Home  »  Wilhelm Tell  »  Act II

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

Act II

Scene II

A meadow surrounded by high rocks and wooded ground. On the rocks are tracks, with rails and ladders, by which the peasants are afterwards seen descending. In the back-ground the lake is observed, and over it a moon rainbow in the early part of the scene. The prospect is closed by lofty mountains, with glaciers rising behind them. The stage is dark, but the lake and glaciers glisten in the moonlight.


Mechthal(behind the scenes). The mountain pass is open. Follow me!

I see the rock, and little cross upon it:

This is the spot; here is the Rootli.[They enter with torches.


Sewa.The coast is clear.

Meyer.None of our comrades come?

We are the first, we Unterwaldeners.

Melch.How far is’t i’ the night?

Baum.The beacon watch

Upon the Selisberg has just called two.[A bell is heard at a distance.

Meyer.Hush! Hark!

Buhel.The forest chapel’s matin bell

Chimes clearly o’er the lake from Switzerland.

Von F.The air is clear, and bears the sound so far.

Melch.Go, you and you, and light some broken boughs,

Let’s bid them welcome with a cheerful blaze.[Two peasants exeunt.

Sewa.The moon shines fair to-night. Beneath its beams

The lake reposes, bright as burnish’d steel.

Buhel.They’ll have an easy passage.

Wink.(pointing to the lake).Ha! look there!

Do you see nothing?

Meyer.Ay, indeed, I do!

A rainbow in the middle of the night.

Melch.Formed by the bright reflection of the moon!

Von F.A sign most strange and wonderful, indeed!

Many there be, who ne’er have seen the like.

Sewa.’Tis doubled, see, a paler one above!

Baum.A boat is gliding yonder right beneath it.

Melch.That must be Werner Stauffacher! I knew

The worthy patriot would not tarry long.[Goes with BAUMGARTEN towards the shore.

Meyer.The Uri men are like to be the last.

Buhel.They’re forced to take a winding circuit through

The mountains; for the Viceroy’s spies are out.[In the meanwhile the two peasants have kindled a fire in the centre of the stage.

Melch.(on the shore). Who’s there? The word?

Stauff.(from below).Friends of the country.[All retire up the stage, towards the party landing from the boat. Enter STAUFFACHER, ITEL REDING, HANS AUFDER MAUER, JORG IM HOFE, CONRAD HUNN, ULRICH DER SCHMIDT, JOST VON WEILER, and three other peasants, armed.

All.Welcome![While the rest remain behind exchanging greetings, MELCHTHAL comes forward with STAUFFACHER.

Melch.Oh, worthy Stauffacher, I’ve look’d but now

On him, who could not look on me again;

I’ve laid my hands upon his rayless eyes,

And on their vacant orbits sworn a vow

Of vengeance, only to be cool’d in blood.

Stauff.Speak not of vengeance. We are here, to meet

The threatened evil, not to avenge the past.

Now tell me what you’ve done, and what secured,

To aid the common cause in Unterwald.

How stand the peasantry disposed, and how

Yourself escaped the wiles of treachery?

Melch.Through the Surenen’s fearful mountain chain,

Where dreary ice-fields stretch on every side,

And sound is none, save the hoarse vulture’s cry,

I reach’d the Alpine pasture, where the herds

From Uri and from Engelberg resort,

And turn their cattle forth to graze in common.

Still as I went along, I slaked my thirst

With the coarse oozings of the glacier heights

That thro’ the crevices come foaming down,

And turned to rest me in the herdsmen’s cots,

Where I was host and guest, until I gain’d

The cheerful homes and social haunts of men.

Already through these distant vales had spread

The rumour of this last atrocity;

And wheresoe’er I went, at every door,

Kind words saluted me and gentle looks.

I found these simple spirits all in arms

Against our ruler’s tyrannous encroachments.

For as their Alps through each succeeding year

Yield the same roots,—their streams flow ever on

In the same channels,—nay, the clouds and winds

The selfsame course unalterably pursue,

So have old customs there, from sire to son,

Been handed down, unchanging and unchanged;

Nor will they brook to swerve or turn aside

From the fixed even tenor of their life.

