The Robbers

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First edition, 1781

The Robbers (Die Räuber) is the first drama by German playwright Friedrich Schiller. The play was published in 1781 and premiered on 13 January 1782 in Mannheim, Germany, and was inspired by Leisewitz' earlier play Julius of Tarent. It was written towards the end of the German Sturm und Drang ("Storm and Stress") movement, and many critics, such as Peter Brooks, consider it very influential in the development of European melodrama.[1] The play astounded its Mannheim audience and made Schiller an overnight sensation. It later became the basis for Verdi's opera of the same name, I masnadieri.

Plot and description[edit]

The plot revolves around the conflict between two aristocratic brothers, Karl and Franz Moor. The charismatic but rebellious student Karl is deeply loved by his father. The younger brother, Franz, who appears as a cold, calculating villain, plots to wrest away Karl's inheritance. As the play unfolds, both Franz's motives and Karl's innocence and heroism are revealed to be complex.

Schiller's highly emotional language and his depiction of physical violence mark the play as a quintessential Sturm und Drang work.[citation needed] At the same time, the play utilizes a traditional five-act structure, with each act containing two to five scenes. The play uses alternating scenes to pit the brothers against each other, as one quests for money and power, while the other attempts to create a revolutionary anarchy in the Bohemian Forest.

Schiller raises many disturbing issues in the play. For instance, he questions the dividing lines between personal liberty and the law and probes the psychology of power, the nature of masculinity and the essential differences between good and evil. He strongly criticizes both the hypocrisies of class and religion and the economic inequities of German society. He also conducts a complicated inquiry into the nature of evil.

Schiller was inspired by the play Julius of Tarent (1774) by Johann Anton Leisewitz, a play Friedrich Schiller considered a favourite.[2]

Dramatis personae[edit]

Playbill of Würzburg performance, 1804
  • Maximilian, Count von Moor (also called "Old Moor") is the beloved father of Karl and Franz. He is a good person at heart, but also weak, and has failed to raise his two sons properly. He bears responsibility for the perversion of the Moor family, which has caused the family's values to become invalidated. The Moor family acts as an analogy of state, a typical political criticism of Schiller's.
  • Karl (Charles) Moor, his older son, is a self-confident idealist. He is good-looking and well liked by all. He holds feelings of deep love for Amalia. After his father, misled by brother Franz, curses Karl and banishes him from his home, Karl becomes a disgraceful criminal and murderous arsonist. While he exudes a general spirit of melancholy about the promising life he has left behind, Karl, together with his gang of robbers, fights against the unfairness and corruption of the feudal authorities. His despair leads him to express and discover new goals and directions, and to realize his ideals and dreams of heroism. He does not shrink from breaking the law, for, as he says, "the end justifies the means". He develops a close connection with his robbers, especially Roller and Schweizer, but he recognizes the unscrupulousness and dishonor of Spiegelberg and his other associates. Amalia creates a deep internal twist in the plot and in Karl's persona. He swore allegiance to the robbers after Schweizer and Roller died for his sake, and he promised that he would never separate from his men, so cannot return to Amalia. In deep desperation due to the death of his father, he eventually kills his true love and decides to turn himself in to the law.
  • Franz Moor, the count's younger son, is an egoistic rationalist and materialist. He is cold-hearted and callous. He is rather ugly and unpopular, in contrast to his brother Karl, but quite intelligent and cunning. However, since his father loved only his brother and not him, he developed a lack of feeling, which made the "sinful world" intolerable for his passions. Consequently, he fixed himself to a rationalistic way of thinking. In the character of Franz, Schiller demonstrates what could happen if the moral way of thinking were replaced by pure rationalization. Franz strives for power in order to be able to implement his interests.
  • Amalia von Edelreich, the count's niece, is Karl's love, and a faithful and reliable person (to learn more of their relationship see "Hektorlied" (de)).
  • Spiegelberg acts as an opponent of Karl Moor and is driven by crime. Additionally, he self-nominated himself to be captain in Karl's robber band, yet was passed up in favor of Karl. Spiegelberg tries to portray Karl negatively among the robbers in order to become the captain, but does not succeed.

