Thursday, August 12, 2004

The Revolution of Sweden

I am currently reading the plays of Catharine Trotter (a.k.a. Catharine Trotter Cockburn - she stopped writing plays when she married, but continued writing philosophical work, which is why in early modern philosophy she tends to be indicated with her married as well as her maiden name). They were all written and performed when she was rather young; her last play, The Revolution of Sweden, was written in 1703, when she was 24. (Her birthday, by the way, is coming up, August 16). The writing isn't spectacular, and sometimes a bit awkward, but in general is clear, clean, and vigorous. Here is a sample from Act II of The Revolution of Sweden. which I've chosen partly because it's a good sample of her writing, and partly because it's philosophical in subject-matter.

Background: The events of the play take place in Sweden during a struggle for independence. The Swedish general Gustavus Vasa is leading an army toward Stockholm to free the Swedes from Danish tyranny. The protagonists of the story are Count Arwide (a close friend of Gustavus), his wife Constantia, and Christina (the good wife of the villainous Beron). In this scene the viceroy of Sweden, Beron, and the archbishop of Upsala, all Danish sympathizers, have established themselves in Stockholm, which they are defending against the Swedish army. Constantia has been captured by the viceroy's forces, and intend to use her capture as a means of blackmailing Arwide (the "powerful Rebel") into deserting Gustavus. Here Constantia debates the archbishop.

Const. The Sacred Pow'r forbid
That my poor Country be for my Redemption,
Depriv'd of the least Aid against our Tyrants.
Oh rather let me fall a Sacrifice
To their Inhuman Vengeance!
Arch. To our Justice,
For 'tis of Right to punish lawless Rebels
In their Alliance and curst Progeny.
But Interest of State, may bate of right,
And grant your Life to awe a powerful Rebel.
Const. Wisely that branded Name has been apply'd,
For a pretence to such Barbarities,
As else must ahve bare Fac'd confess'd themselves,
In their most horrid Form.
Is it Rebellion for a wretched People
Oppress'd and Ruin'd, by that Power they gave
For their Defence, the safety of their Rights,
To seek Redress? When Kings who are in Trust
The Guardians of the Laws, the publick Peace and Welfare,
Confess no Law but Arbitrary Will,
Or know no use of Pow'r but to Oppress,
And Injure, with Impunity, themselves
Disown their Office, tacitly acquit
The People, of whose due Obedience, just
Protection, is the Natural and Essential Condition.
Arch. Excellent Maxims, to perpetuate Confusion!
Pernicious Principles! Which ev'n those
Whose turn they serve against the Reigning PRince,
Gladly disclaim when their own Pow'rs establish'd,
Then wou'd they be obey'd as Heav'ns Viceregents,
Accountable to none but him they represent.
Const. Wou'd Princes govern as if they themselves
Believ'd they were accountable to Heav'n,
There had been no occasion to contest
Whether their Pow'r be of Divine, or Humane
Institution; But when such impious Cruelties
Are practis'd, as our Sweden long has been
The Scene of (under this too justly stil'd
The Northern Nero) strong necessity,
Becomes the Peoples Casuist, proves that Piety
And Justice must allow that self-defence, to which
Nature so universally incites.
Arch. Nature indeed, for Mutiny, a Love
Of Novelty, and Spirit of Rebellion,
Are Nature in the giddy Multitude;
Humour and headstrong their Will their Casuist,
Unknowing of that specious Sophistry,
With which their Factious Leaders gild their Cause.
Not the Kings Cruelty, but too Imprudent
Partial Clemency, gave Rise to this Revolt;
Had he not spar'd the Sons of those his Justice doom'd,
Had Young Gustavus, when his Pris'ner, shar'd
His Father's Fate, the King had Reign'd securely,
And Sweden been in Peace.
Const. Most true, My Lord,
The Tyrant shou'd have spar'd no generous Swede,
Whom breach of publick Faith, the Law of Nations,
And Murther of so many Innocents,
Cou'd prompt; or to Redress, or to Avenge
Their Countries Wrongs.-----But can you thus insulting,
Or without Terror, name those noble Victims
Whose Blood still cries out for Vengeance! They, My Lord,
Were sure no Rebels, relying on the Faith
Of Treaties; Solemn Oaths, and the smooth Face of Peace,
Secure they went as to a Friendly Feast,
The Band of Union; but with barbarous Treachery,
Themselves were made th'inhumane Banquet,
To glut the Luxury of sanctify'd Revenge,
And Cruelty.
Arch. No, Rebels! Dare you vindicate those Wretches
Accurst, with sacred, solemn Excommunication.
Was not the Cause of Piety concern'd,
The Int'rest of our Holy FAith engag'd,
T'expel such Poys'nous Vipers from the Earth?
Const. The Cause of Piety! Can that Religion
Of which the Spirit, and distinctive Character
Is Mercy; forgiving Injuries and Universal Love,
Can it e'er authorize Revenge? Icite
To Persecution, and Bloody Massacres?
Well may Infidels be scandaliz'd
At our most Holy Faith, when its Professors
Themselves impute to it the most unnatural
Impieties? Well may Religions sacred Name
Be fall'n to Contempt, when thus abus'd,
To serve the vilest, the most impious Ends!
Arch. Is it for you
To judge of your Superiors, t'instruct your Guide?
When Women preach, 'twill be with Luther's Aid;
A blessed Reformation.
Const. Not to instruct, my Lord, but to awake;
You've shut your Eyes against our present Miseries
And future Dangers, else wou'd you not oppose
Your Countries Liberty, or give pretext
To Luther's growing Schism, which (with its fatal
Consequences) will all be set to the Account
Of those Ambitious Church-Men, who've turn'd
The Spiritual Pow'r, to Secular Tyrannical
Dominion, and giv'n Libertines occasion
In detecting the Usurp'd, to throw off
Undistinguish'd, the just Authority.
Arch. Insolent Assertions!
Such are th'Insinuations which support
Your Party-----But we shall quell these impious
Reformers-----Beron, lead on your Pris'ner,
We shall try if Sweden's great Deliverer
Can save himself.

["The Revolution of Sweden" (pp. 19-21), The Plays of Mary Pix and Catharine Trotter, Volume II: Catharine Trotter; Edan L. Steeves, ed. Garland Publishing (New York: 1982).]

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