On February 25, 1634, Albrecht Wallenstein, the duke of Friedland, was murdered in Eger (also known as Egra). He had had an astonishing career, rising to power first as the savior of the Holy Roman Emperor. The emperor had, after initial success in putting down a Protestant uprising, found himself facing an army led by King Christian IV of Denmark and financed by England and the Netherlands. This was the second stage in the Thirty Years’ War, which would sap the strength of the empire in a series of confrontations between 1618 and 1648. Wallenstein offered the emperor nothing less than an army—twenty thousand men, raised at his own expense—and his success was stupendous. He pursued the enemy across Europe and finally defeated Christian IV in his own kingdom.
The forces of Wallenstein’s jealous rivals, however, succeeded in persuading the emperor, who was in fact alarmed by the extent of Wallenstein’s success and power, to dismiss the duke. Wallenstein retired quietly, knowing that he would again be needed. In 1630, Sweden entered the war and decisively defeated the imperial forces. At that point Wallenstein was recalled to service. He accepted, but on his own terms, and he led an army of about forty thousand men with virtual autonomy. After initial victories, his thoughts turned to a negotiated peace, and again the emperor began to entertain fears. Friedrich Schiller’s great trilogy is the record of the downfall of a man who created history and seemed above petty intrigue, a man who could have been the harbinger of a new era of peace.
Schiller knew well that the historical Wallenstein was not a suitable figure for tragedy. As a professor of history at Jena, Schiller had written a history of the Thirty Years’ War in the early 1790’s, and he had at that time pointed out that the duke was in fact an unsympathetic character. It was less his personal magnetism than his money that had held the army together, as well as the prospect of the spoils to come with success. Wallenstein’s fall was a product of his own miscalculations, and he lacked nobility of character. As a dramatist, however, Schiller saw the possibility of creating a tragedy that would rival those of William Shakespeare and the Greeks. He developed the characters of Wallenstein and of his principal associates, invented the idealized figures of Max and Thekla, and shaped the events to create a coherent vision of conflicting loyalties, duty, guilt, and tragic expiation. All the while, he yet remained remarkably faithful to the...
(The entire section is 1033 words.)