(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Wallenstein is a huge historical drama spread over three parts. Schiller began the work in 1796, and it was first drama written after his ten-year period of historical and philosophical writing. It covers an equally huge piece of history, the Thirty Years’ War, which was fought throughout central Europe from 1618 until 1648. The war was fought between the Catholic forces of the Hapsburgs’ Holy Roman Empire, headed at first by Emperor Ferdinand II of Austria, and the various Protestant states of Germany, Sweden, and France. Schiller had studied the period closely and had written a three-volume history of the conflict, Geschichte des dreissigjährigen Krieges (1791-1793; History of the Thirty Years War, 1799). A later German playwright, Berthold Brecht, used the same historical period in Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder (pr. 1941, pb. 1949; Mother Courage and Her Children, 1941), although Brecht chose to write from the peasants’ point of view.

Schiller takes as his hero Count Albrecht Wenzel von Wallenstein (1583-1634), a Bohemian Protestant who had converted to Catholicism. (Bohemia is now the western province of the Czech Republic.) In Wallenstein’s youth, the Protestant Czech rulers had been replaced by German-speaking Catholics and incorporated into the Holy Roman Empire again as an Austrian possession. Wallenstein, therefore, has a foot in both camps. Historically, Wallenstein gained power and...

(The entire section is 489 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Wallenstein, the duke of Friedland, was once dismissed from the service of Emperor Ferdinand, but during the Thirty Years’ War, in which the countries of central Europe are battling to prevent their annihilation by the forces of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, the emperor recalls Wallenstein and gives him extraordinary powers to create an army to drive the Swedes out of central Europe. Wallenstein raises such a powerful army, but both its leaders and the rank-and-file soldiers feel that they owe allegiance to their commander rather than to the emperor.

Wallenstein’s army achieves many victories, and the situation in central Europe becomes less tense. The threat to his dominions having decreased, the emperor wishes to curtail Wallenstein’s power, lest the conquering hero attempt to dictate to the crown. Wallenstein in turn becomes suspicious of the emperor and his government, and he wavers on the verge of declaring himself for the Swedes.

The emperor makes arrangements to have Wallenstein removed from his post, and as a first step he sends a war commissioner, Von Questenberg, to Wallenstein’s camp. The commissioner finds the soldiers so sensitive to their leader’s wishes that they are ready to follow him should he turn traitor. The commissioner shares his fears with Lieutenant General Octavio Piccolomini and gives him the emperor’s secret commission to take over the army and to arrest Wallenstein. Wallenstein, who believes that General Piccolomini is his trusted friend and brother officer, does not suspect that Piccolomini is more loyal to his monarch than to Wallenstein.

General Piccolomini wishes to have the help of his son, Colonel Max Piccolomini, in his plans, but the son, who has grown up under Wallenstein’s tutelage, refuses to believe that Wallenstein could ever be anything but virtuous. Moreover, Max is in love with Wallenstein’s daughter, Thekla, and has high hopes that the great general-duke will permit them to marry. Young Piccolomini does not know that Wallenstein, fired with ambition and filled with suspicion of the emperor, is actually plotting to go over to the Swedes with his army in return for being made king of Hungary. Wallenstein regards his daughter as a future queen, not as the wife of a colonel.

Worried by the arrival of Von Questenberg, Wallenstein gives one of his trusted henchmen the task of seeing to it that all his great leaders sign an oath to follow him wherever he might lead, even if he leads them away from the emperor. The henchman plans a great banquet to accomplish the deed. Before the banquet, he shows the...

(The entire section is 1063 words.)