Chantal Carleton

Maksim Hanukai

Nidesh Lawtoo

Elisabeth Lore

Michael A. Mikita III

Giovanna Montenegro

Benjamin Morris and Ari Messer

Wendy Salters

Laurel Seely

Olga Zilberbourg


Remembering Colombine:
Akhmatova’s Поэма без Героя [Poem Without a Hero] and Chaplin’s Limelight

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Olga Zilberbourg
San Francisco State University

Limelight, Chaplin’s sound film from 1952, begins with an old-fashioned subtitle that announces: “The glamour of limelight, from which age must pass as youth enters.” In the final scene of the movie, we see Chaplin’s character, tramp comedian Calvero, dying back-stage, and then the camera pans to show us Calvero’s protégée, a young ballerina dancing on the stage. While critics disagree on many other issues about this work, on this the critics are unanimous: this final scene unambiguously mirrors the first subtitle. Eric Flom, for example, writes: “Finally, as Limelight’s introduction proclaimed, old age has given away to youth” (208). Reaching such a conclusion, the critics disregard the themes introduced into the picture through the ballet “Death of Columbine,” performed on stage within the film. The conclusions that can be drawn from the final scenes of the film are complicated by the fact that the ballerina, dancing at Calvero’s deathbed, is playing the part of the dead Colombine.1 Moreover, the character of Colombine requires the services of somebody to remember her in order to be able to appear on stage.

The figure of the dead and remembered Colombine appears also in Anna Akhmatova’s highly complex Poem Without a Hero. While in the film Colombine can be viewed as the double of the aging tramp, in the poem she appears as the double of the posited author.2 This double, who belongs exclusively to the past, specifically to the year 1913, is being recalled in the present tense of the poem. Thereby the theme of death and resurrection through memory becomes central for both texts. In this study, I focus on the figure of Colombine, examining her theatrical roots to reveal further peculiarities of her reinterpretation in Poem Without a Hero and Limelight. Using Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of carnival-grotesque, and particularly the Romantic grotesque, I evaluate the implications of Colombine’s death and the possibilities of rebirth that are left to her doubles, the author and the tramp.

While it is possible to trace the origins of Colombine to ancient Greek civilization,3 she came to her prominence as one of the commedia dell’arte characters. Commedia dell’arte, a form of Italian theatre that had roots in the written comedy of the Renaissance, as well as in the performances of the folk clowns, jesters, minstrels, and jugglers, was particularly popular in Western Europe from the second half of the sixteenth century until the beginning of the eighteenth century. Commedia dell’arte actors were professionals who took pride in their skill (for example, their lazzi, or tricks) rather than art; the performances were not written out but improvised from a plot outline or scenario. Each performance involved about a dozen actors, some of whom wore masks. The type of mask superseded the personality of the individual actors. The most popular masks included a pair of older men and their two male servants—usually Pantalone, Doctor, Brighella, and Harlequin. While Brighella was clever but dishonest and opportunistic, Harlequin was a dimwit who was inadvertently involved in romantic intrigues.4 Similarly paired were the female characters: Innamorata, the innocent lover, and her opposite, a pretty and scheming maid, Colombine. By the end of the sixteenth century, Italian commedia dell’arte became a highly specialized form of theatre that “while remaining true to its original, had acquired balance and polish, wit and subtlety,” (Niklaus 67) as well as the patronage of the Italian and subsequently French royal houses.

According to Maurice Sand, Colombine evolved “from the flattering, cynical and corrupted slave” in the Italian theatre to “the servetta or fantesca, a confidential waiting-maid, known later in France as the soubrette, a character confounded with that of sophisticated and malicious village girls” (V1, 161). During commedia’s reign in seventeenth century France, the mask of Pierrot—the third most important character to the 20th century interpretations—crystallized from another servant mask similar to Brighella and was identified as the quintessential unhappy lover, later evolving into a “chameleonic role-player, closely identified with the role of poet and its omniscience” (Anderson 337). Traditionally, Colombine appeared as Harlequin’s love interest or wife; she was an accomplished dancer and singer. As she lacked her own costume, in France she frequently appeared as Arlecchina or Pierrette, wearing the female version of their costumes without a mask. Angelica Forti-Lewis characterizes Colombine as “the only lucid, rational mask in commedia dell’arte” and explicates: “Colombina does love Arlecchino, but sees through him. Therefore she scolds him, punishes him, deserts him, and takes him back, but in the end he does not change, and she accepts him for what he is” (150).

