Friedrich Schiller Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

ph_0111201578-Schiller.jpg Friedrich Schiller Published by Salem Press, Inc.

George Joachim Göschen in Leipzig published most of Friedrich Schiller’s early work, including the early plays and the Historischer Kalender für Damen (1790, 1791), which included many of Schiller’s essays and was his only best-seller during his lifetime. After Don Carlos, Infante of Spain, Schiller’s plays were published by Johann Friedrich Cotta in Tübingen. Schiller’s poems, reviews, and short stories appeared in literary journals such as the Musenalmanach (edited by Schiller), Die Horen (edited by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Schiller in Weimar), Die Thalia, and Merkur. Schiller’s letters, published posthumously, not only are an indispensable key to the philosophical and historical background of his works, but also are autobiographical documents evocative of the man Schiller, his daily life, and his great gift for friendship. Schiller’s collected works are available in several editions.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Friedrich Schiller’s audience might not have been ready to make the transition from the wildly emotional Sturm und Drang (storm and stress) of his first play, The Robbers, to the more philosophical and idealistic fervor of subsequent plays, but Schiller won them over with his ever more complex dramas. Schiller’s work spans two literary periods, Sturm und Drang and classicism, and it paves the way for a third, Romanticism. At the same time, his work clearly has ties to the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on the perfectibility of humankind. In Schiller’s work, German idealism attained its highest form. The lonely poet who wrote from his sickbed, however, never lost sight of the wishes of his audience. After his plays had accustomed later generations to his system of thought, Schiller became for them a poet of the people. He was acclaimed particularly by the middle class of the nineteenth century, which did not appear to notice the radical quality of freedom demanded by Schiller.

Schiller threw himself into his sources and settings, mostly historical, in order to demonstrate their true range and potential—what they might have been. His plays, showing his dialectical consciousness, express the struggle between reality and the ideal. His heroes are larger than life, their struggles overshadowing their time. The fiery younger generation was his first audience, but his idealism determined the intellectual horizon of the era. The romanticists...

(The entire section is 459 words.)

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

0111201578-Schiller.jpg Friedrich Schiller (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Although Friedrich Schiller wrote poetry throughout most of his life, the bulk of his œuvre belongs to other genres. He became especially famous for his powerful dramatic works. Among the most important of his ten major plays are Die Räuber (1781; The Robbers, 1792), Don Carlos (1787; English translation, 1798), Maria Stuart (1800; Mary Stuart, 1801), and Wilhelm Tell (1804; William Tell, 1841). During the early part of his career, his writings brought him little income, and poverty forced him to turn to fiction for a broader audience. Der Verbrecher aus verlorener Ehre (1786, 1802; The Criminal in Consequence of Lost Reputation, 1841) and the serialized novel Der Geisterseher (1789; The Ghost-Seer: Or, The Apparitionist, 1795) were among the most successful of these endeavors. While a professor of history at the University of Jena, he wrote a number of historical books and essays, and during the early 1790’s, he published a variety of theoretical and philosophical studies on aesthetics, ethics, and literature. His “Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen” (“On the Aesthetic Education of Man”) and “Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung” (“On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry”) are among the most significant treatises on literature and art written in Germany during the second half of the eighteenth century. His extensive correspondence with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is the high point in the several volumes of his letters that have been collected and published since his death.


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Although most of Friedrich Schiller’s verse was written for a highly intellectual audience, it also enjoyed popular success. His “thought poems” laid the groundwork for the ensuing development of the poetry of ideas and brought him rightful recognition as Germany’s most important eighteenth century composer of philosophical lyrics. On the other hand, his didactic purpose and his capacity for evoking moods akin to those of folk literature, especially in his ballads, made Schiller also a poet of the common people.

Schiller’s poems and other writings were quickly recognized for their quality by the German literary establishment and were published in the significant periodicals of the time. Supported by Christoph Martin Wieland and Johann Gottfried Herder, Schiller became an important force among the artistic giants in Weimar, even prior to his friendship with Goethe. During the decade of their poetic collaboration, Schiller joined Goethe in shaping literary attitudes, approaches, and forms that influenced German poets and determined the nature of German letters from that time onward.

Even in his own time, however, some of Schiller’s poetic works were highly controversial. The “Epigram War” that he and Goethe waged against their critics was evidence that his works were not universally well received. During the years after his death, Schiller’s reputation in critical circles waned in direct relationship to the increased advocacy of realism and, eventually, Naturalism. Near the turn of the century, a Schiller renaissance began on two levels. Writers such as Stefan George and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who advocated a return to classical literary values, praised Schiller for his poetic models of idealism and beauty. Among the common people, such poems as “Das Lied von der Glocke” (“The Song of the Bell”) were memorized in school, exposing a new generation of German youth to Schiller’s thought. Although he was overshadowed by Goethe in pure poetic endowment, Schiller’s impact on the whole of German literature is such that the renowned Thomas Mann called his works the “apotheosis of art.”

