“Let us do nothing by halves. If we are to act, let it be in a theatre completely fitted up with pit, boxes, and gallery, and let us have a play entire from beginning to end; so as it be a German play …” (Ch. 13)
Lovers’ Vows is a play by Elizabeth Inchbald. She adapted it from the German play Das Kind der Liebe (literally “Child of Love” or “Love Child”) by August von Kotzebue. It was first performed in 1798 at Covent Garden and was successful, though some considered it too risqué.
The story begins with Agatha being thrown out of an inn because she can no longer pay. A soldier comes across her and gives her the very little money he has. Agatha recognizes him as her son Frederick, who has been away in the army for five years. He has come for his birth certificate which he finds he needs to gain employment. Sorrowfully, Agatha tells him that he has no birth certificate, for he is illegitimate. She tells him how she was seduced by the Baron Wildenhaim. Instead of fulfilling his promise to marry her, the Baron marries another woman. Agatha was turned out of her home and struggled to bring up her son on her own. Frederick leaves his mother with some generous Cottagers and goes to beg for money. Coming across a hunting party, he begs of them and, not receiving enough money for his mother’s wants, draws his sword and attempts to rob one of them and gets arrested.
The man Frederick attempted to rob was Baron Wildenhaim. He is trying to get his daughter Amelia to marry Count Cassel, a stupid, dissolute man. The Baron asks Amelia’s tutor Anhalt, a chaplain, to discuss marriage with her. Unknown to him, however, Anhalt and Amelia are in love. Amelia takes the opportunity to force a declaration of love from Anhalt. They are interrupted by the “rhyming Butler” who tells them in verse of Frederick’s arrest. The Baron insists that Frederick must be punished as an example, but Amelia takes pity on him and brings him “a basket of provisions”. From her, Frederick learns the identity of the man he attempted to rob and requests a private interview with the Baron.
Amelia has learned of Count Cassel’s dissolute behaviour and reveals it to her father who confronts him. The Count readily admits to having made promises of marriage to other women and points out that “if every man, who deserves to have a charge such as this brought against him, was not permitted to look up—; it is a doubt whom we might not meet crawling on all fours”. Reminded of his own behaviour to Agatha, the Baron is embarrassed. Amelia tells her father of her love for Anhalt. Anhalt tells the Baron of Fredericks wish for an interview. Frederick reveals his relationship to the Baron and then leaves. Anhalt goes to Agatha and explains how the Baron came to marry another woman. Persuaded by Anhalt, the Baron agrees that he must marry Agatha despite her low social position. He also allows Anhalt and Amelia to marry, despite Anhalt’s poverty. Everyone is reconciled.
In Mansfield Park, the characters were cast as follows:
Baron Wildenhaim … John Yates
Count Cassel … James Rushworth
Anhalt … Edmund Bertram
Frederick … Henry Crawford
Verdun the Butler … Tom Bertram
Agatha Friburg … Maria Bertram
Amelia Wildenhaim … Mary Crawford
Cottager’s Wife … Mrs. Grant
Elizabeth Inchbald lived from 1753 to 1821. She was an English actress, playwright, and novelist. She was born Elizabeth Simpson, one of the nine children of John and Mary Simpson. The family was Roman Catholic. Elizabeth’s brother George became an actor in 1770, and when she was 19 she went to London to act. In 1772, she married the actor Joseph Inchbald. They travelled with a theatre company. After her husband’s death in 1779, Elizabeth continued to act. She wrote many plays, including Lovers’ Vows, and two novels. She quarreled with Mary Wollstonecraft in 1797 when it was discovered that Mary had not been married to her daughter Fanny’s father. Elizabeth died in August 1821 in Kensington.
August von Kotzebue had a rather dramatic life (pun intended). He was a German dramatist and writer and lived from 1761 to 1819. He also worked as a consul in Russia and Germany. As a young man he studied legal science. After graduating in 1780, he practiced law in Weimer. He then became secretary to a Governor General in Russia. He married the daughter of a Russian lieutenant general in 1783. His first literary works were well received. His first wife died in 1790 and Kotzebue left Russia. He was appointed dramatist to the court theatre in Vienna in 1798, but the position did not last long. He returned to Germany, but had troubles there due to disagreements with Goethe as he had attacked the romantic style which Goethe was known for. In 1800 he tried to return to Saint Petersburg, but was arrested on suspicion of being a Jacobin and was transported to Siberia. He was rescued by Tsar Paul I of Russia and was appointed director of the German theatre in Saint Petersburn. After the Tsar’s assassination, Kotzebue returned to Germany. After Napoleon’s victory in 1806, he fled back to Russia. Beethoven suggested that Kotzebue write libretto for an opera, which never ended up being written. However Beethoven composed music for two of Kotzebue’s plays. His famous “Turkish March” was originally written for Kotzebue’s play Ruin of Athens. Eventually he returned to German as consul general for Russia. He was disliked by nationalist liberals due to his writings against Germans who wanted free institutions. On March 18, 1819, soon after moving to Mannheim with his family (he had eighteen children), he was murdered in his own home by one of the national liberalists, Karl Ludwig Sand.