Over time, commedia performances spread from Italy and France to the stages of Germany, England, and Russia where the tradition had been established long before Akhmatova and Chaplin turned their attention to it. Commedia dell’arte players maintained highly uneven relationships with the civil and ecclesiastical authorities and were banned from Paris several times, including a prolonged ban from the court of Louis XIV, who proclaimed that their performances were “too unbridled” (Niklaus 83). As a result of such prohibitions, commedia dell’arte players always returned back to the provincial theatres, vaudeville booths, and annual fairs outside Paris. In the seventeenth century, commedia made its move to England through such provincial fairs: “There [Harlequin] achieved the immediate popularity he had hoped for, but not found, in the theatre” (129). Moreover, in the English version, commedia was renamed “harlequinade” and became a dumbshow or pantomime. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, harlequinade made its mark on the most significant stages in the country, in Covent Garden and Drury Lane theatres. However, during the second half of the nineteenth century, the show went into a rapid decline. In the 1860s, harlequinade acquired voice again, but it was the voice of the music hall performers, which “made pantomime into a form of entertainment that repeated with almost total irrelevancy material already familiar to its audiences” (Mayer 322). By the 1890s, harlequinade was relegated back to the provincial stages and became “largely a working class diversion” (Mayer 327). This was precisely the state of affairs during the time period in which Chaplin’s Limelight is set. In fact, this is how Chaplin himself describes harlequinade in one of the early drafts of the script: “It was childish, slapstick entertainment, not particularly funny but contrived mostly for the amusement of children” (reprinted in Fiaccarini 39).

As in England, the characters of commedia dell’arte found their path to Russia through the fairground booths. According to Robert Leach, Italian players “certainly visited Russia, most notably the troupe of Antonio Sachhi, who stayed at Tsar Mikhail Romanov’s court for well over a year in the 1730s” (3). Commedia’s character Pulcinella is the most likely origin of the traditional Russian glove puppet, Petrushka.5 Petrushka began to appear in the balagany (wooden booths) on the fairgrounds at the end of the nineteenth century. The traditional commedia show and its characters, Harlequin, Pierrot, and Colombine were present at these balagany under their Italian and French names as well. Thus, in the beginning of the twentieth century, both in Britain and in Russia, commedia dell’arte had practically disappeared from the theatrical circuit, making its way back to folk theatre, and also migrating to other forms of artistic expression.

Colombine, who makes her entrance on the stage of the two works in question, is a being of a very different order from her contemporary fairground booth counterparts. In Akhmatova’s text, Colombine is a guilt-ridden, tragic shadow of a beautiful but heartless actress. Poem Without a Hero is often referred to as Akhmatova’s magnum opus; it is her longest and most complex work. She began writing it in 1940, a substantial part of it was created in 1941-1942, but the last set of revisions was made only in 1965, a few months before her death. Poem Without a Hero is subtitled “Triptych” and is divided into three major parts: “1913. Петербургская повесть” (‘1913. Petersburg tale’),6 “Решка” (‘Tails’),7 and “Эпилог” (‘Epilogue’). The first part, divided into four chapters, tells the story of 1913—the last year before the onset of the First World War—from the perspective of the “present time,” the 1940s. The second and third parts of the poem are set in 1941 and 1942 respectively, and provide larger historical frames to the story told in the first part. In the prose description of the scene in the beginning of the first part, Akhmatova explains: “Новогодний вечер. . . . К автору вместо того, кого ждали, приходят тени из тринадцатого года под видом ряженых” (327) [New Year’s eve. . . . Instead of the one who was expected, the author receives a visit of the shadows from nineteen-thirteen dressed as if they were going to a masquerade].8 Talking to these shadows, the author then proceeds to tell the story of 1913, which, simply put, is a love triangle between the heroine, the young poet who is hopelessly in love with her, and his happy competitor. Since all of the characters in the poem function under multiple masks, one of the possible descriptions of the triangle is Colombine—Harlequin—Pierrot. The story of this love triangle is a tragic one, ending with the suicide of the young poet. The author’s speech can be characterized as a monologue, interspersed with allusions to the artistic works of the Silver Age9 personae hidden behind the masks (in most cases, more than one per mask) and only in rare and significant occasions broken by direct speech.

The character of Colombine is invoked by name10 only in the second chapter of the first part of the poem, and I use this chapter as the kernel of my discussion. The prose description of this chapter announces:

Спальня Героини. Горит восковая свеча. Над кроватью три портрета хозяйки дома в ролях. Справа она—Козлоногая, посередине—Путаница, слева—портрет в тени. Одним кажется, что это Коломбина, другим—Донна Анна (из «Шагов Командора»). За мансардным окном арапчата играют в снежки. Метель. Новогодняя полночь. Путаница оживает, сходит с портрета, и ей чудится голос, который читает: . . . (335)

Bedroom of the Heroine. A wax candle is burning. Above the bed, three portraits of the lady of the house, in costume. On the right she is Goat-legged, in the middle—Putanitsa, on the left—the picture in a shade. Some imagine that this is Colombine, others—Donna Anna (from “Commodore’s footsteps”). Behind the window of the mansard, blackamoors are playing with snowballs. Snow-storm. New Year’s midnight. Putanitsa [Confusion] comes to life, steps out of the portrait, and imagines a voice that reads: . . .

