Adelaide Ristori.

Studies and memoirs ; an autobiography online

. (page 16 of 21)
Online LibraryAdelaide RistoriStudies and memoirs ; an autobiography → online text (page 16 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Viver con te sulla medesima terra.
Nemica tua, non che segreta, aperta,
Volli che il mar ci separasse : imposi
Che niuno osasse innanzi a me nomarti ;
Grave torto, lo so ; ma se la pena
Dee V offesa uguagliar, se 1' odio solo
Grida vendetta, non vi fa giammai
Donna piu degna della tua pietade
E men degna, signer, dell' odio tuo ! "

In the French the passage runs as follows :

" Quand vous me hairiez, je ne m'en plaindrais pas,
Seigneur ; vous m'avez vue attachee a vous nuire.
Dans le fond de mon coeur vous ne pouviez pas lire ;
A votre inimitie j'ai pris soin de n'offrir;
Aux bords que j'habitais je n'ai pu vous souffrir;
En public, en secret contre vous declaree,
J'ai voulu par des mers en etre separee ;
J'ai meme defendu par une expresse loi
Qu'on os&t prononcer votre nom devant moi.




240 ADELAIDE RISTORL

These last lines are not at all such as would be
likely to be spoken by a woman anxious to conceal
her real sentiments ; they are rather the utterance of
one who wraps up in a circumlocution of words and
phrases, with a double meaning, an idea whose true
significance she desires to make understood. Con-
vinced for all these reasons of the justice of my
interpretation, I decided to speak the passage in a
manner which should convey unmistakably the double
entendre I felt it contained ; and I accompanied these
words with lightning glances, which, taken in con-
junction with the tone of my voice, showed the effort
I was putting on myself to restrain the passion which
was devouring me, and which I could hardly refrain
from manifesting openly. Later on, I showed the
audience by my gestures how deeply wounded I was
that Hippolytus had not understood me, and when
the latter, believing in Phaedra's repentance for the
hatred which she had borne to him, sought to excuse
her conduct by saying that every other mother would
have behaved in like manner to a step-son, whose
love for her own children made her jealous, I, feeling
that the passionate restraint I had laid upon myself
was beginning to affect him, attempted once more to
make him understand me, by saying in a slightly
impatient tone



Si pourtant k 1'offense on mesure la peine,
Si la haine put seule attirer la haine,
Jamais femme ne f ut plus digne de pitie '
Et moins digne, seigneur, de votre inimitie."

Racine.



PHAEDRA. 241

" Ah 1 my lord, I dare to protest that Heaven has exempted

me from this common law.

It is a very different care which troubles and preys upon
me."*

But, as gradually the scene progressed, I was no
longer able to control the passion that possessed me.
The revelation of it burst from me suddenly, as a
stream that has been dammed up overflows its banks.
Voice, gestures, and accent, all united to express the
idea that I was in the condition of one inebriated
with love, of one who cares for neither modesty,
sobriety, or dignity, provided only she can enjoy the
forbidden and guilty delight she so ardently desires.

And Hippolytus scorned. Suddenly my eyes were
opened, and with a shudder that convulsed my whole
person, I recognized in his conduct the influence of
the terrible Eumenides. With the speed of lightning
I seized the sword he had dropped, after drawing it
in his first irresistible impulse to slay me, and turned
it against my own breast. At this moment, (Enone,
who had been listening unseen, rushed forward, threw
herself upon me, seized my arm, though she did not
succeed in wrenching the weapon from my grasp,
and by main force dragged me from the stage. This
most perilous scene with Hippolytus has great diffi-
culty for an actress, because if she overpasses by a
hairbreadth the line laid down by scenic propriety, the



* " Ah ! seigneur ! que le ciel, j'ose ici 1'attester,
De cette loi commune a voulu m'exempter !
Qu'un soin bien different me trouble et me devore."

Racine.

16



242 ADELAIDE RISTORf.

. audience would find the situation repulsive, and the
effect would be greatly injured.

The first scene of the third Act, between Phaedra
and CEnone, consists only of an alternation and suc-
cession of reproaches, remorse, hopes, fears, rage,
illusions, and contrary plans.

