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Memoirs and artistic studies of Adelaide Ristori; online

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he is to receive some new orders ; but quickly moved by a
sense of my dignity, I tell him to hasten and have the
sentence executed. When Davison has left, I give free
vent to my despair, accusing Essex of having dragged
me to that step.

The appearance of Lady Nottingham, who comes
hurriedly to ask pardon for the Earl, again increases my
wrath and I see in her only a rival. But on hearing that
Howard has taken away from her the ring that Essex
had intrusted her to give to me I at first pretend to doubt
her assertion. However, after the oath, upon the soul
of her mother, that Lady Sarah utters, every suspicion
vanishes. In a paroxysm of alarm I order my page to
mount my faithful steed, Juar, to kill him in the run, if
necessary, provided he overtakes Davison on the way
to the Tower and requests that the sentence should be
torn to pieces, promising the coronet of an Earl to any
one among my vassals who succeeds in overtaking Davi-
son. A few instants later. Lord Burleigh, followed by
Bacon, comes in, and magisterially announces the exe-
cution of Essex! Hearing the news I remain as if petrified,
then falling upon my chair in a subdued voice I whisper :
"He is dead! He is dead!" I then slowly rise, and with
my eyes veined with blood, trembling through all my
limbs, I exclaim: "Before the sun shall set, the fatal
bronze will roar again" (making allusion to the death of
Nottingham that I was about to order), and turning
furiously around the stage, I cry: "I must have in my
hands the head of the Earl of Nottingham!" Then with
an outburst of despairing grief, I continued: "Ah! my
Robert is no more! . . . the only man that I have
truly loved ! And it is I who have killed him ! . . .no
one has dared ask his pardon! . . . they all hated
him! and yet not one of them was worthy to kiss the
dust raised by his horse on a day of battle! ... "


Noticing that Bacon has remained at one side I rush
furiously upon him, obHging him to advance, and filled
with venom, I say to him : " And you, miserable coward,
you were nothing, and you owe only to Robert if you
have ever become anybody; it is to him you owe the
honours I have bestowed on you. . . .He generously
redeemed you from shame and paid your debts. He
trusted you and you have not defended him. ... It
was your sacred duty to plead for his life to me; you
should have shown me Ireland prostrated . . . Cadiz
in flames . . . you should have broken his cuirass . . .
counted one after the other his wounds . . . offered
them to me as a pledge for his life, . . . But instead
you preferred to guide the hand of the judges when
they decreed the fatal sentence, and to direct mine,
when I confirmed it. . . . Be cursed! Be cursed like
Cain! ..."

All those present advance toward me in the endeavour
to placate my anger while I imperiously command: "Go
all of you! ... I want it! . . , "

Left alone, crushed with anguish, shaken by so many
terrible emotions, I do not dare to raise my eyes to
heaven, fearing its wrath, and I fall prostrate on my face,
pronouncing these words: "Here . . . alone . . .
in a pool of blood! Alone with my remorse . . . and
with God! ..."

The curtain drops.

In the fifth act Elizabeth is nearing her end. According
to the history, though undermined by a consuming illness,
still her iron temperament shows prodigiously at times.
The fire which coursed through her veins in past years
was not yet extinguished, some sparks of it still lived.

Making my appearance on the stage, my looks show
the change that advanced age has made in my face, and
also the impression of the illness which is consuming
me. My words make conspicuous the artifice I use in
deluding my courtiers regarding the rapid progress of my
illness. I enter the stage, on my return from the House
of Commons, leaning on the arm of Burleigh, covered with
my royal cape, the crown on my head. My appearance


is that of a person still labouring under nerv^ous agi-
tation; caused by a lively discussion, which has taken
place in the Parliament. Narrating what has happened
I would make a pretence of gaiety which surprises those
who surround me. The careless arrangement of my hair,
the wrinkles of my face, the slow movements of my arms,
reveal to the audience, that, more than my old age, there
is a grief undermining my existence. I answer Burleigh,
who advises me to sit down : " that motion is life, that
on account of having been seated too long on my sedan
chair, I feel as if I were suffocating."

