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The Robbers and Wallenstein (Penguin Classics) Paperback – February 28, 1980
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About the Author
Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) Translated with an introduction by F. J. Lamport
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Schiller had written a history of the 30 Years War in Germany (1618 to 48). One of the side products of that work was the drama trilogy about Wallenstein, the Bohemian leader of the Catholic (and Austrian) Kaiser's armies in the war against Gustav Adolf, the Swedish patron of German Protestantism. The drama is standard fare on German stages. Its first part was first staged in 1798, while the complete trilogy was published in 1800, after a work process of 10 years.
The play is largely based on history, but takes some freedom with facts, eg adds persons that are not historical. The main plot is about loyalty and betrayal, which is another departure for Schiller, who was previously more interested in hot emotions and starry eyed idealism. Wallenstein is a successful military leader and becomes too popular for the emperor's taste. Attempts are made to split his following and to reduce his command: divide and rule. He learns about these efforts to undermine him and starts his own initiatives, exploring possibilities to change sides and ally himself with the Swedes (whose king is not alive any more by now) against the emperor. He loses the political game and gets assassinated.
For historical background I recommend three quite different books:
The magnificent Wallenstein biography by Thomas Mann's son Golo.
The equally magnificent `picaresque' novel Simplicius Simplicissimus by Jakob Grimmelshausen, a contemporary of the 30 Years War.
For dessert: Guenter Grass, Das Treffen in Telgte, a short novel about a writers' meeting (a 17th century PEN conference?) near the location of the peace agreement of 1648.
The trilogy's parts are of uneven size and content.
Part 1 focuses on the army camp and lets us listen to the `people', including the local populace who is not enchanted with being subject to plundering by the troops. We learn that Wallenstein is popular with his soldiers and that all kinds of rumors are beginning to travel about. He is said to have a pact with the devil, a common habit in Germany. He is suspected of not giving a damn when the Protestant armies occupy critical parts of Bavaria. The church is suspicious about his religious allegiances --- does he care at all about religion? One fact was that W listened to astrologers. This may have been a decisive weakness, it may have made him inefficient in critical moments.
Part 2 is called The Piccolomini, about a historical rival of Wallenstein's, Octavio Piccolomini, and his fictive son Max, who is an engine of the plot. He has to provide the human interest via an affair with W's daughter. A stage play only about politics wouldn't have worked. Max is torn between his father and his prospective father in law.
The emperor wants to transfer part of W's power to Octavio P as a balance to W's strength. W resists.
This part is about political intrigue. Politics are like a board game. Popularity is a function of benefits granted and gained. Or just perceived. Political marketing was not invented in the 20th century.
Part 3 finally tells us of the assassination of W by hirelings of rival military leaders. W's secret negotiations with the enemy are found out. He is forced into open rebellion. Some of his long time friends are deceived into deserting him and having him murdered.
As I am reading Schiller's plays in a collection of plays, which is following the chronology of their writing, Wallenstein seems to me the first adult play that Schiller wrote. The man had outgrown his Sturm and Drang heat and moved to a more rational phase. I can not say that I am emotionally much drawn into it, but he is an essential ingredient in any study of German cultural and literary history. Apart from that, this year has also been some kind of an anniversary. 250th birthday!
A popular trivia game is identifying quotes and idioms and their source in Schiller's plays or poems. When you read Wallenstein, you find one such common place on every other page, almost! Word combinations which were either invented or popularized by Schiller are ubiquitous.
Believe it or not: even the infamous `who is not with me is against me' is from Wallenstein! (oops, sorry, of course Schiller borrowed that one from Matthew.)
I just have a job here, not an opinion.
He comes late, but he comes.
The iron must be forged while it is hot!
It is not every day's evening yet!
What is the short meaning of the long speech?
(Figure that out for yourself please!)