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Tell, William,legendary Swiss patriot. According to legend, Tell was a native of Uri, one of the Swiss forest cantons. Gessler, the canton's Austrian bailiff, decreed that Swiss citizens must remove their hats before his hat, which he had posted on a stake in the canton's largest town. Tell refused and as punishment was ordered to shoot an apple off his small son's head. Although he succeeded, he was held prisoner by Gessler when he revealed that had he failed, he planned to kill Gessler with an arrow he had hidden on his person. Tell escaped and eventually shot Gessler from ambush at Küssnacht, thus setting off the revolt that ousted the bailiff on Jan. 1, 1308. While there is no valid proof of Tell's existence, the legend represents a distorted account of events that resulted (1291) in the formation of the Everlasting League between the cantons of SchwyzSchwyz
, canton (1993 pop. 116,100), 351 sq mi (909 sq km), central Switzerland, one of the Four Forest Cantons. Bordering on the Lake of Zürich in the north and the Lake of Lucerne in the southwest, Schwyz is a mountainous and forested region, with meadows supporting
..... Click the link for more information. , UriUri
, canton (1993 pop. 35,500), 415 sq mi (1,075 sq km), central Switzerland, one of the Four Forest Cantons. Altdorf is the capital. The most sparsely populated of the Swiss cantons, Uri is an Alpine region of glaciers and pastures, with forests and meadows in the Reuss River
..... Click the link for more information. , and UnterwaldenUnterwalden
, canton, central Switzerland, one of the Four Forest Cantons. A mountainous, forested, and chiefly pastoral region, Unterwalden is divided into the half cantons of Obwalden (1993 pop.
..... Click the link for more information. . SchillerSchiller, Friedrich von,
1759–1805, German dramatist, poet, and historian, one of the greatest of German literary figures, b. Marbach, Württemberg. The poets of German romanticism were strongly influenced by Schiller, and he ranks as one of the founders of modern
..... Click the link for more information. 's popular drama Wilhelm Tell is based on the legend; RossiniRossini, Gioacchino Antonio
, 1792–1868, Italian operatic composer, one of the great masters of the Italian opera buffa. His parents were both musicians, and he began his career in childhood as a singer.
..... Click the link for more information. 's opera William Tell is based on Schiller's drama.
a legendary Swiss folk hero. The Tell legend reflects the struggle of the Swiss people against the Hapsburgs in the 14th century. Tell was from the village of Bürglen in the canton of Uri. A skilled bowman, he was ordered by the Hapsburg governor, Gessler, to shoot an apple from his young son’s head. Tell successfully fulfilled this cruel requirement, but he later ambushed the governor in rocky terrain and killed him with an arrow. This was the signal for a popular uprising.
The authenticity of the Tell story was questioned by 19th-century historians, who used comparative data to prove that similar legends existed among other peoples. More recent studies have uncovered a kernel of historical truth in the story. The legend of Tell served as the basis for J. F. Schiller’s drama Wilhelm Tell (1804).