How Hippolytus has grown odious in her eyes
because of the humiliation he has inflicted on her !
How she excuses him, and blames herself for having
judged with too great severity the inexperienced
youth, ignorant of the laws of love ! In this perplex-
ity she devises a means to retain his heart, which
speedily absorbs all her thought, and she makes her
faithful GEnone her messenger. But when she hears
from her devoted and terrified nurse that Theseus is
still alive, that he will shortly stand before her, I
assumed, with a rapid transition, the attitude of one
who is almost petrified by the sudden and amazing
news she has received. In a voice so indistinct that
it is little more than a murmur, I say

" My husband is living, O CEnone ! that is enough.
I have made the unworthy confession of a love that

outrages him.
He lives, and I wish to know no more." *

and I repeat the words " that is enough," in a tone
implying " all is over for me."

From this moment the idea of seeing myself con-
fronted by my outraged consort, of not daring to

* " Mon epoux est vivant. O QEnone, c'est assez.
J'ai fait 1'indigne aveu d un amour qui Toutrage.
II vit, je ne veux pas en savoir d'avantage."






PHAEDRA. 243



meet his look for very shame, began to fill me with
a terror that overmastered me. I grew delirious,
everything about me seemed "to gain voice and
words," in order to apprise Theseus of my fault.

By this manifestation of total physical weakness
and mental aberration, I sought to account in some
measure for the ready consent which Phaedra gives
to (Enone's infernal proposal, and I succeeded in
showing how oppressed I was with an immeasurable
dread of the appearance of Theseus and Hippolytus.
Those better impulses which had caused me instinc-
tively to reject CEnone's infamous proposal when it
was first made, had now deserted me. In the utter
impossibility of avoiding a meeting with my husband,
I addressed to him the few lines which tell of my
profound grief, my bitter remorse, as well as the
shame I felt at appearing before my outraged con-
sort, and the man who was the fatal cause of my
trouble.

Full of confusion, and feeling that I had not
strength to utter another word, I fled precipitately.

-Most masterly is the fourth Act of this tragedy, in
which the transcendent genius of Racine is fully
revealed. He has most certainly not been influenced
either by Euripides or Seneca, in the arrangement of
this part of the classic work. It is rather modelled
on Shakespeare, and shows all the devious workings
of a human soul, and the causes and effects which
have produced its disorganization.

When Phaedra, repentant, and tormented by re-
morse, comes trembling to Theseus to implore clem-
ency for his son, and perhaps also to reveal the falsity



244 ADELAIDE RISTORL

of the accusation made against him, it might be
plainly seen from my face, and from the way I spoke,
what an effort and struggle it had been to me to
decide on this step.

I uttered my first words after I came upon the
stage in a supplicating tone, with my eyes fixed upon
the ground, because I had not the courage to meet
the anger of my husband when he heard the truth.

On learning from Theseus that Hippolytus " dared
to insult the character of Phaedra by accusing her of
lying," I bent down my head towards the ground, as
though humiliated, and confused, and desirous to
conceal my shame in the depths of the earth.

But when I further heard that " Aricia only was the
woman Hippolytus openly confessed he loved, who
only possessed his heart and his troth," the power of
art worked such a complete transformation in my
appearance that the spectator was overpowered by it.

I heard no more what Theseus said, I remained
insensible to everything he preferred against his son,
I understood only the tremendous revelation he had
made to me.

Left alone, I gave vent, little by little, to the fury
I had restrained until that moment. My whole
being was penetrated by the dreadful truth, which in
an instant had struck death to my heart. Then,
slowly, in a tone of the most bitter scorn, and a voice
growing in power as I proceeded, I uttered the stu-
pendous lines in which are revealed, one by one, all
the torments of a wonderful spirit :

" Hippolytus can feel, and yet feels nothing for me !
Aricia has his heart, Aricia has his faith !



PHAEDRA.



245



Ah ! Heavens ! when the inexorable ingrate

Armed himself against my wishes, with such a proud

eye, and haughty countenance,

I thought his heart was for ever steeled against love,
Was equally adamant to all my sex.
And yet, another has conquered his audacity,
In his cruel eyes another has found favor." *

To the scorn which was akin to simulation, suc-
ceeded an explosion of wrath, as I exclaimed

" I am the sole object he cannot bear." f

And, no longer able to restrain my impestuous rage,
I paced to and fro upon the stage; then, seeing
CEnone, I ran precipitately towards her, to inform
her of what I had learnt. With savage fury I re-
called one by one the terrors, the burning desires,
the torments I had suffered, in order to show that they
were all as nothing in comparison with the tremendous
grief which at that moment racked my heart. My
mind, unsettled from the burning dart of jealousy
that was rankling in my bosom, could only see the
image of my preferred rival, smiling, and in sweet
converse with Hippolytus ! This imaginary joy



* " Hippolyte est sensible, et ne sent rien pour moi !
Aricie a son cceur, Aricie a sa foix !
Ah ! Dieux ! lorsqu'a mes vceux 1'ingrat inexorable
S'armait d'un ceil si fier, d'un front si redoutable,
Je pensais qu'a 1'amour son coeur ferme
Ftit centre tout mon sexe egalment arme.
Une autre, cependant, a fleche son audace,
Devant ses yeux cruels une autre a trouve grace."

t " Je suis le seul objet qu'il ne saurait souffrir."