With grasp of their hard hands they welcomed me,—

Took from the walls their rusty falchions down,—

And from their eyes the soul of valour flash’d

With joyful lustre, as I spoke those names,

Sacred to every peasant in the mountains,

Your own and Walter Fürst’s. Whate’er your voice

Should dictate as the right, they swore to do;

And you they swore to follow e’en to death.

—So sped I on from house to house, secure

In the guest’s sacred privilege;—and when

I reached at last the valley of my home,

Where dwell my kinsmen, scatter’d far and near—

And when I found my father, stript and blind,

Upon the stranger’s straw, fed by the alms

Of charity—

Stauff.Great Heaven!

Melch.Yet wept I not!

No—not in weak and unavailing tears

Spent I the force of my fierce burning anguish;

Deep in my bosom, like some precious treasure,

I lock’d it fast, and thought on deeds alone.

Through every winding of the hills I crept,—

No valley so remote but I explored it;

Nay, at the very glacier’s ice-clad base,

I sought and found the homes of living men;

And still, where’er my wandering footsteps turn’d,

The selfsame hatred of these tyrants met me.

For even there, at vegetation’s verge,

Where the numb’d earth is barren of all fruits,

Their grasping hands had been for plunder thrust.

Into the hearts of all this honest race,

The story of my wrongs struck deep, and now

They, to a man, are ours; both heart and hand.

Stauff.Great things, indeed, you’ve wrought in little time.

Melch.I did still more than this. The fortresses,

Rossberg and Sarnen, are the country’s dread;

For from behind their adamantine walls

The foe, like eagle from his eyrie, swoops,

And, safe himself, spreads havoc o’er the land.

With my own eyes I wish’d to weigh its strength,

So went to Sarnen, and explored the castle.

Stauff.How! Venture even into the tiger’s den?

Melch.Disguised in pilgrim’s weeds I entered it;

I saw the Viceroy feasting at his board—

Judge if I’m master of myself or no!

I saw the tyrant, and I slew him not!

Stauff.Fortune, indeed, upon your boldness smiled.[Meanwhile the others have arrived and join MELCHTHAL and STAUFFACHER.

Yet tell me now, I pray, who are the friends,

The worthy men, who came along with you?

Make me acquainted with them, that we may

Speak frankly, man to man, and heart to heart.

Meyer.In the three Cantons, who, sir, knows not you?

Meyer of Sarnen is my name; and this

Is Struth of Winkelried, my sister’s son.

Stauff.No unknown name. A Winkelried it was,

Who slew the dragon in the fen at Weiler,

And lost his life in the encounter, too.

Wink.That, Master Stauffacher, was my grandfather.

Melch.(pointing to two peasants). These two are men who till the cloister lands

Of Engelberg, and live behind the forest.

You’ll not think ill of them, because they’re serfs,

And sit not free upon the soil, like us.

They love the land, and bear a good repute.

Stauff.(to them). Give me your hands. He has good cause for thanks,

That to no man his body’s service owes.

But worth is worth, no matter where ’tis found.

Hun.That is Herr Reding, sir, our old Landamman.

Meyer.I know him well. I am at law with him

About a piece of ancient heritage.

Herr Reding, we are enemies in court,

Here we are one.[Shakes his hand.

Stauff.That’s well and bravely said.

Wink.Listen! They come. The horn of Uri! Hark![On the right and left armed men are seen descending the rocks with torches.

Mauer.Look, is not that the holy man of God?

A worthy priest! The terrors of the night,

And the way’s pains and perils scare not him,

A faithful shepherd caring for his flock.

Baum.The Sacrist follows him, and Walter Fürst. But where is Tell? I do not see him there.[WALTER FÜRST, ROSSELMANN the Pastor, PETERMANN the Sacrist, KUONI the Shepherd, WERNI the Huntsman, RUODI the Fisherman, and five other countrymen, thirty-three in all, advance and take their places round the fire.

Fürst.Thus must we, on the soil our fathers left us,

Creep forth by stealth to meet like murderers,

And in the night, that should her mantle lend

Only to crime and black conspiracy,

Assert our own good rights, which yet are clear

As is the radiance of the noonday sun.

