Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: Michael Best
Not Peer Reviewed

Actors' Interpretations of King John


A German Arthur

From Bielschowsky, Albert, Life of Goethe (München, Beck, 1896), ii, 96.

8Among the five members whom the Weimar Court Theatre retained from Bellomo's troupe was Christiane Neumann, scarcely thirteen years old, but mature far beyond her years, an unusually talented and charming girl, who had been a favourite with the public ever since her first appearance upon the stage, at the age of ten. Goethe took it upon himself to prepare her for the highest performances, and his efforts were crowned with glorious success. Unfortunately this early blossom withered quickly. Married at the age of fifteen, she died in September, 1797, before she had reached the age of nineteen. Upon her grave Goethe placed as an unfading wreath of laurel the elegy Euphrosyne. In this elegy he has her describe how he, as her 'teacher, friend, and father,' taught her the first important rôle, that of Arthur in Shakespeare's King John (performed on the 29th of November, 1791):

9Can'st thou the hour still recall, when thou on the stage at rehearsal
Taughts me of tragical art all the more serious steps?
I was a boy, and an innocent child, thou calledst me Arthur,
And in me didst fulfil Shakespeare's poetical dream,
Threaten'dst with red glowing irons to burn out my sight, then turnedst,
Deeply affected, away, hiding thy tear streaming eyes.
Ah! thy heart was so tender, thou sparedst the life full of sorrow
Which an adventurous leap finally brought to a close.
Tenderly lifting my shattered form, from thence thou didst bear me:
Folded so close to thy breast, long did I feign I was dead.
When I my eyes at length opened, I saw thee tenderly gazing,
Earnest and still and sad, over thy favourite bowed.
Childlike I raised up my head, and, thy hands in gratitude kissing,
Offered thee as a reward innocent kiss on my lips;
Questioned thee: 'Wherefore, my father, so serious? If 'twas a failure
Oh I then show me, I pray, how I may better succeed.
Nought that for thee I attempt doth annoy me, every least detail
Oft will I gladly repeat, taught and guided by thee.'
Thou didst clasp me with might and caress me with passionate fondness,
But my heart at the thought shuddered deep in my breast.
'No, my lovely one,' thou didst exclaim; 'in every least detail
Play for the folk on the morn just as to day thou hast played.
Touch their emotions as mine thou hast touched, and, applauding thy playing,
Glorious tears shall run down e'en from the dryest of eyes.
But 'tis thy friend, who embraceth thee, thou hast most deeply affected;
Likeness of premature death causing him deepest dismay.