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

Act IV

Scene III

The pass near Küssnacht, sloping down from behind, with rocks on either side. The travellers are visible upon the heights, before they appear on the stage. Rocks all round the stage. Upon one of the foremost a projecting cliff overgrown with brushwood.

Tell.(enters with his crossbow). Through this ravine he needs must come. There is

No other way to Küssnacht. Here I’ll do it!

The ground is everything I could desire.

Yon elder bush will hide me from his view,

And from that point my shaft is sure to hit.

The straitness of the gorge forbids pursuit.

Now, Gessler, balance thine account with Heaven!

Thou must away from earth,—thy sand is run.

Quiet and harmless was the life I led,

My bow was bent on forest game alone;

No thoughts of murder rested on my soul.

But thou hast scared me from my dream of peace;

The milk of human kindness thou hast turn’d

To rankling poison in my breast; and made

Appalling deeds familiar to my soul.

He who could make his own child’s head his mark,

Can speed his arrow to his foeman’s heart.

My boys, poor innocents, my loyal wife,

Must be protected, tyrant, from thy rage!

When last I drew my bow—with trembling hand—

And thou, with fiendishly remorseless glee

Forced me to level at my own boy’s head,

When I, imploring pity, writhed before thee,

Then in the anguish of my soul, I vow’d

A fearful oath, which met God’s ear alone,

That when my bow next wing’d an arrow’s flight,

Its aim should be thy heart. The vow I made,

Amid the hellish torments of that moment,

I hold a sacred debt, and I will pay it.

Thou art my lord, my Emperor’s delegate;

Yet would the Emperor not have stretch’d his power,

So far as thou hast done. He sent thee here

To deal forth law—stern law—for he is wroth;

But not to wanton with unbridled will

In every cruelty, with fiend-like joy:—

There lives a God to punish and avenge.

Come forth, thou bringer once of bitter pangs,

My precious jewel now,—my chiefest treasure—

A mark I’ll set thee, which the cry of grief

Could never penetrate,—but thou shalt pierce it,—

And thou, my trusty bowstring, that so oft

For sport has served me faithfully and well,

Desert me not in this dread hour of need,—

Only be true this once, my own good cord,

That hast so often wing’d the biting shaft:—

For shouldst thou fly successless from my hand,

I have no second to send after thee.[Travellers pass over the stage.

I’ll sit me down upon this bench of stone,

Hewn for the way-worn traveller’s brief repose—

For here there is no home. Men hurry past

Each other, with quick step and careless look,

Nor stay to question of their grief. Here goes

The merchant, all anxiety,—the pilgrim,

With scanty furnished scrip,—the pious monk,

The scowling robber, and the jovial player,

The carrier with his heavy-laden horse,

That comes to us from the far haunts of men;

For every road conducts to the world’s end.

They all push onwards—every man intent

On his own several business—mine is murder![Sits down.

Time was, my dearest children, when with joy

You hail’d your father’s safe return to home

From his long mountain toils; for, when he came,

He ever brought with him some little gift,—

A lovely Alpine flower—a curious bird—

Or elf-bolt such as on the hills are found.

But now he goes in quest of other game,

Sits in this gorge, with murder in his thoughts,

And for his enemy’s life-blood lies in wait.

But still it is of you alone he thinks,

Dear children. ’Tis to guard your innocence,

To shield you from the tyrant’s fell revenge,

He bends his bow to do a deed of blood![Rises.

Well—I am watching for a noble prey—

Does not the huntsman, with unflinching heart,

Roam for whole days, when winter frosts are keen,

Leap at the risk of death from rock to rock,—

And climb the jagged, slippery steeps, to which

His limbs are glued by his own streaming blood—

And all to hunt a wretched chamois down?

A far more precious prize is now my aim—

The heart of that dire foe, who seeks my life.[Sprightly music heard in the distance, which comes gradually nearer.

From my first years of boyhood I have used

The bow—been practised in the archer’s feats;

The bull’s eye many a time my shafts have hit,

And many a goodly prize have I brought home

From competitions. But this day I’ll make

My master-shot, and win what’s best to win

In the whole circuit of our mountain range.[A bridal party passes over the stage, and goes up the pass. TELL gazes at it, leaning on his bow. He is joined by STUSSI, the Ranger.

Stussi.There goes the cloister bailiff’s bridal train

Of Mörlischachen. A rich fellow he!

And has some half score pastures on the Alps.

He goes to fetch his bride from Imisee.

At Küssnacht there will be high feast to-night—

Come with us—ev’ry honest man is asked.

Tell.A gloomy guest fits not a wedding feast.

Stussi.If you’ve a trouble, dash it from your heart!

Take what Heaven sends! The times are heavy now,

And we must snatch at pleasure as it flies.

Here ’tis a bridal, there a burial.

Tell.And oft the one close on the other treads.

Stussi.So runs the world we live in. Everywhere

Mischance befalls and misery enough.

