Thursday, August 5, 2010

William Tell

Hold fast together, then—forever fast!
Let freedom's haunts be one in heart and mind!
Set watches on your mountain-tops, that league
May answer league, when comes the hour to strike.
Be one—be one—be one——

There is perhaps no other playwright who has captured
the imagination and heart of the German people like Friedrich Schiller. His plays continue to be world famous and many consider him to be Europe's second greatest playwright behind William Shakespeare. His friendship and collaboration with Goethe helped create the Weimar Classicism movement and established the Weimar Theater, which became the leading theater in Germany. William Tell is based on the life of the legendary Swiss hero, is considered by most to be his best play and has been translated into many languages.

The Plot:

It's the early 14th century, and the Swiss cantons are under the cruel oppression of the Hapsburgs of Austria. When Gessler, the new "ambassador" from Austria arrives, life becomes unbearable for the Swiss people. Local leaders begin to secretly form an alliance between 3 of the cantons to overthrow the Austrian rule. Local archer William Tell, however, is more focused on providing for his family than overthrowing the government. But when he accidentally breaks one Gessler's new "laws", Tell is forced to face the ultimate test that may cost him the one thing in the world he values most: the life of his son.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

It has been a long time since I have read a play. In fact, Shakespeare has been about my only exposure to the classics of the stage. So I was going into this kind of blind.

Overall I was fairly pleased with the play. The story is very inspiring, a sort of Robin Hood meets the American Revolution. It is so great to see these downtrodden people band together and overthrow their foreign oppressor. William Tell's defiance led to a rebellion that eventually formed the Swiss Federation, and today he is still regarded as a national hero.

Schiller's writing is at once strong, dark, powerful and beautiful (very German don't you think?). I love how the settings reflect the mood from the turbulent storms to the homey Tell cottage. Schiller makes the legend, though well known, very riveting.

Of course, it is always better to actually see a play versus just reading it
. I would love to be able to see this story acted out on stage and let the full force and beauty of Schiller's work come out.

It can be very difficult to find William Tell in book form, but you can read it here for free. It is a great introduction into the tradition of the German theater. I guarantee that you will be inspired by Tell's love for his family and his country.

The Movie:

Though William Tell has never made it to the silver screen, it has appeared in various forms on television all over the world. Probably the most well known are the 1958 series starring Conrad Phillips, the 1987 series "Crossbow" starring Will Lyman, and the 1998 series "The Legend of William Tell" starring Kieren Hutchinson. Haven't seen any of them, but it's a safe bet that they don't follow Schiller's work too closely.

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