Robert Jephson, The Count of Narbonne (Covent Garden, 17 November 1781), from The Plays of Robert Jephson, ed. Temple James Maynard (NY: Garland, 1980).


The inside of a Convent, with ailes [sic] and Gothic arches, part of an altar appearing on one side; the statue of Alphonso in armour in the centre. Other statues and monuments also appearing. Adelaide veiled, rising from her knees before the statue of Alphonso.

Adel. Alas! 'Tis mockery to pray as I do.
Thoughts fit for heaven, should rise on seraph's wings,
Unclog'd with aught of earth ; but mine hang here,
Beginning, ending, all in Theodore.
Why comes he not? 'Tis torture for the unbless'd
To suffer such suspense as my heart aches with.
What can it be,--this secret, dreadful cause,
This shaft unseen, that's wing'd against our love?
Perhaps,--I know not what.--At yonder shrine
Bending, I'll seal my irrevocable vow:
Hear, and record it, choirs of saints and angels!
If I am doom'd to sigh for him in vain,
No second flame shall ever enter here;
But, faithful to thy fond, thy first impression,
Turn thou, my breast, to every sense of joy,
Cold as the pale-ey'd marbles which surround me.
[Adelaide withdraws.


Austin, Theodore.

Aust. Look round, my son! This consecrated place
Contains the untimely ashes of thy grandsire.
With all the impious mockery of grief,
Here were they laid by the dire hand which sped him.
Since that black hour, the thunder scarce has slept;
Nature seem'd fearful of her wonted course;
As if the angry spirit of Alphonso
Driving the loosen'd orbs in storm and fire
Wreck'd all this elemental, vast machine,
To break the tenour of men's peaceful souls.
There stands his statue; were a glass before thee,
So would it give thee back thy outward self.

Theo. And may the power which fashion'd thus my outside,
With all his nobler ornaments of virtue
Sustain my soul! till generous emulation
Raise me by deeds to equal his renown.

Aust. --To avenge him. Not by treachery,
But casting off all thoughts of idle love,
Of love's ill-match'd, unhappy, ominous,--
To keep the memory of his wrongs; do justice
To his great name, and prove the blood you spring from.

Theo. O, were the bold possessor of my rights
A legion arm'd, the terrours of his sword
Resistless as the flash that strikes from heaven,
Undaunted would I meet him. His proud crest
Should feel the dint of no unpractis'd edge.
But, while my arm assails her father's life,
The unnatural wound returns to my own breast,
And conquest loses Adelaide forever.

Aust. The barbarous deed of Raymond's father lost her.

Theo. Pierce not my soul thus. Can you love your son,--
Can you behold these eyes, that stream for her,
Know every hope or wish my breast can form,
My waking thought, the murmur of my dreams,
All, all are Adelaide,--and coldly tell me,
Without one tear unmov'd thus, I must lose her?
But where, where is she? [looking out.] Heavenly innocence!
See the dear faint kneels at the altar's foot;
See her white hands with fervent clasps are rais'd;
Perhaps for me. Have you a heart, my father,
And bid me bear to lose her?--Hold me not--
I come, I fly, my life, my all! to join thee. [Exit.


Austin, alone.

Return, return, rash boy! Pernicious chance!
One glance from her will quite destroy my work,
And leave me but my sorrow for my labour.
[Follows him.


Count, alone.

Am I turn'd coward that my tottering knees
Knock as I tread my the pavement?--'Tis the place;
The sombrous horror of these long-drawn ailes.
My footsteps are beat back by nought but echo,
Struck from the caverns of the vaulted dead;
Yet now it seems as if a host pursued me.
The breath that makes my words, sounds thunder-like.
Sure 'twas a deep-fetch'd groan--No;--hark, again!--
Then 'tis the language of the tombs; and see!
[Pointing to the statue of Alphonso.
Like their great monarch, he stands rais'd above them.
Who's there?


To the Count, two Officers.

First Offi. My Lord, where are you?

