Schiller's great dramas are alike in being tragedies or epics with historical and political backgrounds; they exemplify his idealism, high ethical principles, and insistence on freedom and nobility of spirit. In Die Räuber and other early works his heroes are pure idealists who perish because of the villainy of evil opponents. As Schiller moved from the phase of Sturm und Drang, he saw dangers in rampant individualism and even in fanatic idealism; thus his later Don Carlos has been interpreted both as a cry for political liberty and as a plea against excessive idealistic zealousness.
Under the influence of the philosophy of Kant, Schiller developed his aesthetic theories, which stressed the sublime and emphasized the creative powers of humanity. These views and his concept of historical inevitability are manifest in the outstanding dramatic trilogy Wallenstein (1798–99, tr. of last two parts by S. T. Coleridge, 1800), in which the general, ennobled by Schiller as a great creative statesman, bows before inexorable fate. Wallenstein reflects Schiller's labors on a large historical study (1791–93) of the Thirty Years War. Mary Stuart (1800, tr. by Stephen Spender, 1959), his most popular play, and Die Jungfrau von Orleans (1801) deal with guilt and redemption. Wilhelm Tell (1804), which places history and hero in favorable conjunction, shows Schiller's technical mastery at its best.
Schiller's interest in classical antiquity, inspired by Winckelmann, is reflected in the play Die Braut von Messina (1803), essays, and poems. An unfinished novel, Die Geisterseher, and the "Ode to Joy" (1785), used by Beethoven for the finale of his Ninth Symphony, indicate the range of his literary activity. Also noteworthy are his ballades and philosophical lyrics—graceful, compelling, often pathetic in mood. Along with Goethe, he edited the literary periodicals Horen (1795–97) and Musenalmanach (1796–1800). Schiller wrote several significant treatises on aesthetics and created his finest plays and poetry in this period; he also translated Shakespeare's Macbeth (1801), Racine's Phèdre (1805), and other works.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.