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

Act V

Scene I

A common near Altdorf. In the background to the right the keep of Uri, with the scaffold still standing, as in the third scene of the first Act. To the left, the view opens upon numerous mountains, on all of which signal fires are burning. Day is breaking, and distant bells are heard ringing in several directions.

RUODI, KUONI, WERNI, MASTER MASON, and many other country people, also women and children.

Ruodi.See there! The beacons on the mountain heights!

Mason.Hark how the bells above the forest toll!

Ruodi.The enemy’s routed.

Mason.And the forts are storm’d.

Ruodi.And we of Uri, do we still endure

Upon our native soil the tyrant’s keep?

Are we the last to strike for liberty?

Mason.Shall the yoke stand, that was to curb our necks?

Up! Tear it to the ground!

All.Down, down with it!

Ruodi.Where is the Stier of Uri?

Uri.Here. What would ye?

Ruodi.Up to your tower, and wind us such a blast,

As shall resound afar, from peak to peak;

Rousing the echoes of each glen and hill,

To rally swiftly all the mountain men![Exit STIER OF URIEnter WALTER FÜRST.

Fürst.Stay, stay, my friends! As yet we have not learn’d

What has been done in Unterwald and Schwytz.

Let’s wait till we receive intelligence!

Ruodi.Wait, wait for what? The accursed tyrant’s dead

And on us freedom’s glorious day has dawn’d!

Mason.How! Are these flaming signals not enough,

That blaze on every mountain-top around?

Ruodi.Come all, fall to—come, men and women, all!

Destroy the scaffold! Burst the arches! Down,

Down with the walls, let not a stone remain!

Mason.Come, comrades, come! We built it, and we know

How best to hurl it down.

All.Come! Down with it![They fall upon the building on every side.

Fürst.The floodgate’s burst. They’re not to be restrained.[Enter MELCHTHAL and BAUMGARTEN.

Melch.What! Stands the fortress still, when Sarnen lies

In ashes, and the Rossberg’s in our hands?

Fürst.You, Melchthal, here? D’ye bring us liberty?

Are all the Cantons from our tyrants freed?

Melch.We’ve swept them from the soil. Rejoice, my friend,

Now, at this very moment, while we speak,

There’s not one tyrant left in Switzerland!

Fürst.How did you get the forts into your power?

Melch.Rudenz it was who by a bold assault

With manly valour mastered Sarnen’s keep.

The Rossberg I had storm’d the night before.

But hear, what chanced. Scarce had we driven the foe

Forth from the keep, and given it to the flames,

That now rose crackling upwards to the skies,

When from the blaze rush’d Diethelm, Gessler’s page,

Exclaiming, “Lady Bertha will be burnt!”

Fürst.Good heavens![The beams of the scaffold are heard falling.

Melch.’Twas she herself. Here had she been

By Gessler’s orders secretly immured.

Up sprang Rudenz in frenzy. For even now

The beams and massive posts were crashing down,

And through the stifling smoke the piteous shrieks

Of the unhappy lady.

Fürst.Is she saved?

Melch.’Twas not a time to hesitate or pause!

Had he been but our baron, and no more,

We should have been most chary of our lives;

But he was our confederate, and Bertha

Honour’d the people. So, without a thought,

We risk’d the worst, and rush’d into the flames.

Fürst.But is she saved?

Melch.She is. Rudenz and I

Bore her between us from the blazing pile.

With crashing timbers toppling all around.

And when she had revived, the danger past,

And raised her eyes to look upon the sun,

The baron fell upon my breast; and then

A silent vow between us two was sworn,

A vow that, welded in yon furnace heat,

Will last through ev’ry shock of time and fate.

Fürst.Where is the Landenberg?

Melch.Across the Brünig.

’Twas not my fault he bore his sight away;

He who had robb’d my father of his eyes!

He fled—I followed—overtook him soon,

And dragg’d him to my father’s feet. The sword

Already quiver’d o’er the caitiff’s head,

When from the pity of the blind old man,

He wrung the life which, craven-like, he begged.

He swore URPHEDE, never to return:

He’ll keep his oath, for he has felt our arm.

Fürst.Oh! well for you, you have not stain’d with blood

Our spotless victory!

Children(running across the stage with fragments of wood).

