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For the final post of Schiller week, I am dressed in my glad rags to relive one of the literary highlights of 2015 – a night out at the German National Theater in Weimar.  I determined that one day I would see a play by either Schiller or Goethe performed there.

Deitsches Nationaltheater, Weimar

Deutsches Nationaltheater, Weimarr

Once upon a time, i.e 12 October 1798, Goethe was the director of this theatre, then known as the Weimarer Hoftheater, and he premiered Wallenstein’s Camp – the first part of what was to become the Wallenstein trilogy.  Schiller has come a long way since his debut, which Goethe hated.  In the years since, the two men have become firm friends and mentors. It’s almost 10 years since Schiller wrote Don Carlos. In the meantime Schiller has been Professor of History and Philosophy at Jena, and has written a history of the 30-years war.  So he is well-acquainted with his subject – the mass of material,  the complex political landscape, the intrigues and his main character, Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein.

Schiller summarised his character thus: Sein Charakter ist niemals edel und doch is er kolossal. (His character is never honourable and yet he’s a colossus.) A quick look at the facts show Wallenstein to be a charismatic man, a gifted and successful commander-in-chief, who inspired loyalty in his troops.  But with a troubled relationship with his Emperor, who distrusted him, and whom he did not consider sufficiently grateful. Wallenstein was a man with an ego.   This diagnosis is confirmed by the Wallenstein Palace in Prague, which he built to rival Prague Castle, and is so impressive that it is today a fitting home for the Czech State Senate. But lest we forget who built the place, there he is, depicted as Mars, riding high across the skies in the main hall.

Wallenstein as Mars

Faced with the challenge of distilling this character into theatrical form, Schiller does something extremely clever. He starts the trilogy in the army camp and we come to know Wallenstein through the testimony of his soldiers.  Why does he do this?  From Schilller’s own prologue:

Not he it is, who on the tragic scene
Will now appear
Whom his command alone could sway, and whom
His spirit fired, you may his shadow see,
Until the bashful Muse shall dare to bring
Himself before you in a living form;
For power it was that bore his heart astray
His Camp, alone, elucidates his crime.

Wallenstein is here at the height of his powers.  His soldiers are happy to be under his command because he allows them to run riot over the countryside!  Provided they maintain discipline in the ranks, that’s OK by him.  He is powerful and unchallenged, except by one.  The Emperor Ferdinand who fears Wallenstein may soon have ideas above his station.

Wallenstein

Wallenstein, Schiller Room, Weimar Palace

Wallenstein does have ideas above his station.  This is the half-way point in the 30 years war.  The land is ravaged and the people are suffering,  Wallenstein is thinking of switching sides.  His idea is that this will enforce a truce to the good of all.  He is the man who wants to change history. The supreme dramatic irony is that this moment in which he begins to plot against his own emperor is the moment he fails.  All that happens from here on in is his inexorable slide to disaster.

Ferdinand discovers the plan and decides to assign half of Wallenstein’s troops to his Spanish generals.  This forces Wallenstein’s hand.  But he’s in for a nasty shock because the Swedes aren’t going to play the game that Wallenstein has designed. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Wallenstein is forced to retreat to Eger, where he is assassinated with the emperor’s consent.

I’ve restricted myself to the political plot here, although there are other narratives.  Wallenstein’s is not the only tragedy. There’s the tragedy of the village folk, pillaged out of existence by Wallenstein’s troops, and the tragic love story of Max Piccolomini, the son of Ferdinand’s spy, Octavio, and Wallenstein’s daughter, Thekla.  But holding the whole together is the demise of Wallenstein, from seeming invincibiliity to victim of assassination and why?  As Schiller himself says “For power it was that bore his heart astray.”