On my returning to the palace, I have been vividly
impressed by noticing how few people had gathered to
see me pass. But I did not wish my old Minister to know
that I felt this. Looking at Burleigh with a scrutinising
glance, in a tone of pretended indifference, I address
him thus: "Tell me, have you asked my good English
people that they should not crowd too much on my
passage . . . and . . . that they should not ap-
plaud me?" At the negative answer of Burleigh, with-
out being observed by him, I frown and sigh. Then
having recourse to an artifice, with an indifferent air, I
say that my question is prompted by the knowledge that
he considered me ill and consequently might have thought
that the sight of a crowding throng came to greet me on
my passage might disturb me. Then, for the purpose of
assuring him that I am perfectly cured, I begin gaily to
give an account of the victory gained by the House of
Commons in its defence of the royal property. Having
said this with an almost childish satisfaction, I add:
"Ah!" . . . as if I were convinced of having spoken
admirably, while Burleigh with a flattering zeal, like a
typical courtier would approve. Then, turning to Bacon,
I tell him to inform Shakespeare that it is my wish that
they again perform " Henry VIII," because I enjoy seeing
myself as a babe in the arms of my godmother! I give
the dispositions for the preparations of a feast. Then,
sitting down, I ask what news are current in the city, and
on hearing that the capture of the Earl of Tyrone is
imminent, turn to Burleigh, and say to him jocosely:
" It seems to me I have well chased away the flies from


the crown of England!" Grasping the opportunity, Bur-
leigh adds : " that his successor would certainly receive
her splendidly and respect her, " On hearing these words,
I rise, and casting a penetrating look upon him, scrutinis-
ing him suspiciously, as I already have the knowledge of
his secret correspondence with James VL Burleigh who
has guessed this suspicion makes an apology for his words,
pleading the fear that he feels " to die before seeing assured
the succession to the Crown." I pretend to lend faith
to his words, by apparently approving them. But wishing
to return to that ridiculous farce, I ask him: "Upon
whom, according to your advice, should the 'wise'
choice fall?" "And upon who else but the young King
of Scotland?" he replies. Then, bursting with hatred,
which I had with difficulty restrained to that moment,
I cry out at him, grasping his arm : " There, I recognise
you, traitor!" "Burleigh a traitor?" "Yes, because you
keep up a secret correspondence with James." "No,
but he alone, perhaps, would be able to prevent a civil
war in England." "Such is also my feeble opinion," adds

Thrown into a paroxysm of anger I repeat : " Civil war!
always a civil war! . . . With this ghost you caused
me to sentence to death Suffolk, Mary, Babington, Robert
of Essex! ..." Pronouncing this name, the cords
of my heart are shaken, my hard breathing chokes me, my
eyes pour forth tears; and not being able to hold them
back, I repeat, between my sobs, the name of Robert!
They all crowd around me, but an impulse of ire getting
the upper hand of my grief, I order them to leave, their
persistence in consoling me only increases my anger.
Broken down with grief and physical pains, it is with
difficulty I succeed in calming myself. After a long
pause, having assured myself that they all have left me
and that I am no longer forced to dissimulate, my
body and my mind show themselves as they really
are. The remembrance of the death of Essex, which
I had myself ordered, tears my heart; remorse
gnaws me, prostrates me, I feel the need of throw-
ing myself on a bed. I drag myself with difficulty,
my body bent, reclining my head and placing my


hands on my forehead, I touch the crown which
covers it.

"Ah! this is also a great weight!" I say sighing, "and
still I have worn it for forty-four years and it seemed
so light to me! " After a short pause, I ask myself : " And
who will wear you after me? ... " But soon in
an altered voice, pushing the crown away from me, I
gnimble, "I don't wish to know."

