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Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller

Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller

The German dramatist, poet, and historian Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805) ranks as one of the greatest of German literary figures. He was a founder of modern German literature.

Friedrich von Schiller was born at Marbach, Württemberg, on Nov. 10, 1759. His father, Johann Kaspar Schiller, was an army captain in the service of Duke Karl Eugen of Württemberg. His mother, Elisabeth Dorothea, the daughter of a Marbach innkeeper, was a gentle and religious person. Schiller had four sisters, one older and three younger.

As a boy, Schiller, under the influence of Philipp Ulrich Moser, a parson, wanted to become a preacher. He attended the duke's military academy, the Karlsschule, near Stuttgart for two years. After the academy was moved to Stuttgart, Schiller endured five more years of harsh discipline there. He studied medicine because that was the domineering duke's will. In spite of frequent illnesses, fevers, stomach upsets, and headaches, he wrote his final dissertation on the interrelationship between man's spiritual and physical natures. At the same time he was writing his first play, Die Räuber, which was published in 1781. It ranks as one of the literary monuments of the German Sturm und Drang period.

Early Works

In December 1780 Schiller was appointed medical officer to a regiment stationed in Stuttgart at a pitiably low salary. A loan toward the publication of Die Räuber marked the beginning of a succession of agonizing debts that characterized Schiller's early career. In 1782 Die Räuber received its first stage performance, in Mannheim. It brought him both public acclaim and the wrath of the duke, who forbade him to write anything except medical treatises. That same year Schiller published the Laura-Odenin his Anthologie auf das Jahr 1782. The inspiration for these poems was a 30-year-old widow, Dorothea Vischer, who had three children. She had rented a simple ground-floor room to Schiller and another lieutenant.

Meantime, Schiller's conflict with the Duke of Württemberg forced him to flee Stuttgart in September 1782. A period of great deprivation and uncertainty followed until Schiller became dramatist at the Mannheim theater in September 1783. During this time he composed Die Verschwörung des Fiesko zu Genua (1783) and Kabale und Liebe (1784). He also began work on Don Carlos, Infant von Spanien, which appeared in 1785 and in its revised form in 1787.

In 1784 Schiller completed Die Schaubühne als moralische Anstalt betrachtet, which appeared in his Rheinische Thalia, a literary journal, in 1785. The second issue of Thaliacontained Schiller's hymn An die Freude, which later inspired Ludwig van Beethoven to create his magnificent Ninth Symphony in D Minor. In the third issue of Thalia Schiller published part of Don Carlos. During this period Christian Gottfried Körner generously offered Schiller financial help and hospitality, becoming his patron and friend.

Don Carlos was important in Schiller's dramatic development not only for its use of a historical setting but also for its employment of blank verse. For the first time, too, Schiller accomplished the presentation of a perfectly drawn and perfectly convincing noblewoman. The character of Queen Elisabeth of Valois was to some extent based on that of Charlotte von Kalb, an intimate friend.

Schiller occupied himself for many years afterward with the themes he employed in this drama. In Don Carlos the conflict between love and the demands of the state was exalted into the idea of the dignity and freedom of man. The struggle against love is a struggle for a high goal, and it is not the love of Don Carlos for the Queen or his friendship for the Marquis of Posa that forms the crux of the play but the ideal of spiritual and national freedom.

In all of Schiller's earliest tragedies—Die Räuber, Die Verschwörung des Fiesko, and Kabale und Liebe—he presents either a great criminal, a great adventurer, or a great enthusiast. All of his characters speak in the grand style. Schiller captures the secret of great passion even in his earliest dramas. The robber chieftain Karl Moor of Die Räuber judges himself when he admits that two men like him would destroy the organic structure of the civilized world. Fiesko contemplates the idea that it is great to win a crown but that it is divine to be able to cast it off.

In 1787 Schiller paid a visit to his friend Frau von Kalb in Weimar, the residence of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who at that time was traveling in Italy. The two great German poets met the following year in the house of Frau von Lengefeld (later to be Schiller's mother-in-law) in Rudolstadt. They had met once before, in December 1779, when Duke Karl August of Weimar and Goethe had come to the Karlsschule in Stuttgart to award the annual student prizes. Schiller had received three silver medals.