I read the trilogy in English, translated by James Churchill and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, prior to going to the theatre.  It was a wise move.  I may be able to read Schiller’s German (with a dictionary) but I certainly couldn’t keep up with 4 1/2 hours of constant dialogue.   Anyway, one of my first thoughts was this is impossible to stage.  For example: the opening stage direction:

Sutler’s tents – in front, a slop-shop,  Soldiers of all colours and uniforms thronging about.  Tables all filled.  Croats and Hulans cooking at a fire.  Sutler-women serving out wine.  Soldier-boys throwing dice on a Drum head.  Singing heard from the tent.

Got that?  So when the curtain opened in Weimar, it revealed a huge white cross lying horizontally across the rest of the stage.  Then two bishops climbed onto it to set the religious backdrop; thereafter two soldiers to tell the military history to this point.  Unexpected but brilliant in its simplicity and intense from the start.  It stayed that way, although I wasn’t too keen on the modern dress. I understand it is to signify the continuing relevance of the themes in today’s world, but, really wouldn’t a audience choosing to attend a 4 1/2 hour Schillerian performance have the intelligence to understand that anyway? One scene will stay with me forever – the scene when Wallenstein meets the Swedish messenger.  It was chilling when I read it.  It must have been terrifying for Wallenstein to comprehend the size of his miscalculation, and the staging in Weimar was designed to show how the great commander had been reduced to the size of a little fish. (Photos here.)

Schiller may have had a 10-year break from writing drama, but he produced a masterpiece in Wallenstein.  Even those fierce critics of his, the early Romantics, were forced to admit its worth.

In unserem Kreis hatte man keine große Neigung, Schiller sehr günstig zu beurteilen; man ließ ihm kaum Gerechtigkeit widerfahren, und dennoch sprach sich der mächtige Eindruck, den das Stück hinterlassen hatte, fast unwillkürlich aus. (Henrik Steffens)

Our circle had no great desire to judge Schiller favourably. We would hardly give him any credit and yet we found ourselves talking unwillingly about the powerful impression the play had made on us. (Trans my own.)

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Schiller_Reading_Week.png3 trips to Weimar in 2 years and it’s already a custom to spend a couple of hours browsing (and spending lots of cash) in my favourite bookshop.  There are lots of excellent bookshops in Weimar but my favourite without a shadow of a doubt is the one in the Bauernhaus, tucked just behind the marketsquare: the Eckermann-Buchhandlung, with its wall of books dedicated to literary history in Weimar, and its two literary giants Goethe and Schiller.  The selection ranges from the highly academic to the distinctly quirkly.  I now have a capsule collection and it has been my great pleasure in the run-up to Schiller Reading Week to refer to these time and time again. As the knowledge from these has contributed significantly to my posts about Schiller, it’s only right to give them their five minutes of fame.

bitt und bettelbriefe Gnädigster Herr, Ich habe Familie – Schillers Bitt- und Bettelbriefe (Most gracious Sir, I have a family – Schiller’s requests and begging letters) is a judicious selection of Schiller’s letters with commentary from Christiana Engelmann.  The first letter dating from November 1780 is from the time when the young Schiller was looking for an agent to help him publish The Robbers.  He’s trying to persuade his former school friend to take on the role and in the P.S he promises:

Höre Kerl! Wenn’s reussiert.  Ich will mir ein paar Bouteillen Burgunder drauf schmecken lassen.
Listen Mate.  If it succeeds, I’ll drink to it with a couple of bottles of burgundy.

The final letter, dated 20 August 1804 is addressed to Princess Caroline of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, and asks her to become the godmother of his fourth child.  The tone is markedly different.

Werden Sie mir verzeihen, gnädigste Prinzessin, dass ich mir die Freiheit genommen habe, Sie als Patin meiner kleinen Emilie zu nennen?
Most gracious Princess, will you excuse me for taking the liberty of naming you little Emily’s godmother?

