An Unrelieved Heart: Hegel, Tragedy, and Schiller's Wallenstein

New German Critique 113 (38):1-23 (2011)
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In his early and unpublished essay on Schiller’s trilogy Wallenstein, Hegel criticizes the plays’ denouement as “horrific” and “appalling” and for depicting the triumph of death over life. Why was the young Hegel’s response to Wallenstein so negative? To answer this question, I first offer an analysis of Wallenstein in terms of Hegel’s mature theory of modern tragedy. I argue that Schiller’s portrayal of Wallenstein’s character and death indeed render the play a particularly dark and unredemptive example of modern tragedy as Hegel understands it. I suggest, however, that Hegel’s early objections are primarily motivated by his philosophy of history rather than by his theory of tragedy. Hegel accurately sensed the loss of faith in historical progress that Schiller experienced in the wake of the French Revolution; in essays written shortly before Wallenstein appeared, Schiller associates the tragic sublime with humans’ ability to act in the face of the meaninglessness of history. In his essay “The German Constitution,” composed during the same period as his Wallenstein review, Hegel instead formulates his familiar exhortation that we see history as meaningful. Hegel’s objection to Wallenstein’s darkness, then, is primarily an objection to the vision of history it portrays. Against the background of Peter Stein’s 2007 Berlin production of Wallenstein, I suggest that Wallenstein’s lasting appeal lies in its ability to allow audiences to experience the sublime as Schiller intended: as an assertion of our agency despite the cycles of history we so little control.
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