A Project 5 – Brining History Alive – speech from the Story Telling manual by Chris Ashley based upon the story as found in “My book of Heroes and Heroines” written 1931 published by Cassel and Company.
The story I wish to share is the story of William Tell, which you may know or do you? It is a story from many hundreds of years before, and an account of events that took place on 18th November 1307.
That’s a long time ago, for reference that’s around when Maoris are first arriving here on the shores of New Zealand.
But the location is not NZ, it is the town of Altdorf, Switzerland.Back then Switzerland was not a single country by three cantons Schwyz, Uri, & Unterwalden.
The Backdrop for the story is a change from good times to bad times.
In the good, the Austrian Ruler Adolph had allowed the Swiss to keep their ways, and Austria had nominally governed for years without dissent.
William Tell grew up in these time, was strong, handsome, fearless, a great boats on Lake Zurich and a renowned crossbowman.
He found romance with a beautiful Wife- Hedwig, with whom he had 2 sons Sons – William and Walter and was content farming, fishing and hunting.
But then …
The Hapsburg Emperor changed and Albrecht came to the throne, and misery was soon apparent in the Swiss cantons.
Albrecht said subversively to Gessler, a “You are to oppress the Swiss until their love of liberty is lost”
Gessler: “Oppress the Swiss, certainly.”
Gessler: “Destroy their love of liberty – a pleasure my Lord.
To help me, may I have one of your caps, to set a trap for a certain upstart William Tell!”
The Trap, back in the town of Altdorf
Gessler to henchmen, “set the King cap on a post in the middle of the main square, and see to it that all Swiss show their obeisance, by bowing their heads in respect to the King and arrest all those that disobey to await my punishment”.
Unfortunately for Tell, he was in town with his son and happened into the square, passing the cap on a post without showing any care or a bow. The guards shout, halt, show your respect to the Kings cap,
“not likely”. You are under arrest then!
Gessler was overjoyed to trap Tell a figure of resistance so quickly, and rushed to the square, in his delight, almost slipping on the snow-covered steps of the winters day.
When he reached Tell, he laughed, don’t you know that it is the proclaimed by law, that you must bow to the Kings Cap as if the Emperor was her himself.
“Aye, your lordship” replied Tell.
“Are you adding insolence to your defiance?” Hmm, taking an apple out of his pocket. Throwing it to Tell’s son, who somewhat surprised still adroitly catches it.
Your punishment is this. Shoot the apple from upon your sons head by that tree on the other side of the square, and you live. Miss and you die.
A crowd was quickly growing.
Tell said, take the farm and me, leave the boy out of this.
But his son William, was brave and went to the tree an put the apple on his own head, as the eyes of a 12 year with total faith in his father said “Shoot, father, why do you hesitate? Well, I know that you will hit the apple!”
The crowd became hushed.
With a shudder, as the snow began to fall again, Tell pick up his bow, taking two arrows, holding his breath he carefully aimed.
Twang, thud, the arrow hit and skewered the Apple it to the tree.
A roar of relief sprung up.
Tell strode across to his son.
But Gessler, shout STOP. Not so quick Before you go, why shrewd archer did you draw two arrows from your quiver instead of one”
Tell, turned and said “Why, if so much as a drop of blood had been drawn from my son, my second bolt would have been lodged in your false heart”
Overjoyed Gessler, “bind him!”
but not liking the look of anger shown by the crowd, continued “In my own castle, we shall decide what type of death to put him too, after the pleasure of torturing such insolence away.”, as Tell sons was swiftly subsumed.
Tell, all bound up was dropped swiftly into Gessler’s boat, which then set off across the winter lake.
There is a wind, known as the fond. which when it descends from the mountains can turn a smooth lake into a pounding sea. As the boat approached the far shore, the Fond came in a hurry, and waves rose and fell, Gessler, shouted above the wind,” what incompetence, can’t any of you idiots steer the boat, the rocks will have us. “we soldiers and not a boatman like Tell”. Un-bin him then, “Tell you may change my mind about you if you bring us safely to shore”.
With that, Tell took the helm, kept the boat true but close to the rocks. His timing was exceptional, as a rising wave rose under and lifted the boat up, he grabbed his bow and lept to a flat rock, sending the boat spinning out of control. And escaped into the woods.
However, since too well, he knows Gessler’s reputation for revenge, his life, his sons and his wife would all be in grievous danger now.
So with a hard heart he resolute purpose, Tell made for a ravine where Gessler must pass to reach Kussnacht Castle. He waited. This time, instead of an apple it was a false heart he needed to hit. When the time came, despite the cold, and numb fingers Tell shot, and hit his mark, thus Freeing the Swiss people immediately from the tyrant Gessler,
but his act went further, and the Swiss people rose up and freed themselves from Austrian oppression completely.
To this day William Tell is revered throughout Switzerland and his story turned into Operas, plays, paintings, and nowadays it TV drama and films.
Today, there are still tyrants, who threaten our freedoms, especially on the internet. My fear is if we don’t allow words to fly, then eventually arrows will again fly, as the story of William Tell is remembered.