advocate of revolutionary principles, who demands for his fellow citizens the untrammeled right to happiness, the possibility of unhampered self-development and self-realization of every individual. The scene rises to its pitch with Marquis Posa's brave challenge flung into the king's face: “Sire, give us all freedom of thought!” When this line, one of the most famous in all German dramatic literature, resounded from the Hamburg stage in the early years of Hitler's terror, the audience under the friendly protection of darkness burst out, night after night, into tumultuous applause. So dangerous and embarrassing to the new rulers proved a single verse of the greatest German playwright, who by then had been dead for fully a hundred and thirty years, that the management of the theater was forced to cut out the scandalous line. But the audience, knowing their classic well enough even if it was fed to them in an emasculated version, reacted quick-wittedly: from that evening on they interrupted the performance by thunderous applause at the moment when Marquis Posa should have uttered his famous plea on the stage—and did not. After these incidents the play was withdrawn from the repertoire altogether.
This is a touching and heart-warming story: people, at a time of national calamity and shame, turn to one of their great writers to find strength and direction in his words, protest with him and through him against a vicious political system which debased the noble thoughts that he, through his works, had bequeathed to his nation as a precious heritage. A touching, a heart-warming spectacle, and yet at the same time one that puts us somewhat ill-at-ease. Is he really a poet, so we must ask, whose creation can so easily release a stark political demonstration, even if we happen to be in complete agreement with this demonstration? Is he really a great dramatist, who speaks so directly to our political emotions, who turns the stage into a pulpit from which we are preached at, admonished and exhorted, nobly and loftily to be sure, but preached at nonetheless? Certainly we will not underrate or malign the need and importance of a programmatic appeal to our highest ideals, the inspiration and edification which we derive from the teachings of a great and venerable mentor; but very much aware of the borderline that has to be drawn between the word of wisdom and the word of poetry, we cannot help asking the anxious question: Uplifting as all of that may be, is it really and primarily art?
The question becomes more pressing when our minds shift from this scene in the Hamburg theater to the year 1859, to the celebrations on the occasion of Schiller's hundredth anniversary. It is surely no exaggeration to state that never before—and never since—in the history of Western civilization has a writer been so passionately and fervently honoured in his own country—and by the German population of this country, too—as was Schiller in 1859. Again, a touching, a heart-warming spectacle: a man of letters who, though beset by incessant illness and poverty during a short life of barely forty-six years, had produced a body of uncompromisingly serious plays, of sophisticated esthetic and philosophical essays, of high-flown poems and ambitious historical writings, assumes fifty-four years after his premature death the status of a popular hero, and is accorded the accolades of veneration which a nation generally reserves for the powerful and mighty, for its founding fathers and those who in moments of great historical decisions have established and saved its identity. Recalling the festivities of the year 1859, the torchlight parades of students and intellectuals in innumerable cities, the mass meetings of whole populations, the unveiling of dozens of monuments, the endless oratory reverberating through modest citizens' clubs no less than through huge assembly halls, we ask: Was ever a poet so honored? But upon looking over the list of famous speakers, upon reading their words of praise and adulation, we realize that it was hardly the poet Friedrich Schiller who was thus honored. As in the Hamburg theater, it was one stormy political demonstration which in 1859 swept over Germany under the guise of the centenary celebration of a great writer. A little more than ten years earlier, in 1848, the burning hopes of the German population for a fatherland united in the spirit of enlightened liberalism and constitutional government had died under the fusillades and deceitful machinations of the old regime. So dreadful was the shock, so thorough the blood-letting, that Germany lay numb for a whole decade. But then, in 1859, the muted voice of the German people rose again, and when it shouted the name of Friedrich Schiller, it actually bewailed the shattered dreams of a whole generation; it protested against a superannuated political and social order, and pledged to offer resistance and give new battle.
Was this the way, is this a way to honor a poet? Was it honorable of Robert Blum, the fiery tribune of radical republicanism, to ransack Schiller's works in search of stirring political slogans and to weave three such passages, lifted from three different plays—the famous line of Marquis Posa was certainly not missing—into one sentence, and by doing so make Schiller the crown witness of revolutionary convictions which impregnated the air a century ago? Becoming that popular, being transferred so enthusiastically from the pantheon to the market place, is a mixed blessing for a poet. As with no other man of letters before him, the nineteenth century transfigured and transformed Schiller into a political poet, political in the widest sense, meaning that he spoke on and for matters of the polis, the public life, warning and advising, chiding and guiding, judging and condemning—an orator and pamphleteer more than a poet. How easy it was to quote him, for he had an eminently quotable maxim for every noble purpose; how usable he was to every schoolmaster and dignitary who, facing solemn crowds, needed something edifying, lofty, and inspiring. The reaction became inevitable, inevitable the questions, whether Schiller was a poet at all, whether his place was in the agora rather than on Mount Parnassus, on a glorified soap-box rather than in the theater. And Friedrich Nietzsche, disrespectful iconoclast that he was, denigrated Schiller neatly and devastatingly by calling the poet simply “that tedious and brassy trumpet player of moralism.”
This is brutal, and it is utterly wrong; wrong because it confuses with his true image the crudely glossy lacquer which posterity has generously spread over Friedrich Schiller's features. The nineteenth century—and in this respect the nineteenth century is by no means over—was mistaken in forcing Schiller into a posture which was that of a tribune of the people rather than that of a poet. Yet underneath the spurious overlay there exists a genuine and fundamental level upon which Schiller and politics meet. Though he was not a political poet, he was perhaps the greatest poet of politics. With a fervor unequalled, a passion unabated, his plays ask decisive and basic questions: What and where is man's place in this vital and fateful game called politics? How does he master it and how does it master him? In which sort of relationship does the private human being, his moral, emotional, and divine essence, stand to the zoon politikon, the political animal, which man, equally essentially, is? Someone as obsessed with these questions as was Schiller is not a political poet who furnishes us with slogans, with marching orders and banners to be waved on the shifting battleground of ideologies, but one who, through memorable figures and configurations, elucidates for us our human existence, our existence as humans, its complexities and paradoxes, its defeats and triumphs, its condition and possible consequences. And this, indeed, is the poet's task.
After he outgrew the fervor and furor of his youthful subjectivism, starting with Don Carlos, Schiller used decisive moments in Western European history as the subject matter of his plays: the breaking away of the Netherlands from Spain in Don Carlos, the Thirty Years' War in the Wallenstein trilogy, the rise of Britain to a world power in Mary Stuart, the liberation of France from England's yoke in The Maid of Orleans, and the foundation of Swiss democracy in William Tell. Yet he did not write dramatic chronicles in the manner of Shakespeare, nor give us a gallery of historical individuals, brave or cowardly, heroic or mean. Instead he traced again and again man's fateful involvement in history, in that process which we determine while being determined by it, which uses us as its pawns by mobilizing in us our freedom to act.
This dialectic interplay of determining power and freedom of action, the friction and tension between our moral obligations and the dictates of the necessities which the historical moment imposes upon us, in short, the problems of political man, have been Schiller's most persistent themes. We may as readily and enthusiastically as did that audience in the Hamburg theater applaud Marquis Posa's plea for political freedom, for the right of every individual to full expression; but if we do nothing but this, we have missed the human condition and the human tragedy which Schiller's Don Carlos probes. For Marquis Posa's ringing line: “Sire, give us all freedom of thought” is only a station in a series of arguments in which not this or that political ideology, not this or that form of government is being discussed and presented, but politics as such, its field and orbit, its function and aim. In the long speech that follows, Marquis Posa demands of the king: “Restore to man his lost nobility!” Now this, we must admit, is strange. Nobility, so we would think, is a value of the inner man, a private, a personal value, something untouchable, whose loss or preservation does not lie within the public domain, cannot be jeopardized or secured by the head of state, be he ever so enlightened, tolerant and liberal. Since the dawn of Christianity political theories have again and again started from Christ's saying: “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto God what is God's,” a clear separation between the powers that govern the public and the private existence of man, his outer and inner obligations, duties and rights. The most effective revolutionary attacks against various forms of tyranny were derived from the very conviction that Caesar had encroached upon a field that was God's, had demanded loyalties that were the prerogatives of the Highest. Yet Posa argues in the opposite direction: Caesar is to restore the lost nobility of mankind, the world is to be remade into paradise, the breach between this world and the other healed forever, and politics proclaimed as the field in which man in his totality, his truth and eternal essence will rule supreme. Politics, as Posa sees it, is no longer a carefully worked calculation which determines the distribution and balance of obligations and rights, the amount of freedom or freedoms which the citizen should enjoy, but is the very medium on which his total existence depends, not only his position and status within the machinery of the state, but the value, the inner verity of his being man. No less than his nobility, the visible activation of his moral essence is here proclaimed as the starting point and ultimate aim of politics.
Marquis Posa's famous plea, then, so heavily taxed and over-taxed by every freedom-loving speech-maker as a program point of an enlightened liberal political platform, is not only that. Within its context it serves to define politics as the very climate in which man as man, as a moral and spiritual being, can and must fulfill himself. But at this point, after the basic foundation has been laid, Schiller, the great dialectician of politics, begins his probings. So far Marquis Posa has been a private citizen, unwilling to assume any political responsibilities at King Philip's court, traveling about the empire as a mentor and friend to those who share his advanced political philosophy, a living link between men who dream of and prepare a better future, and, above all, the source of inspiration of Don Carlos, the crown-prince, who one day, guided by Posa and Posa's principles, will usher in a new and brighter world. But now, more or less against his will, he becomes involved on the plane of action. The king, shivering in the cold isolation of his loneliness, surrounded by the sterile servility of his selfish courtiers, is struck and overwhelmed by meeting a free man, who speaks his bold mind freely, asking no favors, despising the shrewd game of the manipulation of power. Suddenly Posa, the idealistic dreamer of a better world, the theoretician not only of a new politics but of politics as the medium which can restore mankind's lost nobility, has become from one moment to the next the king's most powerful seal-bearer, the unchallenged master over the fate and future of his country. Schiller's question and ours is: What will he do with this unparalleled power?
The outcome tells the whole story. Marquis Posa, champion of a new, happy life growing from what he called the lethal stillness of a churchyard that was Philip's Spain, is shot to death; the successor to the throne, Don Carlos, in whom Posa implanted the high ideals of progressive, freedom-loving government, is arrested and turned over to the executioner at the very moment when he sets out to flee to the Netherlanders to lead their rebellion and topple the Spanish system of suppression; the Duke of Alba, the most sinister and blood-thirsty of the king's hangmen, marches north with his troops, his knapsack filled with death sentences which are to break the Hollanders’ spirit and will to resistance; King Philip himself, who in spite or because of his rigidity and misanthropic distrust, had been longing for a gentle human voice to help and guide him, now delivers himself and his power unreservedly to the merciless grip of the Inquisition, and when he asks the Grand Inquisitor the pathetic question: “For whom have I planted and collected?”, receives and meekly accepts the brutal answer: “For the graves and worms rather than for liberty.” What an ending after such high hopes, what a harvest of shambles and devastation growing from seeds that were meant to transform a barren field into a paradisiac garden!
What Schiller here presents is not only an accidental historical disaster, the pessimistically gloomy tableau of noble dreams destroyed and great expectations foiled. The dreadful outcome is, after all, the direct consequence of Marquis Posa's involvement in the political game, of his active participation in the battle of power and passions raging at the Spanish court. We are witness to a truly vital process of politics, to the tragic dilemma that arises when an ideal, be it ever so benevolent and noble, enters upon the plane of reality, is drawn into the orbit of pressures and counter-pressures, distorted and ruined by the very forces which it mobilizes in the course of its attempted realization. Has Schiller, when telling the hapless story of the defeated idealist Marquis Posa, not indeed touched upon a basic problem of politics per se, a problem which the twentieth century has only too brutally exhibited: the disastrous and destructive effects of a political principle which, good in itself—meant as a panacea for all the social ills of mankind—is twisted by the currents which it unleashes into its very opposite, into a harbinger of darkness blacker than the one which it was to dispel. The true tragedy of politics, of man in the political arena, is here revealed: the noble ideal, man's highest hope is being ground to shreds by the inexorable maelstrom of uncontrollable forces; good itself has turned into an instrument of evil and destruction.
Yet Schiller's Don Carlos is more than a probing into the dialectic ambiguity of political ideologies. The play presents not only the havoc which the ideal can work when transferred from the realm of pure thought to the realm of concrete realities. More decisive, more tragic still is the moral impasse, the dubious road onto which the idealist is forced in pursuit of his ideal. Nothing could be purer than the flame that burns in Marquis Posa, nothing nobler than his intentions. And yet, how questionable the means, how frightening the detours that the realization of this idea prescribes to him! The one who had proclaimed the securing of man's totality as the very justification of politics, and as its purpose the free display of man's nobility, has donned, since he entered the plane of politics, an impenetrable mask, has become so divided within himself that every action he commits is calculated to conceal his true objectives. His friendship with the king, who had turned to him because he saw in him the only genuine human being in his whole entourage, free, unselfish, unpurposeful and therefore worthy of complete trust, is nothing but a subterfuge, a betrayal that is to promote his revolutionary aims. And his betrayal of Don Carlos—at least what seems to everybody, including the prince himself, a betrayal—is nothing but a subterfuge which is to save the beloved friend from grave impending danger. Treason under the cloak of friendship, friendship under the cloak of treason—what a disturbing twilight in the champion of a new world who was fighting for everybody's freedom of thought, which is in the last analysis nothing else but the individual's right to be himself, to accept as the guiding light of his life nothing but his own inner truth, the authenticity of his being. But, when Marquis Posa has laid down his life for his ideal, where was his authenticity?
Don Carlos, mourning at the bier of his friend and mentor, is convinced that he died for him, and taunts the king, who has tried in vain to gain Posa's heart and support:
Mine was he, mine,
While you were boasting loud of his esteem,
While he, his nimble tricky eloquence
Was playing with your proud, majestic mind. …
You showered him with tokens of your favor;
He died for me. Your friendship and your heart
You urged upon him. And yet your crown
Was but a plaything in his hands.
He threw it down—and died for me.
But did he really? Or is not perhaps King Philip closer to the truth when he arrives at a very different answer:
For whom then did he sacrifice himself?
For Karl, that boy and son of mine? Oh never!
I don't believe it. A Posa does not die
For a mere youth. The meagre flame of friendship
Does not fill a Posa's heart. That beat
For all mankind. His passion was
The world at large, with all its future generations.
Yet if this is the right answer, then Posa did not love the prince because he was Don Carlos; he loved Don Carlos because he was the prince, the future ruler who, under his tutelage, would usher in the new millenium. But what about man's nobility, if the human being, the closest friend is degraded to a tool, a tool, to be sure, that is to serve the loftiest purpose, but a tool nevertheless? Is the political idealist—and this is Schiller's most penetrating question in Don Carlos—who fights so bravely and passionately for humanity, not himself a human failure? Obsessed by the legitimate demands of mankind as a whole, he becomes blind to the legitimate demands of individual man. Infatuated by an abstract idea a noble, a grand idea, he plays havoc with man's dignity, which consists of one fact, and one fact alone: that every human being is, and must be treated as, an end in himself and not a means for a purpose, no matter how lofty—this is the very dignity for which Marquis Posa had spoken up so movingly and eloquently in his first encounter with the king.
How silly it was to call a poet who offered such trenchant insights into the complexities and perplexities of political man, into the ironies and paradoxes of political action, a “brassy trumpet player of moralism!” The duplicity of man—duplicity in the twofold meaning of the word—his position at the intersection of moral law and the inexorable force of circumstances, the tragic dilemma which results from the unavoidable intertwining of his emotional life with the demands of practical and responsible action in the world—this, and not any easy and starry-eyed proclamation of ethical conduct, was Schiller's vital concern. But were Schiller preoccupied only with the banal truth that man's subjective drives and motivations color his ideological aims and objectives, promote or obstruct them, deflect or pervert them, we might dismiss the poet as inconsequential. But here again, his glance probes much more deeply. He realizes that these objectives are essentially and fundamentally intertwined with the individual's personal and private life, that they can be translated into actions only when they enter the living tissue of man's total existence and form with the energies of his emotional being an amalgam in which alone they can become effective. Ideas and ideals which have not penetrated into the subsoil where passions rest are sterile and dead. If we want to make them realities, we can do so only by feeding them with our life-blood, by what in modern terms would be called a total commitment. And yet here arises another paradox in the existence of political man which Schiller has elucidated in his drama. If the political ideal, which as an ideal is an absolute and objective postulate, must in order to become effective necessarily enter into the tangle of man's impulses and drives, then its purity is automatically lost. The deed which he commits for the sake and in the service of the ideal becomes indistinguishable from the deed which his own often petty interest forces upon him. This insoluble dilemma—and it is truly insoluble—Schiller has made transparent in his most powerful evocations of political man, in those historical figures who are called upon to act as the servants of a great historical mission and yet are surrounded by the dubious light of selfishness and hypocrisy. Only by asserting themselves, their own personal needs and desires can they hope to assert the ideal which they pursue: Wallenstein in the great trilogy, and Queen Elizabeth of England in Mary Stuart.
Seeing in Wallenstein and in Elizabeth nothing but hypocrites, evil schemers for the sake of their own power, means again to miss Schiller's essential point. Is it thankless to ask which of the many faces that Wallenstein presents to the viewer is the true one. We have to realize that for him, as a political man, all of them are true and depend on each other even if at first glance they may seem exclusive. The great general of the imperial army, the idol of his soldiers, wants to reassure himself by a written declaration of the unreserved loyalty of his officers so that they will follow him blindly wherever he leads them, even against the emperor, even into the camp of the enemy, the Swedes. Schiller presents a clear case of treason, a preparation of mutiny against the supreme overlord, motivated by the boundless ambition of a man who wants to be not only his ruler's mightiest sword but, if need be, the ruler himself. And yet, is it really only Wallenstein's thirst for unlimited power that leads him onto the road of clandestine conspiracy and, finally, to open rebellion? It is, and it is not. He does not simply feign when he casts himself—again not quite without ulterior motives—in the rôle of a harbinger of peace, who after sixteen years of the bloodiest holocaust wants to put an end to the immeasurable misery of war. But he knows that this ideal—and it is a noble ideal, after all—can be realized only by cutting through the religious intolerance and the entangled dynastic interests which dominate the emperor and his house, the house of Hapsburg, by uprooting old hatreds and old loyalties which, the longer they last, drive the course of history ever more deeply into a hopeless stalemate and an unbending rut. If this be treason, and it surely is, then treason there must be.
From this summary of Wallenstein's deeds and motivations one might conclude that Schiller raises mainly the question of the legitimacy of certain means to achieve certain ends, a question which is, indeed, one of Schiller's vital concerns. It is a vital question for a poet who, as hardly any other, has been the merciless anatomist and dissector of political man. But Schiller goes one decisive step further, or rather he goes one step back by asking the even more disturbing question: how do we, how can we, when on the stage of politics, decide at all upon the means we are to employ, be they good or foul? In order to arrive at any decision that is to inspire and guide an act we must be free agents, independent of alien authority, not subject to the pressures which pure hazard or the necessity of the moment may exert upon us. Now Wallenstein's craving for power appears in a somewhat different light. It is not simply a selfish desire for self-aggrandizement, but the inevitable corollary of the make-up of a man who is basically political. If he acts, responsibly and fruitfully, he must be in complete command, must be able to exclude interference that could hamper his plans and deeds, must eliminate the unforeseen that could thwart the action in the very process of its realization. In short, a political man, and the greater and truer he is the more so, must of necessity strive for omnipotence and omniscience, a striving as monstrous as it is pathetically futile.
It is for this reason that Schiller's Wallenstein, the great man of action, appears so strangely inactive during much of the play, so hesitant and evasive, so resistant to those who want him to commit himself to a definite course. It is this which Wallenstein is unwilling to do, because committing himself means to relinquish some part of his freedom, to start a chain of events which may not be controllable and calculable at every point, to be, perhaps, drawn against his will into a constellation and a development in which he becomes the slave of a situation instead of being its master. It is in the Wallenstein trilogy that Schiller drives the problem of political man to its last and extreme consequence, to the point where the man of action can no longer act, because in order to act freely—and only if he acts freely can he make history instead of being made by it—he must be able to choose freely, to keep all avenues open so that at no time will the direction of his course be dictated to him. Seen in this light, the freedom to act, which is the premise upon which the existence of political man rests, is transmuted into a freedom from action. Therefore, Wallenstein waits until the constellation and his calculations become unbeatable.
And yet, what Schiller presents in Wallenstein is the fateful irony which is likely to beset all politics. In order to act decisively and infallibly—and this is the aim of all purposeful action—Wallenstein has again and again postponed his decision. But he has postponed it just a minute too long. He who has hesitated for many precious months in order to be able to act as a free agent is now forced by the weight of circumstances to decide upon a course which he wanted to keep open only as a last and ultimate possibility. Was he really determined to commit treason, to lead his troops to the Swedes, the enemy he had been fighting so brilliantly for years? Just by trying to be uncommitted, to stand above the situation so that he could be its complete master, he has fastened the noose around his neck and has no other choice but to battle for his very life under the most unfavorable of circumstances. In the great monologue at the beginning of the last part of the trilogy, one of the most powerful poetic passages that Schiller ever wrote, Wallenstein asks himself the question:
Must I commit the deed because
Just in my thoughts I toyed with it?
Yes, he must. Because even thoughts have a momentum of their own and create a reality which, from one moment to the next, changes the stage upon which political man acts. While taking the first step he is still free, but the second is already prescribed. And who can tell which is the first step? Such is the irony of politics that when Wallenstein finally takes his first step, he has actually taken his last. Every plan, every bit of strategy has created conditions which now prove overwhelming, which force him from a strong position to a precarious one, from a precarious position to a shattered one, from a shattered position to a lost one, until finally his doom is sealed.
It may seem like a hopelessly gloomy picture that Schiller in his Wallenstein trilogy draws of man acting on the political plane. But at this point Schiller, the great dialectician, takes over again. Indeed, the ironic and tragic fate of Wallenstein, the master tactician and politician, is merciless and unrelieved. He who tried to insure for himself such complete freedom of action that he could move in any direction which would seem advantageous at a given moment is now fighting with his back against the wall, losing one support after the other, yielding inch by inch, until his last stronghold, the fortress of Eger, becomes a doorless trap where he finds an ignoble end at the hands of hired assassins. But it is this very downfall that Schiller surrounds with the halo of human greatness. The reckless scheme has now turned into a wild, pathetic gamble. The powerful schemer who acknowledged no other authority than his own unbridled will has become a plaything of forces he cannot control. The dream of scepter and crown has faded into the illusory hope of sheer survival. And yet, now the moment has come when Wallenstein can act—because he must. Now he reaches the status of full superiority and, a man alone, relying only on his inner strength, he goes down in defeat with an austere uprightness which lends him the majesty that he never possessed in the days of his power and exaltation. The man of political action who is fully committed, committed with his entire existence and personality, achieves in the face of radical insecurity and extreme exposure an amount of freedom which no strategic shrewdness and calculation could give him, and while utterly failing in his objectives and ambitions, becomes witness to man's nobility which no success could have granted.
Indeed, success will not grant it. In Mary Stuart, his next tragedy, Schiller has given an almost complementary image of political man. At the end of the play, Elizabeth has vanquished her deadly rival, the hapless queen of the Scots. Her rule is now, and will in all the future be, secure and unchallenged, England saved from the threat of civil war. Yet, what might seem the moment of her complete victory is in truth the moment of her utter defeat. The picture over which the last curtain falls tells the whole story: Elizabeth, deserted by those who were close to her heart, holds herself painfully and forcibly upright, a human wreck whose hollowness is more exposed than concealed by the strained regal posture. No other poet has, I think, made us witness so closely the bitter and inexorable tragedy of political man, his defeated triumphs and triumphant defeats as Schiller did in the fate of Queen Elizabeth of England. Hers is the richest and most complex portrait of man as a political being, of his hopeless involvements, of the rôle which he is called upon to enact on the stage of history, and of the usurious price he has to pay for his acting and actions.
Again, the task Elizabeth has to fulfill is not only an inevitable necessity, but a truly noble mission. She feels destined to bring peace to her country which, after the death of her reckless father, has been shaken by religious strife and unrest, by the undermining of governmental authority and civil security, by the permanent threat from powers abroad, from France and Spain, whose might and ruthless exploitation of England's internal tensions conspire to bring the heretic island to her knees. All these dangers have one name, the name of Mary Stuart, “the scourge of my life,” as Elizabeth calls her. Mary, without an active guilt and against her will, has become the very center of all destructive forces: as a Catholic, the idol of the religious opposition; as a former queen of France and Scotland, a permanent invitation to the foreign enemy to meddle in England's affairs; as the direct descendant of Henry VII, the first Tudor, a living reminder of Elizabeth's disorderly birth and disputable claim to the throne. This woman, the innocent source of all disturbances, is now a prisoner in an English citadel, her life completely at Elizabeth's mercy.
Still, with all this, Elizabeth's hands are tied; not only because of the divergent drives and counterdrives she has to consider, and even less because of the moral and legal problems which Mary's execution, a plain act of violence, would raise. How simple it would be if a clear demarkation line could be drawn between what is ethically right and justifiable and those impure motivations that are the consequence of petty personal interests or of the cold demands of statecraft, between actions morally obnoxious but politically necessary and motivations, personally perhaps pure but politically ineffectual. It is the impenetrable twilight shrouding the feelings and dealing of political man, the inseparable compound of values, energies, and impulses that fascinate Schiller and make the character of Elizabeth as baffling as it is symptomatic. The vast field of ambiguities upon which political man moves is here outlined, the pitfalls of political action laid bare. If Elizabeth sends Mary to the block, does she do so because the welfare of her country demands of her this extreme and cruel decision? She does and she does not; because when signing the death warrant, she will at the same time give vent to her personal idiosyncracies, her jealousy of a rival whose beauty and youthful charm show up her own unloveliness. But apart from this interference of the petty and all-too-human, is there any way at all to distinguish between the postulates of morality and of political action? Killing Mary is, and Elizabeth knows it, an act of gross injustice that the public good, the unity of the country seems to require unequivocally at this historical moment. But what if this dismisssal and overriding of the dictates of morality for the sake of politics turn out to be the very means which jeopardize the desired end? Elizabeth's power rests on the approval and consent of her people, who are now clamoring for Mary's death. But will not the bloody verdict, once pronounced and executed, cause a shudder of disgust to run through these same people and open up a schism between queen and nation, the very schism Elizabeth wanted to prevent by sacrificing the voice of her conscience to the harsh interests of state? What if the question of morality which had to abdicate before the demands of politics becomes itself a political question creating a new political situation?
Of these perplexities Elizabeth herself is eminently aware. In the great monologue spoken before she finally signs the fateful death warrant, she penetrates to the very bottom of the political dilemma:
Why have I practiced justice all my life
And shunned tyrannic arbitrariness, so that
For this, my first and inescapable
Despotic act, I weakened my own hands?
The pattern which I set now damns me …
Yet was it, after all, my own free choice
To practice justice? Necessity,
All powerful and governing the will
Even of kings, has forced this virtue upon me.
How insoluble the paradox that confronts political man! Justice, which Elizabeth, a free moral agent and a responsible ruler, had chosen as the foundation stone upon which the edifice of her government was to rest, has turned into a strait-jacket which paralyzes her at the very moment when the existence of her state is at stake. Her own past—and a noble past it is—blocks the way into the future; and even this past, the rule of justice which she thought to have created by a free decision of her moral being, is now revealed as nothing but a response to a combination of circumstances that left her no other choice but to be just. Is there a way through the labyrinth, through the hopeless maze of duplicities, imperious necessities, high objectives, and unscrupulous means in which Elizabeth, in which political man, is lost?
Schiller's answer to this question seems to be given in the character of Mary Stuart, as in his Wallenstein trilogy it was given in the youthfully idealistic figure of Max Piccolomini. Though in physical bondage, a helpless object whose fate is determined by forces and constellations she cannot control, Mary represents man in his freedom, in the veracity of his being, not innocent—Schiller takes great pains not to absolve her from the criminal complicities with which history charges Scotland's queen—but truthful, showing her genuine face and refusing to hide behind the screen of deviousness, opportunism, and disingenuous representation in which Elizabeth is a master. It is from this vantage point that, in her dispute with Lord Burleigh, Elizabeth's prime minister, she challenges her regal rival:
And what she really is
She ought to dare appear,
a demand not for specific human qualities and virtues, not for this or that principle of action, but a demand for human authenticity, for the courage of one's own convictions and deeds, for the acceptance and frank display of one's own distinct and distinguishable individuality.
This, we may be inclined to argue, is a shirking of the issue. For is it not Schiller himself, the poet of politics, who has made us so acutely aware of the complexities of political man, the paradoxes of political action, the dissimulations that are part and parcel of the great game, and the dubious stratagems which even a noble intention needs on its road to realization? But all this, the very matrix of politics, which Schiller has so lucidly exposed in his dramatic works, is challenged by Mary Stuart's uncompromising insistence on human authenticity, an insistence which does not solve the perplexing problem that politics raises, but simply ignores and overrides it. Mary Stuart's voice, her very existence, represents, we might say, the attitude of apolitical, even of anti-political man. She can easily display this attitude, since she has withdrawn from the stage of politics and is no longer faced with the harsh needs and decisions which the operation and preservation of the body politic exact. To put it quite cynically: she can well afford to insist on man's inner freedom, on his authenticity, on his exemplary submission to the highest and eternal moral values, because all that is left to her is to die, and to die nobly. But is dying nobly, the extreme sacrifice by which we liberate ourselves from the burden of our earthly existence, an answer to the burning question of how to live in and with the world, how to act responsibly so that this world will bear the imprint of our existence as humans?
Surely it is not an answer, and Schiller did not offer it as an answer, since being a poet and not a soap-box orator his concern is with the essence and condition of this creature called man, and not with solutions that might easily be applied. And being a poet of politics and not a political poet, he had to show and insist on the limits and limitations of politics, lest man, all of man, be transformed into a nefarious political automaton. Just because Schiller saw, and presented more sharply and unflinchingly than any other poet, man's fateful and inescapable involvement in politics, the unrelievable pressures to which we are subject, the vulnerability of even our highest ideals when they enter the web of overpowering historical forces, as they must—for this very reason he insisted sharply and unflinchingly on the preservation of a realm of freedom, the only realm in which man, as a self-determining being subject only to immutable moral law, can fathom his own dignity. Not sharing the shallow smugness of the optimist, he knew only too well that no political formula and no political form could ever open up this field of freedom. He realized that it was and would remain a postulate that forever has to be raised, even if, or perhaps just because, it can never be fulfilled. Should our age, which is at the point of succumbing to the all-domineering demands of total politics, should a humanity, threatened by the fate of being paralyzed by suprapersonal powers and the inexorable pressures of state interests, should we not remember, commemorate, and listen to a poet who, profoundly aware of the commitments we cannot escape, of the entanglements and ambiguities we cannot avoid, proclaimed again and again the fight for man's inner freedom, a fight always at the brink of defeat and death but never to be abandoned? Each of Schiller's works is permeated by the spirit of the great scene in Don Carlos: man, proud and jealous of his independence and uniqueness, challenging forever the political power with the words: “Restore to man his lost nobility!” Defending this nobility and insisting upon it in the face of inevitable encroachments and threats was Schiller's mission as a poet of politics, just as he himself pronounced this guardianship the supreme mission of any artist. In one of his philosophical poems, which he entitled “The Artists,” he addressed his fellows:
Man's dignity is laid into your hands.
Do guard it well!
It falls with you! With you it will rise high!
With him, with Friedrich Schiller, it rose to heights of which we must never lose sight.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4608
SOURCE: “Poetry and Politics: An Aspect of Schiller's Diction,” in German Life and Letters, Vol. 18, No. 2, January 1965, pp. 101-10.
[In the following essay, Wells claims that Schiller deliberately employs poetical language and a declamatory style in his plays when dealing with facts he considers prosaic, and particularly when he presents legal and political details.]
When Schiller was writing Wallenstein he was consciously trying to avoid both the declamatory style of his Don Carlos and also the dullness which he felt was inherent in a subject full of political detail and intrigue. He was trying to steer clear of ‘beide Abwege, das Prosaische und das Rhetorische’ (to Goethe, October 2nd, 1797). By rhetoric he means, among other things, a certain diffuseness—what E. T. A. Hoffmann called ‘eine gewisse Schwatzhaftigkeit, eine gewisse Prägnanz, in der jede einzelne Strophe immer die zehn folgenden zu gebären scheint’. Hoffmann wrote this with both Don Carlos and Wallenstein in mind.1 The tendency is one that Schiller never altogether eliminated. In Demetrius, his last work, we find the hero making a point he needs for his argument in one line, which then ‘gives birth’ to two more:
In der Gefangenschaft wardst du geboren, (341)
In einem Kerker kamest du zur Welt,
Dein erster Blick fiel auf Gefängnismauern.
Once Schiller began putting his prose draft of Wallenstein into blank verse he found it swelled alarmingly, and in a letter to Goethe he gave three reasons to excuse this diffuseness. First, the exposition contains so many details that it must necessarily be extensive, while the development of the action is exciting enough to preclude boredom; second, his contact with Goethe has infected him with the latter's ‘epic spirit’. Schiller said in another letter that Goethe's plays do not move in a straight line, every scene presupposing the action of the previous one and itself leading into the next; that instead of following such a ‘strenge gerade Linie’, Goethe ‘will sich überall mit einer freieren Gemütlichkeit äussern’ (December 12th, 1797). And third, that this ‘epic’ treatment of the Wallenstein material was ‘vielleicht das einzige Mittel, diesem prosaischen Stoff eine poetische Natur zu geben’ (December 1st, 1797). The statement presupposes that some subject-matter or themes are in themselves ‘poetic’, others not. The same is implied when Schiller expresses his regret that no compiler has taken the trouble ‘in alten Büchern nach poetischen Stoffen auszugehen’ and ‘das Puncktum saliens an einer an sich unscheinbaren Geschichte zu entdecken’ (to Goethe, December 15th, 1797). He feels that his productivity in play-writing is reduced because he cannot turn to a handbook of this kind. It is obvious that ‘poetic’ in this context means what is likely to be effective or moving on the stage. And Schiller has often indicated what material he thinks will fall into this category. The story must show the characters feeling emotions which we can understand and share. Thus when a man is angry, jealous, in love, or anxious to do his duty, he is in the grip of emotions which everyone has felt at some time or other, and so all can sympathize with his situation and be moved. On the other hand, political intrigue is, in this sense, unpoetic, and can only be made poetic if it is not the details of the intrigue that are stressed but the emotions of the hero, and furthermore only if these are of a kind we can share and sympathize with. Thus Schiller writes in his preface to Fiesco:
Wenn es wahr ist, dass nur Empfindung Empfindung weckt, so müsste, däucht mich, der politische Held in eben dem Grade kein Subjekt für die Bühne sein, in welchem er den Menschen hintenansetzen muss, um der politische Held zu sein. Es stand … bei mir … die kalte unfruchtbare Staatsaktion aus dem menschlichen Herzen herauszuspinnen und eben dadurch an das menschliche Herz wieder anzuknüpfen.
And while writing Wallenstein he noted that ‘poetic’ characters have the function of representing and enunciating ‘das Allgemeine der Menschheit’, i.e that in any man which is common to all men (to Goethe, August 24th, 1798).
Schiller, then, considers that the material for Wallenstein is unpoetic, yet can be made poetic by the ‘epic spirit’ or long-winded manner in which he has treated it. We see from this statement how difficult it was for him to avoid ‘beide Abwege, das Prosaische und das Rhetorische’, for he feels he needs the diffuseness inherent in ‘das Rhetorische’ to avoid being prosaic. He comes back to this argument in the letter to Goethe of August 24th, 1798. where he recognizes that lengthy declamation is unnatural and that brevity would be ‘der Natur handelnder Charaktere gemässer’. He answers the objection by saying that drama needs to be unlike real life in certain ways. He adds a further justification:
Eine kürzere und lakonischere Behandlung würde nicht nur viel zu arm und trocken ausfallen: sie würde auch viel zu sehr realistisch, hart und in heftigen Situationen unausstehlich werden, da hingegen eine breitere und vollere Behandlungsweise immer eine gewisse Ruhe und Gemütlichkeit, auch in den gewaltsamsten Zuständen, die man schildert, hervorbringt.
Here, then, he repeats his earlier statement that ‘epic’ breadth takes the prosiness out of his material, and adds that, precisely because such diffuseness is unlike real life, it tones down the harsh realism of the subject-matter.
If crude or prosaic detail can be given poetic dignity by being presented in a diffuse, declamatory way, it might follow that where the subject-matter is not objectionable or dull, diffuse representation is unnecessary or even undesirable. And this is in fact Schiller's view, formulated in a letter to Goethe of November 4th, 1797:
Es scheint, dass ein Teil des poetischen Interesse in dem Antagonism zwischen dem Inhalt und der Darstellung liegt: ist der Inhalt sehr poetisch-bedeutend, so kann eine magre Darstellung und eine bis zum Gemeinen gehende Einfalt des Ausdruckes ihm recht wohl anstehen, da im Gegenteil ein unpoetischer gemeiner Inhalt, wie er in einem grössern Ganzen oft nötig wird, durch einen belebten und reichen Ausdruck poetische Dignität erhält.
The ‘grösseres Ganzes’ that Schiller has in mind is his Wallenstein; the exposition is very detailed and long and the hero does not take the decisive step until Act I, Scene 7 of the third play of the trilogy. The implication is that tedium can be avoided by ‘ein belebter und reicher Ausdruck’. The epithets imply profusion of imagery and other devices to achieve elevated diction; and a certain diffuseness is surely also implied by the contrast with ‘eine magre Darstellung’.
Now if Schiller were incapable of writing tersely, we should be entitled to reject his theorizings on the advantages of diffuseness as mere rationalizations. But we see how very concise he can be from the summing-up speeches which inform a character of a situation already clear to the others and the audience. For example, at the beginning of Tell, Baumgarten explains in sixty lines of dialogue why he wishes to be put across the lake. Tell then arrives and has to be told who it is who is asking for what sort of help and why. He is told in a speech which condenses the sixty lines into six:
's ist ein Alzeller Mann: er hat sein’ Ehr’ (128)
Verteidigt und den Wolfenschiess erschlagen,
Des Königs Burgvogt, der auf Rossberg sass.