The letters inbetween chart the difficulties, struggles and triumphs of Schiller’s life.  All I can say is that his supporters must have worshipped him, because at times, despite desperately needing every penny they can send him, he comes across as quite imperious. And yet, when writing to the aristocracy he never forgets his position.  He’s a fawning groveller par excellence – no more so than in his sign-off to Carl Eugen, Duke of Württemberg.

Euerer Herzoglichen Durchlaucht untertanigst treugehorsamster Schiller
Your Excellency’s most submissive and obedient Schiller

The book is illustrated through with cartoons by Gottfried Müller.

schillers frauenSchillers Frauen (Schiller’s Women) consists of 42 portraits of the women – both real and fictional – in Schiller’s life.  It provides a look at the man from another angle as well as insights into which woman inspired which character.  For example Charlotte von Kalb – the married woman with whom Schiller had an affair before fleeing Mannheim when all became too intense. Her feelings are projected onto Elisabeth von Valois, married to the King of Spain but still in love with his son, Don Carlos, to who, she was formerly betrothed.

The chapters are presented chronologically with fictional women inserted into the timeline of the real.  All are visualised either by painting, drawing, lithograph or in silhouette.

It’s not a book I’m likely to read cover to cover but it is a book I’ll reference again and again.

schillers kritikerSo too, the final book in this selection, Torsten Unger’s Freiheitsschwabe und Moral-Trompeter: Schillers Kritiker (Freedoms’s Swabian and Moral Trumpeter: Schillers Critics). A book full of insults and invective spanning the centuries from the C18th right up to the present day.   A quick scan of the contents page reveals that the world of German literature hasn’t universally acclaimed dear old Fritz, who had a penchant for making enemies.  It seems the fire in the writer of The Robbers never diminished and he didn’t reserve his criticism to his literary works.  That feud with the early Romantics I alluded to in the A-Z that began Schiller week was more or less an outright war at times.  C19th and C20th  giants of German culture added their tuppence worth to the mix.  Heine, Buechner, Jean Paul, Grillparzer, Hebbel, Nietzsche, Fontane, Brecht, Enzensberger, Duerrenmatt, they’re all here.  They can’t all be wrong, or can they?

Grillparzer is particularly damming in his faint praise. Schiller geht nach oben, Goethe kommt von oben. (Schiller is on his way to the top, Goethe comes from there.)

This book is wicked and I can’t read a chapter without a gleeful smile on my face.  I recommend this to those who, scarred by school experiences, think reading Schiller is torture.  (I know you’re out there.) There is a companion volume Fuerstenknecht und Idiotenreptil: Goethes Kritiker (Prince’s henchman and reptile of idiots: Goethe’s Critics). No-one is safe from a literary critic it seems.

(Apologies for the lack of umlauts in the second half of this post  – they will return when I retrieve my ipad from the office.  I was in such a rush to leave earlier today ….)

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Ladies and Gentlemen, We have a ticket to a world premier.

It’s 13.01.1782 and we are headed to the Mannheim Theatre to see the first performance of a debut drama: Friedrich Schiller’s The Robbers.  We know this play because we read the text when it was published last year.  We are expecting fireworks – metaphorically speaking – for the plot is sensational.

Two brothers are at war – only one, Karl, the older brother doesn’t realise.  He has left home to escape the strictures of his position and do his own thing for a while.  His younger Machiavellian brother, Franz, is taking advantage of his absence to turn their father against him.  Gradually his father’s feelings cool to the point of estrangement and Karl is disowned.  This drives him to despair and he joins a robber band, becoming their leader.  Franz then makes a play for his brother’s childhood sweetheart, Amalia, and disposes of his father ….

(I’m deliberately not giving specific detail here, because I wouldn’t want to rob you of the shock value. Even now, when I was reading Alexander Fraser Tytler’s 1792 translation in 2015, the plot twists literally took my breathe away.)

Events conspire to bring Karl back to his father’s estate – only, he cannot make himself known for he is a criminal.  This cannot end well, nor does it, even if the villain of the piece gets his just desserts.  But that is not the end.  The final brutal end comes as Karl realises there is no way back to his previous existence and takes extreme measures to shorten the suffering of those he loves.

