Part 1 out of 2
A TRAGEDY IN FIVE ACTS
BY JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE
Translated by Anna Swanwick
In 1775, when Goethe was twenty-six, and before he went to Weimar, he
began to write "Egmont" After working on it at intervals for twelve years,
he finished it at Rome in 1787.
The scene of the drama is laid in the Low Countries at the beginning of the
revolt against Spain. In the fifteenth century Philip of Burgundy had
usurped dominion over several of the provinces of the Netherlands, and
through him they had passed into the power of his descendant, the
Emperor Charles V. This powerful ruler abolished the constitutional rights
of the provinces, and introduced the Inquisition in order to stamp out
Protestantism. Prominent among his officers was the Fleming, Lamoral,
Count Egmont, upon whom he lavished honors and opportunities of
service--opportunities so well improved that, by his victories over the
French at Saint-Quentin (1557) and Gravelines (1558) Egmont made a
reputation as one of the most brilliant generals in Europe, and became the
idol of his countrymen. When in 1559 a new Regent of the Netherlands
was to be created, the people hoped that Philip II, who had succeeded
Charles, would choose Egmont; but instead he appointed his half-sister
Margaret, Duchess of Parma. Under the new Regent the persecution of the
Protestants was rigorously pressed, and in 1565 Egmont, though a
Catholic, was sent to Madrid to plead for clemency. He was received by
the King with every appearance of cordiality, but shortly after his return
home the Duke of Alva was sent to the Netherlands with instructions to
put down with an iron hand all resistance to his master's will. How terribly
he carried out his orders has been told by Prescott and Motley. Egmont
was an early victim, but his martyrdom, with that of Count Horn, and later
the assassination of William of Orange, roused the Netherlands to a
resistance that ended only with the complete throwing off of the Spanish
Such in outline is the background chosen by Goethe for his tragedy. With
many changes in detail, the dramatist has still preserved a picture of a
historical situation of absorbing interest, and has painted a group of
admirable portraits. The drama has long been a favorite on the stage,
where it enjoys the advantage of Beethoven's musical setting.
Margaret of Parma, (Daughter of Charles V., and Regent of the
Count Egmont, (Prince of Gaure)
The Duke of Alva
William of Orange
Ferdinand, (his natural Son)
Machiavel, in the service of the Regent
Richard, (Egmont's Private Secretary)
Silva, Gomez, (in the service of Alva)
Clara, (the Beloved of Egmont)
Brackenburg, (a Citizen's Son), and Vansen, (a Clerk)
Soest, (a Shopkeeper), Jetter, (a Tailor), A Carpenter, A Soapboiler
(Citizens of Brussels)
Buyck, (a Hollander), a Soldier under Egmont
Ruysum, (a Frieslander), an invalid Soldier, and deaf
People, Attendants, Guards, &c.
The Scene is laid in Brussels.
Scene I.--Soldiers and Citizens (with cross-bows)
Jetter (steps forward, and bends his cross-bow).
Soest, Buyck, Ruysum
Soest. Come, shoot away, and have done with it! You won't beat me!
Three black rings, you never made such a shot in all your life. And so I'm
master for this year.
Jetter. Master and king to boot; who envies you? You'll have to pay
double reckoning; 'tis only fair you should pay for your dexterity.
Buyck. Jetter, I'll buy your shot, share the prize, and treat the company. I
have already been here so long, and am a debtor for so many civilities. If I
miss, then it shall be as if you had shot.
Soest. I ought to have a voice, for in fact I am the loser. No matter! Come,
Buyck, shoot away.
Buyck (shoots). Now, corporal, look out!--One! Two! Three! Four!
Soest. Four rings! So be it!
All. Hurrah! Long live the King! Hurrah! Hurrah!
Buyck. Thanks, sirs, master even were too much! Thanks for the honour.
Jetter. You have no one to thank but yourself. Ruysum. Let me tell you-
Soest. How now, grey-beard?
Ruysum. Let me tell you!--He shoots like his master, he shoots like
Buyck. Compared with him I am only a bungler. He aims with the rifle as
no one else does. Not only when he's lucky or in the vein; no! he levels,
and the bull's-eye is pierced. I have learned from him. He were indeed a
blockhead, who could serve under him and learn nothing!--But, sirs, let us
not forget! A king maintains his followers; and so, wine here, at the king's
Jetter. We have agreed among ourselves that each--
Buyck. I am a foreigner, and a king, and care not a jot for your laws and
Jetter. Why, you are worse than the Spaniard, who has not yet ventured to
meddle with them.
Ruysum. What does he say?
Soest (loud to Ruysum). He wants to treat us; he will not hear of our
clubbing together, the king paying only a double share.
Ruysum. Let him! under protest, however! 'Tis his master's fashion, too, to
be munificent, and to let the money flow in a good cause. (Wine is
All. Here's to his Majesty! Hurrah!
Jetter (to Buyck). That means your Majesty, of course, Buyck. My hearty
thanks, if it be so.
Soest. Assuredly! A Netherlander does not find it easy to drink the health
of his Spanish majesty from his heart.
Soest (aloud). Philip the Second, King of Spain.
Ruysum. Our most gracious king and master! Long life
Soest. Did you not like his father, Charles the Fifth, better?
Ruysum. God bless him! He was a king indeed! His hand reached over the
whole earth, and he was all in all. Yet, when he met you, he'd greet you
just as one neighbour
greets another,--and if you were frightened, he knew so well how to put
you at your ease--ay, you understand me--he walked out, rode out, just as
it came into his head, with very few followers. We all wept when he
resigned the government here to his son. You understand me--he is
another sort of man, he's more majestic.
Jetter. When he was here, he never appeared in public, except in pomp and
royal state. He speaks little, they say.
Soest. He is no king for us Netherlanders. Our princes must be joyous and
free like ourselves, must live and let live. We will neither be despised nor
oppressed, good-natured fools though we be.
Jetter. The king, methinks, were a gracious sovereign enough, if he had
only better counsellors.
Soest. No, no! He has no affection for us Netherlanders; he has no heart
for the people; he loves us not; how then can we love him? Why is
everybody so fond of Count Egmont? Why are we all so devoted to him?
Why, because one can read in his face that he loves us; because
joyousness, open-heartedness, and good-nature, speak in his eyes; because
he possesses nothing that he does not share with him who needs it, ay, and
with him who needs it not. Long live Count Egmont! Buyck, it is for you
to give the first toast; give us your master's health.
Buyck. With all my heart; here's to Count Egmont! Hurrah!
Ruysum Conqueror of St. Quintin.
Buyck. The hero of Gravelines.
Ruysum. St. Quintin was my last battle. I was hardly able to crawl along,
and could with difficulty carry my heavy rifle. I managed,
notwithstanding, to singe the skin of the French once more, and, as a
parting gift, received a grazing shot in my right leg.
Buyck. Gravelines! Ha, my friends, we had sharp work of it there! The
victory was all our own. Did not those French dogs carry fire and
desolation into the very heart of Flanders? We gave it them, however! The
old hard-listed veterans held out bravely for a while, but we pushed on,
fired away, and laid about us, till they made wry faces, and their lines gave
way. Then Egmont's horse was shot under him; and for a long time we
fought pell-mell, man to man, horse to horse, troop to troop, on the broad,
flat, sea-sand. Suddenly, as if from heaven, down came the cannon shot
from the mouth of the river, bang, bang, right into the midst of the French.
These were English, who, under Admiral Malin, happened to be sailing
past from Dunkirk. They did not help us much, 'tis true; they could only
approach with their smallest vessels, and that not near enough; --besides,
their shot fell sometimes among our troops. It did some good, however! It
broke the French lines, and raised our courage. Away it went. Helter-
skelter! topsy-turvy! all struck dead, or forced into the water; the fellows
were drowned the moment they tasted the water, while we Hollanders
dashed in after them. Being amphibious, we were as much in our element
as frogs, and hacked away at the enemy, and shot them down as if they
had been ducks. The few who struggled through, were struck dead in their
flight by the peasant women, armed with hoes and pitchforks. His Gallic
majesty was compelled at once to hold out his paw and make peace. And
that peace you owe to us, to the great Egmont.
All. Hurrah, for the great Egmont! Hurrah! Hurrah!
Jetter. Had they but appointed him Regent, instead of Margaret of Parma!
Soest. Not so! Truth is truth! I'll not hear Margaret abused. Now it is my
turn. Long live our gracious lady!
All. Long life to her!
Soest. Truly, there are excellent women in that family. Long live the
Jetter. Prudent is she, and moderate in all she does; if she would only not
hold so fast and stiffly with the priests. It is partly her fault, too, that we
have the fourteen new mitres in the land. Of what use are they, I should
like to know? Why, that foreigners may be shoved into the good benefices,
where formerly abbots were chosen out of the chapters! And we're to
believe it's for the sake of religion. We know better. Three bishops were
enough for us; things went on decently and reputably. Now each must
busy himself as if he were needed; and this gives rise every moment to
dissensions and ill-will. And the more you agitate the matter, so much the
worse it grows. (They drink.)