Des Landvogts Reiter sind ihm auf den Fersen.
Er fleht den Schiffer um die Überfahrt;
Der fürcht’t sich vor dem Sturm und will nicht fahren.
The same condensation can be seen when Wallenstein's wife is told of a complicated situation which has already been enacted to the audience:
Empört hat sich der Herzog, zu dem Feind
Hat er sich schlagen wollen, die Armee
Hat ihn verlassen, und es ist misslungen.
(Tod, ll. 1783-5)
Schiller, then, can be terse, and there is no reason to doubt his statement that his diffuseness was sometimes a deliberate method of dealing with certain difficulties in his subject-matter. If he carries out his own theory, we shall expect him to, as it were, switch on a certain diffuseness when presenting matters which he considers dull and uninteresting.
We can find such details both in Die Piccolomini and in Maria Stuart. They are on the whole absent from Wallensteins Tod and, as Goethe saw, the powerful effect of this play is partly due to the fact that in it ‘alles aufhört politisch zu sein und bloss menschlich wird’ (to Schiller, March 18th, 1799), i.e. the problems discussed are of general human interest, such as: is a man obliged to keep his word under all circumstances? What shall he do when faced with a choice between duty and inclination? These ethical issues which concern all men at all times Goethe contrasted with the political fabric of Die Piccolomini; the spectator has difficulty in finding his way out of ‘einem gewissen künstlichen, und hie und da willkürlich scheinenden Gewebe’ (to Schiller, March 9th, 1799). If we seek an example of a long recital of political details, the obvious one is the speech by Buttler (Act I, Scene 2) which provokes from Questenberg the famous reply: ‘Was ist der langen Rede kurzer Sinn?’ Buttler takes thirty lines to make three points: (i) that the Kaiser has an enormous number of troops in Germany, (ii) that they are all commanded by Wallenstein's captains, and (iii) that they are not fighting for patriotic reasons but are united only by their devotion to Wallenstein. The way this final point is stated shows the style in which the whole is written:
Fremdlinge stehn sie da auf diesem Boden; 223
Der Dienst allein ist ihnen Haus und Heimat.
Sie treibt der Eifer nicht fürs Vaterland,
Denn Tausende, wie mich, gebar die Fremde.
Nicht für den Kaiser, wohl die Hälfte kam
Aus fremdem Dienst feldflüchtig uns herüber,
Gleichgültig unterm Doppeladler fechtend 229
Wie unterm Löwen und den Lilien.
Doch alle führt an gleich gewalt’ gem Zügel
Ein Einziger, durch gleiche Lieb’ und Furcht
Zu einem Volke sie zusammenbindend.
Und wie des Blitzes Funke sicher, schnell,
Geleitet an der Wetterstange, läuft, 235
Herrscht sein Befehl vom letzten fernen Posten,
Der an die Dünen branden hört den Belt,
Der in der Etsch fruchtbare Thäler sieht,
Bis zu der Wache, die ihr Schilderhaus
Hat aufgerichtet an der Kaiserburg. 240
Of these eighteen lines, 229-30 and 234-40 are superfluous in the sense that the ideas are fully and completely expressed without them. Thus the imagery of 231-3 makes Wallenstein's power perfectly clear. The simile of the lightning which follows and the specification of some of the outposts do, however, add a little poetry to statements which might otherwise ‘zu arm und trocken ausfallen.’ The picturesque details of the surf and the fruitful valleys certainly contrast with the factual matters of the opening lines.
A good many of the political facts in Maria Stuart are given in Act I, Scene 7. Schiller wrote to Goethe (April 26th, 1799) that he hoped to begin the play with the sentence against Maria and pass over all these political issues leading up to it. But this hope was not fully realized, and six weeks later (July 12th) he wrote again, saying that an account of her trial was necessary after all, and that he hoped he had overcome the ‘tendency to dullness’ inherent in such legal niceties. The reason why he could not avoid giving them is not far to seek. His Maria is not guilty of the crime for which she is executed, and so he has to make clear the official charge against her and begin to establish her innocence of it. In this scene she gives five reasons why her trial was invalid: her judges were not her peers, as they ought to have been according to English law; they were also clearly mere tools of the crown, for since the days of Henry VIII the English Lords have been prepared to change their faith with every new accession, proving that they are not independent of their sovereign's whim; third, they were Protestants and therefore biased against her; fourth, they were English and bore the traditional English hatred for all that is Scottish; and fifth, the scribes who testified against her were not confronted with her as English law requires. Burleigh is not able to answer any of these objections, and Paulet, who as we see from the opening scenes is not exactly biased in her favour, admits, when challenged, that she is right and goes on to complain privately to Burleigh that ‘Unziemlichkeiten’ have occurred in her trial. The point of all this is clearly to show her innocence of the official charge against her.2
Schiller, then, could not avoid including much legal detail which he feared would be dull. My question is how he sets about avoiding dullness, and my theory is that he does so by applying his own principle of switching on a declamatory style. Thus, one of Maria's objections is, as we saw,
Dass vor Gericht kein Britte gegen den Schotten, (807)
Kein Schotte gegen jenen zeugen darf.
The next eleven lines bring a poetical elaboration of this prosaic point. Nature has flung these two impassioned peoples on a narrow board in the ocean, divided it unequally between them, and bade them fight for its possession. Only the narrow bed of the Tweed separates their tempestuous spirits, and often its waves are coloured by the blood of the combatants, who stand glowering at each other, their hands on their swords, on opposite banks. Here we have the ‘belebter und reicher Ausdruck’ that Schiller deemed appropriate to prosaic subject-matter.
The same technique is visible in the way the probability and importance of Elisabeth's marriage to the Duke of Anjou are communicated to us in Act II, Scene 1. Instead of just saying how the religious problem involved has been settled and how important it is that Elisabeth should have a child to prevent the throne from passing back to Catholic control (Maria being the next legitimate claimant), Schiller introduces these matters with an account of a (significantly fictitious) tournament, at which ‘das Verlangen’ (the French knights) made an assault on ‘die keusche Festung der Schönheit’ (defended by Elisabeth's knights). Here, then, a political matter of some importance to the plot is introduced not with images or elevated diction but with what one might almost call an allegory (reminiscent of the moral allegories of the pre-Elizabethan stage) which certainly involves treating the whole subject at greater length.
Schiller cannot, of course, always present legal and political details in this way. In Act I, Scene 6 Mortimer's plot to save Maria is compressed into seven factual lines (634-40), and only another seven (518-24) are needed to state a crucial factor in the political background, namely that from the Catholic point of view Elisabeth has no right to her throne, being the child of a marriage contracted without papal sanction. In this scene Schiller has to draw Mortimer's character in full; it is his first substantial appearance, and when we next see him (in Act II) he begins to act decisively in accordance with his character. Hence there are some really long speeches in this scene devoted to character-drawing, and this may well be Schiller's reason for not lengthening it even more by lengthy treatment of political details. For instance, in the first really long speech of the whole play, Mortimer denotes the religion in which he was brought up as ‘streng’, ‘finster’ and ‘dumpf’, and his own temperament and behaviour as ‘heiss’ and ‘schnell’. He refers also to his ‘unbezwingliche Begierde’. Thus these opening nine lines (409-17) tell us that he is a young hot-head, temperamentally inclined to react against puritanical constraints. His impulsiveness is of importance to the action. To give but one example, it leads him to take the initiative in frank speaking in the scene between him and Leicester (Act II, Scene 8). The elderly courtier whose motto is ‘ich kann der Vorsicht nicht zu viel gebrauchen’ (1749) would never have done this, and reproaches Mortimer for his rash plans (1868). Mortimer's speech in Act I continues for another thirty-two lines which bring out his susceptibility to the sensuous pageantry of Catholicism (418-50). A pilgrimage to Rome is described, the arrival in the impressive city, the effect of the ritual of the papal mass on the youth accustomed only to ‘the word of God’ recited in a joyless, undecorated kirk. This long description serves to show that he is a ‘Sinnenmensch’. He prefers the physical and the concrete to the abstract. Catholicism appeals to him because he wants something concrete and tangible. This is reiterated when he says of the Cardinal who instructed him:
Er zeigte mir, dass grübelnde Vernunft (477)
Den Menschen ewig in der Irre leitet,
Dass seine Augen sehen müssen, was
Das Herz soll glauben, dass ein sichtbar Haupt
Der Kirche not tut …
Paulet states the puritan attitude in the first scene of the play, where he says that Mary has her Bible and can do without decorations such as jewellery or mirrors. Mortimer shows how completely he has abandoned this standpoint when he rejects the Bible in favour of the sensuous Catholic ritual:
Hass schwur ich nun dem engen dumpfen Buch, (457)
Mit frischem Kranz die Schläfe mir zu schmücken,
Mich fröhlich an die Fröhlichen zu schliessen.
Mortimer's character as a ‘Sinnenmensch’ is, of course, of great importance to the action. He wants to rescue Maria in order to marry and possess her, and it is the violence of his behaviour towards her in Act III, Scene 6 that sobers her after she has gloated over her triumph at humiliating Elisabeth at the interview. Almost everything he says there refers to violence. He talks of the universe collapsing, of himself being ripped to pieces at Tyburn, of murdering Elisabeth and his uncle, of fighting to the death with Leicester, and of tearing Maria from her chamber. Her reaction is to feel that life is not worth living if her supporters are going to treat her as roughly as do her enemies. As Schiller said, ‘ihr Schicksal ist nur heftige Passionen zu erfahren und zu entzünden’ (to Goethe, June 18th, 1799). And Maria herself asks despairingly: ‘Bin ich geboren, nur die Wut zu wecken?’ (2552).
Thus Mortimer's long speech in Act I brings out traits in his character which need to be made clear if we are to find the action of the whole play at all convincing. It is interesting to note how tersely Schiller makes him repeat to Leicester in Act II what he stated at such great length in Act I. When Leicester asks how he has come to take Maria's side, Mortimer replies:
Das kann ich Euch mit wenigem erklären. (1741)
Ich habe meinen Glauben abgeschworen
Zu Rom und steh’ im Bündnis mit den Guisen.
Ein Brief des Erzbischofs zu Reims hat mich
Beglaubigt bei der Königin von Schottland.
Schiller does not, then, adopt an expansive and poetic style only when narrating matters which he fears might otherwise appear dull. Indeed, his very enthusiasm for some ideas can sometimes lead him to express them at great length. It was long ago noted that ‘man hat ihm zum schweren Vorwurf gemacht, dass er der Versuchung nicht widerstand, einen schönen Gedanken auf den glänzenden Wellen seiner Beredsamkeit dahinströmen zu lassen, wenn auch mitunter die Handlung zu schnellerem Fortgang trieb’.3 Some of Max Piccolomini's speeches are a good example. Schiller confessed that he felt much more drawn to Max than to the other characters (to Goethe, November 28th, 1796), and in Die Piccolomini, lines 534 ff. we find him talking for 25 lines in praise of peace. He imagines the homeward procession of the colours, the gaily decorated troops, the welcoming crowds and ringing bells. The blossoms with which the troops bedeck their helmets he calls their last and final theft from the fields; and he contrasts the voluntary opening of the gates to admit the joyous throng with the previous blasting open of the walls. He goes on to imagine the bewilderment of the soldier who finds his home surroundings so different after the long campaign:
Mit breiten Ästen
Deckt ihn der Baum bei seiner Wiederkehr,
Der sich zur Gerte bog, als er gegangen,
Und schamhaft tritt als Jungfrau ihm entgegen,
Die er einst an der Amme Brust verliess.
Now all this is by no means an irrelevant digression. Now that he is in love with Thekla he wants the war to be over so that he can marry and settle down. Octavio realizes the implications at once, and sees that he will have to inform his son of Wallenstein's treachery straightway, before the lad becomes so committed to Thekla that he will not be able to keep faith with his Kaiser. So the disclosures Max makes in this speech precipitate the conflict between father and son so essential to this play, from which it even derives its title. Nevertheless, we cannot avoid the impression that Max's ideas and emotions could have been communicated more succinctly, and that Schiller's diffuseness here is due to his sympathy with them. Other examples occur in Act III, Scene 4 where Max defends (at considerable length) Wallenstein's faith in the stars, saying that such belief is altogether becoming for ‘ein liebend Herz’:
Die Fabel ist der Liebe Heimatwelt;
Gern wohnt sie unter Feen, Talismanen,
Glaubt gern an Götter, weil sie göttlich ist.
He is, of course, thinking of the emotional needs of his own ‘liebend Herz’, and continues to do so in his next speech, where he is also only ostensibly talking about Wallenstein. After saying that Wallenstein will bring peace to the world and then retire to his estates, Max spends fifteen lines (1662-76) painting an idyllic picture of such a life of peaceful retirement—thinking surely of his own life with Thekla, as is indicated by Gräfin Terzky's interruption. She pulls him back to the grim reality of the present, reminding him that Thekla is not yet his and must be won before he puts his weapons aside.
Practically the whole of this third act of Die Piccolomini deals with the relationship between Thekla and Max, and Schiller described it as ‘der poetisch wichtigste Teil’ of the whole (to Goethe, November 9th, 1798). He said too that these love scenes are in complete contrast to the political intrigue which constitutes the rest of the play (to Goethe, December 12th, 1797). They serve to put the point of view of the idealists. Max is conscious of the gulf which separates Thekla and himself from the other characters who are all realists:
Betrug ist überall und Heuchelschein
Und Mord und Gift und Meineid und Verrat;
Der einzig reine Ort ist unsere Liebe.
(Tod, ll. 1218-20)
Max is an entirely fictitious character, and Thekla is in effect also fictitious, since the daughter of the historical Wallenstein was only nine years of age when he was murdered. Schiller has invented them to pass judgement on the realists and has created special scenes for Max to do so on Wallenstein (Tod, Act II, Scene 2) and Octavio (Act II, Scene 7). Idealism is Schiller's own standpoint, and it seems that Max's lengthy speeches come straight from Schiller's heart.
My point, then, is not that Schiller is always diffuse when talking politics, nor that he is never diffuse about anything else, but that some of the long legal and political speeches are as they are because he is deliberately applying his own theory on how to sustain interest. It has long been appreciated that he chose the highly artificial form of rhymed verse for Wallensteins Lager to tone down the extreme realism of the subject-matter. Life in Wallenstein's army is not very edifying, and the rhymed verse ‘destroys illusion’, as Schiller puts it in the prologue, so that we know we are witnessing a poetic fiction and not a slice of life:
Und wenn die Muse heut,
Ihr altes deutsches Recht, des Reimes Spiel,
Bescheiden wieder fordert—tadelt's nicht!
Ja, danket ihr's, dass sie das düstre Bild
Der Wahrheit in das heitre Reich der Kunst
Hinüberspielt, die Täuschung, die sie schafft,
Aufrichtig selbst zerstört und ihren Schein
Der Wahrheit nicht betrüglich unterschiebt;
Ernst ist das Leben, heiter ist die Kunst.
The humour in the Lager also serves to tone down the unpalatable subject-matter, and this again has often been noted. But the fact that Schiller deliberately employs a certain type of poetical diction when dealing with details that he thinks dull rather than unpalatable has tended to be overlooked, doubtless because the style employed in such passages is the rhetorical one he uses for different reasons elsewhere. The relevant examples have therefore been noted, if at all, as examples of ‘Schiller's rhetoric’, and their special significance overlooked.
But there is a wider question raised by all this, namely, what is poetry? How does it differ from prose? I think I have given evidence enough that in Schiller's view poetry often means long-winded and repetitive speeches, adorned with so-called ‘poetical’ epithets, similes, allegories and the like. This is of course the conception of poetry passed on to eighteenth-century writers by Opitz who (in his Buch von der deutschen Poeterei of 1624) said that in tragic and epic poetry ‘man muss ansehnliche, volle und heftige Reden vorbringen und ein Ding nicht nur bloss nennen, sondern mit prächtigen hohen Worten umschreiben’. But Schiller, although he often thinks diffuse declamation, colour and richness appropriate, certainly does not equate poetry with them, for he thought that some subjects are poetic in themselves and should be treated tersely (see above, p. 103). So according to him, one can be poetical and brief. I have tried to show above that when he says some story or situation is poetical he means it is effective in that it stimulates a strong emotion, in particular sympathy with the person whose situation is portrayed. I think what he has in mind is that some situations in themselves produce this reaction in the audience: it does not depend upon the words used and may even occur if no words at all are uttered. The situation on the stage at the beginning of Act V of Maria Stuart, which is indicated not by spoken words but by long stage directions, would be a case in point. Modern producers tend (understandably enough) to cut those parts of his plays where the ‘poetry’ depends on long-winded repetitions. But there are many passages where the poetry is not of this kind, where it is the situation and the ideas and emotions springing from it that are—just as much as the words—poetical, and it is to this type of poetry that Schiller owes his permanent place in the repertory.
Nachricht von den neuesten Schicksalen des Hundes Berganza, in Phantasiestücke, Werke, ed. v. Maassen, München, 1912, vol. I, p. 171
I cannot agree with Professor Stahl, who seizes on Maria's objection that her judges were not her peers, and takes it as evidence that ‘her pride is as strong as ever’, that she bears Elisabeth a ‘grievance’ for having her tried by lesser men, and that when Mortimer reveals his plan to her, ‘she accepts him as … an instrument to take vengeance on Elisabeth’ (Schiller's Drama, Oxford, 1954, p. 111). Maria's concern at this stage is not with vengeance but with justice, and her complaint that her judges were not her peers is part of her argument that her trial did not fulfil the requirements of the law.
Goldbeck and Rudolph, Schiller-Lexikon, Berlin, 1869, art. Sprache.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8100
SOURCE: “Villainy and Guilt in Schiller's Wallenstein and Maria Stuart,” in Deutung und Bedeuntung: Studies in German and Comparative Literature Presented to Karl Werner Maurer, edited by Brigitte Schuldermann, Victor G. Doerksen, Robert J. Glendinning, and Evelyn Scherabon Firchow, Mouton and Co., 1973, pp. 100-17.
[In the following essay, Wells discusses the problem of how we are to understand the guilt and villainy of the heroes and antagonists in Wallenstein and Maria Stuart, and notes that Schiller places less and less emphasis on villainy as a source of tragic catastrophe in his later works.]
Schiller believed that the effect of tragedy is greatest when both the hero and his opponent have an arguable moral case.1 This paper sets out to ascertain to what extent he succeeded in Wallenstein and Maria Stuart in fulfilling this requirement. Scholars still disagree concerning the apportionment of guilt between hero (or heroine) and antagonist in these two plays—a remarkable state of affairs in view of the fact that Schiller was concerned to present characters actuated by ideas and emotions intelligible to all people at all times.2 Many writers have, like Walter Scott, gone to great lengths to present their characters in local dress, speaking the proper dialect and harbouring the correct superstitions. Schiller had no desire to follow this practice of introducing such features which can only be understood by those who know the time and place, and in any case he lacked the historical knowledge to do so. In his later, as in the very first of his historical plays, his aim was “die kalte unfruchtbare Staatsaktion aus dem menschlichen Herzen herauszuspinnen und eben dadurch an das menschliche Herz wieder anzuknüpfen”.3
Schiller's Wallenstein has been held to be a hero who gets no more than his deserts.4 His treatment of Buttler has been instanced as one of the chief grounds for withholding sympathy. In his Geschichte des dreißigjährigen Krieges, Schiller records that Wallenstein urged Illo “in Wien den Grafentitel zu suchen”, but wrote in secret to the court that the application should not be granted. Now the dramatist did not need this anecdote to motivate the treason of a soldier of fortune, as is the Illo of his play, but utilized it in connection with Buttler; for such an honest man could not be represented as forsaking his emperor without strong provocation, and provocation of this kind had the advantage to the dramatist that it touches Buttler at his most sensitive spot (his consciousness of his lowly origin). And so we find that in Wallensteins Tod (II, 6) Buttler becomes convinced that Wallenstein, while pretending to support his application for elevation to the aristocracy, had in fact written to Vienna advising the court to castigate him for his arrogance. Hebbel asked concerning this whole incident: “Wallensteins schändlicher Betrug, … wie verträgt er sich mit der Würde eines tragischenCharakters?”5 Hebbel did not deny that the deception was perpetrated, but W. F. Mainland has argued that “if we are to suppose Wallenstein guilty of the fraud, we may have to fix the notion of his amoral character beyond the normal limits acceptable even to us”.6 Let us study the details.
Mainland is certainly right to say that Wallenstein's own admission that he has behaved badly to Buttler (Tod, ll. 1448-50) has no reference to any deceitful letter writing. The context shows that he is here reproaching himself for having listened to a “Stimme … im Herzen” warning him against Buttler, who—and this is one of the many ironical elements in the play—has transpired to be his staunchest supporter. Wallenstein himself thus says nothing from which we could infer that he is the author of the incriminating letter which Octavio shows to Buttler in II, 6. Mainland further notes that, in that scene, we are not permitted to hear the text of the letter, and so “have no opportunity of trying to judge from its phrasing whether Wallenstein can possibly have composed it” (32-33). But in fact we could hardly infer much from its phrasing, as Wallenstein's style is anything but uniform. H. B. Garland states, in his recent close study of style in Schiller's plays, that Wallenstein's “way of speaking” shows him to be “the most mobile character in the play”, “chameleon-like”.7 To give the text of the letter would have retarded the dialogue to no purpose, and so Schiller makes Octavio provide a summary of the contents (ll. 1141-43) while Buttler reads them. Buttler accepts the letter as genuine presumably because he recognizes Wallenstein's seal or hand, with which he is familiar.8 Mainland notes that his reading of the letter “is completed during the speaking of six lines of text” and “can therefore at best be only cursory” (34). But Schiller is not an exponent of ‘Sekundenstil’ and so would not prolong a stage event because the same event in real life would require more time. It is obvious that Buttler aligned himself with Wallenstein only because the court had offended him so grievously. When he agreed (Piccolomini, IV, 4) to pledge his general unconditional support, he added that six months previously he would never have thus broken faith with his emperor (ll. 1971-74). The astute Wallenstein must have known this, and it is natural to suppose that he ensured—by writing the letter which Octavio later produces—that the court did alienate him.
Schiller has not recorded his own interpretation, but Goethe (who may be presumed to have been aware of his friend's intentions) says in his review of the play that Octavio “überführt ihn [Buttler] durch Vorzeigung authentischer Dokumente”.9 Mainland says that because Goethe here refers in the plural to the showing of one letter, “we should be justified in refusing to consider the passage altogether” (45). But it is more reasonable to suppose that Goethe, writing from his memory of a stage performance, thought that Octavio handed Buttler some papers instead of a paper.
If Wallenstein did not write the letter, the obvious alternative is that Octavio forged it; and some will agree with G. Storz “daß letzlich unsicher und offen bleibt, wer denn nun in Wahrheit Buttler irregeführt hat—Wallenstein oder Octavio.”10 But Mainland is unwilling to believe either Wallenstein or Octavio guilty of such fraud (39), and he concludes that Schiller may have deliberately left the origin of the letter obscure. “Such intention”, he says, “would assort very well with the central theme of the play—the ‘Doppelsinn des Lebens’”. When Wallenstein says (Tod, l. 161): “mich verklagt der Doppelsinn des Lebens”, he is voicing his awareness that even those of his actions which, he would claim, were inspired by pure motives, can be interpreted as determined by selfish ones. Mainland, however, seems to link the “Doppelsinn des Lebens” with the principle that great works of literature characteristically display a certain ambiguity.11 But to suggest that Schiller gives no adequate account of the origin of a document which turns Buttler against Wallenstein, and which therefore leads indirectly to the hero's death, is tantamount to assuming that the dramatist has dropped all serious concern with motivation.
L. Bellermann long ago showed that Wallenstein's trickery of Buttler is not an isolated incident which depresses an otherwise morally acceptable character, but accords perfectly with his practice of treating everyone as a means to his own ends.12 He expressly seeks (Tod, III, 18) to win Max from the emperor with the words: “Mir angehören, mir gehorchen, das / Ist deine Ehre, dein Naturgesetz.” In spite of his egoism, we can admire Wallenstein for his fearlessness and strength of character in adversity.13 And I have argued elsewhere that our basis for sympathy with him is our recognition that he is under considerable pressure to act as he does, that he is not entirely to blame for the difficult situation facing him in Die Piccolomini, and that not wholly impure motives have led him into a situation in which he must either inflict or suffer violence.14
While critics have made attempts to elevate Wallenstein, there has been a tendency to achieve the same end by blackening his antagonist. J. Müller, for instance, says that Octavio, “der geschmeidige Höfling”, deceives Wallenstein “aus Ehrgeiz” (135). And E. L. Stahl suggests that Octavio “combines loyalty to his emperor with an unmistakable desire to further his own ends”.15 Some other critics have gone only so far as to claim that Octavio's purity or otherwise of motive is (as has been said of the origin of the letter shown to Buttler!) an open question. Thus F. W. Kaufmann holds that “bei Octavio … wird es nie ganz klar, ob die Kaisertreue oder der persönliche Vorteil vorwiegt, den er von seinen Intrigen im Dienst des Kaisers erwartet”.16 Max at first suspects his father of pursuing his own advantage but goes on to embrace him, and Schiller's purpose here is surely not to suggest that Maxhas been duped, but that both father and son have an arguable moral case. Our feelings towards the conflict between father and son, which forms the culmination of the second of the three plays, would not correspond to its importance in the action if we were to suppose that it was resolved by trickery. Octavio is no opportunist, but acts from stolid loyalty to his emperor. As he sees it, Wallenstein's “böse Tat” has left him only underhand methods of preventing civil war (Piccolomini, ll. 2364-68, 2452-60). W. Wittkowski has cogently argued that any further stress on Octavio's rectitude would have had the effect of lowering Wallenstein in our estimation and that, for this reason, Schiller is even concerned—through the mouth of Max—to show Octavio in a worse light than he deserves.17 On Octavio's integrity external evidence is important, for Schiller in three letters absolves him from villainy, and is thus concerned in this play to implement his own principle that maximum effectiveness is achieved when both he who causes and he whosuffers disaster become objects of our sympathy.18 Octavio does rise as a result of Wallenstein's fall, but this is very different from saying that he engineered it in order to profit from it. The effectiveness of the final curtain of the trilogy depends largely on our realizing that Gordon's “Blick des Vorwurfs” as he hands the Emperor's letter to “dem Fürsten Piccolomini” is unjust; that Octavio, broken-hearted that he has lost his son, has now to accept the ascription of his actions to the basest of motives.19 Here, indeed, is the “Doppelsinn des Lebens”, in the sense in which Wallenstein used the phrase! Octavio's reaction to Gordon's taunt, although but a gesture, is more eloquent than words. We know what he must feel from our knowledge of the whole situation. In realistic drama generally we may to some extent have our emotions excited by the language used, but it is primarily the events and situations depicted which have this effect. Words are, of course, often needed to explain the significance of the events. But often the most effective words are those which state most briefly and at the same time most clearly what the situation is. We are much less impressed by what a character says he feels than by what we judge from the situation he must feel. He may rant as much as he likes, but if we see no reason in his situation to justify so much excitement, we shall not be excited or if our emotions are aroused it will be emotions of a very different kind.
Turning now to Maria Stuart, we find similar problems, in that there is disagreement as to whether Schiller's Elisabeth may justly be called villainous, and as to the extent and nature of Maria's guilt. To explain the issues involved I must briefly review the historical facts that Schiller found before him. Elizabeth reigned over many committed Catholics, from whose standpoint she had no right to her throne, being the child of a marriage contracted without papal sanction. It could hardly be disputed that, on her death, Mary Stuart (granddaughter of the eldest sister of Elizabeth's father) would be her rightful successor, although she naturally refused to recognize this formally, being well aware that more people worship the rising than the setting sun. English Catholics therefore knew that to assassinate her would automatically bring a Catholic monarch to the throne. Elizabeth and her Protestant advisors thus had a cogent motive for having Mary killed, even had she been innocent of political aspiration. In actual fact Mary was not without political ambition. After the death of Mary Tudor she had openly asserted her claim to the English throne by quartering her arms with the three lions of England. It was later stipulated—in the Treaty of Edinburgh (1560)—that she should abstain from using the arms and title of the kingdoms of England and Ireland, but she never ratified this treaty.20
Schiller's Maria had, in her youth, claimed to be rightful queen of England (ll. 1290-91; 1534-37; 2336-37). It is implied in Act I that she has not abandoned this claim, for Paulet says she could go free if only she were to ratify the Treaty of Edinburgh (ll. 105-09), and from Leicester we learn (ll. 1416-17) “Daß sie dies Reich in Anspruch nimmt, daß dich [Elisabeth] / Die Guisen nicht als Königin erkennen …”s (ll. 1416-17). Although Maria sees in this claim the source of all her suffering (ll. 534-35), she thus still affirms it and even speaks of revenge (l. 592). This affirmation, however inexpedient, is no crime, for a Catholic must necessarily regard Elisabeth as a usurper. In some passages Schiller implies that, like the historical Mary, Maria will be satisfied if her claim is acknowledged to the extent that she be declared Elisabeth's rightful successor. Thus she tells Burleigh that she had cherished the hope (fulfilled in history by her son) of uniting England and Scotland peacefully under one sceptre (ll. 829-31). At the interview with Elisabeth she states that all would have been well if only she had been declared Elisabeth's heir (ll. 2365-69). Later in this interview, as part of her attempt to humble herself, she waives all her rights—present and future—to the English throne (ll. 2378-79), only to re-assert them with maximum vehemence when Elisabeth has provoked her beyond endurance (ll. 2447-51). Maria's total renunciation of all her political claims is no more historically true than the interview during which it occurs, but is nevertheless quite intelligible as a desperate bid to win life and freedom by humbling herself before her rival.
Schiller's heroine is executed for conspiring with Babington against Elisabeth's life, but unlike the historical Mary, she was not in fact involved in any plot against Elisabeth. In the play her trial for conspiracy is represented as having been little more than a farce. But why, we ask, has she refrained from conspiracy? Ought not a usurper to be forcibly deposed? Maria's answer is that she personally has done nothing to foment a Catholic rising (ll. 839-43) because it would sully her to be a party to any plan involving Elisabeth's murder (l. 954). She does however admit, and even stress, that she has appealed to France and Spain to free her from English captivity, and that any prisoner wrongfully detained would have a perfect right to do likewise (ll. 946-51; 3727-28). Her hope is that Leicester will free her, and Kennedy does not contradict Paulet when he alleges that the queen is trying to bribe the gardener, presumably to take her letter to Leicester. In the upshot she is able to give it to Mortimer for delivery, but how little she cares for plots of violence is clear from her attempt to dissuade him from trying to rescue her by force (l. 650).
Mainland has noted that Elisabeth's assassination might well be “a possible result of her [Maria's] plea for help among the foreign powers” (82) and that although she “has vigorously denied the intention of assassination, she has cherished designs which might have had that end”. Thus the attempt on Elisabeth's life reported in Act III does have the blessing of the French ambassador (ll. 638-40), if not of his government. I do not, however, agree with Mainland that Maria's behaviour makes her politically guilty and justifies the sentence of death passed on her. This view, as Kaufmann has said in criticism of Mainland, “geht … entschieden zu weit” (93). As is stressed by Burleigh, her very existence may lead to a Catholic attempt on Elisabeth's life; and if her appeal to the Catholic powers to free her increases the danger to Elisabeth, the latter can meet it by liberating, rather than executing, her rival. If Schiller had wished to make his heroine politically guilty he would hardly have made Burleigh's statement of the legal case against her so feeble that even Paulet, who has just called her vain and lascivious (ll. 40, 45) is forced to take her side, complaining as he does of the trial's “Unziemlichkeiten” (l. 985). Nor would Schiller have deviated from the historical facts in making the scribes who testified against her retract their evidence in Act V. He has freed Maria from political guilt and burdened her with a deep consciousness of personal sin. The historical Mary did plot with Babington to overthrow Elizabeth, but never admitted complicity in Darnley's murder. Schiller's heroine does not plot with Babington, but freely admits that she allowed Darnley to be killed.
Mainland is anxious to burden Maria with some political guilt so that we do not sympathize with her at the expense of her rival. For the same reason he also tries to elevate Elisabeth's character, as he has done with Wallenstein. Although it is certainly in accordance with Schiller's theory of tragedy that plays are more effective if disaster is contrived without villainy, the text does not bear out Mainland's charitable view of Elisabeth.
When Elisabeth receives Maria's letter requesting an interview, she weeps in sympathy with the queen, who, formerly so proud and powerful, is now so helpless and humble (ll. 1528-30). She then says that she will find means of reconciling clemency—which in this context means granting the interview—with necessity (ll. 1568-70). What she has in mind emerges when, immediately afterwards, she hints to Mortimer that she will be glad to have Maria murdered. She takes him into her confidence presumably because she knows that he alone will have opportunity to do the deed, now that Paulet has refused either to do it himself or to admit an assassin to his castle. Maria's murder will enable Elisabeth “den Schein [zu] retten” (l. 1598), to avoid the impropriety of sending a queen and a relative to the scaffold. Once she feels confident that Mortimer will carry out her commission, she will gladly grant Maria an interview in order to obtain a reputation for clemency—“sich den Schein der Gnade vor der Welt zu geben”, as Leicester puts it (ll. 1900-01; cf. ll. 2048-50), and also in order to humiliate Maria (ll. 2830-31). In view of these facts it is surprising that both Mainland and Garland take her tears over Maria's letter as a genuine expression of compassion.21 Later she unashamedly declares that she will have crocodile tears enough to bewail the death of her rival (ll. 3899-900). Her charge to Mortimer could be excused by the exigencies of her situation if it were not accompanied by hypocritical readiness to grant the interview. Schiller's designation “königliche Heuchlerin” (to Goethe, July 30, 1799) is indeed just, although Mainland rejects this explicit testimony on the ground that Schiller “was not [in] the mood [to] write with delicate precision” when he penned it (63).
Elisabeth is represented as about to marry, against her will, so that the nation will be assured of a Protestant successor. She hints to Leicester that, had she followed her heart instead of political necessity, she would have married him (ll. 1967-71). Yet she concludes her interview with Mortimer by promising her favours to him if he will kill Maria. Mainland thinks (74) that there can be “no doubt” that she is promising him marriage, but Mortimer himself is not sure that this is what she really means (ll. 1643-44) and, as usual, she avoids any clear and definite committal. She offers him “die engsten Bande, die zärtesten” (ll. 1630-31). Bellermann has noted how repulsive this is. Even if she intends to make him only a favourite, without sexual privileges, “so bleibt es doch ein sehr niedriger Zug, daß eine Frau so etwas ohne Liebe, nur zur Gewinnung eines äußeren Zweckes sprechen kann” (215). There is certainly no suggestion that she loves Mortimer, whom she here meets for the first time.
Schiller has retained and even augmented all that is unattractive in the character of the historical Elizabeth, whereas he has elevated that of the historical Mary. The result is that we cannot extend our sympathy equally to his two queens. Storz contrasts this with the situation in Wallenstein, where “weder Wallenstein noch Octavio dürfte völling recht haben, keiner durchaus im Unrecht sein” (332-33). Maria's final words in Act I urge Elisabeth to show herself as she really is (l. 974). This, as we rapidly learn, is what she will never do, for she is above all concerned to save appearance, and evades responsibility whenever she can. Thus in order to appear element she deliberately gives Leicester a cue to suggest the interview with Maria (ll. 1995-99; 2023), although she will not expressly commit herself to granting it. It is to take place as if by chance, and if anything goes amiss it is to be Leicester's fault, not hers (ll. 2065-66). Paulet sees through her and warns Mortimer that, if he lends her his hand, she will later disown him (l. 1676). This condemnation from such a scrupulously honest character is highly revealing, and its justice later becomes apparent when she behaves in this very way towards Davison.22 If she ever reveals her own mind it is surely in her soliloquy (IV, 10) where, now that Mortimer has failed her, she is faced with the situation she has from the first striven to avoid, namely of having to assume the responsibility if Maria is to die. It is typical of Schiller's technique to sustain interest in Act IV by making a character take a decision crucial for the action of the play, and to show the workings of this character's mind by means of deliberation in a monologue. Mainland concedes (65) that at the end of this monologue “all she hears is her own voice … vibrant with anger against a hated rival”23 I do not wish to deny that she is in a difficult situation, nor that there are unselfish reasons why she should have Maria killed. The attack on her life after the interview gives incontrovertible evidence that the very existence of her rival exposes her to murderous attacks from Catholics who know that her death will bring a Catholic queen to the throne (cf. Burleigh's words, ll. 1255-65; 3101-06; 3170-80). But she is represented as being influenced at least as much by malice as by the considerations of political expediency which weigh so heavily upon Burleigh. Political and personal considerations thus combine to motivate her signature of the warrant. At the beginning of Act IV it is discovered that the French ambassador was implicated in the attempt on her life, and so he is dismissed and the negotiations for her marriage with the Dauphin are abruptly terminated. We also learn that while Maria was in the castle grounds Paulet discovered and seized a second letter which she had begun to write to Leicester, urging him to keep his word and free her. Elisabeth thus has evidence that Maria has deprived her not only of her “Bräutigam”, but even of her “Geliebten” (ll. 3234-35). The political and the personal elements seem inextricably entwined.
If our sympathies lie with Maria and not Elisabeth, we must be able to understand the development her character undergoes. Some have objected that there is no development, only an arbitrary alternation of moods. Otto Ludwig, for instance, complained that her fury in Act III is irreconcilable with her calm self-control in Acts I and V and has been contrived only because the plot demands a situation “wo sie sich in ihr Verderben schilt”24 Ludwig even discerns a third Maria, a “Pensionsmädchen” of III, l who bubbles with delight in the castle grounds and is neither the resigned, self-controlled woman of Acts I and V nor the vindictive, sharp-tongued creature of III, 4. A dramatist who creates complex characters is almost certain to be charged with such inconsistency, if only because so many have followed Dryden in holding that character, although it cannot be supposed to consist of one particular virtue, vice or passion, must be shown in drama by making one quality predominant over all the rest.25 Such is the easiest course for the dramatist, and it also simplifies the audience's task; for it is a common tendency to group men into classes, and if we can suppose that most of a man's actions are prompted by one particular passion, his whole behaviour becomes more predictable. However, in his later plays, Schiller disdains such methods.
