Kabale und Liebe

Kabale und Liebe, Intrigue and Love; Luise Miller (first published and performed 1784)

Written in 1782-83 and first performed in Frankfurt am Main in 1784, this drama contains Schiller’s most direct representation of the politics of his time. The original title of the play, which was used for the première on 15 April 1784, was Luise Millerin, but Iffland suggested the title Kabale und Liebe; Intrigue and Love, and this title was used for the performance of 17 April in Mannheim. Like Lessing’s play Emilia Galotti, the play is a Bürgerliches Trauerspiel; Bourgeois Tragedy, but it features highly charged scenes of intergenerational conflict which link it to the wildest plays of the Sturm und Drang: J. M. R. Lenz’s Der Hofmeister; The Tutor (1774) and Schiller’s own Die Räuber; The Robbers (1781).

The play is set in a small German state ruled by an absolutist monarch, the Duke (Herzog) and his ruthless First Minister, President von Walter (the title ‘President’ here signifies ‘First Minister’). The Duke (who remains offstage) resembles Duke Carl Eugen (1728-1793) of Württemberg, who had Schiller arrested in the summer of 1782 for going to Mannheim without his permission. In Act 2, Scenes 2 and 3, we hear how viciously the Duke has ruled his country, for example, selling his subjects to the British as troops to fight in the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). The character of President von Walter is modelled on Montmartin, Carl Eugen’s own First Minister. The play exposes the moral corruption of an absolutist state: President von Walter has gained his position by having his predecessor murdered, and plans to secure his influence at court by marrying his son, Major Ferdinand von Walter, to the Duke’s English mistress, Lady Milford. But Ferdinand is in love with a commoner, Luise Miller, and so the political becomes personal. Ferdinand and Luise’s love challenges the social hierarchy and the establishment soon unites in order to destroy the relationship. Schiller had experienced similar prejudice first-hand in 1783 when his proposal to an aristocrat, Charlotte von Wolzogen, was rejected.

The combination of biting political analysis and high drama makes this one of Schiller’s most stirring works.

In Act One Miller tells his wife he does not approve of Luise’s friendship with Major Ferdinand von Walter, the son of President von Walter. The President’s secretary Wurm would like to marry Luise and attempts to ingratiate himself with Miller, but Mrs Miller boasts that Ferdinand wants to marry her daughter. Luise feels that her love for Ferdinand is doomed because of their class differences. Wurm tells President von Walter that his son is in love with Luise, but the President wants Ferdinand to marry Lady Milford, and reminds Wurm that he has evidence that Wurm has committed forgery. In order to force Ferdinand’s hand, President von Walter tells Hofmarschall (Court Steward) von Kalb that the marriage is agreed. President von Walter tells Ferdinand that he eliminated his predecessor for Ferdinand’s sake, but if Ferdinand refuses to marry Lady Milford, he will be in trouble.

In Act Two Lady Milford tells Sophie, her lady in waiting, that she loves Ferdinand and that she has engineered her marriage to him. A servant arrives with a box of jewels – a gift from the Duke, bought with the profits of the Duke’s sale of seven thousand men to the British to fight in America. The servant describes violent scenes: men who protested were shot and others were separated from their families by force. Lady Milford orders the jewels to be sold and the money divided between 400 families who have just been ruined by a fire. Ferdinand arrives and accuses Lady Milford of profiting from the exploitation of his country. She replies that she was a penniless orphan when the Duke found her and that she has always tried to ameliorate the Duke’s cruelty. Ferdinand is humbled and tells her that he loves Luise Miller. Lady Milford insists that her honour is at stake. Miller prepares to flee to the border with Luise when Ferdinand arrives, soon followed by his father, President von Walter, who calls Luise a whore. Miller tells him to get out and the President orders officers of the law to arrest the whole family. Ferdinand threatens to reveal the illicit means by which the President gained his position; this scares the President who orders his men to withdraw.

In Act Three Wurm tells President von Walter he has a plan. He will force Luise to write a letter making it seem as if she has another lover. The President gets Hofmarschall von Kalb to pretend to be Luise’s lover. Ferdinand asks Luise to elope with him but Luise says she can’t leave her father behind to face the wrath of the President, and she tells Ferdinand that she will have to renounce him. Ferdinand cannot comprehend her sense of duty and starts to think that she has another lover. Wurm arrives and tells Luise that her father has been arrested and faces execution: the only way to save him is to write a love letter to Hofmarschall von Kalb so that Ferdinand hates her. Wurm dictates the letter to Luise and insists that she swears an oath not to reveal that she was forced to write the letter.

