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Friedrich Schiller


Roger Paulin

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  • 1 This Introduction is largely based on my ‘Schiller, Wallenstein,’ in Peter Hutchinson (ed.), Landma (...)

1Schiller first encountered the figure of Wallenstein as a subject during his work on his History of the Thirty Years’ War, published in 1792. There, it was a question of pitting King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden against his main rival, Albrecht Wallenstein, duke of Friedland. According to Schiller’s scheme at the time, this involved contrasting the figures of the king, an “idealist” but not unmoved by political motives, with Wallenstein, the “realist,” power-hungry and following these aims pragmatically. Yet in the course of work on his History, Schiller developed a more nuanced view of Wallenstein, still unscrupulous and a victim of his own overweening ambition, but invested nevertheless with more admirable human qualities, such as generosity, always towering above his contemporaries as a figure in history.

2The idea of treating this subject in dramatic form dates from as early as 1791, with work beginning in 1793. By 1796, he could confess to Goethe that the sheer mass of material was forcing him to think beyond the confines of conventional tragedy. His philosophical studies, and his close contact with Goethe, enabled him to envisage a subject that was rooted in the here and now—“realistic” —but which gained formal dignity through the ideal constraints of art. In this way, Schiller was able to create a tragic character, in moral terms blameworthy, but from whom paradoxically we cannot withhold our admiration.

3By 1797, following Goethe’s advice, Schiller concluded that a play—a “dramatic poem,” as he eventually called it—of this density and complexity could not be contained in five acts of verse, nor indeed in two full-length dramas. By 1798, the play had assumed its present form, a trilogy, Wallenstein’s Camp in old-fashioned rhyming verse, then The Piccolomini and The Death of Wallenstein in the blank verse of the German classical high tragedy. At its first performances in Berlin and Weimar in 1798, a shortened version of parts Two and Three was presented. In 1800 appeared the full three-part version that we have today.

4Critics and commentators are in general agreement that Wallenstein represents the pinnacle of Schiller’s achievement as a dramatist.2 Contemporaries like Goethe and Wilhelm von Humboldt sensed that this was a new high point in German tragedy. Goethe had followed the genesis of the play in his correspondence with Schiller and was even behind the idea of using a trilogy as the only aesthetically satisfactory means of presenting the vast panorama of history. Coleridge’s and Constant’s translations are an indication of its reception beyond Germany.3

  • 4 G.W.F. Hegel, ‘Uber Wallenstein,’ included in Schillers ‘Wallenstein,’ ed. by Heuer and Keller, pp. (...)
  • 5 Ludwig Tieck, ‘Die Piccolomini. Wallensteins Tod,’ ibid., pp. 21–40.
  • 6 Otto Ludwig, ‘Schillers Wallenstein,’ ibid., pp. 47–52.

5Only those critics who identified one-sidedly with another tradition or with different notions of tragedy found fault with Wallenstein. Hegel around 1800 saw no religious sense behind the presence of fate in the drama, comparing it unfavorably with Greek tragedy.4 Tieck in 1826 found the love scenes superfluous and not organic to the action, making comparisons with Shakespeare’s very different technique in Romeo and Juliet.5 Otto Ludwig in 1859 found Wallenstein’s “reflective” nature unheroic and untragic and—crucially—un-Shakespearean.6 Wallenstein does not reduce so easily to the classic relations between free will and necessity that inform traditional tragic practice.

6These criticisms indicate nevertheless that the modem writer of tragedy is bound to be subjected to the scrutiny of the two major traditions that go before him: Greek drama and Shakespeare, in German terms “fate” versus “character.” Anyone who cares to look will find elements of Sophocles or Shakespeare (especially Henry IV, Macbeth and Richard III) or even Racine in Wallenstein. We know that the reading of Shakespearean plays during the early stages of work on the play helped Schiller to resolve, to his own satisfaction, the questions of history, fate, and character. But we need to bear in mind that Schiller’s historical and aesthetic sense was that of his own age and its needs. He was deeply aware of the unique and irrevocable nature of classical antiquity, the “unrepeatability” of Sophocles. Similarly, his reading of Shakespeare recognized elements irreconcilable with his own dramatic practice. His dramatic development—from The Bandits to Fiesco to Don Carlos— shows a move away from Shakespearean characterisation to figures in the guise of the idealist. These act not so much out of the passions and emotions in themselves, but come to represent a kind of philosophical postulate (freedom in the case of Karl Moor, “freedom of thought” in the case of Marquis Posa). In that sense, Wallenstein, with its ambiguities, is hardly a continuation of Schiller’s dramatic practice of the 1780s.

