Paul E. Kerry, ed. Friedrich Schiller: Playwright, Poet, Philosopher, Historian. British and Irish Studies in German Language and Literature. Bern: Peter Lang, 2007. 353 pp. $79.95 (paper), ISBN 978-3-03910-307-2.
Reviewed by Robert S. Bledsoe (Department of English and Foreign Languages, Augusta State University)
Published on H-German (April, 2009)
Commissioned by Eve M. Duffy
Schiller and his Vocations
In the closing essay of this volume George Steiner asks: "Who reads Schiller today? Not at school, or in a seminar on German literature, but out of passion, out of an inner drive?" (p. 333). One answer would be the authors of this volume, all but one academics, but all also passionate readers of Friedrich Schiller. But those are not the readers that Steiner is looking for, and even among academics, prospects can be bleak, as Friedrich Beiser notes in his lament on the lack of engagement with Schiller by philosophers. On the other hand, T. J. Reed and Michael Billington, drama critic for the Guardian, see the possibility for a new readership in the critical and popular success of recent Schiller productions in Britain. This is in part the audience to whom this volume is addressed; the volume is for the "sophisticated reader," as David G. John puts it, an educated reader who wants to become informed about Schiller and his works, but who may read primarily or exclusively in English (p. 197).
To meet the needs of this audience, Paul Kerry has gathered a set of essays by distinguished scholars from Britain and North America. The essays are organized primarily around Schiller's vocations. Besides the vocations of playwright, poet, philosopher, and historian mentioned in the title, one also encounters essays on Schiller as doctor, author of literary prose, partner (with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe), and master (of drama). This device offers good coverage of Schiller's achievements and works well as an organizing principle for the volume. These essays are accompanied by a sketch of Schiller's life by Wolfgang Wittkowski, a reading of Wallenstein (1800) by Richie Robertson, and an interesting exploration of Schiller's "afterlife" by Ute Frevert, as well as three occasional essays: Billington’s brief essay from the Guardian on Schiller in British theaters, Steiner's essay "Schiller Two-Hundredth," originally prepared for the opening of a Schiller exhibit at the National Schiller Museum in Marbach, and Beiser's lament, which was a keynote address at the Yale University Schiller Bicentennial Conference.
Of these three essays, Beiser's is the most interesting to a scholarly audience. It presents in condensed form some of the arguments from his Schiller as Philosopher: A Re-Examination (2005). This re-presentation of earlier work is not unique in the volume. David J. John and David Pugh also acknowledge relying on earlier work for parts of their essays (on the partnership with Goethe, and Schiller the philosopher, respectively). I would venture that these are not the only contributors to draw on previous work. However, for me, this is not a weakness, but is instead the strength of this volume. Rather than attempting to rethink Schiller, these essays read as fresh summations of years of reading, thinking about, and teaching Schiller and his works. The essays are readable and well informed by the secondary literature. They strike a nice balance between presenting historical and cultural context and rendering analyses of specific works, and the essays work well together to convey a sense of the complexity of Schiller's thought and his works. All quotations are given in the original language and are accompanied by English translations, so that all the essays are accessible to readers with no knowledge of German.
Readers acquainted with the literature on Schiller will find little fundamentally new here, and so the volume may not make it onto many Germanists' shelves. However, I would recommend it highly as an addition to any academic library. As an undergraduate or even a graduate student tackling Schiller’s works, I would have been pleased to find this volume on a shelf in my library. The volume will also be helpful to scholars and non-scholarly readers looking for a sophisticated introduction to Schiller's work. Paul Kerry is to be commended for gathering this group of fine scholars and getting them to express their knowledge so accessibly and thoughtfully.
. Frevert's essay "The Afterlife: A Poet for Many German Nations" was also a keynote address at the Yale University Schiller Bicentennial Conference.
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Robert S. Bledsoe. Review of Kerry, Paul E., ed., Friedrich Schiller: Playwright, Poet, Philosopher, Historian.
H-German, H-Net Reviews.
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