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Dance of Death; of Schiller's, The Diver, The Fight with the Dragon, The Cranes of Ibycus. Some stanzas of The Diver may be given. The king throws a golden goblet into a watery abyss, and his page plunges in to get it. The description of the whirlpool is striking:
And lo! as he stands on the outermost verge,
The struggling waves of the mighty surge,
From the depths of the whirlpool rushing;
The terrible storm is at length asleep,
A fathomless chasm yawneth deep
Such portal dream we to hell's dark way!
But see! what shines through the dark flood there,
An arm and a glittering neck are bare,
They busily move with the swimmer's might;
It is he! and, lo, in his left hand high,
He waveth the goblet exultingly!
We have seen that Schiller wrote five dramas during the last six years of his life. The first of these was Wallenstein. This is divided into three parts-The Camp, Piccolomini, and Wallenstein's Death. The whole forms a continuous drama of eleven acts. Wallenstein was the somewhat mysterious general who fought for Ferdinand II., Emperor
of Germany, during the Thirty Years' War. Schiller had been powerfully attracted towards him during his researches for the History of the Thirty Years' War, and he has kept very close to historical accuracy in his delineation of the character. So successful was his treatment, that Wallenstein is the greatest dramatic personage of German literature. In the first portion Schiller's early experience of military life shows forth. The Camp is a very vivid succession of camp scenes, intended to afford a view of the rude host under Wallenstein's command. The second part introduces the chief characters, and there is an idyllic love passage between Thekla, Wallenstein's daughter, and Max Piccolomini, son of Octavio, Wallenstein's betrayer. The last division contains the death of the great general, brought about partly by his own overweening ambition and undue self-confidence, and partly by the treachery of false friends. The play was completed in 1799. In the same year Schiller, by the generosity of Duke Karl August, left Jena for Weimar, where he remained until his death.
Wallenstein gave its author a new grip of dramatic method. He at once set to work on new playthough the subject was an old favorite-Mary Stuart. The unfortunate Scottish queen is impris oned in England. The main interest lies in the contrast between the characters of Mary and Elizabeth. Mary is made to win our utmost sympathy. "Your undoubted right to England's throne," says her
lover, Mortimer, "has been your only wrong." The play appeared in 1800.
The Maid of Orleans followed in 1801. It has been called "the tragedy of moral idealism." Schiller interprets the character of Jean d'Arc in the most sympathetic spirit. Nor does he fear to introduce the supernatural element; it is very prominent throughout. The gentle heroine hears the heavenly voice, accepts its conditions and wins back France for the king; but in the hour of triumph she sets wide her heart to human love, thus breaking her vow. The play closes with her inner purification, renewed victory, and at last a glorious death. The Maid of Orleans was received everywhere with great applause. In Leipzig, the close of the first act was greeted with shouts of "Es lebe Friedrich Schiller!"-" Long live Frederick Schiller!" To Schiller, however, art was its own reward.
Two years later appeared the Bride of Messina. Neither in this nor in its successor is there a character of such single and absorbing interest as in the former three. The last plays deal more with the movement of masses. The Bride of Messina was not as strong as the other plays. The motif is a family divided against itself by a confused and terrible sequence of events.
Schiller's favorite theme was the struggle of liberty against tyranny. It is very likely that the French Revolution and the events following influenced his selection of subjects for his last dramas.
Thus, his final effort found expression along these lines. William Tell was completed in 1804, when the shadow of death already lay upon its author. And this, his closing work, affords a strong contrast to that with which his career opened. Both deal with the question of liberty; but The Robbers is crude, ill-formed, an anarchical outcry against all law and order; while William Tell is "the apotheosis of lawful freedom." The play tells of the achievement of a national freedom, through the instrumentality of a national hero. Its two central incidents are known to every child-the shooting of the apple by the father from his son's head, and the slaying of the cruel Gessler by the same father. These lines are from Tell's soliloquy while waiting to slay the Landvogt, Gessler:
Through this deep dark defile he soon will pass.
William Tell is perhaps the highest glory of Schiller's genius.
And within a year the poet was dead-dead in the very prime of his life and activity. On the 9th of May, 1805, this brave spirit passed from the world with the quiet manliness that had marked his life.
His death was deeply felt all over Germany. To Goethe, sick at the time, the shock was terrible. "The half of my existence has gone from me," he said; and again, later on: "In those days I took no interest in anything."
In 1803 Goethe had produced The Natural Daughter, the first play of an unfinished Trilogy. But the great poem Faust occupied his principal attention, and in 1808 the first part appeared. The Faust Fable had long been familiar to Goethe. The story itself is of medieval origin and had been treated before by various poets. In 1770, while at Strasburg, he had an idea of weaving his own experience into the old legend. He wrote nothing, however, until 1774-5, when the beautiful ballad of the King in Thule, the first monologue, and the first scene with Wagner, were written. Numerous other portions were sketched at various intervals, and in 1797 the whole was recast under Schiller's influence, and the plan of the entire work sketched. In 1801 it was completed, in 1806 retouched, and in 1808 the first part was published in its final form. In 1821 he resolved to complete the second part; this was done the year before his death. The composition of the poem extended over a period of sixty years. Its unity, therefore, is not as close as otherwise it would have been. Into the poem is fused much legendary lore and more than a little autobiography.
The poem opens with a "Prologue in Heaven."