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In giving life to such an impious wretch.
The cause of all my woes! "



MYRRHA 20S

But, feeling imijiediately moved by the looks of her
angered mother, and knowing those horrible words have
come to her lips owing to an irresistible impulse, she is
ashamed of having allowed herself to be carried away
by wrath. Her natural kindness of heart then triumphs,
and blushing, she felt her power abandoning her, and
while allowing herself to be softly dragged away to her
room, she would caress and kiss her mother affectionately.

Cinyras, in a desperate state, having heard of the death
of the unhappy Pereus, wants to put an end to his
wretched life and have at any cost a talk with Myrrha,
having resolved to speak to her with his disdainful pater-
nal authority. Behold, she is advancing. The lines that
Alfieri puts upon his lips before Myrrha shows herself
to the public, clearly indicate the frame of mind she must
be in. ■

Cinyras. " Alas, how she approaches

With tardy and reluctant steps! It seems
As if she came to die before my eyes."

And then, clad in a simple Greek tunic of white woollen,
my hair dishevelled, pale and with haggard eyes looking
down and with unsteady steps, I come in.

The public would at a glance understand my sinister
intention and be prepared to Mdtness the unavoidable
catastrophe. As soon as I am in the presence of my
father I am like one petrified, bending my head and
awaiting my condemnation.

During the address of Cinyras to Myrrha, in order to
find out the reason of her martyrdom, it is evident that
not only does the flame of love consume her, but it is an
obscure flame, unworthy of her, or else she would not
have concealed it from all. Without a word but denials
and interrupted monosyllables, with gestures of pain and
unspeakable anguish, I make a counter-scene to arrange
almost a dialogue with my father.

When Cinyras says:

Cinyras. "But who is ever worthy of thy heart,
If Pereus, true, incomparable lover,
Could not indeed obtam it? "

I arranged that he, in saying those lines, should turn
to the side where Pereus had killed himself, while I, filled



2o6 MEMOIRS OF ADELAIDE RISTORI

with love at the sound of his pitiful voice, extend my arm
as if by an involuntary impulse, pointing to "him," as
the only one who deserves it. But Cinyras suddenly
turns, and I lower my eyes, drawing back in order not to
be surprised in that attitude. Then seeing myself on
the point of betraying myself, and not feeling any longer
the strength to oppose his urging, I say, in a voice filled
with bitterness :

Myrrha. " O death, O death,

Whom I so much invoke, wilt thou still be
Deaf to my grief ? . . ."

Noticing that escape is impossible, that any pretext is
useless to combat the absolute will of Cinyras, and
resolving to reveal my secret, I exclaim:

Myrrha. " O Heav'ns!. . . .

I love yes, since thou forcest me to say it;
I desperately love, and love in vain."

Then as if I hoped that such a confession would prove
sufficient, I say nothing further except:

Myrrha. ' ' But, who's the object of that hopeless passion,
Nor, thou, nor anyone, shall ever know :
He knows it not himself . . . and when I
Almost deny it to myself."

After my father's answer, in which he protests that
he wishes to save his daughter at any cost, and seeing
that I cannot longer avoid a most painful confession, I
break forth beside myself:

Myrrha. ". . . Me saved? . . . What dreamest thou? . .
These very words accelerate my death.
Let me, for pity's sake, ah, let me quickly
For ever . . drag myself . . from thee . . .

Resolutely I am about to run, but am restrained by
the affectionate cry of my father:

Cinyras. " O daughter,

Sole, and beloved; O, what say'st thou? Ah!
Come to thy father's arms."

Overcome by the violence of love, as if a supernatural
power attracted me to him, filled with passion, I am
about to fall into his arms, but at that contact, hardly
touching him, I am filled with horror and draw back,
repulsing him.



MYRRHA 207

When, finally, there is no longer any possible chance of
hiding the wicked flame which bums her, Myrrha finds
with a single phrase the way to reveal herself and, stam-
mering in a subdued voice, says :

Myrrha. ". . . . Thou wouldst see

Even that sire himself with horror shudder,
If it should reach the ears of . . . Cinyras. "

I pronounce this name as if all the passion of my soul
had brought it to my lips, remaining motionless for an
instant, my eyes fixed upon him, awaiting his answer.

