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A New and Complete Translation

Essay 73

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 12 January 1768[73.1]

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 [†] In Terence, Demea’s final speech has a completely different tone.[73.2] “If this is what you like, then do what you want. I’m not going to worry about anything anymore!” He is not the one who promises to accommodate himself to the other’s ways in the future, but rather they who promise to yield to his ways. – But how is it, one might ask, that Lysimon’s final scenes in our German Brothers are always received so well in performance?[73.3] Lysimon’s continually falling back into his old character makes these scenes comical; but it also would have had to be so in the former. – I will spare any further discussion until a second performance of the play.[73.4]

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Saint-Foix’s The Oracle, which concluded this evening, is well known and much loved.[73.5]

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 On the forty-sixth evening (Monday, July 20th) Miss Sara was repeated,[*] and on the forty-seventh, the next day, Nanine was repeated.[†] Marivaux’s one act play The Unforeseen Denouement followed Nanine.[73.6]

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Or, as it would better and more literally be called: the unforeseen development. For this is one of those titles that does not so much indicate the subject, but rather from the very beginning is meant to obviate certain objections that the writer foresees against his material or its treatment. A father wants to marry his daughter to a young man she has never seen. She is already half-committed to another, but this has been going on so long that it is no longer so compelling. Nevertheless, she would still much rather have him than a complete stranger, and at his instigation even plays the role of a madwoman to scare the new suitor off. He comes, but luckily he is such a handsome, likable man that she soon forgets her deception and comes to an agreement with him in no time. Give the play a different title, and all of the readers and spectators will cry out: that is very unexpected! To take a complication that has been so carefully knotted over ten scenes and then in one scene not merely to untie it but to suddenly hack it to pieces! Here however this flaw is announced in the title itself, and thereby to a certain extent justified. For, if such a case really happened once, why shouldn’t it be represented? Indeed, it resembled a comedy in reality; should it then, for that very reason, be that much less suited to comedy? – Strictly speaking, absolutely: the incidents that are called real comedy in everyday life are not the same as those realistic incidents found in comedy; and that is the crux of the matter.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 But denouement and development, don’t these two words come to the same thing? Not completely. The denouement is that Miss Argante marries Erast and not Dorante, and this is adequately prepared. For her love toward Dorante is so tepid and fickle; she loves him because for the last four years she has not seen anyone but him. Sometimes she loves him more, sometimes less, sometimes not at all, it all depends: if she has not seen him for a long time, then he seems lovable enough to her, but if she sees him every day, he bores her, and in particular from time to time a face catches her attention, in comparison to which she finds Dorante’s face so bleak, so unattractive, so disgusting! What more does she need, then, to take her completely away from him, than that Erast, whom her father intends for her, has such a face? The fact that she takes him is so little unexpected that it would rather be much more unexpected if she were to stay with Dorante. Development, on the other hand, is a more relative word; an unexpected development involves a complication that has no consequences and from which the writer suddenly jumps without worrying about the dilemmas in which he has left some of his characters. And so it is here: Peter will take care of Dorante, the writer leaves him to it.[73.7]

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 On the forty-eighth evening (Wednesday, July 22nd) Herr Weisse’s tragedy Richard the Third was performed, with Duke Michel at the conclusion.[73.8]

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 This play is, beyond dispute, one of our most significant originals. It is rich enough in great merits to show that it was not beyond the power of the writer to avoid the errors with which they are interwoven, had he only trusted that power.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Shakespeare had already brought the life and death of Richard III to the stage, but Herr Weisse did not remember this until his work was already finished.[73.9] “If I should lose much in the comparison,” he says, “at least it will be found that I have not committed plagiarism. But perhaps it would have been a merit to have plagiarized Shakespeare.”[73.10]

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Granted, one could plagiarize him. But what is said of Homer – that it would be easier to steal the club from Hercules than a verse from him – could be said of Shakespeare just as well.[73.11] There is a stamp impressed even on the least of his beauties that immediately calls out to the whole world: I am Shakespeare’s! And woe to any other gem that has the nerve to put itself beside it!

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Shakespeare wants to be studied, not plundered. If we have genius, Shakespeare must be to us what the camera obscura is to the landscape painter: he studiously looks into it in order to learn how nature projects itself onto a flat surface in all cases, but he does not borrow anything from it.[73.12]

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 I really do not know of any single scene, or indeed any single speech, in the whole of Shakespeare’s play that Herr Weisse could have used as it is there. Even the smallest parts of Shakespeare are tailored to the great dimensions of the history play, and this type of play relates to the tragedy of French taste in much the same way that an expansive fresco relates to a miniature painting for a ring. What can be taken from the former to use in the latter other than perhaps a face, a single figure, at most a small group, which one would then have to make into its own whole? In the same way, Shakespeare’s individual thoughts would have to become whole scenes, and individual scenes whole acts. For if you want to properly use the sleeve from a giant’s frock to clothe a dwarf, you must not merely make him a sleeve from it, but a whole coat.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 But even if an author does this, he can rest easy about the charge of plagiarism. Most people will not recognize the original material from which the threads were spun. The few who understand art will not betray the maestro; they know that a nugget of gold can be so artfully worked that the value of the form far exceeds the value of the material.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 For my part I truly regret that Shakespeare’s Richard occurred to our writer so late. He could have known it and still remained just as original as he is; he could have used it without any evidence of a single borrowed thought.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 If the same thing had happened to me, I would at least have afterwards used Shakespeare’s work as a mirror for wiping from my own work all of the blemishes that my eye had not been able to recognize in it directly. – But how do I know that Herr Weisse did not do this? And why should he not have done it?