246 ADELAIDE RISTORL

seemed to kill me, the idea of the felicity of these
two souls was insupportable.

The thought of vengeance flashed across my mind.
I had already given CEnone instructions to murder
Aricia, when I stayed her hand, because I wished
that my own should do the bloody deed. I listened
now only to the dictates of jealousy, that venomous
asp which was rending my bosom. It seemed to me
well to induce my husband to punish my rival, by
stirring up his hatred against the family to which she
belonged ; then for a moment reverting to myself, I
was constrained to meditate on my own faults, the
enormity of which had driven me entirely beside
myself.

Mad as I was, it seemed to me that I breathed
only incest lies. I desired to dip my avenging
hand in innocent blood.

I saw, I discerned nothing more ; in my delirium
I felt myself transported to the presence of my father,
Minos, the great judge of lost souls in hell. Already
it seemed to me that the fatal urn, in which are en-
closed the decrees containing the punishment inflicted
on the departed, fell from his hands, while he strove
to devise a sharper punishment for me. I fancied I
saw him fling himself upon me to kill me, and with a
bitter scream I made as though he was already grasp-
ing me by the hair. I writhed about in my efforts to
escape his fatal grasp. I pressed my hands against
my head to try and avoid that furious anger, and
with a cry of anguish I exclaimed

" Pardon ! a cruel god has betrayed thy family :
Recognize his vengeance in the passions of thy daughter.



PHAEDRA. 247

Alas ! my sorrowful heart has gathered no fruit
From the frightful crime whose shame follows me ;
Pursued by evil to my latest moment,
I lay down my life in torment," *

and I fell fainting to the ground.

In order to increase the scenic effect, I had ar-
ranged that after a long pause (Enone should fall on
her knees beside me, and with kindly and persuasive
words raise my inanimate form, until it rested par-
tially upon her knees, while I slowly, and gradually,
recovered my scattered senses, and broke out into
reproaches against her. Hearing her assert, in her
anxiety to condone my fault, that the gods them-
selves had committed it, I gradually regained suffi-
cient strength to withdraw from her, and let her see
with what scorn and anger I received her suggestion ;
but when I crossed to the other side of the stage the
nurse followed me, and falling at my feet, and clasp-
ing my knees, entreated pardon. Then I turned
upon her in all my rage, and hurled at her Racine's
celebrated invective, so justly famous in French
literature.

" Away, execrable monster !
Leave me, the sport of my miserable fate.
May a just Heaven render thee worthy payment!
And may thy punishment for ever terrify



* " Pardonne ! un dieu cruel a perdu ta f amille :
Reconnais se vengeance aux fureurs de ta fille.
Helas ! du crime affreux dont la honte me suit
Jamais mon triste cceur n'a recueilli le fruit ;
Jusqu'au dernier soupir de malheurs poursuivie,
Je rends dans les tourments une penible vie."



248 ADELAIDE RISTORL

All those who, like thee, nourish by cowardly dexterity
The failings of weak princes,

Urging them to go the way to which their heart inclines,
And smoothing for them the road to crime.
Detestable flatterers ! Most unhappy present
That celestial anger can make to kings ! " *

and in a paroxysm of fury I disappeared from view.

The fifth Act presents no great difficulty in its
interpretation.

Phaedra only shows herself for a moment at the
end of the tragedy. She is dying, supported by her
attendants, the victim of the poison she had swal-
lowed to still for ever the fearful pangs of remorse
for the faults committed through fatal blindness.

In a spent voice, I unfold to my husband my inces-
tuous passion and the false accusation brought against
Hippolytus, but as the effects of the deadly draught
grow more potent, the words come less and less dis-
tinctly from my lips. As my agony increased I was
placed in my easy-chair, and I breathed my last with
my body half-falling from the grasp of one attendant,
while all the other people were kneeling around me,
in sign of their deep grief and reverent respect.

