Portrait: Friedrich von Schiller, poet, philosopher, physician, historian, and playwright

Wednesday, 21 April 2021 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: Portrait
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Friedrich Schiller by Ludovike Simanowiz (1793 or 1794)

Friedrich Schiller by Ludovike Simanowiz (1793 or 1794)

Johann Christoph Friedrich (von) Schiller was a German poet, philosopher, physician, historian, and playwright. During the last seventeen years of his life (1788–1805), Schiller developed a productive, if complicated, friendship with the already famous and influential Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. They frequently discussed issues concerning aesthetics, and Schiller encouraged Goethe to finish works he left as sketches. This relationship and these discussions led to a period now referred to as Weimar Classicism. They also worked together on Xenien, a collection of short satirical poems in which both Schiller and Goethe challenge opponents of their philosophical vision.

Schiller wrote many philosophical papers on ethics and aesthetics. He synthesized the thought of Immanuel Kant with the thought of the German idealist philosopher, Karl Leonhard Reinhold. He elaborated upon Christoph Martin Wieland‘s concept of die schöne Seele (the beautiful soul), a human being whose emotions have been educated by reason, so that Pflicht und Neigung (duty and inclination) are no longer in conflict with one another; thus beauty, for Schiller, is not merely an aesthetic experience, but a moral one as well: the Good is the Beautiful. The link between morality and aesthetics also occurs in Schiller’s controversial poem, “Die Götter Griechenlandes” (The Gods of Greece). The “gods” in Schiller’s poem are thought by modern scholars to represent moral and aesthetic values, which Schiller tied to Paganism and an idea of enchanted nature. In this respect, Schiller’s aesthetic doctrine shows the influence of Christian theosophy. There is general consensus among scholars that it makes sense to think of Schiller as a liberal, and he is frequently cited as a cosmopolitan thinker. Schiller’s philosophical work was particularly concerned with the question of human freedom, a preoccupation which also guided his historical research, such as on the Thirty Years’ War and the Dutch Revolt, and then found its way as well into his dramas: the Wallenstein trilogy concerns the Thirty Years’ War, while Don Carlos addresses the revolt of the Netherlands against Spain. Schiller wrote two important essays on the question of the sublime (das Erhabene), entitled “Vom Erhabenen” and “Über das Erhabene“; these essays address one aspect of human freedom—the ability to defy one’s animal instincts, such as the drive for self-preservation, when, for example, someone willingly sacrifices themselves for conceptual ideals.

Friedrich Schiller's house in Weimar © Andreas Trepte/cc-by-sa-2.5 Friedrich Schiller by Ludovike Simanowiz (1793 or 1794) Goethe and Schiller Monument in Weimar © Leonard G.
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Friedrich Schiller's house in Weimar © Andreas Trepte/cc-by-sa-2.5
Schiller is considered by most Germans to be Germany’s most important classical playwright. Critics like F. J. Lamport and Eric Auerbach have noted his innovative use of dramatic structure and his creation of new forms, such as the melodrama and the bourgeois tragedy. What follows is a brief chronological description of the plays.

  • The Robbers (Die Räuber): The language of The Robbers is highly emotional, and the depiction of physical violence in the play marks it as a quintessential work of Germany’s Romantic Sturm und Drang movement. The Robbers is considered by critics like Peter Brooks to be the first European melodrama. The play pits two brothers against each other in alternating scenes, as one quests for money and power, while the other attempts to create revolutionary anarchy in the Bohemian Forest. The play strongly criticises the hypocrisies of class and religion, and the economic inequities of German society; it also conducts a complicated inquiry into the nature of evil. Schiller was inspired by the play Julius of Taranto by Johann Anton Leisewitz.
  • Fiesco (Die Verschwörung des Fiesco zu Genua):
  • Intrigue and Love (Kabale und Liebe): The aristocratic Ferdinand von Walter wishes to marry Luise Miller, the bourgeois daughter of the city’s music instructor. Court politics involving the duke’s beautiful but conniving mistress Lady Milford and Ferdinand’s ruthless father create a disastrous situation reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Schiller develops his criticisms of absolutism and bourgeois hypocrisy in this bourgeois tragedy. Act 2, scene 2 is an anti-British parody that depicts a firing-squad massacre. Young Germans who refused to join the Hessians and British to quash the American Revolutionary War are fired upon.
  • Don Carlos: This play marks Schiller’s entrée into historical drama. Very loosely based on the events surrounding the real Don Carlos of Spain, Schiller’s Don Carlos is another republican figure—he attempts to free Flanders from the despotic grip of his father, King Phillip. The Marquis Posa’s famous speech to the king proclaims Schiller’s belief in personal freedom and democracy.
  • The Wallenstein trilogy: Consisting of Wallenstein’s Camp, The Piccolomini, and Wallenstein’s Death, these plays tell the story of the last days and assassination of the treasonous commander Albrecht von Wallenstein during the Thirty Years’ War.
  • Mary Stuart (Maria Stuart): This history of the Scottish queen, who was Elizabeth I’s rival, portrays Mary Stuart as a tragic heroine, misunderstood and used by ruthless politicians, including and especially, Elizabeth.
  • The Maid of Orleans (Die Jungfrau von Orleans): about Joan of Arc
  • The Bride of Messina (Die Braut von Messina)
  • William Tell (>Wilhelm Tell)
  • Demetrius (unfinished)

A pivotal work by Schiller was On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters (Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen in einer Reihe von Briefen), first published 1794, which was inspired by the great disenchantment Schiller felt about the French Revolution, its degeneration into violence and the failure of successive governments to put its ideals into practice. Schiller wrote that “a great moment has found a little people”; he wrote the Letters as a philosophical inquiry into what had gone wrong, and how to prevent such tragedies in the future. In the Letters he asserts that it is possible to elevate the moral character of a people, by first touching their souls with beauty, an idea that is also found in his poem Die Künstler (The Artists): “Only through Beauty’s morning-gate, dost thou penetrate the land of knowledge.” On the philosophical side, Letters put forth the notion of der sinnliche Trieb/Sinnestrieb (“the sensuous drive”) and Formtrieb (“the formal drive”). In a comment to Immanuel Kant‘s philosophy, Schiller transcends the dualism between Formtrieb and Sinnestrieb with the notion of Spieltrieb (“the play drive“), derived from, as are a number of other terms, Kant’s Critique of the Faculty of Judgment. The conflict between man’s material, sensuous nature and his capacity for reason (Formtrieb being the drive to impose conceptual and moral order on the world), Schiller resolves with the happy union of Formtrieb and Sinnestrieb, the “play drive,” which for him is synonymous with artistic beauty, or “living form.” On the basis of Spieltrieb, Schiller sketches in Letters a future ideal state (a eutopia), where everyone will be content, and everything will be beautiful, thanks to the free play of Spieltrieb. Schiller’s focus on the dialectical interplay between Formtrieb and Sinnestrieb has inspired a wide range of succeeding aesthetic philosophical theory, including notably Jacques Rancière‘s conception of the “aesthetic regime of art,” as well as social philosophy in Herbert Marcuse. In the second part of his important work Eros and Civilization, Marcuse finds Schiller’s notion of Spieltrieb useful in thinking a social situation without the condition of modern social alienation. He writes, “Schiller’s Letters … aim at remaking of civilization by virtue of the liberating force of the aesthetic function: it is envisaged as containing the possibility of a new reality principle.”

Read more on Wikipedia Friedrich Schiller (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.






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