In Act Four Ferdinand finds and reads Luise’s letter to von Kalb. He falls for the plot and almost kills Hofmarschall von Kalb, but then decides to let him live. President von Walter, seeing that the plan is working, pretends to have changed his mind about Luise. Lady Milford offers Luise a job as a maid, and then begs her to renounce Ferdinand. Luise replies that she already has, and then she leaves, saying that she plans to commit suicide. Lady Milford is so ashamed by Luise’s noble spirit that she writes a farewell letter to the Duke. Then she bids farewell to her servants and leaves the country.

In Act Five Luise tells Miller that she is planning to commit suicide. He persuades her not to. Ferdinand arrives and asks Luise if she wrote the letter to von Kalb. She says yes. Ferdinand asks her to get him a glass of lemonade. Ferdinand asks Miller if Luise is his only child – she is. Ferdinand gives Miller a bag of gold coins and asks Miller to deliver a message for him. Then he poisons the lemonade, drinks some of it, and then makes Luise drink some too. When Luise knows that she is dying she feels she is released from the oath she swore, and she reveals the truth about the plot to Ferdinand. President von Walter arrives and Ferdinand accuses him of murder. The President replies that the plot was all Wurm’s idea. Wurm is furious and promises to make a confession which will doom them both. President von Walter kneels by his dying son and asks for forgiveness. Ferdinand gives him his hand, and President von Walter gives himself up.

In this play, the ‘good’ characters – Ferdinand, Luise and Miller – are totally outmanoeuvred by their opponents. As Roy Pascal points out, Ferdinand is well aware that his intent to marry Luise flouts social convention, but the only remedy he can think of is to run away from polite society (see below, Pascal, p. 46).

Act Three, Scene 4 clearly shows how the two lovers’ failure to comprehend each other is conditioned by their different social backgrounds. Ferdinand, knowing that his father is a criminal, claims that romantic love must take precedence over loyalty to one’s parents. In contrast, Luise loves her father and feels bound by her duty to him. Ferdinand’s proud, aristocratic individualism leads him to dismiss Luise’s conventional sense of family loyalty; indeed he is offended at the thought of having to share his beloved with her family. Wurm, who wants Luise for himself, judges correctly in Act Three, Scene 1 that Ferdinand’s weakness is his jealousy:

Ich müßte mich schlecht auf den Barometer der Seele verstehen, oder der Herr Major ist in der Eifersucht schrecklich, wie in der Liebe.


Either I have a poor understanding of the soul’s barometer, or the Major is as terrible in his jealousy as he is in love.

Further Reading

Ilse Appelbaum-Graham, ‘Passions and Possessions in Schiller’s Kabale und Liebe’, German Life and Letters 6 (1952), 12-20

Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. by Willard R. Trask [1953] (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2003), Chapter 17: ‘Miller the Musician’, pp. 434-53

Thomas F. Barry, ‘Love and Politics of Paternalism: Images of the Father in Schiller’s Kabale und Liebe’, Colloquia Germanica 22 (1989), 21-37

Edward Dvoretzky, ‘Lessing in Schiller’s Kabale und Liebe’, Modern Philology 63:4 (1966), 311-18

John Guthrie, ‘Schiller, Kabale und Liebe’, in Landmarks in German Drama, ed. by Peter Hutchinson (Bern: Peter Lang, 2002)

Robin B. Harrison, ‘The Fall and Redemption of Man in Schiller’s Kabale und Liebe’, German Life and Letters 35 (1981), 5-13

Bruce Kieffer, ‘Tragedy in the Logocentric World: Schiller’s Kabale und Liebe’, German Studies Review 5:2 (1982), 205-20

Ladislaus Löb, From Lessing to Hauptmann: Studies in German Drama (London: University Tutorial Press, 1974), pp. 86-92

Edward McInnes, ‘“Verlorene Töchter”: Reticence and Ambiguity in German Domestic Drama in the Late Eighteenth Century’, in Taboos in German Literature, ed. by David Jackson (Oxford and Providence, RI: Berghahn, 1996), pp. 27-42

Roy Pascal, The German Sturm und Drang, 2nd edition (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1959)

David Pugh, Schiller’s Early Dramas: A Critical History (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2000)

Lesley Sharpe, Friedrich Schiller: Drama, Thought and Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991)

J. M. Van der Laan, ‘Kabale und Liebe Reconsidered’, in A Companion to the Works of Friedrich Schiller, ed. by Steven D. Martinson (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2005), pp. 115-35

G. A. Wells, ‘Interpretation and misinterpretation of Schiller’s Kabale und Liebe’, German Life and Letters 38 (1985), 448-61