Johann Christoph Friedrich (later: von) Schiller (November 10, 1759 – May 9, 1805), was a German poet, philosopher, historian, and dramatist. During the last several years of his life (1788–1805), Schiller struck a productive, if complicated, friendship with already famous and influential Johann Wolfgang Goethe, with whom he discussed much on issues concerning aesthetics, encouraging Goethe to finish works he left merely as sketches; this thereby gave way to a period now referred to as Weimar Classicism. They also worked together on Die Xenien (The Xenies), a collection of short but harshly satiric poems in which both Schiller and Goethe verbally attacked those persons they perceived to be enemies of their aesthetic agenda.
Schiller was born in Marbach, Württemberg (located at the river Neckar in southwest Germany, north of Stuttgart, the former Region of Swabia), as the only son, besides five sisters, of military doctor Johann Kaspar Schiller (1733-1796), and Elisabeth Dorothea Kodweiß (1732-1802). On 22 February 1790, he married Charlotte von Lengefeld (1766-1826). Four children were born between 1793 and 1804, the sons Karl and Ernst, and the daughters Luise and Emilie. The grandchild of Emilie, Baron Alexander of Gleichen-Rußwurm, died in 1947 at Baden-Baden, Germany, as the last living descendant of Schiller.
His father was away in the Seven Years' War when Friedrich was born. He was named after Frederick II of Prussia (Friedrich is German for Frederick), the king of the the country his father was fighting, Prussia, but he was called Fritz by nearly everyone. Caspar Schiller was rarely home at the time, which was hard on the mother, but he did manage to visit the family once in a while and the mother and the children also visited him where he happened to be stationed at the time occasionally. In 1763, the war ended. Schiller's father became a recruiting officer and was stationed in Schwäbisch Gmünd. The family moved with him, of course; but since the cost of living especially the rent soon turned out to be too expensive, the family moved to nearby Lorch, which was at the time still a fairly small village.
Although the family was happy in Lorch, the father found his work unsatisfying. He did, however, take Friedrich Schiller with him occasionally. In Lorch Schiller received his primary education, but the schoolmaster was lazy, so the quality of the lessons was fairly bad; therefore, Friedrich regularly cut class with his older sister. Because his parents wanted Schiller to become a pastor himself, they had the pastor of the village instruct the boy in Latin and Greek. The man was a good teacher, which led Schiller to name the cleric in Die Räuber after Pastor Moser. Schiller was excited by the idea of becoming a clericalist and often put on black robes and pretended to preach.
In 1766, the family left Lorch for the Duke's residence town, Ludwigsburg. Schiller's father had not been paid for three years and the family had been living on their savings, but could no longer afford to do so. So Caspar Schiller had himself relocated to the garrison in Ludwigsburg. The move was not easy for Friedrich, since Lorch had been a warm and comforting home for the child.
He came to the attention of Karl Eugen, Duke of Württemberg. He entered the Karlsschule Stuttgart (an elite, extremely strict, military academy founded by Duke Karl Eugen), in 1773, where he eventually studied medicine. During most of his short life, he suffered from illnesses that he tried to cure himself.
While at the Karlsschule, Schiller read Rousseau and Goethe and discussed Classical ideals with his classmates. At school, he wrote his first play, Die Räuber (The Robbers), which dramatizes the conflict between 2 aristocratic brothers: the elder, Karl Moor, leads a group of rebellious students into the Bohemian forest where they become Robin Hood-like bandits, while Franz Moor, the younger brother schemes to inherit his father's considerable estate. The play's critique of social corruption and its affirmation of proto-revolutionary republican ideals astounded the original audience, and made Schiller an overnight sensation. Later, Schiller would be made an honorary member of the French Republic because of this play.
In 1780, he obtained a post as regimental doctor in Stuttgart, a job he disliked.
Following the remarkable performance of Die Räuber in Mannheim, in 1781, he was arrested and forbidden by Karl Eugen himself from publishing any further works. He fled Stuttgart, in 1783, coming via Leipzig and Dresden to Weimar, in 1787. In 1789, he was appointed professor of History and Philosophy in Jena, where he wrote only historical works. He returned to Weimar, in 1799, where Goethe convinced him to return to playwriting. He and Goethe founded the Weimar Theater which became the leading theater in Germany, leading to a dramatic renaissance. He remained in Weimar, Saxe-Weimar until his death at 45 from tuberculosis.
