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Exploring the Interior

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Karl S. Guthke

III. The universe within

10. The Curse of Good Deeds: Schiller’s William Tell

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A Political Play?

  • 1 Walter Muschg, “Schiller ohne Wilhelm Tell,” in Muschg, Studien zur tragischen Literaturgeschichte(...)
  • 2 Werke und Briefe, ed. Otto Damm et al. (Frankfurt: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag), V (1996), 750, 751, (...)
  • 3 Iring Fetscher, “Philister, Terrorist oder Reaktionär?: Schillers Tell und seine linken Kritiker,” (...)
  • 4 Gonthier-Louis Fink, “Schillers Wilhelm Tell, ein antijakobinisches republikanisches Schauspiel,” (...)

1Wilhelm Tell (1804) – unique in Schiller’s oeuvre in that it is subtitled “Schauspiel”– has always been taken to be the most easily accessible of his plays, appealing primarily, if not exclusively, to children and the Swiss, to opera lovers appreciating the son et lumière as well as to connoisseurs of familiar quotations, and, just possibly, to aficionados of kitsch, be they naive or sophisticated. No wonder at least one critical intellectual, Swiss as it happens, but no doubt speaking for many others, fantasized about a “Schiller without Wilhelm Tell.”1 Schiller himself had hoped that Tell would appeal to the “heart and senses” and be “effective on stage,” in other words, that it would be a folk play appealing to everybody (“Volksstück,” “für das ganze Publikum”).2 Whether taking such hints or not, audiences have usually experienced the work as a celebratory play or a festive event, a “Festspiel” jubilating at the victory of a popular sort of idealism that restores the sovereignty of the people with unfailing aplomb. Tell was indeed something for everybody (who could be against it, other than totalitarian regimes, such as Hitler’s)3 – and something for all seasons. But that is where popularity becomes problematic. For Schiller’s celebration of an event of thirteenth-century Swiss history is so rhetorically vague and operatically enthralling that it gained a dubious kind of universality and adaptability allowing it to be appropriated by a motley group of ideologies. After all, hadn’t Schiller himself instrumentalized the chosen moment in medieval local history to express concerns about his own political present?4 So why not look for applicability at a later period? As a result, Tell came to be a multipurpose political play.

  • 5 Walter Müller-Seidel, “Verschwörungen und Rebellionen in Schillers Dramen,” La Révolution Français (...)
  • 6 Edith Braemer, “Wilhelm Tell,” in Braemer and Ursula Wertheim, Studien zur deutschen Klassik (Berl (...)
  • 7 Braemer, 327.
  • 8 Dieter Borchmeyer, “‘Altes Recht’und Revolution: Schillers Wilhelm Tell,” Kunst, Humanität und Pol (...)
  • 9 Gert Ueding, “Wilhelm Tell,” Schillers Dramen, ed. Walter Hinderer (Stuttgart, 1992), 413.
  • 10 Max Frisch, Wilhelm Tell für die Schule (Frankfurt, 1971), 122.
  • 11 Ferdinand Piedmont, “‘Reißt die Mauern ein!’: Schillers Wilhelm Tell auf der Bühne im Jahr der ‘ d (...)
  • 12 Norbert Ndong, “‘Sie werden kommen, unsre Alpen abzumessen…’: Über Friedrich Schillers Drama Wilhe (...)

2Although the men of the twentieth of July right-of-centre conspiracy against Hitler may not have claimed Schiller’s Tell as an archetypical model themselves, scholars have confidently done so on their behalf.5 East German Communists thought nothing of welcoming the rebellion of the Swiss “lower strata of society,” indeed of the “Volk,” against the feudal order as an analogue of their own seemingly successful class struggle,6 and they pointed to the French Revolution as yet another analogue – hadn’t Schiller, commenting on Tell, spoken of a storm on the Bastille?7 They might have taken comfort from the fact that the historical, or rather mythical, Tell of the Swiss tradition had indeed been a heroic idol of the Jacobins.8 Likewise, Schiller’s Tell was claimed as a precursor of late-twentieth-century freedom fighters,9 of mid-twentiethcentury terrorists,10 and of the anti-Communist liberation movement in East Germany culminating in 1989;11 finally, the play has been read as a case study of colonialism in the guise of “modernization.”12

  • 13 Fritz Martini, “Wilhelm Tell, der ästhetische Staat und der ästhetische Mensch,” Der Deutschunterr (...)
  • 14 Borchmeyer, 98; Fink, 71.
  • 15 Helmut Koopmann, Friedrich Schiller: Eine Einführung (München and Zürich, 1988), 129.

3If Tell can be appropriated by so many diverse political ideologies, then maybe its own intellectual signet is wishy-washy enough that it can be said to have no political message, or even implication, at all. The play has indeed been seen that way. Pre-1968 generations reveled in the euphoria of Wilhelm Tell as a Gesamtkunstwerk celebrating the triumph of Schiller’s concept of “aesthetic education”; as such, it was a timeless, universally human, pointedly unpolitical vision of the “whole man” cultivating his serene inner freedom and autonomy, complemented by the “aesthetic state” he is providentially fortunate to live in. According to this interpretation, Tell was beauty of existence beautifully presented, with ideological dynamite conspicuous only by its absence.13 One particularly beautiful moment in this view is the sun rising as a harbinger of the realization of this aesthetic ideal at the conclusion of the scene on the Rütli, the alpine meadow where rebels from the three cantons swear allegiance to their confederation that was designed to resist rampant political oppression. But every reasonably alert contemporary would have registered that the rising sun had been the ubiquitous symbol of the French Revolution.14 Hadn’t Schiller himself, quite apart from his reference to Tell’s storm on the Bastille, remarked that, at a time when Swiss political “freedom” seemed to have vanished, he wanted to arouse people again (“den Leuten den Kopf wieder warm machen”) with his play (753)? “Again” – the American War of Independence was still a talking point for the author of Kabale und Liebe, the French Revolution, its turbulent aftermath extending well into the early 1800s, was never far from his thoughts, and the Helvetic Republic of 1798 collapsed while Schiller, suspected of subversive leftist propensities himself, was writing his play about the Swiss freedom fighter. So how could Tell not be a “didactic play about the correct attitude to take in a menacing political situation,”15 perhaps even one with an in tirannos motto?

  • 16 Steven D. Martinson, “William Tell, or Natural Justice”, in Martinson, Harmonious Tensions: The Wr (...)
  • 17 Borchmeyer, Fink, Müller-Seidel; also Hans-Jörg Knobloch, “Wilhelm Tell: Historisches Festspiel od (...)