In Act I Maria is a close prisoner, left with but a single servant. Schiller intended these severe circumstances to create an atmosphere of gloom from the first. He wrote (to Goethe, June 18, 1799) “daß man die Katastrophe gleich in den ersten Scenen sieht, und indem die Hand-lung des Stückes sich davon wegzubegeben scheint, ihr immer näher und näher geführt wird”.26 Furthermore in “Über das Pathetische” he says that the dramatist must place his hero in an unpleasant situation in order to show that he has the strength of character not to be dispirited. Maria's painful circumstances therefore make her composure the more commendable. It is Kennedy who complains about them, just as in the final Act it is her attendants, not Maria herself, who show signs of distress. Again, that she accepts her severe imprisonment calmly in Act I shows that she is no longer the irresponsible creature of her youth. Her situation thus strikes the note of tragedy from the first and shows both her strength and her change of character. This latter is stressed in scene 4 which acquaints us with her sense of guilt concerning her earlier relationships with Darnley and Bothwell. Schiller shows that she has discarded her earlier “Flattersinn” (l. 270) and “Leichtsinn” (l. 362) by giving Kennedy long speeches, pleading extenuating circumstances in excuse of Maria's youthful crimes, whereas Maria brushes these pleas aside, reiterating her guilt five times in short speeches of two lines each in reply. Her present moral earnestness is, then, clear from her behaviour. But her past character is not revealed exclusively by Kennedy's report, for Schiller had learned, perhaps from Lessing, that assurances from other people about what a person's character is will not ring true if they remain unsubstantiated by his own behaviour.27
Maria in Act I is penitent and resigned, and yet we are to believe that she was formerly a creature of fire and passion. Schiller makes this credible by showing that she is still capable of passionate outbursts. We can well believe that the Maria we see in the interview with Elisabeth is capable of the behaviour reported of her earlier career.28
In I, 6 Mortimer offers Maria the prospect of freedom and his portrayal of the Catholic pageantry he experienced in Italy makes her painfully conscious of her deprivation (ll. 451-54). When we next see her, the pull of life upon her—“der süße Trieb des Lebens” as it is later called (l. 3395)—is even stronger, for she is enjoying the freedom of the castle grounds in the belief that this new liberty is a preliminary to release (ll. 2119-22). The altered rhythm of her speech shows how completely she has abandoned the resigned attitude of Act I. Schiller, then, does not, as Ludwig alleges, make her fall out of character in this lyrical monologue, but shows us that the prospect of freedom can kindle her zest for life. When she is told to prepare to face Elisabeth her mood is thus very different from that in which she had appealed for the interview, and she now feels burning resentment for what she has suffered from her rival (ll. 2177-87). She tries to conquer this mood with a dignified and humble appeal until Elisabeth goads her beyond endurance. Her final accusation that the throne is “durch einen Bastard entweiht” represents the truth for all Catholics, and that she has not descended to mere waspishness is also indicated by the stage-direction (after l. 2420) “von Zorn glühend, doch mit einer edlen Würde”. However, when Elisabeth retires speechless, Maria does gloat over her triumph of revenge (ll. 2455-59) and is particularly gratified because Leicester witnessed it (l. 2464). I agree with Stahl that “her exultation is no less spiteful than Elisabeth's had been” and “represents the nadir of her spiritual development” (112). But how does she pass from this state to the noble and dignified attitude that characterizes her in Act V? She begins to recover her moral ascendency immediately after the interview when Mortimer's violent approaches show that he is determined to rescue and possess her, whatever her wishes. He speaks of murdering Elisabeth and Paulet, of fighting to the death with Leicester and of tearing Maria from her chamber. She is appalled and cries despairingly: “Bin ich geboren, nur die Wut zu wecken?” (l. 2532). Schiller wrote to Goethe (June 18, 1799) that her fate is “nur heftige Passionen zu erfahren und zu entzünden”—the lust of her supporters and the hate of her adversaries. She seems to feel that her life is worthless if it can be preserved only by terrible bloodshed (l. 2527), and in this sense we may say with B. von Wiese that her experiences drive her to abandon life.29 Even so, the noise during the ensuing night, which she interprets as Mortimer's attempt to free her, awakens her desire to live and be free. The prospect of liberty produces this reaction quite instinctively in the captive (ll. 3395-96). Only when all hope of life is gone and she is told she must suffer does she attain to final composure, and this is quite plausible, for an action or attitude is not, as a rule, determined by a single motive. Motives often conflict, some impelling to and some deterring from a certain action, and the actual behaviour will depend on which are the stronger. This may well vary at different times, thus leading to actions which, to a superficial view, are inconsistent. So it is with Maria. On the one hand she is passionate and wilful, as we saw at the interview; on the other her moral consciousness drives her to atone for sins. When her situation suggests that she will be freed, her desire to live becomes so strong that it obliterates her penitance and resignation. This latter attitude is, on the other hand, strengthened by a situation that promises no release, as in Acts I and V, and also when she is forced to the conclusion (as she is by Mortimer in Act III) that she can be saved only at an appalling price of bloodshed and grief. Furthermore, in Act IV Leicester, to deflect suspicion from himself, counsels her execution and even agrees to help carry out the sentence. Such behaviour from the man she loved and trusted sickens her as much as did Mortimer's ferocious advances, again with the effect of weakening her hold on life. Mortimer's death and Paulet's grief also cannot fail to bring home to her that her life means bloodshed and misery for others. All these factors strengthen her moral determination to atone, which has been a prominent trait of her character throughout the play.
Mortimer's character is a striking parallel to Maria's. Both are capable of passionate wilfulness and also of high-flown idealism, and with both the prospect of success stimulates the first tendency, and imminent death the latter. Thus when he was confident that he would rescue and possess Maria, Mortimer cried: “Ist Leben doch des Lebens höchstes Gut!” (l. 2578). But when Leicester has him arrested, he says: “Das Leben ist das einz’ge Gut des Schlechten” (l. 2805). As with Maria, the deterioration of the situation brings out the moral fibre of his character.
There are a number of reasons why critics have been perplexed by Maria's development, apart from the obvious one that a complex character is likely to be accused of inconsistency. There is another obvious factor, namely that we do not witness the actual change. As A. Beck has noted: “wir sehen die Verwandelte, nicht die Verwandlung.”30 The question when exactly in the interval between Acts III and V this transformation occurs has, H. Koopmann has told us, rarely been asked and has not been given a uniform answer.31 According to Kennedy, the change in Maria came suddenly, when, after the noises in the night, her cell opened to admit—not rescuers, but Paulet with the news that she must suffer on the scaffold then being erected. Kennedy says:
Man löst sich nicht allmählich von dem Leben!
Mit einem Mal, schnell, augenblicklich muß
Der Tausch geschehen zwischen Zeitlichem
Und Ewigem, und Gott gewährte meiner Lady
In diesem Augenblick, der Erde Hoffnung
Zurückzustoßen mit entschloßner Seele.
Claude David and others have linked this passage with the following extract from “Über das Erhabene”:
Das Erhabene verschafft uns … einen Ausgang aus der sinnlichen Welt … Nicht allmählich (denn es gibt von der Abhängigkeit keinen Übergang zur Freiheit), sondern plötzlich und durch eine Erschütterung reißt es den selbständigen Geist aus dem Netze los.32
My argument is that the shock of learning the truth about her situation can produce such a sudden effect in Maria only because it is able to weaken the one and strengthen the other of two contrary tendencies which are both strongly developed in her character. The passage in the essay illuminates the play by stressing the efficacy of shock, but the reference to ‘free-will’ has thoroughly obscured the importance of the conflict of tendencies in the heroine, and suggested that her final composure is an arbitrary and unmotivated development. Bruford, for instance, has said that Schiller, because “influenced by Kant's conception of freedom as ‘indeterminacy’, liked incalculable characters, of whom no one could say what on earth they would or would not do” (324).
Let us see how Schiller conceives free-will. At the beginning of his “Über das Pathetische” he refers to the state of mind in which a strong urge or emotion deflects one from duty as “ein Zustand des Affekts”, and declares that tragedy depicts moral independence from these natural promptings. Such independence is possible for man because he possesses “die Vernunft”, a faculty which without reference to experience reveals to him absolute moral truths which are eternally valid.33 Schiller thus speaks of ‘reason’ and of ‘feelings’ as alternative springs of behaviour. One man is prompted by his reason, another by his feelings. Faculty-psychology of this kind had been prominent in European philosophy since Descartes had sharply distinguished reason from the passions, attributing the former to an immaterial soul and the latter to the body. Such normal concomitants of emotion as acceleration of the heartbeat and trembling of the limbs suggested to him that emotions are a function of the body. But the calm unfolding of reflection seems to be without any effect on the body. Another reason why thought could be plausibly attributed to an immaterial soul is that thinking lacks material characteristics: it has neither weight, solidity, nor shape. Schiller's sharp distinction between reason and the passions was prompted also by the observation that a man may be under the influence of an emotion (e.g. fear), yet fail to betray it by any action or movement. Such behaviour may be rational (directed towards a rational end), and this suggested to Schiller that it is accomplished by a faculty of reason which is independent of all emotion. Now a modern psychologist would prefer to say that the control is due to some antagonistic emotion (such as pride, or desire or fear of something else). On this view, the so-called conflict between reason and passion, when it occurs, is really between one passion and another.34 The “reason” is merely the imagination which presents in turn the different memories of the consequences of the actions to which the opposed passions prompt; and the appearance of free-will arises when the two contrary passions are both so strongly developed that the individual recognizes both as ‘flesh of his flesh’, and so infers that the slightest occurrence—a mere fiat of the will—can give one or the other a preponderance.35 Critics have tried to apply to Schiller's play his theory that a person may suddenly cease acting from passion, and act instead from reason. Thus Beck argues that Maria's final development is a switch from the influence of ‘Sinnlichkeit’ to a condition where “der selbständige Geist” rules her, and she suddenly ceases to be “ein physisches Wesen” (319-320). This suggests an entirely arbitrary development of the kind which, we saw, Bruford declares to be normal among Schiller's characters; whereas my argument is that Schiller shows a profounder knowledge of human motivation in his play than in his abstract theory.
Maria, then, is finally dominated by the will to atone, and declares: “Gott würdigt mich, durch diesen unverdienten Tod / Die frühe schwere Blutschuld abzubüßen” (ll. 3735-36). As Aristotle had required (Poetics, 13), the hero is neither completely blameless, nor does he simply get his deserts. Schiller himself declared “eine ganz engelreine Heldin” to be “untragisch” and justly claimed that he had shown wherein Maria's guilt consists at the very beginning: “im Verfolg des Stücks verringere sich dann immer mehr ihr Vergehen, und zuletzt stehe sie fast makellos da, statt daß es eine unziemliche Wirkung tun werde … wenn erst nach und nach ihr Vergehen an den Tag komme.”36 One of Paulet's functions in the play is to convey her final ‘Makellosigkeit’. His uncompromising honesty and virtue are not only essential to the plot—they underlie his refusal to murder her or have her murdered, and so force the responsibility upon Elisabeth; they also contribute to the pathos of the final scenes, where even so stern a judge as he shows admiration of Maria as he gives her his hand und urges Burleigh to grant her final request (ll. 3793, 3815). Approbation of the heroine from a figure of recognized honesty is here used to the same effect to which Hebbel was later to put it in making Titus finally declare of Marianne: “sie hat recht”. Nevertheless, Schiller's concern to enlist our sympathy for his heroine in the final Act has seemed to some—including Hebbel—grossly overdone. Hebbel commented: “Daß selbst ein Mann wie Schiller auf feuchte Schnupftücher speculirte, ist entsetzlich. Und was thut er anders im fünften Akt!”37 Hebbel characteristically attempted the more difficult task of compelling sympathy with characters whose behaviour is in many ways repellent.
From Wallenstein through Maria Stuart to Die Jungfrau von Orleans the link between the hero's character and his death becomes progressively weaker. Wallenstein's death is a consequence of the treason to which his character impelled him; Maria's is largely a consequence of a political situation not connected with her character. Although she accepts death as an opportunity to atone for personal sin, the reason why she must die is that Elisabeth has signed the warrant. Elisabeth was led to do so partly, it is true, because of the wilfulness in Maria's character that had provoked her at the interview (and had been itself provoked by Elisabeth's own malice), but this motive could never have sufficed had it not been supplemented by others deriving from the political situation. Johanna's fortuitous death in battle follows neither from her character nor from the antecedents portrayed in the play. No one else is even aware of the sense in which she has betrayed her mission and how her final behaviour rectifies this lapse. Perhaps the difficulty that critics have found in interpreting Maria Stuart is due to its middle position in this development. Wallenstein must be interpreted from the political situation portrayed; in Die Jungfrau, on the other hand, the heroine's mental conflict is so independent of the historical and political situation that it is known only to her. In Maria Stuart both the political situation and also personal desires and motives which have nothing to do with it are important determinants, and critics have not found it easy to balance them. L. A. Rhoades noted, as long ago as 1894, that “various critics, and notably Hettner”, have censured Schiller “for not making the plot of his drama turn upon the conflict of historic forces”.38 My discussion of more recent criticism has shown that it is still not fully appreciated how precisely such forces, together with other and quite different ones, contribute to the outcome of the play.
With Die Jungfrau von Orleans villainly and malice have been eliminated from the plot. Johanna's father, whose action brings about her disgrace and banishment, is actuated by the highest motives. In this play evil resides not in the characters but in the spirits which—so Johanna's opponents suppose—possess and rule her. The heroine certainly does possess supernatural powers. She picks out the king she has never seen, knows the substance of his private prayers, and snaps the heavy iron chains that fetter her. The interest is, however, centred not so much on such miracles as on the beliefs of the characters concerning divine and demoniacal possession. Johanna thinks she is inspired by the Virgin Mary herself, but her father from the first is convinced that she has sold her soul to the devil, and in Act IV he forces a crisis by persuading others that he is right. I have elsewhere argued that in Schiller's next play, Die Braut von Messina, the evil again lies not in the characters but in supernatural forces which this time are not figments of the imagination.39 As Körner commented in a letter to Schiller (February 28, 1803) on this play: “Schauderhaft ist besonders die Entstehung des grössten Unglücks aus löblichen Handlungen.” We see, then, that Schiller's later plays go far towards implementing his view that villainy is undesirable as a cause of tragic catastrophe.
“Über die tragische Kunst”, Schillers Sämtliche Werke, ed. E. von der Hellen, Säkularausgabe (Stuttgart and Berlin, n.d.), XI, 163-64.
“Über Bürgers Gedichte”, Schillers Sämtliche Werke, Säkularausgabe, XVI, 230f., 254; cf. to Goethe, August 24, 1798: “Alle poetischen Personen sind symbolische Wesen … als poetische Gestalten haben sie immer das Allgemeine der Menschheit darzustellen und auszusprechen.”
Preface to “Fiesco”, Schillers Sämtliche Werke, Säkularausgabe, XVI, 42.
W. H. Bruford shows how widespread this opinion has been. Theatre Drama and Audience in Goethe's Germany (London, 1950), 322-23.
Tagebuch No. 4307 (October 11, 1847).
Schiller and the Changing Past (London, 1957), 36. Further references to Mainland will be to this volume.
Schiller the Dramatic Writer: A Study of Style in the Plays (Oxford, 1969), 157.
He read, so he says, (Tod, l. 1134) the version of the letter which Wallenstein promised he would dispatch to Vienna. Mainland reminds us of Wallenstein's words “ich geb’ nichts Schriftliches von mir” (Piccolomini, l. 854) but concedes that the context shows that this may refer only to “matters of strategy and dangerous negotiations with the enemies of the Empire” (38).
Goethes Werke, Weimar Ausgabe (Weimar, 1901), XL, 62.
Der Dichter Friedrich Schiller (Stuttgart, 1959), 288.
“The machinations of ambiguity”, says Empson, “are among the very roots of poetry” (Seven Types of Ambiguity [London, 1930], 3). But ambiguity occurs in all language, and a word or phrase does not have any more associations when it occurs in verse than when it occurs in prose.
Schillers Dramen, 2nd ed. (Berlin, 1898), II, 92ff.
The effectiveness of these factors has repeatedly been stressed, e.g. by J. Müller, Das Edle in der Freiheit (Leipzig, 1959), 135.
“Astrology in Schiller's Wallenstein”, JEGP, 68 (1969), 100-15.
Schiller's Drama (Oxford, 1954), 94.
“Schuldverwicklung in Schillers Dramen”, in Schiller, 1759/1959: Commemorative American Studies, ed. J. R. Frey, Illinois Studies in Lang. and Lit., 46 (Urbana, 1959), 88.
“Octavio Piccolomini”, JDSG, 5 (1961), 34, 42, 44.
The letters are quoted by Benno von Wiese, Schiller (Stuttgart, 1959), 641-42. M. Schunicht follows von Wiese in using this evidence to rebut the suggestion that Octavio is a villainous intriguer (“Intrigen und Intriganten in Schillers Dramen”. ZDP, 82 , 287).
Cf. H. Singer, “Dem Fürsten Piccolomini”, Euphorion, 53 (1959), 301.
See W. Witte's account in his introduction to the text: Schiller, Maria Stuart (London, 1965), XXI.
See Garland's Schiller (London, 1949), 216. Stahl, Schiller's Drama, 114, alleges a deterioration and “violent change” in her character between the scene in which she receives Maria's letter (II, 4) and the interview with Mortimer “at the end of the second Act”. In actual fact her commission to Mortimer follows immediately (II, 5), giving neither time nor occasion for a change in her character, whereas the Act continues with four further scenes. Even in the council scene (II, 3)—she scorns Shrewsbury when he suggests clemency.
She pretends (l. 3963) that she gave him the signed warrant “in Verwahrung”, whereas earlier she had answered his question: “Du willst, daß ich ihn länger noch bewahre?” with: “Auf Eure Gefahr! Ihr haftet für die Folgen” (l. 3303).
She had dismissed her lords at the end of IV, 9 saying she would seek divine rather than human counsel concerning Maria. Bellermann notes (II, 210): “Geradezu ergreifend wirkt, nach diesem salbungsvollen Eingang, der unvermittelte gewaltsame Ausbruch ihres wahren Gefühls, sobald sie allein ist.”
“Shakespeare-Studien”, in Ausgewählte Werke, ed. W. Greiner (Leipzig, n.d.), II, 594.
“The grounds of criticism in tragedy”, prefixed to Troilus and Cressida, 1679, in Of Dramatic Poetry and Other Critical Essays, ed. G. Watson (London, 1962), I, 249-50.
An obvious example is the interview between the queens which is requested by Maria to lower the tension and reduce her danger, but which in fact has the opposite effect; cf. A. Cüppers, Schillers ‘Maria Stuart’ in ihrem Verhältnis zur Geschichte (Münster, 1906), 19.
Hamburgische Dramaturgie, 9. Stück.
Bellermann, Schillers Dramen, 196-97. The effectiveness of this method of character portrayal is vouched for by its adoption by a dramatist so critical of Schiller as was Büchner. The hero of Dantons Tod is cynical and inactive, but we do not have to rely exclusively on hearsay for our knowledge that he was formerly an energetic idealist. When on trial for his life in Act III, he is goaded by the hypocrisy of his accusers into a stirring denunciation of them. Here, the former fiery idealist shows through the disillusioned cynic he has become.
“Die unfaßbare Dämonie menschlicher Geistesfreiheit entzündet sich in der tragischen Hölle des Verbrechens, der Schuld und des Leidens und treibt den Menschen Maria an die Grenze des Daseins, wo der Sprung in den Abgrund des Ewigen möglich wird” (Die deutsche Tragödie von Lessing bis Hebbel [Hamburg, 1948], I, 297).
“Maria Stuart”, in Das deutsche Drama: Interpretationen, ed. B. von Wiese (Düsseldorf, 1958), I, 317.
Schiller, Sammlung Metzler (Stuttgart, 1966), II, 53.
“Über das Erhabene”, Schillers Sämtliche Werke, Säkularausgabe, XII, 272 (my italics); David, “Le Personnage de la reine Elizabeth dans la Maria Stuart de Schiller”, Deutsche Beiträge zur geistigen Überlieferung, 4 (1961), 20, 22.
Schiller also believes that “die Vernunft” supplies a metaphysical idea of beauty, with the aid of which we can tell whether what we are accustomed to call beautiful is justly so called (Über die äesthetische Erziehung des Menschen, letter X). Like many aestheticians he is anxious to believe that the principles of beauty are not merely the effect of certain animal propensities which vary with the race and the individual, but are something eternal and indefeasible.
In some passages in his Über die äesthetische Erziehung des Menschen Schiller does show awareness that reason alone cannot determine action, that man will only act if impelled by some drive or tendency. And so he invents a “Formtrieb”, which is an urge to posit (“behaupten”) the “Person”, which he in turn defines as that in man which may be called “reine Intelligenz” or “vernünftige Natur” (letter XI). Such an urge is not an intelligible psychological tendency and deserves the scorn with which Nicolai treated it (Beschreibung einer Reise durch Deutschland und die Schweiz [Berlin, 1796], XI, 272).
See, for instance, E. Rignano, The Psychology of Reasoning, trans. W. A. Holl (London, 1923), 24.
Schillers Gespräche in Schillers Werke, ed. L. Blumenthal and B. von Wiese, Nationalausgabe (Weimar, 1967), XLII, 294.
Tagebuch No. 3994 (February 27, 1847).
Maria Stuart, ed. Heath (1894), XIII.
“Fate-tragedy and Die Braut von Messina”, JEGP, 64 (1965), 191-212.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7463
SOURCE: “Introduction,” in Don Carlos and Mary Stuart, Oxford University Press, 1996, pp. vii-xxvi.
[In the following essay, Sharpe presents a critical overview of the historical dramas Don Carlos and Mary Stuart, and maintains that the hope evident in Don Carlos disappears in the later play and is replaced by a bleaker vision of human integrity in the world of action.]
At first sight Don Carlos and Mary Stuart, with Wallenstein Friedrich Schiller's greatest historical dramas, are striking in their similarity. Both are blank-verse plays, set against the background of religious strife in sixteenth-century Europe. Both explore the private emotions of the great and powerful as they confront the insoluble dilemmas of the political world. Both also display the hallmarks of Schiller's style and technique—swift-moving action, great set-piece encounters, impassioned rhetorical speeches, strongly contrasting characters, an unabashed theatricality. In both plays the historical setting is used not as a backdrop for a costume drama but to provide an opportunity to explore problems of Schiller's own age. The later eighteenth century was also a time of violent upheaval and ideological conflict, of the clash of tradition with experiment. His plays are concerned with freedom and tyranny, the relation of power and responsibility, of ends and means in political life and with the challenge facing those called to act upon the stage of history to preserve humanity and integrity.
On closer inspection the dissimilarities between the plays are striking and significant. Mary Stuart is a compact, lucidly organized, and highly stylized play with an action that moves swiftly and inexorably towards the tragic conclusion, in spite of the best efforts of most of the characters to avert it. Formally it stands within the European tradition of high tragedy and shows Schiller's concern to meet the challenge of the classical and neo-classical tradition. It is a play that, despite its clear departures from historical fact, is nevertheless based on a real political dilemma of the sixteenth century and firmly rooted in historical source study. Don Carlos is clearly a more youthful work and, for all its brilliant and moving moments, lacks this lucidity. It is based on a historical novel, while attested historical events provide only the background. It has a complex intrigue and confusing shifts of emphasis—is it mainly a dramatization of thwarted love, of kingly isolation, or of the idealist destroyed? The compositional shortcomings of the play reveal it as a work of transition, the final phase of Schiller's apprenticeship. After he completed the play in 1787 he wrote no more plays for over a decade, a silence indicative of the creative crisis the play had provoked in him. Only after lengthy deliberation on the nature of drama did he return to work as a playwright with his masterpiece, Wallenstein. Mary Stuart (1800) was the second play to be written after this long interval and thus is separated from Don Carlos by some thirteen years. In spite of its flaws Don Carlos is a rich and fascinating play for two reasons. First, it shows Schiller in the process of finding his own idiom as a dramatist. In it he moves away from the self-consciously radical tone and experimental style of his previous three dramas, all written in prose, towards deeper engagement with historical issues and the serenity and stylization characteristic of his later work. Secondly, along with Lessing's Nathan the Wise (1779) and Goethe's Iphigenia on Tauris (1787), it is one of the great literary expressions of the German Enlightenment (Aufklärung). All three works (all, incidentally, written in blank verse) carry the conviction that human beings, however cynical, weak, or foolish they may have been, however burdened by the guilt and wrongs of the past, can nevertheless find the courage to break free and choose a new way. In the case of Don Carlos that new way remains only a distant hope. …
Schiller's starting-point for Don Carlos was not historical source study but a work of French fiction, the Abbé de Saint-Réal's Dom Carlos. Nouvelle historique (1672), which had been brought to Schiller's attention by Dalberg. The historical Carlos, Philip II's only son and heir, was weak and slightly deformed from birth. In his late teens he developed signs of mental instability and was later rumoured to be intending to flee Spain. This, coupled with increasing paranoia and eccentricity, led to his being virtually confined to his quarters, where he died in not wholly unmysterious circumstances at the age of 23. Saint-Réal builds his fiction on the unfounded rumour that Carlos and Elizabeth of Valois, Philip's third wife, who as children had been betrothed for a time, were secretly in love. Carlos's fall is the result of court intrigues, in particular on the part of the King's adviser Ruy Gomez and his wife Princess Eboli. The Marquis Posa, a secret friend of Carlos, carries letters between Carlos and Elizabeth and is assassinated as Philip's suspicions fall on him. Carlos, who intended to flee to the Netherlands for safety (the political dimension is not exploited), is handed over to the Inquisition. Elizabeth is poisoned on Philip's orders.
The complex genesis of Don Carlos has caused critics to diverge considerably in their assessment of the relative importance of love and politics in the plot. Some see a distinct shift from family drama (influenced by Diderot's theory of the drame bourgeois) to political play, as though the work fell into two halves. Others argue that the work remains throughout a family drama with the political elements imperfectly grafted on. Yet others strongly emphasize the clear continuities in theme and plot—as Schiller himself had done in his defence of the play in his Letters on ‘Don Carlos’ (1788)—arguing in some cases that the play changes less in theme than in dramatic technique, moving from a more expansive and static type of portraiture to a more dynamic interaction of plot and character. The first two approaches tend to understate the extent to which a political element was always present in Schiller's conception of the material. From the start he wanted to make more of this project than a romantic historical costume drama. His letters from the Bauerbach period suggest he intended to use the play to denounce religious bigotry and state persecution through his depiction of the Inquisition. From the first version of the play onwards, the unhappy royal family reflects the greater unhappiness of a state dominated by the Inquisition. But any argument supporting the unity of Don Carlos has to take account of the fact that Schiller himself in the Letters on ‘Don Carlos’ admits to a loss of interest in the figure of Carlos. His Bauerbach letters testify to his passionate identification with the unhappy prince and this is still clearly reflected in the early scenes of the play. However, wider reading in the course of composition gave Schiller a profounder grasp of historical context and made him probe the nature of tyranny and the problem of action within the political world. The result is that Carlos, who is essentially a passive character, is increasingly overshadowed by Philip and Posa. The romantic involvement between Carlos and Elizabeth, though still central to the play's complex intrigue, does lose prominence to the political theme. Though Schiller managers to bring all the threads together at the end, we are left with a sense of unevenness.
As in Schiller's earliest plan, it is the Catholic Church, embodied in the final scenes by the Cardinal Inquisitor, that is the driving force behind the repressive Spanish government. This allows him to make all the main characters—Carlos, Posa, Elizabeth, and Philip—ultimately its victims. For most of the play we identify Philip with this cruel and cynical system. Yet in spite of this, Philip is arguably the great triumph of characterization of the play and the figure who most holds the audience's attention. The other characters, Carlos and Posa, for example, we feel we can read clearly. Philip keeps us in suspense. When announcing the serialization of his play Schiller wrote: ‘If this tragedy is to move people it must do so, as I see it, through the situation and character of King Philip.’ In the Thalia scenes Philip still comes across as something of a stage villain. In the completed play, however, Schiller does succeed not only in showing us Philip's fears, his disappointments, and his isolation, but in making us feel them too. Proud of his self-sufficiency in Act Two, Philip rejects his son's attempt at reconciliation. Later he sees in Posa the kind of valorous, confident, urbane, yet passionate young man he would like as a son. In the audience scene (iii.x), which parallels and contrasts with the audience between Philip and Carlos in Act Two, Posa can find the needs of the human being beneath the imperious exterior (‘By God, ❙ He reaches to my soul’). We should find any true change of heart on Philip's part dramatically unconvincing. Not only history but Schiller's recognition of the weight of the Church, Philip's habits of mind, and his cynicism dictate that he will not change. But Posa makes him feel for a brief moment as if he actually could remake the world with a stroke of his pen. We do not see Philip weep over Posa's betrayal but we feel the momentary pathos more keenly by witnessing the dismay and astonishment of his courtiers at the report of such an unambiguous display of emotion. Though we recoil in horror at his desire to destroy all that remains of Posa's vision, Philip himself is revealed to be the unhappy pawn of the Inquisition, chastised by the fanatical blind Cardinal Inquisitor for having forgotten for a moment that for kings human beings are simply numbers.
The most controversial figure in the play is the Marquis Posa, educator of the Prince and, briefly, confidant of the King. Posa's role was expanded in the course of the play's development. Though it is a structural flaw in the drama that Posa's increasing prominence pushes Carlos into the background, that prominence comes about by a turn of events that strikes us as being utterly plausible. Posa has held himself aloof from the court and thus seems to threaten none of the courtiers, who can therefore speak generously of him. His aloofness is a strategy to give him independence of action, and it is this impression of independence that attracts Philip. Here at last is a man who will give him the truth about Carlos and Elizabeth without trying to gain some advantage for himself. Instead Philip is given quite a different kind of truth by Posa, while the truth about Carlos and Elizabeth is exactly what Posa will never tell him. The fact that Posa can say so much to Philip before being silenced is an indication of the former's urbanity and diplomatic skill. The passionate personal appeal by Carlos to Philip in Act Two falls on deaf ears. Philip is impressed by the man who can do without him and who has the courage to put himself at risk to plead a cause that brings him no personal gain. Posa is judicious in his responses, waiting for Philip to prompt him into saying more, while Philip is refreshed as well as taken aback by his confidence and his honesty. Posa presents Philip to himself not as a wilful tyrant but as the victim himself of the system he has inherited. His subjects have surrendered their self-determination. They have made Philip a god. But where does a god find solace and human fellowship? Posa reveals Philip's position as that of the false god who enslaves rather than of the true God who gives freedom to nature to act according to its inherent laws. The play's persistent appeal to nature through its imagery of sowing, planting, blossoming, and withering is given full political expression in Posa's argument.
Posa is, of course, an anachronism. No sixteenth-century Spanish grandee could speak in such terms and Schiller was well aware of the fact. Woven into Posa's arguments are Schiller's knowledge of the political philosophy of his time. It is one of the vital debates of the Revolutionary age, Schiller's own age, which is being enacted. In it we detect the impact on German intellectuals of the American War of Independence and hear echoes of the German natural law tradition, of Rousseau's faith in natural sentiments, and of Montesquieu's famous characterization in De l’esprit des lois of the different types of government.1 Posa stresses how Philip's rule is based on fear, for Montesquieu the specific characteristic of a despotism, and leads only to the peace of the graveyard. But Posa's vision cannot be reduced to a single political doctrine, nor is the discussion merely a rehearsal of political argument. This scene is a turning-point of the play. Posa puts himself in extreme danger by revealing even this much of his mind to the King. He does so out of commitment to the cause of the Netherlands and in order by any means possible to slow the momentum of the intrigue against Carlos. Yet in winning the confidence of the King he is bound to disappoint him. Carlos, too, loses faith in his friend's loyalty, delivering himself a second time into the power of Eboli, whereupon Posa precipitates himself into the desperate attempt to throw suspicion on himself.
Posa would seem to be a wholly positive figure and spokesman for the playwright himself. This was certainly how he was viewed when the play first appeared and for one and a half centuries after. By the middle of the nineteenth century Schiller had become a cultural icon. The German liberals of the 1848 Revolution often borrowed quotations from Don Carlos in their speeches or saw their struggle as akin to that of Posa with Philip. The play has always had great resonance in situations of oppression. During the early years of the Third Reich in Germany audiences regularly applauded loud and long when Posa uttered his plea for freedom of thought, and such occurrences were taken by the regime as a form of protest. In 1946, when that regime had been overthrown, the play that seemed so to epitomize the noblest tradition of German thought was staged in no fewer than twenty-one theatres. Yet since the 1950s Schiller's plays have been universally recognized as more complex and ambiguous in their presentation of political change than may at first appear. Posa in particular has been seen as a manipulator, exploiting Carlos and abusing the King's confidence. He has been accused of insensitivity to Carlos's suffering and of indifference to the pain he causes the King. At the very least, it is claimed, he leaves devastation behind him after his death. Schiller has been seen as presenting in Posa the flawed idealist, who betrays actual human beings while proclaiming a love for humanity in the abstract. Posa certainly does play a very dangerous game and it is one of the triumphs of the play as a dramatic experience that we feel the bitterness of Philip's disappointment. Yet Posa is trying to save not just the Netherlands, arguably a distant and precarious goal, but also his friend, who is in the gravest danger, created in part through his own folly. Posa does the most he can to save him by sacrificing his own life. Schiller is not presenting the idealist as a flawed character; he is, however, exploring the gulf between political ends and means, a gulf that opens up for Posa in the audience scene.
Schiller looks at the history of the sixteenth century as a man of the Enlightenment. In the struggle for freedom of religion he sees the beginning of the struggle for a more tolerant and humane society. In Don Carlos, though the representatives of that new way of thinking are doomed, the movement of history is on their side. Philip himself is aware that his empire is waning, and Schiller brings forward the defeat of the Spanish Armada by twenty years in order to signal this incipient decline. Posa speaks with the assurance of one who knows the future, accusing Philip of trying to put his hand into the spokes of a wheel that must turn. His argument for liberal government on the grounds that nature is free within its own laws is reinforced by the natural imagery of the play. Posa himself says to Philip: ‘You want your garden to flower eternally / But the seed you sow is death.’ These images are further supported by an underlying implication that the Spanish court itself is based on an artificiality that is contrary to nature. The Queen may not see her daughter except at the appointed hour. She enjoys the more natural setting of Aranjuez, while the woman who epitomizes the corruption of the court, Eboli, longs to return to Madrid. The representative of cruelty and repression, the Cardinal Inquisitor, calls on Philip to suppress the voice of nature and deliver up his son. Though the representatives of a better future are destroyed, the implication is that the course of history will vindicate them. The tragedy is thus set within a framework of guarded hope.
Don Carlos provoked a creative crisis in Schiller. He believed his greatest achievements would be in the field of drama and yet Don Carlos was over-long and over-complicated, its theatrical viability also impaired. In 1787, having moved to Weimar, he first met his future ally, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, who already enjoyed a towering reputation as a writer. Goethe's neo-classical verse drama Iphigenia on Tauris had just appeared. Schiller's unfinished review of it reveals through his admiration of the work how urgently he wished to be able to write a drama that would have the same formal perfection. For the next ten years he devoted himself to historiography, aesthetics, and dramatic theory, returning to drama with Wallenstein, which was completed in 1799. Of these activities his work as a historiographer tends to be taken least seriously, though in fact it was an important stage in the clarification of his ideas. Given the comparative backwardness of German historiography at the time, his accounts, influenced stylistically by his reading of French and British historiographers such as Voltaire, Condorcet, Hume, and Gibbon, are both readable and stimulating, even if he relied on published sources. He made good use of the reading he had done in connection with Don Carlos to write the first part of a History of the Revolt of the United Netherlands from Spanish Rule (1788). Although the work was not completed it was sufficiently admired to secure its author a Chair of History at the University of Jena. Schiller's financial problems were far from over (there was little money attached to the post), but this appointment gave him a position within society and the opportunity to marry. His bride was Charlotte von Lengefeld and they were married on 22 February 1790 and subsequently had four children.
Schiller's historiographical writing shows his move away from Enlightenment optimism towards a more sober depiction of the struggle for domination in Europe. His second major work was his History of the Thirty Years' War (1791), a continuation therefore of his interest in the long period of religious strife in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The confident introduction to the History of the Revolt of the Netherlands claims that the work will demonstrate how united effort in the good cause can win through. Yet in the process of writing he loses confidence in this analysis and comes to regard the people of the Netherlands and their leaders in a more critical light. This appreciation of the greater complexities of the period may help to account for Schiller's failure to finish the work. The History of the Thirty Years' War is an admirable work of synthesis, written without any expectation of finding a thread of progress. Though the two most fascinating figures of the war, the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus and the Imperial General Wallenstein, are for a time made into hero and villain respectively, Schiller reverses his assessment of both, aware of the bias in his sources and the partiality of his own judgement.
After concentrating on historiography, Schiller turned to dramatic theory (discussed later in connection with Mary Stuart) and aesthetics. He had always had a lively interest in philosophy from the time of his medical studies. His friend Körner had long impressed upon him the importance of the work of Immanuel Kant. The occasion for detailed study arose in 1792 while he was recovering from a serious illness which nearly cost him his life and left him a permanent invalid until his death in 1805. He was concerned to develop an aesthetics that would make art central to what it is to be fully human. Taking up from Kant's Critique of Judgement the suggestion that the aesthetic provides a bridge between the phenomenal realm of nature and the noumenal realm of the ethical, Schiller developed a transcendental aesthetics in which the beautiful is the means of reuniting the sensuous and the spiritual in human beings and thus of re-creating their lost inner harmony. These deliberations were given added impetus by the shock delivered to German intellectuals by the course taken by the French Revolution. His comments on the initial phase of the Revolution are sparse, though in 1791 he was made an Honorary Citizen of France on the strength of The Robbers. By 1793, however, he was, like many of his compatriots, appalled by the bloodshed. His best-known work of aesthetics, Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man (1794), is an attempt to analyse where enlightenment had failed and to propose that through art human beings find a way to reconcile reason and impulse. Far from being peripheral to a revolutionary age, art is the means by which we may progress towards a humane civil society. This treatise was followed by a major work of poetics, On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry (1795), in which Schiller addresses the question of different kinds of poetic consciousness and the inadequacy of traditional genre definitions to account for their literary products. These essays, both classic statements on the nature of modernity—the divided self and the fragmentation of society brought by the division of labour—have been immensely influential, and cultural commentators from Hegel to C. G. Jung, to Sir Herbert Read, and Herbert Marcuse have taken up their analyses.