7There is another major difference. Schiller, between writing Don Carlos and Wallenstein, had been active on two fronts. He had been a practicing historian, and he had committed to writing abstract notions about the idea of human moral freedom in the work of art. Is Wallenstein therefore a demonstration in dramatic form of, say, Schiller’s reception of Kant? It has been common to test Wallenstein against some aspects of Schiller’s indebtedness to Kant: the categories of “sublime” and “beautiful,” of “realist” and “idealist,” of “moral” and “esthetic.” But none in practice gives secure purchase. The aim of theatre to create “the true artistic world of the poet,” the world of aesthetic “semblance,” of “free play” against the merely material, is only partially fulfilled in the sombre interplay of mankind and history.

  • 7 Goethe, ‘Die Piccolomini. Wallensteins erster Teil,’ ibid., pp. 3–9 (p. 9).
  • 8 Wilhelm Dilthey, ‘Wallenstein,’ ibid., pp. 74–103 (p. 76).

8We must always remember that Schiller is a dramatist to his fingertips, not a philosopher who thinks in dialogue. Yet it is right to seek a philosophical, theoretical and dramatic centre to this play, a problem around which it revolves. Goethe, so much involved in its genesis, believed he had put his finger on it in 1799: it was the “fantastic mind” associated with “the great and idealistic,” as against “base real life.”7 But how could one square those fairly abstract ideas with the material that underlies the whole action, the history of Wallenstein in his own age? Wilhelm Dilthey, looking back on the emergence of the genre in the nineteenth century, called Wallenstein the first German historical drama.8 That is certainly true in the sense that Schiller is in this play closer to his historical sources than in any other (despite the invention of Max and Thekla). It is also true in that Schiller agonized over the material he had expertly marshalled in his History of the Thirty Years’ War and its sources and over the best way to present it dramatically. We might question whether his deference to Goethe’s suggestion of a trilogy was the best solution, especially since Schiller was acutely aware of Goethe’s shortcomings as a dramatist.

  • 9 All German quotations from Schiller are taken from Sämtliche Werke, ed. by Gerhard Fricke, Herbert (...)

9Yet Schiller never regarded history as more than the quarry from which he drew the raw material for the finished work of art. History is a means to an end, nothing more. But he possesses nevertheless the historian’s sense of a great figure standing out from his own age, incorporating it, explaining its currents and impulses, part of it yet transcending it. He does not abandon the ability to document, but he has the capacity to sum up what is dramatically essential in history. “Thus Wallenstein fell, not because he was a rebel, but he rebelled because he fell,”9 is the proposition in History of the Thirty Years’ War. It is a philosophical paradox, and an aphorism, held together in the rhetorical figure of the chiasmus. It is stating that Schiller is not primarily concerned with the tradition of the rise and fall of the great, the pattern that informed Greek and Senecan tragedy. Wallenstein cannot be explained solely in terms of superbia, hubris, overweening ambition, although they are part of his character. Rather he displays a sense of the inadequacy of the material world, a will to change that glimpses beyond the world of the senses to some kind of ideal state. This is the aspect of Wallenstein which Schiller found most fascinating. He is not like Macbeth; we can clearly trace the steps leading up to his crime and the stages towards his downfall. Wallenstein’s dramatic graph is different. At the time of the action, over a decade of the Thirty Years’ War is past, with Wallenstein’s greatest deeds of heroism and generalship, the years of Tilly and Gustavus Adolphus, the battle of Lützen, now over.

10Rather it is the sense of an age that Schiller wishes to convey. Indeed his prologue had expressed the appropriateness of the work of art to sum up the essentials of his own times:

Not unworthy of the exalted
Moment, the time in which we live now
Prologue, 55f.)