Count. Here--speak, man!
Why do you shake thus? Death! your bloodless cheeks
Send fear into me. You, Sir, what's the matter?

Second Offi. We have found the lady.

Count.My good fellows, where?

First Offi. Even from this spot you may yourself behold her,
Though dim the light; but from a winking lamp,
A woman's form and habit both are plain.
Her face is towards the altar.

Count [looking out.] Blasts upon me!
Wither my eyes for ever!--Ay, 'tis she;
Austin with Theodore, he joins their hands:--
Destruction seize them! O dull, tardy fool!
My love and my ambition both defeated!
A marriage in my fight! Come forth, come forth!
[Draws a dagger.
Arise, grim Vengeance, and wash out my shame!
Ill-fated girl! A bloody Hymen waits thee.
[Rushes out.


Two Officers.

First Offi. His face is black with rage, his eyes flash fire;
I do not like this service.

Second Offi. No, nor I.
But, if 'tis sin or sacrilege, not we,
But he who set us on, must answer it.

First Offi. Heard you that shriek?--It thunders. By my soul,
I feel as if my blood were froze within me.
Speak to me. See he comes. [Officers retire.


Count, with a bloody dagger.

Count. The deed is done.
Hark, the deep thunder rolls. I hail the sign;
It tells me in loud greetings, I'm reveng'd.


Theodore, with his sword drawn.

Theo. Where, where's the assassin?

Count. Boy, the avenger's here.
Behold, this dagger smokes with her heart's blood!
That thhand
Shall speed it home; and thus I follow thee--

Aust. Hold, desperate boy!

Adel. Alas, my Theodore!
I struggle for a little gasp of death;
Draw it with pain, and sure, in this last moment,
You will observe me.

Theo. Torture!

Adel. Live, I charge you;
Forget me not, but love my memory.
If ever I was dear to thee, my father,
(Those tears declare I was,) will you not hear me,
And grant one wish to your expiring child?

Count. Speak, tell me quickly, thou dear suffering angel!

Adel. Be gentle to my mother; her kind nature
Has suffer'd much; she will need all your care:
Forsake her not; and may the All-merciful
Look down with pity on this fatal errour;
Bless you--and--oh-- [Dies.

Count. She dies in prayer for me;
Prays for me, while her life streams from my stroke.
What prayers can rise for such a wretch as I am?
Seize me, ye fiends! rouse all your stings and torments!
See, hell grows darker, as I stalk before them.

Theo. [After looking some time at Adelaide's body.
She's gone--stand off--no, think not I will live.
This load of being is intolerable;
And, in a happier world, my soul shall join her.
[Rushes out.

Aust. Observe, and keep him from all means of death.


Countess with Women, Fabian, and other Attendants. Austin runs to her.

Countess. Whence were those cries? what meant that fearful bell?
Who shall withhold me? I will not return.
Is there a horrour I am stranger to?

Aust. There is; and so beyond all mortal patience,
I can but wish you stripp'd of sense and thought,
That it may pass without destroying you.

Countess. What is it? speak--

[Aust. looking towards the body.
Turn not your eyes that way,
For there, alas--

Countess. O Lord of earth and heaven!
Is it not she? my daughter, pale and bleeding?
She's cold, stark cold:--can you not speak to me?
Which of you have done this?

Count. 'Twas ease 'till now;
Fall, fall, thick darkness, hide me from that face.

Aust. Rise, Madam, 'tis in vain.--Heaven comfort her!

Countess. Shall I not strive to warm her in my breast?
She is my all; I have nothing left but her.
You cannot force me from her. Adelaide!
My child, my lovely child! thy mother calls thee.
She hears me not;--she's dead.--Oh God!--I know thee-
Tel me, while I have sense, for my brain burns;
Tell me--yet what avails it? I'll not curse--
There is a power to punish.

Count. Look on me!
Thou had'st much cause to think my nature cruel;
I wrong'd thee sore, and this last deed.

