A New and Complete Translation

Essay 13

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 12 June 1767

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 [†]On the ninth evening (Monday, May 4th) Cénie should have been performed. But due to an epidemic emergency, more than half of the actors were suddenly rendered incapable of performing, and they had to sort things out as best as possible. They repeated The New Agnes and put on the light opera The Governess.[13.1]

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 On the tenth evening (Tuesday, May 5th) The Young Hypocrite, or the Country Poet by Destouches was performed.[13.2]

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 3 This play has three acts in French, but five in translation. Without this improvement it did not merit inclusion in The German Theater of the erstwhile renowned Professor Gottsched, and his learned lady friend, the translator, was far too good a wife not to submit blindly to the critical judgments of her husband.[13.3] What does it take really to turn three acts into five? You have coffee served in another room, you propose a walk in the garden, and, if push comes to shove, the candlesnuffer can always come out and say: “Ladies and Gentlemen, exit the stage for a bit; intermissions were invented so we can trim the lights, and how does it help your performanceif the audience cannot see?” – The translation itself is otherwise not bad, and in particular Professor Gottsched’s wife had good success with Masures’s doggerel verse, as is fitting.[13.4] It can be shown by comparison whether or not she was equally successful in those places where she thought she needed to give the circumstances of the original a new turn. I heard others take issue with one such improvement of this sort, notwithstanding the dear lady’s good intentions in making it. In the scene in which Henriette acts the foolish strumpet, Destouches has Masures say to her: “You astonish me, mademoiselle; I took you for a virtuose.[13.5] “Oh phooey!” Henriette replies, “What do you take me for? I am a good girl, you should know that.” “But indeed,” Masures interrupts her, “one can be both a good girl and a virtuose at the same time.” “No,” Henriette says, “I am sure one can’t be both. Me, a virtuose!” Recall what Madame Gottsched inserted instead of the word virtuose: a “wonder.”[13.6] No wonder she did this, people said. She believes herself to be something of a virtuose and was angered by the intended jab. But she should not have gotten angry; the Professor’s wife could have repeated without pursed lips what the witty, educated Henriette says in the guise of a dumb “Agnes.”[13.7] But perhaps she was simply tripped up by the foreign word virtuose; wonder is more German. Among our beauties there are fifty wonders to every virtuose. The lady wished to translate clearly and comprehensibly; she was quite justified.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 The Dumb Beauty by Schlegel ended the evening.[13.8]

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Schlegel wrote this little piece for the newly established Copenhagen Theater, to be produced there in a Danish translation. Because of this, the customs and morals in it are really much more Danish than German. Nevertheless, it is indisputably our best original comic play written in verse. Schlegel achieves a versification throughout that is as fluid as it is graceful, and it was fortunate for his successors that he did not also write his longer comedies in verse. He could have easily spoiled audiences for them, and then they would not only have had his theories, but also his examples working against them.[13.9] Earlier he had vigorously defended rhymed comedy, and the more successfully he surmounted its challenges, the more convincing his argument would seem. Yet, as he set himself to work on the task, he no doubt discovered what inexpressible trouble it cost to surmount just a portion of those challenges, and how little the pleasure that came from these victories could compensate for the many small virtues that had to be sacrificed for them. At one time the French were so loathsome as to insist on having Molière’s prose plays brought into verse after his death; and even now they consider a prose comedy to be the kind of thing any of them could write. The English, on the other hand, would hound a rhymed comedy right out of the theater. Only the Germans are, on this point – shall I say more reasonable, or indifferent? They accept what the poet offers. What would it be like if they began wanting to choose and reject?

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 The role of the dumb beauty has its difficulties. People say that a silent beauty is not necessarily a stupid one, and the actress who plays the role as a silly clumsy strumpet is in error. But Schlegel’s dumb beauty is also, in fact, stupid; the reason she does not say anything is that she does not think anything. The trick to it is as follows:one has to make her awkward in every instance where she would have to think in order to appear sophisticated, but at the same time give her all the refinements that are merely mechanical and that she could have without much thought. For example, her gait and her curtsy need not be rustic; they can be as fine and dainty as only a dance master can teach – for why should she have learned nothing from her dance master, if she has been able to learn quadrille?[13.10] And she must not play quadrillebadly, because she counts on winning money from her father. Her clothing, too, must be neither old-fashioned nor frumpy, for Mrs. Lovetotalk specifically says:[13.11]

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 “Aren’t you nicely dressed? – Let’s see!

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Now! – turn around! – That’s right, and sit gallantly.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 What does the lunatic mean by saying you have no brain?”

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 The poet has clearly indicated here, with Mrs. Lovetotalk’s observations, how he wishes his dumb beauty to appear on the outside.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 “Let’s see, how are you carrying yourself? – Don’t stick your head back like that!”

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Stupidity without breeding will hold the head more forwards than back; the dance master teaches how to hold it back. They must therefore send Charlotte to the dance master, and the more, the better; for this does not damage her beauty – on the contrary, the stiff, dainty, dance-master-manners are precisely those that suit the dumb beauty best. They show off her beauty to its greatest advantages, save that they rob her of life.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 “Who cares if she has a brain? He should just look at her face!”

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 It would be very good to have an actress with big beautiful eyes play this role. But those lovely eyes must hardly move, perhaps not at all; their glances must be slow and vacant; they must want to set us aflame with their immobile points of focus, but they must say nothing.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 “Walk about a bit. – Good! Come here! – Bow! There we have it, that’s what’s missing. No, look! This is how one bows.”

