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A Companion to the Works of
Friedrich Schiller
Edited by
Steven D. Martinson
Copyright © 2005 by the Editor and Contributors
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First published 2005
by Camden House
Camden House is an imprint of Boydell & Brewer Inc.
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and of Boydell & Brewer Limited
PO Box 9, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 3DF, UK
ISBN: 1–57113–183–3
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
A companion to the works of Friedrich Schiller / edited by
Steven D. Martinson
p. cm. – (Studies in German literature, linguistics, and culture)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 1–57113–183–3 (hardcover : alk. paper)
1. Schiller, Friedrich, 1759–1805—Criticism and interpretation.
I. Martinson, Steven D., 1949– II. Title. III. Series: Studies in
German literature, linguistics, and culture (Unnumbered)
PT2492.C66 2005
A catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
This publication is printed on acid-free paper.
Printed in the United States of America.
Maria Stuart: Physiology and Politics
Steven D. Martinson
HIS FIRST MEDICAL DISSERTATION Philosophie der Physiologie (Philosophy of Physiology, 1779), Johann Friedrich Schiller asserted that philosophy and religion can overpower the “animal,” that is, corporeal
sensations, and tear (reißen) the soul away from mere agreement, that is,
identification with matter.1 Even though it has not been enlisted to do so
in the past, Schiller’s early medical writing would seem to support the traditional reading of Maria Stuart. Queen Mary absolves herself of the sins
of the past, attains a state of sublimity, and marches triumphantly to her
death. Through this chain of events, she achieves the final victory over
death, to say nothing of her opponent, Queen Elizabeth. Or, so it would
seem. In fact, the sustained and, at times, profound impact of Schiller’s
early medical dissertations on his later works suggests a quite different
interpretation, one that is also at variance with the most recent scholarship.
The present undertaking expands my reading of Schiller’s Maria
Stuart in my book Harmonious Tensions: The Writings of Friedrich Schiller
(1996). It is my purpose here to explore the relationship between physiology and politics in Maria Stuart. I will also cast further light on the drama
by showing how it interrelates with a number of other works by Schiller.
A close analysis of gender roles and the relationship between Elizabeth and
Mary rounds out the discussion.
The Interaction Between Mind and Body
At the beginning of his career as a writer, Friedrich Schiller appreciated the
vital roles that moments of crisis and rupture can play in the restoration
and maintenance of health, not only in the body and the mind but also in
the multifarious relationships between individuals and society. In the second of his medical dissertations (Abschlußarbeiten), for example, the
young student of medicine observed that in the case of fevers, nature combats nature. In moments of crisis, the individual finds himself at the crossroads of illness and health, or life and death. If this state of being is
prolonged, however, any further disruption, that is, rupture (Riß ) will lead
to the complete collapse and destruction of the body. Nonetheless, when
explaining the nature of fevers, Schiller sees that the crisis of our physical
being in moments of illness can also lead to a restoration of health.
To my knowledge, Schiller’s third and final medical dissertation, Über
den Zusammenhang der tierischen Natur des Menschen mit seiner geistigen
(On the Connection between the Animal and Spiritual Nature of Man,
1780), is the first work in the Western tradition to introduce an interactionist theory of the relationship between body and mind. Having
disapproved of Schiller’s first two attempts to write a dissertation, his committee, as well as the duke, Karl Eugen, accepted this third writing. It was
published in 1780 at the Cotta publishing house in Stuttgart. In this work,
Schiller advances the idea that although the mind regulates the activities of
the body, the body holds the mind within its bounds. The dynamic interplay that this particular relationship creates, however, is not one of harmony in the traditional sense, that is, of balance and equilibrium wherein
opposites are completely reconciled. Rather, human physiology is a tensionfilled process of reciprocal delimitation and interdependence. In arriving at
this conclusion, Schiller drew upon the work of the Jewish-German writer
Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1786). In his Briefe über die Empfindungen
(Letters on Sensory Perceptions, 1755), Mendelssohn underscores the
integrated nature of body and mind. The nervous system is comprised of a
labyrinthine network of passages, such that everything in the body, including the mind, is tied to everything else. The degrees of tension in the body
are distributed harmoniously from nerve to nerve. A change in the one
leads to a change in the whole. A healthy state of being depends on the
perpetual cultivation of what Mendelssohn here terms harmonious tension
(harmonische Spannung).