Despite stepping out of the portrait in the role of Putanitsa, already in the second poetic line of the chapter the heroine is referred to as “Golubka,” the name which I later show to have very close ties to Colombine. In the second half of this chapter, the author switches the names of the heroine on one last occasion and addresses her directly as Colombine. It is particularly significant in this prose description that the heroine is not a living being; from the very beginning she belongs to a portrait, and the author must make an effort to revive her. Moreover, Colombine never completely comes to life: even in memory, the author is unable to make her heroine speak: “ей чудится голос, который читает” (335) [imagines a voice that reads]. Colombine’s existence appears to be so unlikely to the author that she must ask a direct question: “неужели / Ты когда—то жила в самом деле / И топтала торцы площадей / Ослепительной ножкой своей?” (338) [is it possible / That you had ever existed / And stepped on the pavement of squares / With your dazzling foot?] Finally, this speech that is addressed directly to Colombine concludes with the words: “Гороскоп твой давно готов . . . ” (339) [Your horoscope is long ready . . .]11 persuading us that, even if she had ever been alive, her fate was sealed. In this chapter, Colombine is a tragic heroine who must play out her destiny until the end and never stray from the script; no improvisation is allowed.12 In other words, she is a heroine who must die and, therefore, is dead already.

Colombine’s existential position is equally devastating in Limelight. The film, released in 1952, begins in London “in the late afternoon in the summer of 1914” (Script 2).13 Chaplin plays Calvero, a failing tramp comedian taken to the bottle, who saves a young ballerina, Terry, from an attempted suicide and nurses her to health. She falls in love with him and proposes marriage, but he can never be sure whether it is, in fact, love or mere pity. As Terry’s health improves, she is able to dance again and performs the title role in the ballet “Death of Columbine.” Calvero plays the part of the Clown in the same ballet, but he is not successful and leaves the theatre after the premiere. Subsequently, Calvero’s health deteriorates rapidly to the point that, when his old friends organize a benefit for him, he collapses on stage. After his collapse, Calvero is carried backstage and dies at the same moment that Terry takes to the stage to perform her ballet solo, the last scene of the film.

Terry’s final ballet solo is set to the music of “Death of Columbine,” the ballet that was enacted in the earlier part of the picture. In the first scene of this ballet, Colombine is dying in a London garret, while her lover Harlequin and a group of clowns (including the one played by Calvero) are standing at her bedside. When the clowns weep, Colombine asks them to perform for her, but, immediately afterwards, she becomes delirious and dies. In the second scene, we see Harlequin lamenting her death at the graveyard. He attempts to use his traditional magic wand to bring her back to life, but fails in his attempt. It is only when he starts weeping and is told by the “spirits of Columbine” that “his love is not in the grave, but everywhere” (Script 44) that Terry sets her foot on stage for the first time and performs a solo dance.

This ballet has a highly unusual structure that is plausible only within a cinematic framework: the lead solo comes only at the end of the second scene, while the lead ballerina spends most of her stage time in bed. The Harlequin’s part is also reduced to a minimum, with an opportunity for a dance only at Colombine’s grave. The Clown plays a significant part, but Calvero in this role is pointedly not funny: during a discussion of the libretto prior to the show, he openly protests the idea of clowning while Colombine is dying. In fact, he subsequently gets fired for his poor performance. As in the case of Akhmatova’s character, the fate of Chaplin’s Colombine is predetermined from the beginning: the title of the ballet itself leaves her no possibility of life. It is particularly noteworthy that, when Colombine does take to the stage, it is only in the form of Harlequin’s memory. She cannot be resurrected with his magic wand; she is “everywhere,” which is also nowhere. Moreover, Harlequin’s presence is a prerequisite for her manifestation; he serves as an agent of her appearance to the audience.

When comparing Akhmatova’s and Chaplin’s Columbines to their contemporary fairground counterparts, what becomes immediately apparent is the lack of regenerative joyous laughter in these artistic interpretations. The images of Colombines in both works are directly tied to carnival (Poem Without a Hero) and slapstick (Limelight), which in Mikhail Bakhtin’s terminology are related to the concept of grotesque. However, they lack that “triumphant hilarity” that is necessary in order for grotesque to have “positive regenerating power,” according to Bakhtin (38). Bakhtin defines the concept of grotesque realism as that aspect of folk, carnival culture that emphasizes the material and the bodily aspects of life. He maintains, “The essential principle of grotesque realism is degradation, that is the lowering of all that is high, spiritual, ideal, abstract; it is a transfer to the material level, to the sphere of earth and body in their indissoluble unity” (19-20). As I have shown, in the beginning of the twentieth century, theatrical incarnations of commedia dell’arte maintained close ties to their folk, carnival origins both in Britain and in Russia. Harlequinade of British pantomime and Russian fairground booths never lost their lazzi grounded in the aspects of material body. However, the Colombines that appear in Akhmatova’s and Chaplin’s texts represent the Romantic rather than realistic approach to grotesque, the approach that is far removed from the folk culture. They do not belong “to all the people” any longer, but acquire a “private ‘chamber’ character” (37).