Countess. Was thine? thy deed? Oh, execrable monster!
Oh, greatly worthy of thy blood-stain'd sire!
A murderer he, and thou a parricide!
Why did thy barbarous hand refrain from me?
I was the hated bar to thy ambition;
A stab, like this, had set thee free for ever;
Sav'd thee from shame, upbraiding, perjuries,--
But she--this innocent--what had she done?

Count. I thank thee. I was fool enough, or coward,
To think of life one moment, to atone
By deep repentance for the wrongs I did thee.
But hateful to myself, hated by thee,
By heaven abandoned, and the plague of earth,
This, this remains, and all are satisfied.
[Snatches up the dagger, and stabs himself.
Forgive me, if 'tis possible--but--oh-- [Dies.

Countess, After looking some time distractedly.
Where am I? Ruin, and pale death surround me.
I was a wife; there gasping lies my husband;
A mother too, there breathless lies my child.
Look down, oh heaven! look down with pity upon me!
I know this place; it is the house of prayer:
Here , in my days of happiness, I have kneel'd,
Pouring my praise for all the good that bless'd me.
I'll kneel once more. Hear me, great God of nature!
For this one boon let me not beg in vain;
Oh, do not mock me with the hopes of death;
These pangs, these struggles, let them be my last;
Release thy poor, afflicted, suffering creature;
Take me from misery, too sharp to bear,
And join me to my child!
[Falls in the arms of her Attendants.

Aust. Peace rest upon her;
Hard was your lot, you lovely innocents;
But palms, eternal palms, above shall crown you.
For this rash man,--yet mercy's infinite. [The Count.
You stand amaz'd. Know, this disastrous scene,
Ending the fatal race, concludes your sorrows.
To-morrow meet we round this sacred shrine;
Then shall you hear at full a tale of wonder;
The rightful Lord of Narbonne shall be own'd;
And heaven in all its ways be justified. [Curtain falls.

Bertrand Evans, Gothic Drama from Walpole to Shelley, University of California Publications in English vol. 18 (Berkeley, CA: U of C Press, 1947) 49-50.

Although Gothic plays became numerous earlier than Gothic novels, it is not to be forgotten that they owed their original debt to the novel. From The Castle of Otranto the dramatic school took its primary impetus, its essential characteristics, and the direction of its development. The extent of influence exerted by the first Gothic novel upon drama is difficult to estimate. Well before 1790 an accumulated stock of Gothic elements had become the common property of the age. To this paraphernalia, which Walpole had begun, other writers contributed, and from it they borrowed. The identity of individual contribution was lost in the mass, and precise debts of playwrights and novelists to one another are difficult to trace. We can be certain only that all of them were ultimately indebted to Walpole. The fixing of immediate debts becomes even more uncertain as we examine the plays written in the last ten years of the century. By 1795 even so- called adaptations of particular novels included so much of the common pools of materials that we cannot always guess what has been adapted; sometimes even an explicit acknowledgement of source proves false.

However, the direct impact of The Castle of Otranto in the form of dramatic adaptation can be dealt with confidently. The first dramatization of the novel was The Count of Narbonne (C.G. [Covent Garden] Nov. 1781), by Robert Jephson. . . . Jephson undertook to discover how successfully the scenes of Otranto could be represented on the stage. He thought of himself as a pioneer Gothic dramatist, and accordingly proceeded with cautious respect for the theater. The gigantic helmet which drops from the ceiling, the portraits which bleed at the nose, sigh, and descend to the floor, the giant arms and legs deposited about the castle, the genuine apparitions, the "clank of more than mortal armor," the final catastrophe which begins with a clap of thunder and ends with the appearance of "the form of Alfonso, dilated to an immense magnitude" in the center of the ruins--these, and other features not so gross, the first adapter of the first Gothic novel discreetly omitted. . . .