4The political message or implication of Tell has been analyzed in depth and repeatedly, largely by competent students of intellectual history and political philosophy. Yet, oddly enough, not only has there been no agreement but the most perceptive analyses have diagnosed a complicated, highly differentiated ideological stance of such sophistication in legal and constitutional thought that one wonders how “das ganze Publikum” for whom the “Volksstück” was intended could have been expected to follow the subtleties of such an argument. At issue, broadly speaking, is this: does the author, known to have had reservations about the course the French Revolution took, come out on the side of the democratic republican ideals, natural law, and the rights of man (all proclaimed in 1789), that is to say, on the side of a new social contract for “the moral-rational state of the future”?16 Or does the play advocate a conservative revolution in the sense of defending traditional cantonal rights established in agreement with the Habsburg monarchy against the arbitrary tyranny of a corrupt Habsburg governor – revolution as restoration of guaranteed regional self-determination within the commonwealth of the Empire? (This is the view of many critics, who, in effect, turn a deaf ear to statements like “The old will pass, and times will suffer change –/ From out the ruins new life blossoms forth” [2425– 2426]). The former view might recommend itself more easily if one keeps one’s eyes fixed on Tell, the latter if one listens to the Rütli conspirators, from whom Tell was conspicuously absent. Can one blame critics for arguing “yes and no”? The most sensitive and knowledgeable among them see an uneasy yet subtle and sophisticated amalgam of an ideology bent on restoring ancient cantonal constitutional rights and a political vision indebted to the natural law to which the French Revolution had recourse.17 And don’t the Rütli conspirators speak with two voices themselves when, on the one hand, with Stauffacher as their spokesman, they insist they are non-subversive in their abidance by the emperor’s written guarantees of their liberty: “No new league is it that we here establish; / An ancient covenant it is which we/Revive” (1154– 1156; cp. 1215, 1326) – while, on the other hand, they appeal to the droits de l’homme in the state of nature? It is the same person, Stauffacher, who claims these laws on their behalf:

Yes! There’s a limit to the tyrant’s power!
When man, oppressed, has cried in vain for justice
And knows his burden is too great to bear,
With bold revolt he reaches up to heaven
To seize those rights which are for ever his,
As permanent and incorruptible
As are the stars upon the crystal round.
The primal state of nature is regained
Where man stands face to face with his oppressor.
When every other means has failed, he has
As last resort the sword in mortal combat.
It is our right, in face of violence,
To guard our own. Our country is at stake.
For wife and child we pledge our lives, our all!

Nein, eine Grenze hat Tyrannenmacht,
Wenn der Gedrückte nirgends Recht kann finden,
Wenn unerträglich wird die Last – greift er
Hinauf getrosten Mutes in den Himmel,
Und holt herunter seine ewgen Rechte,
Die droben hangen unveräußerlich
Und unzerbrechlich wie die Sterne selbst –
Der alte Urstand der Natur kehrt wieder,
Wo Mensch dem Menschen gegenüber steht –
Zum letzten Mittel, wenn kein andres mehr
Verfangen will, ist ihm das Schwert gegeben –
Der Güter höchstes dürfen wir verteid’ gen
Gegen Gewalt – Wir stehn vor unser Land,
Wir stehn vor unsre Weiber, unsre Kinder! (1275– 1288)

  • 18 Borchmeyer, “Um einen anderen Wilhelm Tell für die Schule bittend,” Der Deutschunterricht, XXXV (1 (...)

5So the rebels stand for both: for the conservative restoration of positive law and the affirmation of the people’s and the individual’s inalienable natural rights. This seems to be confusing indeed. To be sure, the uneasy ensemble of opposites in the Swiss political platform would not sanction terreur. Instead it would, in the felicitous formulation of a critic, amount to a paradigm of how the French Revolution “would have had to turn out to be ‘ good.’”18

  • 19 Borchmeyer (1982), 108 (“ungetrübt”), cp. 110–111.
  • 20 Martini, 112, 117; Benno von Wiese, Friedrich Schiller (Stuttgart, 1959), 770; Gerhard Kaiser, “Id (...)
  • 21 Luserke in Werke und Briefe, V, 823.

6But then the question arises: is the Revolution as presented by Schiller also “good” for the man who is celebrated in the grand finale as its exponent, namely Tell himself? Is it correct to say that Wilhelm Tell is unique among Schiller’s plays in that it realizes the political ideal without a cloud hovering over it?19 Really? Here we are touching on the nerve of the drama: does Tell’s life, or his personality, remain unharmed after the two master shots, the one in Altdorf, aimed at the apple on his son’s head at Geßler’s, the governor’s, command, and the one in Küßnacht, killing Geßler? Does Tell remain “undisturbed,” in “harmony with himself,” emotionally “unharmed,” untouched by tragedy, “beyond any conflict” in himself?20 Strangely, there is hardly a word about Tell himself, the founder (“Stifter”) of republican liberty (3083), in the analyses of the political philosophy of the play – analyses that discern a sophisticated blend of political philosophies in the patriotic program of the conspirators that leaves readers untrained in the nuances of political theory wondering. But then, the play itself is “not a legalistic treatise on the legality of tyrannicide.”21

  • 22 Fink, 75; Lesley Sharpe, Schiller and the Historical Character: Presentation and Interpretation in (...)
  • 23 G. W. McKay, “Three scenes from Wilhelm Tell,” The Discontinuous Tradition: Studies in German Lite (...)
  • 24 Fink, 59– 62, 74, 78.

7And doesn’t the drama repeatedly return from its focus on the ideological conspiracy (the Rütli plot for short, which leads to the storming of the Swiss Bastille) to the dramatis persona of the title page whose name is more intimately connected with this revolution than any other? It does, but significantly, there is little if any connection in terms of pragmatic dramatic action between the two. True, Tell, while refusing to join the Rütli group, does not expressly part company with them: “Yet if you need me for some special task,/Then summon Tell. You know I shall not fail you” (444 – 445). But he remains solitary, and certainly a man without a political philosophy. When he kills Geßler, he does not act on behalf of the conspirators and their ideology, nor does he foresee political consequences – just as the apple shot had not been the signal for the storm on the feudal fortresses.22 So there is a certain incongruity in the Swiss “Volk” cheering Tell in the finale as the creator of their newly-won freedom. Surely the point is not that Schiller wishes to demonstrate that the French Revolution, or any revolution, is “good” if the dirty work, the bloody deed, is, as luck would have it in the Swiss case, done not by the principals (who remain beyond suspicion of any morally questionable action) but by outsiders: by Tell and by Parricida, whose assassination of the emperor is, historically speaking, “the most important political fact.”23 And yet the isolation of Tell from the Rütli conspirators did not just happen. It was Schiller’s own doing, in deliberate contradiction of his sources, Tschudi’s Chronicon Helveticum (1734) and Johannes von Müller’s Der Geschichten schweizerischer Eydgenossenschaft erster und zweyter Theil (History of the Swiss Commonwealth Parts One and Two, 1786).24 Indeed, even within the play this separation of Tell from the conspiracy is thematized, not only in Tell’s proverbial “The strong man’s strongest when he acts alone” (437) but more significantly in that Schiller is at great pains to point out that Tell, acting on his own in killing Geßler who forced him to risk shooting his child in the appleshot scene, is in conflict with the stated aim of the insurgents:

Whoso in his own case fends for himself
Commits offense against the common cause.

Denn Raub begeht am allgemeinen Gut,
Wer selbst sich hilft in seiner eignen Sache. (1464– 1465)

8Moreover, by isolating Tell in this way, Schiller risked the interpretation that Tell, the killer (appropriating for his part the subversive “rights of man” and “law of nature”), would be suspected of Jacobinism, as indeed he was when August Wilhelm Iffland voiced his concern in connection with his staging of Wilhelm Tell in Berlin in 1804 (801). But would that not also make Tell a Jacobin troubled by his conscience? And is it really a Jacobin whom the patriotic Swiss cheer in the final scene? Would that not implicate them as well?

