Goetz von Berlichingen by Goethe

Persons in the Drama

The Emperor Maximilian

The Bishop of Bamberg

Goetz von Berlichingen

Franz Lerse

Adelbert von Weislingen

Elizabeth, wife to Goetz

Franz von Sickingen

Marie, his sister

Hans von Selbitz

Adelheid von Walldorf

Franz, page to Weislingen

Imperial Councillor

George, page to Goetz



Max Stumpf, Sievers, Metzler, Link, Kohl,
Leaders of the rebel peasants

Act I

Scene I.Forest; a poor hut in the background. Goetz and George.

Goetz: Where can my men be? Up and down I have to walk, lest sleep should overcome me. Five days and nights already in ambush. But when I get thee, Weislingen, I shall make up for it! You priests may send  round your obliging Weislingen to decry me—I am awake. You escaped me, bishop! So your dear Weislingen may pay the piper. George! George! (Enter George.) Tell Hans to get ready. My scouts may be back any moment. And give me some more wine!

George: Hark! I hear some horses galloping—two
—it must be your men!

Goetz: My horse, quick! Tell Hans to arm!

[Enter Faud, who reports to Goetz that Weislingen is
approaching. Exit
Goetz and his men.

George: Oh, St. George! Make me strong and brave! And give me spear, armour, and horse!


Scene II.Hall at Jaxthausen. Elizabeth and Marie.

Marie: If I had a husband who always exposed himself to danger, I should die the first year.

Elizabeth: Thank God, I am made of harder stuff! God grant that my boy may take after his father, and not become a treacherous hypocrite, like Weislingen.

Marie: You are very bitter against him. Yet report speaks well of him. Your own husband loved him, when they were pages together to the margrave.

[The gay tune of a wind-instrument is heard.

Elizabeth: There he returns with his spoil! I must get the meal ready. Here, take the cellar keys and let them have of the best wine! They have deserved it.

[Exeunt. Enter Goetz, Weislingen, and men-at-arms.

Goetz (taking off his helmet and sword): Unstrap my cuirass and give me my doublet! Weislingen, you've given us hard work! Be of good cheer. Where are your clothes? I could lend you some of mine—a neat, clean suit, which I wore at the wedding of my gracious lord the Count Palatine, when your bishop got so vexed with me, because I made him shake hands with me, unknown, after having taken two of his ships a fortnight before on the Main.

Weislingen: I beg you to leave me alone.

Goetz: Why? Pray, be cheerful. You are in my power, and I shall not abuse it. You know my knight's duty is sacred to me. And now I must go to see my wife.


Weislingen: Oh, that it were all a dream! In Berlichingen's power—and he, the old true-hearted Goetz! Back again in the hall, where we played as boys, where I loved him with all my heart! How strangely past and present seem to intermingle here.

[Enter Goetz, and a man with jug and goblet.

Goetz: Let us drink, until the meal is ready. Come, you are at home. It is a long time since we last shared a bottle. (Raising his goblet) A gay heart!

Weislingen: Those times are past.

Goetz: Heaven forbid! Though merrier days we
may not find. If you had only followed me to Brabant, instead of taking to that miserable life at court! Are you not as free and nobly born as anyone in Germany? Independent, subject only to the emperor? And you submit to vassals, who poison the emperor's ear against me! They want to get rid of me. And you, Weislingen, are their tool!

Weislingen: Berlichingen!

Goetz: No more of it! I hate explanations. They only lead to deceiving one or the other, or both.

[They stand apart, their backs turned to each other. Enter Marie.

Marie (to Weislingen): I come to greet and to invite you in my sister's name. What is it? Why are you silent both? You are host and guest. Be guided by a woman's voice.

Goetz: You remind me of my duty.

Weislingen: Who could resist so heavenly a hint?

Marie: Draw near each other, be reconciled! (The men shake hands.) The union of brave men is the most ardent wish of all good women.

Act II

Scene I.A room at `. Marie and Weislingen.

Marie: You say you love me. I willingly believe it, and hope to be happy with you and to make you happy.

Weislingen: Blessed be your brother and the day he rode out to capture me!

[Enter Goetz.