A Transitional Period

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

The years immediately following the publication of the Anthologie auf das Jahr 1782 were a transitional period in Schiller’s growth as a lyric poet. In the lines of “Der Kampf” (“The Struggle”) and “Resignation,” the poet broadened the basic themes of his earlier works. While exploring in depth the conflict between man’s right to joy and the reality of a tear-filled existence, he questioned the validity of God’s justice in forcing man to choose between earthly pleasure and spiritual peace. Some of the lyrics written between 1782 and 1788 examine the possibility of achieving a harmony between the polar forces that act upon man; other poems conclude with terrible finality that the only alternatives, pleasure in this world or hope of peace in the world to come, are mutually exclusive. Only the famous “Ode to Joy,” which praises the harmony between God and a glorified world in a profound affirmation of earthly existence, forms a distinct anomaly in the otherwise troubled reflection that typifies the verse produced during this period of Schiller’s life.

The major poetic works of Schiller’s mature years, beginning with the first version of “Die Götter Griechenlands” (“The Gods of Greece”), written in 1788, and ending with “Das Siegesfest” (“The Victory Celebration”), composed in 1803, offer a more calmly ordered, evenly balanced, and formally perfected presentation of the fundamental Schillerian dichotomies than can be found in the emotionally charged poems of the early 1780’s. With increasing emphasis on natural order as an answer to the problems of civilized society, Schiller attempts to resolve the tension between the ideal and the real. Instead of seeking to establish an internal harmony between the spiritual and physical elements of man’s being, he tries in the later poems to move his reader to accept an external creation of the desired metaphysical unity in art. The appropriate models for the new synthesis were to be found in the artistic and literary legacy of the ancients. Schiller’s most powerful philosophical poems present the search for a golden age of accord between rational man and nature and the need to regain that state through reflection.

From the Epigram to Ballad to Thought Poem

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

It is important to understand that these writings are not simply versified philosophy. In Schiller’s eyes, the poet differs from the philosopher in not being required to prove his assertions. Instead, the poet employs a variety of devices to convey his message on several levels of perception, at once teaching and moving the reader through his own personal enthusiasm. To achieve his purpose, Schiller masterfully cultivated a variety of poetic forms, ranging from the epigram to the ballad to the highly stylized “thought poem.”

As a consciously developed form, the epigram is a special phenomenon of the collaboration between Schiller and Goethe. It is a particularly powerful genre for Schiller. His epigrams are basically of two kinds: satirical and purely philosophical. The sharply barbed satirical poems focus on poets, thinkers, and critics of his time, especially those who attacked Schiller and Goethe, as well as the literary movements and specific currents of thought that they represented. Epigrams in the other group, primarily the “Votivtafeln” (“Votive Inscriptions”), are more general in focus and didactic in purpose.

Schiller’s ballads, which are also important documents of his friendship with Goethe, represent more clearly than the epigrams the general tendency of classical German poetry to seek and establish the harmony between the ideal and the real. In that regard, they are especially clear illustrations of Schiller’s...

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The Laura Odes

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

In 1781, Schiller published “Die Entzückung an Laura” (“Rapture, to Laura”) in Gotthold Stäudlin’s Schwäbischer Musenalmanach auf das Jahr 1782 (Swabian almanac of the muses for the year 1782). It was the first of six poems that have since become known as the Laura odes. The other five, including “Phantasie an Laura” (“Fantasy, to Laura”), “Laura am Klavier” (“Laura at the Piano”), “Vorwurf an Laura” (“Reproach, to Laura”), “Das Geheimnis der Reminiscenz” (“The Mystery of Reminiscence”), and “Melancholie an Laura” (“Melancholy, to Laura”) appeared for the first time in Schiller’s Anthologie auf das Jahr 1782. As a group, these poems present Schiller’s...

(The entire section is 1166 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Most of Schiller’s poems reflect the instructional orientation of his literary work as a whole. Early in his career, Schiller forcefully acknowledged the author’s responsibility to move his reader toward personal, moral, and ethical improvement. The ballads that he wrote after 1795 are among the most successful didactic lyrics in all German literature. They are masterful combinations of simplicity and clarity with vivid, engaging sensual imagery. The parabolic ballads, among them “Der Taucher” (“The Diver”), “Der Handschuh” (“The Glove”), “Der Kampf mit dem Drachen” (“The Battle with the Dragon”), and “Die Bürgschaft” (“The Pledge”), reveal the inherent nobility of the human soul when tested in...

(The entire section is 861 words.)

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

How far do Friedrich Schiller’s tragic dramas adhere to the classical Aristotelian theory of tragedy?

What did Schiller achieve for German literature? How did he manage to elevate it to the standards and esteem of other European literatures of the time?

Would you say that Schiller is basically a writer of moral ideas rather than one of psychological exploration?

How dramatic is Schiller’s poetry, and how poetic is his drama?

Explore the high view of art that Schiller propounds. How is this reflected in the literature he produced?

What are Schiller’s views on heroism and the heroic?

What are the main developments from Schiller’s earlier drama to his...

(The entire section is 126 words.)


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Carlyle, Thomas. The Life of Friedrich Schiller. 1825. Reprint. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1992. A biography of Schiller by a contemporary historian and essayist. An excellent resource on Schiller’s life and work. Includes bibliographical references and index. With new introduction by Jeffrey L. Sammons.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Correspondence Between Goethe and Schiller (1794-1805). Translated by Liselotte Dieckmann. New York: P. Lang, 1994. A collection of letters that offers insight into the lives and works of Goethe and Schiller. Includes bibliographical references and index.

Graham, Ilse. Schiller’s Drama: Talent and Integrity. London: Methuen, 1974. Graham provides...

(The entire section is 381 words.)