About the Play
Wilhelm Tell Drama
The Wilhelm Tell play is set near the end of the 13th century. The gradual decline of the Holy Roman Empire, of which the Swiss territory was a part, had enabled the Habsburg family to ascend to power in Austria and Switzerland.
The Waldstatte ( the forest cantons which are the original three Swiss cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden) pledged a symbolic allegiance to the Emperor years before, though they retained much of their autonomy. The Austrian House of Habsburg, desiring more control and higher taxes, sent a corps of officials to the Swiss Territory to generate higher revenues for their estates.
Discontentment grew due to the increased oversight and reduction of freedom. The presence of these foreign bailiffs became more and more despised. Over time the Swiss territories developed a plan to united and attempt to regain their autonomy.
Wilhelm Tell, as legend has it, lived in a small village in this part of Switzerland. Tell was know across central Europe for his superior marksmanship with his cross bow. At one point in the play (and in history, as legend says), Tell is forced by the foreign bailiff Gessler to shoot an apple from his son’s head in the town square in Altdorf in front of the entire community. Tell succeeds, and later in the story he is able to extract his revenge on Gessler, and in the process has a hand in freeing Switzerland from the yoke of the Austrian rule.