The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Wallenstein

WALLENSTEIN. This work of Schiller is a massive drama in 10 acts artificially so divided that the first part, called the “Piccolomini,” with the introductory poem called “The Camp,” is about as long as the second part called “The Death of Wallenstein.” It is often wrongly called a trilogy, nor is it strictly right to speak of a “Piccolomini” tragedy. Its central theme is the revolt of the imperial general-in-chief against Kaiser Ferdinand II which led to the defection of his troops and his assassination on the night of 25 Feb. 1634. The tragedy was the outgrowth of studies for Schiller's ‘History of the Thirty Years' War,’ the first part of which appeared in 1791, but the mass of historical detail was so enormous that it was not completed till 12 Oct 1798, after two years of intensive work. It is the first, perhaps the greatest, work of the mature Schiller, whose study of æsthetic principles and the philosophy of Kant, of Shakespeare's dramas, of which he translated Macbeth, along with the counsel of his new friend Goethe, made him realize in contrast with his earlier subjective work that strict objectivity is the fundamental law of the highest art. He no longer identifies himself with his favorite character and the hero becomes a stern, though intensely human, inordinately ambitious character of the Napoleonic type, yet lacking the Corsican's impetuous initiative.

Although Schiller was not a scientific historian he divined the nature of the real Wallenstein in spite of prejudiced and defective sources. The general who had conquered Protestant Germany and laid it prostrate at the feet of the kaiser, only to be supinely dismissed by his weak master, has been recalled from private life to save Ferdinand's throne from the successful Swedes. He is beaten at Lützen by Gustavus Adolphus, who loses his life. Retiring to Bohemia he wastes valuable time in negotiations pointing to the end of the war, until the emperor, alarmed at the capture of Regensburg, orders and implores his stubborn, perhaps already disloyal, general to drive back the enemy. It is winter and Wallenstein refuses. He summons his generals, who pledge him their support, which action is misconstrued at Vienna. Secret orders relieving the soldiers of their obedience are sent to Octavio Piccolomini and amid the general defection Wallenstein flees to Eger, where he is assassinated.

Wallenstein was a realist without faith in the noble side of human nature. For him every man has a price. Originally faithful to the kaiser, he learns to despise him after the disgrace of his dismissal and transfers his allegiance, as Schiller makes it, to an ideal of Germany; but his enemies claimed he sought the crown of Bohemia. His dictator's power and his negotiations with the Protestant states caused him to toy with the idea of treason but he lacked the resolution to cross his Rubicon and vacillated; this Schiller has finely delineated in Wallenstein's devotion to astrology and his waiting for the right conjunction of the stars. He underestimates the power of the ideal to which Schiller gave concrete expression in his creation of the roles of the lovers, Max Piccolomini and the general's daughter, Thekla, neither of whom ever existed. In a certain sense the ideality of these two pure souls destroys Wallenstein at the critical moment when it is thinkable that Max's example would have saved the general. Some critics have condemned the Max and Thekla scenes, but unjustly, for they represent a part of the moral force by which even the elder Piccolomini was undoubtedly animated even though he too is urged on by motives of ambition and a disloyalty to his trusting friend, strongly suggestive of Judas Iscariot. However, it would be wrong to regard Piccolomini merely as a stage villain. He is the living representative of the opposition, of those forces which are concretely expressed by Kaiser Ferdinand, his ministers and the imperial state. Another remarkable creation of Schiller's is the Gräfin Terzky, whose admiration for her brother-in-law is more nearly love and whose intrigues as a sort of female Mephistopheles or Lady Macbeth reveal the ambitious and treasonable side of Wallenstein's character as in a mirror.

The success of the drama was immediate and sustained and the more so because it afforded so many parallels with the rising career of Napoleon, though of course through no intention of Schiller's. The rimed, “corduroy-road” verse of the “Camp” is followed up by the blank verse of the drama proper, the diction of which is differentiated only in accordance with character, never with mental equipment, as was the classical principle and the stern, forbidding, supposedly taciturn hero displays at times a volubility, which is, to say the least, unexpected. And so it is with all the principal characters, whose speeches are expected to reveal all of what they think and which many keep silent.

Editions—(First): Wallenstein, Tübingen 1800. Cotta; (Best): Säkular-Ausgabe, Werke 1904 — Vol. V, J. Minor; (Critical): in Karl Goedeke's Historischkritische Ausgabe, Vol. XII, Stuttgart 1872; (American School): Max Winkler, Macmillan 1901. For criticism consult Calvin Thomas's "Life of Schiller" (New York 1909); Wilhelm Scherer in "History of German Literature" (trans. by Mrs. F. C. Conybeare, New York 1893); Karl Werder, "Vorlesungen über Schiller's Wallenstein" (Berlin 1899); Gustav Freytag, "Technik des Dramas" (Leipzig 1898; trans. by E. T. MacEwan, Chicago 1895). There are many English translations of Wallenstein, the most celebrated being by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.