* " Monstre execrable,

Va ; laisse-moi, le soin de mon sort deplorable,
Puisse le juste ciel dignement te payer !
Et puisse ton supplice k jamais effrayer
Tous ceux qui, comme toi, par des laches addresses
Des princes malheureux nourrissant les faiblesses,
Les poussant au penchant ou leur coeur est inclin,
Et leur osent du crime aplanir le chemin.
Detestables flatteurs ! present le plus funeste
Que puisse faire aux rois la colere celeste 1 "



CHAPTER XI.

LADY MACBETH.

THE study of this character presented the greatest
difficulties to me. For I saw in Lady Macbeth, not
merely a woman actuated by low passions and vulgar
instincts, but rather a gigantic conception of perfidy,
dissimulation, and hypocrisy, combined by the master
hand of Shakespeare into a form of such magnitude
that it might well dismay any actress of great dra-
matic power.

Long and close examination led me to conclude
that Lady Macbeth was animated less by affection
for her husband than by excessive ambition to share
the throne which seemed within his reach. She was
well aware of his mental inferiority to herself, of his
innate weakness of character and indolence of dis-
position, that was not to be stimulated into action,
even by the thirst for power which was consuming
him, and she therefore made use of him as a means
for attaining her own ends, and took advantage of
the unbounded influence her strong masculine nature
and extraordinary personal fascination enabled her
to exercise over him, to instill into his mind the first
idea of crime in the most natural way, and with the
most persuasive arguments.

Not that Macbeth himself was without proclivities
towards evil. Shakespeare plainly shows the germs

(249)



25O ADELAIDE RISTORL

of ambition, and the chimerical fancies that existed
in his brain, and were carefully hidden from every one,
solely because they seemed impossible of realization.
And his real nature cannot be better described than
in the first soliloquy put into the mouth of Lady
Macbeth, who, with her profound perspicacity, had
comprehended every shade of his character. This
will be brought out more fully when I come to analyze
the message. It would have seemed easier to credit
Lady Mecbeth with some feelings of personal tender-
ness for her husband, had it not been that she was
to share the power and dignity with him; but this
being so, I maintain that it was not merely ambition
and love for her consort which led her to instigate
him to evil, but also her desire to mount the throne.
It is Lady Macbeth all through who lures on her hes-
itating husband to commit the deed from which his
more cowardly nature shrinks. It is she who taunt-
ingly reminds him of his oath, who reproaches him
with pusillanimity ; and when he still hesitates, it is
she who declares she would drag her infant from her
breast, and dash its brains out, sooner than break
her plighted word. It is difficult to credit a woman
of this kind with any of the feelings of ordinary
humanity.

But my own idea on the subject did not prevent
the continuing of my studies with the greatest dili-
gence. I made myself thoroughly acquainted with
the play and with the interpretations given of it by
the most eminent artistes. I read all the literature I
could obtain on the subject, and my pleasure may be
imagined, when I found, in The Nineteenth Century



LADY MACBETH, 2$ I

Magazine for February, 1878, the magnificent paper
on Mrs. Siddons, and her acting in the character of
Lady Macbeth, by Mr. G. J. Bell, Professor of Juris-
prudence in the University of Edinburgh. Amongst
many other interesting passages I should like to
quote the following :

Her (Lady Macbeth's) turbulent and inhuman strength of
spirit does all. She turns Macbeth to her purpose, makes him
her mere instrument, guides, directs, and inspires the whole
plot. Like his evil genius she hurries him on in the mad career
of ambition and cruelty from which his nature would have
shrunk.

Having thus shown, as I flatter myself, both by
arguments and undeniable evidence, that my inter-
pretation of the personality of Lady Macbeth is
probably very similar to that which Shakespeare
conceived, and portrayed both in his own words and
by the nature of the facts, I will pass on to analyze
several other important points in this difficult part.

Much criticism has been expended upon the way
in which the letter, sent by Macbeth from the camp
to his wife, should be read. Shakespeare represents
Lady Macbeth as coming upon the stage with it in
her hands, but many persons consider that natural
anxiety to know its contents would have made her
tear it open at once, without waiting until she could
read it to the audience.

Instead of which, it seems to me far from likely
that Shakespeare, who was as great a philosopher as
he was a poet, and who possessed a marvellous
insight into human nature, should have availed him-
self of the frivolous expedient of making Lady Mac-



252 ADELAIDE RISTORI.

beth read her letter aloud upon the stage, simply to
inform the spectators of its contents, and show the
intense mental struggle she must have gone through
prior to appearing before them. Only an inexperi-
enced writer of small inventive power and a novice
in his craft would have resorted to such puerile
device.

