¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 It is by an unknown author and carries the title: To Die for his Lady.[*] [60.2] I find it in a collection of comedies published by Joseph Padrino in Seville, in which it is the seventy-fourth play. I do not know when it was produced, and I see nothing from which we might glean a date.[60.3] It is clear that its author neither used the French and English poets who had adapted the same history, nor was used by them. It is completely original. Yet I do not want to preempt the judgment of my readers.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Essex returns from his expedition against the Spanish and wants to deliver his report to the Queen in London. When he arrives, he hears that she is two miles from the city at the country estate of one of her ladies-in-waiting, Blanca. This Blanca is the earl’s lover, and while her father was still alive he had had many secret rendezvous with her on this estate. He proceeds there right away, and makes use of the key he retained to the garden gate he used to use. It is natural that he would rather show himself to his beloved than to the Queen. As he sneaks through the garden toward her rooms, he becomes aware of a woman on the shadowy bank of an arm of the Thames that winds through the garden. It is a muggy summer evening, and she sits with her bare feet in the water and cools herself off. He stands still, utterly amazed by her beauty, even though she has covered her face with a half mask so as not to be recognized. (As is customary in such things, this beauty is described at great length, and in particular there are some very cunning things said about the lovely white feet in the clear water. It’s not enough that the enraptured Earl sees two crystalline pillars standing in a flowing crystal; in his amazement he does not know whether the water is the crystal-become-liquid of her feet, or if her feet are the crystallization of the water, which has condensed into this form.[†] [60.4] The black half mask on the white face bewilders him even more: he cannot comprehend to what purpose nature has formed such a divine monster and given it a face that pairs such black basalt with such lustrous ivory; whether this is more to amaze or to mock?[‡])[60.5] Hardly has the woman dressed herself again when, with a cry of: “Die Tyrant!”, she is shot at, and two masked men with drawn swords immediately attack her, because the shot seems not to have hit her. Essex does not consider long before rushing to her aid. He attacks the murderers, and they escape. He wants to go after them, but the lady calls him back and asks him not to put his life in danger. She sees that he is wounded, unknots her scarf and gives it to him to bind up his wound. At the same time, she says, this scarf should serve to make you known to me at the proper time; now I must depart before any more fuss arises over the shooting. I would not like it if the Queen were to learn of the incident, and for that reason I beg you for your silence. She goes, and Essex remains, completely amazed at this peculiar incident, over which he makes all manner of observation with his servant, Cosme. This Cosme is the comic character in the play;[60.6] he had stayed in front of the garden when his master went in, and had of course heard the shot but was not permitted to come to his help. Fear guarded the gate and blocked his entrance. Cosme is fearful enough for four;[§] this is common to all the Spanish fools.[60.7] Essex confesses that he would have fallen in love with the beautiful unknown lady without fail if Blanca had not already taken such full possession of his heart that she left no room for any other passion. But, he says, who might she possibly be? What do you think, Cosme? – Who else could it be, Cosme answers, than the gardener’s wife, washing her legs?[**] [60.8] – One can easily deduce the rest from this sketch. They finally both depart: it has become too late; the house could have been set in turmoil by the shooting; as a result Essex fears he cannot go to Blanca without being noticed and postpones his visit to another time.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Now the Duke of Alanzon enters, with Flora, Blanca’s chambermaid.