On Wikipedia you will find that he was one of the great poets we had in Germany. In fact, he and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the founding fathers of Weimar Classicism, are considered our national poets. They were both part of the bunch of great minds that were brought to Weimar by my great heroine, the duchess Anna Amalia, I think you would call her ‘a great patron of the arts’. The library she had designed for her and filled with beautiful books is still one of the most amazing places to visit in Germany – it was damaged by fire a couple of years ago, but there was a wave of support that helped restore it.
Goethe and Schiller, even though there were great friends, were very different. Goethe was older and fully aligned with the establishment. Schiller was younger and started a whole literary genre – ‘Sturm und Drang’, which I have no idea how to translate into English. Very Rock’n’roll.
My mum took us on holidays to Weimar where you can walk around all their houses, including the summer house in the park where Goethe wrote part of Faust etc… you can see Schillers house, and a lock of his hair… and of course the palace where Anna Amalia held her literary salons which were the cause of so much cross-pollination between those great minds. I was young and impressionable and that has really never left me. (I had a poster of his desk on my wall as a girl. I know… others have boy bands…)
‘Kabale und Liebe’, which in its literal translation is ‘Intrigue and Love’, but is usually shown outside of Germany under its older name of Luise Miller (here’s the link to the production at the Donmar Warehouse), was the first Schiller play I saw. I must have been 13 and I loved it – here it is often compared to Romeo and Juliet, but we meet the to main characters at a point where their love is already established and they both already know it’s doomed. Add some stereotypical politicians and a mistress who finds out where the money that pays for her jewellery comes from (i.e. young men being sold into a mercenary army by her lover, the duke) – it’s got everything plus, it makes you think a little.
Schiller was very, very idealistic (probably helped by the fact he never got old – he died at the age of 34 Or so I thought, Wikipedia says 45?) These were the days of the French revolution going awry and the rest of Europe, and especially Germany, watching it with trepidation. Apart from his plays and poems he also wrote a volume of letters about how people get good ideas and have good lives by just consuming good art. Revolutionary, no?