Other characters

  • Schweizer
  • Grimm
  • Razmann
  • Schufterle
  • Roller
  • Kosinsky
  • Schwarz
  • Herrmann, the illegitimate son of a Nobleman
  • Daniel, an old servant of Count von Moor
  • Pastor Moser
  • Pater
  • A Monk
  • Band of robbers, servants, etc.


The play is referred to in Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. Fyodor Karamazov compares himself to Count von Moor, whilst comparing his eldest son, Dmitri, to Franz Moor, and Ivan Karamazov to Karl Moor.[3] It is also referred to in the first chapter of Ivan Turgenev's First Love [4] and in chapter 28 of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre.

English translations[edit]

Peter Newmark notes three translations in the Encyclopedia of Literary Translation:[5]

  • Schiller, Friedrich; Tytler, Alexander Fraser (trans.) (1792). The Robbers. G. G. & J. Robinson. Public domain; widely available in many formats.
  • Schiller, Friedrich; Lamport, F. J. (trans.) (1979). The Robbers, with Wallenstein. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-044368-4.
  • Schiller, Friedrich; MacDonald, Robert David (trans.) (1995). The Robbers. Oberon. ISBN 978-1-870259-52-1. The same translation apparently also appears in Schiller: Volume One: The Robbers, Passion and Politics. Robert David MacDonald (Trans.). Oberon. 2006. ISBN 978-1-84002-618-4.CS1 maint: others (link)
  • Millar, Daniel and Leipacher, Mark (2010). The Robbers (unpublished). Presented by the Faction Theatre Company.[6]

Klaus van den Berg has compared the Lamport and MacDonald translations, "The two most prominent translations from the latter part of the twentieth century take very different approaches to this style: F.J. Lamport’s 1979 translation, published in the Penguin edition, follows Schiller’s first epic-sized version and remains close to the original language, observing sentence structures, finding literal translations that emphasize the melodramatic aspect of Schiller’s work. In contrast, Robert MacDonald’s 1995 translation, written for a performance by the Citizen’s Company at the Edinburgh Festival, includes some of Schiller’s own revisions, modernizes the language trying to find equivalences to reach his British target audiences. While Lamport directs his translation toward an audience expecting classics as authentic as possible modeled on the original, McDonald opts for a performance translation cutting the text and interpreting many of the emotional moments that are left less clear in a more literal translation."[7]

Michael Billington wrote in 2005 that Robert MacDonald "did more than anyone to rescue Schiller from British neglect."[8]




  1. ^ Stephanie Barbé Hammer, Schiller's Wound: The Theater of Trauma from Crisis to Commodity (Wayne State University Press, 2001), page 32.
  2. ^ Johann Anton Leisewitz, Encyclopædia Britannica
  3. ^ Fyodor Dostoyevsky. "The Brothers Karamazov". Retrieved 20 June 2011.
  4. ^ Ivan Turgenev. "FIrst Love". Retrieved 22 September 2013.
  5. ^ Newmark, Peter (1998). "Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805)". In Classe, O. (ed.). Encyclopedia of Literary Translation. Taylor & Francis. pp. 1238–1239. ISBN 978-1-884964-36-7.
  6. ^ Berge, Emma (2010). "The Robbers". The British Theatre Guide.
  7. ^ van den Berg, Klaus (2009). "The Royal Robe with Folds: Translatability in Schiller's The Robbers" (PDF). The Mercurian: A Theatrical Translation Review. 2 (2).
  8. ^ Billington, Michael (29 January 2005). "The German Shakespeare:Schiller used to be box-office poison. Why are his plays suddenly back in favour, asks Michael Billington". The Guardian.
  9. ^ Schönfeld, Christiane; Rasche, Hermann, eds. (2007). Processes of Transposition: German Literature and Film. Rodopi. p. 23. ISBN 9789042022843.
  10. ^ "Giselher Klebe – Räuber – Opera". Boosey & Hawkes. Retrieved 29 October 2014.
  11. ^ Otto Erich Deutsch et al. Schubert Thematic Catalogue. German version, 1978 (Bärenreiter), p. 133

External links[edit]