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Memoirs and artistic studies of Adelaide Ristori; online

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some small tragic parts, but never one as important as
this. It is true, that they were always telling me, that
I possessed all the necessary qualifications for the inter-
pretation of tragic roles, and added that I would become
proficient with study and practice. Nevertheless, I
never should have thought that they would initiate me by
such an apprenticeship.

The night preceding my first performance, as all may
imagine, I did not close an eye. I felt feverish and
unequal to the task. It seemed as if I were already before
the audience and that I heard it grumble about my
inefficiency. All the eyes I saw directed at me were like
sharp points torturing me. If for a minute I could aban-
don myself to sleep, I saw the strangest and most oppres-
sive visions. Under the horrible incubus, it seemed as
if I heard murmuring from every direction: "Poor child,
she will never be up to the task!" And the curtain
would come down slowly in the midst of a general silence —
not even a friendly hand would applaud me. Then I
felt my heart violently palpitating; big drops of per-
spiration covered my forehead. My dear mother, always
good and caressing, came and woke me up from that
painful sleep. The light of the sun dissipated my sad


thoughts, and the terror of which I was a victim ceased
to oppress me.

The dreaded evening of the performance came! The
audience was conscious of my trepidation; it knew all
the efforts I had gone through, and was disposed to be
indulgent. On making my appearance upon the stage,
the public noticed the care I had taken in studying my
character, a precaution that, owing to the customs of
Italy at that time, was generally much neglected.

My bearing, the costume I wore, my strictly historical
make-up, the oval shape, and the pallor of my face — the
latter due to the fear which oppressed me — my blonde
hair, all of which portrayed so well the unhappy queen,
caused me to enlist from the start the sympathy of the
audience, which, with uproarious applause, encouraged
me and made me feel certain of its indulgence.

I acted my best, and the audience was most appre-
ciative, especially at the end of the third act, which is the
climax of the play. When the curtain dropped, I was
called out several times and the most flattering exclama-
tions of enthusiasm were repeated to me from every
direction. It seemed to me as if I had conquered the
world, and I was certain that my manager would be
proud of my work and would hasten to encourage me,
expressing to me his perfect satisfaction at the great
success of this trial performance.

The reader may easily imagine how I felt, when seeing
him I said with childish eagerness : " I hope you are
pleased with me! " and the good old gentleman, shrugging
his shoulders, frowning and with an indulgent smile,
answered me this: "Listen, my dear child, you have a
marked tendency for comedy; but tragedy, let me tell
you, is not exactly suited to you. Therefore I advise
you to give it up entirely."

It is true that I was inclined to comedy, but I believed
that later I should also succeed in tragedy! Hearing the
manager I was petrified! Certainly I had not then inter-
preted that role as I later perfected it after careful and
profound study, still it seemed to me that my inter-
pretation had not deserved such discouraging advice.

It was then that I effectually persuaded myself of the


importance of the expression of the face, the bearing and
the carriage that I should have in presenting myself on
the stage under the role of that unhappy Queen of Scots.
My face had to bear the expression of a woman in whom
torture and persecution had not been able to efface that
force of character with which she stood her martyrdom
during the second part of her existence.

Thus invested, without losing control of myself, and
with resigned and patient expression, I would listen to
Hannah Kannedy tell how Paulet had brutally broken
the queen's chest, taken the papers away, the jewels and
even the crown of France, which Mary Stuart was most
jealously preserving as a remembrance of her past great-
ness; moreover, for the sake of proving that earthly
power had no longer any claim upon her, the queen would

"Compose yourself, my Hannah! and believe me,
'Tis not these baubles which can make a queen :
Basely indeed they may behave to us,
But they cannot debase us. I have learnt
To use myself to many a change in England ;
I can support this too." . .

Act I, Scene ii.

Then, addressing myself to Paulet, in a calm and
dignified manner I would go through that short scene I
had with him; and to the disdain of Hannah who could
hardly bear to see me treated with so much roughness by
my jailer, I would oppose an angelic patience. It was
due to the profound conviction I felt of the innocence of
Mary, that I could say without any emphasis the verses
in which Schiller causes Mary to accuse herself of com-
plicity in the murder of Lord Darnley (one can notice
that he was led into error by the historians Hume and
Buchanan, who were prejudiced against Mary Stuart).
Through the scene of Mary with Mortimer, I could show
that from time to time a ray of hope had come to clear
the clouds of her awakened existence, causing her to
perceive the possibility of liberation. But on turning her
gaze around at the sight of the gloomy walls which en-
compassed her, the consideration of her misery would
dissipate that flash of light which for a moment had pene-
trated her soul and deceive her.


