Friedrich Schiller – Champion of Freedom


Friedrich Schiller (his full name was Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller – ennobled in 1802 allowing him to add “von” to his name) is probably the second most important playwright in Europe after William Shakespeare. Throughout his life, Schiller championed physical and spiritual freedom. Born in 1759 in Marbach in Germany, he produced scores of poems, dramas, historical and philosophical papers. Although “Friedrich Schiller” is not a household name in America, it was Schiller whose eloquent poem, “Ode to Joy”, inspired Ludwig van Beethoven to set it to music in the famous last movement of his Ninth symphony. anthem/


“It hinders the creative work of the mind if the intellect examines too closely the ideas as they pour in.”

— Friedrich Schiller

Lithograph portrait from 1905, captioned "Friedrich von Schiller" in recognition of his 1802 ennoblement, photo courtesy of wikipedia

Lithograph portrait from 1905, captioned “Friedrich von Schiller” in recognition of his 1802 ennoblement, photo courtesy of wikipedia

Friedrich Schiller’s taxing life

Germany, at the time of Friedrich Schiller, consisted of many small kingdoms. The poet was born in the little duchy of Wuertemberg, a principality of the Holy Roman Empire. He was the second of four children in the family. His father was an army doctor; his mother was a quiet, pious woman. When Friedrich Schiller was 13 years of age, the Duke of Wuertemberg insisted that he enter an elite military academy, the Karlsschule. Until then, Schiller had leaned toward becoming a man of the cloth and felt trapped at the academy. For the next eight years, he studied law and medicine. Strict obedience was stressed. Its students enjoyed little freedom. To keep up his spirits, Friedrich Schiller wrote his first play (Die Raeuber – The Robbers) while still at the school. The play scrutinizes the inequities resulting from class, religious and economic differences. When his play opened in Mannheim in 1780, Schiller stole himself to the opening without first requesting permission. He was 21 years old at the time and sentenced to 14 days in prison. In addition, he was prohibited from publishing any future works. In response to the sentence, Schiller deserted and fled to Weimar where he lived under an assumed name. Forever cash-poor, he penned several plays during that period.

Between 1787 and 1798, Schiller changed course, became Professor of History and Philosophy in Jena and pursued historical studies. In 1794, he struck up a close friendship with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. mutually beneficial alliance inspired Schiller to compose some of his best-known dramas, including the Wallenstein Trilogy, Maria Stuart (Mary Stuart), Die Jungfrau von Orleans (The Maiden of Orleans) and Wilhelm Tell (William Tell). In 1805, Friedrich Schiller died of tuberculosis at the age of forty-five.


“Opposition always inflames the enthusiast, never converts him.”

— Friedrich Schiller


Friedrich Schiller’s Ode to Joy

Many Americans know Friedrich Schiller only through Ludwig van Beethoven’s musical setting of a part of Schiller’s most famous poem, the “Ode to Joy”. From the very year in which the poem was first printed (1786) the Ode an die Freude (Ode to Joy) began to be sung to various musical accompaniments. That same year, a composer by the name of J. Chr. Mueller set the Ode to Joy to music. By 1800 there were at least twenty different versions of “An die Freude” that still survive today.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of

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