This is the 11th post in the Wilhelm Meister's series; if you need to brush up your memory, please go over the previous!

Hamlet and Ophelia - D.G. Rossetti
Hamlet and Ophelia - D.G. Rossetti
Once recovered from his wounds, Wilhelm travels to Serlo's home. There, he finds out that his friend isn't very happy with him; if you remember, Wilhelm have sent Melina and his company to him but Serlo thinks they are a bad amateur group. At first, he does not even want to hear about signing them up, but little by little, Philine and Wilhelm persuade him that being him their director, the actors will improve. Moreover, his own actors are asking for higher wages and Melina's company would work for less. Eventually, Serlo agrees to stage a theater play with them and asks Wilhelm to stay as an actor too. Wilhelm hesitates; he should return home, he has been away for a long time, but he likes the idea of becoming an actor and this way, he stays by Mignon and the harpist. If you're thinking that's a déjà-vu, you are right.

While he’s thinking about it, bad news arrive from home: his father is dead. His friend and partner Werner explains to him that they will become brothers in law soon because he is engaged to his sister. In addition, he explains his plans to make the family business grow and tells Wilhelm that if he wants to, the family would approve that he became their business correspondent. Now, things are easier; Wilhem tells Werner the truth: he wants to become a professional actor and he fully trusts him to manage their business. Once the decision is made, Wilhelm asks Serlo to stage Hamlet, his last obsession.

Up to here for summary regarding Wilhelm and the theater; now I should talk about a new character because she’ll become very influential in the rest of the novel. She's Aurelie, Serlo's sister, a young widow who lived an unfortunate love affair with a gentleman who, turn, left her a year ago. In the house, there is also a 3 years old child, "as pretty as the sun", that calls Aurelie, "mother”; Philine tells Wilhelm that she suspects he is not the son of Aurelie's dead husband but instead, of the gentleman but Aurelie, in her talks to Wilhelm, doesn’t ever reveal the truth to Wilhelm. She's an emotionally unstable woman who has both, melancholy days and exalted, violent moments; she gradually loses interest in the boy and Mignon takes care of him, because his nanny is old and ill. By the way, talking about Mignon, she's growing up and Wilhelm doesn't even realize it; he feels she is growingly uneasy but he doesn't know how to explain it (I have a friend who says this guy is a bit silly).

So far, very summarized, the nineteen chapters between the previous song and the one of this post; luckily, seven or eight are devoted to Hamlet so I’ve been able to spare some explanations. Now we have reached the tenth chapter of the fifth book. Philine is tired of that play and happy because the next day is the premiere. As quick-witted as always, she tells Wilhelm and Serlo that, as careful with their version as they wanted to be, they left out "the finest thought". The two men, who have spent weeks showing everybody their extensive knowledge of Hamlet, don't understand to what the girl refers to: a sentence from Hamlet to Ophelia in their dialogue at the second scene of Act III: "That’s a fair thought to lie between maid’s legs". Philine tries to enlighten Wilhelm, Serlo and the rest of the company by singing to the pleasures of the night. When Wilhelm goes to sleep he finds next to his bed Philine's slippers and it seems that the curtains move. But when he draws them back, there's no trace of the girl in the room. Wilhelm is awake until dawn with Philine's slippers on his hands.

Singet nicht in Trauertönen (Sing me not with such emotion) is the only Philine's song in the novel, and among the versions composed the best known are those of Schumann and Wolf; we're listening to Wolf's song performed by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Gerald Moore.

Singet nicht in Trauertönen
Von der Einsamkeit der Nacht.
Nein, sie ist, o holde Schönen,
Zur Geselligkeit gemacht.

Wie das Weib dem Mann gegeben
Als die schönste Hälfte war,
Ist die Nacht das halbe Leben
Und die schönste Hälfte zwar.

Könnt ihr euch des Tages freuen,
Der nur Freuden unterbricht?
Er ist gut, sich zu zerstreuen;
Zu was anderm taugt er nicht.

Aber wenn in nächt'ger Stunde
Süsser Lampe Dämmrung fließt,
Und vom Mund zum nahen Munde
Scherz und Liebe sich ergießt;

Wenn der rasche, lose Knabe,
Der sonst wild und feurig eilt,
Oft bei einer kleinen Gabe
Unter leichten Spielen weilt;

Wenn die Nachtigall Verliebten
Liebevoll ein Liedchen singt,
Das Gefangnen und Betrübten
Nur wie Ach und Wehe klingt;

Mit wie leichtem Herzensregen
Horchet ihr der Glocke nicht,
Die mit zwölf bedächtgen Schlägen
Ruh und Sicherheit verspricht.

Darum an dem langen Tage,
Merke dir es, liebe Brust;
Jeder Tag hat seine Plage,
Und die Nacht hat ihre Lust.

Sing me not with such emotion
How the night so lonesome is;
Pretty maids, I’ve got a notion
It is the reverse of this.

For as wife and man are plighted,
And the better half the wife;
So is night to day united,
Night’s the better half of life.

Can you joy in bustling daytime,
Day when none can get his will?
It is good for work, for haytime,
For much other it is ill.

But when, in the nightly glooming,
Social lamp on table glows,
Face for faces dear illuming,
And such jest and joyance goes;

When the fiery pert young fellow,
Wont by day to run or ride,
Whispering now some tale would tell O,
All so gentle by your side;

When the nightingale to lovers
Lovingly her songlet sings,
Which for exiles and sad rovers
Like mere woe and wailing rings:

With a heart how lightsome feeling
Do ye count the kindly clock,
Which, twelve times deliberate pealing,
Tells you none tonight shall knock!

Therefore, on all fit occasions,
Mark it, maidens, what I sing:
Every day its own vexations,
And the night its joys will bring.

(translation by Thomas Carlyle)


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