William Tell is considered by most critics to be Schiller’s dramatic masterpiece. It was an immediate success after its premiere at the Weimar Hoftheater on March 17, 1804. Schiller directed the production. It is his most widely translated drama and the one play likeliest to be associated with Schiller outside of Germany. Schiller’s most popular play is also one of his shortest and the only one to have a happy ending.
Most people are acquainted with the William Tell legend without Schiller or his play. The exploits of the legendary Swiss hero who fought against tyranny and shot the apple off his son’s head have now passed into folklore. Tell, as seen through Schiller’s eyes, is depicted as a great hero, a man who exemplified the best in the Swiss people.
William Tell is a powerful blend of Swiss history and popular legend. Schiller rearranges recorded history, as usual, and eliminates or telescopes important events. Since he framed his play around a fictional character, however, the dramatic alterations are less emphatic than those in Mary Stuart or The Maid of Orleans. The focus of the play is on the Swiss people’s oppression by Albert I, a Hapsburg emperor, who reduced Switzerland to an Austrian dominion. Ruling for him in Switzerland is the sadistic Vogt Hermann Gessler, who overstepped his authority and trampled on the people’s rights.
The play opens with great impact. A man is...
(The entire section is 469 words.)