Having surveyed the debate over materialism and idealism in his own
time, Schiller submitted that the more common error was to overemphasize the power of the human spirit (Geist) and downplay, or even neglect,
the influence of the body when claiming the independence of the mind
(8:123). The writer’s candid recognition of a more complex interrelationship between mind and body is supported by the tension between anthropology and metaphysics that reverberates throughout his work as a whole.
But there is more. Schiller’s writings display the dynamic integration of literature, physiology, philosophy, history, and music as referenced by the
innumerable metaphors and other linguistic devices that lend his writings
their interdisciplinary texture. The most prominent among the central
symbols and metaphors in all of Schiller’s writings is the stringed musical
In one of his first speeches, “Rede über die Frage: Gehört allzuviel
Güte, Leutseeligkeit und grosse Freygebigkeit im engsten Verstande zur
Tugend?” the nineteen-year-old medical student associated the metaphor of
the stringed musical instrument with the source of all Creation (Martinson,
23). In his first dissertation concerning the philosophy of physiology, young
Schiller submitted that the nerve spirit (“Nervengeist”) is an entity whose
strings (“Saiten”) vibrate constantly (“zittern”). This transmutative force
(“Mittelkraft”) resides in the nerves and reverberates throughout the body,
including the brain, and the brain is portrayed as the instrument of the
understanding (“das Instrument des Verstandes”; 8:48).
Another revealing fact is that all of the writer’s completed dramas, save
one, contain references to one or more stringed instruments, whether that
instrument be a piano, lute, guitar, violin, or lyre. The relative absence of
this central metaphor in Maria Stuart is purposeful and a key to the interpretation of the play. In fact, it is the only major drama from Die Räuber
through Wilhelm Tell to not employ the symbol. In fact, at the beginning
of the play, we learn that Mary’s lute has been confiscated. Since the beautiful, melodic, and entrancing sounds of her musical instrument will not be
able to reach beyond the walls of the prison, Mary will now be unable to
evoke sympathy for her cause.
From early on, music played an essential, indeed vital, role in Schiller’s
development as a writer. In the third dissertation, the relationship
between body and mind is described as two finely-tuned stringed instruments that are placed next to each other (8:149). When a string is plucked
on the one instrument, the same string on the other sounds of its own
accord and reproduces the same note. However, for a stringed musical
instrument to produce beautiful music, each of the strings must be tightened to just the right degree. The point is that all of the strings must be
taut, that is, tense. By extension, melodic, that is, beautiful music is first
achieved in and through harmonious tension. In Harmonious Tensions,
I suggested that the symbol of the stringed instrument serves both as a
general model of nature and as a sign for the harmonious tensions operative in Schiller’s writings. Furthermore, this harmonious tension emits a
particular or distinct kind of tone whereby it can also be identified. For
example, in the poem “Die Herrlichkeit der Schöpfung,” the motif of flying is associated with nature’s “lute,” which “Tönt auf der Laute der
Natur” (Martinson, 58).
In the course of writing the three medical dissertations, Schiller developed a basic law of mixed natures. The activities of the body and the mind
are interrelated. An overexertion of the one results in an overexertion of
the other. This “Überspannung” runs the risk of short-circuiting the
proper give-and-take between strain (“Anspannung”) and relaxation
(“Entspannung”). Hence, Schiller’s writings attest neither to rest nor the
cancellation (“Aufhebung”) of opposites but to the perpetual tug of war
between mutually dependent, yet oppositional forces of nature, without
which harmonious tension and, therefore, life itself, would not be possible.
In retrospect, the young writer had appropriated the ancient Greek
symbol of the lyre and Pythagoras’s interpretation thereof as representative
of the harmony of the spheres. At the same time, he drew upon the work
of his contemporary, Moses Mendelssohn, and somewhat later the critical
philosophy of Immanuel Kant.
