Wallenstein (written 1797-99; first performed 1799)

Historical Context

Albrecht von Wallenstein, Duke of Friedland (1583-1634), although born into a Protestant noble family in Bohemia, became the most successful Catholic general in the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). Between 1625 and 1630 Wallenstein raised a massive army, recruiting successfully because of his generosity to his troops. The Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II (1578-1637) began to fear Wallenstein’s ambition and he dismissed him at the Diet of Regensburg in 1630, replacing Wallenstein with General Tilly as supreme commander of the Imperial forces. Wallenstein retired for two years until Tilly died in 1632. At this point Wallenstein resumed control of the imperial army, but he hesitated to engage with the enemy (the Swedes and the Saxons), leading the imperial authorities to suspect that he was about to change sides, and perhaps force the Emperor to agree humiliating terms. Wallenstein’s true intentions remain unclear: did he want to negotiate peace, or did he just want more power for himself? In any case, he made his generals swear loyalty to him only. Some of these generals were won over to the Emperor and on 22 February 1634 Wallenstein was declared a traitor. On 25 February 1634 he was assassinated by Irish and British conspirators in his castle at Eger.

Schiller’s Wallenstein is composed of a cycle of three plays:

Wallensteins Lager; Wallenstein’s Camp (1798)

Die Piccolomini; The Piccolomini (1799)

Wallensteins Tod; Wallenstein’s Death (1799)

Schiller had already published his version of the history of this period: Geschichte des Dreyßigjährigen Kriegs; History of the Thirty Years War (1791-92).

Wallenstein is set in the winter of 1633-34. The play shows how relations gradually deteriorate between Wallenstein and his supporters (chief among them Illo and Terzky), and the Emperor’s supporters, led by Octavio Piccolomini. Caught in the middle are the lovers Max Piccolomini (a character invented by Schiller) and Wallenstein’s daughter Thekla. Max and Thekla’s allegiances are fatally divided, and their love is doomed by the resulting military conflict. At first Wallenstein seems to be toying with the idea of rebellion, and he hesitates to defy the Emperor openly. However, the mutual suspicions of the two sides reinforce each other and accelerate events. Wallenstein’s messenger to the Swedes is intercepted by Imperial forces, forcing him to act. Countess Terzky persuades Wallenstein to rebel by playing on his pride, but Wallenstein’s trust in Octavio Piccolomini is misplaced: Octavio secretly persuades Wallenstein’s generals to desert him. Max’s duty forces him to leave Thekla and, heartbroken, he dies in battle with Swedish forces. The tragedy ends with Wallenstein’s murder at the hands of his Irish general Buttler and his men.

Schiller’s play bears comparison to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The crowd scenes in Wallensteins Lager are influenced by the crowd scenes in Julius Caesar, and in Goethe's Egmont. At the end of Act 2, Scene 2 of Wallensteins Tod, Wallenstein compares himself to Julius Caesar. This is ironic because just as Caesar is betrayed by the man he trusted most in the world (Brutus), so too is Wallenstein betrayed by Octavio Piccolomini. It is also ironic because while Caesar succeeded in making himself Emperor, Wallenstein is murdered before his ambitions are fulfilled. Wallenstein also bears comparison to Macbeth in so far as it is a tragedy of ambition and betrayal.

The themes of the play include:

- the problem of free will versus destiny: to what extent is Wallenstein’s hand forced by events? What is the significance of Wallenstein’s belief in astrology? Consider also Buttler’s terrible assertion of free will in Wallensteins Tod, Act 4, Scene 8.

- problems of moral legitimacy: to what extent is Wallenstein’s betrayal of the Emperor, and Octavio’s betrayal of Wallenstein justifiable? and to what extent is Buttler’s murder of Wallenstein legitimised by the Emperor’s letter? How can Max and Thekla reconcile their divided loyalties?

- the contrasting influence of the written word and the spoken word (the pledge of loyalty that the generals are made to sign; the letters from the Emperor).

- moderation versus excess: the modest Gordon, commander of the castle at Eger, acts as a counter-figure to Wallenstein’s towering ambition. Gordon is humane but ineffectual.

- abuse of power: Wallenstein sacrifices to his own ambitions those closest to him, Max and Thekla.

The most notable recent production of the entire Wallenstein trilogy was directed by Peter Stein in 2007, starring Klaus Maria Brandauer.

Further Reading

Jill Berman, ‘History Can Restore Naivety to the Sentimental: Schiller’s Letters on Wallenstein’, Modern Language Review 81:2 (1986), 369-87

Gisela N. Berns, Greek Antiquity in Schiller’s “Wallenstein” (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1985)

Steffan Davies, The Wallenstein Figure in German Literature and Historiography (London: MHRA/IGRS, 2010)

Steffan Davies, ‘“Du wagst es, meine Worte zu deuten?”: Unreliable Evidence on Schiller’s Stage’, Modern Language Review 106:3 (2011), 779-796

Robin Harrison, ‘“Wer die Wahl hat, hat die Qual”: Philosophy and Poetry in Schiller’s Wallenstein’, Publications of the English Goethe Society 64-65 (1996), 136-61

Elisabeth Krimmer, ‘Transcendental Soldiers: Warfare in Schiller's Wallenstein and Die Jungfrau von Orleans, Eighteenth-Century Fiction 19:1 (2006), article 20

Nathaniel Leach, ‘The Shame of the Nation: Performing History in Schiller, Manzoni and Byron’, European Romantic Review 22:2 (2011), 155-72

Graham D. C. Martin, ‘Historical Fact versus Literary Fiction: Members of the House of Liechtenstein Occurring in Schiller’s Wallenstein and Grillparzer’s König Ottokar’, Modern Language Review 86:2 (1991), 337-48

Jan Mieszkowski, ‘The Pace of the Attack: Military Experience in Schiller's Wallenstein and Die Jungfrau von Orleans’, Goethe Yearbook 16 (2009), 29-46

Lydia Moland, ‘An Unrelieved Heart: Hegel, Tragedy, and Schiller’s Wallenstein’, New German Critique 113 (2011), 1-24

Roger Paulin, ‘Schiller, Wallenstein’, in Landmarks in German Drama, ed. by Peter Hutchinson (Bern: Peter Lang, 2002)

Ritchie Robertson, 'Wallenstein', in Friedrich Schiller: Playwright, Poet, Philosopher, Historian, ed. by Paul Kerry (Bern: Peter Lang, 2007), pp. 196-207

Kathy Saranpa, Schiller’s Wallenstein, Maria Stuart and Die Jungfrau von Orleans: The Critical Legacy (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2002)