Soest. But it was the will of the king; she cannot alter it, one way or
Jetter. Then we may not even sing the new psalms; but ribald songs, as
many as we please. And why? There is heresy in them, they say, and
heaven knows what. I have sung some of them, however; they are new, to
be sure, but I see no harm in them.
Buyck. Ask their leave, forsooth! In our province, we sing just what we
please. That's because Count Egmont is our stadtholder, who does not
trouble himself about such matters. In Ghent, Ypres, and throughout the
whole of Flanders, anybody sings them that chooses. (Aloud to Ruysum.)
There is nothing more harmless than a spiritual song--Is there, father?
Ruysum. What, indeed! It is a godly work, and truly edifying.
Jetter. They say, however, that they are not of the right sort, not of their
sort, and, since it is dangerous, we had better leave them alone. The
officers of the Inquisition are always lurking and spying about; many an
honest fellow has already fallen into their clutches. They had not gone so
far as to meddle with conscience! If they will not allow me to do what I
like, they might at least let me think and sing as I please.
Soest. The Inquisition won't do here. We are not made like the Spaniards,
to let our consciences be tyrannized over. The nobles must look to it, and
clip its wings betimes.
Jetter. It is a great bore. Whenever it comes into their worships' heads to
break into my house, and I am sitting there at my work, humming a French
psalm, thinking nothing about it, neither good nor bad--singing it just
because it is in my throat;--forthwith I'm a heretic, and am clapped into
prison. Or if I am passing through the country, and stand near a crowd
listening to a new preacher, one of those who have come from Germany;
instantly I'm called a rebel, and am in danger of losing my head! Have you
ever heard one of these preachers?
Soest. Brave fellows! Not long ago, I heard one of them preach in a field,
before thousands and thousands of people. A different sort of dish he gave
us from that of our humdrum preachers, who, from the pulpit, choke their
hearers with scraps of Latin. He spoke from his heart; told us how we had
till now been led by the nose, how we had been kept in darkness, and how
we might procure more light;--ay, and he proved it all out of the Bible.
Jetter. There may be something in it. I always said as much, and have
often pondered over the matter. It has long been running in my head.
Buyck. All the people run after them.
Soest. No wonder, since they hear both what is good and what is new.
Jetter. And what is it all about? Surely they might 1et every one preach
after his own fashion.
Buyck. Come, sirs! While you are talking, you; forget the wine and the
Prince of Orange.
Jetter. We must not forget him. He's a very wall of defence. In thinking of
him, one fancies, that if one could only hide behind him, the devil himself
could not get at one.
Here's to William of Orange! Hurrah!
All. Hurrah! Hurrah!
Soest. Now, grey-heard, let's have your toast.
Ruysum. Here's to old soldiers! To all soldiers! War for ever!
Buyck. Bravo, old fellow. Here's to all soldiers. War for ever!
Jetter. War! War! Do ye know what ye are shouting about? That it should
slip glibly from your tongue is natural enough; but what wretched work it
is for us, I have not words to tell you. To be stunned the whole year round
by the beating of the drum; to hear of nothing except how one troop
marched here, and another there; how they came over this height, and
halted near that mill; how many were left dead on this field, and how
many on that; how they press forward, and how one wins, and another
loses, without being able to comprehend what they are fighting about; how
a town is taken, how the citizens are put to the sword, and how it fares
with the poor women and innocent children. This is a grief and a trouble,
and then one thinks every moment, "Here they come! It will be our turn
Soest. Therefore every citizen must be practised in the use of arms.
Jetter. Fine talking, indeed, for him who has a wife and children. And yet I
would rather hear of soldiers than see them.
Buyck. I might take offence at that.
Jetter. It was not intended for you, countryman. When we got rid of the
Spanish garrison, we breathed freely again.
Soest. Faith! They pressed on you heavily enough.
Jetter. Mind your own business.
Soest. They came to sharp quarters with you.
Jetter. Hold your tongue.
Soest. They drove him out of kitchen, cellar, chamber--and bed. (They
Jetter. You are a blockhead.
Buyck. Peace, sirs! Must the soldier cry peace? Since you will not hear
anything about us, let us have a toast of your own--a citizen's toast.
Jetter. We're all ready for that! Safety and peace!
Soest. Order and freedom!
Buyck. Bravo! That will content us all.
(They ring their glasses together, and joyously repeat the words, but in
such a manner that each utters a different sound, and it becomes a kind of
chant. The old man listens, and at length joins in.)
All. Safety and peace! Order and freedom!
Scene II.---Palace of the Regent
Margaret of Parma (in a hunting dress).
Courtiers, Pages, Servants
Regent. Put off the hunt, I shall not ride to-day. Bid Machiavel attend me.
[Exeunt all but the Regent.
The thought of these terrible events leaves me no repose! Nothing can
amuse, nothing divert my mind. These images, these cares are always
before me. The king will now say that these are the natural fruits of my
kindness, of my clemency; yet my conscience assures me that I have
adopted the wisest, the most prudent course. Ought I sooner to have
kindled, and spread abroad these flames with the breath of wrath? My
hope was to keep them in, to let them smoulder in their own ashes. Yes,
my inward conviction, and my knowledge of the circumstances, justify my
conduct in my own eyes; but in what light will it appear to my brother!
For, can it be denied that the insolence of these foreign teachers waxes
daily more audacious? They have desecrated our sanctuaries, unsettled the
dull minds of the people, and conjured up amongst them a spirit of
delusion. Impure spirits have mingled among the insurgents, horrible
deeds have been perpetrated, which to think of makes one shudder, and of
these a circumstantial account must be transmitted instantly to court.
Prompt and minute must be my communication, lest rumour outrun my
messenger, and the king suspect that some particulars have been purposely
withheld. I can see no means, severe or mild, by which to stem the evil.
Oh, what are we great ones on the waves of humanity? We think to control
them, and are ourselves driven to and fro, hither and thither.
Regent. Are the despatches to the king prepared?
Machiavel. In an hour they will be ready for your signature.
Regent. Have you made the report sufficiently circumstantial?
Machiavel. Full and circumstantial, as the king loves to have it. I relate
how the rage of the iconoclasts first broke out at St. Omer. How a furious
multitude, with staves, hatchets, hammers, ladders, and cords,
accompanied by a few armed men, first assailed the chapels, churches, and
convents, drove out the worshippers, forced the barred gates, threw
everything into confusion, tore down the altars, destroyed the statues of
the saints, defaced the pictures, and dashed to atoms, and trampled under
foot, whatever came in their way that was consecrated and holy. How the
crowd increased as it advanced, and how the inhabitants of Ypres opened
their gates at its approach. How, with incredible rapidity, they demolished
the cathedral, and burned the library of the bishop. How a vast multitude,
possessed by the like frenzy, dispersed themselves through Menin,
Comines, Verviers, Lille, nowhere encountered opposition; and how,
through almost the whole of Flanders, in a single moment, the monstrous
conspiracy declared itself, and was accomplished.
Regent. Alas! Your recital rends my heart anew; and the fear that the evil
will wax greater and greater, adds to my grief. Tell me your thoughts,
Machiavel. Pardon me, your Highness, my thoughts will appear to you but
as idle fancies; and though you always seem well satisfied with my
services, you have seldom felt inclined to follow my advice. How often
have you said in jest: "You see too far, Machiavel! You should be an
historian; he who acts, must provide for the exigence of the hour." And yet
have I not predicted this terrible history? Have I not foreseen it all?
Regent. I too foresee many things, without being able to avert them.
Machiavel. In one word, then:---you will not be able to suppress the new
faith. Let it be recognized, separate its votaries from the true believers,
give them churches of their own, include them within the pale of social
order, subject them to the restraints of law,--do this, and you will at once
tranquillize the insurgents. All other measures will prove abortive, and you
will depopulate the country.
Regent. Have you forgotten with what aversion the mere suggestion of
toleration was rejected by my brother? Know you not, how in every letter
he urgently recommends to me the maintenance of the true faith? That he
will not hear of tranquility and order being restored at the expense of
religion? Even in the provinces, does he not maintain spies, unknown to
us, in order to ascertain who inclines to the new doctrines? Has he not, to
our astonishment, named to us this or that individual residing in our very
neighbourhood, who, without its being known, was obnoxious to the
charge of heresy? Does he not enjoin harshness and severity? and am I to
be lenient? Am I to recommend for his adoption measures of indulgence
and toleration? Should I not thus lose all credit with him, and at once
forfeit his confidence?
Machiavel. I know it. The king commands and puts you in full possession
of his intentions. You are to restore tranquillity and peace by measures
which cannot fail still more to embitter men's minds, and which must
inevitably kindle the flames of war from one extremity of the country to
the other. Consider well what you are doing. The principal merchants are
infected--nobles, citizens, soldiers. What avails persisting in our opinion,
when everything is changing around us? Oh, that some good genius would
suggest to Philip that it better becomes a monarch to govern burghers of
two different creeds, than to excite them to mutual destruction.
