Am 14. Juni 2009 war "Schiller" auf der Burg Rheinstein unterwegs. Für einen internationalen Kreis stellten vier Dichterpflänzchen dort das Drama Wilhelm Tell (in kleinen Auszügen) in englischer Sprache vor. Außerdem wurden bekannte Sprichwörter, die in diesem Werk zahlreich vorkommen, rezitiert, z.B.: „Es kann der Frömmste nicht in Frieden leben, wenn es dem bösen Nachbarn nicht gefällt!”

Friedrich Schiller, the Poet of Freedom, and his “Wilhelm Tell”


We have decided to try to do the impossible: to present one of the greatest German poets to you, in a few minutes.
(show portraits)

Friedrich Schiller lived in the second half of the 18th century. Although he died relatively young, -- he was only 45 years old – he created an extensive range of works, from poems, to philosophical writings to plays. Many of these works were the product of close cooperation with his friend, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, another prince of poetry.
(Weimar Monument)

During his lifetime, Schiller was better known than Goethe, particularly due to his plays, which he wrote as a revolutionary spirit.

Even today, though unknown to many, he lives on in the German language. There are countless sayings or proverbs, which come from
his (Schillers) plays, and have become part of our everyday language.

If you greet a guest who has dressed up in a special way, or when a famous person is on hand, then you say:
“Welcher Glanz in meiner Huette?” (The Maiden of Orleans) “What splendor in my hut?”

When one wants to stay out of every matter, and take absolutely no responsibility for anything, then this saying is appropriate: “Ich hab’ hier bloss ein Amt und keine Meinung.” “I just do my job, and (have) no opinions.” (Wallenstein)

William Tell in particular, a play we are going to deal with in the second part of our presentation, is teeming with such proverbs:

When one does everything alone, without any help from the outside, one says:
“Die Axt im Haus erspart den Zimmerman.” (III,1) “The axe at home oft saves the carpenter.”

And if you ever happen to lose out on something, you may say to yourself perhaps:
“Der brave Mann denkt an sich selbst zuletzt.” (I,1) “The good man thinks upon himself the last.”

“Früh übt sich, was ein Meister werden will,” “Tis early practice only makes the master,” comes from William Tell.

“Es kann der Frömmste nicht in Frieden leben, wenn es dem bösen Nachbarn nicht gefällt!” (also from Tell) “Even the most devout person cannot live in peace, if his nasty neighbor won’t allow it.”

Or, when, contrary to expectations, something goes well, one might say: “Und neues Leben blüht aus den Ruinen.” “And from the ruins blooms a fairer life.”

And so on and so forth – There are so many more!
Before we close this introduction with a poem, you should know that, although William Tell, the hero of Schiller’s play, was a creature of his own imagination, Tell has become a national hero in Switzerland. Now you will heard a very well-known poem by Schiller, about a dramatic encounter that takes placed in a castle like this one.
(Tell Statue in Altdorf)

The Glove

Before his lion-court
Impatient for the sport,
King Francis sat one day;
The peers of his realm sat around,
And in balcony high from the ground
Sat the ladies in beauteous array.
And when with his finger he beckoned,
The gate opened wide in a second
And in, with deliberate tread,
Enters a lion dread,
And looks around
Yet utters no sound;
Then long he yawns
And shakes his mane,
And, stretching each limb,
Down lies he again.

Again signs the king, -
The next gate open flies,
And, lo! with a wild spring,
A tiger out hies.
When the lion he sees, loudly roars he about,
And a terrible circle his tail traces out.
Protruding his tongue, past the lion he walks,
And, snarling with rage, round him warily stalks
Then, growling anew,
On one side lies down too.

Again signs the king, -
And two gates open fly,
And, lo! with one spring,
Two leopards out hie.
On the tiger they rush, for the fight nothing loth,
But he with his paws seizes hold of them both
And the lion, with roaring, gets up, - then all's still,
The fierce beasts stalk around, madly thirsting to kill.

From the balcony raised high above
A fair hand lets fall down a glove
Into the lists, where 'tis seen
The lion and tiger between.