In Glarus there has been a landslip, and

A whole side of the Glärnisch has fallen in.

Tell.How! Do the very hills begin to quake?

There is stability for nought on earth.

Stussi.Of strange things, too, we hear from other parts.

I spoke with one but now, from Baden come,

Who said a knight was on his way to court,

And, as he rode along, a swarm of wasps

Surrounded him, and settling on his horse,

So fiercely stung the beast, that it fell dead,

And he proceeded to the court on foot.

Tell.The weak are also furnish’d with a sting. (ARMGART enters with several children, and places herself at the entrance of the pass.)

Stussi.’Tis thought to bode disaster to the land,—

Some horrid deeds against the course of nature.

Tell.Why, every day brings forth such fearful deeds;

There needs no prodigy to herald them.

Stussi.Ay, happy he who tills his field in peace,

And sits at home untroubled with his kin.

Tell.The very meekest cannot be at peace

If his ill neighbour will not let him rest.[TELL looks frequently with restless expectation towards the top of the pass.

Stussi.So fare you well! You’re waiting some one here?

Tell.I am.

Stussi.God speed you safely to your home!

You are from Uri, are you not? His grace

The Governor’s expected thence to-day.

Traveller(entering). Look not to see the Governor to-day.

The streams are flooded by the heavy rains,

And all the bridges have been swept away.[TELL rises.

Arm.(coming forward).Gessler not coming?

Stussi.Want you aught with him?

Arm.Alas, I do!

Stussi.Why, then, thus place yourself

Where you obstruct his passage down the pass?

Arm.Here he cannot escape me. He must hear me.

Friess.(coming hastily down the pass and calls upon the stage). Make way, make way! My lord, the Governor,

Is close behind me, riding down the pass.[Exit TELL.

Arm.(excitedly).The Viceroy comes![She goes towards the pass with her children, GESSLER and RUDOLPH DER HARRAS appear on horseback at the upper end of the pass.

Stussi.(to FRIESS). How got ye through the stream,

When all the bridges have been carried down?

Friess.We’ve fought, friend, with the tempest on the lake;

An Alpine torrent’s nothing after that.

Stussi.How! Were you out, then, in that dreadful storm?

Friess.We were! I’ll not forget it while I live.

Stussi.Stay, speak—

Friess.I can’t—must to the castle haste,

And tell them, that the Governor’s at hand.[Exit.

Stussi.If honest men, now, had been in the ship,

It had gone down with every soul on board:—

Some folks are proof’ gainst fire and water both.[Looking round.

Where has the huntsman gone with whom I spoke?[Exit.

Enter GESSLER and RUDOLPH DER HARRAS on horseback.

Gessl.Say what you will; I am the Emperor’s liege,

And how to please him my first thought must be.

He did not send me here to fawn and cringe,

And coax these boors into good humour. No!

Obedience he must have. The struggle’s this:

Is king or peasant to be sovereign here?

Arm.Now is the moment! Now for my petition!

Gessl.’Twas no in sport that I set up the cap

In Altdorf—or to try the people’s hearts—

All this I knew before. I set it up

That they might learn to bend those stubborn necks

They carry far too proudly—and I placed

What well I knew their pride could never brook

Full in the road, which they perforce must pass,

That, when their eye fell on it, they might call

That lord to mind whom they too much forget.

Har.But surely, sir, the people have some rights—

Gessl.This is not time to settle what they are.

Great projects are at work, and hatching now.

The imperial house seeks to extend its power.

Those vast designs of conquest which the sire

Has gloriously begun, the son will end.

This petty nation is a stumbling-block—

One way or other, it must be put down.[They are about to pass on. ARMGART throws herself down before GESSLER.

Arm.Mercy, Lord Governor! Oh, pardon, pardon!

Gessl.Why do you cross me on the public road?

Stand back, I say.

Arm.My husband lies in prison;

My wretched orphans cry for bread. Have pity,

Pity, my lord, upon our sore distress!

Har.Who are you? and your husband, what is he?

Arm.A poor wild hay-man of the Rigiberg,

Kind sir, who on the brow of the abyss,

Mows the unowner’d grass from craggy shelves,

To which the very cattle dare not climb.

Har.(to GESSL.).

By Heaven! a sad and pitiable life!

I pray you set the wretched fellow free.

How great soever may be his offence,

His horrid trade is punishment enough.[To ARMGART.

You shall have justice. To the castle bring

Your suit. This is no place to deal with it.

Arm.No, no, I will not stir from where I stand,

Until your grace gives me my husband back.

Six months already has he been shut up,

And waits the sentence of a judge in vain.

Gessl.How! would you force me, woman? Hence! Begone!

Arm.Justice, my lord! Ay, justice! Thou art judge:

Vice-regent of the Emperor—of Heaven.

Then do thy duty,—as thou hopest for justice

From Him who rules above, show it to us!

