Fiction > Harvard Classics > J. W. von Goethe > Egmont
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832).  Egmont.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Act IV
Scene II
The Palace of Eulenberg, Residence of the DUKE OF ALVA

SILVA and GOMEZ (meeting)
  Silva.  Have you executed the duke’s commands?  2
  Gomez.  Punctually. All the day-patrols have received orders to assemble at the appointed time, at the various points that I have indicated. Meanwhile, they march as usual through the town to maintain order. Each is ignorant respecting the movements of the rest, and imagines the command to have reference to himself alone; thus in a moment the cordon can be formed, and all the avenues to the palace occupied. Know you the reason of this command?  3
  Silva.  I am accustomed blindly to obey; and to whom can one more easily render obedience than to the duke, since the event always proves the wisdom of his commands?  4
  Gomez.  Well! Well! I am not surprised that you are become as reserved and monosyllabic as the duke, since you are obliged to be always about his person; to me, however, who am accustomed to the lighter service of Italy, it seems strange enough. In loyalty and obedience, I am the same old soldier as ever; but I am wont to indulge in gossip and discussion; here, you are all silent, and seem as though you knew not how to enjoy yourselves. The duke, methinks, is like a brazen tower without gates, the garrison of which must be furnished with wings. Not long ago I heard him say at the table of a gay, jovial fellow that he was like a bad spirit-shop, with a brandy sign displayed, to allure idlers, vagabonds and thieves.  5
  Silva.  And has he not brought us hither in silence?  6
  Gomez.  Nothing can be said against that. Of a truth, we, who witnessed the address with which he led the troops hither out of Italy, have seen something. How he advanced warily through friends and foes; through the French, both royalists and heretics; through the Swiss and their confederates; maintained the strictest discipline, and accomplished with ease, and without the slightest hindrance, a march that was esteemed so perilous!—We have seen and learned something.  7
  Silva.  Here too! Is not everything as still and quiet as though there had been no disturbance?  8
  Gomez.  Why, as for that, it was tolerably quiet when we arrived.  9
  Silva.  The provinces have become much more tranquil; if there is any movement now, it is only among those who wish to escape; and to them, methinks, the duke will speedily close every outlet.  10
  Gomez.  This service cannot fail to win for him the favour of the king.  11
  Silva.  And nothing is more expedient for us than to retain his. Should the king come hither, the duke doubtless and all whom he recommends will not go without their reward.  12
  Gomez.  Do you really believe then that the king will come?  13
  Silva.  So many preparations are being made, that the report appears highly probable.  14
  Gomez.  I am not convinced, however.  15
  Silva.  Keep your thoughts to yourself then. For if it should not be the king’s intention to come, it is at least certain that he wishes the rumour to be believed.  16
  Ferdinand.  Is my father not yet abroad?  18
  Silva.  We are waiting to receive his commands.  19
  Ferdinand.  The princes will soon be here.  20
  Gomez.  Are they expected to-day?  21
  Ferdinand.  Orange and Egmont.  22
  Gomez.  (aside to SILVA). A light breaks in upon me.  23
  Silva.  Well, then, say nothing about it.  24
Enter the DUKE OF ALVA (as he advances the rest draw back)
  Alva.  Gomez.  26
  Gomez.  (steps forward). My lord.  27
  Alva.  You have distributed the guards and given them their instructions?  28
  Gomez.  Most accurately. The day-patrols—  29
  Alva.  Enough. Attend in the gallery. Silva will announce to you the moment when you are to draw them together, and to occupy the avenues leading to the palace. The rest you know.  30
  Gomez.  I do, my lord.  [Exit.  31
  Alva.  Silva.  32
  Silva.  Here my lord.  33
  Alva.  I shall require you to manifest to-day all the qualities which I have hitherto prized in you: courage, resolve, unswerving execution.  34
  Silva.  I thank you for affording me an opportunity of showing that your old servant is unchanged.  35
  Alva.  The moment the princes enter my cabinet, hasten to arrest Egmont’s private secretary. You have made all needful preparations for securing the others who are specified?  36
  Silva.  Rely upon us. Their doom, like a well-calculated eclipse, will overtake them with terrible certainty.  37
  Alva.  Have you had them all narrowly watched?  38