To the knight, Sir Delorges, in tone of jest,
Then speaks young Cunigund fair;
"Sir Knight, if the love that thou feel'st in thy breast
Is as warm as thou'rt wont at each moment to swear,
Pick up, I pray thee, the glove that lies there!"

And the knight, in a moment, with dauntless tread,
Jumps into the lists, nor seeks to linger,
And, from out the midst of those monsters dread,
Picks up the glove with a daring finger.

And the knights and ladies of high degree
With wonder and horror the action see,
While he quietly brings in his hand the glove,
The praise of his courage each mouth employs;
Meanwhile, with a tender look of love,
The promise to him of coming joys,
Fair Cunigund welcomes him back to his place.
But he threw the glove point-blank in her face:
"Lady, no thanks from thee I'll receive!"
And that selfsame hour he took his leave.

- - - - P A U S E - - - - -


The most famous poem by Friedrich Schiller, who lived from 1749 to 1805, is certainly his Ode to Joy, which was so wonderfully set to music by Beethoven in the Ninth Symphony, and has since become our European anthem.

Friedrich Schiller was rightly known as the poet of freedom, because his entire artistic creation aimed at helping the free State to come into being. He strove for a monarchy of Reason, which he considered the greatest work of art. We would like to illustrate this, with reference to scenes from Schillers William Tell, his most successful play.

In a letter to Prince Friedrich Christian of Augustenburg, of July 13, 1793, Schiller expressed his disappointment with the French Revolution:


"The attempt of the French people to make an effort to achieve its sacred human rights, and to gain political freedom through struggle, brought to light the inability and unworthiness of that people. The moment was propitious but it found a corrupt generation. The use that the French people have made and make of this great gift of coincidence, proves incontrovertibly that he who lacks so much humanity is not yet ripe for civil freedom.

Should one therefore give up in the search for freedom? By no means!
Political and civil freedom remain forever the most sacred of all goods, the most worthy aim of all exertions and the great centerpiece of all culture; but one will be able to carry out this magnificent task only on the solid ground of an ennobled character, one will have to begin to develop citizens for a constitution, before one can give a constitution to the citizens."


Schiller had hoped that the French Revolution which first formulated the concept
of human rights in August 1789, would lead to the political liberation of all of Europe. He was even declared an honorary citizen of the French Republic in Paris together with 17 other people, among them George Washington.

But Schiller had to witness how all hopes were shattered in blood and terror.
When in 1793, the French King Louis XVI was beheaded, Schiller was so nauseated that he could no longer read any French newspapers. This is the reason why Schiller, in his “William Tell,” referred explicitly to the ideas of the American Revolution. This appears in the famous Ruetli Oath taken by the Swiss citizens, who decide to rise up against a new oppressor.


No new alliance do we now contract,
But one our fathers framed, in ancient times,
We purpose to renew! For know, confederates,
The nations round us bear a foreign yoke;
For they have yielded to the conqueror. ...
But we, the genuine race of ancient Swiss,
Have kept our freedom from the first till now,
Never to princes have we bowed the knee;
Freely we sought protection of the empire. ...

And shall we endure
The shame and infamy of this new yoke,
And from the vassal brook what never king
Dared in the fulness of his power attempt?
This soil we have created for ourselves,
By the hard labor of our hands; we've changed
The giant forest, that was erst the haunt
Of savage bears, into a home for man;...
Blasted the solid rock; o'er the abyss
Thrown the firm bridge for the wayfaring man
By the possession of a thousand years
The soil is ours. And shall an alien lord,
Himself a vassal, dare to venture here,
On our own hearths insult us,--and attempt
To forge the chains of bondage for our hands,
And do us shame on our own proper soil?
Is there no help against such wrong as this?

Yes! there's a limit to the despot's power!
When the oppressed looks round in vain for justice,
When his sore burden may no more be borne,
With fearless heart he makes appeal to Heaven,
And thence brings down his everlasting rights,
Which there abide, inalienably his,
And indestructible as are the stars.
Nature's primeval state returns again,
Where man stands hostile to his fellow-man;
And if all other means shall fail his need,
One last resource remains--his own good sword.
Our dearest treasures call to us for aid
Against the oppressor's violence; we stand
For country, home, for wives, for children here!