My heartrending grief has no longer any limit, when
Cinyras, having understood the true sense of the words
he has heard, swears to relieve his daughter forever from
that insane passion. At such a threat Myrrha, unable
to stand the thought of being forever abandoned by her
father, and thinking of her mother who will live always
happy in his arms, gives way to her jealous passion,
saying :

Myrrha. "O happy is my mother! . . . she, at last,

Press'd in thy arms . . may breathe . . her
last sigh ... "

The accentuation, the gesture, the look filled with
immense love can no longer leave the slightest doubt
in Cinyras of the meaning of those words. Then Myrrha,
realising that she has no other way to escape from dis-
honour, with a sudden and quick gesture, takes the poig-
nard from the side of her father and stabs herself in the
heart, saying:

Myrrha. ". . . . Lo! . . . to thee . . .

I now restore it. . . . I at least possess'd
A hand as swift and desp'rate as my tongue."

and falls dying upon the floor. At that moment Cecris
and Eurycleia rush in.

Being held by the arms of the nurse, and hearing Cin-
yras about to reveal the awful passion to his wife, I
make an attempt to rise, and with pitiful gestures I beg
him not to proceed but to spare me the shame of that
fault. But my prayer is in vain, and gasping I fall on
the bosom of Eurycleia. Left alone with her, in a



2o8 MEMOIRS OF ADELAIDE RISTORI

dying voice and an accent of reproach, I would speak
these last lines:

Myrrha. " When I ask'd .

It ... of thee . . . thou . . . O Eurycleia. . .

then
Shouldest . . . have given ... to my hands . .

the sword ;
I had died ... guiltless . . . guilty . . . now I

die. ..."

and I fall heavily , dead, upon the floor.



In the analytical exposition of this very difficult study,
I hope I have succeeded in impressing the reader with
my endeavour to reach Alfieri's conception of the part,
and also to demonstrate how an impure passion, enclosed
in that innocent soul, may be able to inspire a sense of
pity for the unhappy girl, the victim of the wrath of
Venus.

In order to prove how great was the repentance and
the remorse of Myrrha, I will repeat what Ovid makes
her say :

"Oh Gods! If any one of you is accessible to the voice
of repentance, I have deserved the most cruel martyrdom
and am ready to meet it. But I wish not to offend
either the looks of the living nor those of the shadows
by descending to the dead. Hence do exclude me out of
both kingdoms, and with a metamorphosis deny to me
equally life or death."

The repentant finds the Gods merciful, and the last
wishes of Myrrha were fulfilled. She was still speaking
when the earth began to cover her feet. Roots grew out
of her toenails to hold the stalk that w^ould grow. Her
bones became solid wood, still preserving their marrow;
her blood turned into syrup, her arms became long
branches, her fingers twigs and her skin a hard bark. The
size of her trunk disappeared within the thickness of the
trunk of the tree which already reaches her chest and is
about to encircle her neck. Myrrha, without opposing
herself to the progress of the tree, meets it by immerging
her face in it. Though she has lost her last senses of the
body, she still weeps, and those tears possess a great



MYRRHA



209



virtue. The perfume that comes out of them bears
her name and will be venerated through the coming
ages.

Est tales exorsa preces: "O, si qua patetis
' ' Numina confessis, merui, nee triste recuse
"Supplicium. Sed, ne violem vivosque superstes,
"Mortuaque extinctos, ambobus pellite regnis,
"Mutataeque mihi vitamque necemque negate."
Numen confessis aliquod patet. Ultima certe
Vota suos habuere deos. Nam crura loquentis
Terra supervenit, ruptosque obliqua per ungues;
Porrigitur radix, longi firmamina trunci ;
Ossaque robur argunt ; mediaque manente medulla,
Sanguis it in succos, in magnos brachia ramos.
In parvos digitos; duratur cortice pellis.
lamque gravem crescens uterum perstrinxerat arbor,
Pectaroque obruerat, collumque operire parabat.
Non tulit ilia moram venientique obvia ligno,
Subsedit, mersitque suos in cortice vultus.
Quae, quanquam amisit veteres cum corpore sensus,
Flet, tamen, et tepidae manant ex arbore guttae.
Est honor et lacrymis; stillataque cortice Myrrha
Nomen herile tenet, nullique tacebitur aevo.



CHAPTER VI

PHiEDRA — A TRAGEDY BY JEAN RACINE

It is worthy of note that Racine, in composing his
magnificent tragedy of "Phaedra," found his inspiration
in all that is beautiful and true in the tragedies of Seneca
and Euripides, the two great masters of tragic composi-
tion. Both of their tragedies bear the title of
"Hippolytus."