My heart opened freely in the presence of Mortimer,
perceiving in him my consoling angel sent to me by God
in order to set me free, while in the following scene my
behaviour was different at the sight of the perfidious
Cecil Burleigh, the perverted adviser of Queen Elizabeth.

At his approach, followed by Paulet, I assumed again
all the haughtiness of my rank in order to confound and
lower the arrogance of my persecutors. Hearing myself
accused by Cecil — in an insolent tone — of the complicity
in the conspiracy of Babington, and of rebellion against
the laws of England, I assumed all the just haughtiness
of the offended queen, of the calumniated woman, of the
oppressed stranger, and I would answer :

"That ev'ry one who stands arraign 'd of crime
Shall plead before a jury of his equals:
Who is my equal in this high commission?

Kings only are my peers."

Act I, Scene vii.

(Historical words) While Burleigh was telling me that
I had already heard the accusations of the tribunal;
that I was living under the British sky and breathing its
air; that I found myself under the protection of the
British laws, and therefore I had to respect its decrees —
I would turn suddenly to him, and, looking him straight
in the eyes with a frowning gaze, full of wrath, would say
with a bantering smile :

"Sir, I breathe
"The air within an English prison's walls:
Is that to live in England ; to enjoy
Protection from its laws? I scarcely know
And never have pledg'd my faith to keep them.
I am no member of this realm ; I am
An independent, and a foreign queen — "

Act I, Scene vii.

Continuing in the same tone of voice, I refuted, one by
one, all the shameful and false accusations that he threw
at me. But at last, noticing that my denials and defence
were useless, in a voice which betrayed my emotion, and



which I had intentionally repressed to that moment, I
gave the lines:

"I am the weak; she is the mighty one;
'Tis well, my Lord; let us use her pow'r;
Let her destroy me: let me bleed, that she
May live secure: but let her confess
That she hath exercised her pow'r alone,
And not contaminate the name of justice."

Act I, Scene vii.

The author protracts this scene intentionally in order
to allow the passionate tension of Mary to be extended.
By interrupting its execution, I would follow with my
accent, with my expression, the run of the scene until all
my bitterness would overflow with the words :

"Let her not barrow the laws, the sword
To rid her of her hated enemy :
Let her not clothe, in this religious garb,
The bloody daring of licentious might :
Let not these juggling tricks deceive the world."

Act I, Scene vii.

Then, giving full swing to my indignation, turning with
a contemptuous expression to those who seemed anxious
to humiliate my royal power, I would say:

"Though she may miirder me, she cannot judge me:
Let her no longer strive to join the fruits
Of vice with virtue's fair and angel show;
But let her dare to seem the thing she is. "

Act I, Scene vii.

Thus the reader may imagine, better than I can express,
what a crushing look I threw at Lord Burleigh while
rapidly leaving the stage.

In the third act is evidently demonstrated how even a
noble and lofty soul, filled with religious faith, accustomed
to suffer and resigned to all the blows of misfortune, may
forget herself, lose her self-control and be transformed
into another being, when insolence and perversity
overstep the bounds of human patience.

Followed by my faithful Hannah, I entered the stage
with long hurried strides, filled with joy, feeling exhilarated
by the balmy air of the park, which, caressed my face,
and infused a new vigour into my wearied body.


Fully absorbed in the situation, and wishing to incite
the spectators to feel the emotion that I felt, I portrayed
the merriment with which I was filled at that moment,
to mark more strongly the desolating and bitter contrast
of the atrocious pains and indignities which I was at
other times called upon to suffer. And in order to demon-
strate the reasonableness and the truth of this inter-
pretation, it will suffice to follow with one's thought the
reading of these lines:

"Freedom returns! O let me enjoy it,
Let me be childish, be childish with me!
Freedom invites me! O let me employ it,
Skimming with winged step light o'er the lea;
Have I escaped from this mansion of mourning?
Holds me no more the sad dungeon of care?
Let me, with joy and with eagerness burning,
Drink in the free, the celestial air!"