11Historical drama, as an esthetic exercise, may point to the great movements and commotions of its own age, in Schiller’s case the aftermath of the French Revolution (the reference is to the First Consul, Bonaparte). By the same token, the work of art is not bound to the limits of its own circumstances; art by its very nature raises and transcends:

[…] and rather give her thanks
That she would play the gloomy world of Truth
Over onto the serene world of Art,
That she herself undoes forthrightly the
Illusion that she has created, does
Not substitute its Seeming for that Truth.
Our lives are earnest and our art serene.
Prologue, 131–38)

12How can “the gloomy world of Truth” and “the serene world of Art” be reconciled, and how can they be made to reflect both the historical moment and a transcendent ideal?

13Schiller’s use of the trilogy to some degree reflects the resolution of this. Wallenstein’s Camp presents us with the great general’s power base, not the man himself; The Piccolomini centres on the conflict between father and son, Octavio and Max Piccolomini; The Death of Wallenstein brings us the act of rebellion and the downfall. Each part of the trilogy has its own terms of reference and “feel.” Schiller does not follow the Shakespearean pattern of alternation between high and low styles—a pattern that has consequences for nineteenth-century verse tragedy in general. The Piccolomini and The Death of Wallenstein are characterized by the interior setting of French tragedy, with its restricted numbers on stage, and use of verse (here blank verse). The Camp stands out formally through the use of “Knittelverse” and their “old German” or Faustian associations and the comic mode of the Capuchin’s Sermon. Wallenstein does not appear. For this is the army that is occupying Bohemia and draining its substance. It is characterized by venality, materialism, the forces of fortune and chance.

14Schiller’s own commentary is “The camp alone explains his crime” [my translation] interpenetration of all spheres of the high tragedy by the Camp. We see this in the very first scene of The Piccolomini, where the generals, not the soldiery are assembled, with its military language, its use of foreign words in the original, and above all the accentuated theatricality of its stage directions (“lost in thought,” “with meaning,” “startled”). Buttler’s “We shall not go from here the way we came” (68) has an ominous ring—when we know of his later role in Wallenstein’s fall. We sense that Wallenstein’s power base is built not on high ideals but on mercenary service and plunder. The much-vaunted charismatic power of Wallenstein to raise armies—another reason why Buttler must murder him in the night before the Swedes are due to arrive—is based also on his power to pay (“this princely man” as the venal condottiere Isolani calls him, 87). Wallenstein is aware of this, as he stoically notes when Isolani deserts him for the Emperor (Death of Wallenstein, 1967f.). It is the world of the Camp— but reflected in its highest officers—that enters into the proceedings at the banquet in The Piccolomini where Isolani and Illo brawl, that disturbs the action of The Death of Wallenstein, in the representatives of the Pappenheim regiment, that explains the mentality of Buttler and his hired assassins, and which ultimately underlies the punchline of the whole play, “It’s for Prince Piccolomini.”

15We should not overlook that, at significant moments in the play, Wallenstein does fulfil the claims made about him in the Camp: he demonstrates an unsentimental and almost brutal attitude towards those in power and those close to him. We might cite here the scenes with Questenberg and Wrangel, his attitude to Thekla, and his insensitive dismissal of Max as a potential son-in-law. Instead, once his power to act is invoked—as at the end of The Death of Wallenstein I, 1—his personality shows a formidable and awesome aspect, confirming Max’s words at the end of The Piccolomini:

For this regal man, in falling,
Will bring a world down in the aftermath.
And like a ship on the high seas that flames
Up suddenly and, bursting, flies apart,
Flinging its crew out between sea and sky,
Just so will he take all of us, attached
As we are to his fortunes, down with him.
The Piccolomini, 23–91)

16The first two lines suggest the Shakespearean analogy with Caesar; the image of ship and fortune—but with explosive power of expression—reminds us the century that produced both the historical Wallenstein and baroque drama.

  • 10 Goethe, ‘Die Picolomini,’ in Schillers ‘Wallenstein,’ ed. by Heuer and Keller, p. 8f.

