William Tell: An Ode to Freedom

June 18 will begin at the green theater of Interlaken (Swiss) cycle of performances* from Telspile adapted from William Tell from Friedrich von Schiller. This luxurious open-air spectacle, organized every year since 1912, is not just a performance, it celebrates the birth of the Swiss Confederation with great feeling …

Say face to Gessler

At that time forest states (Waldstetten), still autonomous, were captured and occupied by Austrian troops. To symbolize the reign of Emperor Rudolf 1 of Austriauh The Habsburg hat of Schwyz bailiff Hermann Gessler was placed on a pole in the center of the village of Altdorf, the capital of the canton of Uri. The bailiff orders all villagers to be sure to salute this hat as they cross the square, as if the representative of Austria were physically present. William Tell arrives and refuses to succumb to this humiliation. Arrested by the bailiff’s armed men, Gessler sentences him to death, unless he proves that he is able to get an apple from a crossbow, lying at a distance on the head of his son Walter.

On the appointed day, forced by the Austrian soldiers, Tell obeys this demand and pierces the apple with a masterful shot. But Gessler realizes that the crossbowman has hidden the second bolt. Asked how he intended to use it, the shooter admits that the bolt was intended to kill the bailiff if Walter was unluckily wounded. Captured by the Austrians, Tell is taken by boat to the prison at Küsnacht Castle. But a hair dryer rises on Lake Lucerne. Tell, freed by the Austrians from the chains to steer the boat during a storm, throws the boat on the rocks near the shore and manages to escape. Soon after, he kills Gessler, whom he ambushed in a sunken lane. Insurrection Waldstetten you can start…

It is this story, built, like many other epics, on the crystallization of real facts and myths, that Schiller, eaten by tuberculosis, tells in his famous play. He confuses the legend of Tell with the reality of the uprising against the Austrian invaders, symbolized by the founding act of the Swiss Confederation: Oath 1uh August 1291. On this day, representatives of the cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden meet in the Rütli meadow on Lake Lucerne and, through their leaders Walter Fürst, Werner Stauffacher and Arnold de Melchthal, make, among other obligations, that ” help each other and come to the aid of anyone who tries to abuse them and harm their person or their property “.**

Since its premiere in Weimar on March 17, 1804, the play has enjoyed continued success and, quite naturally, has continued in Switzerland, where it is now a national monument, although it was written by a German and not a native of the Confederation. The performance’s bicentenary was even the occasion for an exceptional performance in Schwyz in 2004 at the historic Rütli Meadow by the German National Theater Company in Weimar, which came specially from Thuringia. But apart from this event, the great moment remains, year after year, Telspile Interlaken, which we come to watch from afar, not only from neighboring countries, but also from America, and sometimes from antipodes! It is true that the themes of freedom and oppression are universal and timeless.

The action takes place on a large open-air stage surrounded by the wooded foothills of Mount Rügen. Medieval wooden houses and the imposing walls of a castle under construction stand out against the backdrop of the forest. The play begins with the return of cattle driven from the mountain pasture where they spent the summer. Led by shepherds and shepherds, the animals cross the stage to the sound of bells, in front of the eyes and joyful cries of the villagers and their children. Shortly thereafter, the horses of the bailiff Gessler and his squad drive up to throw the hat of humiliation on top of the mast … All actors and extras, without the slightest exception, are amateurs: residents of Interlaken and nearby municipalities. . Some of them are employees, workers, technicians. Other merchants, artisans or students. They are all naturally amazing.

We watched this show three times with a difference of several years, my wife and I; and we walked away enthusiastically from every performance even though we didn’t speak (or barely spoke) German. Because besides a simple game, this is a real ode to freedom, colorful, exuberant, intelligent and superbly performed, celebrated year after year by the 170 people of Interlaken who are present on stage and filled with a sincere and communicative duty of memory. As for the spectators, they have nothing to worry about: if the vast green stage is exposed to possible bad weather, then all 1700 seats are covered, comfortable and offer a beautiful view of the medieval village. But shh, the show is about to begin: the lights of the stands have not yet gone out, when the bells of the approaching cattle are already ringing on the slopes of Rügen …

The most surprising thing about the character of William Tell is undoubtedly due to the fact that he was elevated, although very likely as a result of the meeting of different mythologies, into the rank of a freedom fighter in our Western world (including French, Russian and Spanish revolutionaries). And this is along with such powerful and charismatic figures as Joan of Arc, Robert the Bruce or George Washington. Undoubtedly, because Tell is the archetype of the hero that we all more or less consciously dream of. The hero is both rebellious and just, determined and intuitive, ready to give his life without calculation for his freedom and the freedom of his family. A hero whose image is still relevant in a world that is regularly subjected to unbearable and criminal attacks of an imperialist nature.

* There will be twenty performances of the show in 2022. Two of them, presented in the preview, as every year, will be reserved for the school public.

** Extract from the pact of 1291, kept in the archives of Schwyz.

Link: Video clips from the show

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.