Well, nearly half-way through Schiller Year and the celebration seems to be running out of steam. Why - despite universal acclaim for Schiller's genius - is our enthusiasm begining to flag? The great literary historian George Steiner has the answer - I think - in his essay on Schiller that was recently published on the Sign and Sight Web site. The problem lies in Schiller's ornate claissical rhetoric, which no longer resonates with our post-modern sensibilities:
The second obstacle to reception is Schiller’s language: these goddesses with their rosy cheeks, these chalices, the never-ending apotheoses that so resemble Tiepolo’s mythological murals. These "raised wings" and the "rapture" amidst the "rose-coloured veil". For almost 2000 years, the rhetoric of Antiquity dominated the literature of the West. And Schiller’s mastery of every rhetorical trick is superb: "See you the rainbow yonder in the air? / Its golden portals heaven doth wide unfold, / Amid the angel choir she radiant stands, / The eternal Son she claspeth to her breast, / Her arms she stretcheth forth to me in love. / How is it with me? Light clouds bear me up-- / My ponderous mail becomes a winged robe."
("Seht ihr den Regenbogen in der Luft? / Der Himmel öffnet seine goldnen Tore, / Im Chor der Engel steht sie glänzend da, / Sie hält den ewgen Sohn an ihrer Brust, / Die Arme streckt sie lächelnd mir entgegen. / Wie wird mir – Leichte Wolken heben mich – / Der schwere Panzer wird zum Flügelkleide.")
In this effusive celebration of language, Homer and Virgil shine through, as well as Luther's version of the psalms. The only problem is that we now live in a radically anti-rhetorical climate, and the "winged robes" of language arouse our suspicion. It is the stutterer Woyzeck who we believe. We trust those voices that speak in short, naked sentences as in Kafka or Beckett, or who, like Wittgenstein, advise us to keep quiet.
Schiller as a dramatist is suffering the same fate that one critic sees happening to Bertolt Brecht