Note on the Translation

A Note on the Translation

English translations of Friedrich Schiller’s Mary Stuart are numerous and variant. In fact, our play script is the second of two versions written by English playwright Peter Oswald. Earlier, in 1996, Oxford University Press published a translation of Schiller’s Don Carlos and Mary Stuart in a single edition. These were intended primarily for an academic audience. The plays were translated from the original German verse into English prose by Hilary Collier Sy-Quia. Oswald then transformed the text back into blank verse, the form Schiller had intended for his dramas. This translation of Mary Stuart attempts to find a balance between a literal translation and a complete departure from Schiller’s words. Consequently, it remains as faithful as possible to the original text, though not at the expense of the play’s poetry.[1] 

Oswald’s 2005 version, commissioned by the Donmar Warehouse (a London theater) and published by Oberon Books, is by contrast meant primarily as a script for production, and is less concerned with the exactness of its translation. Rather, the language is more colloquial and the play exhibits some extensive cuts. Take, for instance, Paulet’s first line in Act 1:

Oswald’s 1996 version:

Oswald’s 2005 version:

Feminine cunning! Jewels flung from windows
To bribe the gardeners. Who gave them jewels?
No matter how I search and watch these women,
Infinite secret treasures rise from nowhere.
There will be more to find![2]

How on earth did this get past us?[3]



The stark contrast between the two versions begs the question, Why did Oswald’s approach to the play change so dramatically? There are several reasons. As a staged production, Mary Stuart has had a rather cyclically spotty history in British theater. And much of that criticism can be attributed to readily available but inferior translations. In addition, what was perceived by many as an attack by Schiller upon England’s beloved Queen Elizabeth I did not encourage critics’ praise. But perhaps the root of the problem was neither the quality of a translation nor England’s defense of its Queen Bess; instead, the central issue might simply be that Britons’ tastes differ from those of Germans.

Schiller’s play reflects his own investment in the complicated philosophy of aesthetics, of morality, and of history. British audiences, especially in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, did not always match Schiller’s enthusiasm for or attitudes towards such subjects. In fact, between the 1990s and early-2000s, successful stagings of Mary Stuart in England have shared two important elements: topicality and comedy, neither of which translates cleanly from Schiller’s original 1800 play. Oswald’s 2005 version features both of these winning attributes for English-speaking audiences.[4] Using a more modern vernacular and cutting excessive language have allowed Oswald to make the play more relevant to theatergoers. His changes were strategic—this play, unlike the 1996 translation, was meant to be performed. The play’s political and religious conflicts are more relatable, and its humor more recognizable. It is an accessible Mary Stuart for modern audiences.

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


Works Cited

Göbels, Bettina and John Guthrie. “Schiller’s ‘Killer Queen’ on the Streets of London: Recent Productions of Mary Stuart in England. Contemporary Theatre Review 16 (2006): 439-456.

Schiller, Friedrich. Don Carlos and Mary Stuart. Translated by Hilary Collier Sy-Quia and Peter Oswald. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Schiller, Friedrich. Mary Stuart. Translated by Peter Oswald. London: Oberon Books, 2005.


[1] Friedrich Schiller, Don Carlos and Mary Stuart, trans. Hilary Collier Sy-Quia and Peter Oswald (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), xxvii-xxviii.

[2] Schiller, Don Carlos and Mary Stuart, 206.

[3] Friedrich Schiller, Mary Stuart, trans. Peter Oswald (London: Oberon Books, 2005), 9.

[4] Bettina Göbels and John Guthrie, “Schiller’s ‘Killer Queen’ on the Streets of London: Recent Productions of Mary Stuart in England,” Contemporary Theatre Review 16 (2006): 447-452. 



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