Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller was a German philosopher, playwright, poet, and dramatist. He united the concept of Republican freedom with the beauty of poetry. His association and complicated friendship with the eminent poet Goethe led to a literary and cultural movement referred to as Weimar Classicism.
Schiller always encouraged Goethe to finish his unfinished scriptures and sketches. It was a productive alliance as they frequently discussed aesthetics and their philosophical vision. Schiller had disciplined adolescence and ended up becoming a physician but he made his way to the realms of creativity, poetry, and drama.
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Friedrich Schiller’s Early Life
Schiller was born in Marbach, Württemberg, Germany on 10 November, 1759. His father, Johann Kasper Schiller was a military doctor. When Schiller was born, his father was away in a War; he returned in 1763 after the war ended. His mother was Elizabeth Dorothea and he had five sisters, Christophine being the eldest.
After the end of the Seven Years’ War, Schiller’s father was appointed as a recruiting officer in Schwäbisch Gmünd. His family moved with him but due to high expenses, they decided to settle in the small town of Lorch.
Life in Lorch was pleasant but Schiller’s father was not happy. Schiller’s parents wanted him to become a priest, though the primary education he received there was substandard therefore, they appointed a priest to teach him Latin and Greek. Father Moser taught him to read and write, later the good priest was named the cleric in his first and most famous play.
Schiller was very much fascinated by the idea of becoming a priest and he often climbed up on a chair with a black robe wrapped around and preached sermons. Schiller retained a vivid memory of his delightful days in Lorch throughout his life. His happy days of childhood probably ended here.
In 1766, Kasper Schiller was transferred to the Ludwigsburg, the ducal residence, the dwellings of the rich. Schiller attracted the attention of the much feared Duke, Karl Eugen of Württemberg. He ordered him to enter Karlsschule Stuttgart for further studies, to which his parents reluctantly agreed.
It was a Military Academy founded by Duke known for its strict regulations and discipline. It was meant for civil servants and future army officers. The curriculum was very strict, every action was time-bound, and they taught language, history, ethics, and religion; drilled in the art of drawing, fencing, music, and dancing. Duke wanted him to pursue law; however, he was allowed to study medicine.
Schiller was not happy with his life. During his time at Academy, he read Goethe, Rousseau, and the work of Shakespeare at the recommendation of his teacher. It influenced him to write his own verses and he discussed his ideas and extracts of his writings with his friends in secret.
While at school, he wrote his first play The Robbers which was inspired by Julius of Taranto, a play written by Leisewitz, considered the favourite play of Schiller.
The plot of the play is based on the conflict between two aristocratic brothers, Karl Moor and Franz Moor. Karl, the elder brother is rebellious but has a heroic character and was deeply loved by his father. Along with some students sharing the same temperament and motive, he goes to the forest and becomes a sublime criminal like Robin Hood.
His younger brother, Franz was a cold and villainous person who poisoned his father’s mind against his elder brother, to inherit his share of the power and estate. As a result, his father disowns his elder son, and consequently, the virtuous young man becomes a bandit. However, Karl realizes that he cannot mend the corrupt and unfair world with crime and terror so he surrenders himself to the law.
It was considered a very influential melodrama, with intense emotional language, physical violence, defence of the law, and morality that makes it a classical Sturm und Drang work. The play amazed its audience owing to its republican ideals and became an overnight success. The play was electrifying and became a landmark in the history of German theatre. It was played at the National Theatre in Mannheim on the 13th of January, 1782.
In 1780, Schiller left the military school with the appointment as a regimental doctor in Stuttgart. He enjoyed the restricted freedom after leaving the suffocative cadet school. Medicine held little interest to Schiller; he was inclined towards writing plays and poetry whenever he had time.
A director of Mannheim was interested to put on the play The Robbers after making some changes, to avoid offence. In 1782, Schiller left his regimen to see the first performance of his play without the permission of the Duke. After discovering the truth, Duke sentenced him to detention for 14 days and he was forbidden from publishing or writing any further work.
Flee to Weimar
In detention, Schiller plotted his escape and alongside sketched out his next play Intrigue and Love. He fled from Stuttgart to Weimar via Frankfurt, Mannheim, Leipzig and Dresden. He led a very miserable life during this time as no one wanted to provide shelter to the deserter. Finally, the mother of one of his students arranged a temporary stay for him, where he marked the end of his third tragedy, Kabale und Liebe.
