Schiller, Johann Christian Friedrich Von

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Schiller, Johann Christian Friedrich Von


Born Nov. 10,1759, in Marbach am Neckar; died May 9,1805, in Weimar. German poet, dramatist, aesthetician, and historian. An outstanding representative of the Enlightenment in Germany and one of the founders of modern German literature.

Schiller’s father was initially an assistant army surgeon and later an officer in the service of Duke Karl Eugen of Württemberg. The writer was brought up in a pious atmosphere that was reflected in his early poetry. After graduating from a Latin school in Ludwigsburg in 1772, he was enrolled at the order of the duke of Württemberg in a military school (Karlsschule), later renamed an academy. He studied first in the law division and then in the medical division. At the academy Schiller became acquainted with the moralistic philosophy of A. Ferguson and Shaftesbury, with the ideas of the English and French Enlightenment philosophers Locke, Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Rousseau, and with the works of Shakespeare, Lessing, and the Sturm und Drang poets. Schiller’s social and political views were also influenced by German antifeudal journalism and by the liberation movement in America. After graduating from the academy in 1780, he was appointed a regimental surgeon in Stuttgart.

By the time of his graduation, Schiller had completed his first tragedy, The Robbers (published 1781, staged 1782), in which he protested against the feudal system in Germany. The main hero tends to make pronouncements for effect, and the ending compromises the ideals voiced in the play. Nevertheless, the tragedy was subsequently viewed as a militant revolutionary play. While in Stuttgart, Schiller published the Anthology for the Year 1782, a collection of poems most of which were written by himself. He also wrote Fiesco, or the Genoese Conspiracy (1783), a tragedy based on Italian Renaissance history.

For absenting himself from his regiment without leave in order to attend a performance of The Robbers in Mannheim, Schiller was arrested and forbidden to write on any subject but medicine. This restriction forced him to flee from the duke’s domain. He settled first in the hamlet of Bauerbach, where he completed the drama Luise Millerin (subsequently called Love and Intrigue), and then in Mannheim. He moved to Leipzig in 1785 and then to Dresden.

Schiller’s early dramas and lyric works raised the Sturm und Drang movement to a new level by making it more purposeful and socially effective. Love and Intrigue (1784), which F. Engels called the first politically tendentious German drama, is of especially great importance. The play expresses the main social contradiction of Schiller’s time, that between the disfranchised people and the ruling aristocracy. This bourgeois tragedy (as Schiller, in keeping with the spirit of Enlightenment literature, defined the play’s genre) contained the outlines of a great social and philosophical tragedy that Schiller soon developed on a historical theme. From 1783 to 1787 he worked on Don Carlos, a drama based on 16th-century Spanish history. Originally conceived as a domestic drama about the Spanish infante, the play was changed into a tragedy dealing with the Marquis of Posa, a social reformer and citizen of the universe. In the final version Schiller used iambic pentameter rather than prose; he defined the genre as a dramatic poem. The tragedy shows the irreconcilable conflict between the ruling absolutism and the ideal of reason and freedom. Posa’s fate anticipates the tragedy of the noble idealist and enthusiast that Schiller later formulated theoretically and gave literary embodiment to in his poetry.

Schiller’s move to Weimar in 1787 opened the new phase in his work that had been promised by Don Carlos. While reviewing the works and the artistic principles of the Sturm und Drang movement, he began studying history, philosophy, and aesthetics. In 1788 he became the editor of a series of books under the title The History of Remarkable Uprisings and Conspiracies. That same year he wrote The History of the Defection of the United Netherlands From the Spanish Empire, in which he interpreted the liberation movement of the Dutch people as a harbinger of the struggle between the old world and the ideals of the Enlightenment. Only the first volume of the work was published.

In 1789, with the assistance of Goethe, with whom he had become acquainted in 1788, Schiller was appointed extraordinary professor of history at the University of Jena. At Jena he delivered an introductory lecture entitled What Is Universal History and Why Do We Study It? In 1793 he published The History of the Thirty Years’ War and several articles on universal history. By this time he had become an adherent of the philosophy of I. Kant, whose influence can be seen in Schiller’s works on aesthetics, such as On Tragic Art (1792), On Grace and Dignity (1793), Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man (1795), and On Naive and Sentimental Poetry (1795–96).