On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry was shaped in part by Schiller's growing friendship with Goethe, which began in 1794 and continued to his death. Though for some years aloof, Goethe was eventually won over by Schiller's acute mind and by the recognition that they both treated art with the same high seriousness. They were also both committed to the creation of a literature that drew on the best traditions of European writing and, while incorporating elements of realism, moved towards the universal and symbolic. While Schiller never had Goethe's deep affinity with the art of the Ancients, he constantly used the myth of Greek perfection and wholeness as a starting-point for his elaboration of the modern writer's dilemma: how to bring into harmony the constraints of form and a subjective vision that constantly reached for the infinite. This striving for form and this belief in the universal applicability of notions of beauty separate Goethe and Schiller from the subjectivity of their younger Romantic contemporaries, writers such as August Wilhelm and Friedrich Schlegel, Ludwig Tieck and Novalis. Weimar Classicism—the work of Goethe and Schiller from the late 1780s through the decade of their collaboration—incorporates the legacy of the Enlightenment, that of the classical tradition, and elements of Romanticism. Though sometimes embattled by both their rationalist and Romantic critics, the two men drew out the best in each other's creativity. Schiller encouraged Goethe to take up work again on his Faust, an incomplete version of which had been published as Faust: A Fragment in 1790. He also proved an invaluable collaborator in the work of the Weimar theatre, of which Goethe was the Director, providing not only his own plays but adapting several others, including Goethe's Egmont and Iphigenia, Racine's Phaedra, and Shakespeare's Macbeth.
After On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry Schiller declared himself ready to shut up the philosophical shop and return to creative writing. He had already begun to write his series of great reflective poems. After the long break from drama his first project, Wallenstein (1799), took some three years to complete. There followed four more plays, Mary Stuart (1800), The Maid of Orleans (1801), The Bride of Messina (1803), and William Tell (1804), in rapid succession up to his death on 9 May 1805. His final, unfinished drama, Demetrius, was on his desk when he died. It was as though he had recaptured the power of rapid composition and was using it in his race to realize his potential and range as a dramatist before death overtook him. On reading in his letters about his physical struggle with ill health one senses that he kept himself going by sheer will power. Yet his creative writing is full of vigour and energy, a testimony to his extraordinary mental resilience and intellectual commitment. The later dramas, like the earlier ones, are very diverse. Schiller was constantly driven on to the next experiment, though always writing in verse and insisting on the essentially symbolic character of the plays. Increasingly he experimented with a more open form of drama and with the inclusion of operatic elements. In Wallenstein and Mary Stuart, however, he felt he needed to render account to the traditions of European high tragedy.
In the ten-year dramatic silence he had, in addition to putting down his thoughts on the theory of tragedy, translated Euripides, read Aristotle's Poetics and renewed his acquaintance with Shakespeare. In Wallenstein, though its genesis was as protracted as that of Don Carlos, the result is a perfectly lucid action, a vast panorama compressed into a plot that never loses momentum or clear direction. Yet he did not succeed in reducing his vast material to the scope of one five-act play but had to compromise by splitting it into three parts. In Mary Stuart he came closer to realizing his ambition to create a drama that rivalled the economy as well as the clarity of classical drama. The unities of time, place, and action are not slavishly adhered to but approached in spirit through the careful symmetry and compression of the plot. Mary is attended by a small retinue, chiefly her nurse Hannah. Elizabeth's court is presented with economy of means; Burleigh, Shrewsbury, and Leicester are those on whom she relies. Leicester and Mortimer provide the link between these two centres of action. Schiller spotted early on the dramatic possibilities in beginning the action after Mary's trial. To Goethe he wrote: ‘[The material] already has the important advantage that the action is concentrated in a dynamic moment and, balanced between hope and fear, must rush to its conclusion.’ Hope is introduced in the form of Mortimer, Leicester, and the prospect of a meeting of the queens, but far from averting disaster these factors merely speed it up. The result is the sense of inevitability associated with great tragedy. A little later Schiller wrote, again to Goethe: ‘Already in the process of writing I am beginning to be increasingly convinced of the truly tragic quality of my material. In particular this is because one can see the catastrophe immediately in the first scenes, and while the action of the play seems to be moving away from it, it is actually being brought nearer and nearer.’
Given Schiller's concern with dramatic form and his obvious departures from historical fact, one might be tempted to see the play as making as free with history as Don Carlos did. The queens are much younger than their historical counterparts. Schiller suggested that on stage Mary should appear about 25 and Elizabeth 30, whereas in fact Mary was 45 and Elizabeth 53 at the time of the execution. The meeting of the queens, the figure of Mortimer, the assassination attempt, and the romantic involvement of Mary and Leicester are all invented. Schiller chose to make his Mary guilty of complicity in the plot to murder Darnley but innocent of involvement in the Babington Plot—both matters of historical dispute—so that he could make her accept her death as an atonement for her earlier guilt. Yet many details of the historical situation are faithfully retained and given dramatic importance: the circumstances of Mary's trial; the details of her past life before her flight to England; the fact that she did not sign the Treaty of Edinburgh; Elizabeth's scapegoating of Davison after the execution. Schiller made a careful study of sources before beginning work, prominent among them being William Robertson's History of Scotland, which had been translated into German in 1762. Mary's final words in the play, for example, are given in several of these accounts. In spite of his freedom with history Schiller was impressed by the insoluble political dilemma posed by the Scottish Queen and his drama succeeds in conveying the intractability of the problem she posed, her continuing political importance to Catholic Europe as well as to English Catholics, and Elizabeth's struggle to maintain stability in turbulent times. By placing this insoluble problem at the heart of the drama and by constructing a closely integrated action, Schiller creates a world where decision and action swiftly draw their consequences after them. Yet those consequences are unpredictable and the only refuge from them is in duplicity or disguise. The framework of hope that relieved the tragedy of Don Carlos has disappeared and has been replaced by a much bleaker vision of the narrow scope for retaining integrity and humanity in the world of action.
Mary and Elizabeth seem at first sight to be conceived as polar opposites. Schiller frequently created pairs of contrasting figures, a favourite technique since his first play, The Robbers. Mary is accused, isolated, a queen without a throne or a country, condemned to suffer passively, the victim of a judicial murder. Elizabeth is powerful, outwardly confident, supported by loyal subjects and experienced counsellors, about to enter into a marriage that will forge a lasting alliance with France. Mary is Catholic and Elizabeth Protestant. Beyond this religious difference there is a gulf between them in their conception of their role and position. Mary belongs to a long tradition of monarchy as well as of religion. The Catholic Church, though not portrayed so negatively as it was in Don Carlos, is still clearly regarded as the power behind the throne in Catholic Europe and associated with tyranny, repression, and double-dealing. In her monologue Elizabeth recalls the arbitrary tyranny of her predecessor and half-sister Mary I. The French ambassador Aubespine is implicated in Mortimer's plot, even while negotiations for Elizabeth's French marriage are in progress. Mary's own record as a ruling monarch is morally shameful, but she considers herself no less a queen, for in her own eyes she is still God's anointed. Elizabeth finds herself in an experimental situation. Her legitimacy is in doubt. Her country needs stability and to consolidate her position she has to provide just and consistent government. Difficult though this way may be, it is presented as the better way, if only Elizabeth can live up to it. Though her life has contained reprehensible acts, her religion nevertheless provides Mary with a framework for moral evaluation and with the means of coming to terms with her unjust execution. Elizabeth tries to behave justly but less from a sense of moral conviction than from a sense of necessity. When she dismisses her counsellors in Act Four so that she can seek the counsel of a higher judge we know that this is simply a formula; in her monologue she takes counsel only with herself, and her calm tone in dismissing her counsellors is immediately followed when she is alone by rage and frustration. At the end of the play Mary would seem to have found freedom from the guilt that tormented her and she dies, mourned by her faithful retinue and in receipt of the sacrament administered by a priest of her own Church. Elizabeth by the end is alone, deceived by Mortimer and Leicester, forsaken by Shrewsbury, and unwilling to acknowledge her debt to the banished Burleigh.
Yet Schiller's polar opposites reveal deeper similarities. By embedding his presentation of the two queens within a situation of irreconcilable political conflict, Schiller can explore through these similarities the complexities of the political world. Elizabeth strives for freedom, no less than Mary. For her, freedom is to be released from slavery to the will of the people, whose fickleness she despises. Her refuge is in ambiguous appearances as the only way to wriggle out of the consequences of her actions. Elizabeth's show of confidence and prudence in public is quickly revealed as covering fear and insecurity. And if Elizabeth is weaker than she at first appears Mary is stronger. Through the power of the Catholic monarchies of Europe she remains a key political figure, and though she is revealed as the pawn of the Catholic Church she can still strike at the very heart of Elizabeth's court. The assassination attempt in Act Four, as well as fuelling the post-quarrel crisis, shows that Mary is a threat to Elizabeth's life.
Most obviously, both Mary and Elizabeth are women exerting influence within a man's world, an aspect of the play that has received increasing attention in criticism and performances in recent years. The sexual rivalry between them is used by Schiller to increase the tension of their meeting and of the decision over the signing of the death warrant. But Schiller is not implying that women allow their feelings to dominate their decisions but rather shows how both women are trapped within traditional expectations. Mary's beauty has always made her the object of men's passionate desire. Her reputation has gone before her to England, and Paulet bemoans the day that brought this ‘Helen’ to trouble its peace. The Church exploits her beauty. It is a portrait of her that first captivates Mortimer, and the Cardinal of Lorraine soon capitalizes on that incipient passion to win him for Mary's cause. Mortimer wants not only to free her but to possess her, and he reminds her of her past amours. And Mary is complicit in this process. She has a reputation for receptivity to love and though she exclaims with indignation to Elizabeth that she is better than the world thinks her to be, she delivers herself up into the hands of two men who prove fatal to her.
Elizabeth has tried to break free of the traditional shackles of the expectations of a female. This is less a denial of her femininity than a wish to avoid being restricted by those expectations attached to her sex. She is aware of the great responsibility she carries for the stability of her country and has devoted herself to it. She resists marriage to the French Duke of Anjou, believing she has ruled ‘like a man and a king’ and that where a woman fulfils the highest tasks she should be allowed to be exempt from the duties of nature. The present of her ring to Bellièvre is not only an example of her vacillation, it also suggests her unwillingness to allow her very body to be invaded for state purposes, her biological function forced back on her in spite of her efforts to transcend it. But though imperious in manner and contemptuous of men's weaknesses, Elizabeth longs nevertheless for their approbation. Her vanity requires that she be thought desirable as a woman as well as dutiful as a monarch. We do not sympathize greatly with him, but Leicester bemoans the years he has spent as a slave to her whims, and while it is probably not the main reason why she agrees to meet Mary, the satisfaction of triumphing over her rival in the presence of Leicester plays a supporting role.
The meeting of the queens is at the centre of the action. Schiller was fully aware of the difficulties of handling such a scene but shows his skill in the way he lays bare the reasons why both parties desire it and why their hopes are bound to be frustrated. Mary knows that in spite of the support she enjoys both in England and abroad the way to freedom lies in persuading Elizabeth to grant it: ‘neither guile nor violence can save me, / Only the will of Queen Elizabeth can set me free.’ She aims to appeal directly to her as a kinswoman and move her to compassion. Burleigh vigorously opposes the meeting when Paulet brings Elizabeth Mary's letter, no doubt fearing that Elizabeth might weaken but also giving a prudent and logical reason:
She is condemned to death! The axe is raised!
To speak to someone under such a sentence
Would compromise the standing of the monarch!
The implication of the royal presence
Is mercy—once the interview had happened
The sentence would be inapplicable.
Mary may wish to move Elizabeth as though their dynastic quarrel could be settled by the exercise of humanity and compassion. Burleigh, however, is alive to the ceremonial importance of such a meeting. Elizabeth cannot meet Mary unless it is to pardon her. By meeting her the world would be given a signal that pardon was not far off. This is also the reason why Leicester tries to gain Elizabeth's agreement to a meeting, as he says to Mortimer: ‘It would bind her. / An execution after such a meeting, / As Burleigh says, would be against tradition.’ Although flattery and her own curiosity play a part in her eventual consent to the meeting, it would be quite wrong to think that these are Elizabeth's primary motives. She has already, as she believes, won Mortimer's services to assassinate Mary. Now she can give the appearance to the world of considering mercy in the knowledge that Mary will be murdered before any hard decision will be required of her. Thus she will have disposed of Mary and rescued appearances. The meeting is thus foredoomed because Elizabeth does not come to it with any intention of pardoning Mary, whereas Mary assumes that the humiliation she has undergone in the course of the meeting must be the preliminary to the act of mercy she expects:
Sister, finish now,
Say what you came to say, for that you came
Simply to mock me, I will not believe.
Speak the word, tell me, ‘Mary you are free’
But Elizabeth, spurred on by Leicester's ill-judged flattery earlier and by the added piquancy of his presence, goes too far in grinding her rival into the dust and Mary, also aware of her prospective lover's presence, retaliates. Once she has called Elizabeth a bastard to her face, challenging her right to the throne and activating all of Elizabeth's deepest insecurities, Elizabeth cannot maintain a pretence of wanting to pardon her.
It is in her monologue (IV. x), when Elizabeth signs the death warrant, that she adds the final words to the disastrous meeting. The people, whom she despises but on whose favour she depends, clamour for the death of Mary. But will they still applaud her after the deed is done? Her avoidance of the arbitrary exercise of power and her respect for the law now make it impossible to commit a manifest injustice. Her own example has tied her hands. Isolated from Europe and threatened by powerful enemies, betrayed by those closest to her, Elizabeth is overcome by rage and humiliation. ‘Am I a bastard in your eyes?’ She addresses Mary directly, taking up the quarrel where it broke off. Enraged and frustrated though she is, it is still the political threat that is uppermost in her mind: ‘When there are no more Queens than I, the bed I Where I began will be an honoured one!’
Much critical controversy surrounds the treatment and significance of Mary's death. Mary comes to terms with being the victim of a judicial murder by regarding it as God's sign that she may atone for her complicity in Darnley's murder. The ability to accept her punishment allows her to triumph over the injustice and the humiliation of the execution. Thus the spectacle of her composure and dignity mediates to the audience a sympathetic experience of the indestructibility of the human spirit. To this experience of transcendence Schiller assigned the term ‘sublime’. More than any other of his plays Mary Stuart has been interpreted as a demonstration of Schiller's theory of tragedy as he developed it during his philosophical phase in the early 1790s, in his essay On Tragic Pity (Über das Pathetische) in particular. The sublime was a phenomenon that fascinated numerous writers in the later decades of the eighteenth century. They recognized the existence of an aesthetic response of admiration and awe mixed with pain or terror, such as that occasioned by raging seas or deep ravines. It was a response distinct from the serenity and unalloyed delight associated with the beautiful. In his Critique of Judgement Kant interpreted the sublime in the light of his fundamental epistemological distinction between the phenomenal and the noumenal realms, the realm of nature and the realm of freedom. Human beings belong to the one by virtue of being physical creatures and to the other by virtue of being moral beings. When witnessing a scene of overwhelming natural power, human beings are at first terrified by their knowledge that nature can crush them but then exhilarated by the realization that within mankind is a moral dimension that transcends nature. Schiller saw the possibility of making this approach to the sublime fruitful in a theory of tragedy, which is an art form traditionally associated with the mixed response of pain and pleasure. In so doing he could demonstrate the interdependence of the moral and the aesthetic in the tragic response, without subordinating the aesthetic to the moral. The sublime response is mediated to the audience by the spectacle of the suffering of the tragic figure and his or her inner freedom, shown in resistance to being defeated by that suffering. Resistance could be active, as when someone freely chooses to die to uphold the right, or passive, when the suffering is stoically accepted. Though Schiller's essays on tragedy are couched in the language of Kantian philosophy, he can be seen as finding a new idiom in which to make intelligible to his contemporaries Aristotle's notion of catharsis. The play does not teach us a moral lesson but rather mediates an experience that reminds us that we are autonomous moral beings.
Mary Stuart has often been interpreted as if it were an exact demonstration of that theory. The problem with seeing any work of art as a demonstration of a theory is that with truly great art the theory never seems equal to the complexity of the work. Great emphasis on Mary's final moral freedom tends to reduce the scope of the work almost irretrievably. Most of the outer action of the play, particularly the scenes at Elizabeth's court, becomes secondary to this spiritual victory. The rich pattern of comparisons and contrasts between the two worlds of the play is lost, Elizabeth becomes the villain, and the world of politics stands condemned as morally tainted. Yet it is clear that even Mary's death has its own ambiguity. She knows it is her final appearance on the public stage and she can be seen as being determined to use it for maximum impact. Even her avowed innocence in the confession scene of plotting against Elizabeth can be put in doubt when one thinks of her association with Mortimer. She may not have wanted her rival to be assassinated but she has put herself in the hands of those who vow to free her by whatever means. On the other hand, she is about to die and she undoubtedly arouses pity and admiration for her ability to invest her death with the meaning that gives her the strength to face it. The play as moral triumph and the play as political tragedy need not be mutually exclusive. Schiller was as concerned with the art of living as with the art of dying, and it is not to detract from his portrayal of the possibility of transcendence to recognize his fascination with the ambiguities of the political world. It allows us to reserve a little sympathy for Elizabeth as she stands alone at the end, knowing she has failed the test of her humanity.
For detailed commentary on the political echoes in this scene see Schillers Werke, Nationalausgabe, vii/ll, ed. Paul Böckmann and Gerhard Kluge, and Schiller. Sämtliche Werke, Berliner Ausgabe, iii, ed. Hans-Günther Thalheim and Regine Otto, as well as Allan Blunden's article listed in the Select Bibliography.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7616
SOURCE: “Schiller and the “European Community”: “Universal History” in Theory and Practice,” in The Modern Language Review Vol. 93, No 2, April 1998, pp. 428-40.
[In the following essay, Lamport argues that Schiller's interest in history and his study of people in action on the historical stage contributed to his fuller treatment of the complex relationship of character and event in his dramatic works.]
‘Die europäische Staatengesellschaft scheint in eine große Familie verwandelt. Die Hausgenossen können einander anfeinden, aber hoffentlich nicht mehr zerfleischer.’ So declared Schiller, Professor of Philosophy in the University of Jena, in his inaugural lecture, ‘Was heißt und zu welchem Ende studiert man Universal-geschichte?’,1 delivered on 21 May 1789, eight weeks before the storming of the Bastille and six months before his thirtieth birthday. The young Schiller had already made the acquintance of Universal History as a student at the Karlsschule: his medical dissertation Über den Zusammenhang der tierischen Natur des Menschen mit seiner geistigen quotes from Schlözer's Universalhistorie (SW, v, 304) and it is in terms derived from Schlözer that Schiller speaks in the inaugural lecture of the brute facts of history as an ‘Aggregat von Bruchstücken’ that it is the task of ‘der philosophische Verstand’ to turn into a ‘System’ (SW, iv, 763). In the intervening years he had also read Kant's essays in the Berlinische Monatsschrift, being especially impressed, as he wrote to Körner on 29 August 1787, with the Idee zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte in weltbürgerlicher Absicht. The idea of universal human progress now provided the ‘Leitfaden a priori’, as Kant had there called it,2 with which, Schiller tells us, the philosophical spirit ‘bringt einen vernünftigen Zweck in den Gang der Welt und ein teleologisches Prinzip in die Weltgeschichte’ (SW, iv, 764). The task of the Universal Historian is to look back and discover in the dark ages of the past the workings of those forces that have come or are coming to fruition in the present, in ‘unser menschliches Jahrhundert’ (SW, iv, 766).
Meanwhile, Schiller's interest had been aroused in the concrete particulars of history in the course of his work on Fiesco and in particular on Don Carlos, the work whose dramatic shaping had caused him so much difficulty and led to a profound dissatisfaction with his work as a playwright. ‘Täglich wird mir die Geschichte teurer’, he wrote to Körner on 15 April 1786, ‘ich wollte, daß ich zehen Jahre hintereinander nichts als Geschichte studiert hätte.’ In the political and religious conflicts of the sixteenth century he discovered the ‘Morgendämmerung der Wahrheit’, as he wrote in the Briefe über Don Carlos (SW, ii, 228), the origins of modern enlightened Europe, and to expound these and related conflicts according to the principles of Universal History was the task he set himself in the series of historical works he was to produce between 1788 and 1793, the Geschichte des Abfalls der vereinigten Niederlande von der spanischen Regierung, the lectures delivered at Jena, his editorial contributions to the Sammlung historischer Memoires (especially the essays on the Crusades and on the French wars of religion), and the Geschichte des Drei[b.beta ]igjährigen Kriegs. From the chaos of this (as Schiller hoped) final great struggle, the international order of modern Europe had at last appeared: ‘Europa ging ununterdrückt und frei aus diesem fürchterlichen Krieg, in welchem es sich zum erstenmal als eine zusammenhängende Staatengesellschaft erkannt hatte’ (SW, iv, 366), and the dispositions of the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 could still be described by Schiller, writing the final pages of his history in September 1792, as ‘unverletzlich’ and ‘heilig’, as ‘dieses […] teure und dauernde Werk der Staatskunst’ (SW, iv, 745).
But even as he wrote this, history appeared to be taking a different turn. The Jacobin government in Paris unleashed the Terror and executed the King. New wars began, not merely dynastic and territorial disputes between the ‘Hausgenossen’ but once again, as in 1618-48, ideological confrontations between profoundly different conceptions of European order. General Bonaparte, ostensibly in the service of the Directory, began to make war and peace, to redraw frontiers, to destroy states and create them at his own imperious (if not yet Imperial) whim. By the time Schiller, now returned to playwriting, completed his Wallenstein trilogy ‘an des Jahrhunderts ernstem Ende’ (Prologue to Wallenstein, l. 61), the ‘alte feste Form’ was visibly disintegrating (ll. 70-1), even if Schiller did not live to see the humiliation of Jena and the formal dissolution of the Reich in 1806. With the dismemberment of the old ‘europäische Staatengesellschaft’, so too the promise of universal historical progress seemed to be abrogated, and the study of history could no longer perform the civilizing task envisaged for it in the ‘Antrittsvorlesung’. Only art could now reveal to man, beyond the storms of history, his potential for true humanity and so ‘das Individuum unvermerkt in die Gattung hinüber[führen]’ (compare SW, iv, 765). History, for the author of Über das Erhabene, shows only ‘der Konflikt der Naturkräfte untereinander selbst und mit der Freiheit des Menschen’ (SW, v, 803). In this grim spectacle, rather than in the programmatic optimism of the ‘Antrittsvorlesung’, Schiller appears to give, in Theodor Schieder's words, ‘das Fazit seiner eigenen Geschichtschreibung’.3
The appearance of a volume of essays under the title Schiller als Historiker4 reminds us, however, that there is still a good deal of controversy among scholars as to the intrinsic significance and originality of Schiller's historical writings, their place in his intellectual development and in the contemporary debates on the meaning of history from Schlözer through Herder and Kant to Fichte and beyond, and their relevance for the interpretation of his plays. Schiller's ‘historical period’ was relatively brief, though it did produce some substantial (and highly readable) pieces of prose writing, but it occupies a crucial stage of his career. It has often been regarded, as Lesley Sharpe observes, as ‘something of a diversion from poetry’;5 it was certainly a diversion from dramatic work, or a substitute for it, at a time when as a result of the difficulties experienced in completing Don Carlos Schiller felt that he had reached a dead end in his playwriting and had to make a completely fresh start: ‘So ein Machwerk wie der Carlos ekelte mich nunmehr an’, as he wrote to Körner on 4 September 1794. Those difficulties concerned the proper relationship of character and action in the dramatic context. Schiller had discovered that given the choice of a complex historical situation as a dramatic subject, it was not good enough simply to create characters and leave the action more or less to take care of itself, as he had thought when embarking on Don Carlos. ‘Der Charakter eines feurigen, großen und empfindenden Jünglings, der zugleich der Erbe einiger Kronen ist,—einer Königin, die durch den Zwang ihrer Empfindung bei allen Vorteilen ihres Schicksals verunglückt,—eines eifersüchtigen Vaters und Gemahls—eines grausamen heuchlerischen Inquisitors, und barbarischen Herzogs von Alba u.s.f. sollten mir, dächte ich, nicht wohl mißlingen’: so he had written to Reinwald on 27 March 1783, but it had proved otherwise, at any rate in Schiller's own subsequent estimation. The study of men in action on the stage of history led him to a fuller and truer understanding of the complex relationships of character and event, of ‘the individual agent and the moment of history’,6 from which the mature dramatist could only profit.
What, though, of the concerns of the Universal Historian? In his contribution to Schiller als Historiker, Manfred Riedel argues that the plays from Die Verschwörung des Fiesco to Demetrius, taken together, do in fact add up to a dramatic panorama of the emergence of the ‘europäische Staatengesellschaft’: Italy, Spain and the Netherlands, the Empire, England, France, Switzerland, and Russia; Beatrix Langner suggests that even the apparently ahistorical or suprahistorical Braut von Messina can be read on a symbolic level as a ‘Familiengemälde des alten politischen Europa’,7 in which the ‘Hausgenossen’, symbolic incarnations of successive manifestations of the ‘Reichsidee’. Roman (Cesar), Byzantine (Manuel), Hohenstaufen (Beatrice), and Habsburg (Isabella), do indeed, contrary to the hopes expressed in the ‘Antrittsvorlesung’, ‘einander zerfleischen’. Be this as it may, it is certainly the case that the three great historical dramas marking the centre and the summit of Schiller's career as a playwright, Don Carlos, Wallenstein, and Maria Stuart, are all closely related in subject-matter to his major historiographical works (the events of Maria Stuart are of course contemporaneous with, and closely linked to, those portrayed in the Abfall der Niederlande and the Geschichte der französischen Unruhen). They deal precisely with the religio-political struggles of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, from which the ‘europäische Staatengesellschaft’ of Schiller's day had emerged, and they do so, despite their high artistic stylization, in an essentially realistic manner. That is, they treat these conflicts in purely human terms, without resort to the visions, oracles, and other mythical or legendary elements that characterize the plays that follow them, as well as in a more ‘classical’ and less operatic or overtly decorative manner. Whether or not they convey, directly or by implication, any notion of universal historical progress, is however by no means so clear.
Anyone attempting to interpret the plays in relation to Schiller's philosophy of history or his political vision of Europe, or anything else extraneous to the texts themselves, must proceed with caution. Schiller the playwright and Schiller the historical writer are pursuing different goals; they are shaping their material according to different generic considerations, and often seem to invite different or even contradictory judgements on the same character or course of action. Schiller's notoriously cavalier treatment of historical fact in his plays, from Fiesco all the way to Die Jungfrau von Orleans, also makes it more than usually problematic to invoke our (or Schiller's audience's) knowledge of the actual course of history beyond (and in particular subsequent to) the events depicted in the play. As Lessing observed (Hamburgische Dramaturgie, No. 34), ‘Dem Genie ist es vergönnt, tausend Dinge nicht zu wissen, die jeder Schulknabe weiß’: any interpretation that appeals to ‘things that every schoolboy knows’ must be corroborated from within the dramatic text.
It has also frequently been observed that not even the historiographical works live up to the idealistic ‘universalgeschichtlich’ programme set out in their opening pages. In one of the very first contemporary reviews of the Abfall der Niederlande, Johannes von Müller wondered, in the light of Schiller's depiction of events, ‘ob man noch an die vorhergedachten theoretischen und kritischen Fragen denken soll’.8 Schieder comments on the ‘ständige Spannung zwischen geschichtsphilosophischer Axiomatik und geschichtlicher Empirie’ (p. 62) that characterizes this work and to some extent all Schiller's historical writing, though significantly modified (p. 68) in the Geschichte des dreißigjährigen Kriegs. He also notes as a characteristic feature of Schiller's historiography ‘das Nebeneinander verschiedener Bewertungskategorien bei geschichtlichen Persönlichkeiten: einer solchen des politischen Kalküls und einer der ethischen Struktur’ (Schieder, p. 64). Similar ambiguities lie at the heart of the three great historical dramas.
The incommensurability of historical or political judgment (or any kind of judgement as to the appropriateness of means to ends) on the one hand, and of ‘pure’ moral judgement on the other, is an essential feature of the tragedy of history: a tragedy the optimism of the Universal Historian seeks to sublimate or to transcend (or at worst, simply to ignore). It is, indeed, the crux of the personal tragedy of Marquis Posa in Don Carlos, of Wallenstein, and (if we allow her to be a tragic character) of Elisabeth in Maria Stuart. It is by no means clear that we can, as Manfred Riedel argues, ‘mit Schiller den Unterschied zwischen der eingebildeten Grö[b.beta ]e des heroischen, zum Scheitern verurteilten Schwärmertums, und dem weltgeschichtlich Gro[b.beta ]en genauer angeben’ (Riedel, p. 38). It is more the case, for both the historian and the dramatist, that as Friedrich Sengle observed of Wallenstein, ‘Die geschichtliche Tat […] ist ein undurchdringliches Gemisch von Größe und Verbrechen’.9 Riedel follows Schiller's moral condemnation of Posa in the Briefe über Don Carlos as a ‘Schwärmer’ who abandons himself to the ‘gefahrlichen Leitung universeller Vernunftideen, die er sich künstlich erschaffen hat’ (SW, ii, 262) and sees in this a condemnation of the ‘universalistischer Moralismus der Aufklärung’ as a whole (Riedel, p. 37). But when, in his monologue before the great audience scene, Posa reflects upon his unexpected summons before the King and resolves to seize the opportunity with which fate, or chance, or Providence has presented him—
Ein Zufall nur? Vielleicht auch mehr—Und was
Ist Zufall anders als der rohe Stein,
Der Leben annimmt unter Bildners Hand?
Den Zufall gibt die Vorsehung—zum Zwecke
Muß ihn der Mensch gestalten …
—he is using the very same image Schiller himself uses in the introduction to the Abfall der Niederlande, apparently suggesting that men are historically or even morally obliged to seize such opportunities, not to let them slip, whatever the outcome may be:
Aber das Unternehmen selbst darf uns darum nicht kleiner erscheinen, weil es anders ausschlug, als es gedacht worden war. Der Mensch verarbeitet, glättet und bildet den rohen Stein, den die Zeiten herbeitragen; ihm gehört der Augenblick und der Punkt, aber die Weltgeschichte rollt der Zufall. (SW, iv, 44-5)10
Posa seizes an opportunity to bring his ideals nearer to fruition, which it would be irresponsible of him to let slip. He thereby finds himself trapped into playing the fatal role of double agent, through which he ultimately brings about his own death and the destruction of Carlos and the Queen, but he can nevertheless be seen as accepting an objective challenge of history. The deviousness with which Posa pursues his aims is not so very different from the Machiavellian tactics of Oranien that earn Schiller's apparent approval in the Abfall der Niederlande.11 And Posa's prophecy to the King that ‘Sanftere ❙ Jahrhunderte verdrängen Philipps Zeiten’ (ll. 3148-49), echoed later by Lerma's assurance to Carlos that ‘schönre Zeiten werden kommen’ (l. 4937), directly anticipates the language of the ‘Antrittsvorle-sung’ and would naturally have been understood by the play's first audiences as a prophecy which in their own ‘menschliches Jahrhundert’ had been seen to be fulfilled.12 If Schiller really intended to condemn Posa, as the Briefe über Don Carlos undoubtedly suggest, then playwright and historian are speaking with different voices. But perhaps it is rather the author of the Briefe, standing now, as he puts it himself, ‘gleichsam in der Mitte zwischen dem Künstler und seinem Betrachter’ (SW, ii, 226), too clearly aware of the faults of both work and character as he now sees them and at the same time over-anxious to defend himself against the general verdict that the presentation of Posa is ‘zu idealisch’ (SW, ii, 227), who fails to take full account of the historical perspective that the play itself implies.
In the case of Elisabeth in Maria Stuart, historian and playwright do appear to speak with different voices. In Schiller's translation of Mercier's Philipp der Zweite, König von Spanien, Elisabeth is characterized as the champion of Protestant freedom, motivated by ‘Liebe zum wahren Ruhme, Toleranz und Standhaftkigkeit’ (SW, iv, 15), and in the Abfall der Niederlande she is celebrated as the creator of the English nation: ‘Erst auf ihren schöpferischen Ruf sollte dieser Staat aus einer demütigen Dunkelheit steigen und die lebendige Kraft, womit er seinen Nebenbuhler endlich darnieder ringt, von der fehlerhaften Politik dieses letztern empfangen’ (SW, iv, 77). The defeat of the Spanish Armada is also hymned by Schiller in the poem ‘Die unüberwindliche Flotte’ (SW, i, 145-46), and is reported by Medina Sidonia in Don Carlos (iii, 6-7), providing further evidence within the text of that play (and, of course, deliberately and anachronistically introduced into it, for the ‘real’ date of the main action, that leading to the imprisonment and presumed death of Prince Carlos, is 1568) that the tide of history is indeed flowing against Philipp's Spain and all that it stands for. But in Maria Stuart, Elisabeth, albeit loved by the people, we are told, as the guarantor of their new-found liberties, is shown as acting from very different and far more questionable motives, and the execution of Mary is shown as a relapse into tyranny, proving the new order no better in this respect than the ancien régime it has replaced. Here the prophecy the play seems to endorse is not Burleigh's ‘Gewähr auch dieses, und der heutge Tag ❙ Hat Englands Wohl auf immerdar gegründet’ (ll. 1252-53), but rather Shrewsbury's fear that the execution will ‘deines Volkes Herzen von dir wenden’ (l. 3120), whatever the historical record may say. If Elisabeth is a tragic figure, then it is because she fails to rise to the challenge of shaping a better future for her people: as in the case of the French revolutionaries, as evoked by Schiller in the Briefe über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen, ‘der freigebige Augenblick findet ein unempfängliches Geschlecht’ (SW, v, 579-80).13
Peter Pfaff interprets the end of the play as an apotheosis of Elisabeth: ‘In der moralisch kompromittierten Königin triumphiert die Staatsraison, der England eine glanzvolle Epoche dankt.’14 But the last words invoke a historical perspective the play itself seems rather to close off. In the play, and especially in the final Act, all the emphasis is on Mary's moral triumph and Elisabeth's moral failure: her refusal to accept responsibility for her actions, her scapegoating of Davison and Burleigh, and her desertion both by the loyal Shrewsbury, lamenting that ‘Ich habe deinen edlern Teil ❙ Nicht retten können’ (ll. 4028-29), and by the less than admirable Leicester, shamed at last into giving up his course of selfish double-dealing and committing himself to the juster cause, or so it would seem here, of Elisabeth's enemies. The defection of Shrewsbury and Leicester is totally unhistorical, an invention surely intended by Schiller to cast an unfavourable light on Elisabeth.
There is also further evidence that by the turn of the century, Schiller's view of England and her historical destiny had changed considerably from that of the 1780s. In ‘Die unüberwindliche Flotte’ England is lauded as ‘glückselge Insel’, ‘der Unterdrückung letzter Felsendamm’, ‘der Freiheit Paradies’ (SW, i, 145-46). But in the poem ‘Der Antritt des neuen Jahrhunderts’ of 1801, she is portrayed in precisely opposite and highly unflattering terms, as a greedy colonial power intent, alongside France, on world domination:
Zwo gewaltge Nationen ringen
Um der Welt alleinigen Besitz,
Aller Länder Freiheit zu verschlingen,
Schwingen sie den Dreizack und den Blitz …
Seine Handelsflotten streckt der Brite
Gierig wie Polypenarmen aus,
Und das Reich der freien Amphitrite
Will er schließen wie sein eignes Haus.
Zu des Südpols nie erblickten Sternen
Dringt sein rastlos ungehemmter Lauf,
Alle Inseln spürt er, alle fernen
Küsten—nur das Paradies nicht auf.
Pfaff similarly sees Schiller as vindicating Wallenstein's treason against the Emperor: ‘Mag der Generalissimus seinen Kaiser verraten […] so kann er allein, bei gegebener Konstellation der Mächtigen, den Krieg beenden’ (p. 409). Certainly the play itself invites speculation on this possibility. Max Piccolomini's eulogy of Wallenstein to Questenberg in the first Act of Die Piccolomini (hereafter Picc.) culminates in the assertion that he, Wallenstein, is working for peace and for ‘Europas großem Besten’, the Imperial party for a continuation of the war (Picc., ll. 561-77). Max's first scene with Thekla ends with a similar encomium (ll. 1654-57). Octavio himself ironically confirms that Wallenstein is working for peace, though at a price (ll. 2333-38), and Buttler, as the tragedy draws to its close, informs us that the citizens of Eger are rallying to Wallenstein's support because ‘Sie sehn im Herzog einen Friedensfürsten ❙ Und einen Stifter neuer goldner Zeit’ (Tod, ll. 3217-18). But quite apart from the fact that the text also offers much to support a quite different interpretation of Wallenstein's motives and intentions, the possibility remains, despite Pfaff's indicative, a highly speculative one. It is not certain what might have happened if Wallenstein had acted differently. His failure to seize the moment ‘eh die Glücks- ❙ Gestalt mir wieder wegflieht überm Haupt’ (Tod, ll. 33-4: when he speaks these words it is, of course, already too late) may represent a culpable failure to rise to the challenge of history, though it should be noted that those most strongly urging him to act are the play's most brutal political realists, Illo and the Countess, whose selfish power-seeking is unclouded by any hint of pacific intent. What is certain is that (to adopt Pfaff's terms) in the morally compromised figure of Octavio, who stands centre-stage at the end of the drama, as does Elisabeth at the end of Maria Stuart, we see a triumph of ‘Staatsraison’ (the ‘Staatskunst’ excoriated by Max in Picc., l. 2632), which results not in a ‘glanzvolle Epoche’ but in another fourteen years’ prolongation of the war. Of this historical fact Schiller has explicitly reminded his audience in the Prologue to the trilogy:
In jenes Krieges Mitte stellt euch jetzt
Der Dichter. Sechzehn Jahre der Verwüstung,
Des Raubs, des Elends sind dahingeflohn,
In trüben Massen gäret noch die Welt,
Und keine Friedenshoffnung strahlt von fern.