  Silva.  All. Egmont especially. He is the only one whose demeanour, since your arrival, remains unchanged. The live-long day he is now on one horse and now on another; he invites guests as usual, is merry and entertaining at table, plays at dice, shoots, and at night steals to his mistress. The others, on the contrary, have made a manifest pause in their mode of life; they remain at home, and, from the outward aspect of their houses, you would imagine that there was a sick man within.  39
  Alva.  To work then, ere they recover in spite of us.  40
  Silva.  I shall bring them without fail. In obedience to your commands we load them with officious honours; they are alarmed; cautiously, yet anxiously, they tender us their thanks, feel that flight would be the most prudent course, yet none venture to adopt it; they hesitate, are unable to work together, while the bond which unites them prevents their acting boldly as individuals. They are anxious to withdraw themselves from suspicion, and thus only render themselves more obnoxious to it. I already contemplate with joy the successful realization of your scheme.  41
  Alva.  I rejoice only over what is accomplished, and not lightly over that; for there ever remains ground for serious and anxious thought. Fortune is capricious; the common, the worthless, she oft-times ennobles, while she dishonours with a contemptible issue the most maturely considered schemes. Await the arrival of the princes, then order Gomez to occupy the streets, and hasten yourself to arrest Egmont’s secretary, and the others who are specified. This done, return, and announce to my son that he may bring me the tidings in the council.  42
  Silva.  I trust this evening I shall dare to appear in your presence. (ALVA approaches his son who has hitherto been standing in the gallery.) I dare not whisper it even to myself; but my mind misgives me. The event will, I fear, be different from what he anticipates. I see before me spirits, who, still and thoughtful, weigh in ebon scales the doom of princes and of many thousands. Slowly the beam moves up and down; deeply the judges appear to ponder; at length one scale sinks, the other rises, breathed on by the caprice of destiny, and all is decided.  [Exit.  43
  Alva  (advancing with his son). How did you find the town?  44
  Ferdinand.  All is again quiet. I rode as for pastime, from street to street. Your well-distributed patrols hold Fear so tightly yoked, that she does not venture even to whisper. The town resembles a plain when the lightning’s glare announces the impending storm: no bird, no beast is to be seen, that is not stealing to a place of shelter.  45
  Alva.  Has nothing further occurred?  46
  Ferdinand.  Egmont, with a few companions, rode into the marketplace; we exchanged greetings; he was mounted on an unbroken charger, which excited my admiration. “Let us hasten to break in our steeds,” he exclaimed; “we shall need them ere long!” He said that he should see me again to-day; he is coming here, at your desire, to deliberate with you.  47
  Alva.  He will see you again.  48
  Ferdinand.  Among all the knights whom I know here, he pleases me the best. I think we shall be friends.  49
  Alva.  You are always rash and inconsiderate. I recognize in you the levity of your mother, which threw her unconditionally into my arms. Appearances have already allured you precipitately into many dangerous connections.  50
  Ferdinand.  You will find me ever submissive.  51
  Alva.  I pardon this inconsiderate kindness, this heedless gaiety, in consideration of your youthful blood. Only forget not on what mission I am sent, and what part in it I would assign to you.  52
  Ferdinand.  Admonish me, and spare me not, when you deem it needful.  53
  Alva  (after a pause). My son!  54
  Ferdinand.  My father!  55
  Alva.  The princes will be here anon; Orange and Egmont. It is not mistrust that has withheld me till now from disclosing to you what is about to take place. They will not depart hence.  56
  Ferdinand.  What do you purpose?  57
  Alva.  It has been resolved to arrest them.—You are astonished! Learn what you have to do; the reasons you shall know when all is accomplished. Time fails now to unfold them. With you alone I wish to deliberate on the weightiest, the most secret matters; a powerful bond holds us linked together; you are dear and precious to me; on you I would bestow everything. Not the habit of obedience alone would I impress upon you; I desire also to implant within your mind the power to realize, to command, to execute; to you I would bequeath a vast inheritance, to the king a most useful servant; I would endow you with the noblest of my possessions, that you may not be ashamed to appear among your brethren.  58
  Ferdinand.  How deeply am I indebted to you for this love, which you manifest for me alone, while a whole kingdom trembles before you!  59