I review sadly my glorious past, and deplore that no
longer I hear it said: "that I ride like Alexander, that
I walk like a Venus, that I sing and play like Orpheus!"
I no longer hear the people applaud me when I pass. I
bewail that my chair should pass through the streets like
a bier! Then, I ask myself if it is because I have become
old! Still the years have not left their impression upon
me — I would repeat — there is not a silver thread among
my beautiful golden hair! . . . and I pass my hand
through my hair with the flattering vanity of a young
girl. Then, with an expressive gesture, let the audience
understand that in order to ascertain for myself how my
looks are I want to consult a looking-glass ; but as soon as
I see myself in it I draw back with disgust, noticing the
deep wrinkles all over my face, the languor of my eyes,
my livid and sunken cheeks. My breathing becomes
difficult, my eyes troubled, and my mind distracted. I
am frightened, and I cry repeatedly :" Help ! help!" But
with a sudden return of pride, I smother my cries, press-
ing my mouth with a handkerchief. I imagine myself
enshrouded in darkness, I see the white shadows of bleed-
ing ghosts coming toward me. In order to escape from
them and not be grasped by one of them I huddle up in
my bed; but the heads which have been cut off from
the bodies, seem to roll down at my feet, they terrify me,
and becoming the prey of horrible spasms I again fall on
my bed, asking with joined hands and suffocating voice,
for mercy! After a long pause I somewhat recover myself.
Without opening my eyes and with a half-choked voice,
I ask for Burleigh, that he come to help me. But James
VI, who is hiding in my boudoir, runs at my cries, and
helps me to rise before I recognise him. When on my feet
again, having perceived James, I feel terrified, and with


loud cries I call for my guards and my ladies in waiting
to defend me. They all come running and surround me.
Then, with interrupted ejaculations, owing to my fright,
and with trembling gestures, I indicate James to Burleigh,
who reassures me saying: "That he was no one else but
the King of Scotland who had come to London to inquire
for my health," and I ask: "But why does he carry in
his hands the head of his mother ? . . . what does
he want to do with it? . . . does he want to throw
it at my face? ... " Hearing such words, James
advances toward me. I, being terrified, utter a cry, and
run into the arms of my people, covering my face with
both my hands, as if to escape contact with the head of
Mary Stuart. After the assurances of all my courtiers and
of James himself, I quiet down and covering my eyes with
my right hand, with a childish fearing hesitancy, I look
through my fingers to see if James has not lied to me, and
being assured of the truth of what he said, I take courage
gradually and breathe easier, a light smile comes to my
lips, I repeat to all that it has been nothing but a night-
mare, and would end by saying: "I am better! I am
better! " At that moment Drake returns from his mission,
bringing news of the arrest of Tyrone. Though weakened
by the suffering she has passed through, at that annoimce-
ment Elizabeth utters a cry of joy on hearing that the
one who has made her tremble on the throne has been
humiliated, and gives orders that he be immediately
beheaded. Drake makes her understand that he would
never have the terrible Irishman in his hands if he had
not surrendered himself, trusting in the magnanimity
of the great queen. Penetrated by such words, and
experiencing a return of generous sentiments, I remain
for an instant meditative and perplexed. With a signifi-
cant look, I consult Burleigh, who answers with signs
that he should be pardoned. Then I say with dignity
to Drake: "He who has considered me great, shall not
find me less than my fame. . . . I forgive him ! "

But the last moments of Elizabeth are approaching,
already her strength is leaving her. Burleigh and the
maids take her staggering to her bed and place her on it.
Feeling herself dying, Elizabeth consents to select a


successor. I loak at James in such a way as to convey that
my choice should fall upon him; I cause him to kneel
before me; Lady Burleigh hands me the crown, and at
the moment I am about to crown him, I say to him with
difificulty: "Kneel down. . . . I crown you as king!
, . . " These words came out of my lips, as if they
were torn out of my heart. The people who were notified
from the balcony by a signal from Davison that the great
deed was done, begin to cry: "Long live James I, King
of England."

On hearing those cries I become infuriated. I call my
people ungrateful. I tear the crown from the head of
James, place it on my own with both my hands and cry :
"Ungrateful people! I am still alive! ... "

But my strength totally abandons me, I lie down on
the bed, and with my dying voice I recommend to James
" the Bible and the sword of my father."

The delirium and the agony of death are taking hold of
me. The remembrance of Essex comes to me; it seems
as if I saw him I would reach my arms to him as though
to draw him to me and give him a forgiving kiss, and after
a short struggle with death, I finally succumb, remaining
there with glassy eyes, surrounded by my courtiers, who,
while weeping, repeat: "She is dead!"

