(Johann Christoph) Friedrich von Schiller

Definition

Theater

  • (1759 - 1805) One of Germany's greatest playwrights andpoets, whose lengthy works for the stage are noted for their lyricalbeauty. After Shakespeare, he was the most popular dramatist in 19th-centuryGermany.

    Schiller's first play, Die Räuber, was producedin 1782 at Mannheim by Baron von Dalberg. It was an astounding success,especially with younger playgoers, who fainted and embraced one anotherin the theater. Somewhat belatedly, it provided the Sturm undDrang movement with one of its most characteristic works, fraughtwith emotional intensity and great dramatic drive.

    Having left his military post (as medical officer with a Stuttgartregiment) without authorization to see the première of DieRauber, Schiller was ordered to stop writing plays. Instead hefled to Baron von Dalberg, but failed to interest him in his secondplay, Fiesko. This was primarily because Schiller insistedon reading it aloud to the director and company: he was such a badactor (although he had once considered the profession) that the readingcame to a grinding halt after the first act. Years after Schiller'sdeath, Fiesko was rediscovered and staged.

    Schiller briefly became the official dramatist to the Mannheimtheater, living in debt and under an assumed name to avoid the military.An admirer, Christian Gottfried Körner, became his patron andclose friend, supporting Schiller as he finished his first historicalverse tragedy, Don Carlos (1789), which at 6000 lines was nearlytwice as long as Shakespeare's Hamlet.

    In 1790 Schiller married Charlotte von Lengefeld. By thistime, however, he was suffering from tuberculosis and his health soonbegan to fail. He earned a meagre living as a professor of historyat the University of Jena, where he carried out research on the ThirtyYears' War that led to his great historical trilogy, Wallenstein.This work was completed in 1799, the year he became co-manager ofthe Weimar Court Theatre with Goethe. Despite theirvery different personalities, their collaboration continued successfullyuntil Schiller's death six years later.

    Owing to his disillusionment with the outcome of the FrenchRevolution, Schiller's later historical dramas are concerned lesswith politics than with the psychological mainsprings of human action.Maria Stuart (1800), Die Jungfrau von Orleans(1801), Die Braut von Messina (1803), and Wilhelm Tell(1804), all of which were staged by Goethe at Weimar, treat historyin an increasingly mythical light. Schiller died while writing Demetrius,a drama with a Russian theme: its brief fragments suggest that thework could have become a masterpiece.

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