Goetz: Your page is back. Whatever his news, Adelbert, you are free! All I ask is your word that you will not aid and abet my enemies.

Weislingen: I take your hand. And may I at the same time take the hand of this noblest of all women?

Goetz: May I say "yes" for you, Marie? You need not blush—your eyes have answered clearly. Well, then, Weislingen, take her hand, and I say Amen, friend and brother! I must call my wife. Elizabeth! (Enter Elizabeth.) Join your hand in theirs and say "God bless you!" They are a pair. Adelbert is going back to Bamberg to detach himself openly from the bishop, and then to his estates to settle his affairs. And now we'll leave him undisturbed to hear his boy's report.

[Exit with Marie and Elizabeth.

Weislingen: Such bliss for one so unworthy!

[Enter Franz.

Franz: God save you, noble sir! I bring you greetings  from everybody in Bamberg—from the bishop down to the jester. How they are distressed at your mishap! I am to tell you to be patient—they will think the more impatiently of your deliverance; for they cannot spare you.

Weislingen: They will have to. I'll return, but not to stay long.

Franz: Not to stay? My lord, if you but knew what I know! If you had but seen her—the angel in the shape of woman, who makes Bamberg a forecourt of heaven— Adelheid von Walldorf!

Weislingen: I have heard much of her beauty. Is her husband at court?

Franz: She has been widowed for four months, and is at Bamberg for amusement. If she looks upon you, it is as though you were basking in spring sunshine.

Weislingen: Her charms would be lost on me. I am betrothed. Marie will be the happiness of my life. And now pack up. First to Bamberg, and then to my castle.


Scene II.A forest. Some Nuremberg merchants, who, attacked on their way to the Frankfurt Fair by Goetz and his men, have escaped, leaving their goods in the hands of the knights. The page George has, however, recaptured two of the merchants as Goetz and his men enter.

Goetz: Search the forest! Let none escape!

George (stepping forward): I've done some preparatory work. Here they are.

Goetz: Welcome, good lad! Keep them well guarded! (Exit his men with the merchants.) And now, what news of Weislingen?

George: Bad news! He looked confused when I said to him, "A few words from your Berlichingen." He tried to put me off with empty words, but when I pressed him he said he was under no obligation to you,  and would have nothing to do with you.

Goetz: Enough! I shall not forget this infamous treachery. Whoever gets into my power shall feel it. (Exit George.) I'll revel in their agony, deride their fear. And how, Goetz, are you thus changed? Should other people's faults and vices make you renounce your chivalry, and abandon yourself to vulgar cruelty? I'll drag him back in chains, if I can't get him any other way. And there's an end of it, Goetz; think of your duty!

[Enter George with a casket.

George: Now let your joke be ended, they are frightened enough. One of them, a handsome young man, gave me this casket, and said, "Take this as ransom! The jewels I meant to take to my betrothed. Take them, and let me escape."

Goetz (examining the jewels): This time, Marie, I shall not be tempted to bring it to you as a birthday gift. Even in your misfortune you would rejoice in the happiness of others. Take it, George. Give it back to the lad. Let him take it to his bride, with greeting from Goetz! And let all the prisoners free at sunset.


Scene I.Pleasure-garden at Augsburg. The Emperor, the Bishop of Bamberg, Weislingen, the Lady Adelheid, Courtiers.

Emperor: I am tired of these merchants with their eternal complaints! Every shopkeeper wants help, and no one will stir against the common enemy of the empire and of Christianity.

Weislingen: Who would be active abroad while he is threatened at home?

Bishop: If we could only remove that proud Sickingen and Berlichingen, the others would soon fall asunder.

Emperor: Brave, noble men at heart, who must be spared and used against the Turks.

Weislingen: The consequences may be dangerous.  Better to capture them and leave them quietly upon their knightly parole in their castles.

Emperor: If they then abide by the law, they might again be honourably and usefully employed. I shall open the session of the Diet to-morrow with this proposal.

Weislingen: A clamour of joyful assent will spare your majesty the end of the speech.

[Exit Emperor, Bishop, and Courtiers.

Weislingen: And so you mean to go—to leave the festive scenes for which you longed with all your heart, to leave a friend to whom you are indispensable, to delay our union?