Act III, Scene i.

So much abandon, so much sweetness had soon to give
place to the most terrible emotions. At the announce-
ment granting me a meeting with Elizabeth (which is
entirely and skilfully imagined by the dramatic genius
of Schiller, and which forms the climax of this act), I
changed suddenly my composure, I trembled, I wished
to move away, and nothing could better describe the
reality of my state of mind, than the following verses
which I answered the words of Talbot, who was using his
ability to persuade me to have a meeting with my rival :

"For years I've waited, and prepared myself.
For this I've studied, weigh 'd and written down
Each word within the tablet of my mem'ry.
That was to touch, and move her compassion.
Forgotten suddenly, effac'd is all.
And nothing lives within me at this moment.
But the fierce, burning feeling of my wrongs.
My heart is turn'd to direct hate against her;
All gentle thoughts, all sweet forgiving words
Are gone, and round me stand with grisly mien.
The friends of hell, and shake their snaky locks."

Act III, Scene ii.

Then, being struck by the persuasive words and affec-
tionate advice of Talbot, to induce me to meet Elizabeth


with a serene mind, but still filled with deep sadness,
I say:

' ' We never should have seen each other — never !
O, this can never, never come to good."

Act III, Scene iii.

Being very much disturbed also by the presence of
Burleigh, my most bitter enemy, when I learn that Lei-
cester alone accompanies Elizabeth, I repeat that name
with a cr}^ of joy. When the queen arrives, I withdraw
quickly to the back of the stage, hiding myself among the
plants, though in a position for observation in order to
scrutinise the face of my persecutor. After that, having
heard the words of Elizabeth, who pretends that she is
addressing them to her suite, and which she accentuates
with bombastic vanity with the evident object of making
the unhappy prisoner know the love that her people felt
for her, I exclaim with an air of great sadness :

"O God; from out these features speaks no heart. "

Act III, Scene iv.

In the meanwhile, both Hannah and Talbot, with en-
treating signs, are encouraging me to approach and
prostrate myself at the feet of Elizabeth, though I am
feigning a strong resistance. Yielding at last to their
repeated requests, w4th an evident effort and uncertain
step, I approach the queen to kneel down before her,
making it very evident how much it costs my dignity to
perform that act.

Hardly has my knee touched the soil, than respect for
myself makes me incapable of enduring such a himiiliation,
causes me to draw back quickly with disdain, as if I were
saying: "No, I cannot," and fall back in the arms of
Hannah, She, kneeling down, endeavouring to persuade
me not to persist in my refusal, makes appeal to my
religious faith and to the force of circumstances.

Then, with an effort at self-control I affectionately
cause my faithful nurse to rise, showing my innate aver-
sion to w^hat she asks of me, and say with a sigh :

"Well be it so: to this will I submit,
Farewell high thoughts, and pride of noble mind!"

Act III, Scene iv.


Then with the intonation of voice suited to the follow-
ing verses, I add:

"I will forget my dignity, and all
My suflferings; I will fall before her feet,
Who hath reduced me to this wretchedness.*

After such virtuous resignation, my eyes raised to Heaven,
pressing against my heart the crucifix attached to my
rosary which hangs by my side, I offer to God the sacri-
fice of my dignity, and collecting myself for a few
moments, as if invoking the Lord to give me courage, with
a firm voice and in a quiet tone I would say to Elizabeth :

"The voice of Heav'n decides for you, my sister;
Your happy brows are now with triumph crown'd."

Then, suddenly stopping, I express with marked
hesitation how painful it is for me to raise the pride of my
implacable enemy by lowering myself before her in the
presence of her courtiers; but as with an instantaneous
inspiration, kneeling vehemently down, I say :

"I bless the Power Divine, which thus hath rais'd you, "

It is evident, that the author, in this most happy
passage, wishes to show the public that it is not to Eliza-
beth, but to the Supreme Being, that Mary is humbling

After a short pause, with a supplicating intonation,
I continue:

"But in your turn be merciful, my sister;
Let me not lie before you thus disgraced ;
Stretch forth your hand, your royal hand, to raise
Your sister from the depth of her distress."

