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The Nature of Oppression in Don Carlos

Author(s): John D. Simons

Source: MLN, Vol. 84, No. 3, The German Issue (Apr., 1969), pp. 451-457
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
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M L N 451

stellt fest, daB sein Lied, welches von Gott handelt, deshalb dem Teufel
zuwider sein werde. Der himmlische Vater erweist den Menschen schon
auf dieser Welt seine Gnade. Denn durch sein Walten ist ihnen alles
Irdische untertan: Wetter, Gestirne und Getier. Dem, der sich zum
Herren bekehrt, wird alle Not schon hier getilgt und das tigliche Brot
beschert. Der SchluB dieser Strophe betont die Freude, wahrend das
Elend der Verlorenen Strophe 2 beschlieBt.
In der ersten Strophe wendet sich der Dichter an Gott den Sohn, er
m6ge ihm bei der warnenden Verkiindigung beistehen: alle Menschen
sollen ihr Ende bedenken. Die pers6nliche Note dieses Anrufs-die
Wiederholung des "Ich"-findet sich in Strophe 11 wieder: V. 1, 3, 4,
171, 179, 180, 181. Waihrend im Gegensatz zu den Strophen 2, 4, 5 alle
Strophen der zweiten Gedichthalfte (einschlieBlich 6) positiv ausklingen,
wird jetzt zuletzt die Warnung des Dichters zum zentralen Gedanken. Das
AusmaB menschlicher Siinde scheint ihm gr6Ber als je. Es jammert ihn,
daB so viele der Holle verfallen sind.
Die vorliegende Untersuchung widerlegt das Urteil Helmut de Boors:
"Die 'Wahrheit' ... fiuhrt ohne viel Kunst die Warnung vor dem Tode
in der dualistischen Antithese von Gott und Teufel, Himmel und Hl1le
durch." 10 Ebenso mag sich Waag irren, wenn er unter anderem das
Gedicht fur ein Fragment halt.11 Der symmetrische Aufbau scheint mir
unbedingt dagegen zu sprechen. Vielmehr deutet dieser auf das bewuBte
Gestalten seitens eines Menschen, der nicht nur als Prediger, sondern
auch als Dichter zu Werk gegangen ist.

Central Washington State College EVA-MARIA CARNE

The Nature of Oppression in Don Carlos

The direction that the vast majority of Don Carlos scholarship has taken
during the past century readily lends itself to division into two categories:
those who exalt and those who condemn Posa's idealistic theories of free-
dom and the machinations he employs to implement them. The studies
of such authorities as Jakob Minor, Karl Berger, Ludwig Bellermann, and
Eugen Kiihnemann see Posa as the bold hero without blemish, the paragon
of virtue who sacrifices himself for his ideals and for his friend Don

10Die deutsche Literatur von Karl dem

Grofien bis zum Beginn der h6fischen
Dichtung, 7. Aufl. (Miinchen, 1966; Geschichte der deutschen Literatur von den
Anfangen bis zur Gegenwart, I), S. 180.
1 S. xxxiii; und in "Die
Zusammensetzung der Vorauer Handschrift,"
Beitrdge, XI (1886), 109.

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452 M L N

Carlos.1 Following World War I, this interpretation has been refuted by

Max Kommerell, Reinhard Buchwald, Andre von Gronicka, and E. L.
Stahl who point out that even passing familiarity with the Briefe iiber
Don Carlos would prove the invalidity of such a reading.2 These critics
view Posa as an idealistic schemer who pursues a merciful idea mercilessly,
who tramples underfoot the very human dignity he champions, and whose
personal agrandizement is of no less importance than the realization of
his plans. Thus the preponderance of scholarship has been one-sidedly
devoted to interpreting Posa's character, defining his relationship to Carlos
and to Philip, and to discussing his ideal of freedom and the devious
methods he uses to put it into practice. Yet not one of these studies has
attempted to analyze the nature of the oppression that impelled Posa to
rebellion, and that in this drama assumes the aspects of a systematized
philosophy. It is hoped that in the course of the analysis its relevance
to a fuller understanding of the drama as well as to problems besetting
our own times will become apparent.
As a young man living in an absolutist society, Schiller was outraged
at the suppression of individual liberty by Church and State in the interest
of social stability. He suspected that if his society continued in its present
direction, mankind would one day be permanently regimented, and he
regarded it as his duty to expose this danger. Through the figures of
Philip II and his teacher the GroBinquisitor, Schiller shows why and how
Church and State strive to deprive mankind of freedom.
As the drama was originally conceived, the nature of oppression was to
be one of the central themes as he states in a letter of April 14, 1783:
"AuBerdem will ich es mir in diesem Schauspiel zur Pflicht machen, in
Darstellung der Inquisition die prostituierte Menschheit zu rachen, und
ihre Schandflecken fiirchterlich an den Pranger zu stellen." 3 Censorship
compelled Schiller to moderate his attacks on the Church, but he still
considered as indispensable the scene between Philip and the GroBinquisi-
tor in which the negative philosophy of the Inquisition is presented as
he explained in a letter of June 13, 1787 to a theater director in Ham-