This distance from the folk culture manifests itself first and foremost in the fact that, in both works under consideration, Colombine appears within the ballet framework.14 Indeed, Chaplin’s decision to introduce into the film a ballet of Harlequinade is nothing short of surprising. While presenting a ballet is an important part of the film that is about “a ballerina and a clown,” its subject matter is unusual. In fact, in the early drafts of the script, Harlequinade was presented within the boundaries of the British pantomime that at the time was viewed as entertainment for the working class. Calvero was described as one of those comedians who “had been stars and successful vaudevillians in their day, but had succumbed to the inevitable enemy, time, which had dimmed the comic spirit, but had left enough of it to enable them to enact the traditional clown in the Harlequinade, which was a conventional entr’acte introduced at the end of all pantomimes” (reprinted in Fiaccarini 39). However, when put into the context of a classical ballet performed by the ballet dancers rather than slapstick comedians, Harlequinade ceases to be childish entertainment, and comic tricks are elevated to a different level—to the point of non-existence.

Much like Chaplin’s Colombine, Akhmatova’s heroine can also be seen as appearing in a ballet performance. In the second part of the poem, “Tails,” the author speaks in reference to the Harlequinade of the first part: “А во сне всё казалось, что это / Я пишу для кого-то либретто, / И отбоя от музыки нет” (345) [In my dream it seemed to me that it was / A libretto that I was writing for someone / And there is no respite from music]. The term “libretto” is not applicable to a commedia dell’arte performance, so, when in the first part of Poem Without a Hero Colombine is described as a dancer, it is very likely that she is a ballet dancer. Two other direct references to ballet are invoked in this second chapter: “Но летит, улыбаясь мнимо, / Над Мариинской сценой prima / Ты—наш лебедь непостижимый” (335) [But with a sham smile flies / Above Mariinsky’s stage prima, / You—our unfathomable swan]15 and the mention of Petrushka’s mask in the context reminiscent of Stravinsky’s ballet Petrushka. Finally, Akhmatova herself has commented that Poem Without a Hero “twice has left me to become a ballet” (Prose, par. 11) and, at the end of the 1950s she worked on a libretto based on the first part.16

Within the ballet framework, Colombine’s actions must follow precise stage directions; in fact, as I mentioned earlier, the fates of both Colombines are predetermined even before the ballet begins. Moreover, there is nothing joyous or funny in the way they meet their death, which is all the more surprising, considering that the term “slapstick” itself in the English language “derives from Harlequin’s bat, a stick made of two limber pieces of wood bound at the handle which made a very loud racket when applied vigorously to an exposed rump” (Madden 60).17 The joy of slapstick is precisely what is missing from the ballet “Death of Columbine” choreographed by Chaplin, who in his character of the Tramp traditionally embodies the modern understanding of the word. In Chaplin’s ballet, Colombine is unable to laugh and requires the services of the Clown to entertain her. However, Calvero, in the role of a ballet clown, presents a rather terrifying image of someone who has hit the very bottom of despair as he is trying to tiptoe around the stage and perform simple tricks.18 Dressed in pompous ruffled attire with a little bow in his hair, his face is painted white with large drawn-on lips invariably turning downwards: a mask of death itself. Similarly, the joyous humor is completely missing from Akhmatova’s representation of Colombine, but in this case it is replaced with biting irony and sarcasm; the author openly ridicules her Colombine. It is with a “sham smile” that she reminds her heroine: “Вся в цветах, как «Весна» Ботичелли, / Ты друзей принимала в постели, / И томился драгунский Пьеро” (338) [Covered in flowers like Boticelli’s “Spring,” / You held your visiting hours in bed, / And was in agony dragoon Pierrot].

Bakhtin argues that such laughter, “cut down to cold humor, irony, sarcasm,” is the property of Romantic grotesque.19 Another defining characteristic of the Romantic grotesque is the property of terror that becomes associated with the carnival characters. The Romantic grotesque is an expression of the world that is alien to men. Bakhtin affirms, “the images of Romantic grotesque usually express fear of the world and seek to inspire their reader with this fear” (39). Poem Without a Hero is saturated with images expressing the author’s fear and disturbing the peace of the reader. The character of Colombine is constantly reminded of the terrible crime that she had committed and for which she must pay.20 In the second chapter, the author tells her:

На щеках твоих алые пятна;
Шла бы ты в полотно обратно;
Ведь сегодня такая ночь,
Когда нужно платить по счёту

There are scarlet marks on your cheeks;
You should better go back into the picture;
Because tonight is the night,
When the accounts must be balanced

Moreover, the author is trying to scare a character who is incapable of fear. Therefore, Colombine’s theatricality is constantly emphasized. Not only she is a dead ballet dancer, but also, when she steps out of her portrait, she immediately finds herself on a stage, populated with “Мейерхольдовы арапчата” [Meyerhold’s blackamoors]—characters from Meyerhold’s famous plays (335). In the same chapter, the author also refers to Colombine as “Петербургская кукла, актёрка” [Petersburg doll, actress] (337).22 Bakhtin identifies the grotesque theme of the tragic doll as specific to Romanticism: “in romanticism, the accent is placed on the puppet as the victim of alien inhuman force, which rules over men by turning them into marionettes” (40). Dying in her garret of unspecified causes, Chaplin’s Colombine is also undoubtedly a toy at the hands of inhuman forces. These forces are embodied in the “spirits of Columbine” dancing at the bedside of the dying Colombine who has fallen into a delirium. These spirits do not lose their potency with her death, but, rather, it is they who console Harlequin, explaining to him that his lover is not dead, but “everywhere.”

