¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 On the forty-third evening (Tuesday, the 14th of July), Nivelle de la Chaussée’s School for Mothers was repeated, and on the forty-fourth evening (that is, July 15th), The Earl of Essex was repeated.[*][54.2]
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Since from time immemorial the English have liked to bring domestica facta to their stage, one might readily assume that they do not lack for tragedies about this subject.[54.3] The oldest is by John Banks, under the title The Unhappy Favourite: or, The Earl of Essex.[54.4] It premiered in the theater in 1682 At the time, the French already had three Essexes: Calprenede’s from 1638, Boyer’s from 1678, and the younger Corneille’s from the same year.[54.5] However, if the English wanted to deny that the French had once again beaten them to the punch, they might claim Daniel’s Philotas, a tragedy from 1611 which is believed to have the history and character of the Earl under a different name.[†][54.6]
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Banks seems not to have known any of his French predecessors. He did, however, follow a novel that had the title The history of the most renowned Queen Elizabeth, and her great favourite, the Earl of Essex,[‡] in which he found the material sufficiently developed that he only needed to render it in dialogue and give it the external form of a drama.[54.7] Here is the whole plot, as excerpted by the author of the text cited below. Perhaps my readers will find it worthwhile to compare it with Corneille’s play.[54.8]
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 “To heighten our Compassion for the unhappy Earl, and justify the Queen’s vehement Affection for him, he is represented as possest of all those eminent Qualities which compose a Hero; and to be a faultless Character requires only to have had a greater Command over his Passions. Burleigh, first Minister to the Queen, jealous of her Glory, and envious of the Favours heap’d on Essex, is continually labouring to render him suspected. Sir Walter Raleigh, no less his Enemy, joins his Endeavors for the same End, and both are abetted by the malicious Countess of Nottingham, who, having been passionately in Love with Essex, and rejected by him, seeks to ruin what she can’t enjoy. The Impetuosity of the Earl’s Temper gave them but too great an Opportunity, and they accomplish’d their Ends in the following Manner.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 A Rebellion breaking out in Ireland, headed by Tyronne, a very valiant Man, Essex, as being Lord-Lieutenant of that Kingdom, and Captain-General of all her Majesty’s Forces both by Sea and Land, marched with a powerful Army against him; after some slight Skirmishes, the Earl’s Troops being much harassed, and the Enemy posted very advantageously, he yielded to a Parley, which being very private, was represented to the Queen as derogatory to her Honour, and as if the Earl was not free from some clandestine Designs. Burleigh and Raleigh, with some other Members of both Houses, petition her for Leave to impeach him of High Treason, which she not only refuses, but is extremely incensed that such a Motion has been made, repeats the former Services the Earl has done the Nation, and reproaches them with Malice, Envy, and Ingratitude: The Earl of Southampton, a very sincere Friend of Essex, urges every Thing he can in his Behalf, and extols the Queen’s Justice in protecting him; so that for that Time his Enemies are put to Silence. [(First Act)]
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 The Queen, however, not satisfied with his Behavior, sends Orders to him to repair his past Conduct, and not quit Ireland till the Rebels are totally subdued, and all Things quieted; but the Earl hearing of the Accusations had been brought against him, was too impatient to be clear’d; and having engaged Tyronne to lay down his Arms, came over in spite of the Queen’s positive Command to the contrary. His cruel Foes rejoiced; all his Friends were alarmed at this imprudent Step; the Countess of Rutland, to whom he was privately married, trembled for the Consequence; and the Queen herself was beyond Measure afflicted to find that his rash Proceeding now left her no Pretence to espouse his Cause, without manifesting a Tenderness which she was desirous of concealing from the whole World. The Consideration of her Dignity, heighten’d by her native Haughtiness, and the secret Love she bears him, occasion cruel Conflicts in her breast; long she debates within herself, whether she shall obey the Dictates of the one, and send the audacious Man to the Tower, or comply with the soft Impulse of the other, and admit the beloved criminal to justify himself before her: The latter, after much Struggling, gets the better, but not without some Restrictions; she resolves to see him, but to receive him in such a Manner as shall leave him no Room to hope she will easily pardon his Offences.