Jakob Minor, Schiller: Sein Leben und Seine Werke, 2 vols. (Berlin, 1890),
II, 520-594; Karl Berger, Schiller: Sein Leben und Seine Werke, 2 vols. (Miin-
chen, 1909), I, 497-528; Ludwig Bellermann, Schillers Dramen: Beitrdge zu
ihrem Verstdndnis, 3 vols. (Berlin, 1908), II, 250-270; Eugen Kiihnemann, Schil-
ler (Miinchen, 1905), pp. 226-285.
2 Max Kommerell, Der Dichter als Fiihrer in der deutschen Klassik (Berlin,

1928), pp. 215 if.; Reinhard Buchwald, Schiller: Leben und Werk (Wiesbaden,
1959), pp. 423-450; Andry von Gronicka, "Friedrich Schiller's Marquis Posa,"
GR, XXVI (1951), 196-214; E. L. Stahl, Schiller's Drama (Oxford, 1954), pp.
30-44. Benno von Wiese in his widely read and much acclaimed study merely
side-steps the issue in an attempt to gain an impregnable position. A justifica-
tion of Posa's actions is given by Frances Ebstein, " In Defense of Marquis Posa,"
GR, XXXVI (1961), 205-220.
8 Friedrich Schiller,
Briefe, ed. Gerhard Fricke (Miinchen, 1955), pp. 47-48.

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M L N 453

burg: "Ich weiB nicht zu bestimmen, wie weit in Hamburg die Toleranz
geht. Ob zum Beispiel ein Auftritt des K6nigs mit dem Grossinquisitor
stattfinden kann. Wenn Sie ihn gelesen haben, werden Sie finden, wieviel
mit ihm fur das Stuck verloren sein wiirde" (p. 117). In the Briefe
iiber Don Carlos (1788). written in response to certain criticisms that had
been made, Schiller contended that the drama's unifying element is the
conflict between freedom and despotism: ". . . und wenn das Stuck eine
Einheit hat, wo anders als in [Freiheit] k6nnte sie liegen? . . . Frei-
heitssinn mit Despotismus im Kampfe, die Fesseln der Dummheit zerbro-
chen, tausendjahrige Vorurteile erschittert, eine Nation, die ihre Men-
schenrechte wieder fodert." 4
These attitudes are meant to show that Schiller saw humanity threatened
by selfish political and religious interests whose objective was to replace
freedom with strict, planned obedience and to reinterpret traditional Chris-
tianity to fit a new mentality. Freedom as the first premise of a mean-
ingful existence is based on the traditional contention that man inherently
possesses the right to choose freely between his own conception of good
and evil. But the Church and State, as portrayed by Schiller in this drama,
abolished this right in an effort to create a common basis for happiness,
world peace, and universal harmony. The Church deviated from tradition
because it was convinced that human beings were miserable when required
to make moral decisions. The political authority was also confident that
the masses were primarily concerned with physical comforts and that if
given the choice between preserving freedom or exchanging it for ma-
terial wealth, the majority would always choose the latter. So Philip and
the GroBinquisitor decided to replace the traditional conception of free-
dom with an expedient one that would lead to material wealth and happi-
ness for the multitude and to easy government for the rulers. To over-
come individual resistance might mean the use of force, but that would
be justified if the goals were universal happiness and perfection. Nothing
ill could befall anyone who stayed within the rules. The decision to
abolish freedom was based upon the conviction that man is a dependent
and materialistic creature incapable of self-determination.
King Philip was forced to adopt this attitude because the grandees and
such clerics as Domingo surrounding him have sold themselves willingly
and have prostituted their nobility for the King's favor. Marquis Posa's
address to Philip contains this insight:
die haben
Freiwillig ihres Adels sich begeben,
Freiwillig sich auf diese niedre Stufe
Herabgestellt. Erschrocken fliehen sie

4Schillers Sdmtliche Werke (Sakular-Ausgabe). (Stuttgart und Berlin, 1905-

5), XVI, 162-hereafter cited at Werke.

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454 M L N

Vor dem Gespenste ihrer innern GroBe,

Gefallen sich in ihrer Armut, schmiicken
Mit feiger Weisheit ihre Ketten aus,
Und Tugend nennt man, sie mit Anstand tragen.