9In the light of the abundant writing on Tell, it still remains unclear just what Schiller intended by isolating Tell from the conspirators and what the play gained from this decision. The various readings, taken together, unintentionally suggest more questions than answers: contractual rights of the medieval tradition or the natural rights, the droits de l’homme of 1789; anti-Jacobinism (and anti-terreur) or Jacobinism; conservative revolution or progressive revolution? Replacing the either-or by bothand only muddies the waters of political philosophy and legal theory even more. But should that not be a hint that the play ought to be read not (or not only) in terms of theories of state and society but in terms of Tell himself – so carefully removed from close contact with the revolutionary event based on political ideology? Schiller, the dramatist, shaper, and explorer of characters, is no doubt more interested in emphasizing the human dimension of the historical event, with its philosophical implications forming little more than its backdrop. Once one sees that not ideology but Tell is the crux, that is: once one focuses on the human rather than the political or philosophical dimension, the “Schauspiel” Wilhelm Tell ceases to be as exceptional in Schiller’s oeuvre as it has long seemed to be and still is to many readers. For the human dimension opens up that tragic perspective that is Schiller’s dramatic signet. This comes into view when one takes seriously the question posed earlier: does the revolution succeed, that is, is it “good,” also in the sense that it leaves Tell’s moral and psychic harmony intact, “unclouded,” “undisturbed,” “unharmed”? Only if one approaches the play with this question in mind – the question that would have exercised the dramatist renowned for his character portrayal – can one understand why Tell is conceived to be a figure apart and, vice versa, how the drama as a structured whole gains its meaning only in relation to this figure and his inner conflicts. If, then, the old and perennially vexing question of the isolation of Tell from the revolution that bears his name is thought through again from this point of view, an interesting answer might emerge.

The Puzzle of the Key Figure

  • 25 Koopmann, 128 vs. Sharpe, 307–308 and E. L. Stahl, Friedrich Schiller’s Drama (Oxford, 1961), 141– (...)

10Schiller was aware that the isolation of the protagonist was at the core of the play as a whole and that its structure depended on it. While still working on the manuscript, he wrote to Iffland on 5 December 1803 that Tell stood somewhat apart (“ziemlich für sich”) in the play, that “his is a personal matter and remains so until, in the conclusion, it links up with the public matter” (755) or the common cause as the play has it (434). This, then, is the point at issue: just how do the personal and public, the moral and the political, the events around Tell and the uprising against the Hapsburg governors in their feudal fortresses interact, not pragmatically, but intellectually and thematically? Champions of a “fortunate symbiosis” or unbroken fusion are confronted by those critics who see an unrelieved tension between the two or even a breaking apart amounting to a serious flaw.25 In other words: does Tell’s deed become a representative event in the course of the action, giving meaning to the entire play, or doesn’t it?

11One thing is clear: the “public matter” would point in the general direction of an intellectually somewhat less demanding “Volksstück,” while the “personal matter” suggests an approach Schiller was intimately familiar with: thinking through a problem in the medium of character portrayal. Which of the two had more weight in Schiller’s deliberations with himself? He leaves no doubt about this in his remarks written in the margins of Iffland’s catalog of concerns on 10 April 1804. Here, he defends Tell’s soul-searching monologue preceding the assassination of Geßler, which Iffland had found to be inappropriately loquacious, Tell being a self-admitted man of action, not words; Schiller confides: he would not have written the play if it had not been for this particular scene (807). And, generalizing from that other soul-searching scene, the dialogue with Parricida, the political murderer, in the final act, he goes on to say that the literary merit of the play (“das poetisch große”) was to be found “in the significance of the situations and in the tragic dignity of the dramatis personae. If Tell and his family are not, and do not remain the most interesting subject [“Gegenstand”] of the play, if one could be more keen on something else, the point of the work would have been missed” (“wäre die Absicht des Werks sehr verfehlt worden,” 808–809).

12Yet in what sense does Tell come to be the most interesting component of the play? This question equally addresses the drama as a whole, for if the overall intention cannot be realized without a proper grasp of the most fascinating character, then, Schiller is saying, the Tell plot and the revolution plot together make up the distinctive essence of the play; they must therefore be linked, related to each other. But how?

  • 26 R. C. Ockenden, “Wilhelm Tell as Political Drama,” Oxford German Studies, XVIII/XIX (1989/1990), 4 (...)

13The link that Schiller has in mind cannot be a pragmatic one of dramatic plot construction, for that sort of connection he deliberately avoided, contradicting the historical sources he used. The link must therefore be an intellectual or thematic connection that relates the “strong man act[ing] alone” and the conspirators’attack on the Swiss Bastille. And those critics who, unlike others, do not deny that such a connection exists, easily find this link in the operatic finale, in the people’s celebration of their regained Helvetic freedom and of Tell as its “Stifter,” its creator, or founder. But is Tell now truly integrated into the community? So much so that he is now to be seen as nothing less than the “embodiment of the entire population”? Can the supra-tragic harmony of the jubilant tableau concluding the play, which at this point does seem to become a folk festival of the first water, really be taken at face value, as it has been from early on through the 1959 Schiller jubilee to the late 1990s?26 If one sees a more or less uncomplicated harmony at the end, one prejudges the nature of what is brought into harmony in the final scene: the revolutionary action of the Rütli conspirators on the one hand and the “soul” of Tell, the lone “strong man,” on the other. Both need to be looked at closely.

14The revolutionary action is beautifully simple. It moves ahead, driven by its own dynamics, gaining momentum from each new atrocity committed by the Hapsburg governors and the reactions it provokes. Wolfenschießen attempts to rape Baumgarten’s wife; Baumgarten thereupon slays him with the proverbial “ax in the house.” Landenberg gouges old Melchthal’s eyes out in retribution for no misdeed of his, which drives his son into the arms of the dissidents. Incidents such as these lead to the Rütli conspiracy, which then brings about the destruction of the feudal strongholds. As this sketch of causes and effects may suggest, Schiller is careful not to problematize the revolutionary action. The ideological niceties mentioned earlier – restitution of contractually agreed-upon rights or insistence on inalienable natural rights or various amalgamations of the two – are submerged in the tumult of events and the noisy celebration of victory.

15The action around Tell, which does not get underway until almost mid-play (significantly, after the oath taken on the Rütli) is largely self-contained, and its plot is simple. It moves “naturally” from the appleshot episode to the shot that kills Geßler and on to the grand finale that brings the two strands of the action together as it celebrates the revolution and Tell, that is to say, both the political and the personal matter (“Sache”).

  • 27 Kommerell, Geist und Buchstabe der Dichtung, 3rd ed. (Frankfurt, 1944), esp. 187.
  • 28 Kaiser, 201; cp. Martini, 109; Ueding, 394–395.
  • 29 Ueding, 394, 404.
  • 30 Ulrich Karthaus, “Schiller und die Französische Revolution,” Jahrbuch der Deutschen Schillergesell (...)
  • 31 Hans-Günther Thalheim, “Notwendigkeit und Rechtlichkeit der Selbsthilfe in Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell (...)

16The rub is in the “and.” There would be a good fit if Tell could be included in the general jubilation in the manner of a suitable rather than a jarring prop, in other words, if Tell were of a piece with the rest of the patriotic Swiss that crowd the stage. This, however, would imply that Schiller would have abdicated his role as the shaper and portraitist of complex, “difficult” human beings that he normally is – as the shrewd and subtle portraitist of human nature that Max Kommerell had in mind as long ago as the 1930s in his essay “Schiller als Psychologe.”27 If one reads Tell as a triumphant exposition of harmony beyond tragedy, as has usually been the case, certainly in German-speaking countries, Schiller, the doctor of medicine from a period when psychology was not a discipline distinct from “surgery,” as his dissertation amply demonstrates, would have failed to practice his psychological skill in creating the protagonist of the play. And indeed, we are told that Tell cannot be “grasped” psychologically, as he is a saint, a “Heiliger der Natur”28 – as though that were a household term, like terrorist or resistance fighter. In this view, Tell is a saint, or a mythical dragon-slayer, or a political messiah without moral scruples: a mythological figure of superhuman dimensions fitted into a work that fuses “an idealistic history drama and a ritualistic celebration of the ancient heroes” into one play.29 Such a Tell fits without jarring into a “Festspiel” of political liberation. “Grasping” Tell this way surely preempts the need to consider what Schiller might have meant when according to Karl August Böttiger, the director of the Weimar Gymnasium, he insisted in 1804 that Wilhelm Tell was about “psychologische Motivierung” (797– 798). If one ignores such a hint from the acknowledged master psychologist, one easily jumps to an idealization or canonization or blanket justification that transforms the assassin of Geßler into an ideal personified: Tell becomes an apostle or a saint or indeed a “secularized savior figure,” a “Messiah” who performs “ein Wunder Gottes”30 – or even a paradigm of Schiller’s critique of Kant’s indictment of “tyrannicide.”31 What all such interpretations miss is the human dimension of Wilhelm Tell, chamois hunter, husband, father, neighbor, and murderer.

