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A New and Complete Translation

Essay 57

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 [†] 17 November 1767[57.1]

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Banks retained the actual words Essex exclaimed over the slap.[57.2] Except Banks has Essex refer not only to the one Henry, but to all the world’s Henrys, and an Alexander, too.* His Essex is altogether too much a boaster, and little is lacking to make him just as great a braggart as the Essex of that blowhard Calprenede. Meanwhile he bears his misfortune much too timidly and in no time he is just as groveling toward the queen as he previously was impudent. Banks drew too much from life in his depiction of Essex. A character who is so inconsistent is no character and for that very reason unworthy of dramatic imitation. In a historical figure we can assume such self-contradictions indicate deception because we seldom get to know the innermost workings of the heart; but in the drama we become so intimately acquainted with the hero that we know right away whether his cast of mind conforms – or not – with actions we would not have expected of him. Regardless of whether they do or not, in neither case can the tragic poet use such a character properly. Without deception the character disappears; with it, his dignity is gone.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Banks could not fall into this error with Elizabeth. This woman remains completely consistent in history as only few men do. Her tenderness and her secret love for Essex are handled with great propriety; moreover, she remains something of a mystery. His Elizabeth does not complain about coldness and contempt and passion and fate like Corneille’s Elizabeth; she does not speak of a poison that consumes her; she does not grouse that the ingrate prefers a Suffolk to her, after she had given him to understand clearly enough that he should sigh for her alone, etc.[57.3] No such laments pass through her lips. She never speaks as one in love, but she acts like one. We never hear it, but we see how dear to her Essex once was and still is. A few sparks of jealousy betray her, otherwise we would simply take her for nothing but his friend.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 The art with which Banks put her sentiments about the Earl into action can be seen in the following scenes from the third act. – The queen believes she is alone and reflects on the unfortunate constraint of her rank, which does not allow her to act according to the true inclination of her heart. While so engaged, she becomes aware of Nottingham, who has followed her.[57.4]

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 THE QUEEN: You here, Nottingham? I thought I was alone.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 NOTTINGHAM: Pardon me for being so bold, Queen. And yet my duty orders me to be even bolder. – Something troubles you. I must ask – but first I beg pardon on my knees that I ask it – what is it that troubles you? What is it that hangs so heavy on this noble soul? – Or are you not well?

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 QUEEN: Rise, I pray you. – I am quite well. – I thank you for your love. – I am only troubled, a little troubled, – because of my people. I have reigned long, and, I fear, too long for them. They begin to grow weary of me. – New crowns are like new garlands, the freshest are the loveliest. My sun is going down; at its midday it warmed too much and people felt too hot; they wish it were already set. – Tell me, what do people say about Essex’s coming?

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 NOT: – About Essex’s coming – they do not say the best. But about him – he is known to be such a brave man –

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 QUEEN: What? Brave? When he has served me thus? – The traitor!

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 NOT: Indeed, it was not well –

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 QUEEN: Not well! Not well? – Nothing else?

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 NOT: It was a bold and heinous deed.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 QUEEN: Was it not, Nottingham? – To hold my order in such contempt! He deserved to die for it. Far lesser crimes have cost a hundred nearer favorites their heads.[57.5]

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 NOT: Most true. – And yet should Essex come away with a lesser punishment with so much greater guilt? Should he not die?

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 QUEEN: He should! – He should die, and in the most agonizing torment! – His anguish should be like his treachery, the greatest of all! – And then I will have his head and his limbs stuck on the highest battlements, not under dark gates or on low bridges, so that everyone who passes by sees them and cries out: See there, the proud ungrateful Essex! This Essex, who defied the justice of his Queen! – Well done! No more than he deserved! – What do you say, Nottingham? Do you not agree? – You are silent? Why are you silent? Do you yet wish to plead his cause?

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 NOT: Because you order it, Queen, I will tell you everything the world says of this proud ungrateful man. –

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 QUEEN: Do so! – Let me hear: what does the world say of him and me?

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 NOT: Of you, Queen? – Who is there, who does not speak of you with rapture and wonder? The praise of you that rings out from every tongue is no less sincere than the praise of dead saints. They only wish this one thing, and wish it with the kindest tears, sprung from purest love towards you – this one thing, that you would be pleased to redress their grievances against this Essex, no longer protect such a traitor, no longer keep him from justice and shame, finally deliver him to vengeance –

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 QUEEN: Who tells me what to do?

