Authors: Friedrich Schiller

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

German poet, playwright, and critic.

November 10, 1759

Marbach am Neckar, Duchy of Württemberg (now Marbach am Neckar, Germany)

May 9, 1805

Weimar, Saxe-Weimar (now Weimar, Germany)

Biography

Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller, born on November 10, 1759, in the Duchy of Württemberg, was the son of an officer in the army of the duke of Württemberg. His parents intended for him to enter the ministry of the Lutheran church, and to this end they sent him to the Latin school at Ludwigsburg, then the ducal residence. Duke Karl Eugen of Württemberg, in common with other semi-independent German princelings, had delusions of grandeur, and he tried to imitate the “grand style” of the Bourbons by making his court into a kind of Bavarian Versailles; he lived lavishly, if crudely, ruling largely through sycophants and irresponsible adventurers. While at Ludwigsburg, young Schiller saw much of the ways of the world and learned early to hate social and political tyranny.

Friedrich Schiller

(Library of Congress)

Among the duke’s many projects was a military school, established to train the sons of his officers for the public service. When he was fourteen Schiller was offered a scholarship at the academy, a princely favor not to be rejected by his parents, even though it meant giving up their plans for his future. He began as a student of law but did badly, and when the school was moved to Stuttgart two years later, he transferred to the study of medicine. In spite of his formal education, young Schiller’s true interests did not seem to lie in divinity, law, or medicine, but in literature. Although the strict discipline of the academy prevented easy access to contemporary writing, contraband works of the revolutionary “Sturm und Drang” (storm and stress) authors found their way into his hands and were avidly read. Under the influence of this reading, and possibly of his own reaction to the world of Ludwigsburg, Schiller began his first play, Die Räuber (1781; The Robbers, 1792), a wild, romantic melodrama of social injustice and rebellion.

In 1780, Schiller was honorably dismissed from the academy, although without a doctor’s degree, and was assigned as army doctor to a regiment of invalid soldiers at Stuttgart. To augment his meager income, he decided to borrow money and publish his play. As a book, The Robbers was largely ignored, but it came to the attention of Wolfgang Heribert von Dalberg, director of a theater at Mannheim. In 1782 he produced a revised version, which was a tremendous success. Dissatisfied with an unpleasant job, and flattered by his sudden notoriety into the conviction that he was born to be a writer of tragedy, Schiller deserted the Württemberg army and fled to Mannheim, in a neighboring principality. Dalberg was at first reluctant to associate himself with a refugee from another state, but by 1783 it was apparent that the duke of Württemberg had ignored the desertion, and Schiller received a one-year contract as playwright. In the following year two new plays were produced at Mannheim, neither of which enjoyed anything like the success of The Robbers, but which were, like that play, characterized by vehement prose and radical sentiments.

Schiller’s contract with Dalberg was not renewed, and in 1784 he moved to Leipzig and then to Dresden, where he published his journal, Die rheinische Thalia, and worked in a desultory manner on a new play, Dom Karlos, Infant von Spanien (1787; Don Carlos, 1798). This tragedy, finished in 1787, represents in many ways the midpoint in Schiller’s development as a dramatist. As is true of the earlier Mannheim plays, the language is often high-pitched and the action confusing; like them, the plot deals with an idealist, the Marquis Posa, who is destroyed by his own fanaticism. As in the later plays, however, the form is poetic and the thought mature.

After the completion of Don Carlos came a ten-year hiatus in Schiller’s dramatic output. In 1787 he went to Weimar, where he made the acquaintance of the poet Johann Gottfried Herder, and finally settled in Jena. In his reading for Don Carlos, Schiller had become interested in the Spanish-Dutch conflict of the sixteenth century, and as a result he decided to devote himself to the writing of history. In 1788 he published a volume on the conflict, and during the next four years he wrote the impressive Geschichte des Dreißigjährigen Krieges (1791–93; History of the Thirty Years War, 1799). Although Schiller’s success as a historian led to his appointment as professor at the University of Jena, his work in that field is notable more for its literary qualities than for its historical accuracy or objectivity. He instinctively sided with the oppressed and rebellious, and his republican sympathies colored his prose as well as his plays.

While at Jena, Schiller divided his time between history and philosophy. His concern was primarily with the study of aesthetics, although that is never, in his thinking, entirely divorced from ethics. His best-known essays in this field are Über Anmuth und Würde (1793; On Grace and Dignity, 1875), Über naïve und sentimentalische Dichtung (1800; Naïve and Sentimental Poetry, 1966), and Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen (1801; On the Aesthetic Education of Man, 1845).