Melch.So be it. What is hatch’d in gloom of night

Shall free and boldly meet the morning light.

Rossel.Confederates! Listen to the words which God

Inspires my heart withal. Here we are met,

To represent the general weal. In us

Are all the people of the land convened.

Then let us hold the Diet, as of old,

And as we’re wont in peaceful times to do.

The time’s necessity be our excuse,

If there be aught informal in this meeting.

Still, wheresoe’er men strike for justice, there

Is God, and now beneath His heav’n we stand.

Stauff.’Tis well advised.—Let us, then, hold the Diet,

According to our ancient usages.—

Though it be night, there’s sunshine in our cause.

Melch.Few though our numbers be, the hearts are here

Of the whole people; here the BEST are met.

Hunn.The ancient books may not be near at hand,

Yet are they graven in our inmost hearts.

Rössel.’Tis well. And now, then, let a ring be formed,

And plant the swords of power within the ground.

Mauer.Let the Landamman step into his place,

And by his side his secretaries stand.

Sacrist.There are three Cantons here. Which hath the right

To give the head to the united Council?

Schwytz may contest that dignity with Uri,

We Unterwald’ners enter not the field.

Melch.We stand aside. We are but suppliants here,

Invoking aid from our more potent friends.

Stauff.Let Uri have the sword. Her banner takes,

In battle, the precedence of our own.

Fürst.Schwytz, then, must share the honour of the sword;

For she’s the honoured ancestor of all.

Rössel.Let me arrange this generous controversy.

Uri shall lead in battle—Schwytz in Council.

Fürst.(gives STAUFFACHER his hand).
Then take your place.

Stauff.Not I. Some older man.

Hofe. Ulrich, the smith, is the most aged here.

Mauer. A worthy man, but not a freeman; no!

—No bondman can be judge in Switzerland.

Stauff. Is not Herr Reding here, our old Landamman?

Where can we find a worthier man than he?

Fürst.Let him be Amman and the Diet’s chief!

You that agree with me, hold up your hands![All hold up their right hands.

Reding.(stepping into the center). I cannot lay my hands upon the books;

But by yon everlasting stars I swear,

Never to swerve from justice and the right.[The two swords are placed before him, and a circle formed; Schwytz in the centre, Uri on his right, Unterwald on his left.

Reding.(resting on his battle-sword). Why, at the hour when spirits walks the earth,

Meet the three Cantons of the mountains here,

Upon the lake’s inhospitable shore?

What may the purport be of this new league

We here contract beneath the starry heaven?

Stauff.(entering the circle).
’Tis no new league that there we now contract,

But one fathers framed, in ancient times,

We purpose to renew! For know, confederates,

Though mountain ridge and lake divide out bounds,

And each Canton by its own laws is ruled,

Yet are we but one race, born of one blood,

And all are children of one common home.

Wink.Is then the burden of our legends true,

That we came hither from a distant land?

Oh, tell us what you know, that our new league

May reap fresh vigour form the leagues of old.

Stauff.Hear, then, what aged herdsmen tell. There dwelt

A mighty people in the land that lies

Back to the north. The scourage of famine came;

And in this strait ’twas publicly resolved,

That each tenth man, on whom the lot might fall,

Should leave the country. They obey’d—and forth,

With loud lamentings, men and women went,

A mighty host; and to the south moved on.

Cutting their way through Germany by the sword,

Until they gained these pine-clad hills of ours;

Nor stopp’d they ever on their forward course,

Till at the shaggy dell they halted, where

The Muta flows through its luxuriant meads.

No trace of human creature met their eye,

Save one poor hut upon the desert shore,

Where dwelt a lonely man, and kept the ferry.

a tempest raged—the lake rose mountains high

And barr’d their further progress. Thereupon

They view’d the country—found it rich in wood,

Discover’d goodly springs, and felt as they

Were in their own dear native land once more.

Then they resolved to settle on the spot;

Erected there the ancient town of Schwytz;

And many a day of toil had they to clear

The tangled brake and forest’s spreading roots.

