Home  »  Wilhelm Tell  »  Act IV

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

Act IV

Scene I

Eastern shore of the Lake of Lucerne; rugged and singularly shaped rocks close the prospect to the west. The lake is agitated, violent roaring and rushing of wind, with thunder and lightning at intervals.

KUNZ OF GERSAU, Fisherman and Boy

Kunz.I saw it with these eyes! Believe me, friend,

It happen’d all precisely as I’ve said.

Fisher.How! Tell a prisoner, and to Küssnacht borne?

The best man in the land, the bravest arm,

Had we for liberty to strike a blow!

Kunz.The Viceroy takes him up the lake in person:

They were about to go on board, as I

Started from Flüelen; but the gathering storm,

That drove me here to land so suddenly,

May well have hindered them from setting out.

Fisher.Our Tell in chains, and in the Viceroy’s power!

O, trust me, Gessler will entomb him, where

He never more shall see the light of day;

For Tell once free, the tyrant well might dread

The just revenge of one so deeply wrong’d.

Kunz.The old Landamman, too—von Attinghaus—

They say, is lying at the point of death.

Fisher.Then the last anchor of our hopes gives way!

He was the only man that dared to raise

His voice in favour of the people’s rights.

Kunz.The storm grows worse and worse. So, fare ye well!

I’ll go and seek out quarters in the village.

There’ not a chance of getting off to-day.[Exit

Fisher.Tell dragg’d to prison, and the Baron dead!

Now, tyranny, exalt thy brazen front,—

Throw every shame aside! Truth’s voice is dumb!

The eye that watch’d for us, in darkness closed,

The arm that should have stuck thee down, in chains!

Boy.’Tis hailing hard—come, let us to the hut!

This is no weather to be out in, father!

Fisher.Rage on, ye winds! Ye lightnings, flash your fires!

Burst, ye swollen clouds! Ye cataracts of Heaven

Descend, and drown the country! In the germ

Destroy the generations yet unborn!

Ye savage elements, be lords of all!

Return, ye bears: ye ancient wolves, return

To this wide howling waste! The land is yours.

Who would live here, when liberty is gone?

Boy.Hark! How the wind whistles, and the whirlpool roars.

I never saw a storm so fierce as this!

Fisher.To level at the head of his own child!

Never had father such command before.

And shall not Nature, rising in wild wrath,

Revolt against the deed? I should not marvel,

Though to the lake these rocks should bow their heads,

Though yonder pinnacles, yon towers of ice,

That, since creation’s dawn, have known no thaw,

Should, from their lofty summits, melt away,—

Though yonder mountains, yon primeval cliffs,

Should topple down, and a new deluge whelm

Beneath its waves all living men’s abodes![Bells heard.

Boy.Hark, they are ringing on the mountain, yonder!

They surely see some vessel in distress.

And toll the bell that we may pray for it.[Ascends a rock.

Fisher.Woe to the bark that now pursues its course,

Rock’d in the cradle of these storm-tost waves!

Nor helm nor steersman here can aught avail;

The storm is master. Man is like a ball,

Toss’d ’twixt the winds and billows. Far or near,

No haven offers him its friendly shelter!

Without one ledge to grasp, the sheer smooth rocks

Look down inhospitably on his despair,

And only tender him their flinty breasts.

Boy(calling from above). Father, a ship: from Flüelen bearing down.

Fisher.Heaven pity the poor wretches! When the storm

Is once entangled in this strait of ours,

It rages like some savage beast of prey,

Struggling against its cage’s iron bars!

Howling, it seeks an outlet—all in vain;

For the rocks hedge it round on every side,

Walling the narrow gorge as high as Heaven.[He ascends a cliff.

Boy.It is the Governor of Uri’s ship;

By its red poop I know it, and the flag.

Fisher.Judgments of Heaven! Yes, it is he himself,

It is the Governor! Yonder he sails,

And with him bears the burden of his crimes.

The avenger’s arm has not been slow to strike!

Now over him he knows a mightier lord.

These waves yield no obedience to his voice.

These rocks bow not their heads before his cap.

Boy, do not pray; stay not the Judge’s arm!

Boy.I pray not for the Governor, I pray

For Tell, who’s with him there on board the ship.

Fisher.Alas, ye blind, unreasoning elements!

Must ye, in punishing one guilty head,

Destroy the vessel and the pilot too?

Boy.See, see, they’ve clear’d the Buggisgrat; but now

The blast, rebounding from the Devil’s Minster,

Has driven them back on the Great Axenberg.

I cannot see them now.

Fisher.The Hakmesser

Is there, that’s founder’d many a gallant ship.

If they should fail to double that with skill,

Their bark will go to pieces on the rocks,

That hide their jagged peaks below the lake.

The best of pilots, boy, they have on board.

If man could save them, Tell is just the man,

But he is manacled both hand and foot.[Enter WILLIAM TELL, with his cross-bow. He enters precipitately, looks wildly round, and testifies the most violent agitation. When he reaches the centre of the stage, he throws himself upon his knees, and stretches out his hands, first towards the earth, then towards Heaven.

