[†] 19 May 1767
I still have not considered the addresses delivered to the audience before and after the main play on the first evening. They were written by a poet who understands better than any other how to enliven profound ideas with wit and lend an agreeable air of playfulness to serious thought. [6.1] How could I better enhance these pages, than by sharing them in full with my readers? Here they are. They need no commentary. I only hope that they do not fall on deaf ears!
They were both unusually well delivered; the first with all of the grace and dignity, and the second with all of the warmth, delicacy, and engaging courtesy that the particular content of each demands.
(SPOKEN BY MADAME LÖWEN) [6.3]
Dear friends, who have enjoyed here the manifold display
Of humanity through the art of imitation:
You who gladly weep, you tender, better souls,
How beautiful, how honorable is your desire to torment yourselves so;
When suddenly sweet tears steal quietly down your cheeks
Softening your heart and dissolving it in tenderness;
And suddenly your bestorm’d soul, every nerve aquiver,
Feels delight in suffering, and trembles with pleasure!
O tell me: this art, that melts your heart so,
This stream of passion, surging through your core,
Which pleases when it moves, and excites when it frightens,
Which awakens us to pity, compassion, and generosity;
This model of decorum that teaches every virtue–
Is not this art deserving of your favor and your care?
Compassionate Providence sends the theatrical muse to Earth
To benefit the barbarian, so that he might become humane; [6.4]
Consecrates her with majesty, with genius, with divine passion,
To be the teacher of kings;
Calls on her to whet the dullest of feelings to keenest compassion
By using her power to captivate through tears;
To subdue evil and strengthen souls
Through sweet apprehension and pleasurable dread;
And, for the benefit of the state, to turn the angry, wild man
Into a human being, citizen, friend, and patriot.
Laws may well strengthen the security of the state,
As chains upon the hand of injustice:
But craftiness will always hide evil men from judges,
And power will often serve to protect eminent villains.
Who revenges innocence, then? Woe to the enfetter’d state,
That, in the place of virtue, has nothing but a law book!
Laws that merely bridle public crimes,
Laws that are used to deliver a verdict of hate,
When selfishness, pride, and partisanship
Impose the spirit of oppression for the spirit of Solon![6.5]
There corruption soon learns to seize the sword of majesty
In order to escape punishment:
There the desire to rule, rejoicing in the decay of the law,
Plants its foot on freedom’s neck;
There he, who represents such laws, succumbs to obscenity and thuggery
And slaughters innocence with Themis’ bloodstained sword.[6.6]
When such a man, punished by no law and punishable by none,
The clever villain, the bloodthirsty tyrant,
When he suppresses innocence, who dares protect it?
Deep pools of deceit safeguard him, and terror arms him.
Who is innocence’s protector, who will stand in opposition?—
Who? The fearless art, that wields both dagger and scourge
And dares to hold the mirror up
Before all monsters of unpunished folly;
That unwraps the web deception spins around itself,
And says to tyrants that they are tyrants;
That, fearless, has no shame before a throne,
And speaks to the hearts of princes with a thunderous voice;
Frightens crowned murderers, and sobers the ambitious,
Chastens the hypocrite, and laughs the fool wiser;
Brings the dead to life in order to instruct,
The great art that makes us laugh or cry.
In Greece Thalia found protection, love, and the desire for learning;
In Rome, in Gaul, in Albion, and—here.[6.7]
When her tears have flowed with noble tenderness,
You, friends, have often shed yours alongside;
You have openly united your pain with hers,
And cried out your applause to her with full hearts:
Like her, you have hated, loved, hoped, and feared,
And through suffering, rejoiced in your humanity.
For a long time she has sought a stage in vain:
In Hamburg she found protection: here is her Athens!
Here, in the lap of peace, under the protection of wise benefactors,
Encouraged by praise, perfected by the connoisseur,
Here will flourish—yes, I wish, I hope, I predict!—
A second Roscius, a second Sophocles,[6.8]
Who will revive Greek tragedy for the Germans:
And some of this fame shall be yours, you benefactors.
O be worthy of the same! Uphold your virtue,
And remember, O remember, all Germany looks to you!
(DELIVERED BY MADAME HENSEL)
See here! how resolutely the stalwart Christian dies!
And how coldly he hates, who finds delusion expedient,
Who needs barbarity, the better to make his cause,
His vision, his dream, into the word of God.
The spirit of delusion was persecution and violence,
Where blindness counted as merit, and fear as piety.
