Analyse Schillers Understanding Of Tragedy English Literature Essay

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In one of Schiller's masterpiece - Mary Stuart, he abandons the broad historical canvas of Wallenstein to experiment with the closely structured analytic form of tragedy that he admired in the Greeks. And in Mary Stuart are reflected Schiller's thoughts of inevitability of historical development and character's fate as well as his philosophy of harmony and moral freedom. According to Stahl, he states that Schiller's renewed interest in tragedy followed on his study of history and was to some extent influenced by it (Stahl, p75), therefore we are entitled to assume that if there is any link between the inevitability of historical development and his theory of tragic writing. The two real historical characters of Mary Stuart herself and Queen Elizabeth illustrate these two main branches of Schiller's philosophy, to which two distinct conceptions of nature correspond. On the one hand there is mere nature, the purely sensuous side of man, which he must subject to the law of his reason, if he is to achieve moral freedom. On the other hand, there is nature regarded as an essential part of man's total being, existing in harmony with his moral self. In the case of Mary, nature connotes sin and guilt, which she can overcome only by renouncing nature and thus achieving moral freedom. In the case of Elizabeth, nature represents a priceless human gift which she lacks, and for which she in vain seeks a substitute. Mary Stuart has at times been taken as representing a move by Schiller away from the historical drama. This assumption also lied behind the comments of critics who give prime place in the drama to Mary Stuart as an example of tragic sublimity. As Helmut Koopmann explicitly states, that Schiller begins and ends his historical drama with Mary Stuart and Wallenstein (Koopmann, p47). In a letter from Schiller to Goethe, written during the period of work on Mary Stuart, Schiller's words give an indication of his attitude to historical drama at the time. He seems to imply that he feels less tied by the materials than he was in Wallenstein, more willing to interpret the characters according to the aesthetic effects he wished to create. In fact when one reviews Mary Stuart, one should be aware that if Schiller had moved away from any feeling of being linked with the historical fact, he had not moved away from his interest in the depiction of the political world.

According to R. D. Miller, the real determination of the tragic figure, however, for the most part remains concealed. The majority of Schiller's tragic figures do not become conscious of the motive forces that do in fact determine them; these are brought to the reader's notice principally by the imagery that connects the two protagonists. From these verbal connections it emerges that the tragic antagonist is the externalization or dramatic embodiment of those elemental impulses which in the tragic hero himself are kept in suppression, just as, conversely, the tragic hero is the dramatic embodiment of the intellectual functions which remain subliminal in his antagonist (Miller, p104 - 108). This mode of interrelation between the principal figures of Schiller's tragedies, and the poetic technique employed in its presentation is extremely important in Schiller's tragic writing. As has been seen, the figure of Elizabeth of England is associated with images of suppressed and concealed fire. Analogously, her antagonist is connected with images of open conflagration, and these images are reinforced by a host of more literal references, from every side, to their fiery character, and indeed, by that character itself as it is gradually revealed in action.

Mary Stuart is the evident centre of the vast network of images connected with fire that extends throughout the tragedy. In a letter to Goethe, Schiller outlines Mary's character and function in the tragedy as he says, Mary's fate was only a violent passion to learn and to inflame. And indeed the play as a whole bears out this description. Inflammatory herself, she inflames all around her. Her passion for Bothwell throughout this important expositional scene, is described in terms of fire. Mary's cheeks

'So young, and so much guilt,

For one so young to take upon her youth.'


Friend and enemy concur in this characterization of Mary. Burleigh calls her

'The instigator of a murder, one

Who lusts after the Queen's blood, forfeits

The right to gaze upon the royal countenance.'


He counters Mary's confession that she had wished to reconcile Scotland and England, saying:

'And so she lives, you say. No! She must die!

This has to end. That is the thought

That robs the Queen of England of her sleep.

Her lips dare not pronounce her hidden wish,

Yet her eyes speak it and their gaze inquires

Is there not one of all my servants

Ready to take from me this choice, of staying

Forever apprehensive on my throne'


Then the descriptions - and they could be multiplied - are borne out by Mary's own words and behaviours. Just before the fatal interview with her rival she exclaims:

'It isn't that! It isn't that at all!

Ah, Shrewsburry, you will understand. I cannot

See her. Save me from having to set eyes on her.'


A little later in the same scene, she likens herself to fire and Elizabeth to water, and this characterization assumes objective significance through the fact that it is independently corroborated by the words of Leicester. In the preceding act he incites Elizabeth to go and see her rival and argues that nothing will hurt Mary more

'Hear my advice. Today the court will hunt

Upon the chase that leads by Fotheringay

Mary Stuart can walk out in the park

And you can go there accidentally

Nothing need appear premeditated'


The final words of affront that seal Mary's doom are spoken by her, 'glowing with fire' (III.4.) - eloquent contrast to the smouldering fire she accuses Elizabeth of harbouring in her breast! In the ensuing scene with Mortimer, full of images of fire, we actually witness the flame of her passion spreading to her rescuer and incensing him as she herself had been incensed before. As Ilse Graham suggests, such verbal links suggest a close interconnection between the tragic protagonists. How close, may be gathered from the precision with which the imagery associated with each of them interlocks: the tragic heroes seek to suppress the fire deep down inside them and to keep it imprisoned there. That inner constraint, in the case of their opponents, becomes a palpable dramatic reality. They are imprisoned, in fact or metaphorically (Graham, p64 - 69).

