William Tell Day

November 18, 1307, is supposedly the date that William Tell shot the apple off his son's head at the command of the evil Austrian governor of his province in Switzerland. Though the incident, and Tell himself, may both have been completely fictitious, the legend appears to have contributed to Switzerland's winning independence from Austria.

The story goes that William Tell refused to salute the Governor's cap and was told to shoot the apple off his own little son as punishment. The only way this makes the least sense is if he were told that he, Tell, would be killed outright if he disobeyed. Anyway, he succeeded without killing the kid and then informed the Governor that, had he missed, he would have turned the crossbow on the Governor himself. For that outburst, he was imprisoned.

Now there are more holes in this story than in the apple. First, a really good daddy would have just said, 'OK then kill me,' when first given the choice of risking his child or dying. Second, assuming he was a good daddy but didn't think real fast, once they gave him the crossbow, and since he was such a terrific archer, why didn't he quickly swing it over and shoot the Governor? It doesn't make sense. It is a stupid story and I am not surprised that I forgot it, assuming I ever knew it in the first place. I must be in the minority on this assessment of the legend, though, since it spawned an opera, a movie, several songs, and lots of artwork.

William Tell

William Tell (in the four languages of Switzerland: German: Wilhelm Tell; French: Guillaume Tell; Italian: Guglielmo Tell; Romansh: Guglielm Tell) is a folk hero of Switzerland. His legend is recorded in a late 15th-century Swiss chronicle.
It is set in the period of the original foundation of the Old Swiss Confederacy in the early 14th century. According to the legend, Tell — an expert marksman with the crossbow — assassinated Gessler, a tyrannical reeve of Habsburg Austria positioned in Altdorf, Uri.
Along with Arnold Winkelried, Tell is a central figure in Swiss patriotism as it was constructed during the Restoration of the Confederacy after the Napoleonic era.

The legend

There are several accounts of the Tell legend. The earliest sources give an account of the apple-shot, Tell's escape and the ensuing rebellion. The assassination of Gessler is not mentioned in the Tellenlied, but is already present in the White Book of Sarnen account.
The legend as told by Tschudi (ca. 1570) goes as follows: William Tell, who originally came from Bürglen, was known as a strong man and an expert shot with the crossbow. In his time, the Habsburg emperors of Austria were seeking to dominate Uri. Albrecht (or Hermann) Gessler, the newly appointed Austrian Vogt of Altdorf, raised a pole in the village's central square, hung his hat on top of it, and demanded that all the townsfolk bow before the hat. On 18 November 1307, Tell visited Altdorf with his young son and passed by the hat, publicly refusing to bow to it, and so was arrested. Gessler — intrigued by Tell's famed marksmanship, yet resentful of his defiance — devised a cruel punishment: Tell and his son would be executed, but he could redeem his life by shooting an apple off the head of his son, Walter, in a single attempt. Tell split the apple with a bolt from his crossbow.
But Gessler noticed that Tell had removed two crossbow bolts from his quiver, not one. Before releasing Tell, he asked why. Tell replied that if he had killed his son, he would have used the second bolt on Gessler himself. Gessler was angered, and had Tell bound. He was brought to Gessler's ship to be taken to his castle at Küssnacht to spend his newly won life in a dungeon. But, as a storm broke on Lake Lucerne, the soldiers were afraid that their boat would founder, and unbound Tell to steer with all his famed strength. Tell made use of the opportunity to escape, leaping from the boat at the rocky site now known as the Tellsplatte ('Tell's slab') and memorialized by the Tellskapelle.