  • 32 Koopmann, 134; cp. Stahl, 144; F. J. Lamport, “The Silence of Wilhelm Tell,” Modern Language Revie (...)

17This is all the more surprising as Schiller goes out of his way, to the point of dramatic implausibility, to demonstrate that Tell’s drama is first and foremost an inner one, a drama of moral soul-searching. Why else his anguished monologue before his assassination of Geßler and why the somewhat contrived dialogue with Parricida, the clearly reprehensible regicide, attempting self-justification? Wasn’t taciturnity one of the defining characteristics of Tell, the man of action? No critic ignores these two purple passages, but all too many conclude that they embroider an open and shut case: “The audience is to be convinced that the murder Tell committed is [or was] justified.”32

18And yet, Tell himself is deeply disturbed by his deed – the deed planned and the deed carried out. What troubles him is murder – the word “Mord” is repeated with conspicuous frequency – which does not make Tell the unproblematic hero required by the harmonizing readings of Tell. The fact that in his moral deliberations with himself Tell invokes the authority of an avenging god (2596) surely does not validate his decision to take retribution in his own hands and assassinate Geßler; it certainly does not whitewash him any more than the faint echoes in his Küßnacht monologue of idealistic notions of what is good and just. If one argues along such lines, one ignores the manifest psychological focus of the dramatist who leaves Tell no less troubled for all that, but that is what continental critics normally do.

  • 33 Lamport, 862, also Mainland and others referred to below.

19However, things are different in countries where to this day the educated classes grow up with Shakespeare, who gives the benefit of his psychological acumen and sophistication, last but not least, to his murderers. From early on Schiller was dubbed the Shakespeare of the Germans. This association may account for the fact that some Anglo-Saxon interpretations of the protagonist of Wilhelm Tell, unlike continental ones, tend to see in him not the saint or the symbol of freedom or the hero of Swiss myth, beyond reproach and indeed beyond scrutiny, but “a real human being” that allows and in fact requires a psychological approach.33 Attention given, no matter how casually, to character portrayal in such English-language studies is, however, only the first of two steps to be taken. The other one is to inquire how a psychologically complex and interesting Tell contributes to the functioning of the play in its entirety and thus to its overall thematic structure. For if Tell should turn out to be a fascinatingly problematized protagonist, rather than a monolithic saint or hero, then Wilhelm Tell as a whole cannot seriously be read as an idealistic “Festspiel” of freedom, political or otherwise.

The Troubled “Savior”

20The key passages that psychological attention must focus on are those that Schiller considered the intellectual core of the play: the monologue preceding the murder of Geßler and the justificatory dialogue with Parricida. It is in these that the inner drama expresses itself above all.

21The monologue, as Schiller said in responding to Iffland’s concerns about its possible political subversiveness, is “the best part of the entire play” (“das beste im ganzen Stück”): Tell’s emotional condition (“Empfindungszustand”) constitutes the appeal of the play, and that was, to repeat, what persuaded Schiller to write Tell in the first place (807). In the same response, this time addressing Tell’s exchange with Parricida, he wrote the statement, already quoted, about Tell being the “intereßanteste Gegenstand im Stück” and crucial to the “Absicht des Werks.” The two key passages are again coupled in Schiller’s letter to Iffland of 14 April 1804: “Goethe agrees with me that without that monologue and without the personal appearance of Parricida Tell [or Tell or both?] would have been unthinkable” (770). How then does Tell reveal his inner drama in these two key passages? First the meditative prelude to the assassination of Geßler:

So, Gessler, settle your account with heaven.
Your hour has struck. ‘ Tis time for you to go.

My life was peaceful and I did no harm.
My arrow’s target was the woodland’s beasts.
No thought of murder ever came to me.
But from this quiet state you thrust me out
And turned the milk of charitable thought
To seething dragon’s venom in my soul.
You have accustomed me to monstrous things
– A man who had to aim at his child’s head
Can also pierce his enemy to the heart.

Those poor children in their innocence,
A faithful wife I must protect against
Your frenzy. When I was tightening the bowstring,
In that same moment, as my hand did tremble
And you, with taunting devilish delight
Were forcing me to aim at my child’s head
And I was groveling helpless at your feet,
‘Twas then that I made a promise to myself
With fearful oath, and God as my sole witness,
That my next arrow take for its prime aim
Your heart. The promise which I made myself
In the grim and hellish torment of that moment–
It is a sacred debt: I will repay.

You are my lord, vice-gerent of the king;
But not the king himself would dare to do
Such things as you have done. He sent you here
To judge, and sternly, since he is displeased,
Not to indulge with murderous delight
In every sort of horror, unrebuked.
There is a God, to punish and avenge.
[…]

And all who travel make their destined way
To their own tasks – and murder is my task.
(Sits down.)
There was a time, dear children, when your father
Would set forth and you would still rejoice
On his return […].
[…]

But now he is intent on other game;
In a mountain pass forlorn he thinks of murder;
His quarry is his deadly enemy.
– And yet it is of you he thinks, dear children;
To shield your life and your fair innocence,
To save you from the vengeance of the tyrant
Your father draws his bowstring taut for murder.

[…]
[…] this day’s spoil is of a higher order –
The heart of him that seeks my own destruction.

[…]
Even the upright man can find no peace
If wicked neighbors will not have it so.

Mach deine Rechnung mit dem Himmel Vogt,
Fort mußt du, deine Uhr ist abgelaufen.

Ich lebte still und harmlos – Das Geschoß
War auf des Waldes Tiere nur gerichtet,
Meine Gedanken waren rein von Mord –
Du hast aus meinem Frieden mich heraus
Geschreckt in gährend Drachengift hast du
Die Milch der frommen Denkart mir verwandelt,
Zum Ungeheuren hast du mich gewöhnt –
Wer sich des Kindes Haupt zum Ziele setzte,
Der kann auch treffen in das Herz des Feinds.

Die armen Kindlein, die unschuldigen,
Das treue Weib muß ich vor deiner Wut
Beschützen, Landvogt – Da, als ich den Bogenstrang
Anzog – als mir die Hand erzitterte –
Als du mit grausam teufelischer Lust
Mich zwangst, aufs Haupt des Kindes anzulegen –
Als ich ohnmächtig flehend rang vor dir,
Damals gelobt’ich mir in meinem Innern
Mit furchtbarm Eidschwur, den nur Gott gehört,
Daß meines nächsten Schusses erstes Ziel

Dein Herz sein sollte – Was ich mir gelobt
In jenes Augenblickes Höllenqualen,
Ist eine heilge Schuld, ich will sie zahlen.