[60.9] (The scene is still at the country estate, in one of Blanca’s rooms; the previous scene was in the garden. It is the following day.) The king of France had proposed a union with his youngest brother to Elizabeth. This is the Duke of Alanzon. He has come to England, under the pretext of a diplomatic mission, in order to bring about this union. On the part of both parliament and the Queen everything seems to be going very favorably, but then he catches sight of Blanca and falls in love with her. Now he comes to ask Flora to help him with his love. Flora does not hide from him how little he can expect, but without revealing to him the least hint of Blanca’s intimacy with the Earl. She only says that Blanca seeks to marry, and that because she cannot depend upon marriage with a man whose rank is so elevated above her own, she hardly would dare give audience to his love. – (We expect that the Duke will protest the purity of his intentions in response to this assertion: but not a word! The Spanish are not nearly as strict and delicate on this point as the French.) He has written a letter to Blanca that Flora is to deliver. He himself wishes to observe what kind of impression this letter will have on her. He gives Flora a gold chain, and Flora hides him in an adjoining gallery as Blanca enters with Cosme, who tells her of the arrival of his master.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Essex arrives. After Blanca welcomes him most tenderly, and after the Earl reassures her most dearly how much he wishes to show himself worthy of her love, Flora and Cosme must depart, and Blanca remains alone with the Earl. She reminds him how eager and steadfast he was in contending for her love. After she resisted him for three years, she finally yielded herself to him and, under the promise of marriage, made him owner of her honor. (“Te hice dueño de mi honor”: the expression says quite a bit in Spanish.)[60.10] Only the hostility that exists between their two families has prevented them from marrying. Essex denies none of this, and adds that after the death of her father and brother, only the expedition against the Spanish that was assigned to him has come between them. Now, however, he has successfully completed it; now he wants to petition the Queen immediately for permission for their marriage. – And then, says Blanca, I can safely entrust all of my secrets to you, my beloved, my fiancé, my friend.[††] [60.11]
Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0
[†] Las dos colunas [sic] bellas
metió dentro del rio, y como al vellas
ví cristal en el rio desatado,
y ví cristal en ellas condensado,
no supe si las aguas que se vian
eran sus pies que líquidos corrian,
ó si sus dos colunas [sic] se formaban
de las aguas que allí se congelaban […]
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 The poet pushes this similarity even further when he wants to describe how the lady, in tasting the water, scoops it up with her hollow hand and carries it to her mouth. This hand, he says, was so similar to the clear water, that the river itself recoiled in terror because it feared she might drink some of her own hand along with the water.
Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0
Quiso probar acaso
el agua, y fuéron cristalino vaso
sus manos, acercólas á los labios,
y entónces el arroyo lloró agravios;
y como tanto en fin se parecia
á sus manos aquello que bebia,
temí con sobresalto (y no fué en vano)
que se bebiera parte de la mano.
Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0
[‡] Yo que al principio ví, ciego y turbado,
á una parte nevado,
y en otra negro el rostro,
juzgué, mirando tan divino monstro,
que la naturaleza cuidadosa
desigualdad uniendo tan hermosa,
quiso hacer por asombro ó por ultraje,
de azabache y marfil un maridage.
Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0
[§] Ruido de armas en la Quinta,
y dentro el Conde, qué aguardo,
que no voy á socorrerle?
Qué aguardo? lindo recado:
aguardo á que quiera el miedo
dexarme entrar: —
Cosme, que ha tenido un miedo,
que puede valer por quatro.
- ¶ 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0
- [†] Text in blue indicates passages ommitted by Zimmern in her 1890 translation.
- [60.1] Actually published winter of 1768.
- [60.2] In , Lessing begins his analysis of The Unhappy Favourite: or, The Earl of Essex (1682) by John Banks; at the end of , Lessing promises a discussion “in passing” of “a Spanish Essex.” This essay begins a long description and discussion of that play, in which Lessing often quotes at length (and not always accurately) from the play, whose full title Lessing provides in his footnote. Its author has subsequently been identified as Spanish playwright Antonio Coello (1611–52).
- [60.3] The play was produced in Madrid in 1633 by the company of Manuel Álvarez Vallejo.
- [60.4] For the quotations in Lessing’s footnote, see Coello 3.
- [60.5] Ibid.
- [60.6] Comic character: the gracioso (fool) was a stock character in seventeenth-century Spanish drama.
- [60.7] For the first part of the footnote quotation, see Coello 1; the second part of the quotation appears on page 2.
- [60.8] Coello 4.
- [60.9] Duke of Alanzon: Hercule-François, duc d’Anjou, later duc d’Alençon (1554–84); youngest son of Henri II of France and Catherine de Médicis, brother to three kings of France, and suitor of Elizabeth I.
- [60.10] “I made you owner (master) of my honor.” See Coello 5.
- [60.11] Ibid. 6.