This is the manner in which I thought to interpret this
great drama of Paolo Giacometti. I studied, as I said,
within the limits of history that strange character of
woman and queen. I developed the last scenes, which
may be called the climax of the drama, with firmness,
with persuasion, with all the shading from vigour to
senility. Those lines which are the prelude of a most
bitter farewell to a long past of power, I studied to inter-
pret in a way to make one understand the fascination
she exercised upon her people during her reign, and the
remorse which grew constantly greater with the approach
of death.



The study of this character was for me the source of
great difficulties, seeing before me not the ordinary person,
filled with perverted passions and frivolous excesses,
but a colossal conception of perfidy, of dissimulation, of
hypocrisy, which is treated with a masterly grandeur by
Shakespeare with so many hyperbolical manifestations
as to frighten any dramatic genius.

Some of the critics, going back to the origin of the
legend from which Shakespeare gained his inspiration,
form the opinion that love for her husband was predom-
inant in Lady Macbeth, and so strong as to induce her to
become guilty of many crimes for the sake of seeing him

With me, the close investigation of this character, pro-
duced the conviction that with Lady Macbeth affection
for her husband was the last factor actuating her deeds —
that she was animated only by her excessive ambition to
reign with him, and that, knowing his inferiority of mind,
his weak nature, which was not able even to move the
greed for possession which burned in his veins and in his
brain to action — she used her affection for him as a means
to satisfy her ambition. Being conscious of the fascina-
tion that she exercised over him, she took advantage of
it for the purpose of instilling into his mind the virus of
crime putting it in the most natural light and with the
most insinuating and persuasive reasonings.

By this I do not mean to say that Macbeth did not
possess a nature inclined to do evil. Shakespeare shows
us the germ of ambition that was gnawing him, and the
kind of chimerical illusions that ran through his mind.
He only concealed them from others because it seemed
to him impossible to make them realities. I could not
better succeed in depicting the nature of this man, than



Shakespeare so marvellously does in the lines of the first
monologue of Lady Macbeth who, owing to her profound
perspicacity, so well understands her husband. This
appreciation of mine will appear even more evident in
the analysis I make further on of that passage. Perhaps
one might admit a similar monstrous tenderness in Lady
Macbeth if she had not shared together with her husband
the power and the royal greatness; but as they derived
from their crime all its advantages, I maintain that it
was not solely owing to her ambition and love for her
husband that she became its instigator, but also for the
sake of obtaining the supreme honours and powers which
she so much longed for. Any mother, any woman who
pretends to know how great is the love for a son who has
been nursed with her own milk, and is able to declare to
her husband, without tremour, that if she had sworn to
crush the skull of her own child she would not have hesi-
tated a moment (and this to make Macbeth feel ashamed
of his pusillanimity in flinching before the only means
suitable to his guilty purpose), is not a woman, not a
human being, but a creature worse than a wild beast,
and as such, it cannot be admitted that there existed in
her any sweet affection. Nevertheless, not wishing to
proclaim my conception as an infallible one, I made new
studies and new investigations of the various judgments
of this tragedy and the interpretations that some of the
most renowned actors had adopted.

Great was my satisfaction on reading in the magazine
The Nineteenth Century, of February, 1878, the
magnificent study made by Mr, G. J. Bell, Professor of
Laws, in the Edinburgh University, of the interpretation
which the renowned English actress, Mrs. Siddons, gave
to the part of Lady Macbeth. Among the various pas-
sages this one is, according to my opinion, most im-
portant: "Her troublesome and inhimian nature does
everything. She draws Macbeth to gratify her purpose,
she uses him as a simple instrument, becoming herself
his guide, his leader, insinuating to him all the plot. As
the wicked genius of Macbeth, she rushes him along the
crazy path of ambition and cruelty, from which he would
have liked to withdraw."

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Online LibraryAdelaide RistoriMemoirs and artistic studies of Adelaide Ristori; → online text (page 14 of 22)