Regent. Never let me hear such words again. Full well I know that the
policy of statesmen rarely maintains truth and fidelity; that it excludes
from the heart candour, charity, toleration. In secular affairs, this is, alas!
only too true; but shall we trifle with God as we do with each other? Shall
we be indifferent to our established faith, for the sake of which so many
have sacrificed their lives? Shall we abandon it to these far-fetched,
uncertain, and self-contradicting heresies?
Machiavel. Think not the worse of me for what I have uttered.
Regent. I know you and your fidelity. I know too that a man may be both
honest and sagacious, and yet miss the best and nearest way to the
salvation of his soul. There are others, Machiavel, men whom I esteem,
yet whom I needs must blame.
Machiavel. To whom do you refer?
Regent. I must confess that Egmont caused me to-day deep and heart-felt
Machiavel. How so?
Regent. By his accustomed demeanour, his usual indifference and levity. I
received the fatal tidings as I was leaving church, attended by him and
several others. I did not restrain my anguish, I broke forth into
lamentations, loud and deep, and turning to him, exclaimed, "See what is
going on in your province! Do you suffer it, Count, you, in whom the king
confided so implicitly?"
Machiavel. And what was his reply?
Regent. As if it were a mere trifle, an affair of no moment, he answered:
"Were the Netherlanders but satisfied as to their constitution! The rest
would soon follow."
Machiavel. There was, perhaps, more truth than discretion or piety in his
words. How can we hope to acquire and to maintain the confidence of the
Netherlander, when he sees that we are more interested in appropriating
his possessions, than in promoting his welfare, temporal or spiritual? Does
the number of souls saved by the new bishops exceed that of the fat
benefices they have swallowed? And are they not for the most part
foreigners? As yet, the office of stadtholder has been held by
Netherlanders; but do not the Spaniards betray their great and irresistible
desire to possess themselves of these places? Will not people prefer being
governed by their own countrymen, and according to their ancient
customs, rather than by foreigners, who, from their first entrance into the
land, endeavour to enrich themselves at the general expense, who measure
everything by a foreign standard, and who exercise their authority without
cordiality or sympathy?
Regent. You take part with our opponents?
Machiavel. Assuredly not in my heart. Would that with my understanding
I could be wholly on our side!
Regent. If such your disposition, it were better I should resign the regency
to them; for both Egmont and Orange entertained great hopes of
occupying this position. Then they were adversaries, now they are leagued
against me, and have become friends--inseparable friends.
Machiavel. A dangerous pair.
Regent. To speak candidly, I fear Orange.--I fear for Egmont.--Orange
meditates some dangerous scheme, his thoughts are far-reaching, he is
reserved, appears to accede to everything, never contradicts, and while
maintaining the show of reverence, with clear foresight accomplishes his
Machiavel. Egmont, on the contrary, advances with a bold step, as if the
world were all his own.
Regent. He bears his head as proudly as if the hand of majesty were not
suspended over him.
Machiavel. The eyes of all the people are fixed upon him, and he is the
idol of their hearts.
Regent. He has never assumed the least disguise, and carries himself as if
no one had a right to call him to account. He still bears the name of
Egmont. Count Egmont is the title by which he loves to hear himself
addressed, as though he would fain be reminded that his ancestors were
masters of Guelderland. Why does he not assume his proper title,--Prince
of Gaure? What object has he in view? Would he again revive
Machiavel. I hold him for a faithful servant of the king.
Regent. Were he so inclined, what important service could he not render to
the government? Whereas, now, without benefiting himself, he has caused
us unspeakable vexation. His banquets and entertainment have done more
to unite the nobles and to knit them together than the most dangerous
secret associations. With his toasts, his guests have drunk in a permanent
intoxication, a giddy frenzy, that never subsides. How often have his
facetious jests stirred up the minds of the populace? and what an
excitement was produced among the mob by the new liveries, and the
extravagant devices of his followers!
Machiavel. I am convinced he had no design.
Regent. Be that as it may, it is bad enough. As I said before, he injures us
without benefiting himself. He treats as a jest matters of serious import;
and, not to appear negligent and remiss, we are forced to treat seriously
what he intended as a jest. Thus one urges on the other; and what we are
endeavouring to avert is actually brought to pass. He is more dangerous
than the acknowledged head of a conspiracy; and I am much mistaken if it
is not all remembered against him at court. I cannot deny that scarcely a
day passes in which he does not wound me--deeply wound me.
Machiavel. He appears to me to act on all occasions, according to the
dictates of his conscience. Regent. His conscience has a convenient
mirror. His demeanour is often offensive. He carries himself as if he felt
he were the master here, and were withheld by courtesy alone from
making us feel his supremacy; as if he would not exactly drive us out of
the country; there'll be no need for that.
Machiavel. I entreat you, put not too harsh a construction upon his frank
and joyous temper, which treats lightly matters of serious moment. You
but injure yourself and him.
Regent. I interpret nothing. I speak only of inevitable consequences, and I
know him. His patent of nobility and the Golden Fleece upon his breast
strengthen his confidence, his audacity. Both can protect him against any
sudden outbreak of royal displeasure. Consider the matter closely, and he
is alone responsible for the whole mischief that has broken out in
Flanders. From the first, he connived at the proceedings of the foreign
teachers, avoided stringent measures, and perhaps rejoiced in secret that
they gave us so much to do. Let me alone; on this occasion, I will give
utterance to that which weighs upon my heart; I will not shoot my arrow in
vain. I know where he is vulnerable. For he is vulnerable.
Machiavel. Have you summoned the council? Will Orange attend?
Regent. I have sent for him to Antwerp. I will lay upon their shoulders the
burden of responsibility; they shall either strenuously co-operate with me
in quelling the evil, or at once declare themselves rebels. Let the letters be
completed without delay, and bring them for my signature. Then hasten to
despatch the trusty Vasca to Madrid, he is faithful and indefatigable; let
him use all diligence, that he may not be anticipated by common report,
that my brother, may receive the intelligence first through him. I will
myself speak with him ere he departs.
Machiavel. Your orders shall be promptly and punctually obeyed.
Scene III.--Citizen's House
Clara, her Mother, Brackenburg
Clara. Will you not hold the yarn for me, Brackenburg?
Brackenburg. I entreat you, excuse me, Clara.
Clara. What ails you? Why refuse me this trifling service?
Brackenburg. When I hold the yarn, I stand as it were spell-bound before
you, and cannot escape your eyes.
Clara. Nonsense! Come and hold!
Mother (knitting in her arm-chair). Give us a song! Brackenburg sings so
good a second. You used to be merry once, and I had always something to
Brackenburg. Once! Clara. Well, let us sing.
Brackenburg. As you please.
Clara. Merrily, then, and sing away! 'Tis a soldier's song, my favourite.
(She winds yarn, and sings with Brackenburg.)
The drum is resounding,
And shrill the fife plays;
My love, for the battle,
His brave troop arrays;
He lifts his lance high,
And the people he sways.
My blood it is boiling!
My heart throbs pit-pat!
Oh, had I a jacket,
With hose and with hat!
How boldly I'd follow,
And march through the gate;
Through all the wide province
I'd follow him straight.
The foe yield, we capture
Or shoot them! Ah, me!
What heart-thrilling rapture
A soldier to be!
(During the song, Brackenburg has frequently looked at Clara; at length
his voice falters, his eyes fill with tears, he lets the skein fall, and goes to
the window. Clara finishes the song alone, her Mother motions to her, half
displeased, she rises, advances a few steps towards him, turns back, as if
irresolute, and again sits down.)
Mother. What is going on in the street, Brackenburg? I hear soldiers
Brackenburg. It is the Regent's body-guard.
Clara. At this hour? What can it mean? (She rises and joins Brackenburg
at the window.) That is not the daily guard; it is more numerous! almost
all the troops! Oh, Brackenburg, go! Learn what it means. It must be
something unusual. Go, good Brackenburg, do me this favour.
Brackenburg. I am going! I will return immediately. (He offers his hand to
Clara, and she gives him hers.)
Mother. Thou sendest him away so soon!
Clara. I am curious; and, besides--do not be angry, Mother--his presence
pains me. I never know how I ought to behave towards him. I have done
him a wrong, and it goes to my very heart to see how deeply he feels it.
Well, it can't be helped now!
Mother. He is such a true-hearted fellow!
Clara. I cannot help it, I must treat him kindly. Often without a thought, I
return the gentle, loving pressure of his hand. I reproach myself that I am
deceiving him, that I am nourishing in his heart a vain hope. I am in a sad
plight! God knows, I do not willingly deceive him. I do not wish him to
hope, yet I cannot let him despair!
Mother. That is not as it should be.
Clara. I liked him once, and in my soul I like him still I could have
married him; yet I believe I was never really in love with him.
Mother. Thou wouldst always have been happy with him.
Clara. I should have been provided for, and have led a quiet life.
Mother. And through thy fault it has all been trifled away.
Clara, I am in a strange position. When I think how it has come to pass, I
know it, indeed, and I know it not. But I have only to look upon Egmont,
and I understand it all; ay, and stranger things would seem natural then.
Oh, what a man he is! All the provinces worship him. And in his arms,
should I not be the happiest creature in the world?
