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Looking over the Uri arm of Lake Lucerne in William Tell's homeland


The 200th anniversary of the premiere of Schiller’s great drama, “William Tell”, is being celebrated this summer with a series of special events.

And all are in honour of a historical figure whose existence has never been proven.

The most anticipated event will be the German National Theatre’s staging of William Tell on the Rütli Meadow, the cradle of the Swiss Confederation.

Running until August 29, the performances will be landmark events.

The theatre company is coming to Switzerland from Weimar, the German town where Schiller’s play had its premiere in 1804, and it marks the first time permission has been granted for a play to be performed on the sacred meadow.

“Wilhelm Tell” will also be staged from August 20 to October 16 at the Tell Playhouse in Altdorf, the capitol of canton Uri.

"Altdorf boasts a tradition of staging a drama about Tell's heroics, which predates Schiller's version by about 300 years."

Local amateur actors will present a new adaptation of William Tell, based on the Schiller text but also their own interpretation of Swiss history.

Interlaken pageantry

Interlaken also has a long tradition of staging the Schiller work.

Even though the resort is located in the Bernese Oberland, far from the founding Swiss cantons, it has been the scene of Tell productions since 1912.

The Interlaken open-air production is a grand affair with about 200 amateur actors performing on a set with real chalets as the backdrop.

Gessler makes his introduction mounted on a horse.

“Please check in”

In the exhibition, “Tell, Please Check In”, the Forum of Swiss History in the town of Schwyz tries to come to terms with the legendary hero.

It looks at how the mythical figure is perceived today, more than 700 years after he allegedly performed his historic deeds.

With over 200 objects on display, the exhibition presents the facts, as well as the values for which William Tell stands.

Included are screenings of films, which take visitors on a 100-year cinematic journey of Tell on the big screen.

The most priceless object on display is the “White Book of Sarnen”, the 15th-century chronicle containing the first written document mentioning the heroics of William Tell.

World of myths

The museum has also placed information “boxes” at spots around Lake Lucerne to highlight the various settings in the Tell story, and other myths related to the founding of the Swiss Confederation.

Visitors to the region can explore the area on foot, following the “Swiss Path” around the Uri arm of the lake where the events are said to have taken place; or they can travel by boat, with the historic paddle steamer “Schiller” being the obvious choice.

Tell should also educate, and for this reason the Forum of Swiss History has organised a full programme of hands-on events.

Participants can take a peek inside a medieval crossbow-maker’s shop and have a go at firing an ancient model of the weapon.

swissinfo, Etienne Strebel

Key facts

Rütli Meadow performances: July 24 to August 29
Altdorf performances: August 20 to October 16
Interlaken performances: Until September 4
"Tell, please check in": Until November 30
"World of myths": Until October 15

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