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Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805). Wilhelm Tell.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Act I

Scene III

A common near Altdorf. On an eminence in the background a castle in progress of erection, and so far advanced that the outline of the whole may be distinguished. The back part is finished: men are working at the front. Scaffolding, on which the workmen are going up and down. A slater is seen upon the highest part of the roof. All is bustle and activity.


Task.(with a stick, urging on the workmen). Up, up! You’ve rested long enough. To work! The stones here! Now the mortar, and the lime! And let his lordship see the work advanced, When next he comes. These fellows crawl like snails![To two labourers, with loads.

What! call ye that a load? Go, double it.

Is this the way ye earn your wages, laggards?

1st W.’Tis very hard that we must bear the stones,

To make a keep and dungeon for ourselves!

Task.What’s that you mutter? ’Tis a worthless race,

For nothing fit but just to milk their cows,

And saunter idly up and down the hills.

Old Man(sinks down exhausted). I can no more.

Task.(shaking him).Up, up, old man, to work!

1st W.Have you no bowels of compassion, thus

To press so hard upon a poor old man,

That scarce can drag his feeble limbs along?

Master Mason and Workmen.Shame, shame upon you—shame! It cries to heaven.

Task.Mind your own business. I but do my duty.

1st W.Pray, master, what’s to be the name of this

Same castle, when ’tis built?

Task.The Keep of Uri;

For by it we shall keep you in subjection.

Work.The Keep of Uri?

Task.Well, why laugh at that?

2nd W.Keep Uri, will you, with this paltry place!

1st W.How many molehills such as that must first

Be piled up each on each, ere you make

A mountain equal to the least in Uri?[TASKMASTER retires up the stage.

Mas. M.I’ll drown the mallet in the deepest lake,

That served my hand on this accursed pile.[Enter TELL and STAUFFACHER.

Stauff.O, that I had not lived to see this sight!

Tell.Here ’tis not good to be. Let us proceed.

Stauff.Am I in Uri,—Uri, freedom’s home?

Mas. M.O, sir, if you could only see the vaults

Beneath these towers. The man that tenants them

Will ne’er hear cock crow more.

Stauff.O God! O God!

Mason.Look at these ramparts and these buttresses,

That seem as they were built to last for ever.

Tell.What hands have built, my friend, hands can destroy.[Pointing to the mountains.

That home of freedom God hath built for us.[A drum is heard. People enter bearing a cap upon a pole, followed by a crier. Women and children thronging tumultuously after them.

1st W.What means the drum? Give heed!

Mason.Why, here’s a mumming!

And look, the cap—what can they mean by that?

Crier.In the Emperor’s name, give ear!

Work.Hush! silence! hush!

Crier.Ye men of Uri, ye do see this cap!

It will be set upon a lofty pole

In Altdorf, in the market place: and this

Is the Lord Governor’s good will and pleasure;

The cap shall have like honour as himself,

All do it reverence with bended knee,

And head uncovered; thus the king will know

Who are his true and loyal subjects here;

His life and goods are forfeit to the crown

That shall refuse obedience to the order.[The people burst out into laughter. The drum beats and the procession passes on.

1st W.A strange device to fall upon indeed:

Do reverence to a cap! A pretty farce!

Heard ever mortal anything like this?

Mas. M.Down to a cap on bended knee, forsooth!

Rare jesting this with men of sober sense!

1st W.Nay, an it were the imperial crown! A cap!

Merely the cap of Austria! I’ve seen it

Hanging above the throne in Gessler’s hall.

Mason.The cap of Austria? Mark that! A snare

To get us into Austria’s power, by Heaven!

Work.No freeborn man will stoop to such disgrace.

Mas. M.Come—to our comrades, and advise with them![They retire up.

Tell(to STAUFFACHER). You see how matters stand. Farewell, my friend;

Stauff.Whither away? Oh, leave us not so soon.

Tell.They look for me at home. So fare ye well.

Stauff.My heart’s so full, and has so much to tell you.

Tell.Words will not make a heart that’s heavy light.

Stauff.Yet words may possibly conduct to deeds.

Tell.Endure in silence! We can do no more.

Stauff.But shall we bear what is not to be borne?

Tell.Impetuous rulers have the shortest reigns.

When the fierce Southwind rises from its chasms,

Men cover up their fires, the ships in haste

Make for the harbour, and the mighty spirit

Sweeps o’er the earth, and leaves no trace behind.

Let every man live quietly at home;

Peace to the peaceful rarely is denied.

Stauff.And is it thus you view our grievances?

Tell.The serpent stings not till it is provoked.

Let them alone; they’ll weary of themselves,

When they shall see we are not to be roused.

Stauff.Much might be done—did we stand fast together.

Tell.When the ship founders, he will best escape,

Who seeks no other’s safety but his own.

Stauff.And you desert the common cause so coldly?

Tell.A man can safely count but on himself!

Stauff.Nay, even the weak grow strong by union.

Tell.But the strong man is strongest when alone.

Stauff.So, then, your country cannot count on you,

If in despair she rise against her foes.

Tell.Tell rescues the lost sheep from yawning gulphs:

Is he a man, then, to desert his friends?

Yet, whatsoe’er you do, spare me from council!

I was not born to ponder and select;

But when your course of action is resolved,

Then call on Tell: you shall not find him fail.[Exeunt severally. A sudden tumult is heard around the scaffolding.

Mason(running in). What’s wrong?

First Workman (running forward). The slater’s fallen from the roof.

Bertha(rushing in). Heavens! Is he dashed to pieces? Save him, help! If help be possible, save him! Here is gold.[Throws her trinkets among the people.

Mason.Hence with your gold,—your universal charm,

And remedy for ill! When you have torn

Fathers from children, husbands from their wives,

And scattered woe and wail throughout the land,

You think with gold to compensate for all.

Hence! Till we saw you, we were happy men;

With you came misery and dark despair.

Bertha(to the TASKMASTER, who has returned).

Lives he?[TASKMASTER shakes his head.

Ill-omened towers, with curses built,

And doomed with curses to be tenanted![Exit.