  Alva.  Now hear what is to be done. As soon as the princes have entered, every avenue to the palace will be guarded. This duty is confided to Gomez. Silva will hasten to arrest Egmont’s secretary, together with those whom we hold most in suspicion. You, meanwhile, will take the command of the guards stationed at the gates and in the courts. Before all, take care to occupy the adjoining apartment with the trustiest soldiers. Wait in the gallery till Silva returns, then bring me any unimportant paper, as a signal that his commission is executed. Remain in the ante-chamber till Orange retires, follow him; I will detain Egmont here as though I had some further communication to make to him. At the end of the gallery demand Orange’s sword, summon the guards, secure promptly the most dangerous man; I meanwhile will seize Egmont here.  60
  Ferdinand.  I obey, my father—for the first time with a heavy and an anxious heart.  61
  Alva.  I pardon you; this is the first great day of your life.  62
  Silva.  A courier from Antwerp. Here is Orange’s letter. He does not come.  64
  Alva.  Says the messenger so?  65
  Silva.  No, my own heart tells me.  66
  Alva.  In thee speaks my evil genius. (After reading the letter, he makes a sign to the two, and they retire to the gallery. ALVA remains alone in front of the stage.) He comes not! Till the last moment he delays declaring himself. He ventures not to come! So then, the cautious man, contrary to all expectations, is for once cautious enough to lay aside his wonted caution. The hour moves on! Let the finger travel but a short space over the dial, and a great work is done or lost—irrevocably lost; for the opportunity can never be retrieved, nor can our intention remain concealed. Long had I maturely weighed everything, foreseen even this contingency, and firmly resolved in my own mind what, in that case, was to be done; and now, when I am called upon to act, I can with difficulty guard my mind from being again distracted by conflicting doubts. Is it expedient to seize the others if he escape me? Shall I delay, and suffer Egmont to elude my grasp, together with his friends, and so many others who now, and perhaps for to-day only, are in my hands? How! Does destiny control even thee—the uncontrollable? How long matured! How well prepared! How great, how admirable the plan! How nearly had hope attained the goal! And now, at the decisive moment, thou art placed between two evils; as in a lottery, thou dost grasp in the dark future; what thou hast drawn remains still unrolled, to thee unknown whether it is a prize or a blank! (He becomes attentive, like one who hears a noise, and steps to the window.) ’Tis he! Egmont! Did thy steed bear thee hither so lightly, and started not at the scent of blood, at the spirit with the naked sword who received thee at the gate? Dismount! Lo, now thou hast one foot in the grave! And now both! Ay, caress him, and for the last time stroke his neck for the gallant service he has rendered thee. And for me no choice is left. The delusion, in which Egmont ventures here to-day, cannot a second time deliver him into my hands! Hark! (FERDINAND and SILVA enter hastily.) Obey my orders! I swerve not from my purpose. I shall detain Egmont here as best I may, till you bring me tidings form Silva. Then remain at hand. Thee, too, fate has robbed of the proud honour of arresting with thine own hand the king’s greatest enemy. (To SILVA.) Be prompt! (To FERDINAND.) Advance to meet him.  (ALVA remains some moments alone, pacing the chamber in silence.)  67
  Egmont.  I come to learn the king’s commands; to hear what service he demands from our loyalty, which remains eternally devoted to him.  69
  Alva.  He desires, before all, to hear your counsel.  70
  Egmont.  Upon what subject? Does Orange come also? I thought to find him here.  71
  Alva.  I regret that he fails us at this important crisis. The king desires your counsel, your opinion as to the best means of tranquillizing these states. He trusts indeed that you will zealously co-operate with him in quelling these disturbances, and in securing to these provinces the benefit of complete and permanent order.  72
  Egmont.  You, my lord, should know better than I, that tranquillity is already sufficiently restored, and was still more so, till the appearance of fresh troops again agitated the public mind, and filled it anew with anxiety and alarm.  73
  Alva.  You seem to intimate that it would have been more advisable if the king had not placed me in a position to interrogate you.  74
  Egmont.  Pardon me! It is not for me to determine whether the king acted advisedly in sending the army hither, whether the might of his royal presence alone would not have operated more powerfully. The army is here, the king is not. But we should be most ungrateful were we to forget what we owe to the Regent. Let it be acknowledged! By her prudence and valour, by her judicious use of authority and force, of persuasion and finesse, she pacified the insurgents, and, to the astonishment of the world, succeeded, in the course of a few months, in bringing a rebellious people back to their duty.  75
