Giselle’s romance and joy ends in the mad scene

The bright, sunny autumn day has seen Giselle dancing, celebrating and basking joyously in love. But the handsome peasant she’s in love with has a secret… What will Giselle do when she finds it out? Hint: this emotionally charged, poignant sequence is known as “the mad scene”. You don’t want to miss this one.

OK, there’s a fair bit of plot to this one so snuggle up, grab a cup of herbal tea, and read on. (Or scroll down and I’ll tell you the short version.)

Hilarion, consumed with jealousy, pushes Giselle and Loys apart.
“I love you!” he declares to Giselle and is incensed when she shakes her head.
“Wait,” he says and rushes away. Just as Giselle and Loys are about to resume their embrace, Hilarion returns holding a sword.
“Look!” Hilarion orders Giselle. He points to Loys, “This is his sword. He is not who he says he is.”
“No, no, it cannot be.” Giselle is dismayed. She looks at Loys, but he stands frozen as if carved in stone. She backs away, confused.
Suddenly, Loys desperately pulls the sword out of Hilarions hands and thrusts it towards him, attempting to run him through. But a stranger in squire’s clothing has appeared and stops him.
Hilarion pulls a hunting horn from his waist. He glares at Loys, daring him to stop him, then blows it, a long, clear wail.

The sun is setting in a sickly orange glow. The hunting party of noblemen have heard the horn’s call and return to the village. The Duke of Courland greets Loys and beckons to his daughter.
“Duke Albrecht, what are you doing here and why are you dressed like a peasant?” demands Bathilde.
Loys, (or Albrecht?) makes his excuses, and bows over Bathilde’s outstretched hand, kissing it.

Giselle can’t believe her eyes. She wails and hurtles forward between them.
“He loves me! He is engaged to me!”
“No,” Bathilde says scornfully, pushing the peasant girl away, “He is engaged to me.”
Giselle turns to her Loys for comfort but he doesn’t move. He is indeed Prince Albrecht. Giselle spins away in grief and shame, pulling out the ribbons that hold up her hair and collapses weeping in her mother’s arms.
Albrecht starts to reach towards her but stops as he sees the wrath in Bathilde’s face. The Duke, with a scornful look at Albrecht, leads his daughter away.

My sketches of Giselle's story from the ballet
My sketches of Giselle’s story from the ballet

Giselle is heartbroken. Do all the happy times with her love mean nothing? She reaches to pick an imaginary daisy and tears out its imaginary petals. He loves her not!
Albrecht tries to reach Giselle but she stares at him blindly, hardly knowing who he is, and dashes away. Her foot trips against Albrecht’s sword lying on the ground. She seizes it and madly plunges its point into her breast. Too late, Albrecht snatches the sword away from her and throws it aside.
Giselle is beyond reason. With her remaining strength, her feet uncontrollably re-dance the steps from the morning when she danced happily in love. But her heart isn’t in it and instead of leaping lightly, she crumples to the ground. As if the spell has broken, she realises what has happened. The horrified villagers try to help her but she pushes away their hands and runs, distraught, before casting herself into Albrecht’s arms one final time. She falls limp, and with a soft sigh, slides to the ground.

Albrecht, dazed, stoops to hold Giselle’s limp body and realises she is dead. He leaps to his feet and grabs Hilarion.
“Look what you’ve done! This is your fault!”
“Me?” cries Hilarion, “It’s your fault!”
Albrecht snatches up his sword, but his squire pulls him away. Swirling a long cloak around Albrecht’s shoulders, they quietly leave the village.
Stunned, the villagers gather around Giselle. Berthe cradles her daughter’s body and weeps.

TL;DR (too long; didn’t read): Giselle discovers that her love isn’t the handsome peasant Loys, but the nobleman Albrecht. On top of that, Albrecht is engaged to another woman, the Princess Bathilde. Albrecht’s lies and betrayal breaks Giselle’s heart and she loses her reason… and her life.

Thus ends Act I.

This is Paige dancing Giselle #4

(Have you missed my previous blog posts? Paige Cockerton is going to be a professional ballerina. Her dream role is the lead in the romantic ballet, Giselle. This is a series of artworks where Paige dances Giselle’s story, starting here.)

The mad scene is a long, dramatic scene that’s considered one of the most challenging scenes for a ballerina. She dances through a whirlwind of emotions; disbelief, horror, heartbreak and hysteria. By the time she collapses at Albrecht’s feet, the joy and romance of the day has been destroyed, setting up for Act II.

Beyond reason by Ailene Cuthbertson. Digital painting (2017)
Beyond reason by Ailene Cuthbertson. Digital painting (2017) 30 cm x 30 cm

Speaking of her death, during my Giselle research I discovered that the original story (by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Théophile Gautier) is a tad hazy on the exact cause. Did Giselle die of a weak and broken heart? Or did she die on the point of Albrecht’s sword? Interpretations vary, but, given the events about to unfold in Act II, we do know Giselle’s buried in unconsecrated ground. This seems to suggest she took her own life, which is the version I’ve hinted towards… What do you think? Heartbroken, or poignant suicide?

By the by, aficionados of the Giselle ballet will have noticed that my version has missed out a few small parts of the plot. Since we have an all girl cast (Paige!), I decided to tell the story from only Giselle’s point of view so we only see the parts when she’s on stage and part of the action. Which is most of the time, so we don’t miss a lot…

Order your own print

The test prints are all done (and look beautiful!), so if you’d like to order a print, send me an email at All the prints in this series are 12” x 12” and a limited edition of 10. Also, I’m passing part of the proceeds from the sale of these prints to Paige to help support her with her dancing dreams (and her many, many pairs of pointe shoes!)

A test print on thick, textured, fine art paper
I’ve chosen a thick, textured fine art paper. It soaks up the ink and the colours are so rich and vibrant. This is a small test print so the texture is larger than on the final print.

Next weekend is the Raglan Arts Weekend. If you’re in Raglan, stop past the Old School Arts Centre. I’ll be there with all of Paige’s Giselle series printed, framed and on the wall!

Next time…

Act II is next, complete with vengeful spirits, a misty, moonlit forest, and a truly courageous act of forgiveness. See you then!

Keep on shining bright,