The son of an army captain, Schiller attended the duke of Württemberg's military academy, the Karlsschule, and was forced by the domineering duke to study medicine. After graduating in 1780 he became an army surgeon, attached to a military life he abhorred. Turning to writing, he created a striking attack on political tyranny in Die Räuber (1781), one of the great plays of the Sturm und Drang period. Its performance (1782) in Mannheim won him public acclaim as well as the wrath of the duke, who forbade him to write.
Schiller fled from his post in Stuttgart and, after great deprivation, worked as a dramatist (1783–84) for the Mannheim theater. His second youthful success, Don Carlos, appeared in 1785 and was performed in revised form in 1787. While living in the great cultural center of Weimar, Schiller wrote a history (1788) of the revolt of the Netherlands against Spain. This work, together with the mediation of Goethe, gained him (1789) a professorship of history at the Univ. of Jena (now Friedrich Schiller Univ. of Jena). In 1790 Schiller married the gifted writer Charlotte von Lengefeld. Plagued by poor health, Schiller rejected subsequent offers of positions and from 1793 to the end of his life lived in Weimar, enjoying the friendship of Goethe.