Adelheid: The gayer, the freer shall I return to you.

Weislingen: Will you be content if we proceed against Berlichingen?

Adelheid: You deserve a kiss! My uncle, Von Wanzenau, must be captain!

Weislingen: Impossible! An incompetent old dreamer!

Adelheid: Let the fiery Werdenhagen, his sister's stepson, go with him.

Weislingen: He is thoughtless and foolhardy, and will not improve matters.

Adelheid: We have to think of our relatives. For love of me, you must do it! And I want some exemptions for the convent of St. Emmeraru; you can work the chancellor. Then the cup-bearer's post is vacant at the Hessian Court, and the high stewardship of the Palatinate. I want them for our friends Braimau and Mirsing.

Weislingen: How shall I remember it all?

Adelheid: I shall train a starling to repeat the names to you, and to add, "Please, please." (Exit Weislingen. To Franz, whom she stops as he crosses to follow his master): Franz, could you get me a starling, or would you yourself be my starling? You would learn more rapidly.

Franz: If you would teach me. Try. Take me with you.

Adelheid: No, you must serve me here. Have you a good memory?

Franz: For your words. I remember every syllable you spoke to me that first day at Bamberg.

Adelheid: Now, listen, Franz. I shall tell you the names which I want you to repeat to your master, always adding, "Please, please."

Franz (seizing her hand passionately): Please, please!

Adelheid (stepping back): Hands are not wanted. You must lose such bad manners. But you must not be so upset at a little rebuke. One punishes the children one loves.

Franz: You love me, then?

Adelheid: I might love you as a child, but you are getting too tall and violent.


Scene II.Hall at Jaxthausen. Sickingen and Goetz.

Goetz: So you want to marry a jilted woman?

Sickingen: To be deceived by him is an honour for you both. I want a mistress for my castles and gardens. In the field, at court, I want to stand alone.

[Enter Selbitz.

Selbitz: Bad news! The emperor has put you under the ban, and has sent troops to seize you.

Goetz: Sickingen, you hear. Take back your offer, and leave me!

Sickingen: I shall not turn from you in trouble. No better wooing than in time of war and danger.

Goetz: On one condition. You must publicly detach yourself from me. The emperor loves and esteems you, and your intercession may save me in the hour of need.

Sickingen: But I can secretly send you twenty horsemen.

Goetz: That offer I accept.


Scene III.A hill with a view over a fertile country. George and Goetz's men cross the stage, chasing the imperial troops. Then Selbitz is carried on, wounded, accompanied by Faud.

Selbitz: Let me rest here!—and back to your master; back to Goetz!

Faud: Let me stay with you. I am no good below; they have hammered my old bones till I can scarcely move. (Exit soldiers.) Here from the wall I can watch the fight.

Selbitz: What do you see?

Faud: Your horsemen are turning tail. I can see Goetz's three black feathers in the midst of the turmoil. Woe, he has fallen! And George's blue plume has disappeared! Sickingen's horsemen in flight! Ha! I see Goetz again! And George! Victory! Victory! They are routed! Goetz is after them—he has seized their flag! The fugitives are coming here! Oh! what will they do with you?

Selbitz: Come down and draw! My sword is ready. I'll make it hot for them, even sitting or lying down!

[Enter imperial troops. Selbitz and Faud defend themselves until Lerse comes to their rescue, attacking the soldiers furiously, killing some and putting the rest to flight. Enter Goetz, George, a troop of armed men.

Selbitz: Good luck, Goetz! Victory! Victory!
How did you fare?

Goetz: To George and Lerse I owe my life; I was off my horse when they came to the rescue. I have their flag and a few prisoners.

Selbitz: Lerse saved me, too. See what work he has done here!

Goetz: Good luck, Lerse! And God bless my George's first brave deed! Now back to the castle, and let us gather our scattered men.

Act IV

Scene I.Jaxthausen. A small room. Marie and Sickingen.

Sickingen: You may smile, but I felt the desire to possess you when you first looked upon me with your blue eyes, when you were with your mother at the Diet of Speier. I have long been separated from you; but that wish remained, with the memory of that glance.