Meanwhile their numbers grew, the soil became

Unequal to sustain them, and they cross’d

To the black mountain, far as Weissland, where,

Conceal’d behind eternal walls of ice,

Another people speak another tongue.

They built the village Stanz, beside the Kernwald;

The village Altdorf, in the vale of Reuss;

Yet, ever mindfull of their parent stem,

The men of Schywtz, from all the stranger race,

That since that time have settled in the land,

Each other recognize. Their hearts still know,

And beat fraternally to kindred blood.[Extends his hand right and left.

Mauer.Ay, we are all one heart, one blood, one race!

All(joining hands). We are one people, and will act as one.

Stauff.The nations round us bear a foreign yoke;

For they have to the conqueror succumbed.

Nay, e’en within our frontiers may be found

Some, that owe villein service to a lord,

A race of bonded serfs from sire to son.

But we, the genuine race of ancient Swiss,

Have kept our freedom from the first till now.

Never to princes have we bow’d the knee;

Freely we sought protection of the Empire.

Rössel.Freely we sought it—freely it was given.

’Tis so set down in Emperor Frederick’s charter.

Stauff.For the most free have still some feudal lord

There must be still a chief, a judge supreme,

To whom appeal may lie, in case of strife.

And therefore was it, that our sires allow’d,

For what they had recover’d from the waste

This honour to the Emperor, the lord

Of all the German and Italian soil;

And, like the other free men of his realm,

Engaged to aid him with their swords in war;

The free man’s duty this alone should be,

To guard the Empire that keeps guard for him.

Melch.He’s but a slave that would acknowledge more.

Stauff.They followed, when the Heribann went forth,

The imperial standard, and they fought its battles!

To Italy they march’d in arms, to place

The Cæsars’ crown upon the Emperor’s head.

But still at home they ruled themselves in peace,

By their own laws and ancient usages.

The Emperor’s only right was to adjudge

The penalty of death; he therefore named

Some mighty noble as his delegate,

That had no stake or interest in the land,

Who was call’d in, when doom was to be pass’d,

And, in the face of day, pronounced decree,

Clear and distinctly, fearing no man’s hate.

What traces here, that we are bondsmen? Speak,

If there be any can gainsay my words!

Hofe.No! You have spoken but the simple truth;

We never stoop’d beneath a tyrant’s yoke.

Stauff.Even to the Emperor we did not submit,

When he gave judgment ’gainst us for the church;

For when the Abbey of Einsiedlen claimed

The Alp our fathers and ourselves had grazed,

And showed an ancient charter, which bestowed

The land on them as being ownerless—

For our existence there had been concealed—

What was our answer? This: “The grant is void.

No Emperor can bestow what is our own:

And if the Empire shall deny our rights,

We can, within our mountains, right ourselves!”

Thus spake our fathers! And shall we endure

The shame and infamy of this new yoke,

And from the vassal brook what never king

Dared, in his plenitude of power, attempt?

This soil we have created for ourselves,

By the hard labour of our hands; we’ve changed

The giant forest, that was erst the haunt

Of savage bears, into a home for man;

Extirpated the dragon’s brood, that wont

To rise, distent with venom, from the swamps;

Rent the thick misty canopy that hung

Its blighting vapours on the dreary waste;

Blasted the solid rock; across the chasm

Thrown the firm bridge for the wayfaring man.

By the possession of a thousand years

The soil is ours. And shall an alien lord,

Himself a vassal, dare to vanture here,

Insult us by our own hearth fires,—attempt

To forge the chains of bondage for our hands,

And do us shame on our own proper soil?

Is there no help against such wrong as this?[Great sensation among the people.

Yes! there’s a limit to the despot’s power!

When the oppress’d for justice looks in vain,

When his sore burden may no more be borne,

With fearless heart he makes appeal to Heaven,

And thence brings down his everlasting rights,

Which there abide, inalienably his,

And indestructible as are the stars.

Nature’s primaeval state returns again,

Where man stands hostile to his fellow man;

And if all other means shall fail his need,

One last resource remains—his own good sword.

Our dearest treasures call to us for aid,

Against the oppressor’s violence; we stand

For country, home, for wives, for children here!

All(clashing their swords). Here stand we for our homes, our wives, and children.