Storm and stress in spades! Back in 1782, there was an uproar as the play challenged familial loyalties, ducal authority, established notions of criminality and justice.  And the young 21-year old author was in the audience to see the effect of his drama.  It must have been a heady mix for him, because he was in hot water.  He had abandoned his post as regimental doctor in Stuttgart to attend and the Duke of Württemberg will hold him to account.  His punishment will be a ban on publishing anything again!  Sooner than he knows the young Schiller will emulate Karl Moor and run away (although, thankfully not to a criminal future.)

As mentioned before, The Robbers still retains its power to shock. Overwrought language, heightened emotions, bold depictions of violence prevail throughout. It’s melodrama at its finest.   What a villainous creature is that Franz Moor!  I love a good villain (by that I mean an evil conniving schemer.)  He ticked all the boxes until an out-of-character crisis of conscience.  What I can’t stand is a female who is the epitome of virtue without a single flaw.  Enter Amalia … Yawn.  Still I can’t be too hard on the playwright.  At the time of writing, he had been cooped up in an all male military academy for 8 years.  What did he known of real femininity?  All he could create was a amalgam of the perfect female creatures he had encountered in the literature he had read.

Schiller_Reading_Week.pngSo while The Robbers is not perfect, it certainly brought Schiller to the attention of the literary establishment of the time.  What did Goethe, that contemporary giant of German Literature think?

Ich komme aus Italien zurück und finde Dichterwerke im großem Ansehen, die mich äußerst anwidern.  Zum Beispiel Die Räuber. Das Rumoren, das sie erregt haben, der Beifall, der gezollt wurde, erschreckt mich.  Schiller ist mir verhasst, ein kraftvolles, aber unreifes Talent. (Page 27 Schillers Kritiker – Torsten Unger)

I return from Italy and find some completely repulsive literary works held in high regard.  For example The Robbers. The disquiet it has caused, the plaudits it receives, frighten me. I hate Schiller.  He’s a powerful but unripe talent. (Translation my own.)

Don’t hold back, Goethe!  He changed his mind about Schiller, once he met him, but this assessment of Schiller’s writing capability at the time of The Robbers was spot on.

© Lizzy’s Literary Life 2015

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German Literature Month V opens with Schiller reading week. But who was this Schiller? He is the playwright voted the most influential after Shakespeare by the audience of the TV channel Arte in 2008; an  accolade proving this 18th century wordsmith still has things to say to us in 2015.

Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (Fritz to his family) was born (without the von) on 10 November 1759 in Marbach to an army recruitment officer.  His parents, intending him to become a pastor, ensured he was taught Latin and Greek.  Later, his intelligence caught the eye of Carl Eugen, Duke of Württemberg, who decided to educate him at the Karlsschule, his elite military academy.  Schiller eventually studied medicine there.

He married Charlotte von Lengefeld in 1790, but there were many C’s in his life: her sister Caroline von Wolzogen (who wrote the first biography of Schiller in 1830),  his early love and the woman who never really stopped loving him, the married Charlotte von Kalb.  Also Carl Eugen, Duke of Württemberg, who educated him and Carl August, Duke of Saxe-Weimar, who elevated him to the realms of immortality.

10 years prior to his marriage, he was working as a regimental doctor in Stuttgart, which he hated. Having completed his debut play, The Robbers, he took out a loan to publish 250 copies.  (Yes, even Schiller had to self-publish!)  In 1782, he went absent without leave to attend the opening of The Robbers in Mannheim.    The  play, a stormy and stressful affair, caused a sensation, and not only amongst the audiences. Carl Eugen was not amused and he banned Schiller from ever publishing anything ever again! This ultimately led to a complete break, with Schiller fleeing the Duchy of Württemberg in September 1792.