In his study of universal history, Schiller noted progress in the development of society, although society had not rid itself of barbarism and slavery. His reflections on the historical fate of mankind intensified his tragic perception of the world. Schiller welcomed the French Revolution, and in 1792 the Convention named him an honorary citizen of the French Republic. He was alarmed, however, by the Jacobin dictatorship. While approving the overthrow of the feudal system, he condemned the execution of Louis XVI and viewed it as an act of violence, which he now rejected in any form.

Having repudiated revolutionary methods of social change, Schiller formulated an extensive program of aesthetic education, believing that “the way to freedom is only through beauty” and that the mission of art is gradually to prepare corrupted and enslaved contemporary man for the rational social relations of the future. In accordance with this aesthetic-political program, Schiller advocated the principles of idealization that had enabled artists in the classical era to attain unsurpassed heights. He was a founder of Weimar classicism, and its tenets were reflected in his lyric poems of the late 1780’s and the 1790’s, such as “Ode to Joy,” “The Gods of Greece” and “The Artists.”

According to Schiller, his friendship with Goethe was the equivalent of a whole epoch in his development. In their correspondence Schiller and Goethe posed the cardinal aesthetic problems of their time and extensively discussed their works in progress. They jointly wrote the Xenien (literally, “gifts for guests”), a cycle of epigrams that was directed against shallow rationalism and philistinism in literature and the theater and against the early German romantics. The friendship with Goethe contributed to a new upsurge in Schiller’s art. From 1795 to 1798 he edited the journal Die Horen and, in competition with Goethe, wrote the ballads “The Diver” (“The Goblet” in V. A. Zhukovskii’s translation), “The Glove,” “The Ring of Polycrates,” and “The Cranes of Ibycus.” In “The Song of the Bell” (1799) he again condemned violence, which leads to anarchy, and at the same time glorified the joy of creative work and concord among men. Schiller’s views on aesthetics also changed; he concluded that there was a radical difference between ancient poetry, which was “naive” and objective, and modern poetry, which is “sentimental” and subjective. He believed that contemporary literature should combine the ideal and the real.

In Schiller’s mature work the main conflict depicted is that between harsh reality and the Enlightenment ideal of the free organization of society. This theme is developed in his poem “Ideal and Life” (1795). Schiller’s later tragedies deal with turning points in history, which are rendered in a stylized and at times conventional manner. These works reveal the tragic state of man in his conflict with objective historical necessity. This basic tragic conflict is complicated in Schiller’s plays by other social, political, ethical, and psychological clashes and problems, but as a philosophical conflict it determines the structure of the tragedies.

In 1791, Schiller conceived the idea of the tragedy Wallenstein (published 1800), which in the process of writing became a trilogy consisting of Wallenstein’s Camp (staged 1798), The Piccolomini (staged 1799), and The Death of Wallenstein (staged 1799). The trilogy was based on the Thirty Years’ War of 1618–48. Wallenstein’s contradictory personality is revealed through a complex chain of political and psychological conflicts. Schiller’s Maria Stuart (1801) was based on 16th-century English history. In this play the most important political problem of the Europe of his time—the relationship between the individual and the new, bourgeois state—acquired an enormous tragic resonance owing to his masterly portrayal of the heroine’s character. In the “romantic tragedy” The Maid of Orleans (1801), Schiller glorified the French national heroine Joan of Arc and combined a patriotic theme with the heroine’s ethical conflict.

The drama The Bride of Messina (1803) was an original attempt at reviving classical forms and the concern with fate characteristic of classical tragedy. In Wilhelm Tell (1804), a drama about the legendary Swiss national hero, Schiller arrived at a justification of revolutionary action, although this justification was not always consistent. The main themes of the drama are the people’s influence on the course of history and the consequent necessity for the hero to be linked to the people. In the last months of his life Schiller worked on the tragedy Demetrius, which was based on Russian history; his sudden death left the work unfinished.

