Biographical Note on Schiller

Biographical Note on Friedrich Schiller

Johann Christoph Friedrich Schiller was born on November 10, 1759, in Marbach, Württemberg. His parents were of low birth; Johann Kasper Schiller was a military doctor in the Duke of Württemberg’s army, and Elizabeth Dorothea was a moderately educated woman. As a young man Friedrich was intended for the Church.[1] But his hopes for entering the clerical profession were dashed when the Duke of Württemberg founded Karlsschule, a military academy.

At the age of fourteen, Schiller was invited to attend the academy, where he began to study law. The regimentation of the school was confining, monotonous, and depressing, and Schiller was desperately miserable there.[2] He soon developed an interest in literature and a talent for creative writing. But at Karlsschule, Schiller was denied the opportunity to pursue such passions. Indeed, these years inspired some of Schiller’s early and rather dark poetry. By his sixteenth year, his life took a turn for the better when Schiller was permitted to change his field of study from law to medicine.[3] Still, he longed to write, and in his early twenties he published The Robbers, a play performed the following year at the Mannheim National Theater. Though the production was well received, Schiller’s superiors—and especially the duke—were not amused by the young man’s literary diversions.

Forbidden by the duke to continue writing, Schiller abandoned his post as a military doctor and fled to Mannheim. In 1783 Schiller accepted a one-year contract to be playwright at the National Theater. Over the course of the year he wrote two plays, but neither secured Schiller a renewal of his contract. Schiller relocated to Leipzig and then to Dresden. During this time he produced another drama, which he completed in 1787. But he had grown tired of drama and frustrated with his own capacity for literary production.

Schiller once again uprooted himself, this time to Weimar, where he met Johann Wolfgang von Goethe—the two would later become close friends.  Schiller dove into the study of history, aesthetics, and dramatic theory, and produced two major historical works: History of the Revolt of the United Netherlands from Spanish Rule (1788) and History of the Thirty Years’ War (1791).[4] His histories were admired, earning Schiller a stable and respected position as a history professor at the University of Jena. As a now eligible young bachelor, he married Charlotte von Lengefeld and fathered four children.

When Schiller first launched his philosophical explorations in 1792, he had been recovering from a bout of serious illness that left him an invalid for the remainder of his life.[5] After roughly ten years of historical and philosophical study, he returned to creative writing. His earlier frustrations regarding composition had transformed into rapid and seemingly endless production. After completing a three-year-long project in 1799, titled Wallenstein,[6] Schiller wrote four dramas in quick succession: Mary Stuart (1800), The Maid of Orleans (1801), The Bride of Messina (1803), and William Tell (1804). Finally on May 9, 1805, Schiller died of tuberculosis.

This physician, poet, playwright, historian, and philosopher left a permanent mark on German culture. Along with Goethe, Schiller established a new literary and cultural movement that merged Classicism, Romanticism, and Enlightenment thinking: Weimar Classicism. His essays on aesthetics have influenced a range of great thinkers from Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel to Carl Gustav Jung.[7] His plays have inspired eleven operas, created by German, Czech, French, Italian, and Russian composers alike. Schiller is widely regarded as one of Germany’s greatest playwrights, and he has earned his place among the writers of a global literary canon.

—Brooke Sutter, a graduate of Loyola University, researched and wrote teaching resources for Mary Stuart as an intern with CST’s Education Department.


[1] Thomas Carlyle, The Life of Friedrich Schiller: Comprehending an Examination of His Works, vol. 1026 of Collection of British Authors, (Leipzig: B. Tauchnitz, 1869), 17.

[2] Ibid., 21.

[3] Ibid., 21-22.

[4] Ibid., xv-xvi.

[5] Ibid., xvii.

[6] Ibid., xviii.

[7] Ibid., xvii. 



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