In this way, the web of lies was protected with the flare
Of majesty, with poison, and with assassination.
Where conviction is lacking, fear steps in:
Having condemned the truth, delusion demands blood.
Those who are of a different faith than Ismenor’s
Must be chased down and converted by the sword.
And many an Aladin, whether conniving or weak, indulges
The dark Court of holy murders,
And must use his sword against his friend,
The enemy of fanaticism, the martyr to the truth –
An abominable masterwork of ambition and cunning
For which no name is too harsh, no insult too bitter!
O dogma, that allows the misuse of divinity itself,
Allows the dagger of hatred to be plunged into an innocent heart,
You, with your bloody banner so often carried over corpses:
Who will lend me a curse with which to condemn you, you abomination!
You friends, in whose breast the noble voice of humanity
Spoke out for the heroine, as she became an innocent victim
Of the priest’s fury, and died for the truth:
Be thanked for this feeling, thanked for each tear!
He who errs does not deserve the harsh discipline of hate or derision:
What teaches men to hate is no teaching of God!
Oh! Love those who err, who are blind but have no malice,
Who are perhaps much weaker, but still are human beings.
Teach them, tolerate them; do not force to tears those
Who cannot be reproached with anything other than different beliefs!
Righteous is the man who, true to his faith,
Forces no one into deception or evil hypocrisy;
Who burns for truth, and, like Olindo, never cobbled by fear,
Joyfully seals his faith with his blood.
Such an example, friends, is deserving of your applause:
How wonderful! If what Cronegk teaches so beautifully,
If the ideas, that have so ennobled him,
Were engraved deep in your hearts by our performance.
The poet’s life was beautiful, as is his reputation;
He was, and – oh, forgive my tears! – died a Christian.
He left his excellent heart to posterity in poems,
So that – and what more can one do? – he instructs us even in death.
If Sophronia has moved you here,
do not withhold from his ashes what you rightly owe them:
The heartfelt groan that he died, the thanks for his instruction,
And – ah! the sad tribute of a tear.
But give us, noble friends, hope for your benevolence;
And if we did not succeed, then criticize; but forgive.
Forgiveness encourages ever nobler striving,
And delicate reproach teaches how to earn the highest praise.
Remember that this art, which has a thousand Quins for just one Garrick,[6.9]
Has just begun among us;
Do not expect too much, so that we may continue to improve,
And – but the privilege to judge is only yours, ours is to be silent.
- [†] Text in blue indicates passages cut by Zimmern in her 1890 translation.
- [6.1] The author of the prologue and epilogue is unknown. Some historians attribute authorship toJohann Jakob Dusch (1725-87), others to Johann Friedrich Löwen (1727-71), the director of the Hamburg National Theater (Robertson 56-8). Regardless of its provenance, this introduction to the theater’s mission connects it to other eighteenth-century efforts by middle-class literati to promote moral reform through the sentimental theater; a “civilized” populace was meant to espouse bourgeois ideological principles of moderation, compassion, and public citizenship (cf. Fischer-Lichte 146-70).
- [6.2] Both the prologue and the epilogue are written in rhymed couplets.
- [6.3] Elisabeth Lucia Dorothea Löwen (1732-83) (frequently listed erroneously as Eleonore Luise Dorothea), daughter of the influential actor-manager Johann Friedrich Schönemann (1704–82) and wife of Johann Friedrich Löwen. A principal actress of the Hamburg theater, much praised by Lessing. Cf. in particular  and .
- [6.4] Cf. [6.1].
- [6.5] Solon (c.630-c.560 BCE), Athenian statesman famous for legislative reforms; his name is synonymous with humane and democratic justice.
- [6.6] Themis, in Greek mythology the personification of justice.
- [6.7] Gaul: territory in modern-day Western Europe that was inhabited by the Celtic Gauls during the Roman era; here meant to imply France. Albion: archaic name for England.
- [6.8] Quintus Roscius Gallus (born ca. 134-26, died 62 or 63 BCE), Roman comic and tragic performer whose name is used to denote a great actor.
- [6.9] James Quin, English actor (1693-1766), particularly noted for his performance of Falstaff. A leading actor of his time, Quin’s popularity was challenged by the ascendency of David Garrick. The latter was seen as a pioneer of new acting methods, in comparison to which Quin’s declamatory style appeared dated. See  for Lessing’s discussion of the relative merits of the two actors.