Moreover, Lesley Sharpe argues that if Mary has hitherto been essentially a creature of nature, the crimes in which she has been implicated reflect the doubtful view of nature underlying the portrayal of her character, the gulf that divides nature from the exercise of virtue. The murder of her husband Darnley, her submission to the seducer Bothwell, her action in compelling the court to acquit the latter, and her marriage to the murderer - all this reflects as much up[on the possibility of reconciling the freedom of nature with moral law, as upon the character of Mary Stuart. If the woman who is most favoured by nature, or to repeat Mortimer's description, 'the most beautiful of women', is also the most pitiable in the context of the whole play this reflects a view of life, according to which nature and idealism, pleasure and morality, are poles apart. When Elizabeth declares that men are 'voluptuaries all', and 'they hasten to their frivolous purpose their pleasure, and value nothing that they must honour' (Sharpe, p116 - 126). She is not only exhibiting her sour grapes. The divorce between passion and honour, to which she refers, is one of the main themes of this play. At first we are perhaps inclined to except Mortimer from this world of division and tension, for he appears to be spurred on not only by love, but also by honour, religious conviction, and a sense of outraged justice. But after the fateful meeting between Mary and Elizabeth he shows himself in his true colours. Taking advantages of the fact that Mary is under sentence of death and is thus dependent upon him for her deliverance, he appeals to her to use those charms which are no longer hers to gratify her happy lovers. Paulet claims that:

"She still can reach into the world, to rouse

Rebel bands against the English Queen.'

And a similar image, again from Paulet's lips, concludes the opening scene of the drama:

'There are no bolts nor bars

Strong enough to hold against her cunning.

How do I know that this floor and these walls

Are not burrowed hollow from within

To let some traitor enter while I sleep?'


Such images of eruptive forces breaking out of their imprisonment recur throughout the tragedy, in the closest association with the figure of Mary, who herself takes them up in the confession scene and endows them with a heightened significance. What has been the symbol of her passion now becomes the symbol of her faith. Incandesced by the faith of her fellow-believers, this faith transcends all earthly fetters.

Schiller's treatment of the material points to his concern with poetic form and structure, with a closely interlocking dramatic movement. The basis of this interlocking structure is a potentially tragic situation, concentrated into its critical moment. Even Mary herself is to arouse tragic emotion not through the audience's identification specifically with her but rather through the whole situation. If we were to try to identify that tragic situation, in which Schiller saw the dramatic possibilities of his material, we could look at two moments in the action, one in the Act II and the other in Act IV. In Act II, 3 Burleigh tries to press decision on Elizabeth by saying:

'Be steadfast, majesty, and do not let

A praiseworthy human sympathy

Mislead you now. You cannot pardon her.'

Act IV, 8 shows a recapitulation of the argument of Talbot and Burleigh, though intensified, in which Elizabeth, exasperated by the pressure of Mary's presence and the threat it poses, exclaims:

'If one of us who is a Queen must fall,

So that the other live, why may not I

Then be the one who yields?'

Schiller has seen in his material a situation where two queens have been so brought together by historical circumstances that the life and freedom of the one seem necessarily to exclude the life and freedom of the other. And yet, even though these two monarchs have been joined by historical circumstances and family ties that their futures depend on each other, they are personalities fundamentally different that there is, in spite of all political and dynastic ties, virtually no sphere in which their minds overlap. The protagonists in Schiller's tragedies are related in precisely the same fashion. Thus like the others such as Don Carlos, or Leonore, Mary Stuart embodies in dramatic figure those vital impulses which the tragic hero, intent on persisting in a state of contemplative indeterminacy, keeps in perpetual suppression. And it is through these figures that the motive forces which, concealed from the consciousness of the tragic figure though they be, do in fact determine him, become patent and are brought to the reader's notice. These characters are as fully determined as the tragic heroes appear to be free. Rash and fiery, they soon find themselves in the thick of an emotional predicament, and are propelled towards catastrophe by the relentless logic of the outward are determined, that they do not realise that they have chosen, and what their choice, and that they do not become aware of the splendour of their human heritage until after they have lost it.

In conclusion, as Stahl points out that to reveal the profoundly determinate character of these figures, Schiller has used a variety of means, dramatic, psychological and poetic. Of these, certain image patterns associated with the antagonists are most interesting in the present context, for they illuminate yet more sharply the poetic connection between the tragic protagonists (Stahl, p79). Just as the attempt of the tragic hero to remain in a state of aesthetic indeterminacy finds expressions in the imagery of sight, of altitude and in the expansive character of the scenic background associated with him, so the determinacy of his opponent is poetically expressed through his association with imagery of blindness and of depth, and by the extreme constriction of the scenic background against which he is placed. In Mary Stuart Schiller shows himself to be deeply concerned with this problem of how a human being can act responsibly and bear the consequences of action in the world. To suggest, the world of Elizabeth is simply portrayed to show how far mankind is from the aesthetic state is akin to seeing Elizabeth herself merely as a foil to Mary. Schiller certainly did look forward to a world where people could realise their full humanity through the educative function of art. However, Sharpe also states this dramas and specifically his choice of historical subject matter, show him to be deeply concerned with the portrayal of man's entanglements in the here and now. Simply to write off the historical world as wicked and a hindrance to the dawn of utopia is a travesty of Schiller's concern for the problems of the individual caught up in that world, as well as an over-simplification of Schiller's own vision of the future. Yet if we were to ask how one deals with this fateful involvement with the world, there would on the basis of Mary Stuart, be no answer (Sharpe, p125 - 126).