Rössel.(stepping into the circle). Bethink ye well, before ye draw the sword.

Some peaceful compromise may yet be made;

Speak but one word, and at your feet you’ll see

The men who now oppress you. Take the terms

That have been often tendered you; renounce

The Empire, and to Austria swear allegiance!

Mauer.What says the priest? To Austria allegiance?

Buhel.Hearken not to him!

Winkelreid.’Tis a traitor’s counsel,

His country’s foe!

Reding.Peace, peace, confederates!

Sewa.Homage to Austria, after wrongs like these!

Flue.Shall Austria extort from us by force

What we denied to kindness and entreaty?

Meyer.Then should we all be slaves, deservedly.

Mauer.Yes! Let him forfeit all a Switzer’s rights,

Who talks of yielding thus to Austria’s yoke!

I stand on this, Landamman. Let this be

The foremost of our laws!

Melch.Even so! Whoe’er

Shall talk of bearing Austria’s yoke, let him

Of all his rights and honours be despoiled,

No man thenceforth receive him at his hearth!

All(raising their right hands). Agreed! Be this the law!

Reding.(After a pause). The law it is.

Rössel.Now you are free—this law hath made you free.

Never shall Austria obtain by force

What she has fail’d to gain by friendly suit.

Weil.On with the order of the day! Proceed!

Reding.Confederates! Have all gentler means been tried?

Perchance the Emp’ror knows not of our wrongs,

It may not be his will we suffer thus:

Were it not well to make one last attempt,

And lay our grievances before the throne,

Ere we unsheath the sword? Force is at best

A fearful thing e’en in a righteous cause;

God only helps, when man can help no more.

Stauff.(to CONRAD HUNN).
Here you can give us information. Speak!

Hunn.I was at Rheinfeld, at the Emperor’s Court,

Deputed by the Cantons to complain

Of the oppressions of these governors,

And of our liberties the charter claim,

Which each new king till now has ratified.

I found the envoys there of many a town,

From Suabia and the valley of the Rhine,

Who all received their parchments as they wish’d,

And straight went home again with merry heart.

But me, your envoy, they to the Council sent,

Where I with empty cheer was soon dismiss’d:

“The Emperor at present was engaged;

Some other time he would attend to us!”

I turn’d away, and passing through the hall,

With heavy heart, in a recess I saw

The Grand Duke John in tears, and by his side

The noble lords of Wart and Tegerfeld,

Who beckon’d me, and said, “Redress yourselves.

Expect not justice from the Emperor.

Does he not plunder his own brother’s child,

And keep from him his just inheritance?”

The Duke claims his maternal property,

Urging he’s now of age, and ’tis full time,

That he should rule his people and estates;

What is the answer made to him? The King

Places a chaplet of his head; “Behold

The fitting ornament,” he cries, “of youth!”

Mauer.You hear. Expect not from the Emperor

Or right or justice! Then redress yourselves!

Reding.No other course is left us. Now, advise

What plan most likely to ensure success.

Fürst.To shake a thraldom off that we abhor,

To keep our ancient rights inviolate,

As we received them from our fathers,—this,

Not lawless innovation, is our aim.

Let Cæsar still retain what is his due;

And he that is a vassal, let him pay

The service he is sworn to faithfully.

Meyer.I hold my land of Austria in fief.

Fürst.Continue, then, to pay your feudal dues.

Weil.I’m tenant of the lords of Rappersweil.

Fürst.Continue, then, to pay them rent and tithe.

Rössel.Of Zurich’s abbess humble vassal I.

Fürst.Give to the cloister, what the cloister claims.

Stauff.The Empire only is my feudal lord.

Fürst.What needs must be, we’ll do, but nothing more.

We’ll drive these tyrants and their minions hence,

And raze their towering strongholds to the ground,

Yet shed, if possible, no drop of blood,

Let the Emperor see that we were driven to cast

The sacred duties of respect away;

And when he finds we keep within our bounds,

His wrath, belike, may yield to policy;

For truly is that nation to be fear’d,

That, arms in hand, is temperate in its wrath.

Reding.But prithee tell us how may this be done?