Mother. And how will it be in the future?
Clara. I only ask, does he love me?--does he love me?--as if there were
any doubt about it.
Mother. One has nothing but anxiety of heart with one's children. Always
care and sorrow, whatever may be the end of it! It cannot come to good!
Thou hast made thyself wretched! Thou hast made thy Mother wretched
Clara (quietly). Yet thou didst allow it in the beginning.
Mother. Alas! I was too indulgent; I am always too indulgent.
Clara. When Egmont rode by, and I ran to the window, did you chide me
then? Did you not come to the window yourself? When he looked up,
smiled, nodded, and greeted me, was it displeasing to you? Did you not
feel yourself honoured in your daughter?
Mother. Go on with your reproaches.
Clara (with emotion). Then, when he passed more frequently, and we felt
sure that it was on my account that he came this way, did you not remark
it yourself with secret joy? Did you call me away when I stood behind the
window-pane and awaited him?
Mother. Could I imagine that it would go so far?
Clara (with faltering voice, and repressed tears). And then, one evening,
when, enveloped in his mantle, he surprised us as we sat at our lamp, who
busied herself in receiving him, while I remained, lost in astonishment, as
if fastened to my chair?
Mother. Could I imagine that the prudent Clara would so soon be carried
away by this unhappy love? I must now endure that my daughter--
Clara (bursting into tears). Mother! How can you? You take pleasure in
Mother (weeping). Ay, weep away! Make me yet more wretched by thy
grief. Is it not misery enough that my only daughter is a castaway?
Clara (rising, and speaking coldly). A castaway! The beloved of Egmont a
castaway!--What princess would not envy the poor Clara a place in his
heart? Oh, Mother,--my own Mother, you were not wont to speak thus!
Dear Mother, be kind!--Let the people think, let the neighbours whisper
what they like--this chamber, this lowly house is a paradise, since
Egmont's love dwelt here.
Mother. One cannot help liking him, that is true. He is always so kind,
frank, and open-hearted.
Clara. There is not a drop of false blood in his veins. And then, Mother, he
is indeed the great Egmont; yet, when he comes to me, how tender he is,
how kind! How he tries to conceal from me his rank, his bravery! How
anxious he is about me! so entirely the man, the friend, the lover. Mother.
DO you expect him to-day?
Clara. Have you not seen how often I go to the window? Have you not
noticed how I listen to every noise at the door?--Though I know that he
will not come before night, yet, from the time when I rise in the morning, I
keep expecting him every moment. Were I but a boy, to follow him
always, to the court and everywhere! Could I but carry his colours in the
Mother. You were always such a lively, restless creature; even as a little
child, now wild, now thoughtful. Will you not dress yourself a little
Clara. Perhaps, Mother, if I want something to do.--Yesterday, some of his
people went by, singing songs in honour. At least his name was in the
songs! The rest I could not understand. My heart leaped up into my
throat,--I would fain have called them back if I had not felt ashamed.
Mother. Take care! Thy impetuous nature will ruin all. Thou wilt betray
thyself before the people; as, not long ago, at thy cousin's, when thou
roundest out the woodcut with the description, and didst exclaim, with a
cry: "Count Egmont!"--I grew as red as fire.
Clara. Could I help crying out? It was the battle of Gravelines, and I found
in the picture the letter C. and then looked for it in the description below.
There it stood, "Count Egmont, with his horse shot under him." I
shuddered, and afterwards I could not help laughing at the woodcut figure
of Egmont, as tall as the neighbouring tower of Gravelines, and the
English ships at the side.--When I remember how I used to conceive of a
battle, and what an idea I had, as a girl, of Count Egmont; when I listened
to descriptions of him, and of all the other earls and princes; --and think
how it is with me now!
Clara. Well, what is going on?
Brackenburg. Nothing certain is known. It is rumoured that an insurrection
has lately broken out in Flanders; the Regent is afraid of its spreading
here. The castle is strongly garrisoned, the burghers are crowding to the
gates, and the streets are thronged with people. I will hasten at once to my
old father. (As if about to go.)
Clara. Shall we see you to-morrow? I must change my dress a little. I am
expecting my cousin, and I look too untidy. Come, Mother, help me a
moment. Take the book,
Brackenburg, and bring me such another story.
Brackenburg (extending his hand). Your hand.
Clara (refusing hers). When you come next.
[Exeunt Mother and DAUGHTER.
Brackenburg (alone). I had resolved to go away again at once; and yet,
when she takes me at my word, and lets me leave her, I feel as if I could
go mad,--Wretched man! Does the fate of thy fatherland, does the growing
disturbance fail to move thee?--Are countryman and Spaniard the same to
thee? and carest thou not who rules, and who is in the right? I wad a
different sort of fellow as a schoolboy! --Then, when an exercise in
oratory was given; "Brutus' Speech for Liberty," for instance, Fritz was
ever the first, and the rector would say: "If it were only spoken more
deliberately, the words not all huddled together."--Then my blood boiled,
and longed for action.--Now I drag along, bound by the eyes of a maiden.
I cannot leave her! yet she, alas, cannot love me!--ah--no---she--she
cannot have entirely rejected me--not entirely--yet half love is no love!--I
will endure it no longer!--Can it be true what a friend lately whispered in
my ear, that she secretly admits a man into the house by night, when she
always sends me away modestly before evening? No, it cannot be true! It
is a lie! A base, slanderous lie! Clara is as innocent as I am wretched.--She
has rejected me, has thrust me from her heart--and shall I live on thus? I
cannot, I will not endure it. Already my native land is convulsed by
internal strife, and do I perish abjectly amid the tumult? I will not endure
it! When the trumpet sounds, when a shot falls, it thrills through my bone
and marrow! But, alas, it does not rouse me! It does not summon me to
join the onslaught, to rescue, to dare.--Wretched, degrading position!
Better end it at once! Not long ago, I threw myself into the water; I sank --
but nature in her agony was too strong for me; I felt that I could swim, and
saved myself against my will. Could I but forget the time when she loved
me, seemed to love me!--Why has this happiness penetrated my very bone
and marrow? Why have these hopes, while disclosing to me a distant
paradise, consumed all the enjoyment of life?--And that first, that only
kiss!--Here (laying his hand upon the table), here we were alone,--she had
always been kind and friendly towards me,--then she seemed to soften,--
she looked at me,--my brain reeled,--I felt her lips on mine,--and --and
now?--Die, wretch! Why dost thou hesitate? (He draws a phial from his
pocket.) Thou healing poison, it shall not have been in vain that I stole
thee from my brother's medicine chest! From this anxious fear, this
dizziness, this death-agony, thou shalt deliver me at once.
SCENE I.--Square in Brussels
Jetter and a Master Carpenter (meeting)
Carpenter. Did I not tell you beforehand? Eight days ago, at the guild, I
said there would be serious disturbances?
Jetter. Is it, then, true that they have plundered the churches in Flanders?
Carpenter. They have utterly destroyed both churches and chapels. They
have left nothing standing but the four bare walls. The lowest rabble! And
this it is that damages our good cause. We ought rather to have laid our
claims before the Regent, formally and decidedly, and then have stood by
them. If we speak now, if we assemble now, it will be said that we are
joining the insurgents.
Jetter. Ay, so every one thinks at first. Why should you thrust your nose
into the mess? The neck is closely connected with it.
Carpenter. I am always uneasy when tumults arise among the mob--among
people who have nothing to lose. They use as a pretext that to which we
also must appeal, and plunge the country in misery.
Soest. Good day, sirs! What news? Is it true that the image-breakers are
coming straight in this direction?
Carpenter. Here they shall touch nothing, at any rate.
Soest. A soldier came into my shop just now to buy tobacco; I questioned
him about the matter. The Regent, though so brave and prudent a lady, has
for once lost her presence of mind. Things must be bad indeed when she
thus takes refuge behind her guards. The castle is strongly garrisoned. It is
even rumoured that she means to fly from the town.
Carpenter. Forth she shall not go! Her presence protects us, and we will
ensure her safety better than her mustachioed gentry. If she only maintains
our rights and privileges, we will stand faithfully by her.
[Enter a Soapboiler.
Soapboiler. An ugly business this! a bad business! Troubles are beginning;
all things are going wrong! Mind you keep quiet, or they'll take you also
Soest. Here come the seven wise men of Greece.
Soapboiler. I know there are many who in secret hold with the Calvinists,
abuse the bishops, and care not for the king. But a loyal subject, a sincere
(By degrees others join the speakers, and listen.)
Vansen. God save you, sirs! What news?
Carpenter. Have nothing to do with him, he's a dangerous fellow.
Jetter. Is he not secretary to Dr. Wiets?
Carpenter. He has already had several masters. First he was a clerk, and as
one patron after another turned him off, on account of his roguish tricks,
he now dabbles in the
business of notary and advocate, and is a brandy-drinker to boot. (More
people gather round and stand in groups.)
Vansen. So here you are, putting your heads together.
Well, it is worth talking about.
Soest. I think so too.
Vansen. Now if only one of you had heart and another head enough for the
work, we might break the Spanish fetters at once.