This is what Racine says in the preface of his "Phasdra" :

Quoique j' aie stiivi une route un peu differente de celle de cet autetir
(speaking of Euripides) pour la condiate de l'action, je n'ai pas laisse
d'enrichir ma piece de tout ce qui m'a paru eclatant dans la sienne.

(Although I have followed a little different route from the one of
this author (meaning Euripides) for the procedure of the action of the
play, yet I have not hesitated to enrich my drama with all that has
seemed to me most striking in his.)

As an illustration of this, Racine found the first scene
that Phasdra has with the nurse CEnone in the tragedy
of Euripides so wonderful that he wished to imitate it by
introducing Phaedra in the first act of his own drama.

Euripides also represents her as ready to die, seeing
that she is unable to conquer with chastity " that guilty
and impure love."

A masterly conception, and entirely his own, is Racine's
manner of giving a total change to the action at the end
of the first act. He has the announcement of the sup-
posed death of Theseus, brought to the queen by the
maid Panopa, at the very moment when Phaedra is over-
come by bitter remorse for her illegitimate passion, and
having certainty besides of never being able to satisfy
it, she is so hateful even to herself that she has decided
to allow herself to die of languor.

Like a flash of lightning joy finds a place in her heart




JEAN RACINE
The great French tragic poet, (i 639-1 6qo)



PH^DRA 211

when she sees death break the tie which renders her love
a wrong and desperate one.

Phcedra. " he broke the chain

Which made him execrable and desperate."

Her remorse is silent. The sweet hope that Hippoly-
tus, after knowing of the death of his father, may respond
to her affection, gladdens her mind as a ray of sunshine
in the midst of a furious tempest. Like a young girl
who hears for the first time some sweet words whispered
in her ear from loving lips, Phsedra listens to the per-
suasive and insinuating words of her nurse. The prey of
a thousand contrary sentiments of affection, a soft smile
comes to her pale lips, and she decides to preserve her
life and to abandon herself entirely to (Enone, making
believe, that only for "the love of her son " she consents
to renounce her firm determination to die.

Racine by introducing this episode in his tragedy
has demonstrated that he has understood all the truth
and the beauty of the manner in which Seneca, in the
third scene of the second act, causes Phaedra to reveal
to Hippolytus, the passion she feels for him.

She at first feigns perplexity when resolving to reveal
herself. Then comes the crescendo which leads her
to her confession, which rouses only fury and disdain
in Hippolytus. Racine changes the action of the drama
in this : He places in the 3d act the perfidious web of lies
woven by (Enone against Hippolytus, in order to save
her beloved and unfortunate queen, and changes the
incriminating silent assent that Seneca causes Phsedra
to give to a guilty action into noble rejections the con-
sent to such wickedness. It is also true that Phaedra,
in Racine's tragedy as well, agrees that (Enone accuses
the innocent Hippolytus of an infam.ous plot; however
all this is justified by the terrible situation in which the
author places her.

Theseus, who was believed to be dead, comes back
and is about to discover, at any instant, her guilt and her
shame. Phaedra, certain as she is that her son will not
betray her adulterous passion, though she has previously
demonstrated her repugnance in consenting that



212 MEMOIRS OF ADELAIDE RISTORI
Hippolytus may be accused of her own fault, says:

" That I should deny him ? That I should lose him ? Never ! "

Seeing him approach her with his father a terror assails
her, she almost loses her reason and, hardly understanding
the words of CEnone, gives her assent to that crime, as
the only means to save her from the fury of her husband
and release her from dishonour.

Phcedra. ". . . . Ah! I see Hippolytus;

In his insolent eyes I see my fall written,
Do what thou wilt, I abandon myself to thee.
In the perplexity in which I am, I can do nothing for
myself."

Seneca, Euripides and Racine make Phaedra die for
three different causes. Seneca has it that she goes into
a terrible rage when she learns the tragic end of "Hip-
polytus," which she has really caused by the perfidious
accusation made against him by way of revenge for his
rejection of her. She is assailed with bitter remorse at
the sight of that mutilated corpse of the miserable young
man, sacrificed for her by her father, and she throws
herself in despair upon the corpse of Hippolytus. Tearing
her hair she reveals to Theseus all the immensity of her
guilt, of her perfidy, forwhich she finds a just punishment in
death, and she kills herself with her own hand by stabbing
herself with a poignard in the presence of her husband.