  Alva.  I deny it not. The insurrection is quelled; and the people appear to be already forced back within the bounds of obedience. But does it not depend upon their caprice alone to overstep these bounds? Who shall prevent them from again breaking loose? Where is the power capable of restraining them? Who will be answerable to us for their future loyalty and submission? Their own good-will is the sole pledge we have.  76
  Egmont.  And is not the good-will of a people the surest, the noblest pledge? By heaven! when can a monarch hold himself more secure, ay, both against foreign and domestic foes, than when all can stand for one, and one for all?  77
  Alva.  You would not have us believe, however, that such is the case here at present?  78
  Egmont.  Let the king proclaim a general pardon; he will thus tranquillize the public mind; and it will be seen how speedily loyalty and affection will return, when confidence is restored.  79
  Alva.  How! And suffer those who have insulted the majesty of the king, who have violated the sanctuaries of our religion, to go abroad unchallenged! living witnesses that enormous crimes may be perpetrated with impunity!  80
  Egmont.  And ought not a crime of frenzy, of intoxication, to be excused, rather than horribly chastised? Especially when there is the sure hope, nay, more, where there is positive certainty that the evil will never again recur? Would not sovereigns thus be more secure? Are not those monarchs most extolled by the world and by posterity, who can pardon, pity, despise an offense against their dignity? Are they not on that account likened to God himself, who is far too exalted to be assailed by every idle blasphemy?  81
  Alva.  And therefore, should the king contend for the honour of God and of religion, we for the authority of the king. What the supreme power disdains to avert, it is our duty to avenge. Were I to counsel, no guilty person should live to rejoice in his impunity.  82
  Egmont.  Think you that you will be able to reach them all? Do we not daily hear that fear is driving them to and fro, and forcing them out of the land? The more wealthy will escape to other countries with their property, their children, and their friends; while the poor will carry their industrious hands to our neighbours.  83
  Alva.  They will, if they cannot be prevented. It is on this account that the king desires counsel and aid from every prince, zealous cooperation from every stadtholder; not merely a description of the present posture of affairs, or conjectures as to what might take place were events suffered to hold on their course without interruption. To contemplate a mighty evil, to flatter oneself with hope, to trust to time, to strike a blow, like the clown in a play, so as to make a noise and appear to do something, when in fact one would fain do nothing; is not such conduct calculated to awaken a suspicion that those who act thus contemplate with satisfaction a rebellion, which they would not indeed excite, but which they are by no means unwilling to encourage?  84
  Egmont  (about to break forth, restrains himself, and after a brief pause, speaks with composure). Not every design is obvious, and many a man’s design is misconstrued. It is widely rumoured, however, that the object which the king has in view is not so much to govern the provinces according to uniform and clearly defined laws, to maintain the majesty of religion, and to give his people universal peace, as unconditionally to subjugate them, to rob them of their ancient rights, to appropriate their possessions, to curtail the fair privileges of the nobles, for whose sake alone they are ready to serve him with life and limb. Religion, it is said, is merely a splendid device, behind which every dangerous design may be contrived with the greater ease; the prostrate crowds adore the sacred symbols pictured there while behind lurks the fowler ready to ensnare them.  85
  Alva.  This must I hear from you?  86
  Egmont.  I speak not my own sentiments! I but repeat what is loudly rumoured, and uttered now here and now there by great and by humble, by wise men and fools. The Netherlanders fear a double yoke, and who will be surety to them for their liberty?  87