Gessl.Hence! Drive this insolent rabble from my sight!

Arm.(seizing his horse’s reins).

No, no, by Heaven, I’ve nothing more to lose—

Thou stir’st not, Viceroy, from this spot, until

Thou dost me fullest justice. Knit thy brows,

And roll thine eyes—I fear not. Our distress

Is so extreme, so boundless, that we care

No longer for thine anger.

Gessl.Woman, hence!

Give way, or else my horse shall ride you down.

Arm.Well, let it!—there—[Throws her children and herself upon the ground before him.

Here on the ground I lie,

I and my children. Let the wretched orphans

Be trodden by thy horse into the dust!

It will not be the worst that thou hast done.

Har.Are you mad, woman?

Arm.(continuing with vehemence). Many a day thou hast

Trampled the Emperor’s lands beneath thy feet.

Oh, I am but a woman! Were I man,

I’d find some better thing to do, than here

Lie grovelling in the dust.[The music of the bridal party is again heard from the top of the pass, but more softly.

Gessl.Where are my knaves?

Drag her away, lest I forget myself,

And do some deed I may repent me of.

Har.My lord, the servants cannot force their way;

The pass is block’d up by a bridal train.

Gessl.Too mild a ruler am I to this people,

Their tongues are all too bold—nor have they yet

Been tamed to due submission, as they shall be.

I must take order for the remedy;

I will subdue this stubborn mood of theirs,

This braggart spirit of freedom I will crush,

I will proclaim a new law through the land;

I will—[An arrow pierces him,—he puts his hand on his heart and is about to sink—with a feeble voice.

Oh God, have mercy on my soul!

Har.My lord! my lord! Oh God! What’s this? Whence came it?

Arm.(starts up). Dead, dead! He reels, he falls! ’Tis in his heart!

Har.(springs from his horse). Horror of horrors! Heavenly powers! Sir Knight,

Address yourself for mercy to your God!

You are a dying man.

Gessl.That shot was Tell’s.[He slides from his horse into the arms of RUDOLPH DER HARRAS, who lays him down upon the bench. TELL appears above upon the rocks.

Tell.Thou know’st the marksman—I, and I alone.

Now are our homesteads free, and innocence

From thee is safe: thou’lt be our curse no more.[TELL disappears. People rush in.

Stussi.What is the matter? Tell me what has happen’d?

Arm.The Viceroy’s shot,—pierced by a crossbow bolt!

People(running in). Who has been shot?[While the foremost of the marriage party are coming on the stage, the hindmost are still upon the heights. The music continues.

Har.He’s bleeding fast to death.

Away, for help—pursue the murderer!

Unhappy man, is this to be your end?

You would not listen to my warning words.

Stussi.By Heaven, his cheek is pale! Life’s ebbing fast.

Many Voices.Who did the deed?

Har.What! Are the people mad,

That they make music to a murder? Silence![Music breaks off suddenly. People continue to flock in.

Speak, if you can, my lord. Have you no charge

To trust me with?[GESSLER makes signs with his hand, which he repeats with vehemence, when he fainds they are not understood.

Where shall I take you to?

To Küssnacht? What you say I can’t make out.

Oh, do not grow impatient! Leave all thought

Of earthly things and make your peace with Heaven.[The whole marriage party gather round the dying man.

Stussi.See there! how pale he grows! Death’s gathering now

About his heart;—his eyes grow dim and glazed.

Arm.(holds up a child). Look, children, how a tyrant dies!

Har.Mad hag!

Have you no touch of feeling, that your eyes

Gloat on a sight so horrible as this?

Help me—take hold. What, will not one assist

To pull the torturing arrow from his breast?

Women.What! touch the man whom God’s own hand has struck!

Har.All curses light on you![Draws his sword.

Stussi(seizes his arm).Gently, Sir Knight!

Your power is at end. ’Twere best forbear.

Our country’s foe has fallen. We will brook

No further violence. We are free men.

All.The country’s free.

Har.And is it come to this?

Fear and obedience at an end so soon?[To the soldiers of the guard who are thronging in.

You see, my friends, the bloody piece of work

Has here been done. ’Tis now too late for help,

And to pursue the murderer were vain.

We’ve other things to think of. On to Küssnacht.

And let us save that fortress for the King!

For in a moment such as this, all ties

Of order, fealty and faith, are rent.

And we can trust to no man’s loyalty.[As he is going out with the soldiers, six FRATRES MISERICORDIÆ appear.

Arm.Here comes the brotherhood of mercy. Room!

Stussi.The victim’s slain, and now the ravens stoop.

Brothers of Mercy(form a semicircle round the body, and sing in solemn tones).

Death hurries on with hasty stride,

No respite man from him may gain,

He cuts him down, when life’s full tide

Is throbbing strong in every vein.

Prepared or not the call to hear,

He must before his Judge appear.[While they are repeating the two last lines, the curtain falls.