In 1788 Schiller's poems Die Götter Griechenlands and Die Künstler appeared, and that same year he published Geschichte des Abfalls der vereinigten Niederlande, a history of the revolt of the Netherlands against Spain. These works assured Schiller's fame and social position. Together with Goethe's support they gained him a professorship of history at the University of Jena in 1789. He held this position for 10 years. Schiller's inaugural, Was heisst und zu welchem Ende studiert man Universalgeschichte, caused a sensation. Afterward more than 500 students paid homage to the poet, but at later lectures the number of students in attendance dwindled considerably. Early in 1790 Schiller married Charlotte von Lengefeld, a gifted writer. In February 1803 he was created a nobleman.

Esthetic Theory

After 1790 Schiller became intensely interested in the philosophy and esthetics of Immanuel Kant. His Geschichte des Dreissigjährigen Krieges, a history of the Thirty Years War, appeared in 1791-1792. His studies in esthetics accompanied his historical researches. Schiller strove to capture the essence of "freedom and art." He determined not to read the works of any modern writer for 2 years. In his poem Die Götter Griechenlands Schiller had looked upon Greece with the eyes of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the classical archeologist and historian of ancient art. Under the influence of Winckelmann's conception of the "schöne Antike," Schiller became convinced that only art can ennoble the barbarian and bring him culture. Art became, for Schiller, in the Platonic sense a basis of education. In 1795 he wrote in his Ü ber die aesthetische Erziehung des Menschen, "There is no other way to make the sensuous man rational and reasonable than by first making him esthetic." The iron necessity of man's daily existence degraded him, said Schiller, and utility became the idol of the masses. But by means of the esthetic form man can "annihilate" the material aspects of life and triumph over transient matter. Man thus becomes the creator of a pure and permanent world.

In his grandiose philosophic poem Die Künstler, Schiller venerated art as the ennobling power that can create a higher culture and disclose a world harmony. In the opening strophe of this work, man, standing on the threshold of a new century, is depicted as the master of nature. He is shown as free, enlightened, strong through laws, great in his gentleness, matured through time, proud, and manly. Art, said Schiller, teaches man how to overcome his desires. Art is the first step away from the bondage of the flesh into a realm where the nobility of the soul reigns. The artist frees form from material in the same manner that waves separate a reflection from its source. In nature the artist discovers the laws of beauty. For example, in a tree he perceives the form of a pillar, and in the crescent moon the artist becomes aware of the mystery of the universe. For Schiller reality was merely illusion; only in the higher, spiritual realm was truth to be found. Just as the stage had changed into a tribunal in his famous poem Die Kraniche des Ibykus, so to him true art changes into higher reality.

Schiller wrote his important essay in esthetics, Ü ber naive und sentimentalische Dichtung, in 1795-1796. It forms the basis of modern poetry criticism. In it Schiller points out that the "naive" poet has an advantage over other poets in his powerful, sensitive, and inherent clarity, while the "sentimentalische" poet has an advantage in his power of moral enthusiasm. By now Schiller had reached an artistic maturity incompatible with moralizing. In his philosophical poem Das Ideal und das Leben (1795) the poet presents no clumsy didactic lesson. No mention of reward or recompense for the sufferer, or of moral striving after inner freedom, is made. The subject of this poem is purely the growth of a powerful personality beyond the confines of the self into a higher world.

Later Dramas

In 1798-1799 Schiller completed his great trilogy on Albrecht von Wallenstein, the condottiere of the Thirty Years War. These three plays—Wallensteins Lager, Piccolomini, and Wallensteins Tod—represent Schiller's most powerful tragedy. In them he comes nearest to the tragic grandeur of William Shakespeare and Heinrich von Kleist. The Wallenstein plays stress Schiller's view of man as a creative force, and they exhibit his concept of historical inevitability. Schiller ennobles Wallenstein as a great creative statesman who bows before inexorable fate. Wallenstein recognizes his guilt and acknowledges the justice of his end because he realizes that every evil deed brings with it its angel of revenge.

The famous literary friendship between Goethe and Schiller began in earnest in 1794. On July 20, 1794, after a meeting in Jena of a nature society of which both were honorary members, Goethe went to Schiller's house to continue a discussion on the interpretation of natural phenomena, the metamorphosis of plants, and the interrelationship or separation between idea and experience. Goethe believed he had "observed with his own eyes" tangible truths of nature that Schiller, however, called "ideas." An important correspondence between the two poets followed. Schiller enjoyed the friendship of Goethe, with whom he began editing the literary journals Horen (1795-1797) and Musenalmanach (1796-1800). Goethe's residence in Weimar was a main reason for Schiller's move there, from Jena with his family, in 1799. During his Weimar years Schiller created many of his finest plays and poems.

