- The last finished play by Friedrich von Schiller.It was first staged by Goethe at the Weimar Court Theatre in 1804,a year before Schiller's death. As Germany was then experiencing anew spirit of idealism, Schiller chose the legendary Swiss hero asa symbol of the struggle for individual and political freedom. Hissource was a 16th-century chronicle, Chronicon Helveticum (1834 - 36),by Gilg Tschudi. It was Schiller's play, however, that first broughtthe legend to worldwide attention. Albert Basserman (1867 - 1952),one of Germany's best-known naturalistic actors, took the title rolein 1919. The play was also the basis for Rossini's 1829 opera.
The story, set in the 13th century, centres on the Swiss peasantTell and his defiance of the tyrannical Austrian governor Gessler.It contains the famous incident of Tell shooting an apple from hissmall son's head with a crossbow, a punishment imposed by Gesslerbecause Tell refused to bow to a symbol of Austrian power. Tell'sassassination of Gessler raises moral questions as to whether violencemay be justified in the struggle against oppressive rule.
A play also titled William Tell (1825) was writtenby the British actor-dramatist Sheridan Knowles (1784 - 1862).