With a sign of royal condescension from Elizabeth
I rise sadly sighing. Then in a submissive and resigned
tone of voice I answer her accusations and, recounting
the catalogue of injustices siiffered , I call God to witness,
being forced to accuse her in spite of myself, and show
her that she has been neither pitiful nor just to me ; that
though I am her equal, she, trampling on the rights of
the people and of hospitality, and taking no heed of my
appeal for assistance, has inclosed me in a living tomb


has taken my friends and servants away, and as a crown-
ing ignominy, has dragged me before some insolent courts.
Then, after a motion of resentment that EHzabeth makes
at this point I change my language, which has gradually
grown embittered, and add :

"Now stand we face to face; now, sister speak;
Name but my crime. I'll fully satisfy you."

But the inhuman Elizabeth cannot refrain from saying
to Mary;

"My better stars preserv'd me. I was warn'd,
And laid not to my breast the poisonous adder!
Accuse no fate! your own deceitful heart
It was, the wild ambition of your house :
As yet no enmities had pass'd between us,
When 3'our imperious uncle, the proud priest.
Whose shameless hand grasps at all crowns, attack't me,
With unprovoked hostility, and taught
You, but too docile, to assume my arms,
To vest yourself with my imperial title."

Mary, hearing the offensive way in which Elizabeth
speaks of the Pontiff, and learning that she attributes
faults to herself that she has never committed, conspir-
acies in which she never has taken any part, turns her
eyes upward saying :

"I'm in the hand of Heav'n!"

Then, addressing herself to Elizabeth:

"You never will
Exert so cruelly the pow'r it gives you."

— "And who shall prevent me?"

She answers in an arrogant tone of voice.

Not a single one of the passages of this great scene was
neglected by me to that I might make people understand
the crucial pain I was suffering in enduring the indignity
of Elizabeth's procedure, at times imploring, with my
gestures, the help of Heaven, now imploring, with my
look, some comfort from Talbot, whom I held responsible
for the unjust provocation of my rival. Still my soul


was ready to rebel when she comes to the malignant
words :

"Force is my only surety ; no alliance
Can be concluded with a race of vipers."

Listening to such words I simulate a fainting spell. I
stagger, . . . Hannah and Talbot run quickly to
my assistance; with expressive gestures I affably thank
them, begging them not to leave me alone, showing that
I have recovered from the prostration with which I had
been for an instant assailed. But feeling fully convinced
by the bitter and sneering tone, with which Elizabeth so
insolently attacked me, that it is vain to hope that she
will recognise not only my innocence, but even my
legitimate rights, and persuaded that it is necessary for
me to renounce them for ever, I slowly turn my head
toward her, and with a long penetrating look, accom-
panied by a light ironical smile which meant: "You
cowardly abuse the power that makes you mighty toward
the conquered one ! ' ' while an impetus of revolt against
my unhappy lot urges me to ask God, with a bitter ex-
pression, if I have merited such a terrible punishment!
Still the religious sentiment resuming its place in my
mind, I ask the Lord for forgiveness for my uncontroll-
able transport, and, sighing, I bend my head with resigna-
tion like a creature which gives in to a superior force, and,
offering my martyrdom to God, with a noticeable effort,
but in a dignified way, I resume :

"O sister, rule your realm in peace:
I give up ev'ry claim to these domains —
Alas! the pinions of my soul are lam'd;
Greatness entices me no more; your point
Is gain'd; I am but Mary's shadow now —
My noble spirit is at last broken down
By long captivity: you've done your most
On me; you have destroyed me in my bloom!
Now, end your work, my sister; speak at length
The word, which to pronounce has brought you hither;
For I will ne'er believe, that you are come,
To mock unfeelingly your hapless victim.
Pronounce this; say Mary, you are free:
You have already felt my pow'r, learn now
To honour too, my generosity."

Penetrating the conception of the poet who has analysed
the character of that unhappy creature, I interpreted the


above passage showing resentment and pathos, as if the
humble intonation of the word was the expression of a
flying hope to be able to move to pity my rival. There-
fore, I pronounce in a most affectionate tone :

"O Sister"

with the hope of succeeding in moving her heart.

But the character of Elizabeth, according to the inten-
tion of the poet and the requirements of the history, should
never change. During the pathetic invocation of Mary,
she assumes an air of such contemptuous disdain, and
looks so sharply, with such an icy expression, at her
victim, that Mary says :

"For the realms encircled by the deep
Would I exchange my present lot for yours."