17Goethe, in the first important analysis of the play, contrasted the “base reality” of power and the “fantastic mind” of an ideal that this world cannot fulfil.10 We note in The Piccolomini and in the early scenes of The Death of Wallenstein the preoccupation with the word “time”: that it is not yet time to act, that things will be ordained in their own time. This is not merely the hubris of the Macbeth-like ruler (for hubris involves choosing the wrong time): Wallenstein also believes in a constellation of things beyond time. Think of the opening of The Death of Wallenstein:

WALLENSTEIN. Such favorable aspect! That great threesome
Converges fatefully; the two good stars,
Venus and Jupiter take spiteful Mars
Between them, force that vandal to serve me.
SENI. These two great lights unthreatened now by any
Star Melficus! Saturn rendered harmless,
Quite without power,
in cadente domo.
WALLENSTEIN. His rule is over, Saturn’s is, the god who
Controls the birth of secret things in Earth’s
Dark womb and in the depths of our own hearts,
Disposes over all that shuns the light.
The time is past for brooding and reflecting,
For Jupiter, most brilliant, governs now
And draws a work prepared in darkness forth
With force into the realm of light. Quick! Time
To act, before the happy constellation
Above my head eludes me once again,
For change is constant on the dome of heaven.
(Loud knocking at the door.)
(The Death of Wallenstein, 9–30)

18Here Jupiter (majesty) and Venus (beauty) hold destructive Mars in check, and Saturn, the earth, is powerless. “The most brilliant” (27), not “all that shuns the light” (25), is in control. This alone gives Wallenstein the assurance that he can act. How different from Macbeth who trusts the witches. And yet he cannot act as he would wish. Note the stage directions (“Loud knocking at the door”); Terzky arrives, then Wrangel. In the next scene, the instruction (“He makes great strides through the room, then halts again, reflecting”) stresses the anguished necessity of acting within time. Political man does not enjoy the luxury of reflexion, of “when courage drove me/Freely” (172f.), of “From a full heart” (l68), let alone the ideal esthetic freedom which Schiller sees as vested in “the beautiful.” This scene, relatively abstract in its language, trusting in trope, where the images do not come tumbling out as in Shakespeare, is in many ways the turning-point of the tragedy. But is everything programmed for downfall and disaster merely because Wallenstein has decided that his options are foreclosed and he must act? Rather, it talks of things that once seemed to be (“dream,” “hope” (143); a “full heart,” 168) and that no longer are. These are words connoting freedom from constraint, creations of the mind, imaginings indulged. They lifted him from time: now he must act in time. They raised him above the demeaning effects of “the commonplace” (199): he now must grapple with them.

19This pivotal scene may tell us what the tragedy of Wallenstein is. Of course, Schiller calls only The Death of Wallenstein a “tragedy:” the whole play is “a dramatic poem,” the more neutral term that Lessing’s Nathan the Wise had made current. Does that mean that the world of Wallenstein’s Camp, as it spills over into The Piccolomini, is less tragic than the trilogy’s dénouement? The first two parts are more closely linked with the actual stuff of political power and the jostlings for supremacy in that world. Wallenstein’s great monologues, like the one in The Death of Wallenstein I, 4, seem hardly to form part of this, showing as they do a character too complex to be confined in categories of good generalship or a warlord’s fortune. He has always been complex: trusting moods, intuitions, signs, coincidences, as he chooses. Now, he is forced to act. That does not make him tragic, although there is a tragic irony underwriting all of his tactical decisions. Surely what makes the major characters in this play tragic, not just Wallenstein, but Max, Thekla or Octavio, is that they have identified something beyond the historical and political moment, to which they appeal—in vain. It is summed up in the abstract noun that occurs repeatedly in this play: “heart.” It signifies something different at each usage, and it is never uncontaminated with other, often baser, associations. It situates this play in both the lexis and self-awareness of idealism and the cult of feeling: not the grand deeds that spur on the action in Shakespeare, but the appeal to inner sentiments. It is one reason why Schiller, in his explicit stage directions, wishes us to experience the interplay of inner and exterior reactions. It is what always sets Schiller apart from Shakespeare, even when the sentiments, as with Karl Moor or Marquis Posa, are often stridently expressed or inadequately excogitated. Had Wallenstein been Macbeth, he would have said at Max’s death: “He should have died hereafter.” Instead, his pondering of what “the beautiful” in a human life might mean takes him into a moral sphere quite different from Macbeth’s. Had he been merely the “realist” of Schiller’s theory, he would not have allowed his mind to rise above the pragmatics of the situation. But “heart” is multivalent and ambiguous, like “remembrance” in Hamlet or “honest” in Othello. It means love, honour, probity, the integrated self; it helps to explain why loyalty can become a key issue in this historical drama, so unlike the naked struggles in Shakespeare’s Histories. But examining one’s heart means also consulting other interests: Octavio’s appeal to Max’s heart also involves imperial and dynastic loyalties; Wallenstein, similarly, but also Max’s “between you and the promptings of my heart” (Death of Wallenstein, 696), which, as we know, means as much choosing Thekla as remaining loyal to Emperor Ferdinand. “Heart” also invites us to think, not in categories (such as “beautiful soul”) but according to human experience. Max’s desperate end cannot be read as “beautiful”: what is there left to live for? Wallenstein’s heart goes out to Max—it is in human terms the most convincing love in the play—but it cannot be divorced from retaining the Pappenheim regiment and it rules out Max as a son-in-law. Hence we are seized and moved by Wallenstein’s “heart” in the elegiac mode of Acts Four and Five of The Death of Wallenstein when there can be no more manoevrings and temporizings—and when thugs are planning his murder. Octavio is never more tragic than when he realises at the end that “heart” involves losing a son in the cause that he espouses.