  Alva.  Liberty! A fair word when rightly understood. What liberty would they have? What is the freedom of the most free? To do right! And in that the monarch will not hinder them. No! No! They imagine themselves enslaved, when they have not the power to injure themselves and others. Would it not be better to abdicate at once, rather than rule such a people? When the country is threatened by foreign invaders, the burghers, occupied only with their immediate interests, bestow no thought upon the advancing foe, and when the king requires their aid, they quarrel among themselves, and thus, as it were, conspire with the enemy. Far better is it to circumscribe their power, to control and guide them for their good, as children are controlled and guided. Trust me, a people grows neither old nor wise, a people remains always in its infancy.  88
  Egmont.  How rarely does a king attain wisdom! And is it not fit that the many should confide their interests to the many rather than to the one? And not even to the one, but to the few servants of the one, men who have grown old under the eyes of their master. To grow wise, it seems, is the exclusive privilege of these favoured individuals.  89
  Alva.  Perhaps for the very reason that they are not left to themselves.  90
  Egmont.  And therefore they would fain leave no one else to his own guidance. Let them do what they like, however; I have replied to your questions, and I repeat, the measures you propose will never succeed! They cannot succeed! I know my countrymen. They are men worthy to tread God’s earth; each complete in himself, a little king, steadfast, active, capable, loyal, attached to ancient customs. It may be difficult to win their confidence, but it is easy to retain it. Firm and unbending! They may be crushed, but not subdued.  91
  Alva  (who during this speech has looked round several times). Would you venture to repeat what you have uttered, in the king’s presence?  92
  Egmont.  It were the worse, if in his presence I were restrained by fear! The better for him and for his people, if he inspired me with confidence, if he encouraged me to give yet freer utterance to my thoughts.  93
  Alva.  What is profitable, I can listen to as well as he.  94
  Egmont.  I would say to him—’Tis easy for the shepherd to drive before him a flock of sheep; the ox draws the plough without opposition; but if you would ride the noble steed, you must study his thought, you must require nothing unreasonable, nor unreasonably, from him. The burgher desires to retain his ancient constitution; to be governed by his own countrymen; and why? Because he knows in that case how he shall be ruled, because he can rely upon their disinterestedness, upon their sympathy with his fate.  95
  Alva.  And ought not the Regent to be empowered to alter these ancient usages? Should not this constitute his fairest privilege? What is permanent in this world? And shall the constitution of a state alone remain unchanged? Must not every relation alter in the course of time, and on that very account, an ancient constitution become the source of a thousand evils, because not adapted to the present condition of the people? These ancient rights afford, doubtless, convenient loopholes, through which the crafty and the powerful may creep, and wherein they may lie concealed, to the injury of the people and of the entire community; and it is on this account, I fear, that they are held in such high esteem.  96
  Egmont.  And these arbitrary changes, these unlimited encroachments of the supreme power, are they not indications that one will permit himself to do what is forbidden to thousands? The monarch would alone be free, that he may have it in his power to gratify his every wish, to realize his every thought. And though we should confide in him as a good and virtuous sovereign, will he be answerable to us for his successor? That none who come after him shall rule without consideration, without forbearance! And who would deliver us from absolute caprice, should he send hither his servants, his minions, who, without knowledge of the country and its requirements, should govern according to their own good pleasure, meet with no opposition, and know themselves exempt from all responsibility?  97
  Alva  (who has meanwhile again looked round). There is nothing more natural than that a king should choose to retain the power in his own hands, and that he should select as the instruments of his authority, those who best understand him, who desire to understand him, and who will unconditionally execute his will.  98
  Egmont.  And just as natural is it, that the burgher should prefer being governed by one born and reared in the same land, whose notions of right and wrong are in harmony with his own, and whom he can regard as his brother.  99
  Alva.  And yet the noble, methinks, has shared rather unequally with these brethren of his.  100
  Egmont.  That took place centuries ago, and is now submitted to without envy. But should new men, whose presence is not needed in the country, be sent, to enrich themselves a second time, at the cost of the nation; should the people see themselves exposed to their bold, unscrupulous rapacity, it would excite a ferment that would not soon be quelled.  101