The loans taken to publish The Robbers were the first in a series that were to plague Schiller’s early career. It wasn’t until he arrived in Weimar in 1787, with the patronage of Carl August, Duke of Weimar, that life  began to settle. There he was ennobled, becoming Friedrich von Schiller in 1802.

Perhaps the most influential friendship in German literary history was formed in Weimar, Schiller’s friendship with Goethe.  Though it’s fair to say that, at first, the older man, who wasn’t at all keen and actively avoided meeting the young upstart.

Ich vermied Schillern, der, sich in Weimar aufhaltend, in meiner Nachbarschaft wohnte.

I avoided Schiller, who, while in Weimar, lived in my neighbourhood.

Goethe couldn’t avoid him forever and made his acquaintance in 1794.  A friendship developed and following the publication of The Fall of the Low Countries (1788) and The 30 Years War (1791-2) Schiller was, with Goethe’s support, appointed Professor of History and Philosophy at the University of Jena.

Mary and Elizabeth (Schiller Room, Weimar Castle)

Not that his academic career interfered with his imagination in any way.  In his two classical dramas, The Maid of Orleans and Mary Stuart –  both published 1800/1801 –  historical fact does not impinge on dramatic requirement.  In the first Joan of Arc dies in battle (not burnt at the stake as a witch) and in the second, the emotional, political and dramatic climax is a meeting between the two queens, Mary and Elizabeth, a meeting that never took place.

Jena was Schiller’s home for 10 years. (1789-1799).

Without Christian Gottfried Körner Schiller may have sunk into debt-ridden obscurity.  Schiller and Körner became friends in 1784, and, when Schiller’s debts threatened to overwhelm him, he fled to Körner spending some time on his estates in Loschwitz in Dresden.  Körner bankrolled Schiller on may occasions thereafter, never ceasing to encourage and discuss Schiller’s literary and philosophical concepts.

Many of those discussions have been preserved in their correspondence.  Schiller was an inveterate letter writer, particularly adept at writing begging letters.  (More on these later in the week.)

This skill was a matter of survival.  Schiller’s early career was a hand to mouth affair, particularly when in 1784 his one year contract as director of the Mannheim National Theatre was not extended.

Schiller’s only novel, The Man Who Sees Ghosts,  remained unfinished.  Unlike his ballads and plays, many of which were adapted and turned into opera.  The most famous musical piece has to be this section of Beethoven’s 9th symphony which incorporates Schiller’s Ode to Joy, which he dedicated to the aforementioned Körner.

Professor Schiller (as he would have been known to his students in Jena) taught history and philosophy. Amongst the philosophical concepts important to him were Wieland’s Die Schöne Seele (the beautiful soul), human freedom and das Erhabene (the sublime) or the ability for human to put aside their instinct for self-preservation and sacrifice themselves for higher ideals.

Schiller cries freedom! “No ties bind me. / No bounds chain me. / I fly freely through space. / Thought is my immeasurable kingdom and words are my winged tools./” Rough translation my own.

All of which is extremely laudable, and yet  Schiller’s actions were sometimes questionable. He didn’t always repay his debts, he had an affair with a married woman, and there may or may not have been a ménage à trois with his then future wife and her sister!  An assured fact is that he was less than pleasant towards Goethe’s partner, Christiane Vulpius.  The story goes that while staying with Goethe for two weeks in 1799, Schiller never spoke to Christiane, nor sent a word of thanks when he left.

Not that Weimar society would have criticised him for that – the Goethes didn’t marry until long after Schiller’s death.  Nevertheless Schiller wasn’t without his contemporary critics.  The German Romantics were less than impressed with Schiller’s idealism.  Caroline Schelling (another C!) once noted: Last night we almost fell off our seats laughing at Schiller’s poem Song of the Bell.

Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) was all the rage when Schiller began writing, so he was a latecomer to the movement.  Yet his early dramas – The Robbers, Fiesco, Passion and Politics and Don Carlos are now recognised as prime examples.

