In the mid-18th century, an anonymous hand, imbued with Enlightenment ideals, challenged the sacred Swiss belief that the Tell legend was theirs and theirs alone.
“William Tell, a Danish Fable” was the title of the contentious pamphlet, published in German and French in Bern. The tract was in fact written by two of the most authoritative figures of the Enlightenment in Switzerland, the brothers Gottlieb Emanuel and Albert von Haller. It caused a scandal, even though in educated circles the facts were already known.
Denying the existence of William Tell was tantamount to cutting oneself off from one’s roots, injuring the sense of historical identity. The pamphlet was burned in the town square in Altdorf, the setting for the apple-shooting scene.