Du bist mein Herr und meines Kaisers Vogt,
Doch nicht der Kaiser hätte sich erlaubt
Was du – Er sandte dich in diese Lande,
Um Recht zu sprechen – strenges, denn er zürnet –
Doch nicht um mit der mörderischen Lust
Dich jedes Greuels straflos zu erfrechen,
Es lebt ein Gott zu strafen und zu rächen. (2566– 2596)

Sie alle ziehen ihres Weges fort
An ihr Geschäft – und Meines ist der Mord!
setzt sich
Sonst wenn der Vater auszog, liebe Kinder,
Da war ein Freuen, wenn er wieder kam [.]
[…]
Jetzt geht er einem andern Waidwerk nach,
Am wilden Weg sitzt er mit Mordgedanken,
Des Feindes Leben ists, worauf er lauert.
– Und doch an euch nur denkt er, lieben Kinder,
Auch jetzt – Euch zu verteidgen, eure holde Unschuld
Zu schützen vor der Rache des Tyrannen
Will er zum Morde jetzt den Bogen spannen! (2620– 2634)

[…]
Hier gilt es einen köstlicheren Preis,
Das Herz des Todfeinds, der mich will verderben. (2642– 2643)

[…]
Es kann der Frömmste nicht im Frieden bleiben,
Wenn es dem bösen Nachbar nicht gefällt. (2682– 2683)

  • 34 W. G. Moore, “A New Reading of Wilhelm Tell,” German Studies Presented to Professor H. G. Fiedler (...)
  • 35 McKay, 112.
  • 36 Ueding, 404– 407, 414 (“Messias dieses Landes”); Kaiser, 114: it is through his “Sonderstellung” t (...)

22Not surprisingly – or should we by now say, surprisingly? – audiences more attuned to idealization than to awareness of problematical accents in Schiller’s character portrayal have loyally accepted this self-justification without suspecting the latent guilt feelings of qui s’excuse.34 But doesn’t the situation present Tell, on the face of it, as a murderer, a murderer who ambushes his victim at that? “Mord” is what disturbs Tell. Does the purpose, be it a personal, moral, or political one, sanctify the means? Perhaps taking his cue from the reminder in the Rütli scene that “though the cause/Proclaim its justice, force is terrible” (1320– 1321), W. G. Moore, who was the first to have an eye for the problematic nature of the monologue, noted: “Idealism prompts him to action which is incompatible with an idealistic view of things” (287). That is certainly an issue familiar to Schiller. Karl Moor was in a comparable predicament, as were Verrina, Posa, and Joan of Arc: the idealists with blood on their hands who become painfully aware that in real life, where, as Wallenstein knew “hart im Raume stoßen sich die Sachen,” good intentions and evil means grate on each other. A conflict bearing the seeds of tragedy, certainly; but is it realized in the text of the play? Only if the shrewd observer of human nature turned dramatist would give us to understand that Tell, who calls himself a man of action rather than thought (“wär ich besonnen, hieß ich nicht der Tell,” 1872), is aware of his own unresolved moral and intellectual dilemma – indeed “tragically aware,” as has been said, though without offering textual documentation.35 On the other hand, recent readings persist in maintaining equally airily that “no moral scruple” is evident in the Küßnacht monologue above the “sunken road”: having accepted his role as the “messiah” of the country in the apple-shot scene, Tell merely reconfirms this mission before he actually carries it out.36 What does the text itself reveal? Does Tell feel guilty?

  • 37 David B. Richards, “Tell in the Dock: Forensic Rhetoric in the Monologue and Parricida scene in Wi (...)
  • 38 Richards, 482.

23At first glance, the passage at issue is a speech of self-justification and self-exoneration. If one reads it with the specialized knowledge of the forensic trial lawyer, one recognizes here as well as in the Parricida scene a paradigm of legalistic argumentation replete with professional ruses, feints, or subterfuges. This would then prompt the conclusion that the speaker knows that he is guilty – and in effect confesses his guilt. And the reason why this supposedly self-convicted murderer gives himself up only to the justice of his own conscience, rather than that of a court of law, as Karl Moor in The Robbers did, seems equally clear from such a legalistic point of view: the patriotic figurehead cannot let the commonwealth down.37 In this sophisticated interpretation the text has certainly been read closely (which is not always the case), but with the eyes of a juridical specialist – whom Schiller, who wrote Tell “für das ganze Publikum,” could not have had in mind. The legal layman will hardly be convinced that this is the proper way to convict the defendant of guilty feelings and consequently of guilt; he will not be familiar with and will not discern in Tell’s own words an alleged procedurally correct duel between the prosecution and the defense, which takes the form of Tell’s conflicted lawyerly strategy of repeated self-incrimination followed by self-defense (for instance: “Tell then applies the rule of utra lex potentior?”).38

24Taken on its own “human” terms, without recourse to such legalistic maneuvering, the Küßnacht monologue, through its repeated insistence on the word “Mord”, reveals all the more persuasively Tell’s latent but nonetheless real feelings of guilt, his pangs of conscience, his self-doubt, and even his despair, indeed his disbelief in his own defense. This view gains even more plausibility if one sees the monologue from the perspective of the Rütli scene and the Parricida scene. For in the Rütli scene the very idea of murdering Geßler was painstakingly avoided: “Time will bring counsel. Be patient now” (1437); and in the later scene Tell draws the line between himself and Parricida, the regicide motivated by personal ambition and revenge: “You/Did murder; I have saved my dearest treasure” (“Gemordet/Hast du, ich hab mein teuerstes verteidigt,” 3183– 3184) – which amounts to a self-acquittal from what so deeply troubles his conscience in the Küßnacht monologue: “Mord.” Or does it?

  • 39 Alan Best, “Alpine Ambivalence in Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell,” German Life and Letters, New Series, X (...)

25Whether we are willing to take the self-acquittal in the Parricida scene at face value and therefore as a given of the play or not, the monologue does point, if not to Tell’s actual guilt, to his awareness of guilt.39 Even that may still be too legalistic a term. What is undeniable, however (as Mainland in particular has insisted, though he does speak of Tell’s consciousness of guilt), is the troubled and painful state of mind of this perfectly ordinary member of the community as he is suddenly faced with abandoning his principles and murder becomes inevitable. The milk of human kindness has turned into “dragon’s venom” (2572– 2573). Tell is terrified by himself, by what he is about to do, and in retrospect also by what he did earlier, at the governor’s command – a deed that now inexorably demands that he follow through: “A man who had to aim at his child’s head/Can also pierce his enemy to the heart” (2575– 2576). Tell now suffers the same “hellish torment” he experienced when he was about to shoot the apple off his son’s head (2588), but not just because he remembers that moment and now relives it. For the present predicament carries its own moral anguish: to protect his children from similar atrocities that he can firmly count on in the future (2631–2634) Tell now believes that he has to commit a deed that is contrary to his nature and to all he considers human. He does, to be sure, see himself as the executor of God’s will, of God’s revenge even (2596), but his anguish is no less terrible (“fürchterlich”) for that (2604). “For though the cause/Proclaim its justice, force is terrible” (1320–1321). All the more surprising is the conventional view that Tell’s monologue amounts to a manifest justification of his personal deed and of the political cause at the same time. For though speaking as the defender of the family, as a father and a husband in this monologue, it is commonly argued that Tell also realizes the political implications of his personal cause: in protecting the family, he is protecting the natural and original cell of all social life and thereby the order of the political community.

  • 40 See lines 2682– 2683, 2793– 2794, 1287– 1288; cp. 3181–3184. For support for this view, see Lampor (...)
  • 41 Ueding, 404–405, 414 (“Held,” “Retter”).

