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By WILLIAM H. CARRUTH, PH.D.
Professor of Comparative Literature, Leland Stanford University
Schiller wrote in rapid succession, during his Storm and Stress period, The Robbers, Fiesco, Cabal and Love, and the beginning of Don Carlos (finished in 1787). Between this time and his last period, which opens with Wallenstein, he devoted himself assiduously to the study of philosophy, history, and esthetic theory. Even in writing Don Carlos he had felt that he needed to give more care to artistic form and to the deeper questions of dramatic unity. His own dissatisfaction with the results achieved was one of several reasons why for nearly ten years he dropped dramatic composition. He felt, too, that he needed more experience of life. He himself said of the greatest of his Storm and Stress dramas that he had attempted to portray humanity before he really knew humanity.
In 1788 he published the first part of his History of the Rebellion of the Netherlands, which brought him the appointment to the chair of history in the University of Jena. The occupation with his next historical work, the History of the Thirty Years’ War, suggested to him the thought of dramatizing the career of Wallenstein. But he was not yet clear with himself on questions of artistic method. He was studying Homer and dramatizing Euripides, lecturing and writing on dramatic theory. Further delays were due to marriage and to serious illness. It was not until 1796 that Schiller felt ready to begin work on the long planned drama of Wallenstein.
The first scenes were written in prose, but soon the poet realized that only the dignified heroic verse was suited to his theme. Then “all went better.” Constant discussions with Goethe and Christian Gottfried Koerner helped him to clear up his doubts and overcome the difficulties of his subject. He found that history left too little room for sympathy with Wallenstein, for he conceived him as really guilty of treason. He decided early to lighten the gloom of his theme by introducing the love episode of Max and Thekla. He modified also his view of the nature of Wallenstein’s guilt. Gradually the material grew upon him. What he had planned as a Prologue became the one-act play, Wallenstein’s Camp, which, when it was produced in October, 1798, at the reopening of the Weimar Theatre, was preceded by 138 lines of Dedication, since printed as the Prologue. Already Schiller had foreseen the development into more than five acts, and accordingly The Piccolomini appeared separately, January 30, 1799, and the whole series in order about the middle of April, upon the completion of Wallenstein’s Death.