He had an abundant amount of time here; new ideas and thoughts were crowding his mind therefore he started working on his very famous historical drama Don Carlos and the history of Scottish queen Maria Stuart.
Dalberg, the director again showed interest in staging Schiller’s play Kabale und Liebe. Its enormous success pulled Schiller out of despair and he thought of gaining financial security out of it. Soon his bubble of happiness busted as his contract ended and he again fell into a financial crisis.
His poems and dramas were borne by and revolved around the idea of political freedom. In 1789, he was appointed as a professor at the University of Jena for teaching History and Philosophy.
Marriage and subsequent death
During his stay in Mannheim, Schiller was attracted to a married woman, Charlotte von Kalb. However, his love was not reciprocated. In 1790, Schiller married Charlotte von Langefeld. They had two daughters and two sons. Karl Friedrich Ludwig and Ernst Friedrich Wilhelm were his two sons. Karoline Luise Henriette and Luise Henriette Emilly were his daughters.
With family, Schiller returned to Weimar where he met Goethe who convinced him for writing plays again. Together they founded the Weimar theatre. They were also significant figures in Weimar Classicism. Under the positive influence of Goethe, he created amazing and beautiful work. Schiller was ennobled by the Duke of Saxe-Weimar for his work; hence the particle von was added to his name.
Under the pressure of accumulating work, Schiller’s health deteriorated. His condition only got worse with time. He died in Weimar, at the age of 45 from tuberculosis.
Friedrich Schiller’s Literary Works
- The Robbers
- Fiesco or Fiesco’s Conspiracy of Genoa is the second full-length drama written after the premiere of his first play. It is a tragedy based on a historical conspiracy.
- Intrigue and Love (Kabale und Liebe) is the third play by Schiller which was performed in 1784 in Frankfurt. The plot revolves around the conspiracy and misunderstanding created by Cabals to separate the loved ones owing to their difference in class and society. It is about how the intrigue of a high-ranking noble destroyed the love between his son Ferdinand and Luise Miller, the daughter of a middle-class man.
- Don Carlos is a historical tragedy written from 1783 to 1787. Through Don Carlos, Schiller shifted from domestic dramas to more politically focused drama. It based the modern concepts in historic times. Don Carlos is the son of King Philip II who falls for her stepmother. The king himself wants to marry his third lover. The family conflicts do not restrict to their private lives. The drama brings to light the idea of personal freedom and democracy that Schiller believed in.
- Marie Stuart
- Demetrius was written by Schiller in his last days. It is an unfinished drama but the fragments speak for themselves.
- Wallenstein’s trilogy consists of three plays and was finished in 1799. The play is about the decline of commander-in-chief Wallenstein who conspired against his King, Ferdinand II during the Thirty Years’ War to obtain his power and estate. He considered himself beyond good and evil which led to his decline. The drama coveys the ideals like the defence of morality and the dangers of power.
- Ode to Joy (An die Freude) is a beautiful poem by Schiller which was used by Ludwig van Beethoven in his Ninth Symphony.
Friedrich Schiller was a great poet who worked ahead of time. In a short span of life, against all the evils of society, he emerged as the greatest German playwright, poet, and dramatist.
What was Friedrich Schiller known for?
Friedrich Schiller was known for his influence on German literature. He is the most famous playwright in the history of Germany. His dramas were sensational; they were milestones in the history of German theatre. He was a people’s poet who addressed the problems of society and wants for freedom through his poetry.
How was Schiller related to Goethe?
Schiller and Goethe were friends and collaborators. Though they were very opposite, their alliance led to a period of Weimar Classicism. Together they founded the Weimar theatre. They positively influenced each other; Goethe encouraged Schiller to write plays again and Schiller advised Goethe to complete his unfinished scriptures and manuscripts.
What were the basic themes of Schiller’s poetry and plays?
Schiller’s poetry represented political issues beautifully. Bureaucratic corruption, freedom, democracy, an ideal community, and the end of tyranny were the themes of Schiller’s work. He developed an intense hatred for the biased regimen where the noble ill-treated their subjects and the corruption of the world.