26This is, of course, how Tell professes to see it after the fact: his hand “has defended you and saved the country” (3143); and this fits well with the ethos of the Rütli conspirators.40 But Tell is not one of them! Shouldn’t that give us pause? It is hard to see that Tell is convinced of the impeccable dignity of what he is about to do and that he emerges from the emotional ordeal articulated in the monologue believing himself to be fully justified, living up to the image of the heroic savior that the rebels have of him.41 What transpires in the monologue – “the best part of the entire play,” Schiller said – is not so much exoneration (which comes into play only on the surface and which Schiller did not identify as the function of the monologue) as the agony: the irresolvable emotional dilemma that offers no clear-cut moral justification and yet entails the moral demand of action. The theme of his speech is the curse of the good deed. To do it, Tell at last takes up his crossbow “for murder” (2634) – in this decisive moment he pronounces the word that has been troubling him so unrelentingly, and still is. Why else, after the monologue but before the release of the arrow, Tell’s words in response to the news of a landslide in the canton of Glarus: “So it is true that hills/Begin to quake? The very earth is fickle” (“Es steht nichts fest auf Erden” 2666– 2667). Tell’s resolution to kill Geßler is unshaken from the beginning of the monologue. What is shaken is his peace of mind, and it remains so until the end of the play.

27Nonetheless, in the Parricida scene, Tell does come close to self-justification. He claims “hands unstained” (3180) and the justness of defending his children (“gerechte Notwehr eines Vaters”); “did you protect the heads of innocents/Or shield the sanctity of hearth and home […]?,” he scolds Parricida (3176– 3178). An “honest man” (“ein guter Mensch”) himself, he curses the murderer (3171, 3181– 3184). But does this amount to a demonstration that taking matters in his own hands was necessary and right in this particular case (“das Nothwendige und Rechtliche der Selbsthilfe in einem streng bestimmten Fall,” 808) as Schiller put it himself? This interpretation is common to this day. It may convince Parricida, but does it convince the spectator – the spectator who is not in the mood for a celebratory performance of patriotic virtue or the spectator who remembers that Schiller wrote the just-quoted words in an effort to appease Iffland’s concern about what might be taken as carte blanche for political assassination? And what about the word that Schiller, the superb craftsman, now has Tell throw at Parricida, the word that had disturbed Tell so much in the monologue: “gemordet hast du”? Karl Moor, who is in some ways comparable, put his rhetoric in the service of self-accusation in his ultimate confrontation with himself. Tell puts his in the service of self-defense – and doesn’t he “protest too much,” thereby confirming, according to the psychological rule of thumb, what he denies, namely that his deed is comparable with Parricida’s “dastardly murder” (“ruchloser Mord,” 808)? As early as 1949 Ludwig Kahn argued against the consensus:

  • 42 Ludwig W. Kahn, “Freedom – An Existentialist and an Idealist View,” Publications of the Modern Lan (...)

In fact, once we risk reading a meaning into Schiller that he certainly would have repudiated (had he been conscious of it), we may attribute to him a semiconscious apprehension as to the moral rectitude of his hero. Why else the fifth act with the scene of Tell’s self-justification? And does not Tell protest a little too much in this scene? Does not the very protestation betray the anxiety of the man who terribly much wants to be (but is not quite) sure that his hands are unsullied? Just before Tell had sent off the arrow that killed Gessler, he himself had spoken of his deed as murder. And if, as we said above, the task to which Tell is called is distasteful and repulsive to him, it is so in no small degree because of its moral opprobrium.42

28This reading is not documented by textual references, and Kahn undermines his argument by suggesting that Schiller would have rejected it himself. Also, no dramatis persona in the play sees it that way, thus giving us a hint (in contrast to Schiller’s frequent practice). But are there no hints in Tell’s own words to Parricida that might suggest Tell’s latent awareness of guilt, just as was the case in the earlier monologue? In other words, is the point of this scene really the exoneration and justification of Tell, or is his attempted self-justification designed to direct the spectator’s attention elsewhere?

29In the face of Tell’s harsh rejection of the “murderer” from the position of his own “innocence” (3188), one hesitates to mobilize the truism that one condemns a perceived fault in others all the more vehemently as one knows it to be one’s own. And yet how else to explain the sudden change in Tell’s tune when Parricida responds to this rejection with the words: “So I can not, will no longer live” (“so kann ich, und so will ich nicht mehr leben!” 3189)? Doesn’t this touch a sympathetic chord in Tell himself? For his immediate reaction is:

Yet stay! I’m moved to pity, God of mercy!
So young and of such noble heritage,
[…]
A fugitive and felon in despair,
A poor man at my door and begging help –
(He hides his face.)

Und doch erbarmt mich deiner – Gott des Himmels!
So jung, von solchem adelichen Stamm,
[…]
Als Mörder flüchtig, hier an meiner Schwelle,
Des armen Mannes, flehend und verzweifelnd –
verhüllt sich das Gesicht. (3190– 3194)

  • 43 Mainland, lxiii: “It is unreasonable to suppose that at this stage of his dramatic career Schiller (...)
  • 44 Peter Michelsen, Der Bruch mit der Vater-Welt: Studien zu Schillers “Räubern” (Heidelberg, 1979), (...)
  • 45 Fiesko, act V, sc. 14; Don Karlos, following lines 4713, 4812, 4903, 5195, 5670, 5689; Wallenstein (...)

30Isn’t this understanding for the plight of the “murderer,” at least to some extent, the sympathy offered by the murderer whom Tell had seen himself to be in the monologue preceding the assassination of Geßler, not once but repeatedly? Doesn’t he also perceive himself in Parricida, the fugitive murderer, despite the difference in motivation that he belabors?43 More concretely, why does he cover (hide) his face as he speaks these words? Schiller grew up in the tradition of European opera; its repertoire of gestures was familiar to him since The Robbers at the latest.44 Covering the face does not signal pity, forgiveness, or innocence; a dramatis persona exhibiting those qualities may show his face; there is no shame in practicing the Christian virtues par excellence. It is the person aware of his guilt or shortcoming that covers his face, shielding it against the light of day and the glances of others that would reveal his guilt: not wanting to see is the psychological metaphor for not wanting to be seen. Schiller often uses this particular gesture,45 and in Tell he uses it again a little later to accompany words spoken by Parricida, making us wonder whether Parricida is so different from Tell after all:

Parricida (covering his face) Oh woe is me!
I may not stay where happy men foregather.

Parricida verhüllt sich: Wehe mir!
Ich darf nicht weilen bei den Glücklichen. (3273– 3274)

31A further detail is equally telling. When Parricida, declared an outlaw, asks Tell to help him escape from his pursuers, one might expect that Tell, who sees himself as the man of action rather than reflection, would, in the hour of need, spontaneously offer a helping hand. But he does not; what he offers is “consolation” (and then his advice to repent and go to Rome in hope of redemption):

What help is there in me, a man of sin?
But kneel not there! Whatever horrid deed
You’ve done, you are a man, a man as I am;
From Tell shall no man go bereft of comfort. What I can do, I’ll do.

Kann ich euch helfen? Kanns ein Mensch der Sünde?
Doch stehet auf– Was ihr auch gräßliches
Verübt – Ihr seid ein Mensch – Ich bin es auch –
Vom Tell soll keiner ungetröstet scheiden –
Was ich vermag, das will ich tun. (3222– 3226)

32Why “man of sin”? It is unlikely that this is merely a reference to the sinfulness that is the lot of Christendom; Tell is no preacher. Instead, does it dawn on him that his own murderous deed, while surely done with different, indeed understandable (and in retrospect publicly justified) motivations, is at bottom a transgression of God’s command? Remember how only shortly before, his wife Hedwig had received her husband returning in a flush of triumph from the “sunken road,” the scene of the assassination:

HEDWIG O Tell! My Tell!
(She steps back, letting go his hand.)
TELL What frightens you, my love?
HEDWIG You have come back, but in what state? – This hand – Can it now rest in mine? – This hand – Oh God!

HEDWIG O Tell! Tell!
tritt zurück, läßt seine Hand los.
TELL Was erschreckt dich, liebes Weib?
HEDWIG Wie – wie kommst du mir wieder? – Diese Hand – Darf ich sie fassen? – Diese Hand – O Gott! (3140– 3142)

  • 46 Schweitzer, 257.

