Early Modern Colloquium: "Cross-gender Exchange, Civility and the Foreign: A Ballet and Barrier, 1605"
In January 1605, Marie de Medici (1573-1642), wife of Henri IV of France, danced her second ballet as queen consort. This chapter (from which I'll share excerpts) reads a series of newly discovered primary sources to help settle basic questions of performance history -- such as when, where, by whom, and for whom this 1605 ballet de la reine was performed – and to offer the first sustained analysis of this production and its socio-political occasion, including this ballet’s connections both thematic and material to a barriers that was initiated by the ballet’s final entry. Marie’s second French court ballet, I argue, engaged a larger shift, specific to the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, whereby representations of a consort queen’s status expressed symbolically in her own literal and ceremonial spaces helped to bolster an increasingly stable dynastic system of personal monarchy. An impetus toward symbolic enactments of stable personal rule shaped events in the Grand Salle du Louvre even prior to the queen’s entrance, when an unexpected turn of events among the ambassadors present in the ballet’s audience required Henri IV forcefully to assert his own prerogatives as host. During the ballet itself, Marie’s own choreographed comportment worked to enhance a “mystique of queenly power” complementary to that of the king by enacting those codes of propriety and prudence that were central to contemporary hierarchies of class and gender as outlined in the period’s dance treatises and civility literature. Early modern nobility in its discrete yet complementary gendered versions, however, required definition primarily by what it was not. In particular, the ballet’s opening and concluding entries highlight the queen’s graceful, decorous movements by contrast with more burlesque choreographies enacted by a dwarf, several exotic animals, and a group of imagined males from the Islamicate world. In such moments, Marie de Medici’s second court ballet employs bodies at the margins of courtliness to represent and perform the novel and the grotesque, coding these performers in contradistinction to French elites of both genders. Figuring Marie’s authority in connection with that of the king but also at a distance from these more liminal court figures, the 1605 ballet de la reine and the barriers performed one month later fostered self-conscious definitions of royal and noble identity shaped not only in gendered terms but also through proto-Orientalist fantasies of religious and ethnic difference.
This chapter is part of a larger project centered on Marie de Medici’s performance history and legacy. Addressing the politics and aesthetics of royal women’s involvement in the early modern transnational performance genre known as the ballet de cour or masque, the book includes three chapters on the ballets Marie herself danced in Paris as queen regnant (1602-9), a fourth chapter on Marie’s role as impresario for ballets danced by her daughter Henrietta Maria and her daughter-in-law Anne of Austria (1621-25); and, as Appendices, the first dual-language, modern spelling critical editions of texts for six ballets discussed in previous sections.