Guillaume Tell © beyond | Herwig Zens

Synopsis

Behind the idyllic facade of the village of Bürglen in the canton of Uri trouble is brewing: weddings are due to take place there and the villagers are looking forward to a celebration, but the country is ruled by the Habsburgs, a foreign power. The governor appointed by the Habsburgs, Gesler, is particularly brutal in his oppression of the population. Guillaume Tell suffers more than most and his distress increases still further when he realises that his friend Arnold has fallen in love with Mathilde, a Habsburg princess, and intends to throw in his lot with the oppressors. But when Arnold’s brother is killed by Gesler he changes his mind and joins the resistance movement that is forming around Tell. Under Tell’s leadership, representatives of the cantons of Unterwalden, Schwyz and Uri form an alliance against the foreign rulers, swearing the Rütlischwur. Gesler’s increasing despotism soon triggers a revolt: He now demands that the populace show the same respect to his hat stuck at the top of a pole that they would to him. Tell refuses to obey this command and is arrested. His son Jemmy is also apprehended and Gesler intends to make an example of him as a warning to others: Tell, known far and wide as an excellent bowman, is ordered to shoot an apple from his son’s head; only by doing so can he save his son’s life and his own. But is it permissible for a father to shoot at his own offspring in order to save his country? Tell shoots and hits the apple, but Gesler discovers that he has a second arrow in his quiver. Tell confesses that this second arrow would have been for Gesler had the first one hit Jemmy. Gesler has the recalcitrant Tell tied up, put in a boat and sent to the other side of the lake to be devoured by “reptiles” in a castle dungeon. But no sooner has the boat cast off than a storm breaks out over Lake Lucerne, and the anger of Swiss people everywhere becomes open rebellion — for Tell has now become their folk hero. Jemmy sets fire to Tell’s own house as a sign of revolt. In the meantime, his father has managed to slip his bonds and return to the shore where he kills Gesler with another well-aimed arrow, and so gives his country the liberty it has so long yearned for.