[Enter Goetz.

Sickingen: Good luck!

Marie: Welcome, a thousand times!

Goetz: Now quickly to the chapel! I've thought it all out, and time presses.

Scene II.Large hall; in the background a door, leading to the chapel. Lerse and men-at-arms. Enter Goetz from chapel.

Goetz: How now, Lerse? The men had better be distributed over the walls. Let them take any breastplates, helmets, and arms they may want. Are the gates well manned?

Lerse: Yes, sir.

Goetz: Sickingen will leave us at once. You will lead him through the lower gate, along the water, and across the ford. Then look around you, and come back.

[Enter Sickingen, Marie, Elizabeth, from chapel. Drums in distance announce the enemy's approach.

Goetz: May God bless you and send you merry, happy days!

Elizabeth: And may He let your children be like you!

Sickingen: I thank you, and I thank you, Marie, who will lead me to happiness.

Goetz: A pleasant journey! Lerse will show you the way.

Marie: That is not what we meant. We shall not leave you.

Goetz: You must, sister! (To Sickingen) You understand? Talk to Marie; she is your wife. Take her to safety, and then think of me.

[Exeunt Lerse, Sickingen and Marie. Enter George.

George: They approach from all sides. I saw their pikes glitter from the tower.

Goetz: Have the gate barricaded with beams and stones.

[Exit George. A trumpeter is dimly heard from the distance, requesting Goetz to surrender unconditionally.

Goetz refuses angrily, and slams the window. Enter Lerse.

Lerse: There is plenty of powder, but bullets are scarce.

Goetz: Look round for lead! Meanwhile, we must make the crossbows do.

[Distant shooting is heard at intervals. Exit Goetz with crossbow.

Lerse (breaking a window and detaching the lead from the glass): This lead has rested long enough; now it may fly for a change.

[Enter Goetz.

Goetz: They have ceased firing, and offer a truce with all sorts of signs and white rags. They will probably ask me to surrender on knightly parole.

Lerse: I'll go and see. 'Tis best to know their mind.

[Goes out and returns shortly.

Lerse: Liberty! Liberty! Here are the conditions. You may withdraw with arms, horses, and armour, leaving all provisions behind. Your property will be carefully guarded. I am to remain.

Goetz: Come, take the best arms with you, and leave the others here! Come, Elizabeth! Through this very gate I led you as a young bride. Who knows when we  shall return?

[Exeunt Goetz and Elizabeth, followed by George. While the men are choosing arms and preparing, Lerse, who has heard shouting and firing without, looks through the window.

Lerse: God! They are murdering our master! He is off his horse! Help him!

Faud: George is still fighting. Let's go! If they die,
I don't want to live!


Scene III.Night; anteroom in Adelheid's castle. Weislingen, Franz, Adelheid, with a retinue of masked and costumed revellers.

Weislingen: May I, in these moments of lightheartedness, speak to you of serious matters? Goetz is probably by this time in our hands. The peasants' revolt is growing in violence; and the League has given me the command against them. We shall start before long. I shall take you to my castle in Franconia, where you will be safe, and not too far from me.

Adelheid: We shall consider that. I may be useful to you here.

Weislingen: We have not much time, for we break up to-morrow!

Adelheid (after a pause): Very well, then; carnival to-night, and war to-morrow!

Weislingen: You are fond of change. A pleasant night to you!


Adelheid: I understand. You would remove me from the court, where Charles, our emperor's great successor, is the object of all hope? You will not change my plans. Franz!

Franz (entering): Gracious lady!

Adelheid: Watch all the masks, and find out for me the archduke's disguise! You look sad?

Franz: It is your will that I should languish unto death.

Adelheid (apart): I pity him. (To Franz) You are true and loving; I shall not forget you!

Scene IV.Heilbronn Town Hall. Imperial Councillor and Magistrates, UsherS, Goetz.

Councillor: You know how you fell into our hands, and are a prisoner at discretion?

Goetz: What will you give me to forget it?

Councillor: You gave your knightly parole to appear and humbly to await his majesty's pleasure?

Goetz: Well, here I am, and await it!

