A New and Complete Translation

Essay 52

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 [†] 27 October 1767[52.1]

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 On the fortieth evening (Thursday, the 9th of July) Schlegel’s Triumph of the Good Women was performed.[52.2]

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 This comedy is unquestionably one of the best German originals. It was, as far as I know, the playwright’s last comic work, one which both immeasurably surpasses its earlier siblings and demonstrates the maturity of its creator. The Busy Idler was his first youthful attempt, and it failed, as all such youthful attempts fail.[52.3] May the spirit of wit forgive these, and refrain from punishing those  who found plenty of wit in them! It contains the coldest and most boring, mundane drivel, which could only occur in the house of a Meissen fur trader. I do not know if it has ever been produced, and I doubt that a performance would be tolerable. The Mysterious Man is much better, even if it is in no way equal to the misanthrope that Molière depicted in the passage from which Schlegel claims to have taken the inspiration for this play.[*][52.4] Molière’s mysterious man is a fool with inflated self-regard; Schlegel’s mysterious man, on the other hand, is a good honest sheep who wants to play the fox in order not to be eaten by wolves. This is why he has so much in common with the mistrustful character that Cronegk later brought to the stage.[52.5] But since both characters, or rather both nuances of the same character, can only be found in such small and miserable, or misanthropic and ugly souls, they will necessarily awaken more pity or disgust than laughter in our imaginations. The Mysterious Man was produced here previously; across the board, people assured me they found it more ridiculous than funny, and given the observation made above, I can believe it.[52.6]

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 On the other hand, The Triumph of Good Women has received eminent acclaim wherever and whenever it has been performed, and it is clear that this approval is based on true merits, and that it is not the effect of a surprisingly overpowering production, because so far nobody has retracted his approval after having read the play. He who reads the play first likes it even more when he sees it performed; and he who sees it performed first likes it even more when he reads it. In addition, the strictest critics have singled out this play from his other comedies to the same extent that they have generally preferred those to the usual junk heap of German comedies.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 “I read,” says one of them, “The Busy Idler.[52.7] The characters seemed drawn perfectly from life: every day we see such idlers, such doting mothers, such shallow-minded visitors, and such stupid fur traders. This is how the German middle class thinks, lives, and acts. The playwright has done his duty, he has depicted us as we are. However, I yawned in boredom. – Then I read The Triumph of Good Women. What a difference! Here I find life in the characters, fire in their actions, true wit in their speeches, and a tone of cultivated living in their company.”

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 The primary flaw that the same critic observed in the play is that the characters are not German. And unfortunately we must concede this. But we are already sufficiently used to foreign – particularly French – customs in our comedies for this to have an especially negative effect on us.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 “Nikander,” it says, “is a French adventurer who aims at conquests, chases all women, is not seriously inclined towards any of them, tries to topple all peaceful marriages into disunity and to become the seducer of all women and the terror of all men, and who despite all this does not have a bad heart. The prevailing corruption of morals and principles seems to have swept him along. Good lord! A German who would live like this would have to have the most corrupt heart in the world. – Hilaria, Nikander’s wife, abandoned four weeks after their marriage, has not seen him in ten years and now comes looking for him on a whim. She dresses as a man, and under the name Philint follows him into all the houses where he seeks adventure. Philint is more witty, fickle, and impudent than Nikander. The women are more attracted to Philint, and whenever he shows up with his brazen but courteous nature, Nikander is left standing there like a dummy. This gives rise to very lively situations. The invention is clever, the double character is drawn well and put successfully into action; but the original for this dandy is certainly no German.”[52.8]

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 “What I also do not like about this comedy,” he continues, “is the character of Agenor. In order to make the triumph of the good women complete, this Agenor is portrayed as a far too ugly husband. He tyrannizes his innocent Juliane in the most unworthy way, and genuinely wants to torment her. He is surly every time he appears, mocking of his aggrieved wife’s tears, suspicious of her caresses, spiteful enough to give her most innocent words and actions a false turn and construe them to her disadvantage, jealous, hard, insensitive, and, of course, in love with his wife’s chambermaid. – Such a man is far too corrupt for us to imagine capable of speedy improvement. The playwright gives him a side role in which the wrinkles of his worthless heart cannot sufficiently unfold. He blusters, and neither Juliane nor the reader really knows what he wants. The playwright also had no room to properly prepare and arrange his development. He had to be satisfied to do so in passing, because the main action is focused upon Nikander and Philinte. Katherine, Juliane’s warm-hearted chambermaid whom Agenor pursues, says right at the end of the comedy: ‘The quickest conversions are not always the most genuine ones!’ At least while this girl is in the house, I would not wish to answer for sincerity.”[52.9]

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 I am glad that the best German comedy has fallen into the hands of the right German critic. And in fact, it was perhaps the first comedy that this man evaluated.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 End of the First Volume.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 [*] Le Misanthrope Acte II. Sc. 4.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 C’est de la tête aux pieds, un homme tout mystère.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Qui vous jette, en passant, un coup d’oeil égaré,

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Et sans aucune affaire est toujours affairé.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Tout ce qu’il vous débite en grimaces abonde.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 A force de façons il assome le monde.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Sans cesse il a tout bas, pour rompre l’entretien,

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 Un secret à vous dire, et ce secret n’est rien.

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 De la moindre vétille, il fait une merveille

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 Et jusques au bonjour, il dit tout à l’oreille.

  • 21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0
  • [†] Text in blue indicates passages ommitted by Zimmern in her 1890 translation.
  • [52.1] Actually published winter of 1768.
  • [52.2] Der Triumph der guten Frauen (1748): five-act comedy in prose by J. E. Schlegel. For the plot, see Robertson (87).
  • [52.3] Der geschäftige Müßiggänger (1741): five-act comedy in prose by J. E. Schlegel, published in 1743 the fourth volume of J. C. Gottsched’s Deutsche Schaubühne.
  • [52.4] Der Geheimnißvolle (1746; pub. 1747): five-act comedy in prose by J. E. Schlegel. In a prologue to the play, Schlegel cites Molière’s Misanthrope as the model for his main character (see J. E. Schlegel, Der Geheimnißvolle 185–6).
  • [52.5] Lessing refers to Der Mistrauische [sic] [The Suspicious Man] (1760): five-act comedy in prose by J. F. Cronegk.
  • [52.6] The play was produced in Hamburg in 1751.
  • [52.7] Moses Mendelssohn, in his letter of 31 January 1765. See Mendelssohn, Briefe, die neueste Litteratur betreffend, Part XXI: 132–3.
  • [52.8] Mendelssohn, Briefe XXI: 133–5.
  • [52.9] Mendelssohn, Briefe XXI: 135–6.
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Source: http://mcpress.media-commons.org/hamburg/essay-52/