Some Freemasons speculate that Schiller was Freemason, but this has not been established.
In 1787, in his tenth letter about Don Carlos Schiller wrote:
In 1829 in a letter from two Freemasons from Rudolstadt complain about the dissolving of their Lodge Günther zum stehenden Löwen that was honoured by the initiation of Schiller. According to Schiller's great-grandson Alexander von Gleichen-Rußwurm, Schiller ought to be brought to the Lodge by Wilhelm Heinrich Karl von Gleichen-Rußwurm, but no membership document exists.
Schiller was at once a playwright, poet, historian and philosopher and he wrote voluminously, particularly when one considers his relatively short life-span.
Schiller wrote many philosophical papers on ethics and aesthetics. He synthesized the thought of Immanuel Kant with the thought of Karl Leonhard Reinhold. He developed the concept of the Schöne Seele (beautiful soul), a human being whose emotions have been educated by his reason, so that Pflicht und Neigung (duty and inclination) are no longer in conflict with one another; thus "beauty," for Schiller, is not merely a sensual experience, but a moral one as well: the Good is the Beautiful. His philosophical work was also particularly concerned with the question of human freedom, a preoccupation which also guided his historical researches, such as The Thirty Years War and The Revolt of the Netherlands, and then found its way as well into his dramas (the "Wallenstein" trilogy concerns the Thirty Years War, while "Don Carlos" addresses the revolt of the Netherlands against Spain.) Schiller wrote two important essays on the question of the Sublime (das Erhabene), entitled "Vom Erhabenen" and "Über das Erhabene"; these essays address one aspect of human freedom as the ability to defy one's animal instincts, such as the drive for self-preservation, as in the case of someone who willingly dies for a beautiful idea.
Schiller is considered by most Germans to be Germany's most important classical playwright. Critics like F.J. Lamport and Eric Auerbach have noted his innovative use of dramatic structure and his creation of new forms, such as the melodrama and the bourgeois tragedy. What follows is a brief, chronological description of the plays.
A pivotal work by Schiller was On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a series of Letters, (Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen in einer Reihe von Briefen) which was inspired by the great disenchantment Schiller felt about the French Revolution, its degeneration into violence and the failure of successive governments to put its ideals into practice.  Instead, it had become a bloodbath. Schiller wrote that "a great moment has found a little people," and wrote the Letters as a philosophical inquiry into what had gone wrong, and how to prevent such tragedies in the future. In the Letters he asserts that it is possible to elevate the moral character of a people, by first touching their souls with beauty, an idea that is also found in his poem Die Künstler (The Artists): "Only through Beauty's morning-gate, dost thou penetrate the land of knowledge."
On the philosophical side, Letters put forth the notion of der sinnliche Trieb / Sinnestrieb ("the sensuous drive") and Formtrieb ("the formal drive"). In a comment to Immanuel Kant's philosophy, Schiller transcends the dualism between Form and Sinn, with the notion of Spieltrieb ("the play drive") derived from, as are a number of other terms, Kant's The Critique of the Faculty of Judgment. The conflict between man's material, sensuous nature, and his capacity for reason (Formtrieb being the drive to impose conceptual and moral order on the world), Schiller resolves with the happy union of Form and Sinn, the "play drive," which for him is synonymous with artistic beauty, or "living form." On the basis of Spieltrieb, Schiller sketches in Letters a future ideal state (an eutopia), where everyone will be content, and everything will be beautiful, thanks to the free play of Spieltrieb. Schiller's focus on the dialectical interplay between Form and Sinn has inspired a wide range of succeeding aesthetic philosophical theory.
For his achievements, Schiller was ennobled, in 1802, by the Duke of Weimar. His name changed from Johann Christoph Friedrich Schiller to Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller.
Ludwig van Beethoven said that a great poem is more difficult to set to music than a merely good one because the composer must improve upon the poem. In that regard, he said that Schiller's poems were greater than those of Goethe, and perhaps that is why there are relatively few famous musical settings of Schiller's poems. Two notable exceptions are Beethoven's setting of An die Freude (Ode to Joy) in the final movement of the Ninth Symphony, and the choral setting of Nänie by Johannes Brahms. Also, Giuseppe Verdi admired Schiller greatly and adapted several of his stage plays for his operas.