20The figure of Max distinguishes this play further from Shakespeare, a figure who represents “the beautiful,” while, as we saw, drawn into the world of reality by family affiliation and profession. Shakespeare’s technique is different: his villains, Richard or Macbeth, are so commanding that they steal the show from the powers of legitimacy (Richmond, Malcolm). Yet Schiller’s play is not just a conflict between, in his terms, the “idealist” and the “realist.” Max’s despair and death do not belong in the pure realm any more than Wallenstein’s actions. But it is Wallenstein who enunciates the principle of pragmatic action, while also looking beyond it. That is the sense of his famous speech in the second act of The Death of Wallenstein,Young, one is quick to seize upon a word” (755ff.), with its awareness of the contrasting spheres of “wide” or “pure” as opposed to “crude,” “bad” or “deceitful,” its essential call for compromise, its opposition to what Max calls “heart.” Through an irony, it is only after Max’s death that Wallenstein can appreciate the “dream” of humanity he sees Max as representing:

To me he made real stuff into a dream (3324)

  • 11 Thomas Mann, included in Schillers ‘Wallenstein,’ ed. by Heuer and Keller, pp. 139–56 (p. 141).

21Max, as son, as the object of affection (“child/ Of my own house” 2089f.), brings out the inner side of the ruler, hidden from the world of the Camp (The Death of Wallenstein, III, 18). One thinks of Thomas Mann’s gloss on the line “my Max would ever leave me” (2092) [my italics],11 where Wallenstein’s little word sums up his moral dilemma. He is bound by forces of affection, but he also needs Max’s regiment as part of the retention of power.

22Max, too, is linked with that other aspect of Wallenstein’s belief in some higher awareness. The well-known speech in The Death of Wallenstein, II, 3 (“My dream took me into the thick of battle,” 896ff.), where Wallenstein’s vision is written off by pragmatists as “chance”, is in fact a defence of Max’s father Octavio. Wallenstein’s belief is guaranteed by an inner sense of security and wellbeing. But we note that Max, by an irony in the economy of the action, finds his death in a scene (IV, 10) which echoes Wallenstein’s original dream vision.

23Thus in the last scenes of the play, as Wallenstein accepts the guilt for Max’s death, we sense almost a sublimity, (in Schiller’s sense) entering in. It is not real, but dramatically devised. Wallenstein has not so much changed; he is not on an ascendant moral curve. But our esthetic satisfaction demands that his end be different from Macbeth’s or Richard’s. Think of the moving scene V, 3, with its renunciation of “baleful planets that deceive us” (3309). It contrasts with the tragic sense of impending catastrophe and end, and rises above the sphere of the brutal Buttler and his henchmen. The heavens are darkened; the atmosphere is lyrical; Max is the light of his life, not extinguished, but safe from the things that have held Wallenstein in their thrall, fate,’ “planets,” “misfortune” and “hour” (3603ff.). Yet for all that, Wallenstein has not entirely abandoned his hopes for the coming day, which for him will never dawn. It takes us back to his earlier monologue in the first act (I, 4). His ambition is not just to rule, but to fulfil a vision of change, to set new values against

The commonplace, eternal Yesterday,
What’s always been, is always coming back
Tomorrow will be good since it was good today.
Precious old hoardings, got from his ancestors! (199ff.)