Wie konnten Sie in dieser traurigen

Verstummlung-Mlenschen ehren? 5
Convinced of man's inability to attain happiness through freedom,
Philip and the GroBinquisitor proceed to create a common basis that will
render all men happy and content. As the first step, it was necessary to
establish an entirely new materialistic system of values and to make man's
concept of success and happiness dependent on it. Posa recognizes Philip's
goal and accuses him of altering traditional morality:
Ein neues [Gliick]
Erschuf der Krone Politik-ein Gliick,
Das sie noch reich genug ist auszuteilen,
Und in dem Menschenherzen neue Triebe,
Die sich von diesem Gliicke stillen lassen.
In ihren Miinzen laBt sie Wahrheit schlagen,
Die Wahrheit, die sie dulden kann.

WeiB ich ihn [der Mensch] gliicklich-eh' er denken darf?

(Act III, Scene 10)
Once a person places the highest value upon materialism, the result is
that he becomes afraid and debases himself before authority to amass
material wealth and trembles lest the favor be withdrawn. Finally, if
man accepts his happiness from the Church, he will reject Christianity
and worship the religious hierarchy. Thus Posa criticizes Philip for dis-
torting nature by molding men to suit his new religion, and for estab-
lishing himself and the hierarchy of the Church as the new Deity:
Da Sie den Menschen aus des Sch6pfers Hand
In Ihrer Hande Werk verwandelten
Und dieser neugegoBnen Kreatur
Zum Gott sich gaben- (Act III, Scene 10)
Concurrent with the establishment of a new system of values is the
plan to alter the traditional conception of good and evil, for Philip and
the GroBinquisitor believe this to be the basis of all unhappiness. To
achieve happiness, man must have his ethics posited for him in terms
that he can understand and, most important, easily follow. The goal was
reached in a clever manner: to the freedom of moral choice Church and

6 Werke, IV, Act III, Scene 10.

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M L N 455

State simply attached a reward for doing good-material wealth-and a

severe punishment for doing evil-the Inquisition. Most men would rather
choose between reward and punishment than between good and evil.
When higher authority is accepted as the interpreter of morality, it can
then arbitrarily decree what is right and wrong and gradually establish an
entirely new ethical system at the expense of the traditional one.
The extent to which the Church has established itself as the infallible
interpreter of good and evil is shown in the tenth scene of the fifth act.
Philip has just ordered Posa to be murdered because he has deceived the
King and has been working for rebellion. Philip summons the GroB-
inquisitor to ask him if he can create a new religion that will justify the
murder of his own son who is also implicated in the rebellion: " Kannst
du mir einen neuen Glauben griinden, / Der eines Kindes blut'gen Mord
verteidigt? " (Act V, Scene 10). The Inquisitor's affirmative answer shows
that the Church has the power to " correct" Christianity when expedient.
It can even declare the evil of filicide as good and know its decision will
be believed. Finally, Philip asks what is his legacy if he must lose his
only son at the end:
Es ist mein einz'ger Sohn-Wem hab' ich
Der Verwesung lieber als
Der Freiheit.
We must not regard the Inquisitor's pronouncement merely as another
indication of his cynicism or, as Benno von Wiese regards it, an example
of Schiller's technical skill.6 Such an interpretation is insufficient: it denies
the Inquisitor an ideal and deprives Posa of true opposition.
Considering the personal self-sacrifice and the previous centuries of
struggle and planning needed to implement his idea of a harmonious
society, it is not surprising that the Inquisitor wants to dispose of Posa
and Carlos. If the authority of Church and State is to continue, then all
who would question it and ask others to do so must be eliminated. Thus
the Inquisitor relates that he has known of Posa and his machinations for
years but has permitted him freedom until the proper moment. He has
always planned that Posa should be burned as a heretic in order to dis-
credit freedom and reason: "Durch uns zu sterben, war er da. Ihn
schenkte / Der Notdurft dieses Zeitenlaufes Gott, / In seines Geistes feier-
licher Schandung / Die prahlende Vernunft zur Schau zu fiihren. / Das
war mein iiberlegter Plan" (Act V, Scene 10). Philip is then asked if
it is justice to spare Posa for his ideas when others are burned for nothing
worse: "... mit welcher Stirne, muB/Ich fragen, schrieben Sie das