ALL (clashing their swords).
Here stand we for our homes, our wives, and children.


Schiller’s contemporaries could not fail to miss the reference to the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, issued on July 4, 1776, which says:


“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that
they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among
these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness; That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.”


Clearly, the play was politically explosive, and met with difficulties from the
beginning. It was only in Weimar that the play was performed on stage without any censorship. There was fear of its impact on the masses, who might be moved by the highly poetical expression of the rights of man, and seek political action.

William Tell deals with the successful popular rebellion of the Swiss citizenry in the 13th century. At that time, the house of Hapsburg wanted to annex the Swiss Forest States, and thereby degrade the free farmers to the status of serfs. The tyranny of the imperial governor was supposed to force the Swiss to submit to Austria.

The play presents many examples of tyranny: we see how one of the governors deployed by the Hapsburgs, broke into the house of the citizen Baumgarten and “made improper demands” on his wife. Baumgarten struck down the governor, and was then chased by his troops. When he escaped from their pursuit, the troops set fire to the huts of the shepherds,--who were not at all involved-- and destroyed their herds. Citizen Melchthal puts up resistance to the governor’s attempt to confiscate his father’s best team of oxen. As he flees the wrath of the governor, gives the order to have Melchthal’s father blinded, and drives him from his property, so that the old, blind man must roam the land as a beggar.

The worst of all the governors, however, is Gessler, who wants to break the resistance of the people through degradation and demonstrative brutality. When a woman, with her hungry children, begs for mercy for her husband, who has been in prison for six months without a trial, Gessler orders the troops to ride over her with the horses. Gessler has a hat hung up on a pole, and demands that the people bow down before it. When Tell refuses to do so, he is grabbed by Gessler’s guards, and Gessler orders Tell to shoot an apple off the head of his own son.


Pardon me, good my lord! The action sprung
From inadvertence,--not from disrespect.
[that I did not bow down before the hat]
Were I discreet, I were not William Tell.
Forgive me now--I'll not offend again.

I hear, Tell, you're a master with the bow,--
And bear the palm away from every rival.

That must be true, sir! At a hundred yards
He'll shoot an apple for you off the tree.

Is that boy thine, Tell?

Yes, my gracious lord.

Hast any more of them?

Two boys, my lord.

And, of the two, which dost thou love the most?

Sir, both the boys are dear to me alike.

Then, Tell, since at a hundred yards thou canst
Bring down the apple from the tree, thou shalt
Approve thy skill before me. Take thy bow--
Thou hast it there at hand--and make thee ready
To shoot an apple from the youngster's head!
But take this counsel,--look well to thine aim,
See that thou hittest the apple at the first,
For, shouldst thou miss, thy head shall pay the forfeit.

[All show signs of horror.]

What monstrous thing, my lord, is this you ask?
That I, from the head of mine own child!--No, no!
It cannot be, kind sir, you meant not that--
God in His grace forbid! You could not ask
A father seriously to do that thing!

Thou art to shoot an apple from his head!
I do desire--command it so.

What, I!
Level my crossbow at the darling head
Of mine own child? No--rather let me die!

Either shoot, or with thee dies the boy.

Shall I become the murderer of my child!
You have no children, sir--you do not know
The tender throbbings of a father's heart.

How now, Tell, so discreet upon a sudden ...

Let this suffice you, sir! It is inhuman
To trifle with a father's anguish thus.
Although this wretched man had forfeited
Both life and limb for such a slight offence,
Already has he suffered tenfold death.
Send him away uninjured to his home;
He'll know thee well in future; and this hour
He and his children's children will remember.

Open a way there--quick! Why this delay?
Thy life is forfeited; I might despatch thee,
And see I graciously repose thy fate
Upon the skill of thine own practised hand.
No cause has he to say his doom is harsh,
Who's made the master of his destiny.