Councillor: His majesty's mercy releases you from the ban and all punishment, provided you subscribe to all the articles which shall be read unto you.

Goetz: I am his majesty's faithful servant. But, before you proceed, where are my men; what is their fate?

Councillor: That is no business of yours. Secretary, read the articles! (Reads): I, Goetz von Berlichingen, having lately risen in rebellion against the emperor———

Goetz: 'Tis false! I am no rebel! I refuse to listen any further!

Councillor: And yet we have strict orders to persuade you by fair means, or to throw you into prison.

Goetz: To prison? Me? That cannot be the emperor's order! To promise me permission to ward myself on parole, and then again to break your treaty.

Councillor: We owe no faith to robbers.

Goetz: If you were not the representative of my respected sovereign, you should swallow that word, or choke upon it!

[Councillor makes a sign, and a bell is rung. Enter citizens with halberds and swords.

Councillor: You will not listen—seize him!

[They rush upon him. He strikes one down, and snatches
a sword from another. They stand aloof

Goetz: Come on! I should like to become acquainted  with the bravest among you.

[A trumpet is heard without. Enter Usher.

Usher: Franz von Sickingen is without and sends word that having heard how faith has been broken with his brother-in-law, he insists upon justice, or within an hour he will fire the four quarters of the town, and abandon it to be sacked by his men.

Goetz: Brave friend!

Councillor: YOU had best dissuade your brother-in-law from his rebellious intention. He will only become the companion of your fall! Meanwhile, we will consider how we can best uphold the emperor's authority.

[Exeunt all but Goetz. Enter Sickingen.

Goetz: That was help from heaven. I asked nothing but knightly ward upon my parole.

Sickingen: They have shamefully abused the imperial authority. I know the emperor, and have some influence with him. I shall want your fist in an enterprise I am preparing. Meanwhile, they will let you and your men return to your castle upon the promise not to move beyond its confines. And the emperor will soon call you. Now back to the wigs! They have had time enough to talk; let's save them the trouble!

Act V

Scene I.Forest. Goetz and George.

Goetz: No further! Another step and I should have broken my oath. What is that dust beyond? And that wild mob moving towards us?

Lerse (entering): The rebel peasants. Back to the castle! They have dealt horribly with the noblest men!

Goetz: On my own soil I shall not try to evade the rabble.

[Enter Stumpf, Kohl, Sievers, and armed peasants.

Stumpf: We come to ask you, brave Goetz, to be our captain.

Goetz: What! Me? To break my oath? Stumpf, I thought you were a friend! Even if I were free, and you wanted to carry on as you did at Weinsberg, raving and burning, and murdering, I'd rather be killed than be your captain!

Stumpf: If we had a leader of authority, such things would not happen. The princes and all Germany would thank you.

Sievers: You must be our captain, or you will have to defend your own skin. We give you two hours to
consider it.

Goetz: Why consider? I can decide now as well as later. Will you desist from your misdeeds, and act like decent folk who know what they want? Then I shall help you with your claims, and be your captain for four weeks. Now, come!


Scene II.Landscape, with village and castle in distance. Goetz and George.

George: I beseech you, leave this infamous mob of robbers and incendiaries.

Goetz: We have done some good and saved many a convent, many a life.

George: Oh, sir, I beg you to leave them at once, before they drag you away with them as prisoner, instead of following you as captain! (Flames are seen rising from the distant village.) See there! A new crime!

Goetz: That is Miltenberg. Quick, George! Prevent the burning of the castle. I'll have nothing further to do with the scoundrels.

George: I shall save Miltenberg, or you will not see me again.


Goetz: Everybody blames me for the mischief, and nobody gives me credit for having prevented so much evil. Would I were thousands of miles away!

[Enter Sievers, Link, Metzler, peasants.

Link: Rouse yourself, captain; the enemy is near and in great force!

Goetz: Who burnt Miltenberg?

Metzler: If you want to make a fuss, we'll soon teach you!

Goetz: You threaten? Scoundrel! [He knocks him down with a blow of his fist.

Kohl: You are mad! The enemy is coming, and you quarrel.