Soest. Sirs! you must not talk thus. We have taken our oath to the king.
Vansen. And the king to us. Mark that!
Jetter. There's sense in that? Tell us your opinion.
Others. Hearken to him; he's a clever fellow. He's sharp enough. I had an
old master once, who possessed a collection of parchments, among which
were charters of ancient constitutions, contracts, and privileges. He set
great store, too, by the rarest books. One of these contained our whole
constitution; how, at first, we Netherlanders had princes of our own, who
governed according to hereditary laws, rights, and usages; how our
ancestors paid due honour to their sovereign so long as he governed them
equitably; and how they were immediately on their guard the moment he
was for overstepping his bounds. The states were down upon him at once;
for every province, however small, had its own chamber and
Carpenter. Hold your tongue! We knew that long ago! Every honest
citizen learns as much about the constitution as he needs.
Jetter. Let him speak; one may always learn something.
Soest. He is quite right.
Several Citizens. Go on! Go on! One does not hear this every day.
Vansen. You citizens, forsooth! You live only in the present; and as you
tamely follow the trade inherited from your fathers, so you let the
government do with you just as it pleases. You make no inquiry into the
origin, the history, or the rights of a Regent; and in consequence of this
negligence, the Spaniard has drawn the net over your
Soest. Who cares for that, if one has only daily bread?
Jetter. The devil! Why did not some one come forward and tell us this in
Vansen. I tell it you now. The King of Spain, whose good fortune it is to
bear sway over these provinces, has no right to govern them otherwise
than the petty princes who formerly possessed them separately. Do you
Jetter. Explain it to us.
Vansen. Why, it is as dear as the sun. Must you not be governed according
to your provincial laws? How comes that?
A Citizen. Certainly!
Vansen. Has not the burgher of Brussels a different law from the burgher
of Antwerp? The burgher of Antwerp from the burgher of Ghent? How
Another Citizen. By heavens!
Vansen. But if you let matters run on thus, they will soon tell you a
different story. Fie on you! Philip, through a woman, now ventures to do
what neither Charles the Bold, Frederick the Warrior, nor Charles the Fifth
Soest. Yes, yes! The old princes tried it also.
Vansen. Ay! But our ancestors kept a sharp look-out. If they thought
themselves aggrieved by their sovereign, they would perhaps get his son
and heir into their hands, detain him as a hostage, and surrender him only
on the most favourable conditions. Our fathers were men! They knew their
own interests! They knew how to lay hold on what they wanted, and to get
it established! They were men of the right sort! and hence it is that our
privileges are so dearly defined, our liberties so well secured.
Soest. What are you saying about our liberties?
All. Our liberties! our privileges! Tell us about our privileges.
Vansen. All the provinces have their peculiar advantages, but we of
Brabant are the most splendidly provided for. I have read it all.
Soest. Say on.
Jetter. Let us hear.
A Citizen. Pray do.
Vansen. First, it stands written:--The Duke of Brabant shall be to us a
good and faithful sovereign.
Soest. Good! Stands it so?
Jetter. Faithful? Is that true?
Vansen. As I tell you. He is bound to us as we are to him. Secondly: In the
exercise of his authority he shall neither exert arbitrary power, nor exhibit
caprice, himself, nor shall he, either directly or indirectly, sanction them in
Jetter. Bravo! Bravo! Not exert arbitrary power.
Soest. Nor exhibit caprice.
Another. And not sanction them in others! That is the main point. Not
sanction them, either directly or indirectly.
Vansen. In express words.
Jetter. Get us the book.
A Citizen. Yes, we must see it.
Others. The book! The book!
Another. We will to the Regent with the book.
Another. Sir doctor, you shall be spokesman.
Soapboiler. Oh, the dolts!
Others. Something more out of the book!
Soapboiler. I'll knock his teeth down his throat if he says another word.
People. We'll see who dares to lay hands upon him. Tell us about our
privileges! Have we any more privileges?
Vansen. Many, very good and very wholesome ones too. Thus it stands:
The sovereign shall neither benefit the clergy, nor increase their number,
without the consent of the nobles and of the states. Mark that! Nor shall he
alter the constitution of the country.
Soest. Stands it so?
Vansen. I'll show it you, as it was written down two or three centuries ago.
A Citizen. And we tolerate the new bishops? The nobles must protect us,
we will make a row else!
Others. And we suffer ourselves to be intimidated by the Inquisition?
Vansen. It is your own fault.
People. We have Egmont! We have Orange! They will protect our
Vansen. Your brothers in Flanders are beginning the good work.
Soapboiler. Dog! (Strikes him.)
(Others oppose the Soapboiler, and exclaim,) Are you also a Spaniard?
Another. What! This honourable man?
Another. This learned man?
(They attack the Soapboiler.)
Carpenter. For heaven's sake, peace!
(Others mingle in the fray.)
Carpenter. Citizens, what means this?
(Boys whistle, throw stones, set on dogs; citizens stand and gape, people
come running up, others walk quietly to and fro, others play all sorts of
pranks, shout and huzza.)
Others. Freedom and privilege! Privilege and freedom!
[Enter Egmont, with followers.
Egmont. Peace! Peace! good people. What is the matter? Peace, I say!
Carpenter. My good lord, you come like an angel from heaven. Hush! See
you nothing? Count Egmont! Honour to Count Egmont!
Egmont. Here, too! What are you about? Burgher against burgher! Does
not even the neighbourhood of our royal mistress oppose a barrier to this
frenzy? Disperse yourselves, and go about your business. 'Tis a bad sign
when you thus keep holiday on working days. How did the disturbance
(The tumult gradually subsides, and the people gather around Egmont.)
Carpenter. They are fighting about their privileges.
Egmont. Which they will forfeit through their own folly,--and who are
you? You seem honest people.
Carpenter. 'Tis our wish to be so.
Egmont. Your calling?
Carpenter. A Carpenter, and master of the guild.
Egmont. And you?
Soest. A shopkeeper.
Egmont. And you? Jetter. A tailor.
Egmont. I remember, you were employed upon the liveries of my people.
Your name is Jetter.
Jetter. To think of your grace remembering it!
Egmont. I do not easily forget any one whom I have seen or conversed
with. Do what you can, good people, to keep the peace; you stand in bad
repute enough already. Provoke not the king still farther. The power, after
all, is in his hands. An honest burgher, who maintains himself
industriously, has everywhere as much freedom as he wants.
Carpenter. That now is just our misfortune! With all due deference, your
grace, 'tis the idle portion of the community, your drunkards and
vagabonds, who quarrel for want of something to do, and clamour about
privilege because they are hungry; they impose upon the curious and the
credulous, and, in order to obtain a pot of beer, excite disturbances that
will bring misery upon thousands. That is just what they want. We keep
our houses and chests too well guarded; they would fain drive us away
from them with fire-brands.
Egmont. You shall have all needful assistance; measures have been taken
to stem the evil by force. Make a firm stand against the new doctrines, and
do not imagine that privileges are secured by sedition, Remain at home;
suffer no crowds to assemble in the streets. Sensible people can
(In the meantime the crowd has for the most part dispersed.)
Carpenter. Thanks, your excellency--thanks for your good opinion! We
will do what in us lies. (Exit Egmont.) A gracious lord! A true
Netherlander! Nothing of the Spaniard about him.
Jetter. If we had only him for a Regent? 'Tis a pleasure to follow him.
Soest. The king won't hear of that. He takes care to appoint his own people
to the place.
Jetter. Did you notice his dress? It was of the newest fashion--after the
Carpenter. A handsome gentleman.
Jetter. His head now were a dainty morsel for a heads-man.
Soest. Are you mad? What are you thinking about?
Jetter. It is stupid enough that such an idea should come into one's head!
But so it is. Whenever I see a fine long neck, I cannot help thinking how
well it would suit the block. These cursed executions! One cannot get
them out of one's head. When the lads are swimming, and I chance to see a
naked back, I think forthwith of the dozens I have seen beaten with rods. If
I meet a portly gentleman, I fancy I already see him roasting at the stake.
At night, in my dreams, I am tortured in every limb; one cannot have a
single hour's enjoyment; all merriment and fun have long been forgotten.
These terrible images seem burnt in upon my brain.
SCENE II.--Egmont's residence
His Secretary (at a desk with papers. He rises impatiently)
Secretary. Still he comes not! And I have been waiting already full two
hours, pen in hand, the paper before me; and just to-day I was anxious to
be out so early. The floor burns under my feet. I can with difficulty
restrain my impatience. "Be punctual to the hour:" Such was his parting
injunction; now he comes not. There is so much business to get through, I
shall not have finished before midnight. He overlooks one's faults, it is
true; methinks it would be better though, were he more strict, so he
dismissed one at the appointed time. One could then arrange one's plans. It
is now full two hours since he left the Regent; who knows whom he may
have chanced to meet by the way?
Egmont. Well, how do matters look?
Secretary. I am ready, and three couriers are waiting.
Egmont. I have detained you too long; you look somewhat out of humour.
Secretary. In obedience to your command I have already been in
attendance for some time. Here are the papers!
