AskDefine | Define Schiller

Dictionary Definition

Schiller n : German romantic writer (1759-1805) [syn: Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller]

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Proper noun

  1. A German surname

Extensive Definition

Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller [johan/joːhan krɪstɔf friːtʁɪç fɔn ʃɪləʁ/ʃɪlɐ] (November 10, 1759May 9, 1805) was a German poet, philosopher, historian, and dramatist. During the last few years of his life (1788–1805), Schiller struck up a productive, if complicated, friendship with already famous and influential Johann Wolfgang Goethe, with whom he greatly discussed issues concerning aesthetics, encouraging Goethe to finish works he left merely as sketches; this thereby gave way to a period now referred to as Weimar Classicism. They also worked together on Die Xenien (The Xenies), a collection of short but harshly satiric poems in which both Schiller and Goethe verbally attacked those persons they perceived to be enemies of their aesthetic agenda.


While at the Karlsschule, Schiller read Rousseau and Goethe and discussed Classical ideals with his classmates. At school, he wrote his first play, Die Räuber (The Robbers), which dramatizes the conflict between two aristocratic brothers: the elder, Karl Moor, leads a group of rebellious students into the Bohemian forest where they become Robin Hood-like bandits, while Franz Moor, the younger brother schemes to inherit his father's considerable estate. The play's critique of social corruption and its affirmation of proto-revolutionary republican ideals astounded the original audience, and made Schiller an overnight sensation. Later, Schiller would be made an honorary member of the French Republic because of this play.
In 1780, he obtained a post as regimental doctor in Stuttgart, a job he disliked.
Following the remarkable performance of Die Räuber in Mannheim, in 1781, he was arrested and forbidden by Karl Eugen himself from publishing any further works. He fled Stuttgart, in 1783, coming via Leipzig and Dresden to Weimar, in 1787. In 1789, he was appointed professor of History and Philosophy in Jena, where he wrote only historical works. He returned to Weimar, in 1799, where Goethe convinced him to return to playwriting. He and Goethe founded the Weimar Theater which became the leading theater in Germany, leading to a dramatic renaissance. He remained in Weimar, Saxe-Weimar until his death at 45 from tuberculosis.
The coffin containing Schiller's skeleton is in Weimarer Fürstengruft (Weimar's Ducal Vault), the burial place of Houses of Grand Dukes (großherzoglichen Hauses) of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach in the Historical Cemetery of Weimar. On 3 May 2008 it was announced that the DNA tests have shown that the skull of this skeleton is not Schiller's. The similarity between this skull and the extant death-mask as well as portraits of Schiller had led many experts to believe that the skull were Schiller's.


Some Freemasons speculate that Schiller was a Freemason, but this has not been proven.
In 1787, in his tenth letter about Don Carlos Schiller wrote:
“I am neither Illuminati nor Mason, but if the fraternization has a moral purpose in common with one another, and if this purpose for the human society is the most important, ...”
In a letter from 1829, two Freemasons from Rudolstadt complain about the dissolving of their Lodge Günther zum stehenden Löwen that was honoured by the initiation of Schiller. According to Schiller's great-grandson Alexander von Gleichen-Rußwurm, Schiller was brought to the Lodge by Wilhelm Heinrich Karl von Gleichen-Rußwurm, but no membership document exists. Giuseppe Verdi's opera Luisa Miller is based on this play.
  • 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: These plays follow the fortunes of the treacherous commander Albrecht von Wallenstein during the Thirty Years' War.
  • Mary Stuart (Maria Stuart): This "revisionist" history of the Scottish queen who was Elizabeth I's rival makes of Mary Stuart a tragic heroine, misunderstood, and used by ruthless politicians, including and especially, Elizabeth herself.
  • The Maid of Orleans (Die Jungfrau von Orleans):
  • The Bride of Messina (Die Braut von Messina):
  • William Tell (Wilhelm Tell):
  • Demetrius (unfinished):

The Aesthetic Letters

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) 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," and 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 Form and Sinn, with the notion of Spieltrieb ("the play drive") derived from, as are a number of other terms, Kant's The 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 Form and Sinn, 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 (an 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 Form and Sinn has inspired a wide range of succeeding aesthetic philosophical theory.


For his achievements, Schiller was ennobled, in 1802, by the Duke of Weimar. His name changed from Johann Christoph Friedrich Schiller to Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller.


  • "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain." — (Talbot in Maid of Orleans)
  • "The voice of the majority is no proof of justice." (Sapieha, in: Demetrius)
  • "Deeper meaning resides in the fairy tales told to me in my childhood than in any truth that is taught in life."
  • "Eine Grenze hat die Tyrannenmacht", which literally means "A tyrant's power has a limit" - — Wilhelm Tell
  • "It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons."
  • "All men will be brothers" (included in the chorus of Beethoven's ninth symphony)

Musical settings of Schiller's poems and stage plays

Ludwig van Beethoven said that a great poem is more difficult to set to music than a merely good one because the composer must improve upon the poem. In that regard, he said that Schiller's poems were greater than those of Goethe, and perhaps that is why there are relatively few famous musical settings of Schiller's poems. Two notable exceptions are Beethoven's setting of An die Freude (Ode to Joy) 1787


  • Geschichte des Abfalls der vereinigten Niederlande von der spanischen Regierung or The Revolt of the Netherlands
  • Geschichte des dreissigjährigen Kriegs or A History of the Thirty Years' War
  • Über Völkerwanderung, Kreuzzüge und Mittelalter or On the Barbarian Invasions, Crusaders and Middle Ages



  • Der Geisterseher or The Ghost-Seer (unfinished novel) (started in 1786 and published periodically. Published as book in 1789)
  • Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen in einer Reihe von Briefen (On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a series of Letters), 1794


Notes and Citations


Schiller's complete works are published in the following excellent editions:
  • historical-critical edition by K. Goedeke (17 volumes, Stuttgart, 1867-76); Säkular-Ausgabe edition by Von der Hellen (16 volumes, Stuttgart, 1904-05); historical-critical edition by Günther and Witkowski (20 volumes, Leipzig, 1909-10). Other valuable editions are: the Hempel edition (1868-74); the Boxberger edition, in Kürschners National-Literatur (12 volumes, Berlin, 1882-91); the edition by Kutscher and Zisseler (15 parts, Berlin, 1908); the Horenausgabe (16 volumes, Munich, 1910, et. seq.); the edition of the Tempel Klassiker (13 volumes, Leipzig, 1910-11); and that in the Helios Klassiker (6 volumes, Leipzig, 1911). Documents and other memorials of Schiller are in the Schiller Archiv, united in 1889 with the Goethe Archiv in Weimar.

External links

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