6 Benno von Wiese, Friedrich Schiller (Stuttgart, 1959), p. 277.

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456 M L N

Bluturteil / Der hunderttausend schwachen Seelen, die / Den HolzstoB fur

nichts Schlimmeres bestiegen?" (Act V, Scene 10). The Inquisitor is
sincere and feels that he is morally right within his own conceptual frame-
work of the problem. He considers the executions to be only the first
step of the larger plan to regiment man's mind. He believes that by
burning thousands whose only crime is presumed doubt of the Church's
authority-the victim's actual guilt is of little importance-he will be able
to instill fear into the hearts of men and thus prevent the development
of men like Posa. As a man grows fearful, he becomes cautious in his
words and actions, for he fears the informers of the Inquisition. A person
who is constantly afraid ceases to think rationally and eventually ceases to
question to Church's authority even in thought.
We are able to draw these conclusions by examining Schiller's concep-
tion of character as presented in the early Philosophie der Physiologie
(1779). In this essay Schiller assumes the existence of "material ideas"
and maintains that a person's character can be formed through consciously
repeated action in accordance with the law of association: "Alle Moralitat
des Menschen hat ihren Grund in der Aufmerksamkeit, d.h. im tatigen
EinfluB der Seele auf die materielle Ideen im Denkorgan" (Werke, XI,
37-38). Consequently, he says, there can be men who do good or evil
mechanically. In the beginning they act freely, but through consciously
repeated action, the mechanical reaction eventually becomes the natural
In other words, Philip and the GroBinquisitor claimed to be striving
for humanity's welfare, concluding that the happiness best suited to human
nature is the soothing oblivion of a decisionless existence. They repre-
sent a handful of men who feel themselves to be the benefactors of man-
kind, although they thoroughly despise all men, because they think that
only they are strong enough to bear the full weight of freedom. They
tyrannize and abuse the human herd, but they provide it with food and
security. Schiller shows that such a philosophy can lead to the ultimate
stage of deterioration, where freedom and the worth of the individual are
no longer respected. Church and State carried the concept of apostolic
succession, the imitation of Christ and of Peter, to a logical and satanic
conclusion: after Christ had made men free, the ruling authority declared
itself the protector of their freedom, thus depriving them of it. In so
doing, it destroyed both the effect and reality of freedom and negated the
meaning of Christ's life on earth. His coming was therefore useless, and
man remains the caricature that the Inquisitor teaches Philip to despise.
In this way the philosophy of the Inquisitor becomes the basis of negation.
And religion, by its very nature, becomes inquisitorial. By withdrawing
freedom the Church, or any central authority, deprives mankind of its
individuality and creativity and thus becomes an instrument of gradual
disintegration and decay. If Church and State proceed on the hypothesis

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M L N 457

that man is only a creature and deny him the right to be a creator, then
we may say that the real meaning of the Inquisitor's answer to Philip's
question: " Wem hab' ich gesammelt? " becomes a simple one: permanent
negation. Both Philip and the Inquisitor put the security of tradition
and power before the danger of thought and freedom. Only one ideal
may therefore triumph: that of the Inquisitor with his concept of abso-
lute power and oppression, which in turn is absolute negation. Such is
Philip's legacy.

University of Iowa JOHN D. SIMONS

Eine Notiz Wilhelm Grimms zu den Obersetzungen

der Benedikte Naubert
Im November des Jahres 1949 korrespondierte Kurt Schreinert, seiner-
zeit Professor der Germanistik in Gottingen, mit Lawrence Price iiber
einige Fragen der literarischen Beziehungen zwischen Deutschland und
England. Kurt Schreinert, dessen Werk fiber die Romane der Benedikte
Naubert 1941 erschienen war, hatte offensichtlich bei der Vorbereitung
der Monographie unter anderem den handschriftlichen NachlaB der Briider
Grimm durchgesehen und war dabei auf eine Notiz gestoBen, die ihm der
Mitteilung wert schien und als bescheidene Erginzung der 1934 erschie-
nenen Arbeit von Price, The Publication of English Literature in Ger-
many in the Eighteenth Century, gedacht war. In der Erwartung, eine
verbesserte Ausgabe herausbringen zu k6nnen, hat Herr Professor Law-
rence Price die Mitteilung aus G6ttingen bisher aufbewahrt. Da sich das
geplante Vorhaben jedoch nicht durchfiihren lieB, hat er die Herausgeber
der MLN gebeten, den wesentlichen Teil des Briefes vom 27. November
1949 zu ver6ffentlichen. Seinen Wunsch erfiullen wir gern.
Die Stelle des Briefes, die aufschlu3reiche Information enthalt, lautet
wie folgt:
Darf ich mir zu dem letztgenannten Werk (The Publication of English
Literature . . .) eine Mitteilung fiber das Verhaltnis der Benedikte
Naubert zur englischen Literatur erlauben? Auf einem Zettel im Nach-
laB der Briider Grimm fand ich eine Mitteilung, die Wilhelm Grimm
anlaBlich eines Besuches bei der Naubert im Dezember 1809 nach ihrem
eigenen Diktat aufgezeichnet hat. Es findet sich hier eine eigene Rubrik
unter dem Titel "Freie Uebersetzungen, groBtenteils aus dem Eng-
lischen," und hier sind folgende Werke der Dichterin angegeben:
Pauline Frankini. Graf Rosenberg. Emmy Reinolds. Elfride. Sitten
und Launen der GroJSen. Heinrich Holland. Heinrich Courtland.
Marie Fiirst. Narcisse. Corelia. Ich glaube nun nicht, daB alle diese

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