Tell shoots the arrow and hits the apple. The child remains unhurt. Everyone
rejoices in his master stroke. Tell does not belong to those who took the Ruetli
Oath. Earlier, when Stauffacher had invited him to participate in the meeting on the Ruetli, Tell had answered:

Yet, whatsoe’er you do, spare me from council!
I was not born to ponder and select;
But when your course of action is resolved,
Then call on Tell; you shall not find him fail.

Tell is no revolutionary, but the maliciousness of Gessler shows him that he was
wrong when he said:

Let every man live quietly at home;
Peace to the peaceful rarely is denied.

He now finds himself in a situation in which he is forced to make a dreadful
decision: if he wants to protect his life and that of his family, he must kill Gessler.



Here through this deep defile he needs must pass;
There leads no other road to Kuessnacht; here
I'll do it; the opportunity is good.
Yon alder tree stands well for my concealment,
Thence my avenging shaft will surely reach him.
The straitness of the path forbids pursuit.
Now, Gessler, balance your account with Heaven!
You must away from earth, your sand is run.

I led a peaceful, inoffensive life;
My bow was bent on forest game alone,
And my pure soul was free from thoughts of murder.
But you have scared me from my dream of peace;
The milk of human kindness you have turned
To rankling poison in my breast, and made
Appalling deeds familiar to my soul.
He who could make his own child's head his mark
Can speed his arrow to his enemy’s heart.

My children dear, my loved and faithful wife,
Must be protected, tyrant, from your fury!
When last I drew my bow, with trembling hand,
And you, with murderous joy, a father forced
To level at his child; when, all in vain,
Writhing before you, I implored your mercy,
Then in the agony of my soul I vowed
A fearful oath, which met God's ear alone:
That when my bow next winged an arrow's flight
Its aim should be your heart. The vow I made
Amid the hellish torments of that moment
I hold a sacred debt, and I will pay it.

Time was, my dearest children, when with joy
You hailed your father's safe return to home
From his long mountain toils; for when he came
He ever brought some little present with him.
A lovely Alpine flower--a curious bird--
Or fossils found by wanderers on the hills.

But now he goes in quest of other game:
In the wild pass he sits, and broods on murder;
And watches for the life-blood of his foe,
But still his thoughts are fixed on you alone,
Dear children. 'Tis to guard your innocence,
To shield you from the tyrant's fell revenge,
He bends his bow to do a deed of blood!

Tell is no terrorist. He acts in self-defense. He knows about the irreconcilable, thoroughly personal hatred that Gessler harbors against him.
Tell can protect his wife and children, only by killing Gessler. And his says,
“I have defended my dearest.”

Although Tell does not act for political motives, his deed has a decisive political effect, because the conspirators were becoming increasingly demoralized. They had not even been able to prevent Gessler from executing his inhuman order, for Tell to shoot the apple off his own son’s head. Now the news of Gessler’s death triggers the rebellion of the Swiss. All the governors flee the land, after having sworn that they would never return. The castles of the governors are razed to the ground. The Swiss have become mature citizens and no longer need the aristocracy. Thus, the noblewoman Berta von Bruneck asks the citizens and countrymen to welcome her in their midst, and the nobleman Ulrich von Rudenz grants freedom to all his serfs.

And Baron von Attinghausen, on his deathbed, foresees a free republic in the

And have the peasantry dared such a deed
On their own charge without their nobles' aid--
Relied so much on their own proper strength?
Nay then, indeed, they want our help no more;
We may go down to death cheered by the thought
That after us the majesty of man
Will live, and be maintained by other hands.
From this boy's head, whereon the apple lay,
Your new and better liberty shall spring;
The old is crumbling down--the times are changing
And from the ruins blooms a fairer life.

Here Schiller gives full expression to his forward-looking vision of free Republics throughout Europe, whose realization was to take another hundred years; only after bitter wars was this vision to become reality in the last decades. But even today, what Schiller called the “greatest work of art” has still not been completed, and the “ennoblement of character” of citizens and politicians, through “beautiful art,” – a condition for the “free state”-- remains a task for our own generation and future.