The Thalia (1784-1791) was the first cultural magazine edited by Schiller. In 1795 he set up a monthly periodical – Die Horen – which published pieces from all the great names in German literary circles of the time (including those pesky Romantics.) Another less known string on Schiller’s bow was his translation work.  Do you recognise this piece from Shakespeare’s Macbeth?

Ist dies ein Dolch, was ich da vor mir sehe, Den Griff mir zugewendet? Komm! Laß mich dich fassen, Ich hab’ dich nicht und sehe dich doch immer. Furchtbares Bild! Bist du so fühlbar nicht der Hand, Als du dem Auge sichtbar bist? Bist du Nur ein Gedankendolch, ein Wahngebilde Des fieberhaft entzündeten Gehirns? Ich seh’ dich immer, so leibhaftig wie Den Dolch, den ich in meiner Hand hier zücke. Du weisest mir den Weg, den ich will gehn; Entweder ist mein Auge nur der Narr Der andern Sinne oder mehr werth, als sie alle. –Noch immer seh’ ich dich und Tropfen Bluts Auf deiner Klinge, die erst nicht da waren. – Es ist nichts Wirkliches. Mein blutiger Gedanke ist’s, der so heraustritt vor das Auge!

Demetrius on Schiller’s Desk (Schillerhaus, Weimar)

Demetrius was Schiller’s final play – it was unfinished at time of his death from tuberculosis on 9th May 1805. A page remains on his desk in Weimar to this day.

The emotional pitch of Schiller’s text may be hard to swallow these days, but he couldn’t half write a good villain! Franz from the Robbers, The Duke of Alba from Don Carlos spring immediately to mind.

Following his decade in Jena, Schiller returned in 1799  to Weimar, where that friendship and collaboration with Goethe grew ever closer resulting in the golden age of Weimar Classicism and the founding of the Weimar National Theatre, where the two of them preside to this day.

Goethe and Schiller Memorial, Weimar

Before that, however, they penned The  Xenien, a series of wicked satirical epigrams designed  to answer their literary and philosophical foes and critics. They didn’t hold back!

If you had imagination, and wit, and sensitivity and judgment

Really you would not lack much for being like Wieland and Lessing.

When Schiller died, he was a relatively young man of 45, at the zenith  of his career.  Goethe was grief-stricken and penned an Epilogue to Schiller’s Song of the Bell.  (I doubt Caroline Schelling fell off her chair laughing at this.)

———–

Source materials:

My own photographs / 3 trips to Weimar / Gnädigster Herr, Ich Habe Familie: Edited Christiana Engelmann ISBN 978-3-8353-0159-6 / Schillers Frauen – Joseph Kiermeier-Debre ISBN: 978-3-423-13769-0 / Schillers Kritiker – Torsten Unger ISBN 978-3-95400-300-6

© Lizzy’s Literary Life 2015

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Lotte Kestner may have visited Goethe in Weimar in 1816 and Thomas Mann may have imagined the outcomes in his novel, Lotte in Weimar, but Lizzy spent 4 wonderful days there last summer.  It was, and will no doubt remain, the highlight of 2013.  So to end German Literature Month III on a high, let me recreate it in an A-Z.  Albeit an incomplete A-Z, one which will be completed when I return next summer!

Anna Amalia Behind every good man is a good woman and it appears that behind all the literary giants that inhabited 18th and early 19th century Weimar stood patroness of the arts, the Grand Duchess Anna Amalia, whose library is one of the wonders of the modern world (imo).

Many of the books in this beautiful library were originally owned by Goethe and Schiller.  In order to protect these fragile treasures, only 50 visitors are allowed in on a daily basis.  You have to be up bright and early to nab yourself a ticket!

Bauhaus A craft and fine arts movement, founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar.