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 One misunderstands these lines if one has Charlotte make an uncouth bow, a stupid curtsy. Her bowing must be learned, and as already mentioned, it must not bring shame upon her dance master. Mrs. Lovetotalk must believe only that it does not have enough affectation. Charlotte curtsies, and Mrs. Lovetotalk thinks she should make it fancier. That is the whole difference, and Madame Löwen observed it quite well, although at the same time I don’t believe that Mrs. Lovetotalk is otherwise a good role for her. She is not able to hide the fine lady enough, and certain faces simply cannot manage unworthy actions, like the swapping of a daughter.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 On the eleventh evening (Wednesday, May 6th), Miss Sara Sampson was performed.[13.12]

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 One can demand no more of the art than what Mme. Hensel achieves with the role of Sara, and overall the play was very well performed. It is a little too long, and is therefore usually shortened by most theaters. Whether the author is happy with all of this cutting, I have my doubts. We all know how writers are; if you just try to remove a hangnail, they immediately scream: you are murdering me! Admittedly, the excessive length of a play is poorly remedied by simply cutting, and I don’t understand how someone can shorten a scene without changing the whole sequence of dialogue. But if the cuts made by others do not sit well with the author, then he should make some himself, if he thinks it is worth the trouble, and if he is not one of those who brings children into the world and then abandons them forever.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 Madame Hensel died in an exceptionally becoming way, in the most picturesque attitude, and one feature in particular greatly surprised me. It has been observed of the dying that they begin to pluck at their clothing or bedsheets with their fingers.[13.13] She availed herself of this observation in the most fortunate manner. In that moment in which the soul departed there was a slight spasm, just in the fingers of her otherwise stiff arm; she pinched her skirt, which was lifted just a bit and then immediately fell back again: the last fluttering of an extinguishing light, the final ray of a setting sun. – Anyone who does not perceive from my description how beautiful this refinement was should lay the blame on my description – but he should see it someday![13.14]

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0  

  • 22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0
  • [13.1] Cénie (1752): by French playwright, novelist, and salonnière Françoise de Grafigny (1695–1758), translated by L. A. Gottsched in 1753. For The New Agnes, see [10]. Die Gouvernante [The Governess] (c. 1763): a one-act comic operetta, possibly written by the Viennese harlequin Franz Anton Nuth (1698?–1788) (see Schmid, Chronologie des deutschen Theaters, 221). The “epidemic emergency,” according to Robertson, was influenza (64).
  • [13.2] La fausse Agnès, ou le poète campagnard (wr. 1727). Literally, The False Agnès, or the Country Poet. See [13.7].
  • [13.3] L. A. Gottsched’s translation, Der poetische Dorfjunker (1741), included in volume 3 of J. C. Gottsched’s Die Deutsche Schaubühne (1740-50). Over the course of his career, Lessing grew increasingly hostile towards the work of J. C. Gottsched (recently deceased in 1766). See Letter 17 (dated 16 Feb., 1759) of the Litteraturbriefe (Werke und Briefe 4: 499-501).
  • [13.4] Herr von Masuren: character in Der Poetische Dorfjunker (M. des Mazures in the original).
  • [13.5] Tr. note: The term Lessing uses here, Virtuosin, is a translation of the French term une virtuose, which, in the original, later is made synonymous with a savante, or “learned woman.” Destouches makes comic use of the word’s double connotation (virtuous/ worldly). Henriette: the titular hypocrite in Gottsched’s translation, Angélique in the original.
  • [13.6] Tr. note: Gottsched’s substitution in German is Wunder, which translates as marvel, wonder, miracle, or prodigy. The choice of “wonder” here allows for retention of Lessing’s play on words in the next sentence.
  • [13.7] Agnes: an appellation for an innocent young girl; the character type became associated with Molière’s ingénue Agnès in L’école des femmes [School for Wives] (1662). See [10].
  • [13.8] J. E. Schlegel, Die stumme Schönheit (1747), a one-act comedy in alexandrines. See Lefevere for an English translation. In Schlegel’s play, Leonore, the daughter of a rich landowner, was given as an infant to the care of Mrs. Lovetotalk, a middle-class widow with a daughter of her own, Charlotte. Mrs. Lovetotalk switches the two girls, in the hopes that Charlotte (the dumb beauty) will secure a wealthy husband.
  • [13.9] Schlegel’s “Schreiben über die Komödie in Versen” [“Writings on Comedy in Verse”](1740) defends the use of verse in comedy, a choice that runs counter to the “rank clause” (Ständeklausel), promoted by those such as J. C. Gottsched, which upheld dictates of French neoclassicism (associating verse with tragedy and characters drawn from the nobility).
  • [13.10] Tr. note: in German, as in English, quadrille can refer both to a type of square dance and to a card game (specifically, a four-person version of ombre popular in the eighteenth century).
  • [13.11] Mrs. Lovetotalk: an English version of “Frau Praatgern,”from Lefevere’s translation.
  • [13.12] Written by Lessing, Miss Sara Sampson (1755) is considered the first German bourgeois tragedy (bürgerliche Trauerspiel). See Werke und Briefe 3: 431-526. The eponymous Sara was a highly coveted role and one for which Hensel was especially known.
  • [13.13] Here Lessing apparently draws on his earlier medical studies. Shortly after the performance of Miss Sara Sampson (6 May 1767), Lessing asked his brother to forward a medical treatise from his library entitled “Von dem Zupfen der Sterbenden” [“On the Spasms of the Dying”] (see “Letter to Karl Lessing,” dated 22 May 1767, Werke und Briefe 11/1: 467).
  • [13.14] Principal actress Karoline Schulze (later Schulze-Kummerfeld) (1745–1815) claims in her memoirs that Hensel stole this bit of business from her. Both actresses shared the same repertoire, including the role of Sara, and Hensel eventually succeeded in forcing Schulze to leave Hamburg.
  • [†] Text in blue indicates passages that were cut by Zimmern in her 1890 translation.
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Source: http://mcpress.media-commons.org/hamburg/essay-13/