Though the adapter eliminated its grossest elements, the essential qualities of Walpole's novel were retained. The darkness and gloom of the medieval scene are recreated in the atmosphere of the play. The castle, over which hangs a prophetic curse, remains prominent, as does the convent, with its vaults, aisles, and robed figures. The tormented tyrant-usurper and the persecuted trio of two women and a man are Walpole's. Other features include a subterranean passage (though no scene actually shows it); a vocabulary which denotes preoccupation with medieval objects of terror; and numerous narrative passages in the style of the original. In short, those characteristics of Otranto remain that a cautious author and a cautious theater manager of 1781 thought compatible with the conventions and drama of an audience.

Raymond, Count of Narbonne (the Manfred of Walpole's novel), represents to 1781 an outstanding development of the Gothic stage villain and offers us a first opportunity to expand acquaintance with this, the most significant Gothic type. Rash and often raging, wrapped in mysterious gloom, Raymond is a tyrant of wicked purposes, yet, for all this, a man who in his agony appears more sinned against than sinning. He differs from the typical Gothic villain only in the fact that when the action begins he does not himself know the truth of the evil past event. He suspects that an ancestor had been guilty of crime, for the descendants are afflicted by a curse.
. . . At length he learns that his father had gained title to Narbonne by murder; the consequent curse had wiped out Raymond's descendants and left him unable to perpetuate his claim. Thus, laden with grief that two sons have died in infancy and the third at maturity, Raymond is at the outset a guiltless man on whom affections for another's crime have been visited. . . .

To escape the curse, he resolves to divorce the barren Hortensia and marry Isabel, his son's intended bride. Thereafter the pangs of conscience increase, and his actions grow ever more vicious. In scene after scene he rushes to confront his wife, Austin, or Theodore, issues an ultimatum, and abruptly wheels and departs. He develops the fierce and sudden temper of all the barbarous tyrants created to terrify heroines in the medieval castles of Gothic literature. When Theodore crosses him, he cries instantly, "Away with him!" When he suddenly guesses that Isabel loves Theodore, he exclaims his immediate purpose to kill the hero and carry his heart to Isabel. Finally, when he reaches the convent where Adelaide (Walpole's Matilda) and Theodore are being married, his blind rage mistakes Adelaide for Isabel, and he murders his own daughter. As suddenly, finding his error, he begs Theodore to kill him, and, when the hero declines, instantly dispatches himself. . . .

Theodore is a first clear sketch of the type that was to remain "hero" until the end of the century. . . . Up to 1800, the hero of Gothic plays was the weakest of the characters. Villains became increasingly powerful; heroes, steadily more helpless. Theodore is even less effectual than Douglas. In words, as in action accomplished before the play began and in action off the stage, a Gothic hero is magnificent. But in the fracas on the stage it is invariably he who is first disarmed, seized, and incarcerated. If a secret tunnel (frequently pointed out to him by some older inhabitant of the dungeon) leads him to freedom and permits continuation of his efforts to save the heroine and right all general wrongs, he is yet, by some means, convincing or otherwise, rendered utterly useless, and the ultimate reversal of fortunes is accomplished without his aid. Though Gothic plays almost always end with villainy overthrown and virtue triumphant, it is never the hero who effects the happy outcome. He is perpetually hors de combat. In a crisis he finds that his sword is broken or mislaid; or if by chance he has it in good condition in his hand, something prevents his striking a blow with it. What we hear that he has done and what we see him do are irreconcilable. . . .

A related characteristic of the hero appears near the end of The Count of Narbonne, when Raymond interrupts the marriage ceremony and stabs his daughter. Theodore has opportunity to slay the murderer, but though he brandishes his sword he does not let it fall. The case is typical and highly significant: Gothic heroes never kill villains, no matter what they themselves, their mothers, fathers, brides, fathers, or sisters have suffered at the villains' hands. A villain meets his end by any other means, but not by that; he may take his own life, be struck by lightning, buried or burned in the ruins of his castle, drowned in a flood, slain by a henchman, or seized by higher powers and sent to prison. But the hero ends the play with hands unstained even by the blood of villainy. Indeed, the force of good which finally thwarts the force of evil in Gothic drama is never vested in the hero; where an active human agent of good is employed at all, it is usually as a deus ex machina, perhaps a good uncle with an army or a beneficent duke with higher authority than that of the villain. We learn early in Gothic literature that no persecuted innocent can rely on the hero for effective aid.