In modern times, the production of beauty was still possible, but the
danger now existed that the very strings that produce it may either be
strung too tightly or break altogether. The same is true of the nerves,
which Moses Mendelssohn describes as requiring harmonious tension, perpetual quivering (“zittern”), to ensure a healthy mind and body.
As I will seek to demonstrate in this essay, historical fact is not the only
reason why, in Maria Stuart, the conflictual relationship between Queen
Elizabeth and Queen Mary ends in tragedy. The rupture between the
queens, and within the queens, is unbridgeable and irreparable. The full
tragic effect of the drama may well lie in the final rupture between body
and mind. In the end, the tragic, pathetic shattering of the ideal of harmonious tension also constitutes a political statement.
Textual Analyses and Intertextual Associations I
In addition to the relative compactness of dramatic structure and the skillful
and refined use of language in Maria Stuart, the writer remains focused on
the workings of nature, one component of which is human physiology. This
is especially evident in the conflict between Mary and Elizabeth, as well as
between many of the other dramatis personae. Early in the play, namely in
act 1, scene 7, Schiller has Mary utter the following insightful observation
regarding their relationship: “. . . die Natur / Warf diese beiden feurigen
Völkerschaften / Auf dieses Brett im Ozean, ungleich / Verteilte sies, und
hieß sie darum kämpfen” (ll. 811–14; 5:36). It is made vividly clear that differences in the two characters’ physical and spiritual-intellectual natures
underlie the cultural and political differences between them. It is likewise
apparent that nature has distributed its gifts unevenly. This insight into
nature had its origins already in Schiller’s medical dissertation Philosophie
der Physiologie, the drama Die Räuber (The Robbers, 1781) and the prose
work Der Verbrecher aus verlorener Ehre (Criminal out of Dishonor, 1785),
that is, in a wide variety of forms of writing beginning at the earliest stage in
his development as a writer. The problem and potential of rupture is first
articulated in the dissertation. Here, too, we find the first instance in
Schiller’s writings of an analogy between human anatomy and strings. In
Maria Stuart, Queen Elizabeth has been cheated physically by nature,
whereas Mary exhibits all the traits of natural beauty. In the light of his early
writings, it is evident that it is not only because of his interest in history that
the writer turned to the political feud between England and Scotland and
the clash between Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary in this later work. It is
also, if not more so, Schiller’s study of nature, specifically his knowledge of
human physiology, that shaped the body of his text.
In Harmonious Tensions, I helped to shift the general tide of scholarship on Maria Stuart from its preoccupation with Mary as a positive heroine to the struggles within Queen Elizabeth in order to flesh out her
character and thereby set her on an equal footing with her antagonist,
Queen Mary. As it turns out, the text lends itself very well to this exercise,
not only with respect to physiology but also in terms of the tension
between politics and morality. Foremost, Schiller underscores the common
heritage of the two queens. However, rather than reduplicate the fact that,
in history, they were cousins, the writer creates a more intimate relationship between them by referring to them as sisters. The technique is purposeful and the ramifications for an interpretation are significant. It draws
attention to the possible complementariness of the central heroines.
Changing Views of Schiller
Given that Schiller was aware of the arbitrariness (“Willkür”) and tyranny
of absolutism in his own time, the collapse of the relationship between
Mary Stuart and Elizabeth may be interpreted as an indirect but devastating criticism of this form of government. Peter André Alt underscores the
political awareness of the writer while downplaying the longstanding view
of Schiller as an idealist. “Gegen das zum Mythos geronnene Bild vom
weltfernen Idealisten setzt die vorliegende Biographie des Portraits eines
politisch denkenden Künstlers, der die revolutionären Umbrüche der vornapoleonischen Epoche mit gespannter Aufmerksamkeit zu erfassen
wußte” (Alt 1:14). However, this view of Schiller is not supported by references to any overt or even proactive political initiatives on his part. As a
result, readers who are looking for such evidence and are unable to find it
will refer to the writer as either non-political or, at best, apolitical. However, it is crucial to bear in mind the writer’s attentiveness to the workings
of nature, especially human nature, for in the case of Maria Stuart, it is
physiology that drives politics.
