Thursday, July 24, 2014

Schiller's Genius

My readers know that Red Baron is a member of Freiburg's Museumsgesellschaft. Once a year the society organizes the Museumsreise, a three day excursion. My blog about our trip to southern Burgundy in 2012 still ranks second place when counting the all time visits of my blogs.

This year about thirty members traveled to Interlaken Switzerland, to attend the local Tellspiele. The play is based on Friedrich Schiller's drama Wilhelm Tell (William Tell) and performed outdoors. Schiller, the poet of freedom, wrote the ultimate play about the formation of the Schweizer Eidgenossenschaft (Swiss Confederation) born out of the fight for independence against the Habsburg rule: Wir wollen frei sein, wie die Väter waren (We want to be free as our fathers were).

Wilhelm Tell in the beginning not interested in the struggle for freedom became the symbol of Swiss resistance once Governor Gessler had threatened the physical integrity of his family in forcing him to shoot an apple from his son's head with his crossbow. Tell went so far to assassinate Gessler thus liberating his country fellows from the Habsburg yoke.

In the beginning: Rural idyll.
Forced labor: Building the stronghold for Governor Gessler.
Oath on the Rütli: We want to be a single folk of brothers.
Tell's arrest: He had refused to greet Gessler's hat visible on the pole.
Governor Gessler with a yellow cape on horseback.
On the left: The apple on Walter's head.
On the right: Usher watching Tell taking aim
further on the right at a distance of 80 steps.
Schiller's ideas about freedom were greatly influenced by the French Revolution but even more so by the American Declaration of Independence. While in France the third estate had reckoned with nobility and clergy guillotining them by hundreds Schiller deliberately, but somewhat artificially, included the latter in the strive for freedom, i.e., in Schiller's idealist view all Swiss eventually stand united.

Our group was lucky to have an expert in our ranks carving out Schiller's genius as Germany's poet of freedom and as a playwright in a lecture. In fact, in the 19th century Schiller was more popular than Goethe among Germany's Bildungsbürgern (educated citizens). No wonder that in the 20th century right and left wing governments tried to embrace Schiller's genius.

Corrupted in the Third Reich: Schiller as Hitler's comrade in arms.
Not for long. Hitler himself ordered a ban on William Tell on June 3, 1941
when he had sensed the reactions of the spectators
on the tyrannicide during a performance at Vienna's Burgtheater.

Abused in the GDR: He belongs to us: Schiller the poet of freedom.
Schiller was so popular that many a proverb in today's language is a direct quotation from Schiller's ballads and plays. Here are just a few:

Karl Mohr in Die Räuber (The Robbers) V,2: Dem Mann kann geholfen werden (This man can be helped).

Questenberg in Die Piccolomini (The Piccolomini) I,2: Was ist der langen Rede kurzer Sinn? (Is there any sense in this long sermon?)

Wrangel in Wallensteins Tod (Wallenstein's Death) I, 5: Ich hab' hier bloß ein Amt und keine Meinung (Here I merely have a task and no opinion).

Pappenheim in Wallensteins Tod (Wallenstein's Death) III,15: Daran erkenn' ich meine Pappenheimer (By this I recognize my Pappenheimers [his soldiers]).

Talbot in Die Jungfrau von Orleans (The Maid of Orleans) III,6: Mit Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens (With stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain).

Most of the most popular quotations are however taken from Wilhelm Tell:

Gertrud in I,2: Der kluge Mann baut vor (A wise man plans ahead).

Tell in I,3: Der Starke ist am mächtigsten allein (A strong man is most powerful alone).

Attinghausen in II,1: Ans Vaterland, ans teure, schließ dich an (Attach you to your dear fatherland).

Tell in III,1: Die Axt im Haus erspart den Zimmermann (An ax in the house saves the carpenter).

Tell in IV, 3: Auf diese Bank von Stein will ich mich setzen (I want to sit down on this bench of stone).

Tell in IV, 3: Mach deine Rechnung mit dem Himmel, Vogt (Settle your account with heaven, governor).


Red Baron in particular admires Schiller for his work as a historian. Today students still profit from reading his book about the History of the Thirty Years' War. It was Schiller's thorough research on this first of Europe's many tragedies that enabled him to write his epic drama-trilogy Wallenstein.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much dear Manfred - extremely interesting and a real fun to read!
    Fondly, Margit/anmargi

    ReplyDelete