Euripides, in his "Hippolytus," makes Phsedra appear
the unhappy victim of a celestial vengeance, and, as such,
worthy of pity. This increases when Phaedra learns of
the furious grief of Hippolytus because of the impure
passion that his stepmother feels for him and which the
slave (Enone has revealed to her. Filled with shame,
and furious that Hippolytus is aware of her love for him,
she desires to escape his contempt and decides to die.
She accomplishes the fatal deed by strangling herself.
This extenuates the guilt of her impure love and renders
Phaedra an object of compassion; but for the fact that
Euripides makes Diana tell Theseus, after the unfortunate
end of Hippolytus, that Phaedra before killing herself
conceives the guilty design of writing a paper in which
she accuses Hippolytus of having dragged her to that
desperate end through having dishonoured her by force.



PHvEDRA 213

This low and unworthy calumny causes her to become
a despicable object and changes to disdain and horror
the pity that one had at first felt for her.

These are the lines that Euripides makes Diana speak
to Theseus :

" Why of an iniquitous death

Did'st thou kill thy son, oh villain,
And happy now dost live? To falsehood
And to dark words of thy wife
Thou lend'st faith, and guilty
Art thou of a committed murder."



Racine, on the contrary, treats the end of this queen
more nobly. He makes her feel shame at having revealed
her impure passion for Hippolytus on seeing herself
rejected with horror and despised by him. She is not
able to stand the scrutinising looks of Theseus, feeling
herself guilty, yet consumed with jealous rage on dis-
covering in Aricia a fortunate rival. Defying the wrath
of her father Minos, when he would descend to Hades ;
torn with remorse for having yielded to the perfidious
insinuations of CEnone, and accusing Hippolytus of her
own guilt, she swallows a powerful poison that had come
from Maedia. With the sweat of death on her brow
she drags herself before Theseus, and gathers together
her small remaining strength in order to proclaim the
innocence of Hippolytus and accuse herself alone of her
impure and vehement love for him. She affirms that she
had wished to put an end to her days with a poignard,
but she wanted first to confess her crime, at any cost, and
so had chosen a slow poison. She expires amidst horrible
pain, unconscious even of the death of Hippolytus. This
as shown by the following lines:

Panopa in the fifth scene of the fifth act, comes rushing
in to Theseus and says:

"I am ignorant what project the queen meditates,
My lord, but I fear all from the transport which agitates her
A mortal despair is painted on her visage;
The paleness of death is already her complexion.
Already from her presence driven with shame,
CEnone has cast herself into the deep sea;
They know not from whence springs this furious

design,
And the waves forever have ravished her from my eyes."



214 MEMOIRS OF ADELAIDE RISTORI

Theseus. "What do I hear ? "

Panopa. "Her death has not calmed the queen.

The grief seems to increase in her uncertain soul.
Sometimes, to flatter her sweet sorrows,
She takes her children and bathes them in tears ;
And suddenly, renouncing the maternal love,
Her hand with horror repulses them away :
She drags herself with uncertain step heedlessly

here and there
Her eye all wandering recognising us not;
Three times has she commenced to write: and

changing the thought
Three times she has destroyed the commenced letter.
Deign to see her, my lord, deign to succour her."

After this scene Theramenus presents himself and
weeping tells of the tragic end of the miserable Hippolytus
whose lacerated body had been found near Mycenae.
At the royal palace the horrible deed was unknown ; hence
Phaedra did not kill herself on account of that, but on
account of what has been said above.

Some people may find it superfluous to make a detailed
comparison of the way in which the character of Phaedra
has been treated in the three tragedies of Seneca, Eurip-
ides and Racine. But I hope that this study of mine
may be of some interest to those who have seen me play
that part on the stage as well as to those who have never
had the opportunity of doing so in order to make known
to them how I interpreted that part.

After having heard of the great difficulties I met in
the study of the character Myrrha, of Vittorio Alfieri,
one may suppose that the study of Phaedra was less
strenuous. It is so to a certain extent because its con-
trasts are less strange and less terrible, but one must not
neglect to say that the interpretation of these two char-
acters are analogous, both heroines being victims of the
vengeance of Venus.

Venus did not hate Phaedra, but she hated Hippolytus,
and by inoculating Phaedra with a strong, incestuous
passion of love, chose her as the only means offered to
her to avenge herself upon Hippolytus because he had
called her "a wicked Goddess"; because he was diso-
bedient to the laws of love and because also, he professed
all his worship for Diana, daughter of Jupiter, whom



PH^DRA 215

only he adored, calling her "The Greatest of all
Goddesses." (This is what Euripides makes Venus say
in the first scene of his tragedy). Likewise Myrrha was
nothing more than the instrument of the vengeance of
Venus against her mother, Cecris.