We’re free! we’re free!

Fürst.Oh! what a joyous scene! These children will

Remember it when all their heads are grey.[Girls bring in the cap upon a pole. The whole stage is filled with people.

Ruodi.Here is the cap, to which we were to bow!

Baum.What shall we do with it? Do you decide!

Fürst.Heavens! ’Twas beneath this cap my grandson stood!

Several Voices.Destroy the emblem of the tyrant’s power!

Let it be burnt!

Fürst.No. Rather be preserved;

’Twas once the instrument of despots—now

’Twill of our freedom be a lasting sign.[Peasants, men, women, and children, some standing, others sitting upon the beams of the shattered scaffold, all picturesquely grouped, in a large semicircle.

Melch.Thus now, my friends, with light and merry hearts,

We stand upon the wreck of tyranny;

And gloriously the work has been fulfilled,

Which we at Rootli pledged ourselves to do.

Fürst.No, not fulfilled. The work is but begun:

Courage and concord firm, we need them both;

For, be assured, the king will make all speed,

To avenge his Viceroy’s death, and reinstate,

By force of arms, the tyrant we’ve expelled.

Melch.Why let him come, with all his armaments!

The foe’s expelled, that press’d us from within.

The foe without we are prepared to meet!

Ruodi.The passes to our Cantons are but few;

These with our bodies we will block, we will!

Baum.Knit are we by a league will ne’er be rent,

And all his armies shall not make us quail.[Enter RÖSSELMANN and STAUFFACHER.

Rössel.(speaking as he enters). These are the awful judgments of the Lord!

Peas.What is the matter?

Rössel.In what times we live!

Fürst.Say on, what is’t? Ha, Werner, is it you?

What tidings?

Peas.What’s the matter?

Rössel.Hear and wonder!

Stauff.We are released from one great cause of dread.

Rössel.The Emperor is murdered.

Fürst.Gracious Heaven![PEASANTS rise up and throng round Stauffacher.

All.Murder’d!—the Emp’ror? What! The Emp’ror! Hear!

Melch.Impossible! How came you by the news?

Stauff.’Tis true! Near Bruck, by the assassin’s hand,

King Albert fell. A most trustworthy man,

John Müller, from Schaffhausen, brought the news.

Fürst.Who dared commit so horrible a deed?

Stauff.The doer makes the deed more dreadful still;

It was his nephew, his own brother’s son,

Duke John of Austria, who struck the blow.

Melch.What drove him to so dire a parricide?

Stauff.The Emp’ror kept his patrimony back,

Despite his urgent importunities;

’Twas said, he meant to keep it for himself,

And with a mitre to appease the duke.

However this may be, the duke gave ear

To the ill counsel of his friends in arms:

And with the noble lords, Von Eschenbach,

Von Tegerfeld, Von Wart and Palm, resolved,

Since his demands for justice were despised,

With his own hands to take revenge at least.

Fürst.But say—the dreadful deed, how was it done?

Stauff.The king was riding down from Stein to Baden,

Upon his way to join the court at Rheinfeld,—

With him a train of high-born gentlemen,

And the young Princes John and Leopold;

And when they’d reach’d the ferry of the Reuss,

The assassins forced their way into the boat,

To separate the Emperor from his suite.

His highness landed, and was riding on

Across a fresh plough’d field—where once, they say,

A mighty city stood in Pagan times—

With Hapsburg’s ancient turrets full in sight,

That was the cradle of his princely race.

When Duke John plunged a dagger in his throat,

Palm ran him thro’ the body with his lance,

And Eschenbach, to end him, clove his skull;

So down he sank, all weltering in his blood,

On his own soil, by his own kinsmen slain.

Those on the opposite bank beheld the deed,

But, parted by the stream, could only raise

An unavailing cry of loud lament.

A poor old woman, sitting by the way,

Raised him, and on her breast he bled to death.

Melch.Thus has he dug his own untimely grave,

Who sought insatiably to grasp it all.

Stauff.The country round is fill’d with dire alarm,

The passes are blockaded everywhere,

And sentinels on ev’ry frontier set;

E’en ancient Zurich barricades her gates,

That have stood open for these thirty years,

Dreading the murd’rers and th’ avengers more.

