Three posts on love – II

18 06 2009

Act I – A rustic village

Giselle, a weak-hearted young girl who is adored by her native villagers, lives with her watchful mother, Berthe. Hilarion, the village gamekeeper, is desperately in love with Giselle. Prince Albrecht, a nobleman who is already engaged to a noblewoman named Bathilde, is bored and lonely with his everyday existence. Captivated by Giselle’s frail beauty and innocence, Albrecht disguises himself as a peasant named Loys. After purchasing the cottage adjacent to Berthe’s, he proceeds to shower Giselle with his affections.

Hilarion, filled with suspicion and jealousy, becomes enraged when Giselle falls madly in love with Albrecht and believes that they are engaged.

Berthe has a vision that her daughter will one day become a Wili, a jilted maiden who dies before her wedding night. The Wilis emerge between midnight and dawn to vengefully trap any man who enters their domain by forcing him to dance to his death.

Hilarion exposes Albrecht’s disguise and proclaims that he is already betrothed to Bathilde. Overwhelmingly distraught and horrified, Giselle dies of a broken heart.

Act II – A forest clearing

Hilarion is discovered just before midnight keeping vigil by Giselle’s tomb. As midnight approaches, the Wilis appear with their leader, Queen Myrta. This is the night Giselle is to be initiated as a Wili.

Albrecht, laden with feelings of guilt and remorse, visits Giselle’s grave. He sees a vision of Giselle and follows it into the forest. At this point, Myrta discovers Hilarion in the forest and orders the Wilis to dance around him until he dies from exhaustion. She then discovers Albrecht and demands that he share the same fate as Hilarion but is unable to permeate the invisible bond of love that Giselle has for him.

At dawn, when the Wilis lose their power and must retreat to their dwelling place, Albrecht is saved and Giselle forgives him. Giselle returns with the Wilis and recognizes that now she will be one of them for the rest of time.

(Synopsis taken from this site.)


Feminists would no doubt cringe at this story, and they would have good reason to do so. After all, a woman dying for love of a man, and then forgiving him to the point of saving his life from the souls of other broken-hearted women who would unleash their just wrath against him… no wonder they call Giselle one of the greatest of the romantic ballets (as opposed to the “classic” ones). Under of all of this emotional kitsch, however, there is a lost grammar buried, one where love counts not the cost of its own sacrifices, even if it leads to death or eternal damnation, as in the case of our own Giselle. Buried outside of God’s forgiveness, on unconsecrated ground, to haunt the night with all of the other souls in the outer darkness, she still finds it in herself to show love to the man who betrayed her. Melodrama? Yes. But can there be something more profound there? Absolutely.

This all didn’t sit well with part of me. Part of me is like all of you: it asks first of love: what’s in it for me? But there is still that childish voice of a St. Therese and others who would say: I would like to be in Hell so there would be someone even there who loves God. Love speaks like that, amour fou, love that loses itself in the other. It transcends ideology, and it transcends common sense, and part of me feels that we are less and less capable of even admiring such displays. Giselle, for all of its emotional cheesiness, at least gets that much across.

Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow
a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.