One of the greatest tragedians of world literature, Schiller created a special type of drama, one in which ideas were declaimed in poetic forms. The traditions of this type of drama influenced the dramatugy of the Junges Deutschland movement, as seen in the works of K. Gutzkow. Other writers influenced to a greater or lesser degree by these traditions include F. Hebbel, G. Hauptmann, H. Ibsen, and, in the 20th century, B. Shaw and B. Brecht.

Schiller was known in Russia as early as the 1790’s; translations from his works were made by such writers as N. I. Gnedich, G. R. Derzhavin, V. A. Zhukovskii (whose translations became classics), A. S. Pushkin, M. Iu. Lermontov, F. I. Tiutchev, and A. A. Fet. One of the most popular foreign writers, he was highly valued by V. G. Belinskii, A. I. Herzen, I. S. Turgenev, and L. N. Tolstoy; there are direct echoes of Schiller’s works in F. M. Dostoevsky’s novels. Schiller’s popularity in Russia increased especially during the Revolution of 1905–07 and after the Great October Revolution of 1917; his plays hold a firm place in the repertoire of Soviet theaters.

The works of this great humanist and herald of the ideals of freedom and universal brotherhood have been studied in depth and popularized in the German Democratic Republic, especially by the National Museum of German Classical Literature in Weimar. Soviet scholars have made a considerable contribution to the study of Schiller’s legacy.


Briefe, vols. 1–7. Edited by F. Jonas. Stuttgart, 1892–96.
Sämtliche Werke: Säkularausgabe, vols. 1–16. Edited by E. Hellen. Stuttgart, 1904–05.
Werke: Nationalausgabe, vols. 1–42—. Initiated by J. Petersen. Weimar, 1943—. (Publication in process.)
In Russian translation:
Sobr. soch., vols. 1–7. Moscow, 1955–57.


Marx, K., and F. Engels. Ob iskusstve, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1967. (See Name Index.)
Shiller, F. P. F. Shiller: Zhizn’ i tvorchestvo. Moscow, 1955.
Lozinskaia, L. F. Shiller. Moscow, 1960.
Berkovskii, N. Ia. “Teatr Shillera.” In his book Stat’i o literature, Moscow-Leningrad, 1962.
Asmus, V. F. “Shiller kak filosof i estetik.” In his book Nemetskaia estetika XVIII v. Moscow, 1962.
Danilevskii, R. Iu. “Shiller v russkoi lirike 1820–1830-kh godov.” Russkaia literatura, 1976, no. 4.
Vil’mont, N. “Dostoevskii i Shiller.” In his book Velikie sputniki. Moscow, 1966.
Fr. Shiller: Stat’i i materialy. Moscow, 1966.
Schiller: Reden im Gedenkjahr. 1955. Stuttgart, 1955–61.
Schiller in unserer Zeit. Weimar, 1955.
Buchwald, R. Schiller: Leben und Werk, 4th ed. Wiesbaden, 1959.
Piana, T. F. Schiller: Bild-Urkunden zu seinem Leben und Schaffen. Weimar, 1957.
Fambach, O. Schiller und sein Kreis in der Kritik ihrer Zeit. Berlin, 1957.
Wiese, B. Fr. Schiller. Stuttgart, 1959.
Abusch, A. Schiller: Grösse und Tragik eines deutschen Genius, 3rd ed. Berlin, 1962.
Storz, G. Der Dichter Fr. Schiller, 3rd ed. Stuttgart, 1963.
Kostka, E. K. Schiller in Russian Literature. Philadelphia, 1965.
Staiger, E. Fr. Schiller. Zürich, 1967.
Harder, H. B. Schiller in Russland: Materialien zu einer Wirkungsgeschichte, 1789–1814. Bad Homburg, 1969.
Borchmeyer, D. Tragödie und Öffentlichkeit: Schillers Dramaturgie im Zusammenhang seiner ästhetisch-politischen Theorie und die rhetorische Tradition. Munich, 1973.
Vulpius, W. Schiller-Bibliographie: 1893–1963. vols. 1–2. Weimar, 1959.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.