(Prolog, l. 79)
The Prologue also reminds the audience that they are expected to be familiar with the hero of the drama (‘Ihr kennet ihn’ (l. 94)), thus explicitly opening up the perspective of extra-textual historical knowledge that the conclusion of Maria Stuart seems to deny.
R. Marleyn rather oddly asserts that ‘the fall of Wallenstein must entail the fall of the Habsburg power (the actual historical outcome is, of course, irrelevant to the dramatic situation)’.16 The immediate dramatic outcome represents, surely, a victory for the Habsburg power, and, as in this case Schiller plainly expects his audience to know, the prolongation of the war. What of the longer term? As has already been mentioned, Schiller the Universal Historian has seen the horros of the Thirty Years' War as in some sense justified, in the eyes of the ‘Weltbürger’, by the emergence of a ‘zusammenhängende Staatengesellschaft’ (SW, iv, 366) and by the ‘unter dem Namen des Westfälischen berühmten, unverletzlichen und heiligen Frieden’ (SW, iv, 745) to which it eventually led. Even in 1792 this might have seemed an unduly optimistic verdict; six years later, in the Prologue to Wallenstein, Schiller recognizes that the old order is falling to pieces.17 Yet here, too, he asserts a similar kind of ‘dialectical’ optimism, urging his audience to draw some kind of positive conclusion from the gloomy spectacle he is about to present to them:
Noch einmal laßt des Dichters Phantasie
Die düstre Zeit an euch vorüberführen,
Und blicket froher in die Gegenwart
Und in der Zukunft hoffnungsreiche Ferne.
Are we then to see, in the bitter triumph of Octavio's ‘Staatskunst’ with which the tragedy continues, the working of some kind of ‘teleologisches Prinzip’ (SW, iv, 764), some kind of ‘List der Vernunft’? Hegel, with his famous characterization of the end of Wallenstein as the ‘Sieg des Nichts’,18 seemed not to think so. Or are we to see it as a vindication of those ‘alten, engen, Ordnungen’ that at an early stage of the drama (Picc., ll. 463-79) Octavio not uneloquently defends? In Don Carlos, whatever we may think of Posa's character or his actions, Philipp's tyrannical government, described in the Briefe as ‘geistliche[r], politische[r] und häusliche[r] Despotismus’ (SW, ii, 255), is unequivocally condemned. In both Wallenstein and Maria Stuart Schiller seems to be suggesting that the familiar devils of the ancien régime might be preferable to the unknown demons of revolutionary liberation. As Jens-F. Dwars argues, ‘Als Zeitgenosse der Französischen Revolution verteidigt Schiller aus Furcht vor der Anarchie dieselbe Ordnung, deren innerer Zerfall er ästhetisch unabweisbar gestaltet.’19 In Schiller's eyes, if the ‘europäische Staatengesellschaft’ were to survive, it could only be by some cautious reform of the old order, rather than by the arbitrary dispositions of such as General Bonaparte, or of any charismatic leader promising millennial renewal. And if in ‘Deutsche Größe’ Schiller seems to envisage a specific historical ‘mission’ for Germany in leading Europe forward to a brighter future beyond the political confusions of the 1790s, ‘Der Antritt des neuen Jahrhunderts’ ends on a note of complete resignation and withdrawal: ‘Freiheit ist nur in dem Reich der Träume, ❙ Und das Schöne blüht nur im Gesang’ (SW, i, 459). No doubt Schiller was reluctant to give up all hope of real historical progress, but the evidence seemed to point strongly against it.
In the thirteen eventful years between the completion of Don Carlos and that of Maria Stuart Schiller has plainly become, at all events, much less unambiguously hostile towards the ancien régime. He has also become much more ambivalent in his portrayal of the ancien régime's spiritual arm, the Roman Catholic Church. As W. M. Simon says: ‘Over and over again Schiller makes the point that tyranny and the Roman Catholic church were inseparable allies, indeed that the Church was the evil genius behind many tyrants and acts of tyranny.’20 But in the last Act of Maria Stuart, Mary's Catholic religion is presented in quite a different light, and the end of Die jungfrau von Orleans is, if not as Shaw claimed ‘drowned in a witch's caldron of raging romance’,21 then at all events suffused with a rosy glow (see Schiller's stage direction!) of Catholic Mariolatry and martyr symbolism in which Schiller's earlier fierce opposition to the Roman Church and all its works is quite forgotten. Are we to see these Catholicizing elements in a purely symbolic light, or do they indicate a change in his view of the historical and political role of the Church?
Growing up in arch-Protestant Württemberg, the young Schiller imbibed Protestantism with his mother's milk, and for a Württemberger the association of the Catholic Church, and in particular the Inquisition, with political tyranny was reinforced by the fact that since the accession of the convert Karl Alexander in 1734 the arch-Protestant duchy had been ruled by Catholic dukes, eager to introduce absolutist rule. In Die Räuber, Schiller's most directly political criticisms are actually voiced in scenes involving religious figures. The Catholic Church is represented by the Pater, the corrupt and hypocritical agent of a corrupt and tyrannical authority, who comes to confront Karl in the closing scene of Act ii. It was, Karl tells him, a ‘Pfaff[e] Ihres Gelichters […], den ich mit eigener Hand erwürgte, als er auf offener Kanzel geweint hatte, dass die Inquisition so in Zerfall käme’ (SW, i, 552). Protestantism is contrastingly embodied in Pastor Moser, the voice of conscience and true religion, who triumphs over the evil Franz in Act v. It is usually claimed that Moser's name is a tribute to the pastor of Lorch, who was Schiller's first teacher, but it may well also be intended to suggest that of Johann Jakob Moser, the Swabian jurist whose opposition to the absolutist ambitions of Duke Karl Eugen earned him five years’ imprisonment without trial (1759-64, a year or two after the action of the play is set). Moser's rebukes to Franz also have a strongly political flavour: ‘Ich will an Eurem Bette stehn, wenn ihr sterbet—ich möchte so gar gern einen Tyrannen sehn dahinfahren […]. Ihr habt das Leben von Tausenden an der Spitze Eures Fingers, und von diesen Tausenden habt ihr neunhundertneunundneunzig elend gemacht’ (SW, i, 604-05).22 In Don Carlos the Catholic Church ispainted in the blackest of hues.23 It is Domingo, the Domini canis, ‘des Königs lustge[r] Beichtiger's, as Carlos ironically describes him (l. 67), who speaks the play's very opening words, whose mastery of political intrigue surprises even his ally Alba (ll. 2069-72) and whose unclerical or all-too-clerical innuendoes horrify the King (l. 2740), and it is the terrifying figure of the aged but unyielding Inquisitor who dominates the closing scenes and is shown to be the real power behind the throne. In Wallenstein the Church also plays a significant if less directly active role. In the Lager it is the Kapuziner who introduces a violently discordant, hostile note into the chorus of praise for the hero (and who, incidentally, first mentions Wallenstein by name (Lager, l. 620)); it is also a Capuchin who obstructs Isolani's mission to obtain remounts for the troops (Picc., ll. 166-79). In the banquet scene the Kellermeister praises both the religious and the civil liberties of the Bohemians, represented on the coronation goblet by the allegorical figure of ‘die Wahlfreiheit der böhmschen Kron’ (l. 2073) bearing the hat of liberty, the communion chalice, and the Letter of Majesty, riding triumphant ‘übern Krummstab […] und Bischofsmützen’ (l. 2068). Max describes Octavio's report of Wallenstein's intended treachery as a ‘Pfaffenmärchen’ (l. 2320), just as Schiller himself, in his summing-up of Wallenstein's career at the end of Book iv of the Geschichte des Dreissigjährigen Kriegs,tells us that Wallenstein owed both his dismissal at Regensburg and his reputation as a traitor, during his life and after it, to ‘Mönchsintrigen’ and ‘mönchische Künste’ (SW, iv, 688). Wallenstein himself was a Catholic convert (which seems to be adduced (Tod, ll. 2563-66) as a sign of mental imbalance!) but proclaims to the Burgomaster of Eger his hatred of the Jesuits and his tolerance, or indifference, in religious matters (ll. 2597-600). But it is only a gentle rebuke that Wallenstein utters to Seni when the astrologer (a comic, but in these final scenes not unsympathetic figure) comes to warn him for the last time against the alliance with the Swedes, with ‘diesen Heiden […], ❙ Die Krieg mit unsrer heilgen Kirche führen’ (ll. 3618-19).24
In Maria Stuart Catholicism plays a much more prominent but also a much more ambivalent role; indeed, it could be said to play two quite different ones. From a realistic point of view, the Church is shown, exactly as in the earlier plays, as closely allied to the forces of the ancien régime, supporting as it does Mary's claim to the throne by right of hereditary legitimacy. It is also deeply involved in political intrigue, encouraging plots and conspiracies against Elisabeth. It is, as Elisabeth herself says, the Cardinal de Guise, ‘der stolze, ❙ Herrschwütge Priester’ (ll. 2333-34), rather than Mary herself, who is the originator of Mary's claim to the throne of England, and it is also the priests, the Cardinal and Bishop Lesley, who convert Mortimer to Mary's cause, as Mortimer tells her in Act i, Scene 6. The Catholic party are not only the enemies of Elisabeth and of Protestant England: they are also, through encouraging Mary's claim to the throne and engaging Mortimer, the ‘keckentschlossner Schwärmer’ (l. 2976), to their cause, doubly if indirectly responsible for Mary's death. But side by side with (and at the end of the play effectively supplanting) this realistic picture of the Catholic Church at its deadly work of political intrigue, the most solemn Catholic ritual is used to symbolize the transcendence of the material, historical, and political realm and theachievement of true spiritual freedom. Mary receives the Eucharist from Melvil in both kinds, enjoying by papal dispensation the privilege for which the Kellermeister in Wallenstein tells us his ancestors fought under Prokop and Ziska (Picc., ll. 2103-04). In historical fact Mary sought, but was denied the comfort of her own religion in death (see Act i, 180-89), and Melvil, though a loyal follower of Mary, was actually a Protestant. It is this deliberate and symbolic, rather than realistic, deployment of Catholic religious motifs that seems to move the play (decisively, in the view of many critics) away from the presentation of history and politics into the realm of private suffering and private moral transcendence, the ‘Darstellung des moralischen Widerstandes gegen das Leiden’ that is, according to Schiller in Über das Pathetische (SW, v, 515), the business of pure tragic art. But if Mary's moral triumph suggests, as it evidently does to Leicester, the justice of her political cause, then we cannot rule out the interpretation that on a realistic level too, Schiller would appear to have become considerably more sympathetic to the role of the Catholic religion as the ideological guarantor of the principle of legitimate monarchy. It is certainly difficult to imagine anything, not even the end of Die Jungfrau von Orleans, more different from the tableau of tyrannical Catholic monarchy that ends Don Carlos.
Though in 1788 he had appeared to distance himself altogether from Christianity in ‘Die Götter Griechenlands’, in the ‘Antrittsvorlesung’ Schiller still addresses himself specifically to ‘protestantische Christen’ (SW, iv, 759). In the Abfall der Niederlande, he sets out his programme as the champion of religious and political liberty, and insists on the intimate connection between tyranny and Catholicism embodied in Charles V (‘Karl der Fünfte, der bei dieser grossen Glaubenstrennung die Partie genommen hatte, die ein Despot nicht verfehlen kann’ (SW, iv, 67)) and even more plainly in his son Philip II. But he is at the same time careful to distinguish between monarchical legitimacy, the principle of which he does not challenge, and religious bigotry: ‘Zum Unglück für die verbesserte Religion war die politische Gerechtigkeit auf der Seite ihres Verfolgers’ (SW, iv, 67). A similar distinction is drawn in the case of Ferdinand II in the Geschichte des Dreissigjährigen Kriegs.25 In the historiographical works, Schiller also dissociates himself explicitly from the more revolutionary manifestations of Protestantism amongst the people, and spares no details in his depiction of the horrors perpetrated by the iconoclasts in the Netherlands (Abfall der Niederlande, Book 4), or of the ‘Rache des Hugenottenpöbels’ (SW, iv, 956) in the French wars of religion.26 By the time of the appearance of the Geschichte des Dreissigjährigen Kriegs the execution of Louis XVI by the ‘elenden Schinderknechte’ of the Revolution (to Körner, 8 February 1793) had confirmed Schiller's monarchical loyalties and made him more suspicious than ever of thecrimes committed (to quote Madame Roland) in the name of liberty. In the opening pages of the Geschichte des Dreissigjährigen Kriegs he can still present the Reformation as the point of origin of the modern family of nations: ‘Und so musste es durch einen seltsamen Gang der Dinge die Kirchentrennung sein, was die Staaten unter sich zu einer engen Vereinigung führte’ (SW, iv, 366). Even in ‘Deutsche Grösse’ Germany's historic mission is still specifically associated with Protestantism (SW, i, 475-76). But by the time of completing Maria Stuart he seems at least to be flirting with the Catholicizing nostalgia of a Novalis for the ‘schöne glänzende Zeiten, wo Europa ein christliches Land war, wo Eine Christenheit diesen menschlich gestalteten Weltteil bewohnte’,27 and he was to give this Romantic nostalgia free reign in his ‘romantische Tragödie’ Die Jungfrau von Orleans. In Maria Stuart he is still sufficient of a historical as well as a dramatic realist to know that this will not do. He knows that the Catholic party is seeking to place on the throne of England a Queen who has so abused her hereditary privileges that she has been deposed and expelled by her own people (ll. 99-100). He is still historical and political idealist enough to hope that one day a truly educated, enlightened, and civilized humanity will prove itself worthy of the ‘freigebiger Augenblick’ of history and create a ‘Staat der Freiheit’, but he knows that this is still a very long way off. The events of the years following 1789 had shown him that the social, political, and ideological conflicts necessary to create the ‘europäische Staatengesellschaft’ were far from being fully played out.
In Schiller's next two plays, both the vision of the Universal Historian and the concrete concern with that formative period of European history have largely disappeared. The subject-matter both of Die Jungfrau von Orleans and of Wilhelm Tell incorporates highly topical political themes: the legitimacy of hereditary government (a thorough analysis of the plays from Wallenstein onwards in terms of Weber's theory of ‘Herrschaftslegitimierung’ still remains to be written), and the cause of national liberation from alien rule (though this theme is present in Die Braut von Messina at best by implication). But neither could be said to present a realistic analysis of historical forces, and the high degree of artistic stylization employed, whether ‘romantisch’ or pseudo-Greek, suggests that Schiller's aim here was ‘den Stoff durch die Form zu vertilgen’ (see SW, v, 639), and that the banner placed in Johanna's hand at the end of Die Jungfrau von Orleans is not so much the banner of national liberation as the ‘Fahne der Wahrheit und Schönheit’, under which, in the preface to Die Horen in 1794, Schiller had promised to heal political divisions and unite humanity in true (that is, ideal, aesthetic) freedom. The real concern of both plays is not so much history as ‘Poesie jenseits der Geschichte’ (Oellers, Friedrich Schiller, pp. 228-29).28Wilhelm Tell and Demetrius, however, seem to move back towards a more realistic assessment of human motives and human actions on the stage of history. (Joan of Arc is a real historical figure and Tell a figure of legend, but in Schiller's treatment sober history and romantic legend seem to have changed places.) Both plays seem deeply sceptical of any universal historical progress. InWilhelm Tell, though the vision is not entirely backward-looking (the dying Attinghausen promises that ‘Aus diesem Haupte, wo der Apfel lag, ❙ Wird euch die neue bessre Freiheit grünen’ (ll. 2423-24, my italics), and the liberation of the serfs anachronistically proclaimed by Rudenz in the play's last line had at last been accomplished in Schiller's own ‘menschliches Jahrhundert’, by Joseph II in 1782), the fundamental political ethos of the play is not only conservative but anti-universalist. It seems to be the good fortune of the Swiss (or to have been, for at the time Schiller wrote, their traditional liberties had been extinguished in the name of new ‘republican’ ones by General Bonaparte) not to have been caught up in any grand current of Universal History, but rather to be allowed to live at peace in their Alpine backwater. If there is any meaning in history, then it is to be found in the particular, almost fortuitous, triumph of a just cause at a particular moment, without this necessarily being seen to validate any ‘teleologisches Prinzip’.29Demetrius presents an altogether grimmer picture: the ‘ewige Wiederkehr des Gleichen’ invoked at the end of the scenario, where ‘gleichsam das Alte von neuem beginnt’ (SW, iii, 76) is only partly alleviated by the promise of the return of just and legitimate government under the Romanovs. Since Schiller's day, the Swiss have regained, and still jealously guard, their traditional liberties, Russian history continues to proceed through revolutionary cycles to a still uncertain future, and both Switzerland and Russia remain on the margins of the ‘europäische Staatengesellschaft’, as Schiller knew it and as we know it today.
Sämtliche Werke, ed. by Gerhard Fricke and Herbert G. Göpfert, 3rd edn, 5 vols (Munich: Hanser, 1962), iv, 749-67 (p. 757). All quotations and references according to this edition (SW). References to verse plays are by line numbers.
Kant, Werke, ed. by Wilhelm Weischedel, 10 vols (Wiesbaden: Insel Verlag, 1956-60), ix, 49.
Theodor Schieder, ‘Schiller als Historiker’, in der Begegnungen mit der Geschichte (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1962), pp. 56-79 (p. 62). See also Gerhard Fricke, ‘Schiller und die geschichtliche Welt’, in Studien und Interpretationen (Frankfurt a.M.: Menck, 1956), pp. 95-118, esp. pp. 102-03; Hans-Dietrich Dahnke, ‘Zum Verhältnis von historischer und poetischer Wahrheit in Schillers Konzeptionsbildung und Dramenpraxis’, in Friedrich Schiller: Angebot und Diskurs. Zugänge, Dichtung, Zeitgenossenschaft, ed. by Helmut Brandt (Berlin and Weimar: Aufbau Verlag, 1987), pp. 264-81, esp. pp. 274-75.
Ed. by Otto Dann, Norbert Oellers, and Ernst Osterkamp (Stuttgart and Weimar: Böhlau, 1995): see my review, pp. 569-70 here.
Friedrich Schiller: Drama, Thought and Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), p. 109.
Sharpe, p. 109; see also her earlier study, Schiller and the Historical Character: Presentation and Interpretation in the Historiogrpahical Works and in the Historical Dramas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982).
Manfred Riedel, ‘Geschichte und Gegenwart. Europa in Schillers Konzept der Universalgeschichte’, Schiller als Historiker, pp. 29-58. Beatrix Langner, ‘Der Name der Blume. Schillers Trauerspiel Die Braut von Messina als Dramaturgie der geschichtlichen Vernunft’, Schiller als Historiker, pp. 219 42 (p. 241).
Quoted by Michael Gottlob, ‘Schiller und Johannes Müller’, Schiller als Historiker, pp. 309-33 (p. 310).
Friedrich Sengle, Das historische Drama in Deutschland, 2nd edn (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1969), p. 56.
Compare also SW, iv, 36: ‘Noch fehlte die letzte vollendende Hand [that of William the Silent]—der erleuchtete unternehmende Geist, der diesen großen politischen Augenblick haschte und die Geburt des Zufalls zum Plan der Weisheit erzöge.’ On the role of chance in Wallenstein, see Norbert Oellers, ‘Das Zufällige ist das Notwendige. Bemerkungen zu Schillers Wallenstein’, in Friedrich Schiller: Zur Modernität eines Klassikers (Frankfurt a.M. and Leipzig: Insel Verlag, 1966), pp. 232-46.
For a further discussion of Posa and Oranien, see Ernst Osterkamp, ‘Die Seele des historischen Subjekts. Historische Portraitkunst in Schillers Geschichte des Abfalls der Vereinigten Niederlande von der Spanischen Regierung’, in Schiller als Historiker, pp. 157-78.
See Wolfgang Düsing, ‘“Das kühne Traumbild eines neuen Staates.” Die Utopie in Schillers Don Karlos [sic]’, in Geschichtlichkeit und Gegenwart. Festschrift für Hans Dietrich Irmscher zum 65. Geburtstag, ed. by Hans Esselborn and Werner Keller, Kölner germanistische Studien, 34 (Cologne, Weimar, and Vienna: Böhlau, 1994), pp. 194-208, esp. p. 197, pp. 203-06.
See my article, ‘Krise und Legitimitätsanspruch: Maria Stuart als Geschichtstragödie’, Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie, 109 (1990), Sonderheft, 134-45.
‘König René oder die Geschichte’, in Schiller und die höfische Welt, ed. by Achim Aurnhammer, Klaus Manger, and Friedrich Strack (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1990), pp. 407-21 (p. 409: my italics).
Compare also the similar formulations in the unfinished ‘Deutsche Größe’ of 1797 (SW,i, 473-78), and the echo in Demetrius, ll. 925-93 (SW,iii, 38). (In the latter case, it is rather ‘des Nordpols nie erblickte Sterne’ which attract British maritime adventure!)
R. Marleyn, ‘Wallenstein and the Structure of Schiller's Tragedies’, Germanic Review, 32 (1957), 186-99 (p. 189).
Karl-Heinz Hahn, while noting Schiller's concentration, in both his historiography and his major historical dramas, on the ‘Herausbildung des europäischen Staatensystems’ (and, of course, on the ‘advancement of the bourgeoisie’) in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, observes that the dispositions of 1648 had in effect already been destroyed by the Seven Years' War and the consequent emergence of the Austro-Prussian duopoly within the Empire (‘Schiller und die Geschichte’, Weimarer Beiträge, 16 (1970), 39-69, esp. pp. 45-47).
G. W. F. Hegel, ‘Uber “Wallenstein”’, in Schiller: Zeitgenosse aller Epochen. Dokumente zur Wirkungsgeschichte Schillers in Deutschland, ed. by Norbert Oellers, Teil i: 1782-1859 (Wirkungen der Literatur, Band 2/:) (Frankfurt a.M.: Athenäum, 1970), p. 87).
Jens-F. Dwars, ‘Dichtung im Epochenumbruch. Schillers Wallenstein im Wandel von Alltag und Offentlichkeit’, Jahrbuch der Deutschen Schillergesellschaft, 35 (1991), 150-79 (p. 176). Wolfgang Wittkowski argues that while recognizing the price in personal integrity that has to be paid, Schiller nevertheless fully endorses Octavio's ‘Höfische Intrige für die gute Sache’: see his article thus entitled, in Schiller und die höfische Welt, pp. 378-97.
W. M. Simon, Inaugural Lecture, ‘Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805): The Poet as Historian’ (Keele: University of Keele, 1966), p. 7.
G. B. Shaw, Saint Foan, preface, in The Bodley Head Bernard Shaw: Collected Plays with their Prefaces, 7 vols, ed. by Dan H. Laurence (London: Bodley Head, 1970-74), vi, 40.
Compare Hans-Günther Thalheim, ‘Der württembergische Pietismus im Erfahrungshorizont des frühen Schiller’, Weimarer Beiträge, 31 (1985), 1823-48, esp. pp. 1832-35.
Schiller's heavily biased presentation of Philip II and the Spanish church is criticized by Bärbel Becker-Cantarino, ‘Die “Schwarze Legende”. Ideal und Ideologie in Schillers Don Carlos’, Fahrbuch des Freien Deutschen Hochstifts, 1975, 153-73. See also the fuller but very superficial account in Herbert Koch, Schiller und Spanien, Münchener romanistische Arbeiten, 31 (Munich: Hueber, 1973), pp. 28-73.
Helmut Koopmann stresses the anti-clerical elements in Wallenstein, beginning with the Kapuziner scene (‘Die Tragödie der verhinderten Selbstbestimung’, in Freiheitssonne und Revolutionsgewitter (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1989), pp. 13-58, esp. pp. 41-43). Koopmann argues that in both Don Carlos and Wallenstein the Church represents a ‘gegenaufklärerisch[e] Macht’ (p. 41), opposed above all to man's spiritual and intellectual, rather than political, emancipation.
See Karl Pestalozzi, ‘Ferdinand II in Schillers Geschichte des Dreissigjährigen Kriegs: Die Rechtfertigung eines Üblen’, in Schiller als Historiker, pp. 179-90.
See Werner Kohlschmidt, ‘Schiller und die Reformation’, in Dichter, Tradition und Zeitgeist (Bern and Munich: Francke, 1965), pp. 68-77. Kohlschmidt denies Schiller any understanding of the specifically religious or spiritual issues involved. For a different view, see Koopmann (n. 24) and Gerhard Fricke, Der religiöse Sinn der Klassik Schillers (Munich: Kaiser, 1927).
Novalis, ‘Die Christenheit oder Europa’, in Werke, ed. by G. Schulz, Studienausgabe (Munich: Beck, 1969), p. 499. Schiller had met Novalis on a number of occasions, and may well have been aware of the contents of the essay, though it was not published until 1827: compare Langner (n. 7), pp. 232-33 and n. 60. For a vision of the European Community for our own times, strongly reminiscent of that of Novalis, see Nicholas Boyle, ‘The End of Individualism?’, Guardian, 15 October 1991.
For a contrary view of Die Braut von Messina as embodying a ‘Thematisierung des triadischen Geschichtsverlaufs’, see Rolf-Peter Carl, ‘Sophokles und Shakespeare? Zur deutschen Tragödie um 1800’, in Deutsche Literatur zur Zeit der Klassik, ed. by Karl Otto Conrady (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1977), pp. 296-318 (p. 304).
See my article, ‘The Silence of Wilhelm Tell’, MLR, 76 (1981), 857-68, esp. p. 862; also Norbert Oellers, ‘Idylle und Politik. Französische Revolution, ästhetische Erziehung und die Freiheit der Urkantone’, in Friedrich Schiller, pp. 289-312, esp. pp. 309-11 (originally in Friedrich Schiller, Kunst, Humanität und Politik in der späten Aufklärung, ed. by Wolfgang Wittkowski (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1982), pp. 114-33): R. C. Ockenden, ‘Wilhelm Tell as Political Drama’, Oxford German Studies, 18/19 (1989-90), 23-44.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3762
SOURCE: “The Stage Considered as a Moral Institution,” in Friedrich Schiller: An Anthology for our Time, New York: Frederick Ungar, 1959, pp. 263-83.
[In the following essay, which was first delivered as a lecture in 1784, Schiller asserts that theater serves a crucial moral function in society, and sets out in detail its sphere of influence and range of effects on human life, calling it “a school of practical wisdom, a guide through social life, an infallible key to the most secret passages of the soul.”]
The stage owes its origin to the irresistible attraction of things new and extraordinary, to man's desire for passionate experience, as Sulzer has observed. Exhausted by the higher efforts of the mind, wearied by the monotonous and frequently depressing duties of his profession, satiated with sensuality, man must have felt an emptiness in his nature that was at odds with his desire for constant activity. Human nature, incapable either of remaining forever in an animal state or of devoting itself exclusively to the more subtle work of the intellect, demanded a middle condition which would unite these two contradictory extremes; a condition that would ease the hard tension between them and produce a gentle harmony, thereby facilitating the mutual transition from one to the other. This function is performed by the aesthetic sense or the appreciation of beauty.
Since it must be the first aim of the wise legislator, when faced with two effects, to choose the higher, he will not be content merely to have disarmed the impulses of his people. He will also endeavor, if possible, to use these tendencies as instruments for higher plans and convert them into sources of happiness. To this end he selected the stage as the best means of opening an endless sphere to the spirit thristing for action, of feeding all spiritual powers without straining any, and of combining the cultivation of the mind and the emotions with the noblest entertainment.
The man who first made the statement that religion is the strongest pillar of the state; that without religion law itself would be deprived of its force, has, perhaps, unknowingly supplied the stage with its noblest defense. The very inadequacy and unreliability of political laws that make religion indispensable to the state also determine the moral influence of the stage. This man meant to imply that, while laws revolve around negative duties, religion extends her demands to positive acts. Laws merely impede actions that might cause the disintegration of society. Religion prescribes actions that tend to consolidate the structure of society. Laws control only the external manifestations of the will; actions alone are subject to them. Religion extends her jurisdiction to the remotest corners of the heart and traces thought to its deepest source. Laws are smooth and flexible, as changeable as mood and passion. The bonds of religion are stern and eternal.
Even if we assume, as indeed we cannot, that religion possesses this great power over every human heart, will it, or can it bring to perfection all of human culture? On the whole, religion (I am separating here the political aspect from the divine) acts mainly on the sensual part of the people. It probably has an infallible effect only by way of the senses. It loses its power if we take this away. And how does the stage achieve its effect? Religion ceases to be anything for most men if we remove its images, its problems, if we destroy its pictures of heaven and hell. And yet they are only fantasy pictures, riddles without a solution, terrifying phantoms and distant allurements.
What strength religion and law can gain when they are allied with the stage, where reality can be viewed as living presence, where vice and virtue, happiness and misery, folly and wisdom pass in review before man in thousands of true and concrete pictures, where Providence solves her riddles, ties her knots before our eyes; where the human heart, on the rack of passion, confesses its subtlest stirrings; where every mask is dropped, every painted cheek is faded, and truth, like Rhadamanthus, sits incorruptibly in judgment.
The jurisdiction of the stage begins where the domain of secular law comes to an end. When justice is blinded by gold and revels in the wages of vice; when the crimes of the mighty scorn her impotence and the dread of human power has tied the hands of legal authority, then the stage takes up the sword and the scales and drags vice before a dreadful tribunal. The entire realm of fantasy and history, the past and the future are at its beck and call. Bold criminals, who have long since turned to dust, are summoned to appear before us by the all-powerful voice of poetry and to reenact their shameful lives for the instruction of a horrified posterity. Like impotent shadow figures in a concave mirror, they unfold before our eyes the terrors of their own century, and we heap imprecations upon their memory in an ecstasy of horror. Even when morality is no longer taught, even when there is no longer any faith in religion, even when law has ceased to exist, we will still shudder at the sight of Medea as she staggers down the palace steps, the murder of her children having taken place. Humanity will tremble with wholesome horror and each man will secretly congratulate himself on his own good conscience when he sees that frightful sleepwalker, Lady Macbeth, washing her hands and hears her challenge all the perfumes of Arabia to obliterate the loathsome smell of murder. As surely as a visual representation has a more powerful effect than a dead text or a cold narrative, so the stage exercises a more profound and lasting influence than morality and law.
Here, however, the stage merely assists human justice. A still wider field is open to it. A thousand vices that are tolerated by justice are punished in the theater. A thousand virtues ignored by human law are recommended on the stage. Here it serves as a companion to wisdom and religion. It draws its teachings and examples from this pure source and clothes stern duty in a charming and alluring garb. What glorious emotions, resolutions, passions well up in our souls, and with what godlike ideals it challenges our ambitions! When gracious Augustus, magnanimous like his gods, holds out his hand to the traitor Cinna who already imagines he sees the death sentence on his lips, and says: “Let us be friends, Cinna,”—who among us, at this moment, would not gladly clasp the hand of his mortal enemy in order to emulate the divine Roman? When Franz von Sickingen, on his way to punish a prince and to fight for alien rights, happens to look back and see the smoke rising from the castle occupied by his helpless wife and children, continues on his journey to keep his word—then, how great man rises before me, how small and contemptible the dread power of insuperable destiny!
Vice, as reflected in the mirror of the stage, is made as hideous as virtue is made desirable. When the helpless, childish Lear, out in a stormy night, knocks in vain on his daughters' door; when, his white hair streaming in the wind, he describes the unnatural conduct of his daughter Regan to the raging elements; when at last he pours out his unbearable suffering in the words: “I gave you everything!”: how abominable ingratitude seems to us, how solemnly we promise respect and filial love!
But the sphere of influence of the stage extends still farther. The theater continues to work for our development even in those areas where religion and law will not stoop to follow human sentiments. The happiness of society is as much disturbed by folly as by crime and vice. Experience as old as the world teaches us that in the web of human events, the heaviest weights are often suspended by the most delicate threads; and in tracing actions to their source, we have to smile ten times before revolting in horror once. My list of criminals grows shorter every day of my life, but my list of fools becomes more complete and longer. If the moral guilt of one class of people stems from one and the same source; if the appalling extremes of vice that have stigmatized it are merely altered forms, higher degrees of a quality which in the end provokes only smiles and sympathy, why should not nature have adopted the same course in the case of the other class? I know of only one method of guarding man against depravity, and that is to guard his heart against weaknesses.
We can expect the stage to serve this function to a considerable degree. It is the stage that holds the mirror up to the great class of fools and shames the manifold forms of their folly with wholesome ridicule. The effect it produced before by means of terror and pity, it achieves here (and perhaps more speedily and infallibly) by wit and satire. If we were to judge comedy and tragedy on the basis of their effectiveness, experience would probably decide in favor of the former. Loathing may torture a man's conscience, but he suffers more keenly when his pride is wounded by derision and contempt. Our cowardice causes us to recoil from what is frightening, but this very cowardice exposes us to the sting of satire. Law and conscience often protect us from crime and vice; the ludicrous demands a peculiarly fine perception which we exercise nowhere more than in front of the stage. We may allow a friend to attack our morals and our emotions, but we find it hard to forgive him a single laugh at our expense. Our transgressions may tolerate a mentor and judge, our bad habits hardly a witness. The stage alone is permitted to ridicule our weaknesses because it spares our sensibilities and does not care to know who is the guilty fool. Without blushing we can see our own mask reflected in its mirror and are secretly grateful for the gentle rebuke.
But the stage's broad scope by no means comes to an end here. The stage, more than any other public institution, is a school of practical wisdom, a guide through social life, an infallible key to the most secret passages of the human soul. Self-love and a callous conscience, admittedly, often neutralize its effect. A thousand vices brazenly persist despite its castigations. A thousand good feelings meet with no response from the cold heart of the spectator. I myself am of the opinion that perhaps Molière's Harpagon has never reformed a single usurer, that the suicide of Beverley has saved very few of his brothers from the abominable addiction to gambling, that Karl Moor's unfortunate brigands' story will not make the highroads safer for travelers. But even if we set limits to this effect of the stage, even if we are so unjust as to discount it altogether, is not what remains of its influence still vast enough? Even if the stage neither augments nor diminishes the total number of vices, has it not acquainted us with them? We have to live with these profligates and fools. We must either avoid them or put up with them, undermine their influence or succumb to it. But now they no longer surprise us. We are prepared for their assaults. The stage has revealed to us the secret of finding them out and rendering them harmless. It is the stage that has lifted the mask from the hypocrite's face and exposed the net in which cunning and cabal have entangled us. It has dragged deception and falsehood from their labyrinthine dens and made them show their horrid countenances to the light of day. The dying Sarah may not frighten a single debauchee. All the pictures of the dreadful fate in store for the seducer may not quench his fire. The artful actress herself may be contriving to prevent her artistry from having this effect. Nevertheless we can be thankful that his snares have been revealed to unsuspecting innocence, and that it has been taught by the stage to mistrust his promises and tremble at his vows of love.
The stage not only makes us aware of men and human character, but also of the grim power of destiny, and teaches us the great art of bearing it. In the web of life chance and design play an equal role. The latter we can direct, to the former we must submit blindly. We have already gained much if an inevitable fate does not find us wholly unprepared, if our courage and our prudence have already been exercised in similar circumstances and if our hearts have been steeled for the blow. The stage presents us with many varied scenes of human woe. It involves us artificially in the troubles of strangers and rewards us for the momentary pain with pleasurable tears and a magnificent increase of courage and experience. It escorts us with the forsaken Ariadne through the echoing passages of Naxos. It descends with us to Ugolino's tower of starvation. In its company we ascend the steps of the frightful scaffold and witness the solemn hour of death. What we have experienced in our souls only as a vague presentiment, we hear on the stage loudly and incontrovertibly corroborated by nature taken by surprise. In the Tower dungeon the queen withdraws her favor from the deceived favorite. In the face of death, the treacherous sophistry of the frightened Moor deserts him. Eternity releases a dead man in order to reveal secrets which cannot be known to the living. The confident villain loses his last ghastly refuge because even the tomb can speak.
But the stage not only familiarizes us with the fate of mankind, it also teaches us to be more just toward the unfortunate and to judge him more leniently; for it is only when we know the full measure of his suffering that we are permitted to pronounce sentence upon him. No crime is more dishonorable than that of a thief, but, even as we condemn him, can we refrain from shedding a tear of compassion for Eduard Ruhberg when we have shared with him the dreadful agony that drives him to commit the deed? Suicide is usually regarded as a crime; but when Mariana, overwhelmed by the threats of an irate father, by her unhappy love and by the terrifying prospect of the convent walls, drains the poisoned cup, who would be the first to condemn this victim of an infamous maxim? Humanity and tolerance are becoming the ruling principles of our age. Their rays have penetrated to our courts of justice and even to the hearts of our princes. How great a share in this divine work belongs to our theaters? Is it not the theater that makes man known to man and discloses the secret mechanism that controls his conduct?
One noteworthy class of men has more cause to be grateful to the stage than any other. It is only here that the great of the world hear what they rarely if ever hear elsewhere: the truth. Here they see what they scarcely ever see: man.
While man's moral development has greatly benefited, and in a variety of ways, from the higher order of drama, his intellectual enlightenment is no less indebted to it. It is in this higher realm that the great mind, the warm-hearted patriot uses it to the best advantage.
Surveying the human race as a whole, comparing nations with nations, centuries with centuries, he sees how the majority of people are chained like slaves to prejudice and opinion which forever deter them from finding happiness, and that the pure rays of truth illumine only a few isolated minds which had perhaps expended their entire lives in order to purchase their little gain. How can a wise legislator enable his people to share in these benefits?
The stage is the common channel in which from the thinking, better part of the people the light of wisdom flows down, diffusing from there in milder rays through the entire state. More correct ideas, purified principles and feelings flow from thence through all the vein of all the people. The mists of barbarism, of gloomy superstition disappear. Night yields to victorious light.
Among the many magnificent fruits of the better stage, I would like to single out two. How universal has the tolerance of religious sects become in recent years! Even before Nathan the Jew and Saladin the Saracen shamed us and preached the divine doctrine that submission to the will of God is not dependent upon our misconceptions of Him; even before Joseph II battled with the dreadful hydra of pious hatred, the stage was engaged in planting the seeds of humanity and gentleness in our hearts. The shocking pictures of heathenish, priestly fanaticism taught us to avoid religious hatred. In this frightful mirror Christianity cleansed itself of its stains.