Schiller wrote his most popular play, Maria Stuart, in 1800. He employed tragic irony as an artistic means in the memorable scene between the two queens in which Mary speaks daggers to Elizabeth but is hoist with her own petard. Mary remains a noble and tragic character right up to the scaffold. As with Elizabeth, the decisive factor in her fate lies in her personality and not in politics. Mary's death is subject not to "poetic justice" but to the justice of human conscience. By her death she atones for a previous guilt.

Schiller's next play, Die Jungfrau von Orleans (1801), is his poetically richest drama. Its theme is again guilt and redemption. Compared to Maria Stuart, it is loosely constructed, diffuse, and romantic not only in regard to the material itself but also in regard to the poetic character of the heroine. On the other hand, Die Braut von Messina (1803) is compact and stylized. Artistry dominates it at the cost of poetry. This play reflects Schiller's interest in classical antiquity. Its chorus has passages of lyrical and rhetorical magnificence.

In the preface to the first edition of this play, Schiller explained his views on the function of the chorus. The chorus, he wrote, should not be an accompaniment to the drama as in some ancient plays. Rather it should bring out the poetry of the play, thereby converting the modern world into a poetic one. The chorus should express the depth of mankind, and it should be a judging and clarifying witness of the actions in that it reflects them and endows them with spiritual power.

Schiller revealed his technical mastery at its most supreme in Wilhelm Tell (1804). Although this play is stylized, its artistry is less obvious than that of Die Braut von Messina. Schiller created the character of Wilhelm Tell as a manly hero without making him into a leader. When Gessler, the governor, brutally interferes with life and nature, the Swiss, and with them Wilhelm Tell, fight for family and freedom. In this play Schiller for once placed history and hero in favorable conjunction.

In the fragmentary drama Demetrius, Schiller unfolds a mysterious fate, revealing through his analytical dramatic technique a past crime more terrible to contemplate than any dread of the future. Whereas Oedipus in the hands of Sophocles subjects himself to divine command, Schiller's Demetrius defies his fate in order to perish.

Schiller's final tragedies are concerned with man's profoundest experience, the assertion and attainment of free will despite bodily claims or passion. After months of intermittent illness, Schiller died in Weimar on May 9, 1805.

Further Reading

An early biography of Schiller is Thomas Carlyle, The Life of Friedrich Schiller (1825; 2d ed. 1845). Of the many critical biographies see William Witte, Schiller (1949) and Schiller and Burns (1959). Other useful studies include Henry B. Garland's three works, Schiller (1949), Schiller Revisited (1959), and Schiller: The Dramatic Writer (1969); Ernst L. Stahl, Friedrich Schiller's Drama: Theory and Practice (1954); William F. Mainland, Schiller and the Changing Past (1957); and the essay on Schiller in Thomas Mann, Last Essays (trans. 1959). Other useful studies are Stanley S. Kerry, Schiller's Writings on Aesthetics (1961); Elizabeth M. Wilkinson and L. A. Willoughby, eds., Schiller: On the Aesthetic Education of Man, in a Series of Letters (trans. 1967), which has an extensive introduction about Schiller along with some of his works; and John Martin Ellis, Schiller's Kalliasbriefe and the Study of His Aesthetic Theory (1969). For a discussion of Sturm and Drang and Weimar classicism see the relevant chapters in Ernst L. Stahl and W. E. Yuill, Introductions to German Literature, vol. 3: German Literature of the 18th and 19th Centuries, edited by August Closs (1970). □

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Schiller, Johann Christoph Friedrich Von (1759–1805)


SCHILLER, JOHANN CHRISTOPH FRIEDRICH VON (17591805), German dramatist, poet, historian, and philosopher. Born on 10 November 1759 in Marbach, in Württemberg, the only son of a low-ranking army officer, Schiller was educated from 1773 to 1780 at the military academy founded by Karl Eugen, duke of Württemberg (17281793). His first play, Die Räuber (1781; The robbers), premiered at the Mannheim National Theater in 1782. Forbidden by the duke to pursue his literary work, he absconded from Württemberg later that year, and after serving as resident playwright at Mannheim for one year, he moved to Dresden and Leipzig and then in 1787 to Weimar, home of several leading literary figures, chiefly Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In 1789 he was appointed professor of history at the University of Jena, on the strength of his Geschichte des Abfalls der vereinigten Niederlande von der spanischen Regierung (History of the revolt of the United Netherlands from Spanish rule, 1787).