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 NOT: Tells you what to do! – Does one tell heaven what to do, when one beseeches in deepest submission? – And this is how they beseech you against this man, whose character is so bad, so evil, that he does not even see it worth his trouble to play the hypocrite. – How proud! How arrogant! Foolishly, vulgarly proud, proud just like a low lackey in his colorful fur-trimmed livery! – That he is bold, they will admit, but the way a wolf or bear is, blindly, without plan or caution. True courage, which raises a noble soul above fortune and misfortune, is foreign to him. The least affront enrages him, he rants and raves over nothing, everyone should humble themselves before him, he alone wants to shine and stand out everywhere. Lucifer himself, who sowed the first seeds of vice in heaven, was not more covetous and ambitious than he. But just as he tumbled from heaven –

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 QUEEN: Enough, Nottingham, enough! – You rail yourself quite out of breath. – I do not want to hear any more. – Aside: Poison and blisters on her tongue! – Indeed, Nottingham, you should be ashamed to even repeat such base lies of the vilest rabble. And it is not even true that the rabble says this. They do not even think it. But you, you wish they would.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 NOT: I am astonished, Queen –

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 QUEEN: About what?

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 NOT: You yourself commanded me to speak.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 QUEEN: Yes, but had I only noticed how welcome this command was to you! How ready you were for it! Suddenly your face glowed, your eyes flashed; your full heart rejoiced to overflowing, and each word, each gesture had its well-aimed arrow that hit me as well.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 NOT: Pardon me, Queen, if I have failed in the expression of my duty. I modeled it after yours.

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 QUEEN: After mine? – I am his Queen. I have leave to use the thing I have made as I please. – Besides, he has made himself guilty of the most monstrous crimes against my person. He has wronged me, not you. – How could the poor man have wronged you? You have no laws that he has overstepped, no subjects he has aggrieved, no crown he could strive for. What kind of cruel pleasure do you take in hitting a poor drowning man on the head rather than reaching out a hand to save him? –

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 NOT: I am to blame –

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 QUEEN: Enough of this! – Your Queen, the world, fate itself are against this man, and yet he seems to you to deserve no pity or excuse? –

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 NOT: I confess, Queen, –

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 QUEEN: Go, you are forgiven. – Call Rutland to come right away. – [57.6]


32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 * Act III.

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 —-By all

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 The Subtilty, and Woman in your Sex,

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 I swear, that had you been a Man you durst not,

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 Nay, your bold Father Harry durst not this

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 Have done – Why say I him? Not all the Harrys,

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 Nor Alexander’s self, were he alive,

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 Shou’d boast of such a deed on Essex done

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 Without revenge. —

  • 41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0
  • [†] Text in blue indicates passages ommitted by Zimmern in her 1890 translation.
  • [57.1] Actually published winter of 1768.
  • [57.2] In [54], Lessing begins his analysis of The Unhappy Favourite: or, The Earl of Essex (1682) by John Banks, in comparison to Thomas Corneille’s Le Comte d’Essex (1678). Here he continues to address criticism of Banks’s choice to include a moment in which the Queen Elizabeth slaps the titular character; see [55] and [56].
  • [57.3] Suffolk: the “young sister of Suffolk” is a fictional creation of Corneille. Here Lessing appears to be drawing from Voltaire’s criticism; see Voltaire, “Comte d’Essex” in Commentaires sur Corneille (I) 1008.
  • [57.4] Nottingham: the Countess of Nottingham; in Banks’s play, she has been rejected by Essex. Tr. note: Banks’s English original is written in an elevated and formal blank verse; Lessing’s German prose translation uses much plainer diction, a choice he explains in [59]. Because Lessing discusses his translation choices later, we have re-translated Lessing’s adaptation back into English. To compare this version to the original, see Banks, The Unhappy Favourite: or, the Earl of Essex 3.1.
  • [57.5] Tr. note: here the Queen has a long speech, which Lessing omits.
  • [57.6] Rutland: Countess, secretly married to Essex.
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Source: http://mcpress.media-commons.org/hamburg/essay-57/