Egmont. Donna Elvira will be angry with me, when she learns that I have
Secretary. You are pleased to jest.
Egmont. No, no. Be not ashamed. I admire your taste. She is pretty, and I
have no objection that you should have a friend at the castle. What say the
Secretary. Much, my lord, but withal little that is satisfactory.
Egmont. 'Tis well that we have pleasures at home, we have the less
occasion to seek them from abroad. Is there much that requires attention?
Secretary. Enough, my lord; three couriers are in attendance.
Egmont. Proceed! The most important.
Secretary. All is important.
Egmont. One after the other; only be prompt.
Secretary. Captain Breda sends an account of the occurrences that have
further taken place in Ghent and the surrounding districts. The tumult is
for the most part allayed.
Egmont. He doubtless reports individual acts of folly and temerity?
Secretary. He does, my lord.
Egmont. Spare me the recital.
Secretary. Six of the mob who tore down the image of the Virgin at
Verviers have been arrested. He inquires whether they are to be hanged
like the others.
Egmont. I am weary of hanging; let them be flogged and discharged.
Secretary. There are two women among them; are they to be flogged also?
Egmont. He may admonish them and let them go.
Secretary. Brink, of Breda's company, wants to marry; the captain hopes
you will not allow it. There are so many women among the troops, he
writes, that when on the march, they resemble a gang of gypsies rather
than regular soldiers.
Egmont. We must overlook it in his case. He is a fine young fellow, and
moreover entreated me so earnestly before I came away. This must be the
last time, however; though it grieves me to refuse the poor fellows their
best pastime; they have enough without that to torment them.
Secretary. Two of your people, Seter and Hart, have ill-treated a damsel,
the daughter of an inn-keeper. They got her alone and she could not escape
Egmont. If she be an honest maiden and they used violence, let them be
flogged three days in succession; and if they have any property, let him
retain as much of it as will portion the girl.
Secretary. One of the foreign preachers has been discovered passing
secretly through Comines. He swore that he was on the point of leaving
for France. According to orders, he ought to be beheaded.
Egmont. Let him be conducted quietly to the frontier, and there
admonished that, the next time, he will not escape so easily.
Secretary. A letter from your steward. He writes that money comes in
slowly, he can with difficulty send you the required sum within the week;
the late disturbances have thrown everything into the greatest confusion,
Egmont. Money must be had! It is for him to look to the means.
Secretary. He says he will do his utmost, and at length proposes to sue and
imprison Raymond, who has been so long in your debt.
Egmont. But he has promised to pay!
Secretary. The last time he fixed a fortnight himself.
Egmont. Well, grant him another fortnight; after that he may proceed
Secretary. You do well. His non-payment of the money proceeds not from
inability, but from want of inclination. He will trifle no longer when he
sees that you are in earnest. The steward further proposes to withhold, for
half a month, the pensions which you allow to the old soldiers, widows,
and others. In the meantime some expedient may be devised; they must
make their arrangements accordingly.
Egmont. But what arrangements can be made here? These poor people
want the money more than I do. He must not think of it.
Secretary. How then, my lord, is he to raise the required sum?
Egmont. It is his business to think of that. He was told so in a former
Secretary. And therefore he makes these proposals.
Egmont. They will never do;--he must think of something else. Let him
suggest expedients that are admissible, and, before all, let him procure the
Secretary. I have again before me the letter from Count Oliva. Pardon my
recalling it to your remembrance. Before all others, the aged count
deserves a detailed reply. You proposed writing to him with your own
hand. Doubtless, he loves you as a father.
Egmont. I cannot command the time;--and of all detestable things, writing
is to me the most detestable. You imitate my hand so admirably, do you
write in my name. I am expecting Orange. I cannot do it;--I wish,
however, that something soothing should be written, to allay his fears.
Secretary. Just give me a notion of what you wish to communicate; I will
at once draw up the answer, and lay it before you. It shall be so written
that it might pass for your hand in a court of justice.
Egmont. Give me the letter. (After glancing over it.) Dear, excellent, old
man! Wert thou then so cautious in thy youth? Didst thou never mount a
breach? Didst thou remain in the rear of battle at the suggestion of
prudence?-- What affectionate solicitude! He has indeed my safety and
happiness at heart, but considers not, that he who lives but to save his life,
is already dead.--Charge him not to be anxious on my account; I act as
circumstances require, and shall be upon my guard. Let him use his
influence at court in my favour, and be assured of my warmest thanks.
Secretary. Is that all? He expects still more.
Egmont. What can I say? If you choose to write more fully, do so. The
matter turns upon a single point; he would have me live as I cannot live.
That I am joyous, live fast, take matters easily, is my good fortune; nor
would! exchange it for the safety of a sepulchre. My blood rebels against
the Spanish mode of life, nor have I the least inclination to regulate my
movements by the new and cautious measures of the court. Do I live only
to think of life? Am I to forego the enjoyment of the present moment in
order to secure the next? And must that in its turn be consumed in
anxieties and idle fears?
Secretary. I entreat you, my lord, be not so harsh towards the venerable
man. You are wont to be friendly towards every one. Say a kindly word to
allay the anxiety of your noble friend. See how considerate he is, with
what delicacy he warns you.
Egmont. Yet he harps continually on the same string. He knows of old
how I detest these admonitions. They serve only to perplex and are of no
avail. What if I were a somnambulist, and trod the giddy summit of a lofty
house,--were it the part of friendship to call me by my name, to warn me
of my danger, to waken, to kill me? Let each choose his own path, and
provide for his own safety.
Secretary. It may become you to be without a fear, but those who know
and love you--
Egmont (looking over the letter). Then he recalls the old story of our
sayings and doings, one evening, in the wantonness of conviviality and
wine; and what conclusions and inferences were thence drawn and
circulated throughout the whole kingdom! Well, we had a cap and bells
embroidered on the sleeves of our servants' liveries, and afterwards
exchanged this senseless device for a bundle of arrows;--a still more
dangerous symbol for those who are bent upon discovering a meaning
where nothing is meant, These and similar follies were conceived and
brought forth in a moment of merriment. It was at our suggestion that a
noble troop, with beggars' wallets, and a self-chosen nickname, with mock
humility recalled the King's duty to his remembrance. It was at our
suggestion too--well, what does it signify? Is a carnival jest to be
construed into high treason? Are we to be grudged the scanty, variegated
rags, wherewith a youthful spirit and heated imagination would adorn the
poor nakedness of life? Take life too seriously, and what is it worth? If the
morning wake us to no new joys, if in the evening we have no pleasures to
hope for, is it worth the trouble of dressing and undressing? Does the sun
shine on me to-day, that I may reflect on what happened yesterday? That I
may endeavour to foresee and control, what can neither be foreseen nor
controlled,--the destiny of the morrow? Spare me these reflections, we will
leave them to scholars and courtiers. Let them ponder and contrive, creep
hither and thither, and surreptitiously achieve their ends.--If you can make
use of these suggestions, without swelling your letter into a volume, it is
well. Everything appears of exaggerated importance to the good old man.
'Tis thus the friend, who has long held our hand, grasps it more warmly
ere he quits his hold.
Secretary. Pardon me, the pedestrian grows dizzy when he beholds the
charioteer drive past with whirling speed.
Egmont. Child! Child! Forbear! As if goaded by invisible spirits, the sun-
steeds of time bear onward the light car of our destiny; and nothing
remains for us but, with calm self-possession, firmly to grasp the reins,
and now right, now left, to steer the wheels here from the precipice and
there from the rock. Whither he is hasting, who knows? Does any one
consider whence he came?
Secretary. My lord! my lord!
Egmont. I stand high, but I can and must rise yet higher. Courage,
strength, and hope possess my soul. Not yet have I attained the height of
my ambition; that once achieved, I will stand firmly and without fear.
Should I fall, should a thunder-clap, a storm-blast, ay, a false step of my
own, precipitate me into the abyss, so be it! I shall lie there with thousands
of others. I have never disdained, even for a trifling stake, to throw the
bloody die with my gallant comrades; and shall I hesitate now, when all
that is most precious in life is set upon the cast?
Secretary. Oh, my lord! you know not what you say! May Heaven protect
Egmont Collect your papers. Orange is coming. Dispatch what is most
urgent, that the couriers may set forth before the gates are closed. The rest
may wait. Leave the Count's letter till to-morrow. Fail not to visit Elvira,
and greet her from me. Inform yourself concerning the Regent's health.
She cannot be well, though she would fain conceal it.
Egmont. Welcome, Orange; you appear somewhat disturbed.
Orange. What say you to our conference with the Regent?
Egmont. I found nothing extraordinary in her manner of receiving us. I
have often seen her thus before. She appeared to me to be somewhat
Orange. Marked you not that she was more reserved than usual? She
began by cautiously approving our conduct during the late insurrection;
glanced at the false light in which, nevertheless, it might be viewed; and
finally turned the discourse to her favourite topic--that her gracious
demeanour, her friendship for us Netherlanders, had never been
sufficiently recognized, never appreciated as it deserved; that nothing
came to a prosperous issue; that for her part she was beginning to grow
weary of it; that the king must at last resolve upon other measures. Did
you hear that?