For cruel Agnes comes, the Hungarian Queen,

By all her sex’s tenderness untouch’d,

Arm’d with the thunders of the ban, to wreak

Dire vengeance for her parent’s royal blood,

On the whole race of those that murder’d him,—

Their servants, children, children’s children,—yea,

Upon the stones that built their castle walls.

Deep has she sworn a vow to immolate

Whole generations on her father’s tomb,

And bathe in blood as in the dew of May.

Melch.Is’t known which way the murderers have fled?

Stauff.No sooner had they done the deed, than they

Took flight, each following a different route,

And parted ne’er to see each other more.

Duke John must still be wand’ring in the mountains.

Fürst.And thus their crime has borne no fruit for them.

Revenge bears never fruit. Itself, it is

The dreadful food it feeds on; its delight

Is murder—its satiety despair.

Stauff.The assassins reap no profit by their crime;

But we shall pluck with unpolluted hands

The teeming fruits of their most bloody deed.

For we are ransomed from our heaviest fear;

The direst foe of liberty has fallen,

And, ’tis reported, that the crown will pass

From Hapsburg’s house into another line;

The Empire is determined to assert

Its old prerogative of choice, I hear.

Fürst(and several others). Is any named?

Stauff.The Count of Luxembourg’s

Already chosen by the general voice.

Fürst.’Tis well we stood so staunchly by the Empire!

Now we may hope for justice, and with cause.

Stauff.The Emperor will need some valiant friends.

He will ’gainst Austria’s vengeance be our shield.[The peasantry embrace. Enter SACRISTAN with Imperial messenger.

Sacris.Here are the worthy chiefs of Switzerland!

Rössel.(and several others.) Sacrist, what news?

Sacris.A courier brings this letter.

All(to WALTER FÜRST). Open and read it.

Fürst(reading).“To the worthy men

Of Uri, Schwytz, and Unterwald, the Queen

Elizabeth sends grace and all good wishes.”

Many Voices.What wants the queen with us? Her reign is done.

Fürst(reads). “In the great grief and doleful widowhood,

In which the bloody exit of her lord

Has plunged the queen, still in her mind she bears

The ancient faith and love of Switzerland.”

Melch.She ne’er did that in her prosperity.

Rössel.Hush, let us hear!

Fürst(reads).“And she is well assured,

Her people will in due abhorrence hold

The perpetrators of this damned deed.

On the three Cantons, therefore, she relies,

That they in nowise lend the murderers aid;

But rather, that they loyally assist,

To give them up to the avenger’s hand,

Remembering the love and grace which they

Of old received from Rudolph’s royal house.”[Symptoms of dissatisfaction among the peasantry.

Many Voices.The love and grace!

Stauff.Grace from the father we, indeed, received,

But what have we to boast of from the son?

Did he confirm the charter of our freedom,

As all preceding emperors had done?

Did he judge righteous judgment, or afford

Shelter, or stay, to innocence oppress’d?

Nay, did he e’en give audience to the men

We sent to lay our grievances before him?

Not one of all these things did the king do,

And had we not ourselves achieved our rights

By our own stalwart hands, the wrongs we bore

Had never touch’d him. Gratitude to him!

Within these vales he sowed no seeds of that;

He stood upon an eminence—he might

Have been a very father to his people,

But all his aim and pleasure was to raise

Himself and his own house: and now may those

Whom he has aggrandized, lament for him.

Fürst.We will not triumph in his fall, nor now

Recall to mind the wrongs that we endured.

Far be’t from us! Yet, that we should avenge

The sovereign’s death, who never did us good,

And hunt down those who ne’er molested us,

Becomes us not, nor is our duty. Love

Must be a tribute free, and unconstrain’d;

From all enforced duties death absolves,

And unto him we owe no further debt.

Melch.And if the queen laments within her bower,

Accusing Heaven in sorrow’s wild despair;

Here see a people, from its anguish freed,

To that same Heav’n send up its thankful praise.

Who would reap tears, must sow the seeds of love.[Exit the Imperial courier.

Stauff.(to the people). But where is Tell? Shall he, our freedom’s founder,

Alone be absent from our festival?

He did the most—endured the worst of all.

Come—to his dwelling let us all repair,

And bid the Saviour of our country hail![Exeunt omnes.