It’s the birthday of German playwright Friedrich Von Schiller (books by this author) born in Marbach, Germany (1759). One of the most important playwrights of German literature, he’s best known for his historical plays, Don Carlos (1787) and Wallenstein (1798). He began writing at a time when Germans were jealous of the literary works being produced by England, France, and Italy. Among Germans there was talk that the German language itself might not be appropriate for literature. When Schiller appeared on the scene, Germans were so grateful to have a major literary figure that they revered him as if he were a god.
Schiller grew up in a part of Germany that was ruled by a Duke who saw himself as the absolute dictator. Schiller wanted to enter the clergy as a young man, but the Duke forced him to enter a military academy where he was forbidden to leave school, receive visitors, or write letters. While living under these conditions, he began to write his first play, The Robbers (1781), about a noble man who drops out of society and join a band of criminals.
Schiller secretly sent the play to a theater director outside of the Duke’s jurisdiction, and the play began to break all box office records. When the Duke learned of it, he had Schiller jailed for two weeks and forbid him to ever write again. So Schiller deserted the army, a capital offense at the time, and went into hiding. He eventually became so successful that the Duke gave up on trying to capture him.
Schiller once attended a performance of his play The Maid of Orleans (1824), and after the first act, the audience began to shout, “Long live Schiller!” He got a standing ovation, and as he left the theater, everyone fell silent, bowing their heads and removing their hats, clearing a path before him. Parents held their children up to see him.