This just and natural outbreak, far from shaking
Elizabeth, only serves to increase her wTath, and leads
her to give vent more vehemently to the aversion she
feels for Mary. Then, without any reserve or any con-
sideration for the rank of her oppressed rival, she attacks
her with brutal satisfaction, and as if to remind her of
the prestige she has lost questions her:

"No more assassins
Now on the road? Will no adventurer,
Attempt again, for you, the sad achievement?"

Listening to such an outrageous insult, a flush of blood
rushes to my face, and I act as if about to throw myself
upon her, exclaiming:

"Oh Lord! . . . Sister ..."

but both Talbot and Hannah run to me, hold me back
and quiet me ; then making a superhuman effort to con-
trol my wrath, I rapidly and convulsively press my
rosary upon my chest, crying :

"Grant me forbearance "

It is the predominating religious sentiment which
almost immediately quenches my aggressive spirit. In
order to keep up the contrast of our sentiments, Elizabeth
looks at me with crushing disdain, scoffing at Lord
Leicester for having often proclaimed that one could not


look at Mary without being punished, as her beauty could
not be compared to that of any other woman on earth;
and in order to carry her perfidy to a climax, with a sneer-
ing smile she says :

"She who to all is common, may with ease
Become the common object of applause."

At such a hideous outrage, my long-repressed wrath
overflows and I cry:

" this is too much!"

And as the wicked mind of Elizabeth is not yet satisfied,
in a diabolical voice she adds :

". . . You show us now, indeed.

Your real face, till now 'twas but the mask."

At this point, I want to speak, but cannot, owing to
the paroxysm of rage, which has discoloured my face and
caused my body to tremble all over. Then, with great
difficulty and in a suffocating voice, interrupting myself,
I begin my invective :

"My sins were human, and the faults of youth;
Superior force misled me. I have never
Denied or sought to hide it : I despis'd
All false appearance and became a queen!"

Then, taking courage, and showing that I am giving
vent to the hatred long repressed, and wishing to return
insult for insult to the one who has so wilfully humiliated
me in the presence of all, I proceed :

"The worst of me is known, and I can say,
That I am better than the fame I bear."

Then moving near her I would add:

" Woe to you! when, in time to come, the world
Shall draw the robe of honour from your deeds
With which they arch — hypocrisy has veil'd
The raging flames of lawless secret lust ! ' '

And, showing that my paroxysm of fury has reached
its height, in a strong voice, and with darting glances, I

'''Virtue was not your portion from your mother;
Well know we what it was which brought the head
Of Anne Boleyn to the fatal block! . . . ."


I would then remain motionless, casting piercing
glances at Elizabeth, and making those present compre-
hend that I had reached the height of my joy, in having
succeeded in my turn in humiliating my enemy. Eliza-
beth being deeply wounded by my audacity casts furious
glances at me, while both Paulet and Leicester run to
her to endeavour to soothe her anger, w^hile Talbot and
Hannah, frightened though they be, advance toward me.
The former, with authority becoming his age and with
the devotion he has shown me for many years, interposes
the following reproof:

"Is this the moderation, the submission
My Lady? "

to which, feeling beside myself I answer:

". . . . Moderation! I've supported
What human nature can support : farewell,
Lamb-hearted resignation, passive patience,
Fly to thy native heaven; burst at length
In all thy fury, long-suppressed rancour!
And thou, who to the anger 'd basilisk
Impart 'st the murderous glance, O, arm my tongue
With pois'n darts! "

During this speech everyone is moving toward Eliza-
beth trying to persuade her to pass out . . . while
I, raging and endeavouring to think of a more terrible
insult than those I had already thrown at her, and again
facing her, and without further restraint, I cry:

" A bastard soils,

Profanes the English throne! The generous Britons
Are cheated by a juggler (whose whole figure
Is false and painted, heart as well as face!)
If right prevail 'd, you now would in the dust
Before me lie, for I'm your rightful monarch!"

While uttering these words I stand erect in a menacing

Elizabeth, then ridding herself from the grasp with
which Talbot and Leicester try to hold her, endeavours
to throw herself upon me, but with an imposing mien of
lèse majesté, I point her to the exit, and Elizabeth

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