The effects of such a curse thrown upon two such
different natures must undoubtedly be revealed in two
entirely opposite manners. One is a pure maiden repre-
sented as forced by a mysterious and invisible power to
a nefarious passion, and owing to the horror which it
produces in her she goes to meet her death in order not
to become guilty.

The other is the woman who is conscious of the mon-
strous consequences her wicked passion may lead to, but
she does not struggle against it and wishes to die only in
the fear that if her passion is revealed it may not be
reciprocated.

Myrrha dies because she is unable to find in her youthful
and weak nature the strength to dominate her ardent
passion, and fears that it may be discovered by the one
who inspired it, and she kills herself when a superhuman
force tears from her lips the confession of her secret.
Phaedra, on the other hand, being fascinated and dazzled
by the beauty of Hippolytus, with her own lips and with
accents of fire, with a scintillating eye and in a paroxysm
of furious passion, reveals herself to him who inspires her
love. What leads her to a dying state is the knowledge
that another woman is preferred to herself, together with
the remorse of having accused Hippolytus of his fatal
love, thus leaving him the prey of his paternal wrath.

Having mentioned the two distinct interpretations I
have made in the psychological study of these two char-
acters, who, both being overcome with an abnormal
passion, possess many points of resemblance, I will now
show how I have interpreted, studied and executed the
character of Phaedra.

Racine precedes the entrance of Phaedra in the first
act with some verses of the nurse CEnone, in order to por-
tray her as if she were dying and only anxious to see the
light of the sun before taking leave of life. I deem it



2i6 MEMOIRS OF ADELAIDE RISTORI

necessary to transcribe them so that the reader may
himself form a criterion of how I looked when appearing
on the stage.

CEnone. "Alas! my lord, what trouble can be equal mine?
The queen touches her fatal end.

In vain to observe her day and night I attach myself :
She dies in my arms of an evil she conceals from me.
Her disturbed grief tears her on her bed :
She wishes to see the day, and her deep sorrow
Orders me always to drive away every body —
She comes."

Truly, Phaedra enters the stage pale and prostrated
and supported by her maids, not even having the strength
to speak.

My study here consisted in finding the right tone of
voice and the exact expression of the state of Phaedra,
caused not by a physical but by a moral state, which
weakening the body would later be followed by a reaction
at the announcement of some happy event. Otherwise
how could I be able to last until the end of the action, and
stand so many emotions and accomplish so many deeds?
Thus, in all the expressions of tediousness, of discomfort,
I had to maintain a sort of feeble and monotonous reci-
tation. Only when the chord of my profound love was
shaken, and its sound painfully vibrated, then my voice
would rise suddenly only to die in my chest again, the
prostrated state of my body lacking the power of
continuance.

As an example, CEnone reproached Phaedra for aban-
doning herself as she does to her grief which is killing her,
for concealing its cause from all and in that way bringing
about the misfortune of her children who will be forced
to bear a strange yoke, the one expressing herself thus :

CEnone. "You offend the gods, authors of j^our life,

You betray the husband to whom faith binds you ;
You deceive in a word your miserable children,
Whom you precipitate under a miserable bondage.
Think that one some day will ravish them from you,
And render hope to the son of a foreigner ;
To this fierce enemy of you, and your blood,
This son which an Amazon has carried in her side,
This Hippolytus "

Phcedra. Ah, gods!



PH^DRA 217

CEnone: This reproach touches you?

Phsdra: Wretched woman, what name has passed your lips?

(This dialogue is a complete imitation of Euripides.)

During the recital of these verses I remain at first as
if insensible to every reproach of (Enone, at the recollec-
tion of the children! But at the point where she tells
me:

"And render hope to the son of a foreigner;"

my body shakes, and during the two successive verses:

"To the fierce enemy of you, and your blood.
This son which an Amazon has carried in her side",

my state of prostration ceases, my forehead frowns. . .
I tremble all through my body, my chest palpitating.

But when I hear the words: "This Hippolytus,"
suddenly the outburst of my heart manifests itself with
the cry:

"Wretched woman, what name has passed your lips?"

and I fall back upon my seat.

When, after the repeated requests of (Enone to make
me reveal the cause of my grief, I resolve to speak, my
voice can hardly come forth. It begins to strengthen
only when with a lamenting sound I am deploring the lot
of my mother and sister, who were also the victims of the
implacable hatred of the Goddess, and when (Enone
frightened questions me:


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