I should really talk about Weimar Classicism but I found myself more fascinated by Charlotte  von Lengefeld (Schiller’s wife), Charlotte von Stein (Goethe’s lover), and Christiane Vulpius (Goethe’s mistress for 18 years before becoming his wife.)

Dumplings (Thuringian) Served with almost everything.  Very tasty with black beer stew!

Eckermann Goethe’s secretary and fellow fan of Weimar.  Penned the following,  which is my poem of the month.

Glücklich Weimar! – Von den Städten allen
Bist du, Kleine, wunderbar bedacht;
Man wird stets zu deinen Toren wallen,
Angezogen von der heil’gen Macht;
Und man wird nach großen Männern fragen,
Die in schönen Zeiten hier gestrebt,
Und mit edlem Neid wird man beklagen,
Dass man mit den Edlen nicht gelebt.

Frauenplan 1 Perhaps the most famous address in Weimar?  Who lived in a house like this for over 50 years?

Collages

None other than Johann Wolfgang von Goethe The colossus of German literature who also left an indelible stamp on the city of Weimar itself.

Johann Gottfried Herder Philosopher, theologian, poet and literary critic.  His literary theories influenced Goethe to develop his own literary style … The rest they say is history.

The river Ilm which flows through Weimar and is surrounded by the beautiful Park an der Ilm, designed by Goethe.

As Weimar launched its summer festival, I was lucky enough to spend a lovely sunny evening attending an open-air jazz concert in the market square.

Bernd Köstering has written a crime trilogy set in Weimar.  Not translated into English.   I hope to read the first two before returning to Weimar to pick up the third.

The Liszt School of Music was a source of unending delight.  Music of all kinds to be heard whenever passing by and with benches conveniently situated outside its walls, it was possible to enjoy many free mini-concerts.  The jazz concert I attended was given by students from this school.

The Market place is a veritable suntrap and is surrounded by drinking establishments of one kind or another, which makes it a perfect place for meeting up, sunning oneself and chilling down with a cool beer all at the same time.

Napoleon Bonaparte passed through Weimar in 1806 and played a not insignificant part in persuading Goethe to marry his mistress.  See V.

Ottilie – a character in Goethe’s Elective Affinities, based on Minna Herzlieb, an 18 year old girl with whom Goethe fell in love in 1807 when he was 58 and married for only one year.  Hmmmm….

Pushkin I need to find out more about how a bust of Pushkin comes to reside opposite the home of Charlotte von Stein …

Here’s a question for you?   What is Goethe doing with Schiller’s Skull?  I’ll leave you to research that but if you find the answer you’ll discover that Schiller’s coffin which lies next to Goethe’s in the ducal vault does not contain his bones at all.

Residenz am Schloß The oldest cafe in Weimar and a favourite watering hole of mine.

Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller who lived in a house like this.

Weimar 2013

It’s not as grand as Goethe’s abode but had he lived beyond the age of 45, he may have acquired similar standing and wealth.  I always felt that Schiller had the potential to transcend Goethe’s brilliance.  Their relationship became a genuine friendship (despite Schiller’s cruelty to Goethe’s mistress) and Goethe was gutted when Schiller died.

The centre of Weimar is testimony to this friendship,  with the iconic statue of the two men dominating the Theaterplatz.

U – Pass.

Christiane Vulpius, Goethe’s live-in mistress for 18 years and mother of his 5 children,  of which only one survived to adulthood.  He married her in 1806 only after her quick thinking saved his life after their house was pillaged by Bonaparte’s troops in 1806.  Even then she could not go into society with him.  She was not his social equal and was despised and rejected by the Weimar court.  But Goethe must have been fond of her (despite his womanising ways – see O). He wept bitterly upon her death in 1816.  Upon which, Schiller’s widow commented: “It grieves me that he should shed tears for such objects.”  That must be a contender for catty comment of the century.

The Thuringian Rotbratwurst is another tasty treat and the proportions of the sausage in this picture are not exaggerated in the least.