Gender, Gender Roles, and Human Physiology
An interpretation of Maria Stuart today should include a discussion of
gender and gender roles. In doing so, we are able to appreciate even more
the impact of the medical dissertations and other discussions of human
physiology on Schiller’s composition of this, his most outstanding classical
The public pressure on Queen Elizabeth to live up to the traditional
role of a woman, namely to be married and to bear a child, is enormous.
Not coincidentally, Schiller employed metaphors of enchainment when
depicting not only Mary’s but also Elizabeth’s predicament. At first,
Schiller’s Queen Elizabeth registers some resistance to what others consider to be her place within public society. In act 3, scene 3, for example,
Shrewsbury quips in her presence that “woman” is a weak and fragile thing
(“ein gebrechliches Wesen”; l. 1373). Although Shrewsbury may intend
the statement to be a rhetorical strategy that could generate greater sympathy for Mary, Queen Elizabeth takes the comment as an affront to womanhood. She quickly and emphatically recoils against this traditional male
conception of the comparative weakness of women: “Das Weib ist nicht
schwach. Es gibt starke Seelen / In dem Geschlecht — Ich will in meinem
Beisein / Nichts von der Schwäche des Geschlechtes hören” (ll. 1374–76).
Keeping in mind that this play enjoyed numerous performances, and in
view of the social context of the time, the public chastisement of an elder,
male statesman constitutes an act of enlightenment. Elizabeth’s statement,
as well as the strength and dignity that her counterpart, Queen Mary,
exhibits, projects an image of woman that would seem to be uncommon
for the time in which it was written.
From a more contemporary perspective, one might argue that the
strength and dignity exhibited by Elizabeth and Mary has everything to do
with their privileged social standing and that the writer simply attributed
characteristics to them that one would find in the political history of the
time. However, a comparative study of the drama and Schiller’s other writings proves to be most helpful as a corrective to ideological readings of the
text. Already in Schiller’s earliest dramatic writings, female characters like
Luise Millerin, a member of the lower middle class, exhibit nearly identical
virtues of strength and dignity that are competitive with those of their
male counterparts. For example, in Kabale und Liebe (Intrigue and Love,
1784), the battle of words between Luise and Lady Milford, the latter of
whom enjoys a much higher social standing, anticipates the later rhetorical
duel between the two queens. In both Kabale und Liebe and Maria Stuart,
the politically disenfranchised or disempowered counterpart wins the battle of words. With respect to character, the politically weaker is actually the
stronger of the dramatis personae. Schiller’s portrayals of the strengths and
the weaknesses of women in the social-political contexts of his own century
reflect the tenets of the German Enlightenment, namely that one exercise
one’s own understanding (Kant), strive for truth (Lessing), and become
what one is as a unique individual (for example, Leibniz, Goethe, and
Sophie von La Roche). In Schiller’s case, however, the relationships
between the body and the mind that characterize individuals and their relationships to each other lie at the forefront of the dramatic writings and
serve to illuminate the complex contours that are representative of the act
of writing.
To be sure, Schiller’s portrayals constitute an at times critical dialogue
with the political power structures and other social realities of his day.
At the same time, Schiller’s criticism is presented indirectly by way of artistic expression. To be sure, at a time of entrenched absolutism and the reality of censorship, criticisms of the political system had to be indirect.
Literature, that is, “fiction,” offered a means by which such criticism could
be transmitted and understood by those whose lives were impacted by the
dominant political structures of the time.
In retrospect, within the historical context of his time and in the light
of history up through the eighteenth century, Schiller’s portrayal of female
characters is actually more progressive than feminist readings, and not only
feminist readings, of Schiller’s plays have allowed.2 The portrayal of female
characters in Schiller’s dramatic texts forces the spectator or reader to consider critically and self-critically his or her assumptions and biases regarding
the sexes. Although the portrayal of women in selected poems like “Würde
der Frauen” (Dignity of Women) is negative as viewed from the vantage
point of modernity, one first needs to take into account all of Schiller’s representations of and statements on women, as well as the observations of
those whom he knew personally, such as Caroline von Wolzogen, before
one can generalize about Schiller’s view of women. Schiller’s literarydramatic representations of women were certainly conditioned or even
determined by the times in which he was living. In most cases, they are forward-looking. Whatever else they may be, Schiller’s female characters
should be appreciated for their combination of sharpness of mind and
quickness of wit, emotional passion (and poise) and compassion, that is,
more for their strengths than for their weakness of mind and voluptuousness of body. The fact that this is true regardless of their social standing
would seem to disclose the construction of a general type. However, as the
unique personalities of Amalia, Luise, Eboli, Mary, and Johanne clearly
indicate, it is not an undifferentiated type.