33A plausible interpretation of these lines suggests, without corroborating evidence, that Hedwig’s revulsion refers to the hand that “shot at” their son.46 Nonetheless, Tell’s hand at this moment, as he insists, is the hand that defended his family and saved (“gerettet”) the country – and the hand of a murderer, even though his victim was despicable (3143). Calling himself a “man of sin,” he expresses his solidarity with Parricida, his shared humanity: “You are a man, a man as I am” (3224). Unless we want to take this as a Christian banality, for which there is no reason in a play devoid of specific Christian ethos, we should hear “homo sum” and its corollary: “humani nil a me alienum puto,” with humanum unmistakably meaning human weakness, the lack of moral perfection in non-religious terms. This, then, is what is hinted at by Tell’s astonishing identification with Parricida, the murderer, hence Tell’s humility in the final moments of this scene.

  • 47 Richards, 484: Tell “has confessed equal guilt”; Mainland, lxv: “same guilt”; Ryder, 501. Ueding ( (...)
  • 48 Koopmann (1988), 137.
  • 49 Schweitzer, 262.
  • 50 Hans A. Kaufmann, Nation und Nationalismus in Schillers Entwurf “Deutsche Größe” und im Schauspiel (...)

34Keeping in mind these observations on the language of gesture and of allusion, the spectator will find it plausible that in sending Parricida on his way to Rome, Tell also has in mind his own way from guilt or sin to possible redemption.47 Speaking to Parricida of his hoped-for peace (“Ruh”) and his guilt (“Schuld,” 3231, 3251), Tell gives voice to his own troubled conscience. Symbolic language reinforces this point. Up to now, Tell has never been seen without his crossbow, but now we hear that he has placed the instrument of murder in a “hallowed place” (“heilge Stätte”); it will never be used again (3138– 3139). It is hard to see how this is to be a hint that Tell is able from now on to bear guilt in innocence (“Schuld in Unschuld zu erleben)48 or that he has regained his peace of mind49 or that the solitary hunter has become fully integrated into society.50 On the contrary, as Tell deprives himself of the tool of his “Mordtat” (808), he also deprives himself of the innocence whose tool the crossbow had been before the deed. This symbolic detail, invented by Schiller without any prompting by his sources, points to what has been hinted at by the other dramatic devices mentioned earlier: Tell’s unresolved moral dilemma, the unrelieved agony of his conscience.

Tell and the Common Cause: One Play or Two?

  • 51 Lamport, 868.
  • 52 Ueding, 395.
  • 53 Best, 305; McKay, 112; Mainland, lxix; Richards, 484.

35Tell’s dialogue with Parricida, which lifts his suppressed unease about his own similar yet different deed into the twilight of his consciousness, is interrupted by the arrival of the representatives of the cantons eager to honor and glorify Tell as the savior (“Erretter”) of their country and their freedom. Tell reacts with silence to their jubilant ovations. Could this possibly be read as Schiller allowing his hero to savor “his triumph,”51 to “enjoy his victory”?52 Or doesn’t Tell’s silence rather point to the fact that he is still suffering those pangs of conscience, however dull and inarticulate, which suggested themselves only minutes earlier? Doesn’t the jubilation (“lautes Frohlocken”) rather confirm his newfound doubt about his really being “ein guter Mensch” (3171)?53 This would of course imply that Schiller was not merely writing a celebratory “Volksstück,” but was also continuing to explore the vein of tragic character portrayal that he had been pursuing throughout his career as a dramatist.

  • 54 Guthke, Schillers Dramen: Idealismus und Skepsis (Tübingen, 1994), 304; Luserke in Werke und Brief (...)
  • 55 Ludwig Bellermann, Schillers Dramen, 3rd ed. (Berlin, 1905), III, 133. For a similar view, express (...)

36But, to return to our earlier question, why juxtapose the Tell plot and the uprising of the people? Why keep the protagonist so deliberately solitary, isolated from his compatriots, contrary to what Schiller had found in his historical sources? The significance of the juxtaposition, it emerges, is not so much a political one (the political agent and the political will of the people in ideal harmony) as a dramaturgical one: one that suits Schiller’s inclination to portray a problematic character and at the same time brings into full view the thematic structure of the entire play as a work of art and of thought. The subtitle of Tell notwithstanding, this thematic structure would not be that of a “Schauspiel” culminating in festive exuberance. Instead, it suggests that the people’s revolution is just and worth celebrating – but that it succeeds only at a price. The price is paid by Tell. The happiness or redemption of the people – who, in a sense, may not deserve it any more than the rabble in Fiesko since none of them stood by Tell in the hour of need in the apple-shot scene, as Hedwig notes bitterly (2369–2370) – is achieved, and could only be achieved, through the undiminished anguish of the bringer of redemption, through his personal tragedy.54 Tell suffers in silence; patriotic rejoicing drowns out the torments of his conscience, which is all the more troubled as he has no one with whom to share his anguish. Apart and lonely, he is a broken man. “It must needs be that [salvation, rather than the Biblical “offences”] come; but woe to that man by whom [it] cometh” (Matthew 18:7). Realizing this, one looks back in wonderment to readings common in simpler and easier times when an eminent and popular expert claimed that, unlike Schiller’s other plays, Wilhelm Tell failed to offer “deep insights” into human nature.55 On the contrary, while treating the audience to the celebration of the good deed, Schiller was also acutely aware that there is one who has to bear its curse. It is this awareness that allowed him to succeed in creating the “great tragedy” (“große Tragödie”) that he had hoped to write (752).

Notes

1 Walter Muschg, “Schiller ohne Wilhelm Tell,” in Muschg, Studien zur tragischen Literaturgeschichte (Bern and München, 1965), 82– 104.

2 Werke und Briefe, ed. Otto Damm et al. (Frankfurt: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag), V (1996), 750, 751, 754. Subsequent references in parenthesis are to page numbers of this volume. References following quotations from Tell or paraphrases of its text are to line numbers. The translations are those of Wilhelm Tell, trans. William F. Mainland (Chicago, IL, and London, 1972).

3 Iring Fetscher, “Philister, Terrorist oder Reaktionär?: Schillers Tell und seine linken Kritiker,” in Fetscher, Die Wirksamkeit der Träume (Frankfurt, 1987), 152–153.

4 Gonthier-Louis Fink, “Schillers Wilhelm Tell, ein antijakobinisches republikanisches Schauspiel,” Aufklärung, I: 2 (1986), 59.

5 Walter Müller-Seidel, “Verschwörungen und Rebellionen in Schillers Dramen,” La Révolution Française vue dès deux côtés du Rhin, ed. André Dabézies (Aix-en-Provence, 1990), 143.

6 Edith Braemer, “Wilhelm Tell,” in Braemer and Ursula Wertheim, Studien zur deutschen Klassik (Berlin, 1960), 297–330.

7 Braemer, 327.

8 Dieter Borchmeyer, “‘Altes Recht’und Revolution: Schillers Wilhelm Tell,” Kunst, Humanität und Politik in der späten Aufklärung, ed. Wolfgang Wittkowski (Tübingen, 1982), 69– 70.

9 Gert Ueding, “Wilhelm Tell,” Schillers Dramen, ed. Walter Hinderer (Stuttgart, 1992), 413.

10 Max Frisch, Wilhelm Tell für die Schule (Frankfurt, 1971), 122.

11 Ferdinand Piedmont, “‘Reißt die Mauern ein!’: Schillers Wilhelm Tell auf der Bühne im Jahr der ‘ deutschen Revolution’1989,” German Studies Review, XVIII (1995), 213–221.