Schiller first met Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in Jena, and from 1794 on they were close friends and literary allies. Partly through Goethe’s influence, Schiller’s interest in writing poetry revived. Together they made a study of the epic style, and out of this interest grew a number of ballads and romanzas which are still among Schiller’s most popular works. During this period Schiller also wrote several reflective lyrics expressing the humane idealism and high ethical aspirations which characterized his thought. Goethe was at that time the director of the small theater at Weimar, where Schiller moved in 1799, and the two friends often worked together selecting and adapting plays for production there. The renewed contact with the stage quite naturally reawakened Schiller’s love for the drama, and the remaining years of his life were spent writing poetic plays for the Weimar theater. With a burst of energy he wrote in rapid succession his five greatest plays: the Wallenstein trilogy—composed ofWallensteins Lager (1798; Wallenstein's Camp, 1830), Die Piccolomini (1799; The Piccolominis, 1800), and Wallensteins Tod (1799; The Death of Wallenstein, 1800)—plus Maria Stuart (1800; Mary Stuart, 1801), Die Jungfrau von Orleans (1801; The Maid of Orleans, 1835), Die Braut von Messina (1803; The Bride of Messina, 1837), and Wilhelm Tell (1804; William Tell, 1825). The last, undoubtedly Schiller’s most popular play, is an intensely human drama dealing with the rebellion of the Swiss people against their Austrian rulers. In the midst of writing still another historical play, Demetrius, which would be published in its unfinished form in 1817, Schiller contracted the illness that would lead to his premature death on May 9, 1805.

Schiller has always been considered among the greatest of German dramatists. Although poetic in form, his last plays are by no means lyrical, their force lying in their sonorous, sometimes rhetorical language, and in the intense sincerity of the playwright’s idealism. His characteristic themes are persecution and tyranny, for Schiller, writing at the height of German romanticism, was in both philosophy and politics the representative dramatist of his age.