Schiller married Charlotte von Lengefeld in 1790. After a serious illness in 1791 he remained a semi-invalid for the rest of his life. In 1794 he formed a friendship and alliance with Goethe based on shared convictions about the enduring validity of classical principles in art and about the centrality of art as a human activity. Their correspondence, along with their joint essays and projects, had a lasting impact on German literary debate and practice. In 1799 Schiller moved from Jena to Weimar, and he died there on 9 May 1805.

Schiller's work as a poet and dramatist falls into two distinct periods: before 1789 and from the mid-1790s to his death. His first three plays, Die Räuber, Die Verschwörung des Fiesko zu Genua (1783; The conspiracy of Fiesko at Genoa), and Kabale und Liebe (1784; Intrigue and love) owe much in style and spirit to the short-lived but influential avantgarde literary movement of the 1770s, the Sturm und Drang. Written in vigorous prose and showing the impact of the Sturm und Drang generation's reception of William Shakespeare, the plays explore flawed idealism, the charismatic leader, social divisions, and the impatience of the young with the imperfections of the world. They also bear the imprint of Schiller's medical training at the military academy and in particular of his interest in the problem of mind-body relationships. His fourth play, Don Carlos, Infant von Spanien (1787; Don Carlos, infante of Spain), anticipates his later dramas in its use of blank verse and concern with historical and public themes.

The compositional difficulties Schiller encountered with Don Carlos provoked a creative crisis, and though he wrote two seminal poems in 1788, "Die Götter Griechenlandes" (The gods of Greece) and "Die Künstler" (The artists), he turned away for almost a decade from creative writing, with the purpose of clarifying his thoughts on art in general and tragedy in particular. In 1791 he turned to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant's philosophy. Kant's dualism, according to which human beings belong to the realm of nature but also partake through reason in the realm of freedom, became fundamental to Schiller's thinking on aesthetics, for he saw art as a means of reconciling the tensions between nature and reason. His theory of the sublime in tragedy claims that tragedy mediates an experience of transcendence derived from the awareness that human beings may assert their moral freedom even while being physically destroyed (see in particular "Über das Pathetische" [On tragic pity]). In his influential treatise Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen in einer Reihe von Briefen (1794; On the aesthetic education of man in a series of letters), he argues that beauty as "living form" symbolizes and helps bring about the ideal harmony of sense and spirit to which human beings aspire. His notion of beauty as play and of aesthetic semblance have been important in later discussions of aesthetics. His final major treatise, Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung (1795; On naive and sentimental poetry), defines the problem of the modern ("sentimental") writer's divided consciousness.

During 1795 Schiller started again to write poetry. In 1799 he completed his greatest drama, Wallenstein (published 1800). A rapid succession of verse plays followed up to his death: Maria Stuart (1801; Mary Stuart), Die Jungfrau von Orleans (1802; The maid of Orleans), Die Braut von Messina (1803; The bride of Messina), Wilhelm Tell (1804; William Tell), and Demetrius (unfinished). Each signals a new departure in style. Together they reflect Schiller's preoccupation with some of the pressing themes of the age of the French Revolution: legitimacy of government, conscience versus political calculation, and the individual within the tide of events. His later poetry encompasses the more popular in style (for example, his ballads and "Das Lied von der Glocke" ([The song of the bell]), but he also used poetry as a meditation on the nature of art (for example, in "Das Ideal und das Leben" [The ideal and life] and "Der Tanz" [The Dance]).

The action-filled plots, strong characters, and thrilling encounters of Schiller's plays have not only guaranteed their continued place on the world stage but have inspired numerous opera composers, Giuseppe Verdi being the most prominent.

See also Drama: German ; German Literature and Language ; Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von .


Primary Sources

Dewhurst, Kenneth, and Nigel Reeves. Friedrich Schiller, Medicine, Psychology and Literature: With the First English Edition of His Complete Medical and Psychological Writings. Berkeley, 1978.

Schiller, Friedrich. Don Carlos and Mary Stuart. Translated by Hilary Collier Sy-Quia. Adapted in verse drama by Peter Oswald. New York, 1996.

. Five Plays. Translated by Robert David MacDonald. London, 1918.

. On the Aesthetic Education of Man, in a Series of Letters. Edited by Elizabeth M. Wilkinson and Leonard A. Willoughby. Oxford and New York, 1967.

. Schillers Werke. Nationalausgabe. Edited by Julius Petersen, Liselotte Blumenthal, et al.; from 1992 by Norbert Oellers. 44 vols. Weimar, 1943.

. Wallenstein. Translated by Charles E. Passage. New York, 1958.

. Werke und Briefe. Edited by Otto Dann et al. 12 vols. Frankfurt am Main, 2000.