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Burleigh, Raleigh, and Nottingham are present at this Interview, on the latter of which she leans, and seems busy in Discourse, without once looking on the Earl; and, after suffering him to kneel some Time, quits the Room, sternly commanding all who have Loyalty to follow her, and leave the Traitor to himself. None dare to disobey, even Southampton goes, but soon returns, and, with the disconsolate Rutland, bewail his Misfortunes. Immediately after Burleigh and Raleigh are sent to demand his Staff of Offices, which he refuses to resign to any but the Queen herself; and both he and Southampton treat those Ministers with Contempt. [(Second Act)]
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 The Queen being presently informed of this Behavior, is highly incens’d, yet still divided in her Thoughts; she cannot brook the Railings of Nottingham against him, and the Praises bestowed on him by the unwary Rutland make her yet more uneasy, by the Discovery that [Rutland] loves him: She, however, at last, commands he shall be brought into her Presence: he attempts to vindicate his Conduct, but the Reasons he gives seem too weak to convince her Judgment of his Innocence. She pardons him to satisfy the secret Affection she has for him; but deprives him of all his Honours in Consideration of what she thought owing to herself as Queen. Here the Earl is no longer able to restrain the Impetuosity of his Nature, he throws his Staff at her Feet, accompanied with some Expressions, that sound [so much like reproaches that they drive the Queen’s anger to utmost fury. She answers him in a manner quite natural for one in a fury, without concern for decorum and majesty, without concern for the consequences: namely, instead of giving an answer, she slaps him. The Earl reaches for his sword; and only the thought that it is his Queen, and not his King, who has hit him, in short, that it is a woman from whom he has this blow, restrains him from actually assaulting her.][54.9] Southampton conjures him to be more moderate; he goes on repeating his Services, and accusing Burleigh, Raleigh, and even her Majesty, of Injustice. She leaves him in the utmost Rage, and none remain with him but Southampton, who in this Exigence will not forsake him. [(Third Act)]
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Grown desperate with his Misfortunes, he runs head-long into the City, proclaims his Wrongs, and inveighs against the Ministry. All this is told with Aggravations to the Queen, who orders the two Earls to be seized. They are pursued and taken, and sent close Prisoners to the Tower, there to wait their Trial. [In the meantime the Queen’s anger has abated, making room for more favorable thoughts toward Essex. Thus][54.10] the Queen, in spite of all can be said to her, will needs see Essex before he goes, and fearing his Crimes were too flagrant to escape Sentence, in order to save his Life, gives him a Ring, with a solemn Promise, that whenever he sends that, to grant him in Return whatever he shall ask. [But she almost immediately regrets having been so benevolent to him again when she discovers that he is married to Rutland, and discovers this from Rutland herself, when she comes to beg mercy for him].”[54.11] [(Fourth Act)]
- ¶ 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0
- [†] Text in blue indicates passages omitted by Zimmern in her 1890 translation.
- [54.1] Actually published winter of 1768.
- [54.2] School for Mothers, see ; The Earl of Essex, see .
- [54.3] domestica facta: domestic affairs; a reference to the Ars Poetica [The Art of Poetry] of Horace (see Satires, Epistles, and Ars Poetica 474–5).
- [54.4] John Banks (c. 1652/3–1700): English playwright.
- [54.5] Calprenede, see [22.7]. Claude Boyer (1618–98): French poet and playwright. The younger Corneille: Thomas Corneille, see [22.6].
- [54.6] Philotas (1605): tragedy by English poet, historian, and playwright Samuel Daniel (1562–1619). Lessing quotes from a later 1611 edition; his assertion about the play’s relationship to the historical Essex is drawn from Theophilus Cibber, who writes, “it was reported that the character of Philotas was drawn for [sic] the unfortunate earl of Essex, which obliged the author to vindicate himself from this charge, in an apology printed at the end of the play” (see The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland 147–8) (Lessing slightly misrenders Cibber’s title in his footnote). Contemporary scholarship is disinclined to believe Daniel’s disavowal (see Bergeron 100–4).
- [54.7] Various sources have been suggested for Banks’s play, beginning with The Secret History of the most renowned Queen Elizabeth and the Earl of Essex (1680), which was in fact a translation of Thomas Corneille’s Comte d’Essex (1678). Another suggested source, an anonymous chapbook entitled History of the Most Renowned Queen Elizabeth and her Great Favourite, the Earl of Essex (1700?), was originally believed to have been published in 1650, but is actually an abbreviated version of The Secret History. See Wykes 79–81.
- [54.8] Tr. note: The lengthy quote that follows is Lessing’s translation of the plot description of The Earl of Essex from the second volume of the anonymous compilation A Companion to the Theatre (99–105). (Lessing also slightly misrenders this title). We have restored the original English (with original orthography and punctuation) except where Lessing deviates significantly from his source, in which cases our translation of Lessing’s alteration is interpolated in square brackets, and the difference explained in the notes.
- [54.9] Tr. note: the bracketed text is a translation of Lessing’s free expansion of the scene; the (far briefer) original English reads: “like Reproaches; on which the Queen, inflamed with Wrath, gives him a Blow. He lays his Hand on his Sword, and it is in vain that” (A Companion to the Theatre II: 102).
- [54.10] Tr. note: the original reads: “there to wait their Trial. But the Queen, in spite of all can be said to her” (A Companion to the Theatre II: 103).
- [54.11] Tr. note: this last sentence is Lessing’s addition, and not in the original; see A Companion to the Theatre II, 103.