Author Works Drama: Die Räuber, pb. 1781 (The Robbers, 1792) Die Verschwörung des Fiesko zu Genua, pr., pb. 1783 (Fiesco; or, The Genoese Conspiracy, 1796) Kabale und Liebe, pr., pb. 1784 (Cabal and Love, 1795; also known as The Minister, 1797; The Harper’s Daughter; or, Love and Ambition, 1813) Dom Karlos, Infant von Spanien, pr., pb. 1787 (Don Carlos, 1798; also known as Don Carlos, Infant of Spain, 1801) Wallensteins Lager, pr. 1798 (Wallenstein’s Camp, 1830) Die Piccolomini, pr. 1799 (The Piccolominis, 1800) Wallensteins Tod, pr. 1799 (The Death of Wallenstein, 1800) Wallenstein, ein dramatisches Gedicht, pr. 1799, pb. 1800 (trilogy of 3 previous works; Wallenstein: A Dramatic Poem, 1827) Maria Stuart, pr. 1800, pb. 1801 (Mary Stuart, 1801) Macbeth, ein Trauerspiel von Shakespear, pr. 1800, pb. 1801 (adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth) Die Jungfrau von Orleans, pr. 1801, pb. 1802 (The Maid of Orleans, 1835) Turandot, Prinzessin von China, pb. 1802 (Turandot, Princess of China, 1836) Die Braut von Messina, oder die feindlichen Brüder, pr., pb. 1803 (The Bride of Messina, 1837) Die Huldigung der Künste, pr. 1804, pb. 1805 (verse drama; Schiller’s Homage of the Arts, with Miscellaneous Pieces from Rückert, Freiligrath, and Other German Poets, 1847) Wilhelm Tell, pr., pb. 1804 (William Tell, 1825) Phädra, pb. 1805 Der Parasit, oder die Kunst sein Glück zu machen, pb. 1806 (adaptation of Louis-Benoît Picard’s Médiocre et rampant; The Parasite; or, The Art to Make One’s Fortune, 1856) Der Neffe als Onkel, pb. 1808 (adaptation of Louis-Benoît Picard’s Encore des Ménechmes; The Nephew as Uncle, 1842) Demetrius, pb. 1817 (unfinished) Poetry: Elegie auf den frühzeitigen Tod Johann Christian Weckerlins, 1781 Der Venuswagen, 1781 Anthologie auf das Jahr 1782, 1782 Litterarische Spiessruthen oder die hochadligen und berüchtigten Xenien, 1796 (with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; Daniel Jenisch, editor) Gedichte, 1800–1803 (2 volumes) Lyrical Ballads, from the German of Schiller, 1838 (Anne Trelawny, translator) Select Minor Poems, Translated from the German of Goethe and Schiller, 1839 (with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; John S. Dwight, translator) The Minor Poems of Schiller of the Second and Third Periods with a Few of Those of Earlier Date, 1844 (John Herman Merivale, translator) The Poems and Ballads of Schiller, 1844 (2 volumes; Edward Bulwer Lytton, translator) The Poems of Schiller, Complete: Including All His Early Suppressed Pieces, 1851 (Edgar Alfred Bowring, translator) The Ballads and Shorter Poems of Fredrick v. Schiller, 1901 (Gilbert Clarke, translator) Long Fiction: Der Verbrecher aus verlorener Ehre, 1786 (The Criminal Become So from Lost of Honour, 1825; also known as The Criminal, in Consequence of Lost Reputation, 1841) Der Geisterseher, 1789 (The Ghost-Seer; or, Apparitionist, 1795; also known as The Armenian; or, The Ghost Seer, 1800) Nonfiction: Geschichte des Abfalls der vereinigten Niederlande von der Spanischen Regierung, 1788 (History of the Rise and Progress of the Belgian Republic, 1807; also known as The History of the Defection of the United Netherlands from the Spanish Empire, 1844; History of the Revolt of the Netherlands, 1845) Was heißt und zu welchem Ende studiert man Universalgeschichte?, 1789 Geschichte des Dreißigjährigen Krieges, 1791–93 (3 volumes; History of the Thirty Years War, 1799) Kleinere prosaische Schriften von Schiller: Aus mehrern Zeitschriften vom Verfasser selbst gesammelt und verbessert, 1792–1802 (4 volumes) Über Anmuth und Würde, 1793 (On Grace and Dignity, 1875) Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen, 1795 (serial), 1801 (book; On the Aesthetic Education of Man, 1845) Über naïve und sentimentalische Dichtung, 1795–96 (serial), 1800 (book; Naïve and Sentimental Poetry, 1966; also known as On the Naive and Sentimental in Literature, 1981) Über das Erhabene, 1801 (On the Sublime, 1879) The Historical Works of Frederick Schiller, 1828 (2 volumes; George Moir, translator) Briefwechsel zwischen Schiller und Goethen den Jahren 1794 bis 1805, 1828–29 (6 volumes; Correspondence between Schiller and Goethe, 1845) Schillers Briefwechsel mit Körner: Von 1784 bis zum Tode Schillers, 1847 (4 volumes; Correspondence of Schiller with Körner: Comprising Sketches and Anecdotes of Goethe, the Schlegels, Wielands, and Other Contemporaries, 1849) Geschichte von Württemberg bis zum Jahr 1740, 1859 Briefwechsel zwischen Schiller und Cotta, 1876 (Wilhelm Vollmer, editor) Miscellaneous: Sämmtliche Werke, 1812–15 (12 volumes; Complete Works in English, 1870) The Works of Frederick Schiller, 1846–49 (4 volumes; Henry George Bohn, editor) Bibliography Carlyle, Thomas. Thomas Carlyle’s Life of Friedrich Schiller. 1825. Camden House, 1992. A biography of Schiller by a contemporary historian and essayist. An excellent resource on Schiller’s life and work. Includes bibliographical references and index. With new introduction by Jeffrey L. Sammons. Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, and Friedrich Schiller. Correspondence between Goethe and Schiller, 1794–1805. Translated by Liselotte Dieckmann, P. Lang, 1994. A collection of letters that offers insight into the lives and works of Goethe and Schiller. Includes bibliographical references and index. Graham, Ilse. Schiller’s Drama: Talent and Integrity. Barnes & Noble Books, 1974. Provides an analysis of Schiller’s plays, including The Robbers and Mary Stuart, looking at both content and technique. Bibliography. Hammer, Stephanie Barbé. Schiller’s Wound: The Theater of Trauma from Crisis to Commodity. Wayne State UP, 2001. Examines Schiller’s plays from a psychological standpoint, analyzing the thought behind them. Bibliography and index. Kostka, Edmund. Schiller in Italy: Schiller’s Reception in Italy; 19th and 20th Centuries. P. Lang, 1997. A comprehensive study that expands and deepens the understanding of the German-Italian relationship during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Evaluates the impact of Schiller’s work on Italian poets, critics, musicians, and conspirators against the history of the military upheaval in Europe. Martinson, Steven D., editor. A Companion to the Works of Friedrich Schiller. Camden House, 2005. A collection of essays about Schiller. Includes in-depth discussions about his literary works as well as the impact he had on twentieth-century Germany. Martinson, Steven D. Harmonious Tensions: The Writings of Friedrich Schiller. U of Delaware P, 1996. A critical interpretation of selected writing by Schiller. Includes bibliographical references and index. Miller, R. D. A Study of Schiller’s Jungfrau von Orleans. Duchy Press, 1995. Provides a close examination of Schiller’s play about Joan of Arc. Bibliography and index. Pilling, Claudia, et al. Schiller. Translated by Angus McGeoch, Haus Publishing, 2005. A biography of Schiller that uses his correspondence, along with modern records, to place him in late nineteenth-century Germany, confronting a changing middle class. Includes several color and black-and-white illustrations throughout. Pugh, David. Schiller’s Early Dramas: A Critical History. Rochester, N.Y.: Camden House, 2000. Studies in German Literature, Linguistics and Culture: Literary Criticism in Perspective. Focuses on the early works of Schiller, including their impact and controversies. Reed, T. J. Schiller. Oxford UP, 1991. A biography of Schiller that sheds light on his writing of dramas. Bibliography and index. Schiller, Friedrich. Schiller’s Literary Prose Works: New Translations and Critical Essays. Edited by Jeffrey L. High, Camden House, 2008. Contains new English translations of Schiller’s fiction and five critical essays by scholars. Includes notes on each translation, helpful footnotes, lists of other translations, and an index. Sharpe, Lesley. Friedrich Schiller: Drama, Thought, and Politics. Cambridge UP, 1991. Cambridge Studies in German. Looks at Schiller’s views and how they infused his drama and other works. Bibliography and index.

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