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Mary Stuart


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A: Friedrich Schiller Pf: 1800, Weimar Pb: 1801 Tr: 1801 G: Trag. in 5 acts; German blank verse S: The Castle of Fotheringhay and the Palace of Westminster, 1587 C: 15m, 4f, extrasMary Stuart, the deposed Queen of Scotland, who came to England to seek the help of her cousin Queen Elizabeth of England, has been imprisoned for several years in the castle at Fotheringhay. Here she remains a dangerous inspiration to a number of disaffected Catholic noblemen, who conspire against the Protestant Elizabeth. One such is the young Mortimer, who, dazzled by Mary's beauty, plans to free her from her prison. He seeks the help of the Earl of Leicester, confidant of Elizabeth, but also former suitor of Mary. Urged by her cynical adviser Lord Burleigh to execute Mary, Elizabeth seeks instead to involve Mortimer in a secret plot to murder her rival. Rejecting Mortimer's dangerous plot to free Mary, Leicester instead arranges for the two Queens to meet. Despite Mary's humble pleas for mercy, Elizabeth treats her with scorn, and Mary retaliates by denouncing Elizabeth as illegitimate. Elizabeth sweeps off in fury, and when she is nearly assassinated on her homeward journey, Mary's fate is sealed. Elizabeth signs Mary's death warrant and gives it to Davison with ambiguous instructions. Burleigh seizes it from him and hurries to Fotheringhay, where Mary's execution is prepared. Leicester, in order to avoid suspicion falling on him, agrees to witness her death. Mary faces death with serenity, having been absolved from her past sins. Elizabeth's throne is now secure, and she blames Davison and Burleigh for Mary's death. News comes that the unhappy Leicester has left for France, and Elizabeth sits entirely alone in her palace.

A: Friedrich Schiller Pf: 1800, Weimar Pb: 1801 Tr: 1801 G: Trag. in 5 acts; German blank verse S: The Castle of Fotheringhay and the Palace of Westminster, 1587 C: 15m, 4f, extras

Loosely based on historical fact (in fact the Queens never met), this is acknowledged to be the greatest historical tragedy in German. Although ostensibly the tragedy of Mary, the truly tragic figure is Elizabeth. While Mary rises to a state of serenity, detached from the uncertainties and yearnings of life, Elizabeth is forced to commit judicial murder by the political pressures she lives under and ends utterly isolated on her throne, condemned to live on in the real world of politics. Schiller once again demonstrates how the idealist figures of Karl Moor, Posa, and here Mortimer, once they become involved in political life, find their well-intentioned actions contaminated and invariably destructive. On the other hand, by witnessing the serenity of Mary's death, Schiller intended that the audience would prepare themselves for their own deaths, what he called ‘the inoculation of inevitable fate’.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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