Errors in education might be combated in the stage with equal success. We are still awaiting the play that will deal with this significant subject. Because of its effects, no subject is of more importance to the state than this, and yet no institution is so at the mercy of the illusions and caprices of the citizenry as education. The stage alone could pass in review the unfortunate victims of careless education in a series of moving, upsetting pictures. Our fathers might learn to abandon their foolish maxims; our mothers might learn to love more wisely. The best-hearted teachers are led astray by false ideas. It is still worse when they pride themselves on a certain method and systematically ruin the tender young plant in philanthropinums and hothouses.
Likewise the chiefs and guardians of the state—if they knew how to do it—could use the stage to correct and enlighten popular opinion of government and the governing class. The legislating power might speak to those subject to it in foreign symbols, might defend its actions before they had time to utter a complaint, might silence their doubts without appearing to do so. Even industry and inventiveness might draw inspiration from the stage if the poets thought it worth while to be patriotic and if princes would condescend to hear them.
I cannot possibly overlook the great influence that a good permanent theater would exercise on the spirit of a nation. By national spirit I mean opinions and tendencies which are common to the people of one nation and differ from those of other nationalities. Only the stage can produce this accord to so great a degree because it takes all human knowledge as its province, exhausts all situations of life, and sheds light into every corner of the human heart; because it unites all sorts and conditions of people and commands the most popular road to the heart and understanding.
If a single characteristic predominated in all of our plays; if all of our poets were in accord and were to form a firm alliance to work for this end; if their work were governed by strict selection; if they were to devote their paintbrushes to national subjects; in a word, if we were to see the establishment of a national theater: then we would become a nation. What linked the Greek states so firmly together? What drew the people so irresistibly to the stage? It was the patriotic subjects of their plays. It was the Greek spirit, the great and consuming interest in the republic and in a better humanity that pervaded them.
The stage has another merit which I especially delight in mentioning, because the stage now seems to have won its case against its persecutors. The influence upon morals and enlightenment that we have so far claimed for it has been doubted. But even its enemies have admitted that it is to be preferred to all other luxuries and forms of public entertainment. Its services in this respect, however, are more important than is usually conceded.
Human nature cannot bear the constant, unrelenting grind of business. Sensual delight dies with gratification. Man, surfeited with animal pleasures, weary of long exertion, tormented by an unceasing desire for activity, thirsts for better and finer amusement. If he does not find it, he will plunge headlong into debauchery which hastens his ruin and destroys the peace of society. Bacchanalian carousings, the ruinous games of chance, a thousand revelries hatched by idleness become inevitable unless the legislator knows how to guide these tendencies in his people. The businessman is in danger of becoming a miserable hypochondriac in return for a life he has generously devoted to the state. The scholar is likely to sink into dull pedantry, the common man becomes a brute.
The stage is an institution where pleasure is combined with instruction, rest with exertion, amusement with culture. Not a single faculty is strained to the detriment of another, no pleasure is enjoyed at the expense of the whole. When grief gnaws at our hearts, when melancholy poisons our solitary hours, when the world and business have become repulsive to us, when our souls are oppressed by a thousand burdens and the drudgery of our profession threatens to deaden our sensibilities, the stage welcomes us to her bosom. In the dreams of this artificial world, we can forget the real one. We find ourselves once more. Our feeling reawakens. Wholesome passions stir our slumbering nature and the blood begins to circulate in our veins with renewed vigor. Here the unhappy man dispels his sorrow in weeping over that of another. The happy become more sober and the overconfident more cautious. The sensitive weakling learns to stand up to the tough demands of manhood. The unfeeling brute experiences human feeling for the first time.
And finally, what a triumph for you, oh nature—nature so often trampled underfoot, who has just as often risen again—when men from all corners of the earth and every walk of life, having shed their shackles of affectation and fashion, torn away from the insistent pressure of fate, united by the all-embracing bond of brotherly sympathy, resolved in one human race again, oblivious of themselves and of the world, come closer to their divine origin. Each enjoys the raptures of all, which are reflected on him from a hundred eyes in heightened beauty and intensity, and in his breast there is room for only one sensation: the awareness that he is a human being.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2556
SOURCE: “Karl Moor's Charisma,” in Friedrich von Schiller and the Drama of Human Existence, edited by Alexej Ugrinsky, Greenwood Press, 1988, pp. 57-61.
[In the following essay, Leidner notes that Die Räuber, Schiller's hugely successful first play, was and is so popular because of the charisma of the protagonist, Karl Moor, and because of the emotional ritual created in a work where the audience takes vicarious pleasure in identifying with a murderer.]
When Friedrich von Schiller, a twenty-two year old cadet at the Hohe Karlsschule in Stuttgart, went A.W.O.L. to attend the first performance of Die Räuber (1781), he could hardly have been disappointed with the response. “No play,” wrote one reviewer, “has ever had such an effect in the German theatre”1; and another: “The theatre was like a madhouse, full of rolling eyes, clenched fists, stomping feet, and hoarse cries!”2 There were, of course, also negative reactions, but his first drama was a sensation, and further productions—as well as imitations—in the 1780s testified to the fact that the work had hit a responsive chord with the German public. Surprisingly, the theme for Die Räuber was not very different from a number of other plays of the previous decade, often with violent protagonists who, like Schiller's Karl Moor, wildly expressed their frustrations with society. What, then, made Die Räuber so different from the storm and stress of Leisewitz, Klinger, and other dramatists of the 1770s whose work more often than not overwhelmed, rather than entertained audiences? I propose that the answer to this question lies in Schiller's sensitivity to the kind of group dynamics that, given Germany's social and political underdevelopment, was needed to improve the German theatre, and that his key innovation was to give his hero, Karl Moor, charisma. While theories of charismatic leadership do not catch up to Schiller until our own century, the principle of social unification through charisma is a neglected tradition of German classical humanism with its origins in Winckelmann's theories of Greek sculpture.
By the second half of the eighteenth century, Germany's centuries-old problem of political disunity had developed into the more subtle one of national identity. Among literary genres, drama suffered most acutely from this state of affairs, and it was drama that was in most need of attention. Certainly every dramatist must, by definition, deal in rituals that celebrate a culture, but the German dramatist had first to come to terms with his country's weak national self-image. He was faced with, above and beyond the usual demands of his craft, the task of creating a German public out of thin air. Given these facts. it is not hard to see why so many dramas of the 1770s failed to inspire the general public. Storm and stress faithfully reflected its public's dissatisfactions with the age and, in figures like Goethe's Götz, Leisewitz's Guido, Klinger's Guelfo, and Wagner's Evchen, tended to depict frustration without pointing the way toward psychological release. But Schiller, more than any other German dramatist before him, was aware that the tensions reflected by storm and stress were rooted in the social and political helplessness of the middle class and, especially, in Germany's lack of a healthy national identity. In his 1784 essay, “Die Schaubühne als moralische Anstalt betrachtet” (“The Theatre as a Moral Institution”), he proposed that a public and its theatre might simultaneously improve each other: “When we have a national theater, he argues, “then we will also have a nation.”3 He is, moreover, aware that Germany's lack of a closely-knit community with a unified and positive self-image was not just an intellectual, but also an emotional, problem.
“When a thousand burdens press on our soul and threaten to dampen our emotional susceptibilities,” he wrote, the stage welcomes us: in this artificial world we can dream the real world away; we are given ourselves again; our sensitivity awakens, healing passions shake our slumbering selves, and our blood is made to flow more vigorously. (8, p. 106)
The right kind of drama, in Schiller's opinion, holds the promise to “give us ourselves” as it liberates us from tensions that have been inhibiting our self-realization.
Contemporary theories of catharsis suggest, in fact, that Schiller's association of self-realization with discharge of tension may have been perfectly accurate. Although there has never been a consensus on what Aristotle meant by katharsis, in its most common interpretation—the one made popular by Freud's brother-in-law Bernays—it is a beneficial release of emotion that had formerly been impossible due to an inability to respond to a difficult situation. The specific beneficial effects of emotional discharge are equally controversial, but one twentieth-century school of cathartic therapy has advanced a theory of catharsis with fascinating implications for explaining the attraction of drama like Die Räuber. These psychologists—including T. J. Scheff, Percival Symonds, Michael Nichols, and Melvin Zax—maintain that catharsis is the most efficient approach to problems associated with a community's identity. Scheff writes: “The feelings of relief from tension, increased clarity of thought, and heightened fellow-feeling which follow collective catharsis give rise to extremely powerful forces of cohesion and group solidarity”4; and Nichols and Zax: “Aristotle's concept of catharsis is not simply a passive intellectual exercise. The shock of emotional arousal helps to rearrange perceptions and so leads to a modification of the audience's self-concept and world-view.”5 Emotional discharge, writes Percival Symonds, cures nothing in and of itself, but the dissolution of tension that it brings about can lead to “a change in the perception of the self” and, subsequently, “greater self-acceptance.”6 People, write Nichols and Zax, need only to be given “permission to experience their feelings” (p. 59) and, given the right conditions, there will follow a release of tension, an unburdening of frustrations, and a chance to take a new look at themselves.
When Schiller speculates on the self-realization that the right kind of theatre can make possible, he is not theorizing in a vaccuum; he is, of course, thinking of the function that drama was able to perform in France, where the writer, with a developed and settled society to work with, could be a flatterer of his nation's established ideals. The French theatregoer could feel himself part of an exclusive “in-group” whose members felt cultivated enough to appreciate and understand things that would leave the uninitiated cold. France woed the possibility of such socially invigorating group dynamics largely to the aristocracy, who had actively nurtured an indigenous French culture. But how different was the situation in eighteenth-century Germany, where the only aristocratic house in a position to unify the country had no interest in native German culture. The typical Prussian aristocrat's self-image and cultural values did not derive from German society and its traditions, but, rather, from his identification with other European nobility. The young Prussian nobleman completed his education by travelling to foreign courts in an attempt to shed as much of his Germanness as possible, then returned to rule a people with whom he was determined not to identify. Ironically, the only unity that the upper classes were in a position to contribute to Germany was the inadvertent one of providing a negative foil for middle-class virtue. Nonetheless, while a drama like Lessing's Emilia Galotti (1772) could begin to tap one source of pride by contrasting the unprincipled German aristocrat to the “good” bourgeois, its effect on German national self-consciousness was only a beginning. Emilia Galotti was not yet an emotionally liberating ritual that would allow its German public to “clear the air” as it reconsidered its view of itself. Decentralized Germany, without a well-knit social fabric and a corps of flattering writers, had not yet discovered an invigorating ingroup ritual that could make it feel like a nation.
Schiller, Germany's most avid proponent of the notion that art can mold society, triggered Die Räuber's liberating catharsis of self-realization by causing Karl Moor to be perceived as a charismatic leader, a role which, according to modern social psychology, always involves coaxing a particularly depressed collectivity into accepting constructive self-flattery. In the original Greek, kharisma refers to the grace, or favor, which a God can bestow on a human, and in the New Testament it is used to denote the gift of God's grace. But in the eighteenth century, charisma was becoming recognized more for its socializing properties. When, in 1764, Johann Winckelmann praised his favorite Greek sculpture—the so-called Beautiful Style which he ascribes to the Alexandrian Age—he claims that the qualities distingishing it from earlier sculpture were its “grace” and the impression that it was a “gift of god.”7 The Apollo Belvedere, his favorite example of the Beautiful Style, possessed a “more than common soul” that made it “lead us willingly along with it” (5, p. 215). It is clear from Winckelmann's description of his first encounter with the Apollo Belvedere that he sees in his favorite sculpture a human stance or pose that can inspire, admonish, and coax spectators to take pride in the ideals it represents while building their sense of dignity: “In the presence of this miracle of art I forget all else, and I myself take a lofty position for the purpose of looking upon it in a worthy manner. My breast seems to enlarge and swell with reverence.”8
In modern usage, charisma has come to denote a special quality of leadership. Irvine Schiffer writes that a charismatic individual does not “carve out his own public image from ingredients of his own personality”; rather, society projects such an image onto a suitable person.9 A society searches for the charismatic individual, writes Schiffer, just as it would search for its own sense of self: when we search for the charismatic leader, we are on a “quest for identity.” (p. 21) His success provides us with a “short-cut to an identity, a quick solution to the agonizing problems of maturation.” (p. 51) While Schiller cannot provide his society with an actual leader, he can create a protagonist to provide it with a form of relief from its own problems of identity—and perhaps even hint at directions his public may someday be able to take in order to build a unified community. So that he may win over his audience, Karl is given qualities that no other raging anti-hero of storm and stress ever possessed: vision, imagination, and “great plans.” (II. iii) The robbers, who immediately recognize Karl's charisma, recruit him for his ability to pull them together into an effective group with a positive self-image. By giving convincing expression to their righteous indignation, he makes the actions of misfits poignantly appropriate, makes outsiders feel like insiders, and makes crime feel divinely inspired. “Without Moor,” exclaims Roller, “we are body without soul” (I. ii). And Schweizer, who has been given the honor of avenging Karl's father, declares: “Today you have made me proud for the first time” (IV. v). Karl's charisma, which inspires the band despite its criminal violence, infects Die Räuber's audience as well, a group to whom Schiller appeals as to a public reaching out for a better understanding of itself. Karl, after all, is a spirited hero who successfully turns an impeccable but rudely disappointed moral life into a battle cry, who dares to act vigorously on behalf of the vital, if invisible, principles of his religious background. Schiller's audience, on whom history had not bestowed a social and political tradition with which it could proudly identify, was still in possession of a vital moral heritage, and here was just the hero to bring it into relief. Karl leads Schiller's public to live vicariously a role denied to it by a religious tradition that tended to capitulate in the vainglorious affairs of the worldly life in order to be masters of the inner life. Identifying with this robber captain, the audience is flattered into envisioning that it constitutes a special in-group capable of appreciating Karl's point of view. What I am suggesting, then, is that Schiller's first play is a moral fantasy that allowed an otherwise respectable middle-class audience to luxuriate in its capacity to appreciate the acts of a horribly violent man. And in giving the public an opportunity for vicarious criminality, it also let them discharage their frustrations with a society that had—along with other political inequities—let the needs of national identity go unanswered.
Through the magic of its protagonist's charisma, Die Räuber offers an audience—or, rather, this special audience whose strengths are not social but religious—a standard around which it can rally, and for which it can be flattered. But a dicussion of Karl Moor's charisma is not complete without mentioning its inauthentic side. We remember that the process that makes this play's spectators feel like a society is analogous to the same process Karl uses to infuse pride into a band of murderers. Irvine Schiffer finds in all followers of charismatic leaders unacknowledged complicity in a scheme that helps the group avert attention from their worst shortcomings. In order better to flatter us for our stengths, in other words, charisma draws attention away from our weaknesses. As a “victory for our jeopardized self-esteem,” charisma is therefore also “an uplift from the depression and helplessness that would infiltrate our awareness, expose our limitations, and force us into a recognition of all those failures that we find most difficult to reconcile” (Schiffer 50). For both the robbers and Schiller's first auditors, an inspiring sense of social unity was built on a comfortable self-deception made possible by the “grace” of charismatic flattery. As it succumbed to the pleasurable sensation of a communal life in the theatre, Schiller's spectators let themselves be blinded to the contradiction inherent in accepting a multiple murderer as a hero—and in the belief that their vicarious indulgence in anti-social behavior constituted a viable social foundation.
Still, Schiller's achievement was remarkable. Despite the sharp discontinuity between the communal feeling inspired by Karl's charimsa and the sad realities of German life, Die Räuber is, in the last analysis, the work of a master dramatist who knew how to create an appropriate emotional ritual for his audience. After a decade of dramatists whose rebellious heroes had realistically reflected a non-society's own frustrations, here was a writer to provide a release by inviting his public to project on a hero the invigorating flattery of Winckelmann's Apollo Belvedere. “Strangers,” states one account of Die Räuber's premiere, “fell, sobbing, into each others’ arms.” (Buchwald, p. 352) The sense of community that he successfully created in the theatre—however brief and by whatever means it had been purchased—was Schiller's gift to a nation searching for itself.
Julius W. Braun, Schiller und Goethe im Urtheile ihrer Zeitgenossen, vol. 1 (Leipzig: Schlicke, 1882), p. 23. Translations are my own.
Reinhard Buchwald, Schiller, vol. 1 (Leipzig: Insel, 1937), p. 352.
Friedrich Schiller, Gesammelte Werke, vol. 8 (Berlin: Aufbau, 1955), p. 105.
T. J. Scheff, Catharsis in Healing, Ritual and Drama (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), p. 53.
Michael P. Nichols and Melvin Zax, Catharsis in Psychotherapy (New York: Gardiner Press, 1971), p. 59.
Percival Symonds, “A Comprehensive Theory of Psychotherapy.” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 24 (1954), pp. 707-08.
J. J. Winckelmann, Johann Winckelmanns sämtliche Werke, vol. 5, edited by Joseph Eiselein (Osnabrück: Zeller, 1965), p. 221.
J. J. Winckelmann, History of Ancient Art, vol. 2, translated by G. Henry Lodge (Boston: Osgood, 1880), p. 313.
Irvine Schiffer, Charisma: A Psychoanalytic Look at Mass Society (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1973), p. 19.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10659
SOURCE: ‘“Wer die Wahl hat, hat die Qual”: Philosophy and Poetry in Schiller's Wallenstein”, in Publications of the English Goethe Society Vol. 65, 1995, pp. 136-60.
[In the following essay, Harrison explores the central theme of Wallenstein, “the agony of choice between the demands of the senses and those of reason,” which he notes is central to Schiller's vision of life.]
Popular proverbs express in a concise and memorable form a commonplace fact of experience. ‘Wer die Wahl hat, hat die Qual’ is a fine example. With its alliteration and assonance it pleases the ear, and it describes an experience so widespread that it needs no illustration. But it states a truth which can be applied not just to a wide range of particular situations in life, but also to life as a whole. It is the pain of being simultaneously drawn in opposite directions that Goethe's Faust expresses in the lines:
Zwei Seelen wohnen, ach! in meiner Brust,
Die eine will sich von der andern trennen.
(Faust I, 1112 f.; HA, III, 41)
And it is the agony of choice, seen as the dilemma of human life itself, that is, I wish to suggest, the central theme of Schiller's Wallenstein.
But let me begin at the beginning. In his 1994 Bithell Memorial Lecture, Professor T. J. Reed urged on us, most persuasively, the importance of studying the genesis of a work if we are to understand it fully, quoting in support of his thesis Goethe's remark: ‘Natur- und Kunstwerke lernt man nicht kennen wenn sie fertig sind; man muß sie im Entstehen aufhaschen, um sie einigermaßen zu begreifen’ (letter to Zelter, 4 August 1803; Briefe, HA, ii, 454). Not surprisingly, he mentioned Wallenstein as illustrating the genetic complexity so frequently found in German literature, and it is to this complex genesis that I wish to turn first, in the belief that it can help us to grasp the drama's ultimate significance. For Wallenstein is a supreme example of the phenomenon which Professor Reed was describing, a work which ‘grows towards coherent meaning and form’, one in which, excitingly, ‘the writer's mind and skills are stretched by unforeseen demands far beyond the bounds of any prior literary intention’.1
The genesis of Wallenstein extends over almost an entire decade. On 12 January 1791 Schiller wrote to Körner that he had at last found a subject, a historical one, for a tragedy; but it was only on 20 April 1799 that Wallensteins Tod was first performed. It is, however, significant that for over five years Schiller made no progress with his plan, even though he regularly returned to it. Initially it was his work as a historian on the very material which had provided the subject that prevented him from starting work on the play. On the positive side, this allowed him to continue developing his ideas. Thus, something over a year after his first mention of the plan, he raises, in the concluding paragraph of Book IV of his Geschichte des Drei[b.beta ]igjährigen Kriegs, the possibility of a much more favourable interpretation of Wallenstein's motives than he has given so far. It may well have been this paragraph that revived his enthusiasm for the drama: ‘Ich bin jetzt voll Ungeduld, etwas poetisches vor die Hand zu nehmen, besonders jückt mir die Feder nach dem Wallenstein’ (letter to Körner, 25 May 1792; NA, xxvi, 141). But the need to press ahead with the History, to which he was at the time devoting six hours a day, left no time for drama. And there was also a deeper problem: theory was starting to get in the way of practice. For the knowledge of the ‘rules’ which he has acquired has made his creativity self-conscious, so that his imagination has lost its freedom. His hope is that his philosophizing about theory will restore to him a freedom in which theory has become second nature.
Not surprisingly, therefore, when, four months later, the History was completed, Schiller shied away from his dramatic project: he is afraid of tackling any large-scale work and therefore doubts whether Wallenstein will receive his immediate attention (letter to Körner, 21 September 1792). And it certaily didn't. He devoted himself instead to his philosophical writings. 1793 was a year of essays and letters, and it was only in January 1794 that he interrupted his studies to resume work on the plan for the drama. Eight weeks later he is in almost over-confident mood as he reports that the plan is slowly maturing and that, once it is ready, the execution will take him only three weeks (letter to Körner, 17 March 1794). But for whatever reason—perhaps the distraction of his more active social life in Stuttgart, where he had moved two days earlier—he made no further progress. There followed a period in which he gave priority to his study of Kant, and when after six months he writes about Wallenstein again his confidence has evaporated.
The problem was partly caused by the fact that he was now trying to work on two fronts at once, writing his essay Über das Naive at the same time as thinking about the Wallenstein plan, with the result that the two different sorts of activity interfered with each other: he increasingly feels that he lacks poetic inspiration, which, perversely, comes to him, if at all, only when he wants to philosophize. In addition, he is discouraged by his previous plays, declaring that a ‘Machwerk’ such as Don Carlos would disgust him now; and, claiming that in poetic matters he has become a completely new man, he sees the way ahead as leading into unfamiliar territory. Small wonder that he hesitates to proceed out of fear of the result being a disaster (letter to Körner, 4 September 1794). Instead, he turned to fulfilling his promise to the Herzog von Augustenburg to recreate from his drafts the letters to the Duke which had been destroyed by fire. The resulting letters, Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen, preoccupied him from September 1794 to June 1795. During the second half of 1795 he completed Über das Naive and then supplemented it with Die sentimentalischen Dichter, before combining the two essays in Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung in January 1796.
Throughout this period Wallenstein remained submerged. But an important change was taking place in Schiller: his poetic inspiration was beginning to return. Four days after completing the Aesthetic Letters, he wrote his first poem for nearly seven years, ‘Poesie des Lebens’ (letter to Goethe, 12 June 1795); and once the blockage was breached, a flood of other poems followed, as the pages of the Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1796 testify. It was this resurgence of poetic creativity that prepared the way for the resurfacing of Wallenstein. The decision to proceed with it, rather than with Die Malteser, was taken in a conversation with Goethe on 16 March 1796, a decision announced to Körner five days later (21 March 1796) in a letter which reads like a recantation of the one written eighteen months earlier. There he speaks of apprehension, here of pleasure and confidence, there of the danger of failure, here of taking the risk. For while still admitting that he can make little use of his old manner, he now feels confident enough to attempt the new one.
There can be little doubt that the Schiller who is now actually embarking on Wallenstein is a somewhat different Schiller from the one whose pen was itching to get started four years earlier. In the intervening years he had completed the whole series of major philosophical writings for which his hesitation to tackle Wallenstein made room. And it is difficult to believe that, once he had clarified his ideas and once his suppressed creativity began to assert itself again, his creative work was not enriched by the views he had developed on art and human nature. Philosophy may have excluded poetry, but there was no reason why poetry should not embrace philosophy.
This is not to claim that Schiller abandoned his interest in the question of the historical Wallenstein's motivation which seems to have first inspired his enthusiasm to get on with the play. It is, rather, to argue that he would not have chosen to proceed with it four years later if he had not felt that the subject had the potential to absorb some of his later, and wider, preoccupations. Indeed, this is just what he suggests in a letter to Wilhelm von Humboldt also written five days after the decision to proceed with Wallenstein, days which he spent reviewing the ideas for it which he had written down at various times: ‘Groß war freilich dieser Fund nicht, aber auch nicht ganz unwichtig, und ich finde doch, daß schon dieses, was ich bereits darüber gedacht habe, die Keime zu einem höhern und ächteren dramatischen Interesse enthält, als ich je einem Stück habe geben können’ (21 March 1796; NA, xxviii, 203). He has no intention of discarding his earlier ideas, but they hardly seem sufficient in themselves; their value lies primarily in their containing the seeds out of which a play of greater interest and significance could grow. His task is: ‘eine so dürre Staatsaction in eine menschliche Handlung umzuschaffen’ (letter to Körner, 10 July 1797; NA, xxix, 99).
The suggestion that Schiller's philosophical writings played a part in his thinking about Wallenstein finds corroboration in the same letter to Humboldt, where he writes not just that he has received remarkable confirmation of some of the ideas on realism and idealism contained in his recent essay Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung, but even that he will be happy to be guided by these ideas in his poetic composition. He sees the character of Wallenstein as incorporating in the highest degree what he said about realism in the essay: ‘Er hat nichts Edles, er erscheint in keinem einzelnen LebensAkt groß, er hat wenig Würde und dergleichen.’ Moreover, just as in the essay he sees the morality of the realist's character as residing not in any single action, but rather in the sum of his whole life, so that to do him justice one must judge him by his life as a whole, so in the letter he asserts: ‘Wallenstein ist ein Charakter, der—als ächt realistisch—nur im Ganzen aber nie im Einzelnen interessieren kann’ (NA, xxviii, 204).
The essay thus contributes to the breadth of Schiller's handling of his material: ‘Vordem legte ich das ganze Gewicht in die Mehrheit des Einzelnen; jetzt wird alles auf die Totalität berechnet.’ At the same time, it clarified for him the way he must portray Wallenstein himself, for, responding to Wallenstein's realism, he sets out to exchange the ‘schöne Idealität’ with which he depicted Posa and Carlos for ‘die bloße Wahrheit’ (NA, xxviii, 203 f.). His hope is by purely realistic means to create in Wallenstein a dramatically great character who incorporates a genuine life principle. In doing so he is exchanging the ‘sentimental’ for the ‘naiv’ mode and thus, as he himself admits, entering Goethe's territory. But he is confident that, as a result of his association with Goethe as well as his study of classical literature and his own greater maturity, he has now acquired a much greater degree of realism. He even believes that Goethe himself will be pleased with him, for he writes that he is succeeding in remaining detached from his material and objective in its presentation, treating Wallenstein as well as most of the supporting figures ‘mit der reinen Liebe des Künstlers’ (28 November 1796; NA, xxix, 15).
But though he was happy about the spirit in which he was working, he was having considerable problems with the dramatic action. The content has virtually nothing to offer, he complains. Driven by the base motives of revenge and ambition, Wallenstein does not even achieve the poetic greatness which the success of his scheming would bestow; and it is he, rather than fate, that bears the main responsibility for his misfortune. Moreover, it seems impossible to contain the material within the framework of a tragedy: the political events are too diffuse, and the army, on which Wallenstein's power rests, too vast. Hence, Schiller concludes, he can create a satisfactory tragedy only by finding a successful form and achieving an artistic treatment of the action (letters to Goethe and Körner, 28 November 1796).
Two months later these difficulties have plunged him into a deep crisis, and whereas he had had no hesitation in acknowledging his debt to Goethe for his new realistic approach in general, he is now positively glad that Goethe is not there, since he knows that the solutions to these specific artistic problems must be entirely his own (letters to Goethe, 24 January and 7 February 1797). A further two months on, however, he is beginning to see the way forward more clearly: lateral thinking has come to the rescue, for he is now approaching the drama in the light of a totally new view of the nature of the poetic, modelled on Greek tragedy.
As he drafts a detailed scenario of his whole play to obtain a visual overview of the main elements and the links between them, and at the same time considers the Greeks' treatment of tragedy, he concludes that the essence of art lies in the invention of a poetic plot (letter to Goethe, 4 April 1797, my italics). The modern poet, he argues, is in his attempt to imitate reality too concerned with the fortuitous and the secondary, which have no significance; what he aspires to is, by contrast, a plot concentrating on the essence of the situation. Three days later he finds support for this view in the way in which, in Julius Caesar, Shakespeare boldly selects a few figures to represent the Roman crowd (letter to Goethe, 7 April 1797). Applying the same technique to solve the artistic problem posed by Wallenstein's army, he was able, two months after this letter (18 June 1797), to send Körner the first version of Wallensteins Lager. The play was at last truly under way, even if Schiller now had to interrupt work on it for nearly three months to devote himself to preparing the next number of the Musenalmanach, the famous ‘Balladenalmanach’. But the break seems to have done him good, for on returning to the drama he expresses his confidence that through its poetic organization the material has been transformed into a tragic action: past events converge in, and later ones issue from, the ‘pregnant moment’, and the tragic impression is heightened by the fact that Wallenstein's downfall is now caused less by his own actions than by the momentum of events which he cannot control (letter to Goethe, 2 October 1797).
In line with his move away from the imitation of reality and the new emphasis on the poetic character of the plot, Schiller now also modified the ‘naiv’ manner which he had adopted in his eagerness to avoid the subjective idealism of his earlier work. In the previous year he had already admitted to a certain dryness of style, though at that stage he preferred to be in danger of the extreme of sobriety rather than that of intoxication (letter to Körner, 28 November 1796). He now feels that, in his anxiety to remain as close as possible to his subject, he has indeed gone too far in that direction and that particularly such a subject, in itself somewhat dry, needs poetic liberality. He thus aspires to a truly pure poetic atmosphere which avoids the extremes of the prosaic and the rhetorical (letter to Goethe, 2 October 1797, Schiller's italics). And it was but the logical consequence of this shift from a prosaic to a poetic treatment that, one month later, he began to recast the prose of Wallenstein in verse. He can hardly understand how he ever wanted it otherwise, he wrote to Körner: ‘es ist unmöglich ein Gedicht in Prosa zu schreiben’ (20 November 1797; NA, xxix, 158).
But Schiller's new view of art affected not just the selection and organization of his material, but also his view of its significance, which he now sees as symbolic. When, writing to Goethe, he rejects the modern poet's concern to reproduce reality, he justifies this rejection by asserting that such an approach, in attempting to imitate a real case, is in danger of missing the deeper, absolute truth which constitutes the poetic. This truth does not, however, exist independently of the real case, as he illustrates from his reading of Sophocles. How completely is Deianira, in the Trachiniae, the wife of Heracles, he exclaims, how individual, ‘und doch wie tief menschlich, wie ewig wahr und allgemein’! Similarly, in the Philoctetes everything which could be is taken from the particular situation, ‘und bey dieser Eigenthümlichkeit des Falles ruht doch alles wieder auf dem ewigen Grund der menschlichen Natur’ (4 April 1797; NA, xxix, 56). Thus the particular, without losing any of its particularity, contains within it the general. Truth is, for Schiller, in this context not the objective view of the ‘naiv’ poet but the universal truth about human nature.
The relevance of these ideas to Wallenstein is confirmed by the letter in which, three days later (7 April 1797), Schiller wrote to Körner of the important consequences for his play of the deeper insight into the nature of art which he has gained from his reading of Shakespeare and Sophocles. This has not shaken the foundations of his drama, which he believes to be genuine and solid, but he realizes that he must make some revisions to his original view of it. The most difficult task will still be the poetic execution of such a difficult plan. On the other hand, he remains grateful for the historical nature of his material. Indeed, he believes that it would be best for him always to choose historical material, since in balancing the particular and the general, the real and the ideal, he is better able to idealize the real than vice versa, while the resistant specificity of the material curbs his imagination (letter to Goethe, 5 January 1798).
The change from prose to verse was the natural result of Schiller's poetic treatment of his material; its effect was to enhance the poetic character of the drama, not only by demanding a more poetic treatment of some motifs, but also by reinforcing its symbolic nature. For he feels that the uniformity with which the verse treats all characters and situations, despite their differences, compels both poet and reader to look for universal human truth, ‘etwas Allgemeines, rein menschliches’ (letter to Goethe, 24 November 1797; NA, xxix, 160). He also comes to regard the expansion resulting from the leisureliness of the verse as entirely appropriate to poetic drama (letter to Goethe, 1 December 1797). For he not only sees a diffuseness in the expression of opinions in Greek tragedy as pointing to a higher poetic law which demands, in this very respect, a departure from reality; he also sees this diffuseness as justified by his view ‘daß alle poetische Personen symbolische Wesen sind, daß sie, als poetische Gestalten, immer das allgemeine der Menschheit darzustellen und auszusprechen haben’ (letter to Goethe, 24 August 1798; NA, xxix, 266).
As Schiller increasingly gave weight to the symbolic aspect of his drama, he became ever more concerned to emphasize the gap between art and reality. When he originally saw the solution to his crisis as lying in the invention of a poetic plot, he wrote of the danger of coming too close to reality; now he sees it as the poet's duty not only positively to distance himself from reality in an open and honest way, but also to draw attention to the fact that he is doing so. The link with the concluding lines of the Prologue, written to introduce the performance, less than seven weeks later, of Wallensteins Lager, is unmistakable: the audience is to thank the Muse for resorting to rhyme, for thereby she ‘plays’ the sombre picture of truth over into the serene realm of art and, rather than deceitfully substituting its semblance for truth, herself honestly destroys the illusion she creates. But these lines not only seem to grow out of Schiller's letter; they echo, often word for word, his characterization of ‘Schein’ in the Aesthetic Letters—semblance, which, as the essence of art, is to be distinguished from, and not substituted for, truth; which is aesthetic only inasmuch as it is honest, i.e. expressly renounces all claim to reality; and enjoyment of which opens the way to the aesthetic freedom conferred by the play-drive. Indeed, in the final line of the Prologue Schiller encapsulates the whole aesthetic credo of the Letters: ‘Ernst ist das Leben, heiter ist die Kunst’.2Wallenstein has clearly become associated in Schiller's mind with the ideas in the most important of his philosophical essays.
Schiller's conception of Wallenstein has undergone a remarkable metamorphosis. The ‘Staatsaction’ has grown into a poetic drama—poetic in its rejection of the close imitation of reality, in the organization of its material, and finally in its transformation into verse; and this poetic drama has in turn taken on symbolic significance as the truth portrayed has been widened beyond that of the particular situation to embrace a universal truth about human nature. During this process Schiller was influenced by the example of Goethe and by his reading of Greek tragedy, but he also drew on the two major philosophical works he wrote in the eighteen months prior to his final decision to proceed with Wallenstein. He himself writes expressly of the significance for the drama of the ideas he had expressed on the character of the realist in Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung; but it is also apparent that he came to see the play's rejection of realism in terms of the view of art which he had developed in the Aesthetic Letters.
However poetic and symbolic Wallenstein may grow to be, it still remains a powerful historical drama in which, developing the view he sketched at the end of Book IV of the History, Schiller offers an alternative interpretation of Wallenstein's actions to that provided by historians biased in favour of the Catholic cause. Admittedly, the picture he paints there leaves the way open for an even more favourable interpretation than that presented in the drama, for he argues that the treasonable intentions and the designs on the Bohemian throne imputed to Wallenstein do not have any basis in proven fact but are merely plausible suppositions, and in view of the lack of any documentary evidence for his motives suggests that Wallenstein did nothing which could not have had an innocent origin, in particular his earnest desire for peace. In the play, by contrast, he does present Wallenstein as actually contemplating treason, but his motives, even if somewhat ambiguous, are basically honourable. He does, it is true, aim at the Bohemian throne, driven as he is by the ambition which has consumed him since his dismissal at Regensburg and which manifests itself least attractively in his determination that Thekla shall not throw herself away on Max but marry one of Europe's monarchs. But this throne will only be his if he succeeds in bringing about the peace which Europe so desperately needs after fifteen years of war, and, as even Octavio admits, it is primarily to force the Emperor to accept a peace which Vienna does not want that Wallenstein is negotiating with the enemy.
At the same time, these negotiations are prompted by Wallenstein's need to protect himself against an Emperor who, fearing his power and no longer trusting him, is trying first to weaken and then to replace him. And, in both the History and the drama, it is ultimately this need that actually drives him to treason, so that the court itself is seen as being partly responsible. ‘So fiel Wallenstein, nicht weil er Rebell war, sondern er rebellirte, weil er fiel’, as the History puts it (NA, xviii, 329). ‘O! sie zwingen mich, sie stoßen / Gewaltsam, wider meinen Willen, mich hinein’, Wallenstein himself complains when told that there is talk in Vienna of a second dismissal (Picc., ii. 2, 701 f.). This view is shared by Max, who protests to his father:
Ihr werdet ihn durch eure Staatskunst noch
Zu einem Schritte treiben—Ja, ihr könntet ihn,
Weil ihr ihn schuldig wollt, noch schuldig machen.
(Picc., v. 3, 2633 ff.)
And this is indeed what happens. For the court pounces on the evidence of Wallenstein's negotiations with the enemy which is provided by the capture of Sesin, and Wallenstein, knowing that, even though he has not actually committed himself, he is now a traitor in their eyes, accepts that he has no choice but to break with the Emperor and ally himself with the Swedes.
But, as we have seen, in the process of developing his ideas, Schiller came to give Wallenstein a wider significance, seeing him not just as a particular historical figure but also as representing a general human type, the realist. Certainly, in the completed drama he corresponds to this type to the extent that he has worldly aims. On the other hand, there are reasons for suggesting that this view of him represents no more than a further stage in the growth of the play. For example, Schiller's claim, in the letter to Humboldt, that Wallenstein embodies to the highest degree the notion of realism developed in his essay because, among other characteristics, he shows little dignity, is hardly borne out by the completed work, for once he has taken the fateful decision to rebel, he increasingly lives up to the resolve: ‘Wir handeln, wie wir müssen. / So laß uns das Notwendige mit Würde, / Mit festem Schritte tun’ (Ws Tod, ii. 2, 833 ff.). Indeed, the dignity which he preserves in misfortune helps to create the sense of Wallenstein's greatness which makes his murder so tragic.
A more important reason for suggesting that Schiller's view of Wallenstein as a realist represents only a stage in the growth of the drama is the fact that it does not take us to the heart of the completed work. For this centres, not on our judgement of Wallenstein as either a historical figure or a particular type, but on the agony caused him as a human being by the need for choice as he finds himself compelled to break with the Emperor if he is not to surrender his power and abandon his ambition—‘die Qual der Wahl’. ‘Die Wahl ist's, was ihm schwer wird’, Illo tells Terzky (Picc., iii.i, 1369); and it is the agony which the choice caused him that Wallenstein recalls in his final words:
Ich denke einen langen Schlaf zu tun,
Denn dieser letzten Tage Qual war groß.
(Ws Tod, v. 5, 3677 f.)