When we situate the Colombine of both texts within a ballet played out by the dead and tragic or simply not funny actors controlled by “alien inhuman forces,” the identification with Bakhtin’s genre of Romantic grotesque becomes apparent. While grotesque altogether is associated with the natural cycle of life, the process of rebirth, where “old age is pregnant, death is gestation,” within the Romantic grotesque, it is the subjective world of the artist that must be destroyed to be regenerated and renewed. In the Romantic grotesque, the world that had been familiar and friendly now appears alien and hostile to the artist. At the same time, the artist comes to realize the possibility of a better world, one “of the golden age, of carnival truth” (48). This realization leads an artist to “return into himself”: it is his individual world that is destroyed “so that it may be regenerated and renewed.” Moreover, according to Bakhtin, in the Romantic grotesque, the gaiety and joy of change and rebirth are reduced to their minimum.

Placement of the two Colombines within the Romantic grotesque genre acquires a new significance when we consider that both of them have doubles in the larger framework of the two texts, outside the harlequinade subplot. The question of doubles in Poem Without a Hero is extremely complex, for “all characters of the poem, without exception, enter into relationships of doubles, moreover, the historical names whom the author mentions almost directly (for example, Knyazev), may appear in the roles of other (less well-known) contemporaries of Akhmatova” (Timenchik 10). In the second chapter of “1913” the author tells Colombine directly:

Ты—один из моих двойников.
К прочим титулам надо и этот
Приписать. О подруга поэтов,
Я наследница славы твоей. (339)

You—are one of my doubles.
It is necessary to add to all other titles
And this one. Oh, friend of the poets,
I am the heiress of your glory.

The word that the poet uses for “glory” is homonymous with “fame” and is used very sarcastically in this case, since Colombine is accused of a terrible crime. By being the heiress of her double, Colombine, the author assumes the responsibility for this crime. The motif of the author’s accountability for Colombine’s crime (or the crime that is equal to Colombine’s) is apparent in this chapter. The very first lines directed to the one who steps out of the portrait are:

Распахнулась атласная шубка!
Не сердись на меня, Голубка,
Что коснусь я этого кубка:
Не тебя, а себя казню. (335)

Flies wide open a satin coat!
Don’t be angry with me, Golubka,
That I will touch this goblet:
It’s not you but myself I condemn.

The name “Golubka,” by which author addresses Colombine in this case, allows us to trace the essence of that terrible crime. It is this name that the dragoon cornet (Pierrot) uses in the fourth chapter of “1913,” when upon discovering her relationship with another, he exclaims:

Ты—Голубка, солнце, сестра! –
Я оставлю тебя живою,
Но ты будешь м о е й вдовою,
А теперь . . . Прощаться пора! (342)

You—Golubka, sun, sister!
I will let you live,
But you will be my widow,
And now . . . I must say farewell!23

After these words are uttered, the “silly boy” commits suicide at Colombine’s doorway, and the author comments sarcastically, “Сколько гибелей шло к поэту, / Глупый мальчик, он выбрал эту. – / Первых он не стерпел обид” (342) [How many deaths were coming to the poet / Silly boy, he chose this one. – / He couldn’t take the first offences].

It is Pierrot’s senseless suicide that weighs so heavily on Colombine’s shoulders and for which the author shares responsibility. This is confirmed by the usage of the name “Golubka” in the first chapter of “1913,” when the author recollects the words that had been directed at herself: “Ты—Голубка, солнце, сестра!” (332) [You—Golubka, sun, sister!] Usage of the name Golubka, or “little dove,” which in Russian poetry appears very frequently,24 stands out in all three instances it is used in Poem Without a Hero because of its capitalization. Critics typically identify it as one of the heroine’s many names (e.g. Demidova); however, I suggest that it is significantly different from others. “Golubka” is, in fact, an exact translation of “Colombine,” which in Italian literally means “little dove” or “golubka” in Russian.25 If we put the sign of equality between the two names, Colombine becomes not merely one of the author’s many doubles, but the double, and everything that in this first part of Poem Without a Hero is directed at Colombine, can, in fact, be interpreted as directed to the author herself. The author thus identifies herself with the figure of the tragic dancer whose fate is predetermined and who is already dead.