Elizabeth and Mary
The rivalry between Elizabeth and Mary in Maria Stuart is animated by
the writer’s early philosophy of physiology. As the play unfolds, Elizabeth’s
behavior is impacted more and more by her senses, whereas Mary moves
away from the senses to the spiritual/intellectual plane. Although strong
and remarkable in its separateness and exclusivity, Mary’s state of sublimity
actually creates an unbridgeable gap between herself and Elizabeth. For
her part, and quite in spite of her powerful political position, Elizabeth has
become the prisoner of both her body, specifically her purely corporeal
responses, and the body politic from which, in the end, she is indistinguishable.
Somewhat unexpectedly, perhaps, Elizabeth wrestles with the demands
of political expediency and the call to moral freedom. In my reading, it is
the imprisonment of whatever free will Elizabeth may still possess that
causes the queen the most distress. Externally, that is, as a queen, she is not
allowed to be herself, as suggested by her depiction of the powerful office
she holds, namely as a form of slavery, suggests that she is not allowed to
exercise personal freedom. For her political office dictates that she must be
responsive to the will of the people, as Lord Burleigh makes abundantly
clear. In short, whatever the nature of her inclinations, she is duty-bound.
But this does not come easily since she is shown to struggle with her own
moral knowledge.
As queens of different religious persuasions, political orientations, and
cultural environments, and yet “sisters,” they are, at the outset, two parts
of a greater whole; oppositional, yet interdependent. They are not, in the
first instance, complete opposites. However, as the combat between them
increases, their interdependence is progressively compromised. Eventually,
their relationship is completely severed. Elizabeth, in the end, is relegated
to the exclusively corporeal-material concerns of mere politics. Only in the
end do Elizabeth and Mary finally become complete opposites. Politically
and physically enchained, Mary is still free morally. Although politically
strong and in command, Elizabeth is a prisoner, that is, slave to her office.
As the battle of words in act 3, scene 4 makes abundantly clear, the fierce
rivalry between these two female monarchs is informed not only by politics
or religion but by the rupture that is brought about by the crises within
their own natures as well as by the natural split between them, which
by definition is anthropological in nature (see Hinderer’s essay in this
Certainly, Mary’s grand yet momentary victory in the battle of words
comes not only at the cost of political defeat. It also means that the harmonious tension between the rational and sensuous natures has been
short-circuited and that the crisis in her relationship with Elizabeth will
have tragic consequences. For her part, Elizabeth is incapable of exercising
her free, moral will. Her self-imposed imprisonment within the confines of
both her sensuous being and her political office underscores her ultimate
moral ineptitude. In the end, she becomes the complete embodiment of
the will of the people, and this leaves her isolated and alone on a throne
that seems to restrict her very movement. As the curtains are drawn, she is
paralyzed within the body politic. The spiritual/intellectual as represented
by Mary has now departed her. The relationship between mind and body
has been completely ruptured.
In retrospect, Mary goes to her death at peace with her own history,
while Elizabeth sits in isolation upon a throne that entraps her. As Mary is
given to say, “Jetzt habe ich nichts mehr auf der Erden!” (l. 3838). Clearly,
she is freed from the confines of the corporeal world which is now represented by Elizabeth. The harmonious interaction between mind and body
is no longer possible.
Although the main tide of scholarship on Maria Stuart still places
Mary over Elizabeth as the true heroine, it is significant that the play
should end with Elizabeth and not with Mary. As is graphically clear from
the stage directions at the end of act 4, scene 10, Elizabeth reacts only to
the dictates of her sensuous nature when signing the death warrant
(5:118). There is no sign of rational deliberation or reflection on the
necessities of Realpolitik. By following only her sensuous nature, the queen
abandons the rational-moral sphere of action.