Wallenstein has put himself in a position to make a move: his armies are assembled at Pilsen, and he has brought his wife and daughter there to prevent their being used as hostages. To make sure of the support of his generals he instructs Illo to get them, by whatever means, to sign a pledge of unconditional loyalty to him. He, by contrast, carefully avoids committing himself, for he puts nothing in writing in his negotiations with the enemy. And despite these preparations he firmly resists Illo's eloquent plea to him to take the decision to act before this uniquely favourable moment passes. With the news of the capture of Sesin, however, the situation changes totally, though Wallenstein continues to postpone his final choice for as long as he can: he refuses to bow to pressure from Wrangel, tells Terzky and Illo that he shrinks from the curse which treachery, as the ultimate crime, will bring, and finally comes to his reluctant decision only when persuaded by Gräfin Terzky that his relationship with the Emperor is based not on duty and justice but on power and opportunity.
What Wallenstein finds so difficult to grasp is that because he considered the deed he now seems compelled to do it.
Wie? Sollt ichs nun im Ernst erfüllen müssen,
Weil ich zu frei gescherzt mit dem Gedanken?
he asks Illo, provoking the response:
Wenns nur dein Spiel gewesen, glaube mir,
Du wirsts in schwerem Ernste büßen müssen.
(Ws Tod, i. 3, 112 ff.)
And then, reflecting on his situation in the subsequent great monologue, ‘die Achse des Stücks’, as Goethe called it (‘Die Piccolomini’; JA, xxxvi, 180), he summarizes his attitude in four lines, the last two of which acquire special significance from the fact that they form the exact centre of the first and most important section of the speech:
Beim großen Gott des Himmels! Es war nicht
Mein Ernst, beschloßne Sache war es nie.
In dem Gedanken bloß gefiel ich mir;
Die Freiheit reizte mich und das Vermögen.
(Ws Tod, i. 4, 146 ff.)
Wallenstein has good reasons for being so reluctant to act, as he explains in the rest of the monologue. He knows that, once the thought has become deed, it will belong to powers no one can control; moreover, it will be no battle of equals, for he will be challenging an authority reinforced by the hallowing power of tradition. Hence the need to choose, with the help of the planets, the right moment to act—though even now, when the planets suggest that it has arrived, he still hesitates. But Wallenstein's hesitation comes not simply from such fears; it also comes from his reluctance to abandon a position which he actually enjoys. It is not just, as he tells Terzky, that he takes a vindictive pleasure in his power to harm the Emperor, should he wish to do so (Picc., ii. 5, 866 ff.); as the key lines of his monologue reveal, he delights in the sense of freedom and potential conferred by his having the capacity to turn against the Emperor without his being compelled to do so.
A clue to the deeper significance of this delight is provided by the recurring contrast in the passages I have quoted between ‘Ernst’ and ‘Spiel’ (or ‘Scherz’). The question, in terms of the plot, is whether Wallenstein has the serious intention of linking up with the enemy or is merely playing with the idea. But the contrast is also central to the Aesthetic Letters: ‘Mit dem Angenehmen, mit dem Guten, mit dem Vollkommenen ist es dem Menschen nur ernst, aber mit der Schönheit spielt er’ (Letter 15; NA, xx, 358). We have already seen that, with the contrast in the Prologue between life as ‘ernst’ and art as ‘Spiel’, Schiller links Wallensteins Lager—and by implication the drama as a whole—with the aesthetic theory of the Letters, and the recurrence of this contrast within the drama itself provides strong evidence for the notion that in the action he is drawing on the analysis of human nature on which that aesthetic theory is based.
Seen in this light, the symbolic nature of Wallenstein's situation becomes clear: the choice confronting him is the ultimate choice between the demands of reason and those of the senses, as this is presented in the Aesthetic Letters. In so far as he is bound by his duty to the Emperor, he is, as a rational being, subject to the constraint of the form-drive, with its universally valid moral principles; in so far as he is driven by his personal ambition and the need to safeguard his position, he is, as a sensuous being, subject to the constraint of the sense-drive, i.e. his own individual desires and his attachment to life itself.
However, being equally strong, these two demands hold each other in balance, so that Wallenstein has a sense of not being coerced by either of them, but rather of having his options completely open. His situation is reminiscent of the condition of play as this is depicted in the Aesthetic Letters: when sense-drive and form-drive, each wholly ‘earnest’ in its demands, exercise equal constraint on the psyche, the two constraints cancel each other out and give way to the freedom of the play-drive (Letter 15; NA, xx, 355 ff.). The same pattern of thought recurs in the next, and for Schiller most important, section of the Letters, in the notion of the aesthetic condition—aesthetic in the sense that it involves not just the senses, intellect or will, but the totality of our powers. This comes about when one determination is balanced by another, the result being a middle disposition in which the psyche is subject to neither physical nor moral constraint and yet is active in both spheres. Combining an absence of determination with a state of unlimited determinability, the aesthetic condition confers total freedom: the individual is not only free from all constraint; because he has had restored to him his total capacity (‘das ganze Vermögen’) he has the freedom to make of himself what he will (Letters 20-21; NA, xx, 373 ff.).3
Both play and the aesthetic condition are seen in the Letters as ideal states since they represent the wholeness of perfect humanity. Play, in the strict sense, is the expression of the complete humanity to which we can only aspire: ‘Der Mensch … ist nur da ganz Mensch, wo er spielt’ (Letter 15; NA, xx, 359); but Schiller goes on to associate the play-drive with aesthetic freedom and to describe the capacity granted to us in the aesthetic condition as the highest of all bounties, as the gift of humanity itself. And the experience of such humanity is not as exceptional as it might seem, for, he argues, although we lose it every time we enter into a determinate condition, it must be restored to us as we pass from one condition into an opposite one. Some people, because of the speed with which they make this transition—from sensation to thought, for example—are hardly, if at all, aware of the aesthetic mode through which they necessarily pass. Others, by contrast, find enjoyment more in the feeling of total capacity (‘das Gefühl des ganzen Vermögens’) than in any single action (Schiller's italics). Such people, Schiller comments, are destined for wholeness and great roles (Letter 21; NA, xx, 378).4
We can now understand the meaning of the association of Wallenstein with ‘Spiel’ in contrast with ‘Ernst’ and his declaration, in that key line of his monologue, ‘Die Freiheit reizte mich und das Vermögen’.5 Delighting in his sense of freedom and capacity, he seems to be one of those who enjoy the wholeness conferred by the aesthetic mode and thus to embody a Schillerian ideal. On the other hand, this impression is undermined by the fact that, seen without its philosophical overtones, Wallenstein's ‘Spiel’ is presented in a negative light. For he does not just play with the idea of joining the enemy; he also plays with people.
In his concern to avoid committing himself he certainly plays with the Swedes, so that Graf Thurn concludes that he is not in earnest (Picc., ii. 5, 819) and Wrangel fears that his offer could turn out to be ‘nur falsches Spiel’ (Ws Tod, i. 5, 339). He also plays with his own generals, as Terzky complains when he is reproved by Wallenstein for suggesting he knows his commander's intentions: ‘So hast du stets dein Spiel mit uns getrieben!’ (Picc., ii. 5, 871). But Wallenstein's ‘Spiel’ involves not just dissemblance but also hypocritical exploitation designed to strengthen his position. He was always a great calculator, Buttler tells Gordon, moving people like pieces in a board game to suit his purpose:
Nicht Anstand nahm er, andrer Ehr und Würde
Und guten Ruf zu würfeln und zu spielen.
(Ws Tod, iv. 8, 2857 f.)
Buttler is in a position to know, having learned from Octavio how Wallenstein, in order to alienate him from the Emperor, advised against granting the petition for the title of Graf which he had himself encouraged Buttler to submit: ‘Man hat mit Euch ein schändlich Spiel getrieben’ (Ws Tod, ii. 6, 1139). And in the action of the play itself Wallenstein is, as the Gräfin recognizes, indulging in a similar ‘Spiel’ in using Thekla to bind Max to him (Picc., iii. 2, 1398).6
By showing the effect which Wallenstein's ‘Spiel’ has on others, Schiller suggests that there is a flaw in his attempt to preserve the sense of wholeness which comes from his feeling of total capacity. The possibility of such a flaw is acknowledged in the Aesthetic Letters, where Schiller includes a proviso in his suggestion that those who enjoy this feeling are destined for wholeness and great roles: they must combine this capacity with a sense of reality. This is what Wallenstein fails to do, for he does not realize that the aesthetic condition must be seen as a preparation for action, not as a substitute for it. Every other condition, according to Schiller, arises out of a previous one and is terminated by a subsequent one; the aesthetic condition, by contrast, is a whole in itself: ‘Hier allein fühlen wir uns wie aus der Zeit gerissen’ (Letter 22; NA, xx, 379).7 To seek to prolong the aesthetic condition is, therefore, to ignore the reality of time, and this is precisely what Wallenstein does when, claiming to be waiting for ‘die rechte Sternenstunde’, he declares, ‘Die Zeit ist noch nicht da’ (Picc., ii. 6, 994, 958).8 He should, rather, have heeded Illo's warning:
Das Heer ist dein; jetzt für den Augenblick
Ists dein; doch zittre vor der langsamen,
Der stillen Macht der Zeit.
(Ws Tod, i. 3, 82 ff.)
For Illo's prediction is fulfilled: given time, Wallenstein's enemies secretly undermine his reputation and cunningly lure away his supporters, one by one.9
Wallenstein is thus not just a historical figure. Nor is he just a realist—far from it, for in Schiller's typology in Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung, the realist sees man ‘niemals in seinem reinen Vermögen, immer nur in einem bestimmten, und eben darum begrenzten Wirken’ (NA, xx, 499). He is, above all, a symbolic figure who believes that he can with impunity delight in the sense of wholeness which comes from constantly postponing choice. But to do so is to disregard the limitations of the human condition, the fact that in a temporal world we cannot simultaneously follow two mutually exclusive courses of action, but must choose between them. As the opening of ‘Das Ideal und das Leben’ makes clear, only the gods, existing outside time, enjoy the freedom of complete wholeness; man, living within time, cannot ultimately avoid the choice between the demands of the senses and those of morality, however anxious he may be about the outcome:
Zwischen Sinnenglück und Seelenfrieden
Bleibt dem Menschen nur die bange Wahl.
(NA, ii. 1, 396)
In emphasizing the agony of his choice the play does indeed, as the Prologue announces, portray, in Wallenstein, ‘den Menschen in des Lebens Drang’ (108). But once it becomes clear to him that the court is irrevocably intent on his destruction, all his doubts are dispelled. It may seem that in the actual choice he then makes—not ‘Seelenfrieden’, the path of duty, but ‘Sinnenglück’, at best the fulfilment of his ambitions, at worst simply survival—he is opting for the baser alternative. But that is not the point; in making any choice he is accepting his human limitations.10 As a result, all his old greatness is revived and, healed of his ‘Zweifelsqualen’, he confidently accepts the necessity now imposed on him:
Notwendigkeit ist da, der Zweifel flieht,
Jetzt fecht ich für mein Haupt und für mein Leben.
(Ws Tod, iii. 10, 1741, 1747 f.)
Max, being a creation of Schiller's imagination (the historical Octavio had no son), has, strictly speaking, no part in the actual historical drama. He was introduced by Schiller, partly perhaps to give himself a figure for whom he could feel affection as a relief from his purely objective portrayal of Wallenstein, but more importantly to add a new dimension to the drama. For the love Max shares with Thekla, characterized by ‘ihr ruhiges Bestehen auf sich und ihre Freiheit von allen Zwecken’, contrasts with the rest of the action, ‘welche ein unruhiges planvolles Streben nach einem Zwecke ist’ (letter to Goethe, 12 December 1797; NA, xxix, 166); it thus completes a certain human circle, making the play a small universe (letter to Körner, 8 January 1798).
This contrast is echoed in the drama itself when Thekla warns Max, ‘Trau niemand hier als mir. Ich sah es gleich, / Sie haben einen Zweck’ (Picc., iii. 5, 1685 f.) and tells him that they must rely on their hearts. It is clearly reminiscent of Schiller's contrast between idealist and realist in Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung, according to which the former's actions are guided by absolutes, the latter's by ‘äußre Ursachen’ and ‘äußre Zwecke’ (NA, xx, 494). But however great the difference in spirit between the poetically most important part of the drama, as Schiller described the love strand, and the rest of the ‘Staatsaction’ (letter to Goethe, 9 November 1798), its function is not simply to provide a different moral standard by which to judge Wallenstein's actions. Indeed, the essence of Max's situation is not so much that he idealistically responds to the moral imperative as that he is destroyed by the agonizing choice with which he is presented. He may be a contrast figure to Wallenstein, but he also shares the same human dilemma; the difference between them is that, whereas Wallenstein ultimately accepts the inevitability of choice, Max is incapable of doing so.
Hitherto in his life Max has been spared all inner conflict and, ruled entirely by the dictates of his heart, has been able to follow both the emotions which attach him to Wallenstein and the instinctive moral sense which binds him to the Emperor. However, Wallenstein's confirmation of his treasonable plans marks the end of the harmony Max has enjoyed, as Wallenstein himself makes clear in words which suggest the end of that unity between form-drive and sense-drive which constitutes the play-drive, as the two drives separate and oppose each other:
Sanft wiegte dich bis heute dein Geschick,
Du konntest spielend deine Pflichten üben,
Jedwedem schönen Trieb Genüge tun,
Mit ungeteiltem Herzen immer handeln.
So kanns nicht ferner bleiben. Feindlich scheiden
Die Wege sich. Mit Pflichten streiten Pflichten.
Du mußt Partei ergreifen in dem Krieg,
Der zwischen deinem Freund und deinem Kaiser
Sich jetzt entzündet.
(Ws Tod, ii. 2, 719 ff.)
Max can only lament his loss of wholeness as he feels torn apart by the equally strong demands of senses and soul, affection and duty:
O! welchen Riß erregst du mir im Herzen!
Die Sinne sind in deinen Banden noch,
Hat gleich die Seele blutend sich befreit!
(Ws Tod, ii. 2, 736 ff.)
Nevertheless, it initially seems that Max will follow the call of duty, despite the pain it costs him; he tells Octavio that he only needs to take his leave of Thekla before leading the Pappenheimer out of Pilsen, dying if necessary in the attempt; and assuring Thekla that he must leave her, he begs her to acknowledge that he has no choice. But when Wallenstein implores him as ‘das Kind des Hauses’ not to leave, Max has to struggle to stick to his resolve: ‘in heftigem Kampf O Gott! Wie kann ich anders? Muß ich nicht? / Mein Eid—die Pflicht—’ (Ws Tod, iii. 18, 2160, 2176 f.). And his resolve is further undermined as Wallenstein claims that by the law of nature Max is his:
Auf mich bist du gepflanzt, ich bin dein Kaiser,
Mir angehören, mir gehorchen, das
Ist deine Ehre, dein Naturgesetz.
(Ws Tod, iii. 18, 2183 ff.)
Thus, anticipating Faust's words, Max confesses to Thekla that, although he came convinced of the right action, he now no longer knows:
Zwei Stimmen streitend sich in meiner Brust,
In mir ist Nacht, ich weiß das Rechte nicht zu wählen.
(Ws Tod, iii. 21, 2279 ff.)
In his agony Max turns to Thekla for her decision. He is now ready to stay with Wallenstein if she can then still love him, but he does not question her verdict: ‘Folge deinem ersten / Gefühl. … Geh und erfülle deine Pflicht’ (Ws Tod, iii. 21, 2338 ff.). However, he only half does her bidding. He leaves Wallenstein and thus fulfils his duty to the extent that he is not disloyal to the Emperor; but he does not go so far as to transfer his allegiance. For in leading the Pappenheimer in the attack on the Swedish camp he is not so much courageously pursuing victory over the Emperor's enemy as despairingly seeking his own death. If military considerations had been uppermost in his mind, he would not have left the infantry so far behind as he led the cavalry charge of the Pappenheimer, with the result that, unsupported, they became trapped between the Swedish cavalry and pikemen, and in this hopeless situation he would hardly have rejected the summons to honourable surrender. As it is, his call to them to attempt to break out is suicidal, and it is appropriate that he dies, not at the hands of the enemy, but beneath the hooves of his own horses—‘man sagt, er wollte sterben’ (Ws Tod, iv. 10, 3072).
Deprived of the wholeness which he had enjoyed, Max is totally disorientated in the world of conflicting demands which he now inhabits, for he can no longer rely on his heart. When first confronted with the news of Wallenstein's treasonable plans he refused to believe his father: ‘Dein Urteil kann sich irren, nicht mein Herz’ (Picc., v. 1, 2547). Now he is forced to admit, ‘Zu viel vertraut ich auf das eigne Herz’ (Ws Tod, iii. 21, 2283), for he is unable to choose between the two courses of action demanded with equal force by his heart, since to give priority to either his love of Wallenstein or his duty to the Emperor would do violence to an equally important part of his being.
Such a choice between the demands of the senses and those of reason is the ultimate dilemma of human life, so that the only alternative is death. Max's death thus symbolizes the inevitable demise of wholeness which is man's fate, and it is this loss that is the subject of the final lines of Thekla's lament:
—Da kommt das Schicksal—Roh und kalt
Faßt es des Freundes zärtliche Gestalt
Und wirft ihn unter den Hufschlag seiner Pferde—
—Das ist das Los des Schönen auf der Erde!
(Ws Tod, iv. 12, 3177 ff.)
It is the tragedy of life that the unity of feeling and reason, which is the essence of complete humanity and is symbolized by the union of life and form in beauty, ineluctably gives way to the potentially agonizing choice between their demands.
The figure of Octavio is based on the historical general who, blindly trusted by Wallenstein, intrigued against him; and in the drama it is he who exploiting such trust, plays the leading part in bringing about Wallenstein's downfall. But what Schiller focuses on is the choice which this role involves. Whereas Max seeks to preserve the primal purity which precedes the need to choose, Octavio knows that this is not possible:
Mein bester Sohn! Es ist nicht immer möglich,
Im Leben sich so kinderrein zu halten,
Wie's uns die Stimme lehrt im Innersten.
(Picc., v. 1, 2447 ff.)
And he acts accordingly, for although he admits that it would be better if one could always follow one's heart (for him merely the seat of the emotions), he disregards its voice as, without any misgiving, he sacrifices his friend in order to fulfil his duty to the Emperor.
The choice Octavio has been presented with is the same as that facing Max, even if in his case the demands of feeling do not seem as powerful as those of duty, for the simple reason that he has already rejected them. But the repulsion he now feels for Wallenstein should not be allowed to obscure the warmth of their relationship in the past. They had always been friends and comrades-in-arms, as Octavio himself admits; for thirty years, according to Wallenstein, they had shared camp-bed, drink and food. And Octavio's former affection for Wallenstein is evident from the concern he showed as, in response to his dream, he asked his ‘Bruder’ not to ride into battle on his usual horse, but to take the one he would provide: ‘Tus mir zu Lieb’ (Ws Tod, ii. 3, 938).
Octavio's interpretation of his duty leads him not simply to abandon Wallenstein for the Emperor, but to deceive his friend. He may try to exonerate himself by arguing that he has not hypocritically sought Wallenstein's confidence, but merely hidden his own true attitude. However, we can only endorse Wallenstein's own condemnation of Octavio's exploitation of the childlike trust he had placed in him ever since fate, as he believed, revealed him to be the most loyal of his followers: ‘Das war kein Heldenstück, Octavio!’ (Ws Tod, iii. 9, 1681). Certainly, Max, so sensitive to the claims of both friendship and duty, cannot excuse his father's deceit.
Schiller still defended Octavio as ‘ein ziemlich rechtlicher Mann, nach dem Weltbegriff’: ‘Die Schändlichkeit, die er begeht, sehen wir auf jedem Welttheater von Personen wiederholt, die, so wie er, von Recht und Pflicht strenge Begriffe haben. Er wählt zwar ein schlechtes Mittel, aber er verfolgt einen guten Zweck’ (letter to Böttiger, 1 March 1799; NA, xxx, 33). Yet while drawing attention to the moral rightness of Octavio's conduct, Schiller also suggests the narrowness of such a code, and it is here that his fault lies. Of the three major characters, he is the only one who does not suffer from ‘die Qual der Wahl’. If, therefore, in opting so painlessly for the path of duty, he evades the central dilemma of human life, he also reveals the loss involved in surrendering so unreservedly to the demands of morality. His choice makes him, in every sense, a poorer human being, for he not only betrays his friend, he also renounces any aspiration to the wholeness of complete humanity.
In the final two Acts of the drama Wallenstein, confident that a new flood will succeed the ebb in his fortunes, has shed all indecision. But the theme of the agony of choice persists in a lower key in the figure of Gordon—appropriately enough, since it was only with reluctance that the historical Gordon became involved in Wallenstein's death.
Gordon is totally torn between head and heart. He cannot help agreeing with Buttler that, if Wallenstein has betrayed the Emperor, he cannot be saved, indeed that he must die in order to prevent his being joined by the Swedes. But he resents being chosen by fate as the instrument of Wallenstein's downfall, for they had been pages together, and it was Wallenstein who gave him the command of Eger.
O Gott! Was sein muß, seh ich klar wie Ihr,
Doch anders schlägt das Herz in meiner Brust,
he tells Buttler (Ws Tod, iv. 6, 2738 f.). And recalling Wallenstein's greatness, he begs him: ‘O wenn das Herz euch warnt, folgt seinem Triebe!’ (Ws Tod, iv. 8, 2882). He even considers attempting to rescue Wallenstein, but then, recalling his oath to the Emperor, shrinks from responsibility for the possible consequences and prefers to leave the outcome to heaven.
At the last minute, however, Gordon does act: putting his life at stake, he impulsively throws himself in the path of the assassins. It is a futile gesture, for Buttler simply thrusts him aside. But his surrender to his emotions endears him to us more than Octavio's adherence to the path of duty recommends him, for at this tragic moment Gordon acts on our, the audience's, behalf. And our identification with him proves justified, for his plea that within an hour there could be a decisive change in the situation is vindicated as he rushes in to announce that the sound of trumpets which has accelerated Wallenstein's death came not from the Swedes, but from Octavio's escort.
Gordon may be, as Schiller wrote to Iffland, ‘ein gutherziger fühlender Mann von Jahren, der weit mehr Schwäche als Charakter hat’; still, Schiller wanted a good actor for the part: ‘Er muß aber in guten Händen seyn, denn er nimmt an den wichtigsten Scenen teil, und spricht die Empfindung, ich möchte sagen, die Moral des Stücks aus’ (24 December 1798; NA, xxx, 18). He had in mind, perhaps, Gordon's words:
O was ist Menschengröße!
Ich sagt es oft: das kann nicht glücklich enden,
Zum Fallstrick ward ihm seine Größ und Macht.
Der stolze Geist verlernte sich zu beugen.
O schad um solchen Mann!
(Ws Tod, iv. 2, 2480 ff.)
Certainly, Wallenstein is presented in the Prologue as the victim of his own unrestrained ambition, and Schiller's wish to have on the title-page a vignette of Nemesis, ‘eine interessante und bedeutende Verzierung’ (letter to Goethe, 1 December 1797; NA xxix, 163), suggests that he saw his downfall in terms of the Greek notion of divine retribution on human immoderation. Our overwhelming feeling, moreover, as the drama draws to a close is indeed a sense of the tragic fall of a great man who strove too high. But if Gordon expresses the most obvious moral of the historical drama, what is the wider moral of its symbolic dimension?
The hubris of which Wallenstein is guilty is not just an excess of ambition; it is, more fundamentally, the metaphysical presumption of attempting to rise above the limitations of the human condition by ignoring the reality of time. It is his consequent failure to commit himself to action as he revels in his sense of freedom and capacity that is the immediate cause of his downfall, so that the figure of Nemesis is doubly appropriate. 11 The wider moral is embodied not just in Wallenstein, but in all three major figures, each of whom represents a different attitude to the central dilemma of life. It is in the choice confronting Max that we see this dilemma at its starkest. For him there can be no right decision: he cannot ignore his duty, but he cannot turn against Wallenstein either. Yet life demands that he make a choice. He cannot, and so must accept the only alternative, death. Octavio has no problem in turning against Wallenstein in order to do his duty. He does the ‘right’ thing, but it makes him a poorer human being, for, in contrast with Schiller's earlier Kantian stance, it is not simply morality that is at stake. Wallenstein, by contrast, tries to avoid making the choice between loyalty to the Emperor and his own designs; he is forced to do so, but by then it is too late. 12
What is needed, we are driven to conclude, is a balance, precarious though it may be: we must seek to preserve our wholeness, as Wallenstein does, but not at the cost of refusing to commit ourselves to action; we must choose, as does Octavio, but without the sacrifice of wholeness which he too readily accepts. Ironically, it is Gordon who comes closest to this ideal, even if only in a very pale form. Torn between his duty and his feelings, he seeks to avoid any decision; but faced with the actual threat to Wallenstein's life, he acts.
It is just such a balance that characterizes the relationship between the Aesthetic Letters and Wallenstein. The former offers us the possibility of achieving a state of capacity which restores to us the wholeness of ideal humanity; the latter depicts the reality of the choice which we have to make as we participate in life. The two works thus express complementary aspects of a single view of the human condition, the optimism of the philosopher being transposed into the tragic vision of the poet. Philosophy, for so long an obstacle to Schiller's poetic creativity, has borne rich fruit in his dramatic masterpiece.
Schiller himself took the moral of Wallenstein to heart: he did not wish to prolong the freedom from determination and the resulting condition of mere capacity granted him by the completion of Wallensteins Tod. Two days later he was complaining to Goethe: ‘Mir dünkt als wenn ich bestimmungslos im luftleeren Raume hienge.’ Rather than delighting in his new freedom, he is afraid he will never be able to produce anything again and is longing to concentrate on a new subject: ‘Habe ich wieder eine Bestimmung, so werde ich dieser Unruhe los seyn’ (19 March 1799; NA, xxx, 38 f.). Five and a half weeks later he has already begun studying as material for a new play the reign of Elizabeth and the trial of Mary Stuart: ‘Ein paar tragische Hauptmotive haben sich mir gleich dargeboten und mir großen Glauben an diesen Stoff gegeben’ (letter to Goethe, 26 April 1799; NA, xxx, 45). One of these tragic motifs was no doubt—it certainly is in the completed play—the choice confronting Elisabeth between the necessity of getting rid of Maria in order to safeguard her own life and the moral obligation to spare her:
die verhaßte Wahl[…,] in ewger Furcht
Auf meinem Thron zu zittern, oder grausam
Die Königin, die eigne Blutsverwandte
Dem Beil zu unterwerfen.
(Maria Stuart, I. 8, 1034 ff.; NA, ix, 39)
The agony of the choice between the demands of the senses and those of reason, which I have argued is the central theme of Wallenstein, is so central to Schiller's vision of life that he continues to explore it in Maria Stuart: ‘Wer die Wahl hat, hat die Qual.’ 13
Genesis: Some Episodes in Literary Creation, Bithell Memorial Lecture, Institute of Germanic Studies, University of London, 1995, pp. 8, 18. Compare William Witte, Schiller, Oxford, 1949, p. 152: ‘The genesis of Wallenstein […] shows how a work of art, in taking shape, tends to become a law unto itself, acquiring a momentum, a life, a will of its own, overriding the intentions of its begetter and taking him where he had not dreamt of going.’
See the article on ‘Schein, Erscheinung, Täuschung’ in Friedrich Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man, edited and translated by Elizabeth M. Wilkinson and L. A. Willoughby, Oxford, 1967, 19822, pp. 327 ff.
A link between Wallenstein's desire for freedom and the notion of ‘Spiel’ was made as long ago as 1937 by Reinhard Buchwald: ‘Wir wissen ja […], daß der Mensch nur dann Mensch sei, wenn er spiele. Jedoch Wallenstein wird der Spieler am falschen Orte’ (Schiller, Volume ii: Der Weg zur Vollendung, first published Leipzig, 1937, second edition Wiesbaden, 1954, pp. 356 f.). Since then, two studies have offered detailed interpretations of the figure of Wallenstein in terms of the ideas of the Aesthetic Letters: Oskar Seidlin, ‘Wallenstein: Sein und Zeit’, in I’on Goethe zu Thomas Mann. Zwölf Versuche, Göttingen, 1963, pp. 120-35, and Ilse Graham, ‘Wallenstein's poodle: an essay in elusion and commitment’, Chapter 6 of Schiller's Drama. Talent and Integrity. London, 1974, pp. 121-45. The importance of Seidlin's study lies, from my point of view, in its emphasis on the theme of time: he sees Wallenstein as wanting to escape from the passage of time so that he can act with complete freedom and thus as stepping from the historical into the aesthetic sphere, the timeless realm of purpose-free ‘Spiel’ (pp. 122 ff.). The importance of Graham's study, on the other hand, lies in the connection she makes between Wallenstein's attitude and the aesthetic condition: she regards his failure to act decisively as due to his desire for ‘the freedom of possibility’ and his clinging to ‘a dream of totality of being’ (p. 126). Neither Seidlin nor Graham discuss the link between the drama and the Aesthetic Letters which I see as created by the actual nature of the choice confronting not only Wallenstein but also the other major figures—even though Graham notes that each of the courses of action open to Wallenstein rules out the other, leaving him in a state of total indeterminacy, and even refers to the image of the pair of equally weighted scales used by Schiller to illustrate the aesthetic condition.
Wilkinson and Willoughby comment that ‘though Schiller is here thinking primarily of the stage of the World, the word “role” inevitably calls up the theatre’ (p. 264).
Compare Wolfgang Binder, ‘Die Begriffe “naiv” und “sentimentalisch” in Schillers Drama’, JDSG, iv (1960), 155: ‘Das Wort “Die Freiheit reizte mich und das Vermögen” führt […] auf den Begriff des ästhetischen Zustandes, der […] als totales Vermögen ohne Fixierung verstanden wird.’
Seidlin argues that Wallenstein's ‘Spiel’, since it is not disinterested, inevitably becomes calculation: as ‘Würfler’ and ‘Spieler’ he can only be a ‘Falsch-Spieler’ and as such is prefigured by the peasant caught with the loaded dice in Wallensteins Lager (pp. 129 ff.). For Graham it becomes play-acting as he seeks to protect ‘his inner self from corroding contact with reality’ (pp. 126, 131). It is merely this role-playing and the wearing of masks that the majority of critics see as its significance, e.g. Benno von Wiese, Friedrich Schiller, Stuttgart, 1959, p. 650; Lesley Sharpe, Schiller and the Historical Character. Presentation and Interpretation in the Historiographical Works and in the Historical Dramas, Oxford, 1982, pp. 97 f.; F. J. Lamport, ‘The Charismatic Hero: Goethe, Schiller, and the Tragedy of Character’, PEGS, lviii (1987-88), 72 f.
Seidlin notes that at his first mention of it in the Aesthetic Letters (Letter 14) Schiller sees the ‘Spieltrieb’ as being ‘dahin gerichtet […], die Zeit in der Zeit aufzuheben’ (p. 130).
For Seidlin, Wallenstein's ‘Spiel’ is in itself culpable since he believes that, in wishing to escape from the restrictions of time, Wallenstein is in fact hoping to manipulate it and thus direct the course of history (pp. 124 ff.; see also Buchwald, p. 357). By contrast, I see his ‘Spiel’ as an attempt to escape from history as well as from time and thus, with Graham, regard his fault as lying not in his adopting this stance but rather in his reluctance to abandon it: ‘He […] continues to play when play is out of season. To remain whole, he remains indeterminate when decisive action is demanded’ (p. 126).
As Lesley Sharpe observes, the drama is, from the first word of Die Piccolomini (‘Spät’), ‘governed by the ever-accelerating passing of time’ (Friedrich Schiller. Drama, Thought and Politics, Oxford, 1991, p. 224). Schiller saw this increasing pace of events, with Wallenstein powerless to halt it, as making circumstances rather than character responsible for Wallenstein's downfall and hence as increasing the tragic impression (Letter to Goethe, 2 October 1797), but it also emphasizes that there can be no escape from the reality of time.
Seidlin believes, as I do, that Wallenstein rises to greatness and human dignity only when, realizing that he can no longer postpone action, he gives up the dream of ‘play’ outside time and accepts his exposure to the forces of history (p. 133). For Graham, the ‘enrichment and liberation which transform his whole being’ take place much later, when he ‘comes to accept his doing and its consequences as his own’, as he does in acknowledging his responsibility for Max's death (pp. 143 ff.).
For von Wiese the drama is, above all, a tragedy of nemesis, which he sees as lying in the historical forces which Wallenstein, in his attempt to direct the course of history, unleashes through his own action (pp. 649 ff., 675). However, what proves fatal is not so much the action he finally takes as his failure to take it until it is too late. I therefore agree rather with T. J. Reed that it is Wallenstein's ‘planning and temporizing’ that generates ‘ample nemesis’, even if I regard this as representing more than ‘a minimum of hubris’ (Schiller, Oxford, 1991, p. 83).
Sharpe rightly concludes that ‘the clash of moral and political attitudes goes far beyond the simple contrast of realism and idealism to be an exploration of the insolubility of the dilemmas confronting all parties’ (Friedrich Schiller, 1991, p. 239). For her, however, Wallenstein's dilemma lies in the problem posed by the anxiety which, despite his belief in his special destmy, he feels about the incalculability of events (p. 229) rather than, as I have argued, in the dilemma of the choice with which he, and the other major characters, are confronted.
See my article, ‘Ideal Perfection and the Human Condition: Morality and Necessity in Schiller's Maria Stuart’, OGS, xx-xxi (1991-92), 46-68.
* Quotations from Wallenstein are from Schillers Werke, Nationalausgabe, Volume viii, edited by Hermann Schneider and Lieselotte Blumenthal, Weimar, 1949. The abbreviation NA is used to refer to other volumes of the Nationalausgabe.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6985
SOURCE: “The Silence of Wilhelm Tell,” in The Modern Language Review, Vol. 76, No. 4, Summer 1983, pp. 857-68.
[In the following essay, Lamport argues that Tell, a simple and humble man, undergoes a profound change after his confrontation with and triumph over Gessler: he moves out of his simple world and gains historical significance, and he finds a new eloquence as result of the important moral decision he makes in silence.]
Schiller's Wilhelm Tell seems at first sight a fairly simple play. The action is, of course, a complex one, with four separate strands (the conspiracy of Stauffacher and his associates; the love of Rudenz for Berta; the assassination of the Emperor by Duke John; and Tell's ordeal and the killing of Gessler), but these all converge in a single point, all are gathered together to assert a single, simple meaning—the defence by the Swiss of their traditional liberties, their successful rebellion against Habsburg tyranny. A tale of epic simplicity, with an appropriately epic quality in the telling—indeed, Schiller has taken over the main lines of his story very largely from the epic chronicler of Swiss history, Ägidius Tschudi. It is customary to point out Schiller's divergences from Tschudi, but it is remarkable how much of Schiller's play is taken directly from this source: sometimes whole scenes or sequences of action, sometimes phrases reproduced verbatim; sometimes, admittedly, only a hint—as when Tschudi tells us that among the local nobility, sympathetic to the people's cause, there was an ‘Edelknecht von Rudentz ob dem Kernwald … dem gedacht Er ouch der Sachen noch nit ❙ bis über etwas Zits’.1 The episode of Bertha and Rudenz as we have it in the play is almost entirely the product of Schiller's imagination, but the rest is all in the chronicle—Baumgarten and Stauffacher, Walther Fürst and Melchthal, the meeting on the Rütli, Attinghausen and the nobility, Duke John, Gessler, his hat and his apple, and Tell.
Tell himself is admirably suited to be the hero of this simple story, because he is a simple man. He is a man of action, not words: as he tells Gessler, in Tschudi's account, ‘wär ich witzig ❙ so hieß ich nit der Tell’.2 He is a strong, silent man, characterized, at any rate in the first half of the play, by what have been aptly called ‘self-coined proverbs’,3 utterances which have the appearance of being the tips of vast icebergs of accumulated rustic wisdom. But in their insistence that to every problem, however new and complex it may appear, there is a ready-made and simple answer, they mark him as a man of limited insight. It is of course entirely consistent that such a man has no time for the deliberations of politicians. He is, indeed, unwilling to commit himself to any sort of collective action, being reluctant or even unable to face the surrender of total autonomy and independence which such commitment would involve. He remains outside social life and its complexities, preferring the simplicity of the solitary huntsman's calling:
Zum Hirten hat Natur mich nicht gebildet,
Rastlos muß ich ein flüchtig Ziel verfolgen,
Dann erst genieß ich meines Lebens recht,
Wenn ich mirs jeden Tag aufs neu erbeute.
(iii.i, ll. 1486-89)
Indeed his attachment to solitude is not without a tinge of misanthropic suspicion:
Ja, wohl ists besser, Kind, die Gletscherberge
Im Rücken haben als die bösen Menschen.
And this adds up to a perfectly plausible, realistic characterization of a recognizable human type—perhaps a distinctively rustic type of simple man.
Half-way through the play this simple man is violently confronted with a problem so complex and unprecedented that there cannot possibly be any simple, readymade answer. There is no proverbial way out: Tell is reduced to total, agonized silence in which he has to make up his mind for himself unaided. The quality of this silence is eloquently conveyed in Schiller's stage direction: ‘Tell steht in fürchterlichem Kampf, mit den Händen zuckend, und die rollenden Augen bald auf den Landvogt, bald zum Himmel gerichtet.—Plötzlich greift er in seinen Köcher, nimmt einen zweiten Pfeil heraus und steckt ihn in seinen Goller. Der Landvogt bemerkt alle diese Bewegungen’ (stage direction after line 1989). The last sentence of this description, if it is not simply superfluous (Gessler himself subsequently tells us that he was watching Tell's actions closely), I take to imply that this little pantomine lasts some time: Schiller wants an appreciable silent pause at this point. But eventually, encouraged by his little boy (‘Vater, schieß zu, ich fürcht mich nicht’), Tell makes up his mind, cries ‘Es muß!’ and, characteristically enough, while others (in this case Rudenz) are talking, acts.