It would have been far beneath the great genius
who passed from the sublime to the beautiful with the
rapidity of lightning.

The intention of the author certainly seems to
have been to represent Lady Macbeth as receiving
the note at the moment she appears upon the scene,
and such a representation must be most simple and
natural. Presenting herself, anxious and agitated,
she makes the public understand that, by means of
the writing she holds in her hands, she would prob-
ably be able to reveal to them events which would
change her whole future existence and raise her to
the summit of greatness, provided that circumstances
should conduce to the fulfilment of the designs work-
ing in her mind.

I decided to read the letter straight through, and
as if, in coming on the stage, I had already made
myself acquainted with its first words, only pausing
after those sentences which told how recent events
had actually seemed to fulfil the prophecies long ago
made to her. Thus, when I found that the three
fatal sisters had vanished into thin air, after predict-
ing Macbeth's great future, and greeting him with
" Hail ! King that shall be ! " my expression was one
of mingled awe, and superstitious amazement. Then



LADY MACBETH. 253

when I finished the letter I made a long pause, as
though to allow time for my mind to analyze each
phrase wherein the supernatural powers pointed out
the destiny I had had prefigured to me as likely to be
accomplished.

But, afterwards, I remained for a moment sad and
doubtful, considering and fearing the weak nature of
my consort. However, reflecting on the most salient
points of the message, I said :

" Glamis thou art, and Cawdor thou shalt be,"

and to the last three words, " thou shalt be," I gave
a supernatural emphasis and expression.

I was much gratified later on, by finding from the
excellent article by Professor Bell, to which I have
already referred, that Mrs. Siddons was also accus-
tomed to declaim this passage in " a lofty, prophetic
tone, as though the whole future had been revealed
to her soul," and that she accentuated the words
" thou shalt be " just as I did.

This is another convincing proof that Mrs. Siddons
understood equally well the importance of analyzing
the contents of the letter, of pondering every phrase
of it, and of transmitting its mystic signification to the
public, even amidst her deep fever of ambition, and
naturally her expression of it would have been very
different if she had been aware of what the paper
contained before coming upon the stage.

I considered that I should be acting logically, and
in accordance with the spirit of the words, if, while I
spoke the following lines describing the character of
Macbeth, I imagined him already standing by my



254 ADELAIDE RISTORI.

side, and I therefore fixed my stern and piercing gaze
upon his supposed figure, as though I would wrench
from him the most hidden secrets of his soul, and im-
print my own words upon his mind in letters of fire.

" Yet do I fear thy nature ;
It is too full o' the milk of human kindness,
To catch the nearest way. Thou would'st be great ;
Art not without ambitiow,but without
The illness should attend it. What thou would'st highly,
That would'st thou holily ; would'st not play false,
And yet would'st wrongly win ; thou'dst have great Glamis,
That which cries, thus thou must do, if thou have it ;
And that which rather thou dost fear to do,
Thou wishest should be undone."

Then, to show that my pre-occupation had ceased,
and that I ardently desired the return of my husband
to begin and weave the web of evil arts and spells,
as I spoke the lines

" Hie thee hither

That I may pour my spirit in thine ear ;
And chastise with the valor of my tongue
All that impedes thee from the golden round,
Which faith and metaphysical aid doth seem
To have thee crowned withal."

I returned to the left side of the stage where the
entrance might be supposed to be (and where Mac-
beth might be expected to enter), while to express the
cessation of my reflections, I began to form in my
own mind the plan which the reading of the letter
naturaMy suggested to me.

The terrible soliloquy in this scene, which follows
the departure of the attendant, who has announced
his master's speedy arrival, reveals all the perfidy and



LADY MACBETH. 2$$

cruelty of this woman, who was neither more nor less
than a monster in human shape, and shows with what
supernatural powers she arms herself in order to
succeed in leading her husband to become the instru-
ment of her ambition. In one word, she is hence-
forth Macbeth's evil genius. With him it is still
a question of "I Will," or "I will not." This
woman, this serpent, masters him, holds him fast in
her coils, and no human power will come to rescue,
him from them. In consequence I uttered the first
words of this monologue in a hollow voice, with blood-
thirsty eyes, and with the accent of a spirit speaking
from out of some abyss, and, as I continued, my voice
grew louder and more resonant, until it changed into


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryAdelaide RistoriStudies and memoirs ; an autobiography → online text (page 16 of 21)