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The search for freedom was the driving force behind Friedrich Schiller's stunning poetic, dramatic and philosophical oeuvre. His plays, in particular, examine the "complex interaction between morality and politics, the difficulty of moral choices", as John Guthrie put it. Schiller's plays lead us into moral mazes, but there is always a guiding thread of emancipation from oppressive conditions of almost any kind. His ambition was to offer a guide to self-guidance. We have, once again after 2005, the year of the bicentenary of his death, good reason to celebrate him. In the year Georg Friedrich Händel died, 1759, Schiller was born — 250 years ago on 10 November. 

In 2004, when Michael Grandage produced Mike Poulton's new version of Schiller's Don Carlos at the Sheffield Crucible to great acclaim — the production was later transferred to the Gielgud Theatre in London with Derek Jacobi and Claire Price in leading roles — the theatre critic of the Guardian, Michael Billington, called Schiller "the German Shakespeare" and wondered how and why it was possible that Britain had virtually forgotten about this master of the written word for so long. 

Rediscoveries are never too late though. In fact, they tend to be curiously timely. When we are most in need, certain key texts that belong to the texture of our collective cultural memory seem to re-emerge, ideally in the case of Schiller in new translations and/or stage versions. Schiller's conception of freedom is intriguing enough to inform even the present day's concerns with this essential, if not existential, subject. Freedom in the age of terror is an endangered species and Schiller was able to imagine both sides, the effect of terror and political oppression (in The Robbers, Don Carlos and Wilhelm Tell) as well as the establishing of potential mechanisms to support individual freedom (through "aesthetic education").

Schiller's reception in Britain is curious. Was this poet of Protestant Swabian origins not forgiven by the mainstream literary establishment in this country for having sided with the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots and Joan of Arc, to whom he had dedicated two of his most political plays? The plays discuss, among other issues, the impact of religion on political decision-making and how the female reacts to male-dominated society. 

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