Equally significant is the fact that certain researchers trace the commedia dell’arte mask of Colombine to the priestess of the temple of Theba, in Egypt. Both priests and sooth-sayers of this temple “were styled Ionah or Doves.” R. J. Broadbend claims: “the priestesses of this temple were known in the Latin as Columbae. It is from this word that we derive the name Columbine . . . Homer alludes to the priestesses as doves, and that they administered to Zeuth (Noah)” (22). In many commedia dell’arte performances, Colombine appeared carrying the basket of doves (Sand 164). Without a doubt, the dove has been identified with the “special emblem of peace and good-will” throughout much of the history of the Western civilizations. It is, perhaps, as a special symbol of peace and good will that both Golubka and Columbine are mentioned in the poem. However, as I have already identified Colombine as dead and remembered, the dove as well can only be that. A certain confirmation of this is provided in another, albeit modified, mention of the dove in the second chapter. Speaking directly to Colombine, the author digresses: “Оплывают венчальные свечи, / Под фатой поцелуйные плечи, / Храм гремит: «Голубица, гряди! . .»”(338) [The wedding candles are burning out, / Under the veil ‘shoulders for kissing,’ / The cathedral thunders: ‘Golubitsa, come!’] A comment in the “Editor’s Commentary,”26 explains that ‘Golubitsa, come!’ are words from a Russian Orthodox hymn, which was sung when a bride stepped on the carpet in a church. According to the Russian academic thesaurus, the old-fashioned word “Golubitsa” is identical to “Golubka” (Ushakov). Akhmatova juxtaposes the bridal motif of the invitation to the little dove—as symbol of peace, perhaps—to arrive with the tragic image of the burning out wedding candles.

To summarize, by identifying the ancient roots of Colombine, we are able to connect the tragic imagery of this character as related to the posited author of Poem Without a Hero as well as potentially link it to the symbol of peace. As we have already recognized the theme of Colombine as satisfying Bakhtin’s criteria for Romantic grotesque, we can speculate that the Colombine in the poem must be dead because she is disconnected from the material world around her. When considering Colombine’s association with the dove as a symbol of peace and good will, in 1913, her disconnection with the world on the brink of the war becomes quite apparent. As she is the author’s double—but in 1913—it is the author’s past that is dead. In this way, the fact that Colombine is being remembered—in the 1940s—is in itself a positive factor, an act of rebirth in Bakhtin’s terminology, the act of personal rebirth and rebirth of the possibility of peace. Yet the Romantic grotesque allows only for a subjective process of a man returning “into himself,” and a process of rebirth that is devoid of its joy. In Akhmatova’s case, it is easy to argue on the evidence of the second and third parts of Poem Without a Hero that the process of rebirth—memory—is extremely painful and not entirely desirable.

In the case of Limelight, in the framework of the film as a whole, it is Calvero and not Terry (playing Colombine in the ballet) who is strongly identified with Colombine from the ballet. There are three similar scenes of dying in the film: the first is of Terry dying in her room of attempted suicide; the second is the ballet scene of the dying Colombine; and the third scene is that of Calvero dying backstage at the very end of the picture. Cinematically, the first scene is contrasted to the other two: Terry is lying in her bed with her head on the same level with her body, her hair even hanging off the bed, while Colombine and Calvero die with their heads propped up by many pillows. Moreover, Colombine’s dying wish to “look over the rooftops for the last time,” which results in her bed being brought towards the giant window, parallels Calvero’s desire “to see [Terry] dance” after which his couch is carried into the view of the stage (Flom 208). Another method of identification of the two scenes is that both Calvero and Colombine are dying to the same melody—which is also the theme of Colombine’s solo in the second act of the ballet and Terry’s final performance after Calvero’s death—while at the time of Terry’s attempted suicide, a different melody is playing in the background.

When we have identified the dying Calvero with the dying Colombine, it becomes apparent that the last scene of the film directly corresponds to the two acts of the ballet: Colombine dying followed by Colombine dancing, and Calvero dying followed by Terry dancing. In Bakhtin’s terms, the concept of dancing on someone’s grave (particularly on your own) is a very life affirming act, the act of regeneration and renewal. This is especially so, as both life and death transpire to the same music, and just before passing away, the old comedian comments: “I believe I’m dying doctor. But then I don’t know—I’ve died so many times” (Script 64). However, we have recognized the ballet scene as fitting Bakhtin’s description of the Romantic grotesque and, therefore, are unable to view it in exclusively positive terms. Indeed, corresponding to the notion of the Romantic grotesque, Calvero dies because he becomes alienated from his world, the stage: he dies looking at it, but not a part of it. The event of grotesque rebirth is transformed into the immortality of his spirit, as in the spirit of Colombine, dancing on the stage that he is facing. Moreover, when Calvero’s spirit—the spirit of a tramp comedian—is expressed in the form of ballet, it is almost a negation of itself, a renunciation of humor, a breaking of the old tramp’s walking stick. It is in any case, the very essence of the difference between the grotesque realism and Romantic grotesque. In dying, Calvero is unable to laugh; in the process of his rebirth gaiety is minimized and replaced with predestination and inescapability.

In presenting us their Colombines and identifying them with the main characters of their texts, both Akhmatova and Chaplin are questioning the finality of an artist’s death and pondering the possibility of his or her rebirth. Colombine, who was full of life, joy, and mischief as a character of commedia dell’arte, has become romanticized to the extreme: in both works, she appears as a ballet character, dead as soon as she is introduced onto the stage. It is the active process of remembering Colombine that allows her the possibility of rebirth and renewal; however, the process is painful, and in the end, she is remarkably transformed. Moreover, belonging to the Romantic grotesque, this process is highly individualized. In other words, Colombine’s rebirth depends on the existence of someone who can remember her. Within these two works, Colombine’s resurrection in the form of memory deprives her image of potency, of the ability to interact with those outside the circle of the carriers of this memory. Colombine’s desperate state is, perhaps, best illustrated by the fact that she is all but completely gone from collective memory.27 The conscious, individual, act of memory is meaningful, however, first and foremost because the death of Colombine is a prerequisite for the rebirth of the individual artists, but also because Colombine—dove—brings with her a possibility of peace.