[Tumult, battle, and rout of the peasants. Then the stage gradually fills with gypsies. Goetz returns wounded, is recognised by the gypsies, who bandage him, help him on to his horse, and ask him to lead them. Soldiers enter and level their halberds at Goetz.

Scene III.Adelheid's room. Night. Adelheid. Franz.

Franz: Oh, let me stay yet a little while—here, where I live. Without is death!

Adelheid: Already you hesitate? Then give me back the phial. You played the hero, but you are only a boy; A man who wooes a noble woman stakes his life, honour, virtue, happiness! Boy, leave me!

Franz: No, you are mine. And if I get your freedom I get my own. With a firm hand I shall pour the poison into my master's cup. Farewell.

[He embraces her and hurries away.

Scene IV.Rustic garden. Marie sleeping in an arbour. Lerse.

Lerse: Gracious lady, awake! We must away. Goetz captured as a rebel and thrown into a dungeon! His age! His wounds!

Marie: We must hurry to Weislingen. Only dire necessity can drive me to this step. Saving my brother's life I go to death. I shall kneel to him, weep before him.


Scene V.Weislingen's hall.

Weislingen: A wretched fever has dried my very marrow. No rest for me, day or night! Goetz haunts my very dreams. He is a prisoner, and yet I tremble before him. (Enter Marie.) Oh, heaven! Marie's spirit, to tell me of her death!

Marie: Weislingen, I am no spirit. I have come to beg of you my brother's life.

Weislingen: Marie! You, angel of heaven, bring with you the tortures of hell. The breath of death is upon me, and you come to throw me into despair!

Marie: My brother is ill in prison. His wounds—his age——

Weislingen: Enough. Franz! (Enter Franz in great excitement.) The papers there! (Franz hands him a sealed packet.) Here is your brother's death-warrant; and thus I tear it. He lives. Do not weep, Franz; there's hope for the living.

Franz: You cannot, you must die! Poison from your wife. [Rushes to the window, and throws himself out into the river.

Weislingen: Woe to me! Poison from my wife! Franz seduced by the infamous woman! I am dying; and in my agony throb the tortures of hell.

Marie (kneeling): Merciful God, have pity on him!

Scene VI.A small garden outside the prison, Goetz, Elizabeth, Lerse, and prison-keeper.

Goetz: Almighty God! How lovely is it beneath Thy heaven! Farewell, my children! My roots are cut away, my strength totters to the grave. Let me see George once more, and sun myself in his look. You turn away and weep? He is dead! Then die, Goetz! How did he die? Alas! they took him among the incendiaries,  and he has been executed?

Elizabeth: No, he was slain at Miltenberg, fighting like a lion.

Goetz: God be praised! Now release my soul! My poor wife! I leave you in a wicked world. Lerse, forsake her not! Blessings upon Marie and her husband. Selbitz is dead, and the good emperor, and my George. Give me some water! Heavenly air! Freedom!

[He dies.

Elizabeth: Freedom is only above—with thee; the world is a prison.

Lerse: Noble man! Woe to this age that rejected thee! Woe to the future that shall misjudge thee!

 The story of "Goetz von Berlichingen" was founded on the life of a German soldier of fortune who flourished between 1480 and 1562. The possibilities of his biography inspired Goethe (Vol. IV, p. 253) with the idea of doing for Germany what Shakespeare had done for mediŠval England. In a few weeks he had turned the life into a series of vivid dramatic pictures, which so engrossed him that he "forgot Homer, Shakespeare, and everything." For the next two years the manuscript lay untouched. In 1773 he made a careful revision and published it anonymously under the title of "Goetz von Berlichingen of the Iron Hand"; it is in this form we possess the work now. At a still later period, in 1804, Goethe prepared another version of the play for the stage. The subject-matter of "Goetz" is purely revolutionary. Goetz, the hero himself, is a champion of a good cause—the cause of freedom and self-reliance. He is the embodiment of sturdy German virtues, the Empire and the Church playing the unenviable role of intrigue and oppression. As a stage play, "Goetz" is ill-constructed, but otherwise it stands a veritable literary triumph, and a worthy predecessor to "Faust." This epitome has been prepared from the German text.

Arthur Mee J. A. Hammerton