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So why is Myrtha the queen and not someone else?


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#16 Mel Johnson

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Posted 17 April 2001 - 10:03 PM

Back to the original thought-line of the thread: I always thought Myrtha was the Queen because of a sort of Green Beret reading of the 23rd Psalm..."Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil,/For I am the meanest mutha IN the valley!"

#17 Cliff

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Posted 18 April 2001 - 12:50 AM

Perhaps Myrtha is the Wilis queen because she was a queen before her death. Giselle dates from the 1840s and the 1840s audience might assume a continuity of royalty in life to royalty in death.

Cliff

#18 Alexandra

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Posted 18 April 2001 - 05:57 PM

Re Myrtha's "ranking," I'd go with the school of thought that says she was a noble in life, and therefore gets to be a noble in death. Perhaps Moyna and Zulma were slightly lesser nobles.

I have to put a word in on the Dark/Fair dichotomy, because, at least in ballet, it really doesn't have a thing to do with anti-semitisim. I've looked at hundreds of lithographs from the Romantic era and have never seen a drawing that matches the anti-semitic drawings (cartoons? from popular theater?) that Drew referred to. In the Danish tradition, at any rate, the "dark" came from Italy or Spain and had a more supple way of moving. He or she also represented a livelier lifestyle, one might say, not only more overtly flirtatious, but simply more energetic, hot-tempered, etc. In 19th century Denmark, it was the blond who was melancholic; the dark was merry.

As far as "Giselle" goes, I've read the same things as pmeja -- Hilarion has a red beard. Red beards were the mark of a villain; Von Rothbart (literally, Red Beard) in "Swan Lake."

On Leigh's "staging," the "not quite right for us" version would probably work dramatically. That's what's so great about Giselle -- it's so flexible a story. In essence, it's one more retelling of the extremely popular cautionary tale: everyone knows that Sue is meant for Tommy, except Sue, who chafes at the idea that she has to marry that nice, dull boy next door. Enter the Tall Dark Handsome Stranger. She flirts. If she's lucky, she realizes, just in time (perhaps because Tommy caught typhoid) that He is Not The One and returns to her Intended.

Albrecht and Bathilde....but perhaps Bathilde deserves her own thread. And she's about to get one :mad:

[ 04-18-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

#19 Drew

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Posted 18 April 2001 - 06:20 PM

The drawings I referred to above were by a late Victorian children's book illustrator -- Arthur Rackham.

I have no idea if it has any bearing on ballet story telling traditions -- and rather doubt it -- but central European anti-semitic iconography going back centuries, maybe even back into the middle ages, also uses red hair as a code for "jew" figures (including Judas in mystery plays)...

My only point re ballet is not that there is a particular coding in mind when a villain is dark etc., but that by the nineteenth century these "types" did bear connotations that aren't altogether innocent of ideas about racial type and racial purity. So, personally, I'd be unsympathetic to contemporary productions that organize their symbolism in that way. Of course, with a particular cast, theatrical effects are going to emerge and I have no problem w. that...

#20 Alexandra

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Posted 18 April 2001 - 08:07 PM

Drew, I've seen a lot of the same drawings, but I don't think central European iconography can be equated with all of ballet (especially, since the Dark and Fair discussion started on a different thread as a discussion of Danish ballet) and I don't think the same minds are at work. I would think it highly unlikely that either Hilarion or Von Rothbart were intended to be seen as "villainous Jews." Rothbart was a Baron (not very many of those about) and Hilarion, as a gamekeeper, was highly placed in the village social order.

My only point is that I think works of art should be read in the contexts of their time and place, and I'm impatient (as has been evident before :mad: ) with layering 20th century [sic] politics or psychology onto earlier works. There's a whole school of feminist theory that would wish "Giselle" off the stage as being a hideous manifestation of sexism (I don't quite understand why, but I'll believe them. I'll still go and see "Giselle."). I don't think it's fair to say that, in this instance, a northern European tradition of dark/fair -- deliberately using it, not an accidental casting -- as a part of storytelling has to be discontinued because of something going on at another time, in another part of Europe. Denmark has its sins, but anti-semiticism is not one of them and I really know of no examples of it in Danish theater art; rather to the contrary.

Sorry. This is far from Myrtha's hierarchical ranking, a manifestation of patriarchal societal norms :D

#21 Drew

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Posted 18 April 2001 - 10:42 PM

Just let me clear up one misunderstanding, and I'll get back to Myrtha! My original point to Leigh Witchel actually had nothing to do w. anti-semitism (I didn't remotely mean to suggest anyone in Giselle was coded Jewish...) It did have to do with typing based on coloration (dark/fair) which, by the nineteenth century, can't be entirely separated out from questions of how people were picturing ethnic/racial difference and it's relation, for example, to innate characteristics -- like spirituality -- and class heirarchy. (All those wilis each from a different countries, may even play into this -- Giselle only precedes by about ten years the grand international exhibitions in Paris and London which had everything to do with an interrelation of cultural/trade AND heirarchical stagings of different nationalities.) For that reason I don't think it's being anachronistic to raise these issues in relation to nineteenth-century European ballet even if the original archetypes arose under different conditions. By the early nineteenth-century -- though, of course, more strongly by the end -- these are layers of meaning and association that were part of the texture that audiences and artists lived, sometimes consciously, sometimes less so. It's hardly a profoundly shaping element of Giselle, and, no, I don't find Giselle offensive, but I'm doubtful that discussions of archetypal "colorations" can easily be separated from other, more uncomfortable issues. I'm way off topic, but wanted to clarify my original point which was partly misunderstood...

As far as Myrtha's nobility goes, reading people's comments, I wondered if it doesn't in a way "double" the Giselle/Bathilde opposition of Act I. Actually, if one had a modern production in which Act II was a dream -- mentioned I think on another of the Giselle threads -- one could even imagine a double casting of the role. That would be a little too schematic for my taste and obviously at odds with elements of the original librettists' plan, but there is a way in which both acts see Albrecht caught between a "noble" woman and Giselle.

[ 04-18-2001: Message edited by: Drew ]

#22 Helena

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Posted 21 April 2001 - 12:25 PM

Does anyone know the origin of the name Myrtha? I find that in my mind, without any actual knowledge, I have always associated it with bitterness - perhaps thinking of myrrh, with its "bitter perfume". This is just popular etymology, with no basis in fact, but I thought that possibly her name might have some symbolic significance. I can't find the name in any of my books on names, nor (so far) on the Internet.

#23 Mel Johnson

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Posted 21 April 2001 - 02:06 PM

It took a bit of digging (sorry, couldn't resist), but a look into my great-grandfather Otto's German-English dictionary gives an etymology for Myrthe, Myrtha as "bitter", from Hebrew.
It also occurs to me that that name could be Hobson-Jobsoned a bit and mixed with Marthe, Martha, "Mistress of the house; lady" from Aramaic.

#24 Helena

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Posted 21 April 2001 - 03:54 PM

Many thanks for that to you, Mel, and your great-grandfather Otto. Maybe I had heard it somewhere. It seems reasonable that a jilted maiden whose aim is to dance men to death should be bitter.

#25 leibling

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Posted 30 April 2001 - 11:09 AM

This may seem ridiculously simple, but couldn't Myrtha have been the first Wili? It makes sense to me that she has acquired her power through age- she just existed before any of the others, and as other jilted girls died, they drifted until they found themselves in Myrtha's domain.


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