Lecture 8: German Classicism - Schiller and Maria Stuart • Schiller’s Life • Classicist Weimar • The structure of the tragedy • The conflict between the two queens • Schiller’s way of dealing with history • Das Erhabene and its impact on the interpretation of Maria Stuart • Preparing the seminar class
Schiller’s Life: from early days at Stuttgart and Mannheim to the Classicist period at Jena and Weimar
Classicist Weimar A small town in Thüringen, duchy of Weimar Weimar Theatre, where Goethe was director; it staged the major Classicists’ plays
From Goethe to Schiller in less than five minutes by foot Goethe’s house Am Frauenplan: grandeur and luxury of a Herzoglicher Rath Schiller’s house at the Esplanade: poverty of a university teacher and playwright
The act structure of the play (Freytag’s categories) • Act I (exposition) • Fotheringhay, Maria (depressed) • Act II (rising action) • Westminster, Elisabeth (triumphant) • Act III (climax, turning point) • ‘Gegend in einem Park’ (III,1-6), ‘im Hause’ (III,7-8) • Act IV (falling action, delay) • Westminster, Elisabeth (in despair) • Act V (tagic catastrophe) • Fotheringhay, Maria (V,1-10) (triumphant) • Westminster, Elisabeth (V,11-15) (isolated)
The conflict between the 2 queens Maria Elisabeth • Scottish origin, legitimacy • Catholic • married several times, lovers • impulsive, driven by senses • not in power, kept as prisoner • ... • English origin, illegitimacy • Protestant • not married • logically thinking • in power, ruling Head of State • ... Embodiment of the Stofftrieb naiv Embodiment of the Formtrieb sentimentalisch The question is: how to transform this clash into a matter for the Spieltrieb; how to make a piece of art out of these conflicting parts, how to transcend the obvious antagonism for an experience of freedom?
Schiller’s way of dealing with history is the key for the transformation of the conflicting elements of the sujet into the playful pleasure a piece of art can provide • History can be both: something that sets you free and something that holds you kept. • Therefore you can look at historical sujets as ‘sublime’ (erhabene) objects. • Schiller defines erhaben in his theoretical piece Vom Erhabenen (first published in 1801): • ‘Erhaben nennen wir ein Objekt, bey dessen Vorstellung unsre sinnliche Natur ihre Schranken, unsre vernünftige Natur aber ihre Ueberlegenheit, ihre Freyheit von Schranken fühlt; gegen das wir also physisch den Kürzern ziehen, über welches wir uns aber moralisch d.i. durch Ideen erheben.’ (NA 20, p. 171.)
Das Erhabene in history and what this means for Maria Stuart • ‘ Das Erhabene ist also die Wirkung dreyer auf einander folgender Vorstellungen: 1) einer objektiven physischen Macht, 2) unsrer subjektiven physischen Ohnmacht, 3) unsrer subjektiven moralischen Uebermacht.’ (Schiller, Vom Erhabenen, NA 20, p. 186.) • A special, an ‘art’s reading’ of history thus allows you to interpret the historical accounts of Elizabethan England in a ‘sublime’ way: • ad 1): Elisabeth acts as a factual physical power • ad 2): Maria can be regarded as in a state of (individual) physical helplessness (powerlessness) • ad 3): Maria’s physical powerlessness can be transformed into an individual moral power, thus freeing herself and the ‘reflecting reader/viewer’ from apparently factual necessities • Therefore Schiller interprets history in his own way, turning the account and the judgement topsy-turvy.
Das Erhabene ‘read into’ history • As a consequence of Schiller’s ‘sublime reading’ of history the reflecting reader views Elisabeth • as prisoner of her own Formtrieb which turns into something which becomes irrational, and thereby close to the Stofftrieb • as a powerful and at the same time powerless individual, thus unveiling the dialectics of reason • where reason is restricted to be an instrument only (instrumentelle Vernunft) • the Formtrieb transforms itself into the Stofftrieb • At the same time, Maria • gains moral freedom the moment she is facing execution • the guilty (in terms of high-treason) become inguilty (in terms of moral values) • the Stofftrieb transforms itself into the Formtrieb • The experience art can deliver transcends the dualism of both drives.
Summing up the mittlerer Zustand, in which the play should leave you, Lesley Sharpe wrote: • ‘Maria is guilty in the sum total of her life, if not particular of having actively plotted the assassination of Elisabeth, and she is deeply aware of it. • All physical freedom is denied her to the point that her very life is to be taken away. In these extreme circumstances the human spirit can still assert itself and rise above the physical circumstances. • Through the spectacle of such moral freedom the audience is exhilarated and this acts as a counterbalance to the dismay provoked by the suffering which must accompany the triumph. We still, however, have to see that triumph in the light of the action of the whole play. • In a play that deals with the inadequacy of simple moral principles in the world of politics it seems something of an invalidation of the complexity with which that world is portrayed if Maria’s death is seen as a triumph over politics.’ • L. Sharpe, Friedrich Schiller. Drama, Thought and Politics (Cambridge, 1991), p. 271.
This week’s seminar • 1. HOMEWORK: • a) Scene III,4 displays the encounter of Elisabeth and Mary, something which did not take place in history. What is the function of this scene within the tragedy? • b) Why does Schiller choose female heroes to set his aesthetic theory into practice? • c) In IV,10 Elisabeth is having a monologue. What does her speech reveal about herself? • d) Why do you think the tragedy does not end with Maria’s decapitation? Discuss the way this incident is presented on the stage. • e) Do the same comparison that we did for Maria and Elisabeth for Mortimer and Leicester.
The contrast of two male characters (II,8) Mortimer Leicester • ... • ... Embodiment of the Stofftrieb naiv Embodiment of the Formtrieb sentimentalisch If you compare this opposition with that of the two heroines: what is the difference? Is there any?