Egmont. Not all; I was thinking at the time of something else. She is a
woman, good Orange, and all women expect that every one shall submit
passively to their gentle yoke; that every Hercules shall lay aside his lion's
skin, assume the distaff, and swell their train; and, because they are
themselves peaceably inclined, imagine forsooth, that the ferment which
seizes a nation, the storm which powerful rivals excite against one
another, may be allayed by one soothing word, and the most discordant
elements be brought to unite in tranquil harmony at their feet. 'Tis thus
with her; and since she cannot accomplish her object, why she has no
resource left but to lose her temper, to menace us with direful prospects
for the future, and to threaten to take her departure.
Orange. Think you not that this time she will fulfil her threat?
Egmont. Never! How often have I seen her actually prepared for the
journey? Whither should she go? Being here a stadtholder, a queen, think
you that she could endure to spend her days in insignificance at her
brother's court, or to repair to Italy, and there drag on her existence among
her old family connections?
Orange. She is held incapable of this determination, because you have
already seen her hesitate and draw back; nevertheless, it lies in her to take
this step; new circumstances may impel her to the long-delayed resolve.
What if she were to depart, and the king to send another?
Egmont. Why, he would come, and he also would have business enough
upon his hands. He would arrive with vast projects and schemes to reduce
all things to order, to subjugate and combine; and to-day he would be
occupied with this trifle, to-morrow with that, and the day following have
to deal with some unexpected hindrance. He would spend one month in
forming plans, another in mortification at their failure, and half a year
would be consumed in cares for a single province. With him also time
would pass, his head grow dizzy, and things hold on their ordinary course,
till instead of sailing into the open sea, according to the plan which he had
previously marked out, he might thank if, amid the tempest, he were able
to keep his vessel off the rocks.
Orange. What if the king were advised to try an experiment?
Egmont. Which should be--?
Orange. To try how the body would get on without the head.
Orange. Egmont, our interests have for years weighed upon my heart; I
ever stand as over a chess-board, and regard no move of my adversary as
insignificant; and as men of science carefully investigate the secrets of
nature, so I hold it to be the duty, ay, the very vocation of a prince, to
acquaint himself with the dispositions and intentions of all parties. I have
reason to fear an outbreak. The king has long acted according to certain
principles; he finds that they do not lead to a prosperous issue; what more
probable than that he should seek it some other way?
Egmont. I do not believe it. When a man grows old, has attempted much,
and finds that the world cannot be made to move according to his will, he
must needs grow weary of it at last.
Orange. One thing has yet to be attempted.
Orange. To spare the people, and to put an end to the princes.
Egmont. How many have long been haunted by this dread? There is no
cause for such anxiety.
Orange. Once I felt anxious; gradually I became suspicious; suspicion has
at length grown into certainty.
Egmont. Has the king more faithful servants than ourselves?
Orange. We serve him after our own fashion; and, between ourselves, it
must be confessed that we understand pretty well how to make the
interests of the king square with our own.
Egmont. And who does not? He has our duty and submission, in so far as
they are his due.
Orange. But what if he should arrogate still more, and regard as disloyalty
what we esteem the maintenance of our just rights?
Egmont. We shall know in that case how to defend ourselves. Let him
assemble the Knights of the Golden Fleece; we will submit ourselves to
Orange. What if the sentence were to precede the trial? punishment, the
Egmont. It were an injustice of which Philip is incapable; a folly which I
cannot impute either to him or to his counsellors.
Orange. And how if they were both unjust and foolish?
Egmont. No, Orange, it is impossible. Who would venture to lay hands on
us? The attempt to capture us were a vain and fruitless enterprize. No, they
dare not raise the standard of tyranny so high. The breeze that should waft
these tidings over the land would kindle a mighty conflagration. And what
object would they have in view? The king alone has no power either to
judge or to condemn us and would they attempt our lives by assassination?
They cannot intend it. A terrible league would unite the entire people.
Direful hate and eternal separation from the crown of Spain would, on the
instant, be forcibly declared.
Orange. The flames would then rage over our grave, and the blood of our
enemies flow, a vain oblation. Let us consider, Egmont.
Egmont. But how could they effect this purpose?
Orange. Alva is on the way.
Egmont. I do not believe it.
Orange. I know it.
Egmont. The Regent appeared to know nothing of it.
Orange. And, therefore, the stronger is my conviction. The Regent will
give place to him. I know his blood-thirsty disposition, and he brings an
army with him.
Egmont. To harass the provinces anew? The people will be exasperated to
the last degree.
Orange. Their leaders will be secured.
Egmont. No! No!
Orange. Let us retire, each to his province. There we can strengthen
ourselves; the Duke will not begin with open violence.
Egmont. Must we not greet him when he comes?
Orange. We will delay.
Egmont. What if, on his arrival, he should summon us in the king's name?
Orange. We will answer evasively.
Egmont. And if he is urgent?
Orange. We will excuse ourselves.
Egmont. And if he insist?
Orange. We shall be the less disposed to come.
Egmont. Then war is declared; and we are rebels. Do not suffer prudence
to mislead you,
Orange. I know it is not fear that makes you yield. Consider this step.
Orange. I have considered it.
Egmont. Consider for what you are answerable if you are wrong. For the
most fatal war that ever yet desolated a country. Your refusal is the signal
that at once summons the provinces to arms, that justifies every cruelty for
which Spain has hitherto so anxiously sought a pretext. With a single nod
you will excite to the direst confusion what, with patient effort, we have so
long kept in abeyance. Think of the towns, the nobles, the people; think of
commerce, agriculture, trade! Realize the murder, the desolation! Calmly
the soldier beholds his comrade fall beside him in the battlefield. But
towards you, carried downwards by the stream, shall float the corpses of
citizens, of children, of maidens, till, aghast with horror, you shall no
longer know whose cause you are defending, since you shall see those, for
whose liberty you drew the sword, perishing around you. And what will be
your emotions when conscience whispers, "It was for my own safety that I
drew it "?
Orange. We are not ordinary men, Egmont. If it becomes us to sacrifice
ourselves for thousands, it becomes us no less to spare ourselves for
Egmont. He who spares himself becomes an object of suspicion ever to
Orange. He who is sure of his own motives can, with confidence, advance
Egmont. Your own act will render certain the evil that you dread.
Orange. Wisdom and courage alike prompt us to meet an inevitable evil.
Egmont. When the danger is imminent the faintest hope should be taken
Orange We have not the smallest footing left; we are on the very brink of
Egmont. Is the king's favour on ground so narrow?
Orange. Not narrow, perhaps, but slippery.
Egmont. By heavens! he is belied. I cannot endure that he should be so
meanly thought of! He is Charles's son, and incapable of meanness.
Orange. Kings of course do nothing mean.
Egmont. He should be better known.
Orange. Our knowledge counsels us not to await the result of a dangerous
Egmont. No experiment is dangerous, the result of which we have the
courage to meet.
Orange. You are irritated, Egmont.
Egmont. I must see with my own eyes.
Orange. Oh that for once you saw with mine! My friend, because your
eyes are open, you imagine that you see. I go! Await Alva's arrival, and
God be with you! My refusal to do so may perhaps save you. The dragon
may deem the prey not worth seizing, if he cannot swallow us both.
Perhaps he may delay, in order more surely to execute his purpose; in the
meantime you may see matters in their true light. But then, be prompt!
Lose not a moment! Save,--oh, save yourself! Farewell!--Let nothing
escape your vigilance:--how many troops he brings with him; how he
garrisons the town; what force the Regent retains; how your friends are
prepared. Send me tidings--Egmont-
Egmont. What would you?
Orange (grasping his hand). Be persuaded! Go with me!
Egmont. How! Tears, Orange!
Orange. To weep for a lost friend is not unmanly.
Egmont. You deem me lost?
Orange. You are lost! Consider! Only a brief respite is left you. Farewell.
Egmont (alone). Strange that the thoughts of other men should exert such
an influence over us. These fears would never have entered my mind; and
this man infects me with his solicitude. Away! 'Tis a foreign drop in my
blood! Kind nature, cast it forth! And to erase the furrowed lines from my
brow there yet remains indeed a friendly means.
Scene I.--Palace of the Regent
Margaret of Parma
Regent. I might have expected it. Ha! when we live immersed in anxiety
and toil, we imagine that we achieve the utmost that is possible; while he,
who, from a distance, looks on and commands, believes that he requires
only the possible. O ye kings! I had not thought it could have galled me
thus. It is so sweet to reign!--and to abdicate? I know not how my father
could do so; but I will also.
Machiavel appears in the back-ground
Regent. Approach, Machiavel. I am thinking over this letter from my
Machiavel. May I know what it contains?
Regent. As much tender consideration for me as anxiety for his states. He
extols the firmness, the industry, the fidelity, with which I have hitherto
watched over the interests of his Majesty in these provinces. He condoles
with me that the unbridled people occasion me so much trouble. He is so
thoroughly convinced of the depth of my views, so extraordinarily
satisfied with the prudence of my conduct, that I must almost say the letter
is too politely written for a king--certainly for a brother.