. Wilhelm Tell. Translated and edited by William F. Mainland. Chicago, 1972.

Secondary Sources

Koopmann, Helmut, ed. Schiller-Handbuch. Stuttgart, 1998.

Reed, T. J. Schiller. Oxford and New York, 1991.

Sharpe, Lesley. Friedrich Schiller: Drama, Thought and Politics. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1991.

Lesley Sharpe

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Schiller, Friedrich von

Friedrich von Schiller, 1759–1805, German dramatist, poet, and historian, one of the greatest of German literary figures, b. Marbach, Württemberg. The poets of German romanticism were strongly influenced by Schiller, and he ranks as one of the founders of modern German literature, second only to Goethe.


The son of an army captain, Schiller attended the duke of Württemberg's military academy, the Karlsschule, and was forced by the domineering duke to study medicine. After graduating in 1780 he became an army surgeon, attached to a military life he abhorred. Turning to writing, he created a striking attack on political tyranny in Die Räuber (1781), one of the great plays of the Sturm und Drang period. Its performance (1782) in Mannheim won him public acclaim as well as the wrath of the duke, who forbade him to write.

Schiller fled from his post in Stuttgart and, after great deprivation, worked as a dramatist (1783–84) for the Mannheim theater. His second youthful success, Don Carlos, appeared in 1785 and was performed in revised form in 1787. While living in the great cultural center of Weimar, Schiller wrote a history (1788) of the revolt of the Netherlands against Spain. This work, together with the mediation of Goethe, gained him (1789) a professorship of history at the Univ. of Jena (now Friedrich Schiller Univ. of Jena). In 1790 Schiller married the gifted writer Charlotte von Lengefeld. Plagued by poor health, Schiller rejected subsequent offers of positions and from 1793 to the end of his life lived in Weimar, enjoying the friendship of Goethe.


Schiller's great dramas are alike in being tragedies or epics with historical and political backgrounds; they exemplify his idealism, high ethical principles, and insistence on freedom and nobility of spirit. In Die Räuber and other early works his heroes are pure idealists who perish because of the villainy of evil opponents. As Schiller moved from the phase of Sturm und Drang, he saw dangers in rampant individualism and even in fanatic idealism; thus his later Don Carlos has been interpreted both as a cry for political liberty and as a plea against excessive idealistic zealousness.

Under the influence of the philosophy of Kant, Schiller developed his aesthetic theories, which stressed the sublime and emphasized the creative powers of humanity. These views and his concept of historical inevitability are manifest in the outstanding dramatic trilogy Wallenstein (1798–99, tr. of last two parts by S. T. Coleridge, 1800), in which the general, ennobled by Schiller as a great creative statesman, bows before inexorable fate. Wallenstein reflects Schiller's labors on a large historical study (1791–93) of the Thirty Years War. Mary Stuart (1800, tr. by Stephen Spender, 1959), his most popular play, and Die Jungfrau von Orleans (1801) deal with guilt and redemption. Wilhelm Tell (1804), which places history and hero in favorable conjunction, shows Schiller's technical mastery at its best.

Schiller's interest in classical antiquity, inspired by Winckelmann, is reflected in the play Die Braut von Messina (1803), essays, and poems. An unfinished novel, Die Geisterseher, and the "Ode to Joy" (1785), used by Beethoven for the finale of his Ninth Symphony, indicate the range of his literary activity. Also noteworthy are his ballades and philosophical lyrics—graceful, compelling, often pathetic in mood. Along with Goethe, he edited the literary periodicals Horen (1795–97) and Musenalmanach (1796–1800). Schiller wrote several significant treatises on aesthetics and created his finest plays and poetry in this period; he also translated Shakespeare's Macbeth (1801), Racine's Phèdre (1805), and other works.


See biography by T. Carlyle (1899, repr. 1974); studies by E. L. Stahl (1954), T. Mann (tr. 1959), R. M. Longyear (1966), and I. Graham (1974).

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Schiller, Johann Christoph Friedrich von

Schiller, Johann Christoph Friedrich von (1759–1805) German dramatist, historian, and philosopher. His early blank verse plays, such as The Robbers (1781) and Don Carlos (1787), are classics of the Sturm und Drang period. Schiller's aesthetic and philosophical ideas were influenced by the idealism of Kant. His masterpiece is the trilogy Wallenstein (1800). Other historical plays include Mary Stuart (1801), Maid of Orleans (1801), and William Tell (1804). Schiller's “Ode to Joy” forms the finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

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