The enemy is arm’d as well as we,

And, rest assured, he will not yield in peace.

Stauff.He will, whene’er he sees us up in arms;

We shall surprise him, ere he is prepared.

Meyer.Easily said, but not so easily done.

Two strongholds dominate the country—they

Protect the foe, and should the King invade us,

Our task would then be dangerous, indeed.

Rossberg and Sarnen both must be secured,

Before a sword is drawn in either Canton.

Stauff.Should we delay, the foe would soon be warned;

We are too numerous for secrecy.

Meyer.There is no traitor in the Forest States.

Rössel.But even zeal may heedlessly betray.

Fürst.Delay it longer, and the keep at Altdorf

Will be complete,—the governor secure.

Meyer.You think but of yourselves.

Sacris.You are unjust!

Meyer.Unjust! said you? Dares Uri taunt us so?

Reding.Peace, on your oath!

Sacris.If Schwytz be leagued with Uri,

Why, then, indeed, we must perforce be dumb.

Reding.And let me tell you, in the Diet’s name,

Your hasty spirit much disturbs the peace.

Stand we not all for the same common cause?

Wink.What, if till Christmas we delay? ’Tis then

The custom for the serfs to throng the castle,

Bringing the Governor their annual gifts.

Thus may some ten or twelve selected men

Assemble unobserved, within its walls.

Bearing about their persons pikes of steel,

Which may be quickly mounted upon staves,

For arms are not admitted to the fort.

The rest can fill the neighb’ring wood, prepared

To sally forth upon a trumpet’s blast,

Soon as their comrades have secured the gate;

And thus the castle will with ease be ours.

Melch.The Rossberg I will undertake to scale.

I have a sweetheart in the garrison,

Whom with some tender words I could persuade

To lower me at night a hempen ladder.

Once up, my friends will not be long behind.

Reding.Are all resolved in favor of delay?[The majority raise their hands.

Stauff.(counting them). Twenty to twelve is the majority.

Fürst.If on the appointed day the castles fall,

From mountain on to mountain we shall speed

The fiery signal: in the capital

Of every Canton quickly rouse the Landsturm.

Then, when these tyrants see our martial front,

Believe me, they will never make so bold

As risk the conflict, but will gladly take

Safe conduct forth beyond our boundaries.

Stauff.Not so with Gessler. He will make a stand.

Surrounded with his dread array of horse,

Blood will be shed before he quits the field,

And even expell’d he’d still be terrible.

’Tis hard, nay, dangerous, to spare his life.

Baum.Place me where’er a life is to be lost;

I owe my life to Tell, and cheerfully

Will pledge it for my country. I have clear’d

My honour, and my heart is now at rest.

Reding.Counsel will come with circumstance. Be patient!

Something must still be to the moment left.

Yet, while by night we hold our Diet here,

The morning, see, has on the mountain tops

Kindled her glowing beacon. Let us part,

Ere the broad sun surprise us.

Fürst.Do not fear.

The night wanes slowly from these vales of ours.[All have involuntarily taken off their caps, and contemplate the breaking of day, absorbed in silence.

Rössel.By this fair light which greeteth us, before

Those other nations, that, beneath us far,

In noisome cities pent, draw painful breath,

Swear we the oath of our confederacy!

A band of brothers true we swear to be,

Never to part in danger or in death![They repeat his words with three fingers raised.

We swear we will be free as were our sires,

And sooner die than live in slavery![All repeat as before.

We swear, to put our trust in God Most High,

And not to quail before the might of man![All repeat as before, and embrace each other.

Stauff.Now every man pursue his several way

Back to his friends, his kindred, and his home.

Let the herd winter up his flock, and gain

In secret friends for this great league of ours!

What for a time must be endured, endure,

And let the reckoning of the tyrants grow,

Till the great day arrive when they shall pay

The general and particular debt at once.

Let every man control his own just rage,

And nurse his vengeance for the public wrongs:

For he whom selfish interests now engage

Defrauds the general weal of what to it belongs.[As they are going off in profound silence, in three different directions, the orchestra plays a solemn air. The empty scene remains open for some time showing the rays of the sun rising over the Glaciers.