1  The spelling of the name varies based on time and era. Chaplin, for example, spells the name of his character as “Columbine” and another popular variation is “Colombina.” Similarly, Harlequin sometimes appears as “Arlecchino” or “Arlequin.” I use the spellings of “Colombine” and “Harlequin” unless quoting from a source.
2  The lyrical “I” of the poem repeatedly identifies herself as its author. While most critics do not make distinction between Akhmatova and the posited author of the poem, I prefer to leave the first outside this discussion, referring to the second as the author.
3  See page 16.
4  The legend has it that both of them came from the town of Bergamo, which was built on a hill and had two levels: the lower level produced naïve simpletons like Harlequin, while the upper level gave birth to wise tricksters (Forti-Lewis 149).
5  “Many scholars believe that the English Punch evolved from the relatively minor Italian commedia dell’arte figure Pulcinella. This lazy, gluttonous, obese, and hunchbacked character provided the comic prototype for comic figures in many countries, including the French marionette Polichinelle, the Russian Petrushka, and the English Punchinello, who at some undetermined point became Punch” (Regan and Clark 363).
6  The title of the first part defines its genre as povest’–traditionally, a prosaic work somewhat larger than a short story, differing from it by multiple frames of events and a more profound depiction of characters. Another poetic “Petersburg povest’” is Pushkin’s Бронзовый Всадник (‘Bronze Horseman’), the allusions to which can be found in Akhmatova’s text.
7  “Tails,” as in “the other side of a coin.”
8  The prose descriptions of the poem as well as certain stanzas are italicized in the original text. I preserve italics when quoting from the original. The translations are mine.
9  The “Silver Age” of Russian arts dates from approximately 1900 until 1917.
10  Since the heroine of Poem Without a Hero functions under many different names, there are three types of references to Colombine specifically: direct, indirect and under the name of “Golubka.” I will make a special note every time I invoke an indirect reference to her. For discussion of the name “Golubka,” see page 15.
11  The ellipses are a part of the original text.
12  Anna Lisa Crone provides a very good discussion of Akhmatova’s textual allusions to Greek Tragedy and satiric drama within Poem Without a Hero and highlights the text’s own proximity to tragedy.
13  The film is actually set during a period of over six months. The passage of time is very significant because it places Terry’s tour of the major European cities—including Paris, Moscow and Rome—at the outset of the First World War. The film begins in the summer of 1914, which, if we start counting in June, places the end of the six months in November. Russia entered the war only on November 2, 1914, France and the United Kingdom, on November 5, and Italy did not follow the suit until May 23, 1915. I would suggest that Chaplin attracts our attention to the historical context of the film through this precise timing of Terry’s tour.
14  Ballet that takes its roots in the court dance (as opposed to the folk dance) through the years has been “the other” of commedia dell’arte performances, sometimes borrowing the well established pantomime movements, but never completely merging with this “popular” (or “low”) theatre. Classical ballet, or danse d’ecole, is defined “as schooled dancing that follows time-honored and strict rules for executing specific poses and steps” (Lee 78). Since 1672 when the French Royal Academy was established, ballet has been characterized by its standard moves, including “five classical positions of the legs, mandatory use of the ninety degree turnout of the legs for maximum balance,” and slow “development and codification of old and new ballet steps” (Lee 78).
15  These words are not directed at Colombine, but rather are a reference to another dancer, Anna Pavlova, famous for her performance in the Dying Swan.
16  B.A. Kats, in his very important discussion of musical allusions in the poem, places it between “Stravinsky’s ballet” and “Shostakovich’s symphony,” with ballet being a “genre landmark” for the first part of Poem Without a Hero and Shostakovich’s Symphony Number Seven, the Leningrad symphony, corresponding to the structure of the work overall (198). Kats presents a very convincing argument that the structure of Poem Without a Hero can be described as a sonata-symphonic. In view of these findings, my discussion of the ballet form relates specifically to the theme of Harlequinade within the first part of the poem.
17  Sand traces the origins of Harlequin’s “magic wand,” to the ancient Greek theatre of phallophores, “ a name fully justified by a part of their costume, as is to be seen in all the monuments that have survived. At Sicyonia, where the phallic choirs and the scenes called episodes are more ancient than in Athens, the actors preserve this name of phallophores. Later this Sicyonian phallophore, his countenance blackened with soot or concealed under a papyrus mask, is transformed into a planipes in Rome and becomes in the sixteenth century the Bergamese Harlequin” (10-11).
18  Consider, for example, the words of the assistant producer of the film, Jerome Epstein, about Chaplin: “in front of my eyes he bedazzled me, transforming himself into a mad, tortured dancer” (Fiaccarini 157).
19  Crone provides an interesting discussion of Poem Without a Hero from the point of view of Bakhtin’s carnivalesque. However, he rejects this line of thinking in favor of the theories that “Akhmatova could have known” (55). Without invoking the concept of Romantic grotesque, she concludes her discussion of Bakhtin by selecting his description of the more traditional genre of “satiric drama” as matching allusions of the poem most closely.
20  For a more detailed discussion of the crime, see page 14.
21  In this case, the author refers to Colombine indirectly, but uses the names of Putanitsa and Golubka at the same time. For an explanation of the various references to Colombine, see note 10.
22  The word used for “actress” implies the sense of “cheap actress” or soubrette.
23  The word “моей” [my] is highlighted with extra spacing in the original text. The ellipses also belong to the original.
24  In Akhmatova’s own early poetry, doves had been identified as the symbol of the poetical voice and messengers that connect the poet to her muse. See Vinogradov.
25  Akhmatova read Dante in the original and translated Italian poetry; thus it is very probable that she knew the Italian for “dove”: colomba.
26  Akhmatova wrote “Editor’s Commentary” herself and also planned to write “Author’s Commentary,” as a part of her “game with the reader,” juxtaposing the two. Unlike “Editor’s Commentary,” which was going to be “laughably truthful,” “Author’s Commentary” was going to be completely false (67).
27  Thelma Niklaus declares in the introduction to her book: “I hope that I have been able, in some measure, to convey [Harlequinade’s] magical essence: for this book is at once a testament of fascination, and a requiem” (15).

