The OF Blog: Sturm und Drang, FTW!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sturm und Drang, FTW!

Although I am also reading a few other works that are much more closely aligned with "speculative fiction" concepts, I have found myself reading Friedrich Schiller's classic 1787 play Don Carlos. While I know that many place this work more in the Weimar Classicist movement of the 1780s-1805 period, in many ways I cannot help but notice quite a few strands lingering from the 1760s Sturm und Drang. For those of you confused as to why I'm posting this here rather than on Vaguely Borgesian, bear with me here.

Based on the troubled and sometimes twisted relationship between King Phillip II of Spain and his malformed and mentally disturbed son Carlos, there are many elements in here to which believe fantasy/SF readers (and writers, of course) ought to pay close attention, as Schiller manages to create a host of internal and external conflicts and to execute them brilliantly through the first three Acts (I hope to finish reading this tomorrow, but I felt inspired to write a brief bit tonight).

Schiller lays it out very early on: Carlos had been promised the hand of the daughter of the King of France, but Daddy Dearest, dearly missing his dead wife and not finding any suitable Habsburg cousins worthy of his connubial desires, gets the French King (I forget which one, perhaps Francis II, but it's during the troubles of the 1560s before Henri IV) to agree to having his daughter marry him instead of his son. Carlos, already fucked in the head due to a whole shitload of bad genes preserved via centuries of Habsburg incestual (uncle/niece, first cousin marriages) habits, goes all emo on Philip. Schiller here does a good job of highlighting the morbid obsession that Carlos bears for his step-mom while still giving enough foreshadows of the events to come to make it clear that Carlos might be missing a few cards in his mental deck.

Although I have a German original, I have also been relying upon a Project Gutenberg translation to aid me in my reading. While certainly not literal (in some cases, my rough renderings back into English were more poetic, albeit of a different style than what was employed for this old translation of Schiller's play), it makes it clear that Schiller wanted to capture the emotional conflicts not just between Carlos and Phillip, but also between Carlos and the Duke of Alva, with whom there was some form of rivalry, although much of this has to be laid at the feet of Carlos and his increasing paranoia.

So far, the play is outstanding and in a time when I'm wishing that there were SF authors that would have the gumption and the talent to create such marvelously disturbed but yet fascinating characters, I cannot help but to recommend Don Carlos as one example of a style of writing that certainly could be introduced into SF in order to broaden its palette.


Anonymous said...

Funny. Don Carlos was my favorite play by Schiller in my teenage years, when I identified a lot with the protagonist in his struggle to find a useful place in life. And though, Schiller describes the coming-to-age of a young man, from an extremely emotional and self-absorbed state of mind to someone who is ready to really fight for something, it can be read as a coming-of-age story for people of any gender. I guess today's teenage boys (with their conception of what is manly) will have much more problems to relate to the characters than teenage girls.

However, there is much more two the story, and all of the characters have their moments. In relation to the telling of a story and the creation of characters, this play is very fascinating, because the story is driven by the relations and tensions between the characters. I think the love for these kind of plays had much influence on my attempts of writing, because it is so extremely character driven and focuses so much on human interaction.

You make me want to read it again these days.

Anonymous said...

Addition because I forgot something:

Carlos, already fucked in the head due to a whole shitload of bad genes preserved via centuries of Habsburg incestual (uncle/niece, first cousin marriages) habits, goes all emo on Philip.

Actually, even though that fact figures in the play, Schiller was criticised, a lot because he created such an idealised picture of Don Carlos, which influenced people's view of the real person. And I'm not sure if the emotional reaction of the prince to the conflict shouldn't more be seen as a sign of him being immature and aimless than being a reflection of his genetic disposition. At least, that's how I read it, before I knew the historical background. That's what theatrical representations of the drama or the opera version by Verdi suggest.(Don Carlos in the play does not have the physical deformities of the real person, either.)

Larry Nolen said...

Very good points there. I finished reading the play a couple of days ago and found the conclusion to be even more stirring than I had anticipated based on Acts I-III. Schiller did a nice job with the various tensions between Don Carlos, the Queen, the King, and of course Alva and the others of Philip's court. I'd like to see this performed, although the 1850s English translation that I read that Project Gutenberg had posted online wasn't quite literal to the text when I compared it to the German original (while my German is so rusty these days that it is nowhere near fluent, I can still pick out the gist of what was being said most of the time).

As for the differences between the historical and the dramatic Don Carlos, I chalk it up to Schiller writing the play with a certain goal in mind. As this play marked the end of the Sturm und Drang era of Schiller's writing, I think it shows a corresponding shift in focus from the overly emotional outpourings towards a more "classicist" examination of what constitutes a tragedy. But I'd have to re-read the play a few more times to be certain of this.

Regardless, I have to say that this play was superb. Different in feel and tone from Shakespeare or de la Barca, but on par with them. If only my German history professor would be able to read my thoughts on this - he really made a point of talking about Schiller and Kleist when discussing late 18th and early 19th century German history :D

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