In the light of physiology and politics in Maria Stuart, Elizabeth’s life is
ignoble because she has become a prisoner of her own sensuousness and the
plaything of the body politic. Like Mary, the dynamics of Elizabeth’s character reside in her own nature, that is, between the rational and sensuous components of her being. The true tragedy is found in the complete rupture
between body (Elizabeth) and mind (Mary), that is, in the complete disruption of harmonious tension.
In sum, Schiller’s clear emphasis on the relationship between mind and
body, both within and between the main protagonists, makes the sequence
of events in Maria Stuart more understandable intellectually and even
more stirring emotionally. This way of visualizing the drama opens up the
text and creates a tie between the time in which it was written and contemporary understandings of the body as text. Perhaps such a reading can
be of interest to future productions of the play.
Associations: Maria Stuart within the Corpus of
Schiller’s Writings
Although at first glance unlikely, there are significant thematic parallels
between Maria Stuart and Schiller’s earliest works, as well as in other dramatic and non-dramatic texts. Having drawn an essential parallel between
Kabale und Liebe and Maria Stuart, it is worth briefly comparing this
work with some of Schiller’s other writings.
Two decades before the writing of Maria Stuart, we observe that Karl
Moor (Die Räuber [The Robbers, 1781]) and Christian Wolf (Der Verbrecher
aus verlorener Ehre [Criminal out of Dishonor, 1785]) come to terms with
their own histories and experiences. Both of them accept fearlessly the full
ramifications of the crimes they have committed and for which they decide to
atone. It is not resignation but the acknowledgment and acceptance of the
error of their ways that characterize their behavior and define their true character. All three main characters have transgressed a law for which they must
now atone, and each one does so not only with full recognition, but without
excuse. Additionally, they assume responsibility for something that, in part,
lies outside of their control. Their newfound nobility of character commends
itself to the audience and readers. In short, Schiller’s dramatic heroes disclose
fundamental problems of their times that compel readers and spectators to
come to terms with their own situations, the problems that attend their own
societies, and, to be sure, their lives.
In addition to the ethical-spiritual consciousness that they share, Karl,
Christian, and Mary, among others, represent an extreme in the mindbody paradigm. According to his essay Theosophie des Julius (Julius’s
Theosophy, 1782) Schiller emphasized the ordaining of the human being
to the divine (“Bestimmung des Menschen zur Göttlichkeit”), which was a
widespread and widely accepted idea in later eighteenth-century German
literature. However, as argued here, the ultimate challenge for the human
being is not so much perfection as it is the cultivation of harmonious tension between mind and body, body and mind, which guarantees health and
healing. In this way one realizes the honorable or noble human being
within oneself that is to serve as an example to others and the community
at large. Nevertheless, the most difficult task of culture remains to extend
the knowledge that is gained through critical self-reflection outwardly
through the active promotion of harmonious tension and humaneness for
the improvement of society.
As early as in his characterizations of Karl Moor and Christian Wolf,
Schiller underscored the importance of a personal moral turn, an act of
moral will that proves to be necessary when one finds oneself entangled
in and overcome by the enormity and complexities of life. Self-overcoming (“Überwindung”) is the positive result of an act of moral resolve
that consists not in the one or the other individual dominating others
but in the following: reason keeps the senses within their bounds while
sensuousness informs reason. In political terms, whereas the senses keep
reason from becoming dictatorial, reason restrains the anarchical
extremes of passion. When the healthy tension between the individual
and the society of which one is invariably and inescapably a part is compromised, society runs the risk of disruption, dissolution, and revolution. As is made explicit in Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen
in einer Reihe von Briefen (On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a
Series of Letters, 1795), Schiller advocated reform, not revolution.
Although Schiller’s call for reform is indebted to the Lutheran tradition,
Kant’s philosophy, and Moses Mendelssohn’s analysis of sensuality, we
have seen that it is likewise informed by his early interactionist theory of
To recap, with respect to the medical dissertations and the later classical dramas, for Schiller, the interaction between mind and body is a process
of reciprocal delimitation and interdependence. While the body holds the
mind within its bounds, the mind regulates the impulses and drives of the
body, safeguarding it against possible destruction. In Maria Stuart, this
vital interrelationship collapses, sealing the tragic end of the drama.
