A Terrible Freedom - Rebecca Stewart studies Friedrich Schiller, vulnerability, struggle, and the sublime

April 21, 2022
Rebecca Stewart

FreedomIf the 18th-century German dramatist and aesthetic philosopher Friedrich Schiller were alive today, he might see in the invasion of Ukraine an instance of life imitating art. Referred to by some as the German Shakespeare, Schiller wrote plays about heroes—and, more often, heroines—who face oppression, enslavement, and war, and yet muster the strength to resist despite their vulnerable position.

“He’s the hero of the underdog—the poor, the disenfranchised, the oppressed,” says Schiller scholar Rebecca Stewart. “In his tragedies, most often it’s women who choose liberty and resistance over acquiescence or even their own lives. He calls this choice "entsetzliche Freiheit," which means ‘terrible freedom.’”

As a PhD student in German language and literature at Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Stewart explores this “terrible freedom.” Looking at Schiller’s art and thought with fresh eyes, she finds in his work a trenchant critique of power and a championing of the marginalized. Moreover, Stewart says that Schiller’s concept of the sublime and its execution in his works is an idea from which the people of Ukraine—and oppressed people everywhere—may draw strength

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