12 Norbert Ndong, “‘Sie werden kommen, unsre Alpen abzumessen…’: Über Friedrich Schillers Drama Wilhelm Tell, Andere Blicke, ed. Leo Kreutzer (Hannover, 1996), 33–53.

13 Fritz Martini, “Wilhelm Tell, der ästhetische Staat und der ästhetische Mensch,” Der Deutschunterricht, XII: 2 (1960), 90– 118.

14 Borchmeyer, 98; Fink, 71.

15 Helmut Koopmann, Friedrich Schiller: Eine Einführung (München and Zürich, 1988), 129.

16 Steven D. Martinson, “William Tell, or Natural Justice”, in Martinson, Harmonious Tensions: The Writings of Friedrich Schiller (Newark and London, 1996), 266, among several other critics.

17 Borchmeyer, Fink, Müller-Seidel; also Hans-Jörg Knobloch, “Wilhelm Tell: Historisches Festspiel oder politisches Zeitstück?,” Schiller heute, eds. Knobloch and Koopmann (Tübingen, 1996), 151– 165.

18 Borchmeyer, “Um einen anderen Wilhelm Tell für die Schule bittend,” Der Deutschunterricht, XXXV (1983), 81.

19 Borchmeyer (1982), 108 (“ungetrübt”), cp. 110–111.

20 Martini, 112, 117; Benno von Wiese, Friedrich Schiller (Stuttgart, 1959), 770; Gerhard Kaiser, “Idylle und Revolution: Schillers Wilhelm Tell” in Kaiser, Von Arkadien nach Elysium (Göttingen, 1978), 215.

21 Luserke in Werke und Briefe, V, 823.

22 Fink, 75; Lesley Sharpe, Schiller and the Historical Character: Presentation and Interpretation in the Historiographical Works and in the Historical Dramas (Oxford, 1982), 295.

23 G. W. McKay, “Three scenes from Wilhelm Tell,” The Discontinuous Tradition: Studies in German Literature in Honour of Ernest Ludwig Stahl, ed. P. F. Ganz (Oxford, 1971), 110.

24 Fink, 59– 62, 74, 78.

25 Koopmann, 128 vs. Sharpe, 307–308 and E. L. Stahl, Friedrich Schiller’s Drama (Oxford, 1961), 141–142, 145.

26 R. C. Ockenden, “Wilhelm Tell as Political Drama,” Oxford German Studies, XVIII/XIX (1989/1990), 41; Christoph Schweitzer, “A Defense of Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell,” Goethe Yearbook, IX (1999), 261–262, among others. For the quotation in the preceding sentence, see n. 36.

27 Kommerell, Geist und Buchstabe der Dichtung, 3rd ed. (Frankfurt, 1944), esp. 187.

28 Kaiser, 201; cp. Martini, 109; Ueding, 394–395.

29 Ueding, 394, 404.

30 Ulrich Karthaus, “Schiller und die Französische Revolution,” Jahrbuch der Deutschen Schillergesellschaft, XLIII (1989), 233– 239.

31 Hans-Günther Thalheim, “Notwendigkeit und Rechtlichkeit der Selbsthilfe in Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell,” Goethe: Neue Folge des Jahrbuchs der Goethe-Gesellschaft, 1956, 234.

32 Koopmann, 134; cp. Stahl, 144; F. J. Lamport, “The Silence of Wilhelm Tell,” Modern Language Review, LXXVI (1981), 866; Luserke in Werke und Briefe, V, 823; Schweitzer, 261– 262.

33 Lamport, 862, also Mainland and others referred to below.

34 W. G. Moore, “A New Reading of Wilhelm Tell,” German Studies Presented to Professor H. G. Fiedler (Oxford, 1938), 280, 283: “Is there in great drama another instance of a man so idealized, so brave, laconic, faithful, honourable, as the hero of this play? […] So thoroughly has the author justified him that the morality of his deed has been hardly discussed.” Moore himself sees the personal tragedy, but the links his analysis makes with the text are too tenuous to carry conviction.

35 McKay, 112.

36 Ueding, 404– 407, 414 (“Messias dieses Landes”); Kaiser, 114: it is through his “Sonderstellung” that Tell becomes “in höchstem Maße Verkörperung des ganzen Volkes.” Ueding agrees (394).

37 David B. Richards, “Tell in the Dock: Forensic Rhetoric in the Monologue and Parricida scene in Wilhelm Tell,” German Quarterly, XLVIII (1975), 472–486; see also Frank G. Ryder, “Schiller’s Tell and the Cause of Freedom,” German Quarterly, XLVIII (1975), 487–504.

38 Richards, 482.

39 Alan Best, “Alpine Ambivalence in Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell,” German Life and Letters, New Series, XXXVII (1984), 303, cp. 297; William F. Mainland, ed. Schiller, Wilhelm Tell (London, 1968), lviii, cp. lxvii.

40 See lines 2682– 2683, 2793– 2794, 1287– 1288; cp. 3181–3184. For support for this view, see Lamport, 865; Koopmann, Friedrich Schiller, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart, 1977), II, 86; v. Wiese, 772– 775: Tell as the “Gerechte.”

41 Ueding, 404–405, 414 (“Held,” “Retter”).

42 Ludwig W. Kahn, “Freedom – An Existentialist and an Idealist View,” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, LXIV (1949), 13.

43 Mainland, lxiii: “It is unreasonable to suppose that at this stage of his dramatic career Schiller would invent the long tirades of the scene merely so hat the audience might be shown the difference between Tell’s deed and Parricida’s […]. There is here a linking of Tell’s deed with that of [Parricida], which is dramatically and humanly far more impressive than any pointing of a moral or any demonstration of a political principle.”

44 Peter Michelsen, Der Bruch mit der Vater-Welt: Studien zu Schillers “Räubern” (Heidelberg, 1979), 9 – 63. See also Werke und Briefe, VIII, 173– 174.

45 Fiesko, act V, sc. 14; Don Karlos, following lines 4713, 4812, 4903, 5195, 5670, 5689; Wallensteins Tod, following line 1660; Die Braut von Messina, following line 2430. See also Gerhard Kluge, “Über die Notwendigkeit der Kommentierung kleinerer Regie-und Spielanweisungen in Schillers frühen Dramen,” edition, III (1989), 90–97.

46 Schweitzer, 257.

47 Richards, 484: Tell “has confessed equal guilt”; Mainland, lxv: “same guilt”; Ryder, 501. Ueding (415) reads Tell’s sending Parricida on his way to Rome as implying that his path is a different one. For a rejection of the view that Tell is guilty and implicitly confesses his guilt, see Schweitzer, 261– 262, also Hildburg Herbst, “Recht auf Widerstand – Pflicht zum Widerstand: Der Fall Wilhelm Tell,” German Studies Review, XXI (1998), 437.

48 Koopmann (1988), 137.

49 Schweitzer, 262.

50 Hans A. Kaufmann, Nation und Nationalismus in Schillers Entwurf “Deutsche Größe” und im Schauspiel Wilhelm Tell” (Frankfurt, 1993), 143; Ockenden, 41. See also n. 36 above.

51 Lamport, 868.

52 Ueding, 395.

53 Best, 305; McKay, 112; Mainland, lxix; Richards, 484.

54 Guthke, Schillers Dramen: Idealismus und Skepsis (Tübingen, 1994), 304; Luserke in Werke und Briefe, V, 819, 823.

55 Ludwig Bellermann, Schillers Dramen, 3rd ed. (Berlin, 1905), III, 133. For a similar view, expressed in 1999, see Schweitzer, 262: Tell is not a tragic figure, does not lose his “peace of mind,” makes no “sacrifice,” there is not what I see as the “Fluch der guten Tat” in my chapter on the play in my book Schillers Dramen.

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