Schiller the Dramatist: A Study of Gesture in the Plays

By Wickersham, Erlis | Goethe Yearbook, January 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Schiller the Dramatist: A Study of Gesture in the Plays


Wickersham, Erlis, Goethe Yearbook


John Guthrie, Schiller the Dramatist: A Study of Gesture in the Plays. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2009. 213 pp.

Well-argued, researched, and concisely stated, this valuable text demonstrates that a study of gesture and perspective in Schiller's dramas as theater yields new insights and contemporary relevance to each of the author's exhaustively studied masterworks. Guthrie offers a thorough digest of previous critical opinions in admirable footnotes that follow each discussion in an unobtrusive, accessible way. Other standard features include the author's own English translations of quotations and titles, an informative bibliography as well as an unusually detailed index.

As is appropriate, he discusses many performances of each play, those that appeared in Schiller's lifetime and recent productions, especially those that were staged after World War II. With the help of Schiller's own comments, correspondence, and theoretical writings, he illuminates the action of these thoroughly familiar dramas in surprising, insightful ways, arguing that the theatrical elements which he has featured so prominently in this book bring us closer to the author's intention than the largely textual analyses of the past.

He begins with Schiller's youthful plays; connecting his use of gesture to the theories of his contemporary, Johann Jakob Engel, whose Ideen zu einer Mimik (2 volumes, 1785, reprint, 1971) was a standard text of the day. Guthrie demonstrates how Schiller moved well beyond his source, using extravagant gestures, such as Karl Moor running into a tree in Die Räuber. Yet Schiller was consistently tailoring his use of space, facial expression, stage direction, physical and metaphorical actions to the arguments and characterizations of each of the first three plays. Guthrie also identifies other sources of inspiration for Schiller's use of gesture, as it is broadly understood. These are "his experience of life and the performing arts at the Karlsschule, his reading, especially of dramatic literature and the Bible, and his medical studies, including his interest in physiology and psychology" (189).

The next section of the book delineates Schiller's "transition to the Classical style" (99). These chapters interpret Don Karlos and Wallenstein. In the former, Guthrie points out how the use of silence makes for effective theater and interpretation. The ways in which Schiller prepares for the triumph of the Grand Inquisitor and, to a lesser extent, the king, are also fruitfully demonstrated.

In Wallenstein, Guthrie discusses the author's use of space in connection with Wallenstein 's "desire to control space in the literal sense and in the deeper figurative sense indicated by his concern with astrology" (127). …

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