In the later part of the play, however, a change appears to have come over Tell, or at any rate a change comes over his linguistic behaviour. In three of the four scenes in which he appears he is, by his previous standards, almost unrecognizably eloquent. He is given a longish narration (to the fisherman and boy in iv.i), a very long introspective monologue (in iv. 3—the longest soliloquy in Schiller's mature dramatic work) and a scene of intense argument in which he rises to considerable heights of rhetorical passion (v. 2, the famous, or notorious, Parricida scene). This new-found eloquence of Tell's has encountered objections on grounds of linguistic and psychological implausibility; but these objections seem to me to be unfounded. It is surely perfectly plausible that as the shock of that terrible silent moment of decision wears off, our simple hero should have to struggle to come to terms with the complexity of his new situation. And when the struggle is over, Tell is probably grateful that in the last scene he is not required to say anything: the just cause is victorious, the people cheer, the music plays, Berta and Rudenz are betrothed, and Tell is again silent.
This simple tale and its simple hero have however been subjected to a number of complex interpretations. The starting-point of these seems to be the fact that the play is untypical of its author in that it has a happy ending. Various attempts have been made to explain this, to relate Wilhelm Tell to some other more general or more familiar Schillerian pattern. They fall into two groups, which one could call, very roughly, a positive and a negative group. The positive group sees Tell as an ideal figure, who is able to conquer or reconcile those historical forces which defeat Schiller's other, tragic, protagonists. The play represents an ideal state, a paradigm making clear the meaning of the historical process, affirming a historical teleology; Tell himself is not a simple but a complex figure, an examplar of ‘aesthetic man’, superior in harmony and psychic organization to the other characters.4 The negative group sees Tell not as the conqueror or reconciler but as the victim of historical forces, just (or almost) as much as Schiller's tragic heroes: a near-tragic, or perhaps tragi-comic, figure at the mercy both of events and of the interpretation and appropriation of events by others, politicians like Stauffacher, men more sophisticated than he. This process of appropriation, this writing of history, we are asked to view ironically or even satirically; the simple Tell becomes an ambiguous figure, and his self-justification after killing Gessler is seen as specious or even pharisaical. This view of the play seems to be confined to the English-speaking world, but has at all events found favour on both sides of the Atlantic.5
Both schools of interpretation naturally claim support from the text of the play and from Schiller's other writings—his aesthetic essays and his correspondence. They even, in their different ways, claim support from Tell's silences. Thus Ilse Graham draws attention to the silence in which Tell takes his decision to obey Gessler's command, and argues that what we see in this silent moment is the self-control of Tell's instinctual nature, the harmony of his inner drives, the complete permeation of his nature by his spirit, in a word the manifestation of aesthetic totality (Graham, p. 208). I do not recognize in Professor Graham's interpretation the ‘fürchterlicher Kampf’, the ‘zuckende Hände’ and ‘rollende Augen’ of Schiller's stage direction; but in fact she is not really talking about Tell's demeanour but about that of his little boy, claiming that from this and from this alone we can measure the true significance of Tell's act. This is to my mind a strangely selective reading. On the other hand, the proponents of the ironic or quasi-tragic view of the play lay great stress on the fact that Tell says nothing in the last scene: ‘his silence … is eloquent’, they say,6 seemingly inferring from it that Tell's peace of mind is shattered; that his attempt at self-justification, which with the monologue seemed to have succeeded, has been undermined by the confrontation with Parricida; that he can hardly bear the acclamation of his countrymen, feeling it to be based on something other than the truth. This is again a selective view; after all, the last scene is only ten lines long, and those ten lines are largely given to Berta, with responses from ‘Alle’ and from Rudenz—the Berta—Rudenz strand of the action being the only one still requiring to be concluded and tied in with the whole, and all the other principal characters having by now had their say. And if what is going on in Tell's mind at that earlier moment of crisis can all too readily be imagined—one might well be rendered speechless in such a situation—Tell's final silence may well be nothing more than a literal enactment of the familiar rhetorical captatio, ‘Friends, I really do not know what to say’.
As we have said, however, what is at issue here is not simply a matter of psychology, but touches upon the vision of human life and, in particular, of human history which is presented in this play. Professor Mainland complains of ‘the habit of seeing Schiller's play as some sort of stage-version of the old Swiss story’ (Mainland, p. liv); but on his own showing no less than any other, the play is clearly, whatever else it may be, some sort of stage version of the old story, that is, some kind as Herbert Lindenberger's useful book7 reminds us, there are many) of history play. It seems appropriate, therefore, to consider Tell's action, his silent crisis and his final—grateful, puzzled, shattered?—silence against the background of Schiller's treatment of history in the works of his maturity.
In his inaugural lecture of 1789, Was hei[b.beta ]t und zu welchem Ende studiert man Universalgeschichte?, Schiller appears to be taking up the challenge or invitation issued by Kant a few years previously in his Idee zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte in weltbürgerlicher Absicht, namely to write a universal history on teleological principles. Indeed he had already, as dramatist and historiographer, if not as ‘philosophischer Kopf’,8 produced two essays on these lines: the play Don Carlos and the Geschichte des Abfalls der vereinigten Niederlande. Don Carlos reads most convincingly, I think, as a play whose tragedy is set off or illuminated by an ultimate historical optimism: by its dramatic action, its language, its imagery,9 it endorses the ideals of liberty proclaimed by Marquis Posa, endorses his attempt to advance the transformation of those ideals into reality (though Schiller is under no illusions whatever about the difficulties and dangers attendant upon any such attempt) and assures us, or at any rate suggests very strongly, that despite the tragedy we witness those ideals will ultimately triumph, and that therefore (in some sense) their champions, Posa and Carlos, will not have died in vain. This is very much the kind of teleological interpretation of history which Kant had in mind: a particular negative instance is subsumed into a larger positive pattern. And the Abfall der Niederlande sets out to present a part of the same complex of historical material, the stirrings of rebellion against the authoritarian rule of Philip II, as a ‘schönes Denkmal bürgerlicher Stärke’,10 and as the first chapter of a story of liberation running on, by implication, to Schiller's own day and progressively (as Kant had envisaged) into the future. Indeed Schiller's vision seems more optimistic than Kant's, because whereas Kant sees progress brought about by conflict, competition and ‘Ungeselligkeit’, and man's conscious or deliberate efforts as of little or no efficacy or even value, Schiller appears to attach more positive significance to man's idealism, aware though he is of its problematic side.
However, the events of 1789, and more particularly of the subsequent course of the Revolution, and their effects on the polity of Europe, seemed increasingly to deny the possibility of attaching any meaning to history. The events of the contemporary world seemed more and more to suggest a radical dualism between the realm of nature, causality, action, and history, and that of reason, morality, and human freedom. Kantian moral philosophy accepts and affirms this dualism, driving the individual moral conscience ruthlessly back into itself and making effective action in the real world virtually impossible. Nothing is good, we are told, but the ‘guter Wille’, and ‘Der gute Wille ist nicht durch das, was er bewirkt, oder ausrichtet, nicht durch seine Tauglichkeit zu Erreichung irgend eines vorgesetzten Zweckes, sondern allein durch das Wollen, d.i. an sich, gut’.11 Faced with a radically corrupt world, Kant strives to preserve the purity of the moral conscience by prescribing for it laws of maximum generality and abstraction, which admit of no exception, no accommodation to particular circumstances. This rigorism is epitomized in Über ein vermeintes Recht, aus Menschenliebe zu lügen (1797): if you do what is right, no one can blame you whatever the result, whereas if you do wrong, even with the best of intentions, you can be held morally or indeed legally responsible for any resulting evil—while, it appears, not being able to claim credit for any resulting good. This leads to a complete discontinuity of the moral life: true moral action is completely severed from any consequences. And the political conclusions are drawn in Über den Gemeinspruch: Das mag in der Theorie gut sein, taugt aber nicht für die Praxis (1793) and reiterated in the Rechtslehre (1797): although in theory the subject has rights which the ruler ought to respect, in practice the subject has no means of securing them, because resistance to the ruler, even to the most extreme and unnatural tyranny, is totally condemned. Anyone who as much as attempts such resistance is regarded as ‘einer, der sein Vaterland umzubringen versucht (parricida)’.12 Again the universal law is asserted independent of any circumstantial modification; the general is completely divorced from the particular, morality (the doctrine of what should be) from politics, the art of the possible. In Über den Gemeinspruch … Kant argues that no rebellion could ever have been thought to be justified ‘wenn man zu allererst gefragt hätte, was Rechtens ist (wo die Prinzipien a priori feststehen, und kein Empiriker darin pfuschen kann)’ (Kant, Wke., vi, 159).
Schiller's later work bears eloquent testimony to the influence (to use a convenient shorthand term) which such ideas had upon him. In Wallenstein and the plays which succeeded it, history is portrayed as a battleground of conflicting forces—ambitious individuals, powers temporal and (ostensibly) spiritual—of none of which Schiller seems to approve; ‘[die] Schönen auf der Erde’ can preserve their own moral purity only by voluntarily encompassing their own destruction. This is the ‘Konflikt der Naturkräfte untereinander selbst und mit der Freiheit der Menschen’13 which resists any philosophical schematization. Yet Schiller is never quite as radical as Kant. In Über Anmut und Würde he explicitly criticizes the rigorism of Kant's presentation of the moral law (SW, v, 465), and in Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung he correctly identifies the paradox of this moral rigorism, in observing that the idealist, who claims to judge everything by absolute moral standards, cannot in fact give his life any moral continuity; though in theory he always submits the particular case to the general law, in practice his life falls apart into a series of discrete, particular moral acts (SW, v, 772 f.). In all his speculative writings Schiller is concerned to establish some kind of mediation between the realms of ‘Natur’ and ‘Freiheit’, between the ‘physical’ and ‘moral’ aspects of man's existence; and in his concepts of ‘aesthetic education’ and the ‘aesthetic state’ Schiller appears to believe that he has, at least in potential, found it. But while Schiller the philosopher is concerned to build this bridge at the general level, Schiller the playwright, and indeed Schiller the historiographer, is exploring the interaction of the two realms in particular instances. Although the Abfall der Niederlande did start off with some such ‘Leitfaden a priori’, as Kant proposes in the Idee … (Wke., vi, 49), as it goes on Schiller finds himself more and more discovering that history is actually the story of human beings coping, to the best of their imperfect but not utterly contemptible abilities, with the demands of particular historical situations. And in the plays, although the historical teleology whichinforms Don Carlos has vanished, and although the a priori demands of his Kant-influenced moral philosophy on the one hand, and of the tragic genre and its conventional requirements on the other, tend to produce irreconcilable conflicts, Schiller's balanced presentation leads one to believe that while reserving his admiration for characters who fulfill his theoretical standards of ‘sublimity’ by choosing to leave this world behind them, he feels at least as much pity for those who try to survive in it, and would gladly welcome compromise if it showed itself to be possible. In the end it is not the ‘philosophischer Kopf’, but rather the practitioner of a ‘bloß empirisch abgefaßte Historie’ as Kant rather patronizingly calls it (Wke., vi, 49), who is able to discover a positive meaning in history, not as a whole but in particular historical events and the reaction of particular human beings to them. Wilhelm Tell is the record of a particular moment in history when a just cause was enabled to triumph by a somewhat fortuitous combination of purposeful and principled action, opportunism and sheer good luck. The beneficiaries interpret this as providential, but we do not have to; nor however do we have to regard them as dishonest manipulators. The combination of circumstances which the play depicts seems to me unique to the extent that it forbids the drawing of any general conclusions, at any rate of a prescriptive kind—it does not offer any general formula for the justification of rebellion or tyrannicide. In this sense it is not paradigmatic or exemplary. But nor do I think it very appropriate or helpful to describe it as ‘ironic’ or ‘tragi-comic’ or even ‘satirical’.14 If Schiller does not insinuate generally optimistic conclusions, still less does he invite general reactions of such a negative kind. Wilhelm Tell is a work of powerful positive affirmation; yet that affirmation is strictly limited to the ‘streng bestimmter Fall’ (compare below, p. 866) which it describes. It is neither optimistic nor pessimistic, neither comic nor tragic nor ironic nor satirical, but, despite a high degree of artistic stylization in its manner, soberly realistic in its vision.
If this is accepted, then it seems to me we must accept that the eponymous hero of the play is to be taken as a real human being. Proponents of the ‘exemplary’ view of the play tend to deny this. Fritz Martini, in particular, ‘doth protest too much’ that we must not consider Tell in terms of realistic psychology.15 Tell is of course, or has become, a legendary figure, and already in the eighteenth century doubts had been cast upon his historical authenticity. But Schiller seems to have been concerned to combat these doubts; as K. A. Böttiger reports, he told people in Weimar that his intention was ‘durch die Entwicklung von Tells harmlos, einfach handelnden Character, der nicht einmal an der Verschwörung teilnahm, und durch die psychologische Motivierung der Hauptszene beim Apfelschuß die unbestreitbare Wahrheit des Ganzen ins vollste Licht zu setzen und so dem böslich angefochtenen Schatten Tells die rühmlichste Ehrenerklärung, das wohlgefälligste Sühn- und Totenopfer darzubringen’.16
Tell is then for Schiller a real human being. He partakes of two human types who recur throughout Schiller's later drama. First, he is a simple ordinary person who is summoned, by some mysterious historical force or collocation of circumstances, to play a major role in history. Second, he is a man who has lived a life of instinctive harmony, wholeness and self-confidence, but is brought up short by a traumatic shock which forces him to take stock of his situation in a way to which he has not hitherto been accustomed. Both Johanna, in Die Jungfrau von Orleans, and Demetrius have their historical ‘missions’, but are forced into doubt and crisis—Johanna by the encounter with the Black Knight, Demetrius by the discovery that he is an impostor. But for Tell the summons of history and the traumatic shock come at the same moment, namely with Gessler's order in iii. 3.
As I have said, Tell is a simple man, whose proverbial wisdom reduces life to a corresponding and therefore manageable simplicity. He likes to deal with everything and everybody in isolation, one thing and one person at a time: he will always help an individual human being, or a lamb (l. 440), without asking questions or without thought of the possible consequences, but he will not engage in collective or premeditated or even consecutive action. He lives, as he himself says (ll. 1487 ff.), from hand to mouth. He is suspicious of getting involved with other human beings: ‘Besser ists, Ihr fallt in Gottes Hand, ❙ Als in der Menschen’ (ll. 157 f.). And yet, oddly, but I think not inconsistently with his essential simplicity, he will not put two and two together and draw conclusions about other people's intentions with regard to himself. He goes to Altdorf in spite of his wife's warnings: he ought to realize, as she says, that the Landvogt will have it in for him, but he does not make connexions in that kind of way. And when he gets to Altdorf he fails to salute the hat, although he was present in Act ii when the proclamation was read out, and so ought to know perfectly well what will happen; and though it looks like provocation, I think we are to believe him when he claims it was done ‘Aus Unbedacht, nicht aus Verachtung’ (ll. 1869 f.). He simply fails to make any connexion between the proclamation read out in i. 3 and the situation he is in in iii. 3: he deals with every situation in isolation, as it comes. He is rather like that other unpolitical hero, Egmont, who insists on living for the moment and refuses to calculate and prognosticate like the chess-player Orange; another great solitary—Egmont the horseman, Tell the huntsman with his crossbow. But of course, unlike Egmont, Tells gets a second chance; once Egmont has got off his horse in the palace yard under Alba's watchful eye, his fate is sealed, but Tell gets his crossbow back in the storm and does not fail with his second ‘Meisterschuß’ (l. 2649).
But I am overleaping the crucial moment, the summons of history, the traumatic shock to which Tell is subjected when Gessler orders him to shoot the apple from Walter's head, when Tell is converted from his previous belief that ‘Die Schlange sticht nicht ungereizt’ (l. 429) and his naïve failure to see his own action as in any way provocative, to the realization that ‘Es kann der Frömmste nicht im Frieden bleiben ❙ Wenn es dem bösen Nachbar nicht gefällt’ (ll. 2682 f.). In silence Tell has to cope with this destruction of the patterns and assumptions upon which his life has been unthinkingly built. In that moment of silence are incapsulated, as it were, all the agonizings and self-analyses which occupy Wallenstein from his dismissal at Regensburg to the moment when ‘Notwendigkeit ist da, der Zweifel flieht’ (Tod, iii. 10); all the doubt and self-accusation which torture Johanna from her traumatic encounter with the Black Knight, through her self-imposed silence until the second meeting with Lionel (v. 9). Tell has to go through all that in one moment. No wonder that it cannot be put into words; but no wonder either that his decision, once taken, is subjected—not to doubt, but to (however uncharacteristically) eloquent self-appraisal and self-justification. Tell has undergone a profound change; it is not really a matter of ‘the real Tell’ emerging from behind his protective screen (see Garland, p. 272). And when one finds D. B. Richards, for example, calling the Tell of the later scenes a ‘prating Pharisee’ (Richards, p. 472), one can only say, as Tell says to Stauffacher (l. 2089), ‘Bezwinge sich, wer meinen Schmerz gefühlt!’.
I should like to draw attention to two features of Tell's decision which are perhaps obvious but which seem to me to have received insufficient comment. First, Tell decides not to defy Gessler but to obey him: to obey a tyrannical, unnatural command whose gratuitous sadism is emphasized by the fact that no-one is more surprised by Tell's compliance with it than Gessler himself—‘Er hat geschossen? Wie? der Rasende!’ (l. 2033). This is very remarkable: not just the carrying-out of it, but the decision itself. It is, one might say, a Kantian decision: a decision in full conformity with Kant's moral and, indeed, political philosophy, in accordance with the maxim that ‘alle Obrigkeit ist von Gott’ and that ‘wenn der Regent auch den Gesetzen zuwider verführe … so darf der Untertan dieser Ungerechtigkeit zwar Beschwerden (gravamina) aber keinen Widerstand entgegensetzen’.17 In Kant's view, as Hans Reiss has neatly summarized it, ‘obedience to the powers that be, even if they were unjust, showed a greater respect for human dignity and freedom than disobedience’ (Reiss, p. 190). It is, I think, this aspect of Tell's action which makes it so uniquely appropriate for symbolic appropriation by the conspirators (and by their successors in the writing of patriotic history, such as Tschudi and, in Schiller's own day, Johannes von Müller)—and which makes it ‘memorable history’ in the precise sense of Messrs Sellar and Yeatman. Tell's almost superhuman act of obedience becomes symbolically the supreme act of defiance:18 Wilhelm Tell, we all know, was the man who secured Swiss liberties—not by killing Gessler, but by shooting an apple off his little boy's head. This version of the history is already present in Schiller's play: in Attinghausen's dying speech (ll. 2423 f.), in Stauffacher's words, ‘Das Größte hat er [Tell] getan, das Härteste erduldet’ (ll. 3083 f.), and even more explicitly in the exchange which opens the next scene, v. 2:
hedwig: Heut kommt der Vater, Kinder, liebe Kinder!
Er lebt, ist frei, und wir sind frei und alles!
Und euer Vater ists, der's Land gerettet.
walter: Und ich bin auch dabei gewesen, Mutter!
Mich muß man auch mit nennen. Vaters Pfeil
Ging mir am Leben hart vorbei, und ich
Hab nicht gezittert.
In a way the story ought to end there, like that of Lady Godiva: but unlike Earl Leofric, Gessler is unrelenting.
And now Schiller departs from Kant. For he seems to suggest that by his obedience to Gessler's command in the first instance, Tell has, as it were, earned the right subsequently to exact revenge:
Wer sich des Kindes Haupt zum Ziele setzte,
Der kann auch treffen in das Herz des Feinds.
(l. 2575 f.)
And here we come to the other aspect of Tell's decision to which I wish to draw attention, for it marks the crucial change in Tell's personality and in the nature of his engagement with the world. For the first time in his life, Tell, who has previously ‘rastlos ein flüchtig Ziel verfolgt’ and ‘sich das Leben jeden Tag aufs neu erbeutet’ (see l. 1487 ff.), decides to do two things, one consequent upon the other: to obey Gessler, and then to shoot him. We see him take this twofold decision in the first silence, that moment of ‘fürchterlicher Kampf’ when he takes out the second arrow.19 It is not possible, nor even perhaps desirable, to analyse into its separate components the very subtle blend of motives which lead Tell to make the decision he does—the blend of ‘Notwehr’ and ‘Rache’, the blend of private and political considerations.20 Tell's own subsequent attempts to do so are perhaps not entirely convincing, for the various factors are inseparably interwined. What is important is that with that decision Tell steps into the world of history, the world of connected actions and consequences. He realizes that his action is a political one: and he realizes that the call has come of which he spoke earlier to Hedwig (‘Ich war nicht mit dabei [i.e. on the Rütli]—doch werd’ ich mich Dem Lande nicht entziehen, wenn es ruft’; ll. 1519 f.), though it has come, not from the conspirators, but from the moral challenge of Gessler. The people cry out, as Tell is arrested, ‘Mit Euch geht unser letzter Trost dahin!’ (l. 2092); and though Tell's reply to Stauffacher suggests the same withdrawal into the private realm with which he had rebuffed Stauffacher's political overtures in ii. 3, when we next see him Tell has for the fisherman in iv. 1 a very different message. After ascertaining that the fisherman was present at the gathering on the Rütli, he tells him to reassure the confederates:
Sie sollen wacker sein und gutes Muts,
Der Tell sei frei und seines Armes mächtig,
Bald werden sie ein Weitres von mir hören.
The old asocial Tell is gone: the huntsman Tell has one more appearance to make and one more only, for he knows that the second ‘Meisterschuß’ which he has vowed (l. 2649; compare l. 2042) will be his last. After it, Tell's crossbow will be seen no more. If the crossbow is, as Ilse Graham maintains, the symbol of Tell's self-regulative economy’ and of his ‘psychic span and power’,21 are these things gone? Tell certainly is not the same man at the end of the play as he was at the beginning.
There are still some lessons which Tell has to learn, and which it seems to be the function of the Parricida scene to teach him. First of these is that if you choose to act—or indeed, like Tell, are forced to act—a part on the stage of history, you are forced to submit to the judgement of history. ‘Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht’, Schiller had written in ‘Resignation’; not in any proto-Hegelian sense, but rather in a Kantian one, of a complete separation of moral and historical judgement. Moral acts are right or wrong; but according to Kant the moral character of an action is totally dependent upon the intention informing it, and intentions are inscrutable, being wrapped in the silence in which decisions are normally taken. Historical actions are therefore judged, as Kant says, by the worldly standards of success or failure: ‘Auch ist kaum zu bezweifeln, daß, wenn jene Empörungen, wodurch die Schweiz, die Vereinigten Niederlande, oder auch Großbritannien ihre itzige für so glücklich gepriesene Verfassung errungen haben, mißlungen wären, die Leser der Geschichte derselben in der Hinrichtung ihrer itzt so erhobenen Urheber nichts als verdiente Strafe großer Staatsverbrecher sehen würden’.22 And the proponents of the ‘ironical’ view of the play seem to impute to it a meaning not very different from that sentence, in which Kant voices a cynicism about the efforts of honest men to cope with the demands of history, of a kind to which rigorous moralists are all too prone. Tell's attempted moral justification of his action in the Parricida scene (his ‘desperate insistence on seeing the confrontation as a moral issue’ (McKay, p. 111)) only goes to show how needful, or perhaps impossible, of such justification the action is. Schiller of course made quite other claims for the scene in defending it against Iffland, who first voiced the since often-repeated objection that the appearance of Parricida was unnecessary and that l’ell ‘übe sich zu hart’. Schiller replied that the scene was the ‘Schlußstein des Ganzen’ and expressed the ‘Hauptidee des ganzen Stücks … nämlich “das Notwendige und Rechtliche der Selbsthilfe in einem streng bestimmten Fall”’,23 The ironical view of the play apparently requires us to suppose either that the real meaning of the Parricida scene runs contrary to Schiller's conscious and declared intention, or that Schiller was for some reason deliberately withholding the real meaning from Iffland; neither of which suppositions seems to me satisfactory.
Iffland thought that Parricida got a rough deal in this scene—‘was mit ihm vorgeht, gab mir Mißgefühl’. He evidently thought that the two deeds were after all very similar, and that Tell therefore had not the right to lecture Parricida so severely. Parricida claims that the deeds are similar in nature and effect:
Den Landvogt, der Euch Böses tat—Auch ich
Hab einen Feind erschlagen, der mir Recht
Versagte—Er war Euer Feind wie meiner—
Ich hab das Land von ihm befreit.
Schiller on the other hand insists, like his hero, that they are ‘ganz unähnlich’ in respect of motive—the least apparent factor to the public eye, but the crucial one in moral judgement. Parricida no doubt thinks that it is a mere irony of history that he and his deed are reviled while Tell and his are acclaimed; but Schiller surely does not. Though he has abandoned any idea of a teleology in history, he does think that on this particular occasion (‘in [diesem] streng bestimmten Fall’) those who won actually deserved to, and if they had lost then we should not simply, as Kant averred, be thinking of them as ‘Staatsverbrecher’. He thinks that this particular rebellion was justified not merely historically, by its success (and after all, in 1798 history had apparently reversed its verdict!),24 but also morally—whereas the French Revolution was not.25 It was therefore necessary to draw as sharp a distinction as possible between two actions which in a purely historical sense appeared very similar. But this does mean that although Schiller vindicates Tell, and vindicates the Swiss in their acclamation of Tell as national saviour, he does not intend to vindicate rebellion in general, and it is therefore appropriate that the Parricida scene should have, as it undoubtedly does have, a dampening effect on the apotheosis of freedom with which the play concludes. If the Parricida scene is omitted, the play becomes a much more unqualified endorsement of rebellion and tyrannicide; and this of course is what usually happens when the play is performed in Switzerland, and transformed from a dramatic examination of a particular historical incident with universal overtones into a simple nationalistic celebration.26
Just how much of this Tell is aware of, and how much of it contributes to his final silence, is very doubtful. One sobering reflection on the historical process definitely presents itself to his mind: the fact that history can raise up the humble (himself) and cast down the mighty (Duke John):
Gott des Himmels!
So jung, von solchem adeligem Stamm,
Der Enkel Rudolfs, meines Herrn und Kaisers,
Als Morder flüchtig, hier an meiner Schwelle,
Des armen Mannes, flehend und verzweifeland—
But I think this is a reflection prompted by humility rather than arrogance. And this humility is another lesson which Tell learns in the course of the scene, as he is forced to reflect upon the complexity of the world which he has entered. After the murder of Gessler, Tell had leapt forth triumphant from his ambush crying ‘Du kennst den Schützen, suche keinen andern!’ (l. 2792). Back home, to Hedwig's awed ‘Diese Hand—O Gott!’, he answers, ‘herzlich und mutig’ [stage direction], ‘Hat Euch verteidigt und das Land gerettet’ (ll. 3142 f.). But perhaps even if this is true, Tell himself is not the man to say it. Stauffacher may say it—but Stauffacher also acknowledges that in real rather than symbolic terms it is Parricida's deed which is the decisive one (‘Gefallen ist der Freiheit größter Feind’, l. 3019). Tell may claim moral credit for doing the right thing in the circumstances, but he cannot legitimately claim the (so to speak) historical credit for the consequences of that moral action—and that is Kantian enough, except for that vital qualification, ‘the right thing in the circumstances’. And if Tell does appear self-righteous, even pharisaical, in his opening exchanges with Parricida, he very soon takes on a different tone. ‘Und doch erbarmt mich deiner—Gott des Himmels!’ And, ‘Was Ihr auch Gräßliches ❙ Verübt—Ihr seid ein Mensch—Ich bin es auch’ (l. 3223 f.).27 Schiller's Tell is, I repeat, a human being. He is not an idealized figure, not a tragic hero in the traditional or indeed the usual Schillerian sense. Schiller grants him his triumph; but Schiller introduces Parricida—to justify Tell, yes, but also to whisper in his ear, as the slave whispered in the honorand's ear at a Roman triumph, ‘Remember you are only a man’. To the acclamation with which he is received, the only appropriate response is the silence of gratitude and humility.
Quoted in Schiller, Wilhelm Tell, Rowohlts Klassiker (Reinbek, 1967), p. 130.
Quoted in Wilhelm Tell (Rowohlts Klassiker edition), p. 130.
H. B. Garland, Schiller the Dramatic Writer (Oxford, 1969), p. 271.
Most recently G. Ueding, in Schillers Dramen: Neue Interpretationen, edited by W. Hinderer (Stuttgart, 1979), pp. 271-93; see also F. Martini, ‘Wilhelm Tell, der ästhetische Staat und der ästhetische Mensch’, DU, 12 (1960), 90-118; I. Graham, Schiller's Drama: Talent and Integrity (London, 1974), pp. 195-215; G. Kaiser, Von Arkadien nach Elysium: Schiller-Studien (Göttingen, 1978), pp. 167-205.
W. F. Mainland, Introduction to Schiller, Wilhelm Tell (London, 1968); G. W. McKay, ‘Three Scenes from Wilhelm Tell’, in The Discontinuous Tradition: Studies in German Literature in Honour of Ernest Ludwig Stahl, edited by P. F. Ganz (Oxford, 1970), pp. 99-112; D. B. Richards, ‘Tell in the Dock: Forensic Rhetoric in the Monologue and Parricida-scene in Wilhelm Tell’, GQ, 48 (1975), 472-86; F. G. Ryder, ‘Schiller's Tell and the Cause of Freedom’, GQ, 48 (1975), 487-504.
McKay, p. 112; compare Mainland, p. lxvi.
H. Lindenberger, Historical Drama: The Relation of Literature and Reality (Chicago and London, 1975).
Schiller, Sämtliche Werke, edited by G. Fricke, H. G. Göpfert, and H. Stubenrauch, 5 volumes (Munich, 1958-59), iv, 750 (Was hei[b.beta ]t … ); compare Kant, Werke, edited by W. Weischedel, 6 volumes (Wiesbaden, 1956-60), vi, 50 (Idee zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte … ). Further references to the works of Schiller and Kant are to these editions, which are abbreviated to SW and Wke. respectively.
Compare F. M. Fowler, ‘The Dramatic Image: Observations on the Drama with Examples from Schiller and Lessing’, in Tradition and Creation: Essays in Honour of Elizabeth Mary Wilkinson, edited by C. P. Magill and others (Leeds, 1978), pp. 63-96 (especially pp. 69-71).
Schiller, SW, iv, 34 (Abfall der Niederlande, Einleitung).
Kant, Wke., iv, 19 (Grundlegung der Metaphysik der Sitten, i).
Kant, Wke., iv, 439-40 (Metaphysik der Sitten: Rechtslehre). Compare H. S. Reiss, ‘Kant and the Right of Rebellion’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 17 (1956), 179-92.
Schiller, SW, v, 803 (Über das Erhabene).
Compare especially Mainland, op. cit.
Martini, pp. 96, 104, 110, 112 and footnote. Compare also Kaiser, p. 192.
Quoted in Dichter über ihre Dichtungen: Friedrich Schiller, edited by Bodo Lecke (Munich, 1969), ii, 516.
Kant, Wke., iv, 438 (Rechtslehre).
It conforms also to Schiller's definition of a morally sublime act, an ‘Erhabenes der Handlung’ of the type in which the person ‘aus Achtung für irgend eine Pflicht’, in this case obedience to legitimate authority, ‘das Leiden erwählt’—aims at his own child, with the possibility of killing him. See Schiller, SW, v, 528 (Über das Pathetische).
The inconsistency between Tell's subsequent explanations—in l. 2060, in which the killing of Gessler is a conditional decision, and in l. 2579 ff., in which it appears as an absolute one—seems to me unimportant: the point is that the two ‘Meisterschüsse’ are perceived by Tell as connected, in some way or other. It is quite clear that Tell's first excuse to Gessler—‘Herr, das ist also bräuchlich bei den Schützen’ (l. 2051)—is not true: this is demonstrated by the stage direction ‘verlegen’ (ibid.), and we have seen the second arrow taken ‘plötzlich’, after ‘fürchterlichem Kampfe’ (stage direction to line 1989).
It is, notably, no discredit to Tell's political act that it is done partly if not wholly for private, that is, non-ideological reasons. Compare Margaret C. Ives, ‘In tyrannos! Rebellion and Regicide in Schiller's Wilhelm Tell and Jozsef Katona's Bánk Bán’, GLL, 30 (1976-77), 269-82.
Graham, p. 213. On the disapperance of Tell's crossbow, see Mainland, p. lxvii f.
Kant, Wke., VI, 158 (Über den Gemeinspruch. …
See Iffland's letter to Schiller, 7 April 1804, and Schiller's reply, quoted in Wilhel Tell (Rowohlts Klassiker edition), pp. 171 ff. (especially p. 179).
Compare Schiller's sardonic comment to Wilhelm von Wolzogen (27 October 1803), ‘… jetzt besonders ist von der schweizerischen Freiheit desto mehr die Rede, weil sie aus der Welt verschwunden ist’, and the even more bitter irony in the suggestion to Cotta (27 June 1804) that the play bear the dedication ‘zum fünten Jubeliahr der schweizerischen Freiheit’.
Compare the poem ‘Wenn rohe Kräfte …’, Schiller, SW, I, 462.
H. G. Thalheim, in ‘Notwendigkeit und Rechtlichkeit der Selbsthilfe in Schiller's Wilhelm Tell’, Goethe (Neue Folge des Jahrbuchs der Goethe-Gesellschaft), 18 (1956), 216-57, argues persuasively that Schiller in this play, and in the Parricida scene above all, is seeking to counter Kant's anti-revolutionary argument on its own ground.
Note, incidentally, that Tell, having previously slipped from the formal to the familiar mode of address for his expression of moral revulsion at Parricida's deed, has now reverted to the polite form.
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Blunden, Alan G. “Nature and Politics in Schiller's Don Carlos.” Educational Theater Journal 27 (August 1975): 504-07.
Notes the importance of the organic metaphors underlying the political themes in the play.
Garland, H. B. Schiller. New York: Medill McBridge, 1950. 280 p.
General introduction emphasizing “the human character of the writer which is the foundation of the literary works”; includes detailed analyses of individual plays.
Graf, Günter. “Criticism of Power: A Strategic Device in Kabald und Liebe.” In Friedrich von Schiller and the Drama of Human Existence, edited by Alexej Ugrinsky, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1988, pp. 43-8.
Examines Schiller's poetical adaptation of his criticism of power as exemplified in Kabald und Liebe.
Graham, Ilse. “The Structure of the Personality in Schiller's Tragic Poetry.”Schiller: Bicentary Lectures, edited by F. Norman. London: University of London Institute of Germanic Studies, 1960. pp. 104-44.
Considers Schiller's work as rooted deeply in the reality of human life.
Graham, Ilse. Schiller's Drama: Talent and Integrity. London: Methuen, 1974. 406 p.
Comprehensive survey of the plays, containing readings of individual dramas and discussions of special issues raised by the plays as whole; emphasizes the “thematic, artistic, and aesthetic idiosyncrasies which constitute the poet's signature.”
Hibberd, J. L. “The Patterns of Imagery in Schiller's Die Braut von Messina.” Germanic Languages and Literature 20 (1967): 306-15.
Interprets the patterns of imagery in light of Schiller's insistence of the primacy of form in ideal art in his writings on aesthetics.
Linn, Rolf N. “Wallenstein's Innocence.” The Germanic Review 34, No. 3 (October 1959): 200-08.
Considers and interpretation that Wallenstein is innocent of treason.
Mainland, William F. Schiller and the Changing Past. London: William Heinemann, Ltd., 1957, 207 p.
Assessment of Schiller's dramatic treatment of history; includes discussions of the early play Fiesco and the later dramas.
Mann, Thomas. “On Schiller.” In Last Essays. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1959, pp. 3-95.
Survey of Schiller's life and art by one of the most respected German novelists of the twentieth century.
Martinson, Steven D. Harmonious Tensions: The Writings of Friedrich Schiller. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1996, 448 p.
Investigates the thematics, form, and function of Schiller's writings in the light of the writer's mutidisciplinary activities; includes a comprehensive list of secondary sources.
Miller, R. D. Interpreting Schiller: A Study of Four Plays. Harrogate: The Duchy Press, 1986. 146 p.
Analyses of Wilhelm Tell, Die Jungfrau von Orleans, Don Karlos, and Wallenstein.
Miller, R. D. A Study of Schiller's “Jungfrau von Orleans.” Harrogate: The Duchy Press, 1995 105 p.
Detailed study of the play, with chapters covering the prologue and each of the five acts.
Passage, Charles E. Friedrich Schiller. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1975, 205 p.
Study of Schiller's drama for the non-specialist; offers character studies, thematic interpretations, and historical background for each of the major plays.
Proudhoe, John. “Schiller's Major Plays: His Theory and Practice.” In The Theatre of Goethe and Schiller. London: Basil Blackwell, 1973. 218 p.
Concise discussions of the action and themes of the major plays and Schiller's theory of tragedy.
Sharpe, Lesley. Schiller and the Historical Character: Presentation and Interpretation in the Historiographical Works and in the Historical Dramas. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982, 211 p.
Explores the impact of historical study on Schiller's dramatic practice.
Sharpe, Lesley. Friedrich Schiller: Drama, Thought and Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991, 389 p.
Traces Schiller's development as a poet, dramatist, and thinker, and provides detailed discussions of his major works.
Simons, John D. Friedrich Schiller. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1981. 163 p.
General overview of Schiller's life and work geared toward the nonspecialist, covering aesthetics, poetry, and drama; includes two chapters on Schiller's plays from the early and middle and classical periods.
Stahl, E. L. “The Genesis of Schiller's Theory of Tragedy.” In German Studies Presented to H. G. Fiedler by Pupils, Colleagues, and Friends. Freeport, NY: Libraries Press, 1969, pp. 403-23.
Notes the stages of development in Schiller's conception of tragedy, and claims that the dramatist's theory in its final form is a synthesis of elements from the dramatist Gottfried Lessing and the philosopher Immanuel Kant.
Utz, Peter. “Schiller's Dramaturgy of the Senses: The Eye, the Ear, and the Heart.” In Friedrich von Schiller and the Drama of Human Existence, edited by Alexej Ugrinsky, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1988, pp. 13-19.
Maintains that Schiller makes dramatic use of his theory of sensual perception, and says that his plays, notably Wallenstein, consciously appeal to the eyes and ears as well as the emotions of the audience.
Wells, G. A. “Astrology in Schiller's Wallenstein.” Journal of English and German Philology 68, No. 1 (January 1969): 100-15.
Discusses the significance of the stars and the force of circumstance that leads to the Wallenstein's downfall.
Additional coverage of Schiller's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: DISCovering Authors: Dramatists Module; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 94; Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vols. 39 and 69.