Boy(observing him). See, father! A man on’s knees; who can it be?

Fisher.He clutches at the earth with both his hands,

And looks as though he were beside himself.

Boy(advancing). What do I see? Come father, come and look!

Fisher.(approaches). Who is it? God in Heaven! What! William Tell!

How came you hither? Speak, Tell!

Boy.Were you not

In yonder ship, a prisoner, and in chains?

Fisher.Were they not carrying you to Küssnacht, Tell?

Tell(rising). I am released.

Fisher. and Boy.Released, oh miracle!

Boy.Whence came you here?

Tell.From yonder vessel!


Boy.Where is the Viceroy?

Tell.Drifting on the waves.

Fisher.Is’t possible? But you! How are you here?

How ’scaped you from your fetters and the storm?

Tell.By God’s most gracious providence. Attend.

Fisher and Boy.Say on, say on!

Tell.You know what passed at Altdorf.

Fisher.I do—say on!

Tell.How I was seized and bound,

And order’d by the governor to Küssnacht.

Fisher.And how at Flüelen he embarked with you.

All this we know. Say, how have you escaped?

Tell.I lay on deck, fast bound with cords, disarm’d,

In utter hopelessness. I did not think

Again to see the gladsome light of day,

Nor the dear faces of my wife and boys,

And eyed disconsolate the waste of waters.—

Fisher.Oh, wretched man!

Tell.Then we put forth; the Viceroy,

Rudolph der Harras, and their suite. My bow

And quiver lay astern beside the helm;

And just as we had reached the corner, near

The little Axen, Heaven ordain’d it so,

That from the Gotthardt’s gorge, a hurricane

Swept down upon us with such headlong force,

That every oarsman’s heart within him sank,

And all on board look’d for a watery grave.

Then heard I one of the attendant train,

Turning to Gessler, in this wise accost him:

“You see our danger, and your own, my lord,

And that we hover on the verge of death.

The boatmen there are powerless from fear,

Nor are they confident what course to take;—

Now, here is Tell, a stout and fearless man,

And knows to steer with more than common skill,

How if we should avail ourselves of him

In this emergency?” The Viceroy then

Address’d me thus: “If thou wilt undertake

To bring us through this tempest safely, Tell,

I might consent to free thee from thy bonds.”

I answer’d, “Yes, my lord; so help me God,

I’ll see what can be done.” On this they loosed

The cords that bound me, and I took my place

Beside the helm, and steered as best I could,

Yet ever eyed my shooting gear askance,

And kept a watchful eye upon the shore,

To find some point where I might leap to land;

And when I had descried a shelving crag,

That jutted, smooth atop, into the lake—

Fisher.I know it. At the foot of the Great Axen;

So steep it looks, I never could have dreamt

That from a boat a man could leap to it.

Tell.I bade the men to row with all their force

Until we came before the shelving ledge.

For there, I said, the danger will be past!

Stoutly they pull’d, and soon we near’d the point;

One prayer to God for His assisting grace,

And, straining every muscle, I brought round

The vessel’s stern close to the rocky wall;

Then snatching up my weapons, with a bound

I swung myself upon the flattened shelf,

And with my feet thrust off, with all my might,

The puny bark into the watery hell.

There left it drift about, as Heaven ordains!

Thus am I here, deliver’d from the might

Of the dread storm, and man’s more dreadful still.

Fisher.Tell, Tell, the Lord has manifestly wrought

A miracle in thy behalf! I scarce

Can credit my own eyes. But tell me, now,

Whither you purpose to betake yourself?

For you will be in peril, should perchance

The Viceroy ’scape this tempest with his life.

Tell.I heard him say, as I lay bound on board,

At Brunnen he proposed to disembark,

And, crossing Schwytz, convey me to his castle.

Fisher.Means he to go by land?

Tell.So he intends.

Fisher.Oh, then conceal yourself without delay!

Not twice will Heaven release you from his grasp.

Tell.Which is the nearest way to Arth and Küssnacht?

Fisher.The public road leads by the way of Steinen,

But there’s a nearer road, and more retired,

That goes by Lowerz, which my boy can show you.

Tell(gives him his hand). May Heaven reward your kindness! Fare ye well.[As he is going, he comes back.

Did not you also take the oath at Rootli?

I heard your name, methinks.

Fisher.Yes, I was there,

And took the oath of the confederacy.

Tell.Then do me this one favour; speed to Bürglen—

My wife is anxious at my absence—tell her

That I am free, and in secure concealment.

Fisher.But whither shall I tell her you have fled?

Tell.You’ll find her father with her, and some more,

Who took the oath with you upon the Rootli;

Bid them be resolute, and strong of heart,—

For Tell is free and master of his arm;

They shall hear further news of me ere long.

Fisher.What have you, then, in view? Come, tell me frankly!

Tell.When once ’tis done, ’twill be in every mouth.[Exit.

Fisher.Show him the way, boy. Heaven be his support!

Whate’er he has resolved, he’ll execute.[Exit.