In Die Räuber and Der Verbrecher aus verlorener Ehre, it is out of the
depths of experience that Karl and Christian are first able to embrace the
moral principle. What occurs here is hardly idealistic but, rather, wholly
realistic. The same is also true of Mary, who, given her personal history and
the encounter with her other, Elizabeth, exercises moral resolve. In fact, all
three characters — Karl Moor, Christian Wolf, and Mary Stuart — attain
sublimity of character. To a point, the same is true of Wilhelm Tell, who
faces and overcomes adversity. In Mary’s case, however, this comes at the
expense of her own body and Elizabeth.
With respect to the theme of love, unlike Die Räuber, Kabale und
Liebe, or Wallenstein, Maria Stuart contains no genuine love relationship.
Mortimer, like Leicester (and, to some extent, even Shaftesbury), desires
Mary and all that she represents, while Mary’s apparent love for Leicester is
but a form of manipulation. There is only intrigue and the tragic cessation
of the reciprocity between mind/spirit and body. As Schiller’s early theoretical writings, such as Theosophie des Julius, illustrate, it is the gravitational
pull of love that holds the universe together. Without it, the world collapses. In Die Räuber, Franz Moor represents the material world of necessitation, whereas Karl takes on the characteristics of mind or spirit. As we
know from the Philosophie der Physiologie, the absence of a transmutative
force (“Mittelkraft” of mediation) explains the “Riß zwischen Welt und
Geist ” (author’s emphasis), whereas the presence of the Mittelkraft animates and enlivens everything around it. The character constellation of Die
Räuber creates a bridge to the later classical drama. In fact, the verbal disagreements between Franz and Karl Moor, as well as between Luise and
Lady Milford in Kabale und Liebe and Don Carlos and the Marquis Posa in
Don Carlos set the stage for the later battle of words between Mary and
Elizabeth. And, in both Don Carlos and Maria Stuart, the driving forces
that inform the dramatic action are not only political but physiological in
As do Karl Moor in Die Räuber, Christian Wolf in Der Verbrecher aus
verlorener Ehre, and the title character in Maria Stuart, the criminal calls
for his own arrest and accepts the consequences of his actions. It is an act of
moral will that is in fact liberating. This moral act is sublime precisely
because it breaks through the limits with which the average individual
remains content. It is a call to self-action above and beyond the confines
one imposes upon oneself when one follows only the force of passion, for
example, Elizabeth. When coming to terms with the past, as with Mary
Stuart, Schiller’s main characters are no longer enslaved by history. Instead,
they forge a new chapter in history, one that points in the direction of the
improvement of self and society, that is, to the actualization of true humanity in the present, as well as in the future.
In his later writings, Schiller concentrated more and more on the
powerful forces of nature that animate life in the universe. In “Der Kampf
mit dem Drachen” (Battle with the Dragon), for example, the battle with
the dragon is as much a battle with oneself as it is with an external enemy.
But, happily, the threat of destruction is averted here through the cultivation of harmonious tension. As we read in the poem, “Das weibliche
Ideal. An Amanda,” in the Musenalmanach für das Jahr 1797, “Auch dein
zärtester Laut ist dein harmonisches Selbst.” In “Das Ideal und das
Leben” (The Ideal and Life) life is always greater and more powerful than
any one individual: “Mächtig, selbst wenn eure Sehnen ruhten, / Reißt
das Leben euch in seine Fluten, / Euch die Zeit in ihren Wirbeltanz”
(ll. 44–46). And: “Thatenvoll der Genius entbrennt, / Da, da spanne sich
des Fleisses Nerve, / Und beharrlich ringend unterwerfe das Element”
(ll. 71–76).