Machiavel. It is not the first time that he has testified to you his just
Regent. But the first time that it is a mere rhetorical figure.
Machiavel. I do not understand you.
Regent. You soon will.--For after this preamble he is of opinion that
without soldiers, without a small army indeed,---I shall always cut a sorry
figure here! We did wrong, he says, to withdraw our troops from the provinces
at the remonstrance of the inhabitants; a garrison, he thinks, which shall
press upon the neck of the burgher, will prevent him, by its weight, from
making any lofty spring.
Machiavel. It would irritate the public mind to the last degree.
Regent. The king thinks, however, do you hear?--he thinks that a clever
general, one who never listens to reason, will be able to deal promptly
with all parties;--people and nobles, citizens and peasants; he therefore
sends, with a powerful army, the Duke of Alva.
Regent. You are surprised.
Machiavel. You say, he sends, he asks doubtless whether he should send.
Regent. The king asks not, he sends.
Machiavel. You will then have an experienced warrior in your service.
Regent. In my service? Speak out, Machiavel.
Machiavel. I would not anticipate you.
Regent. And I would I could dissimulate. It wounds me --wounds me to
the quick. I had rather my brother would speak his mind than attach his
signature to formal epistles drawn up by a Secretary of state.
Machiavel. Can they not comprehend?--
Regent. I know them both within and without. They would fain make a
clean sweep; and since they cannot set about it themselves, they give their
confidence to any one who comes with a besom in his hand. Oh, it seems
to me as if I saw the king and his council worked upon this tapestry.
Machiavel. So distinctly!
Regent. No feature is wanting. There are good men among them. The
honest Roderigo, so experienced and so moderate, who does not aim too
high, yet lets nothing sink too low; the upright Alonzo, the diligent
Freneda, the steadfast Las Vargas, and others who join them when the
good party are in power. But there sits the hollow-eyed Toledan, with
brazen front and deep fire-glance, muttering between his teeth about
womanish softness, ill-timed concession, and that women can ride trained
steeds, well enough, but are themselves bad masters of the horse, and the
like pleasantries, which, in former times, I have been compelled to hear
from political gentlemen.
Machiavel. You have chosen good colours for your picture.
Regent. Confess, Machiavel, among the tints from which I might select,
there is no hue so livid, so jaundice-like, as Alva's complexion, and the
colour he is wont to paint with. He regards every one as a blasphemer or
traitor, for under this head they can all be racked, impaled, quartered, and
burnt at pleasure. The good I have accomplished here appears as nothing
seen from a distance, just because it is good. Then he dwells on every
outbreak that is past, recalls every disturbance that is quieted, and brings
before the king such a picture of mutiny, sedition, and audacity, that we
appear to him to he actually devouring one another, when with us the
transient explosion of a rude people has long been forgotten. Thus he
conceives a cordial hatred for the poor people; he views them with horror,
as beasts and monsters; looks around for fire and sword, and imagines that
by such means human beings are subdued.
Machiavel. You appear to me too vehement; you take the matter too
seriously. Do you not remain Regent?
Regent. I am aware of that. He will bring his instructions. I am old enough
in state affairs to understand how people can be supplanted, without being
actually deprived of office. First, he will produce a commission, couched
in terms somewhat obscure and equivocal; he will stretch his authority, for
the power is in his hands; if I complain, he will hint at secret instructions;
if I desire to see them, he will answer evasively; if I insist, he will produce
a paper of totally different import; and if this fail to satisfy me, he will go
on precisely as if I had never interfered. Meanwhile he will have
accomplished what I dread, and have frustrated my most cherished
Machiavel. I wish I could contradict you.
Regent. His harshness and cruelty will again arouse the turbulent spirit,
which, with unspeakable patience, I have succeeded in quelling; I shall see
my work destroyed before my eyes, and have besides to bear the blame of his
Machiavel. Await it, your Highness.
Regent. I have sufficient self-command to remain quiet. Let him come; I
will make way for him with the best grace ere he pushes me aside.
Machiavel. So important a step thus suddenly? Regent. 'Tis harder than
you imagine. He who is accustomed to rule, to hold daily in his hand the
destiny of thousands, descends from the throne as into the grave. Better
thus, however, than linger a spectre among the living, and with hollow
aspect endeavour to maintain a place which another has inherited, and
already possesses and enjoys.
SCENE II.--Clara's dwelling
Clara and her Mother
Mother. Such a love as Brackenburg's I have never seen; I thought it was
to be found only in romance books.
Clara (walking up and down the room, humming a song).
With love's thrilling rapture
What joy can compare!
Mother. He suspects thy attachment to Egmont; and yet, if thou wouldst
but treat him a little kindly, I do believe he would marry thee still,
if thou wouldst have him.
With thought-teeming brain;
In passionate pain;
Now shouting in triumph,
Now sunk in despair;--
With love's thrilling rapture
What joy can compare!
Mother. Have done with such baby-nonsense!
Clara. Nay, do not abuse it; 'tis a song of marvellous virtue. Many a time
have I lulled a grown child to sleep with it.
Mother. Ay! Thou canst think of nothing but thy love. If it only did not put
everything else out of thy head. Thou shouldst have more regard for
Brackenburg, I tell thee. He may make thee happy yet some day.
Mother. Oh, yes! A time will come! You children live only in the present,
and give no ear to our experience. Youth and happy love, all has an end;
and there comes a time when one thanks God if one has any comer to
Clara (shudders, and after a pause stands up). Mother, let that time come--
like death. To think of it beforehand is horrible! And if it come! If we
must--then--we will bear ourselves as we may. Live without thee, Egmont!
(Weeping.) No! It is impossible.
[Enter Egmont (enveloped in a horseman's cloak, his hat drawn over his
Clara (utters a cry and starts back). Egmont! (She hastens towards him.)
Egmont! (She embraces and leans upon him.) O thou good, kind, sweet
Egmont! Art thou come? Art thou here indeed!
Egmont. Good evening, Mother?
Mother. God save you, noble sir! My daughter has well-nigh pined to
death, because you have stayed away so long; she talks and sings about
you the live-long day.
Egmont. You will give me some supper?
Mother. You do us too much honour. If we only had anything--
Clara. Certainly! Be quiet, Mother; I have provided everything; there is
something prepared. Do not betray me, Mother.
Mother. There's little enough.
Clara. Never mind! And then I think when he is with me I am never
hungry; so he cannot, I should think, have any great appetite when I am
Egmont. Do you think so? (Clara stamps with her foot and turns pettishly
away.) What ails you?
Clara. How cold you are to-day! You have not yet offered me a kiss. Why
do you keep your arms enveloped in your mantle, like a new-born babe? It
becomes neither a soldier nor a lover to keep his arms muffled up.
Egmont. Sometimes, dearest, sometimes. When the soldier stands in
ambush and would delude the foe, he collects his thoughts, gathers his
mantle around him, and matures his plan and a lover--
Mother. Will you not take a seat, and make yourself comfortable? I must
to the kitchen, Clara thinks of nothing when you are here. You must put up
with what we have.
Egmont. Your good-will is the best seasoning.
Clara. And what then is my love?
Egmont. Just what thou wilt.
Clara. Liken it to anything, if you have the heart.
Egmont. But first. (He flings aside his mantle, and appears arrayed in a
Clara. Oh heavens!
Egmont. Now my arms are free! (Embraces her.)
Clara. Don't! You will spoil your dress. (She steps back.) How
magnificent! I dare not touch you.
Egmont. Art thou satisfied? I promised to come once arrayed in Spanish
Clara. I had ceased to remind you of it; I thought you did not like it--ah,
and the Golden Fleece!
Egmont. Thou seest it now.
Clara. And did the emperor really hang it round thy neck!
Egmont. He did, my child! And this chain and Order invest the wearer
with the noblest privileges. On earth I acknowledge no judge over my
actions, except the grand master of the Order, with the assembled chapter
Clara. Oh, thou mightest let the whole world sit in judgment over thee.
The velvet is too splendid! and the braiding! and the embroidery! One
knows not where to begin.
Egmont. There, look thy fill.
Clara. And the Golden Fleece! You told me its history, and said it is the
symbol of everything great and precious, of everything that can be merited
and won by diligence and toil. It is very precious--I may liken it to thy
love;--even so I wear it next my heart;--and then--
Egmont. What wilt thou say?
Clara. And then again it is not like.
Egmont. How so?
Clara. I have not won it by diligence and toil, I have not deserved it.
Egmont. It is otherwise in love. Thou dost deserve it because thou hast not
sought it--and, for the most part, those only obtain love who seek it not.
Clara. Is it from thine own experience that thou hast learned this? Didst
thou make that proud remark in reference to thyself? Thou, whom all the
Egmont. Would that I had done something for them! That I could do
anything for them! It is their own good pleasure to love me.
Clara. Thou hast doubtless been with the Regent to-day?
Egmont. I have.
Clara. Art thou upon good terms with her?
Egmont So it would appear. We are kind and serviceable to each other.