Whether as tailed chimeras or human-shaped naiads, merfolk have preoccupied the European imagination since the Greeks. Inspired by Fouquet's 1811 novella, opera and ballet adaptations of the Undine myth proliferated on the nineteenth-century Germanic stage. Recognizing this tradition has implications for the locus of "blue humanities" and situates the crux of the nonhuman embodiment problem in theatre practice, which epitomizes three-dimensional kinetic problems. Two solutions to the challenge of depicting mermaids' physical form were derived: Undine (1845) locomoted like human women, but the Rheinmaidens (1869) were draped in long trains and flown aloft. Theatre design drew upon literature and fine art, but in turn profoundly affected the scenography of aquariums and the standardization of bodies' decorative motifs in other media. These motifs, differentiated from nonchimeric sea life in revues, remain recognizable in productions across a succession modernist artistic styles during the twentieth century. The indelibility and internationalization of these conventions holds into the twenty-first century, as the Disney stage adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid for Broadway and a host of other venues in Europe and Asia demonstrates how specific conventions are retained for merfolk and other sea creatures. As this diachronic study shows, the remediation of circulating repertoires survives changes in predominant style, whether pictorialism, modernism, or postmodernism.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 257-288
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.