Works Cited

Akhmatova, Anna. Лирика [Lyric]. Moscow: Khudozhestvennaya Literatura, 1989.

---. Проза о поэме [Prose about Poem]. 1965. http://www.akhmatova.org/.

Anderson, John D. “Pierrot: Dramatic and Literary Mask.” Fools and Jesters in         Literature, Art, and History: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook. Ed. Vicki K.         Janik. Greenwood, 1998. 336-342.

Bakhtin, M.M. Rabelais and His World. Trans. Helene Iswolsky. Bloomington, IN:         Indiana UP, 1984.

Broadbent, R.J. A History of Pantomime. New York: Benjamin Bloom, 1901.

Chaplin, Charles. Limelight, Script. Celebrated Films Corporation, Released         Through United Artists, Inc., 2004.

---, dir. Limelight. Perf. Chaplin and Clair Bloom. 1952. Laser disc. MK2 and         Warner Brothers, 2003.

Crone, Anna Lisa. “Genre Allusions in Poema bez geroia: Masking Tragedy and         Satyric Drama.” Anna Akhmatova: 1889 – 1989. Ed. Sonia I. Ketchian.         Berkeley: Berkeley Slavic Specialties, 1993. 43-59.

Demidova, Alla. “Ахматовские зеркала [Akhmatova’s mirrors].”         http://www.akhmatova.org/bio/.

Fiaccarini, Anna. Limelight: Chaplin Project – Volume One. Bologna: Cineteca         Bologna, 2002.

Flom, Eric L. Chaplin in the Sound Era: An Analysis of the Seven Talkies. Jefferson,         NC: McFarland, 1997.

Forti-Lewis, Angelica. “Commedia dell’arte.” Fools and Jesters in Literature, Art, and         History: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook. Ed. Vicki K. Janik. Greenwood,         1998. 146-154.

Kats, B. and R. Timenchik. Анна Ахматова и музыка [Anna Akhmatova and music].         Leningrad: Sovetskij kompozitor, 1989.

Lee, Carol. Ballet in Western Culture: A History of Its Origins and Evolution. Allyn         and Bacon, 1999.

Madden, David. Harlequin’s stick – Charlie’s Cane. Bowling Green U Popular P,         1975.

Mayer, David III. Harlequin in His Element: The English Pantomime, 1806-1836.         Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1969.

Niklaus, Thelma. Harlequin Phoenix. London: Bodley Head, 1956.

Regan, F. Scott and Bradford Clark. “Punch and Judy.” Fools and Jesters in         Literature, Art, and History: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook. Ed. Vicki K.         Janik. Greenwood, 1998. 363-369.

Sand, Maurice. The History of the Harlequinade. Vol. 1. London: Martin Secker,         1915.

Timenchik, R.D. “Заметки о Поэме без героя [Notes about Poem Without a Hero].”         Поэма без героя [Poem Without a Hero]. Moscow: Khudozhestvennaya         Literatura, 1989.

Ushakov, D. N. “Голубица [Golubitsa].” Толковый словарь Ушакова [Ushakov’s         Thesaurus]. 1940. http://dic.academic.ru/dic.nsf/ushakov/.

Vinogradov, V.V. “О поэзии Анны Ахматовой [About Anna Akhmatova’s         poetry].” Анна Ахматова. Три книги [Anna Akhmatova. Three Books]. Ann         Arbor, MI: Ardis, 1990. 139-302.

Willeford, William. “The Fool and His Sceptre.” Jungian Literary Criticism. Ed.         Richard P. Sugg. Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 1992.

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