The Hohle Gasse between Immensee and Küssnacht
Tell ran cross-country to Küssnacht. As Gessler arrived, Tell assassinated him with the second crossbow bolt along a stretch of the road cut through the rock between Immensee and Küssnacht, now known as the Hohle Gasse.Tell's blow for liberty sparked a rebellion, in which he played a leading part. That fed the impetus for the nascent Swiss Confederation. He fought again against Austria in the 1315 Battle of Morgarten. Tschudi also has an account of Tell's death in 1354, according to which he was killed trying to save a child from drowning in the Schächenbach river in Uri.[3]

Earliest mentions (15th century)

The first reference to William Tell appears in the White Book of Sarnen (German: Weisses Buch von Sarnen). This volume was written in 1475 by a country scribe named Hans Schreiber. It makes mention of the Rütli oath (German: Rütlischwur) of 1291, the Burgenbruch and Tell's heroic deeds.[4]
A roughly equally early account of Tell is found in the Tellenlied, a song composed during the 1470s, its oldest extant manuscript copy dating to 1501. This song begins with the Tell legend, which it presents as the origin of the Confederacy, calling Tell the 'first confederate'. The narrative presented includes Tell's apple-shot, his preparation of a second arrow to shoot Gessler in the event of his killing his son, and his escape, but it omits the assassination of Gessler. The text then goes on to enumerate the cantons of the Confederacy, and it was expanded with 'current events' in the course of the Burgundy Wars, ending with the death of Charles the Bold in 1477.

Comparative mythology

The Tell legend has been compared to a number of other myths or legends, specifically in Norse mythology, involving a magical marksman coming to the aid of a suppressed people under the sway of a tyrant. The story of a great hero successfully shooting an apple from his child's head is an archetype present in the story of Egil in the Thidreks saga (associated with the god Ullr in Eddaic tradition) as well as in the stories of Adam Bell from England, Palnatoki from Denmark and a story from Holstein.
Such parallels were pointed out as early as 1760 by Gottlieb Emmanuel von Haller and the pastor Simeon Uriel Freudenberger in a short leaflet with the title William Tell, a Danish Fable (German: Der Wilhelm Tell, ein dänisches Mährgen).
Rochholz (1877) connects the similarity of the Tell legend to the stories of Egil and Palnatoki with the legends of a migration from Sweden to Switzerland during the Middle Ages. He also adduces parallels in folktales among the Finns and the Lapps (Sami). From pre-Christian Norse mythology, Rochholz compares Ullr, who bears the epithet of Boga-As ('bow-god'), Heimdall and also Odin himself, who according to the Gesta Danorum (Book 1, chapter 8.16) assisted Haddingus by shooting ten bolts from a crossbow in one shot, killing as many foes. Rochholz further compares Indo-European and oriental traditions and concludes (pp. 35–41) that the legend of the master marksman shooting an apple (or similar small target) was known outside the Germanic sphere (Germany, Scandinavia, England) and the adjacent regions (Finland and the Baltic) in India, Arabia, Persia and the Balkans (Serbia).
The Danish legend of Palnatoki, first attested in the twelfth-century Gesta Danorum by Saxo Grammaticus.Is the earliest known parallel to the Tell legend. As with William Tell, Palnatoki is forced by the ruler, (in this case King Harald Bluetooth), to shoot an apple off his son's head as proof of his marksmanship. A striking similarity between William Tell and Palnatoki is that both heroes take more than one arrow out of their quiver. When asked why he pulled several arrows out of his quiver, Palnatoki, too, replies that if he had struck his son with the first arrow, he would have shot King Harald with the remaining two arrows.

William Tell (play)

William Tell (German: Wilhelm Tell) is a drama written by Friedrich Schiller in 1804. The story focuses on the legendary Swiss marksman William Tell as well as on the Swiss struggle for independence from the Habsburg Empire in the early 14th century. Gioachino Rossini's four-act opera Guillaume Tell was written to a French adaptation of Schiller's play.

William Tell deck

The characters of the play are used in the national deck of cards of Hungary (also used in surrounding countries). The deck was born in the times before the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, when revolutionary movements were awakening all over in Europe. The Aces show the four seasons. It was long believed that the card was invented in Vienna at the Card Painting Workshop of Ferdinand Piatnik, however in 1974 the very first deck was found in an English private collection, and it has shown the name of the inventor and creator of deck as József Schneider, a Master Card Painter at Pest, and the date of its creation as 1837. Had he not chosen the Swiss characters of Schiller's play, had he chosen Hungarian heroes or freedom fighters, his deck of cards would never have made it into distribution, due to the heavy censorship of the government at the time. Interestingly, although the characters on the cards are Swiss, these cards are unknown in Switzerland.