24It is a vision, not of habitual recurrence, but of change. It lifts us—momentarily only—above intrigue. It deludes Wallenstein into thinking that ambition, double-dealing, and the naked exercise of power may be justified if the end is worthwhile. It is this vision which constitutes the major difference between Octavio (and by extension the Emperor) and Wallenstein, between the old order and a glimpse of the new. It is related to Max’s vision of peace and “humanity” in The Piccolomini I, 4. But Wallenstein is too taken up with the present, with the ambition of a crown, a dynasty, a pax romana, to grasp the full implications of this “humanity.” He sees fulfilment in the other, Max, not in himself. Wallenstein still sets his face against the real future, which we know will bring his demise and the tragic denouement for Max there is no future to fear:

For him no future waits, for him no fate
Spins treachery; his life now lies laid out
Without a fold or wrinkle, and it shines,
Immaculate, it lies beyond time’s reach,
And he’s beyond both hope and fear, beyond
Unsteady, baleful planets that deceive us.
His lot is happy!
(The Death of Wallenstein, 3301–10)


1 This Introduction is largely based on my ‘Schiller, Wallenstein,’ in Peter Hutchinson (ed.), Landmarks in German Drama (Bern, 2002), pp. 47–57 (by kind permission of the publisher, Peter Lang).

2 For an account of the reception of Wallenstein, with an extensive bibliography, see Schillers ‘Wallenstein,’ ed. by Fritz Heuer and Werner Keller, Wege der Forschung 420 (Darmstadt, 1977). See also Friedrich Schiller: ‘Wallenstein:’ Erläuterungen und Dokumente, ed. by Kurt Rothmann, Reclams Universal Bibliothek 8136 [3] (Stuttgart, 1982). Recent studies in English include T.J. Reed, The Classical Centre. Goethe and Weimar 1775–1832 (Oxford, 1980), pp. 136–49; also Schiller, Past Masters (Oxford and New York, 1991), pp. 80–85; Lesley Sharpe, Schiller and the Historical Character. Presentation and Interpretation in the Historiographical Works and in the Historical Dramas (Oxford, 1982), pp. 72–105; and Friedrich Schiller, Drama, Thought and Politics (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 217–50; F.J. Lamport, ‘Wallenstein on the English Stage,’ German Life and Letters, 48 (1995), 124–47.

3 Colerige's translation of the play (1891 edition) is available at; Constant's (1809 edition) at,_1809.djvu

4 G.W.F. Hegel, ‘Uber Wallenstein,’ included in Schillers ‘Wallenstein,’ ed. by Heuer and Keller, pp. 15f.

5 Ludwig Tieck, ‘Die Piccolomini. Wallensteins Tod,’ ibid., pp. 21–40.

6 Otto Ludwig, ‘Schillers Wallenstein,’ ibid., pp. 47–52.

7 Goethe, ‘Die Piccolomini. Wallensteins erster Teil,’ ibid., pp. 3–9 (p. 9).

8 Wilhelm Dilthey, ‘Wallenstein,’ ibid., pp. 74–103 (p. 76).

9 All German quotations from Schiller are taken from Sämtliche Werke, ed. by Gerhard Fricke, Herbert G. Gopfert and Herbert Stubenrauch, 5 vols (Munich, 1960), here IV, 688. Wallenstein translation quoted in text with part and line number.

10 Goethe, ‘Die Picolomini,’ in Schillers ‘Wallenstein,’ ed. by Heuer and Keller, p. 8f.

11 Thomas Mann, included in Schillers ‘Wallenstein,’ ed. by Heuer and Keller, pp. 139–56 (p. 141).


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