  Alva.  You utter words to which I ought not to listen;-I, too, am a foreigner.  102
  Egmont.  That they are spoken in your presence is a sufficient proof that they have no reference to you.  103
  Alva.  Be that as it may, I would rather not hear them from you. The king sent me here in the hope that I should obtain the support of the nobles. The king wills, and will have his will obeyed. After profound deliberation, the king at length discerns what course will best promote the welfare of the people; matters cannot be permitted to go on as heretofore; it is the king’s intention to limit their power for their own good; if necessary, to force upon them their salvation: to sacrifice the more dangerous burghers in order that the rest may find repose, and enjoy in peace the blessing of a wise government. This is his resolve; this I am commissioned to announce to the nobles; and in his name I require from them advice, not as to the course to be pursued—on that he is resolved—but as to the best means of carrying his purpose into effect.  104
  Egmont.  Your words, alas, justify the fears of the people, the universal fear! The king has then resolved as no sovereign ought to resolve. In order to govern his subjects more easily, he would crush, subvert, nay, ruthlessly destroy, their strength, their spirit, and their self-respect! He would violate the inmost core of their individuality, doubtless with the view of promoting their happiness. He would annihilate them, that they may assume a new, a different form. Oh! if his purpose be good, he is fatally misguided! It is not the king whom we resist;—we but place ourselves in the way of the monarch, who, unhappily, is about to take the first rash step in a wrong direction.  105
  Alva.  Such being your sentiments, it were a vain attempt for us to endeavour to agree. You must indeed think poorly of the king and contemptibly of his counsellors, if you imagine that everything has not already been thought of and maturely weighed. I have no commission a second time to balance conflicting arguments. From the people I demand submission;—and from you, their leaders and princes, I demand counsel and support, as pledges of this unconditional duty.  106
  Egmont.  Demand our heads, and your object is attained; to a noble soul it must be indifferent whether he stoop his neck to such a yoke, or lay it upon the block. I have spoken much to little purpose. I have agitated the air, but accomplished nothing.  107
  Ferdinand.  Pardon my intrusion. Here is a letter, the bearer of which urgently demands an answer.  109
  Alva.  Allow me to peruse its contents.  (Steps aside.)  110
  Ferdinand  (to EGMONT). ’Tis a noble steed that your people have brought, to carry you away.  111
  Egmont.  I have seen worse. I have had him some time; I think of parting with him. If he pleases you we shall probably soon agree as to the price.  112
  Ferdinand.  We will think about it.  (ALVA motions to his son, who retires to the back-ground.)  113
  Egmont.  Farewell! Allow me to retire; for, by heaven, I know not what more I can say.  114
  Alva.  Fortunately for you, chance prevents you from making a fuller disclosure of your sentiments. You incautiously lay bare the recesses of your heart, and your own lips furnish evidence against you, more fatal than could be produced by your bitterest adversary.  115
  Egmont.  This reproach disturbs me not. I know my own heart; I know with what honest zeal I am devoted to the king; I know that my allegiance is more true than that of many who, in his service, seek only to serve themselves. I regret that our discussion should terminate so unsatisfactorily, and trust that in spite of our opposing views, the service of the king, our master, and the welfare of our country, may speedily unite us; another conference, the presence of the princes who to-day are absent, may, perchance, in a more propitious moment, accomplish what at present appears impossible. In this hope I take my leave.  116
  Alva  (who at the same time makes a sign to FERDINAND). Hold, Egmont!—Your sword!—(The centre door opens and discloses the gallery, which is occupied with guards, who remain motionless.)  117
  Egmont  (after a pause of astonishment). This was the intention? For this thou hast summoned me? (Grasping his sword as if to defend himself.) Am I then weaponless?  118
  Alva.  The king commands. Thou art my prisoner. (At the same time guards enter from both sides.)  119
  Egmont  (after a pause). The king?—Orange! Orange! (after a pause, resigning his sword). Take it! In has been employed far oftener in defending the cause of my king than in protecting this breast.  (He retires by the centre door, followed by the guard and ALVA’S son. ALVA remains standing while the curtain falls.)  120


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