X – another pass, although that won’t surprise you.

Y can I not find an entry for this letter?

And finally. Stefan Zweig’s reaction to visiting Goethe’s House  in October 1922.

Dann – ins Goethehaus … ich möchte ein Jahr hier bleiben, … Und alles bis ins Letzte lesen und studieren.

and then to Goethe’s house … I’d like to stay here for a year  … And read and study everything in the finest detail (translation mine)

Precisely.  Expect a number of Weimar related reads between now and next summer.

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Translated by Hilary Collier Sy-Quia and Peter Oswald
Don’t read Schiller’s play about Mary, Queen of Scots, if you’re looking for historical accuracy.  The catalyst for Mary’s ultimate downfall, Mortimer didn’t exist.  Neither did Leicester, Queen Elizabeth’s favourite earl, have a thing for the Scottish queen. Nor, for that matter, did Mary and Elizabeth ever meet.

Do read Schiller’s play if you want a play full of concentrated action and suspense (despite knowing that there’s only one way in which this can end).  These are the last 3 days of Mary’s life and Schiller plunges us in Act 1, Sc 1 into the ritual humiliation of Mary’s imprisonment in Fotheringhay castle.  Her wardens break into her chambers to search and remove any valuables.  Mary, it appears, has been using these to finance her supporters attempts at rebellion.  A recent plot to restore Mary to her rightful position has failed and Mary’s trial for treason has taken place, although Mary was not allowed to attend and does not yet know the outcome.   She feels sure that a meeting with Elizabeth, cousin to cousin, queen to queen, is all it takes to save her.

The figures of Mary and Elizabeth appear at first sight to be diametrically opposed.  Mary is powerless and repentant of her previous sins, particularly the role she played in the death of her 2nd husband Darnley.  She admits no guilt in any plot against the Queen of England. Elizabeth is in the ascendant , proud, haughty and a ditherer (at least Schiller portrayed this correctly), who couldn’t decide whether or not to sign Mary’s death warrant.  And yet, it turns out that the two women have more in common than anyone could ever guess.  Tinsel doth not make the queen and so those similarities jump right off the page in the Act 3 Scene IV – the dead centre of the play – in which the meeting of the queens occurs.  It is the pivotal scene which starts with Mary pleading for her life to an unyielding and unforgiving queen whose harsh, arrogant statements finally goad the prisoner into making a fatal error of judgement.

Actually whether Elizabeth would have signed the death warrant at this point is a moot point because events spiral completely out of control when a rash supporter of Mary’s tries to assassinate Elizabeth on her journey back to London.  That’s the trigger for Mortimer to break cover and persuade Mary to flee.  When she decides he is a madman, it all goes horribly wrong ….

You have to ask yourself how Mary managed to exert such a pull over these young hotbloods.  Undeniably beautiful in her youth and early womanhood, she was at the time of her death 44; her long, auburn tresses, short and grey.  Schiller makes life easy for himself  by making both Elizabeth and Mary at least a decade younger than they were in reality at the time of these events.  The idea of rescuing a damsel in distress is always a motivator but also there was that thorny issue of religion.  The persecuted Catholics wanted a restoration and Mary was their favoured route to that.   In essence then, Schiller portrays things as they were:  the religious divide, the scheming noblemen, the vascillating queen forced eventually to execute her cousin to protect her own position.   Is that her motivation for signing the death warrant or is it an act of personal vengeance for what transpired at their manufactured meeting? Even if so, it’s not the dirtiest trick that Elizabeth plays on Schiller’s stage  … poor, poor Davison.

Schiller clearly doesn’t like Elizabeth and a playwright’s justice demands a reckoning.  Mary Stuart may be the one killed at the end, but she dies with dignity,  at peace with her fate and with the love and support of her ladies intact.  You get the feeling, however, that Elizabeth’s troubles are only just beginning.

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