In the end, tension-filled harmony, which registers the power of
perpetual renewal and healing, also contains within itself the possibility
of extinction and collapse. Health can only be maintained when the individual, as an embodiment of nature, actively seeks to cultivate the necessary reciprocity between the spiritual-intellectual and physical-corporeal
spheres of existence. One of the main tasks of political culture for Schiller
is the maintenance or recovery of a healthy relationship between oneself,
society, and nature in the ever-vacillating, forever challenging course of
Maria Stuart is not a Läuterungsdrama, as Schiller maintained. Nor is it a
martyr play. The physiological-anthropological dimension of the dramatic
text intensifies its tragic elements. As suggested, Elizabeth’s signing of the
death warrant is motivated by an exclusively sensuous act of retribution for
her defeat in the battle of the words in act 3, scene 4. In act 4, scene 10,
Elizabeth is given the following words:
Mit welchem Hohn sie auf mich nieder sah,
Als sollte mich der Blick zu Boden blitzen!
Ohnmächtige! Ich führe beßre Waffen,
Sie treffen tödlich und du bist nicht mehr!
Mit raschem Schritt nach dem Tische gehend und die Feder ergreifend.
Ein Bastard bin ich dir? — Unglückliche!
Ich bin es nur, so lang du lebst und atmest.
Der Zweifel meiner fürstlichen Geburt
Er ist getilgt, sobald ich dich vertilge.
Sobald dem Briten keine Wahl mehr bleibt,
Bin ich im echten Ehebett’ geboren!
Sie unterschreibt mit einem raschen, festen Federzug, läßt dann die
Feder fallen, und tritt mit einem Ausdruck des Schreckens zurück. Nach
einer Pause klingelt sie. (ll. 3239–48; 5:118)
The real source of her political decision, namely the senses carries tragic
consequences, not only Mary’s demise but also Elizabeth’s sensuous
enslavement and imprisonment in the body politic. Her merely sensuous
reaction precludes any responsible political action3 while satisfying another
sensuous need: the people’s desire to have Mary executed.
In the end, the central tragedy of Maria Stuart consists in the disclosure of the political world as a sickly body in need of spiritual renewal, that
is, healing. This is underscored by Elizabeth’s lack of development (Bildung). But this does not necessarily turn Mary into a heroine since the crisis
in her relationship with Elizabeth results not in harmonious tension but in
rupture, which is the source of the play’s full tragic effect. In Maria Stuart,
the mind-body problem and politics are intimately related.
The ultimate goal of Schiller’s Ästhetischen Briefe is not the realization
of a future utopia but the actualization of the knowledge of humanity
through the cultivation of harmonious tension between the rational and
sensuous natures of the human being and between the individual and society in the present. This ideal is realizable at any point in history by virtue of
the individual’s moral will to actualize him or her self, especially in times of
adversity. In the essays on the sublime, for example, Über das Erhabene
(On the Sublime) the accent lies on transgressing the limits of the world of
beauty. To be sure, this act of sublime self-determination is a primary
means in the actualization of the rational-aesthetic state in the present. At
the same time, however, it is the beauty of harmonious tension between
mind and body in individual human beings that first creates the hope for a
better future.
References to Schiller’s works in this essay are to volume and page number in the
Frankfurter Ausgabe, Werke und Briefe in zwölf Bänden, edited by Klaus Harro
Hilzinger, et al. (Frankfurt am Main: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 1988–). Here:
Wittkowski argues that Schiller’s portrayal is more progressive than feminist readings of the drama have allowed (389, 400).
Alt maintains that Elizabeth does not hesitate to order the execution “aus Furcht
vor der öffentlichen Meinung” (2: 503). Furthermore, “Gerade weil Elisabeth die
Sklaven der öffentlichen Stimmung ist, bleibt ihre Rolle prekär” (503). Clearly, my
interpretation varies significantly from Alt’s. According to Alt, the play constitutes
a political tragedy. “Nicht die subjektiven Spiele der Leidenschaften, sondern deren
objektive Folgen für den Staat bilden das Zentrum der Tragödie” (499).
Works Cited
Alt, Peter André. Schiller. Leben — Werk — Zeit. 2 vols. Munich: C. H. Beck,
Martinson, Steven D. Harmonious Tensions: The Writings of Friedrich Schiller.
Newark: U of Delaware P; London: Associated UP, 1996.
Wittkowski, Wolfgang. “Können Frauen regieren? Schillers Maria Stuart.
Poesie, Geschichte, und der Feminismus.” Orbis litterarum 52 (1997):