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William Tell


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A: Friedrich Schiller Pf: 1804, Weimar Pb: 1804 Tr: 1825 G: Drama in 5 acts; German blank verse S: Various locations on the Lake of Lucerne, Switzerland, 1307–8 C: 41m, 7f, extrasAn idyllic picture of Swiss rural life is shattered by the violence of Austrian forces, thwarted by William Tell in their attempt to seize a fleeing Swiss assassin. The tyranny of the Austrians even requires that everyone must bow down before the Governor's hat set on a pole in the local marketplace. Representatives from three cantons swear to join together as a ‘free nation of brothers’ and to repel the Austrians from their land. Tell refuses to bow before the hat, and is forced by the evil Governor Gessler to shoot an apple from his son's head. Despite succeeding, Tell is arrested by Gessler but manages to get free during a storm. Tell then kills Gessler with his crossbow, and lends the final spark to the uprising. Castles are attacked, and the Austrians driven from the land. The jubilant Swiss fighters gather to honour their hero Tell. The Holy Roman Emperor has been murdered by his nephew, who now comes to seek support from Tell. Tell rejects him, denouncing ‘Parricida's’ selfish act, and sets him on the path to Rome to seek absolution.

A: Friedrich Schiller Pf: 1804, Weimar Pb: 1804 Tr: 1825 G: Drama in 5 acts; German blank verse S: Various locations on the Lake of Lucerne, Switzerland, 1307–8 C: 41m, 7f, extras

Based on an early 18th-century Swiss chronicle, Schiller wrote William Tell at Goethe's prompting. In it he skilfully combines the personal story of the superhero Tell with the wider political struggle for freedom. It is notable that Tell, despite effectively committing murder, remains unsullied by political events by remaining aloof from the popular struggle for liberation (‘The strong man is strongest alone’). Those in the mainstream of political events, who kill and burn, cannot achieve such serenity. Popular as a folk play, it has also served as a call for freedom, as in the first production at the Berlin State Theatre in the new Weimar Republic (1919). Rossini's operatic version dates from 1829.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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