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Can it not just as well be that those things I consider blemishes, he does not? And is it not very probable that he is more correct than I? I am convinced that the eye of the artist is, for the most part, much more perceptive than the most sharp-eyed of his observers. Of twenty accusations that these latter make against him, he will remember having made and answered nineteen himself as he worked.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Nevertheless he will not be annoyed to hear from others, too. For he likes it when someone judges his work, be it insipid or thorough, unjust or just, benign or malicious; it’s all the same to him, and even the most insipid, unjust, and malicious judgment is preferable to cold admiration.[73.13] He will know how to put the former to use to his benefit in one way or another, but what can he do with the latter? He would not like to look down his nose at the good honest people who consider him something special, and yet he must shrug his shoulders at them. He is not vain, but he is generally proud, and out of pride he would ten times rather take unearned criticism than unearned praise. –

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 You can imagine what criticism I want to prepare with this. – Far less of the author and primarily of one or two fellow critics. I do not know where I recently saw printed that I had praised my friend’s Amalia at the expense of his other comedies.[‡][73.14] – At the expense? Then surely only the earlier ones? I do believe, my dear sir, that one ought never criticize your older works thusly. Heaven protect you from the insidious compliment that the last is always the best! –


19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 [*] See the 11th evening [Essay 13].

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 [†] See the 27th, 33rd, and 37th evenings [Essay 21].

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 [‡] Just now I remembered: in Herr Schmid’s Supplements to his Theory of Poetry, p. 45.

  • 22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0
  • [73.1] Actually published spring of 1768.
  • [73.2] In [70], Lessing begins a discussion of Terence’s The Brothers; for a plot synopsis, see [70.9]. Here he continues, from [72], a comparison of Terence’s comedy with K. F. Romanus’s Die Brüder [The Brothers]; see [70.6].
  • [73.3] Lysimon: Romanus’s name for Terence’s Demea.
  • [73.4] Romanus’s Die Brüder was repeated on August 11 and October 7, 1767, and on January 5, 1768 (in Hanover). Lessing resumes his discussion of the play in [96].
  • [73.5] See [70.6].
  • [73.6] Le dénouement imprévu (1727): one act prose comedy by Marivaux; first performed in 1724. The German translation, Der unvermuthete Ausgang, was by J. C. Krüger. Nanine: comedy by Voltaire; see [21].
  • [73.7] Peter (Pierre in Marivaux’s original): M. Argante’s gardener.
  • [73.8] Richard der Dritte (1759/65): five-act tragedy by C. F. Weisse. Herzog Michel (1757): extremely popular one-act verse comedy by J. C. Krüger; see [83].
  • [73.9] William Shakespeare’s Life and Death of King Richard III (c. 1593); the play was introduced in Germany through four anonymously translated scenes that appeared in the periodical Neue Erweiterungen der Erkenntnis und des Vergnügens [New Expansions of Knowledge and Pleasure] (1756). Scholars disagree as to whether Weisse’s claim is creditable.
  • [73.10] See Weisse, 9.
  • [73.11] Virgil’s apocryphal response to charges that he plagiarized Homer. See Donatus, The Life of Virgil, paragraph 46.
  • [73.12] Camera obscura (lit. dark room): boxlike device, a precursor to the photographic camera, which projected images of external objects onto a flat surface, used from the Renaissance onward as a composition tool for artists.
  • [73.13] Here, and in the next paragraph, Lessing responds to German professor, editor, literary critic, and translator Christian Heinrich Schmid (1746–1800), author of Theorie der Poesie nach den neuesten Grundsätzen und Nachricht von den besten Dichtern nach den angenommenen Urtheilen [Theory of Poetry, according to the most recent principles, and Information about the Best Poets, according to accepted judgments] (1767). Schmid objected, in his Zusätze zur Theorie der Poesie: Sammlung 1 [Supplement to the Theory of Poetry: Anthology 1] (1767), to Lessing’s critical approach in the Hamburg Dramaturgy, complaining that Lessing focused on exposing authors’ errors, rather than on teaching audiences how to admire their works (see 1: 38). Schmid would continue his critique of Lessing in all four volumes of these “supplements;” in the third volume, Schmid defends himself at length against this essay, which he perceived as a personal attack (see 3: 74; 88–95). A critic of dubious merit, Schmid was criticized harshly not only by Lessing, but also Wieland, Herder, and Goethe, among others.
  • [73.14] Schmid makes this accusation on page 45 of his first Zusätze (Lessing’s claim, in his footnote, to have “just now remembered” Schmid’s commentary seems rather disingenuous); for Lessing’s views on Amalia, see [20]. The end of this essay may also serve as an apologia to Weisse, Lessing’s childhood friend, for the harshness of the criticism that follows.
  • [†] Text in blue indicates passages ommitted by Zimmern in her 1890 translation.
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Source: http://mcpress.media-commons.org/hamburg/essay-73/