The reason for the hero's unvarying ineffectuality seems to have been chiefly one of dramatic expedience. From the beginning, the nature of Gothic drama committed it to the development of a strong villain. Conversely, the increasing emphasis on the function of the villain and the demands of a theme of persecution committed it to tolerance of a weak hero. The typical Gothic plot involves oppression of a terrified heroine. The primary aim is to excite a maximum of terror. If the hero were permitted to block the villain, the terror of both heroine and spectator would be diminished, and the purpose of the play--the very purpose for which the Gothic species was devised--would fail. Therefore, though the hero must be reputed to have great prowess in order to gain acceptance as a hero, he cannot be allowed to demonstrate it at the right time and place. In moments of peril for the innocent, he must somehow be removed from the scene. Clever playwrights could handle the subterfuge so that an audience would overlook the fact that reports of heroism were not borne out by what the hero did to thwart the villain. Only after we have read many plays does it become obvious that the "Theodores" were consistently sacrificed to dramatic expediency.

The fuller implications of the hero's impotence will be discussed later. For the present, it is enough to suggest that in this inadequacy lay one reason for the gradual transformation of the villain and his assumption of the hero's title. The "Theodores" were at best flat and unpromising; at worst, they appeared utterly stupid. More than traces of their ineffectuality remain in some early nineteenth-century heroes, but in the main the romantic writers found the most striking qualities for their protagonists in the compounded agony, dark mystery, and grandeur that made up the Gothic villain. Perhaps those who have had occasion to deplore the inconsequence of the Gothic hero before 1800 can most appreciate the Master of Ravenswood, Mr. Rochester, and Heathcliff.

Temple James Maynard, Introduction to The Plays of Robert Jephson, ed. Temple James Maynard (NY: Garland, 1980) xiv-xvii.

The Count of Narbonne (1781), based on Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto, was quite naturally dedicated to him. Jephson simplified and reduced much of the tale. He cut much of the supernatural business, excluded many of the threatening omens, and reduced the role of Isabel, beloved of the hero and the count, so drastically that she does not appear on stage at all! The result was praised by Walpole, though he seemed to regret the necessity. Less understandably, Jephson changed the names of the major characters, substituting names from Walpole's unpublished drama, The Mysterious Mother.

Narbonne was produced in Covent Garden under the watchful eye of Walpole, who left his retirement at Strawberry Hill to perform this office for Jephson. He was concerned with the play for a year. As the acknowledged authority on the story and the period, he tried to instruct the actors, adjust the costuming, and perfect the scenes. He even lent an "authentic" costume from his collection to the actor, Henderson. His involvement in the tricky matter of the statue in Act V was the last straw. The scene was constructed with the statue of Alphonso recumbent on his tomb. Jephson wanted it erect. Walpole maintained that it was more authentic as it was and that in any case there was no time to correct the matter. The ensuing argument marked the final estrangement of the two. However, Walpole remained loyal to the play and continued to commend it.

. . . Jephson's literary abilities were considerable. His command of the language, in both verse and prose, was assured. He might sometimes be hurried into inferior work, but at his best he was very good. His diction varied with his subject. In The Hotel it is colloquial and witty, in Braganza heroic and strong. If in Narbonne it is solemn and verges on the turgid at times, that was the mode and style to which Jephson felt committed. If we would prefer him to have originated his own plots, we are asking more than his contemporaries demanded, more than the dramatists of the previous age had often attempted. . . . Tragedy was much in vogue, and Jephson produced competent and successful tragedies. Walpole suggested that he should also write comedy, and comedy might have flowed even more easily from his pen. Certainly, the wit of his prose satires, and the humor of his farce, would suggest as much. In comedy he seems to be drawing on a vein more congenial to his exuberant personality and one gets a glimpse of a man who charmed and fascinated most of those who knew him, but in the tragedies we see him accept a challenge and attain his goal with honor.