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  • Dancing Queen: Marie de Médicis' Ballets at the Court of Henri IV by Melinda J. Gough
  • Tracy Adams
Melinda J. Gough. Dancing Queen: Marie de Médicis' Ballets at the Court of Henri IV. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019. Pp. 400.

Queen of France Marie de Médicis (1573–1642) organized three elaborate ballets de cour and also danced in them. In this fascinating study, Melinda J. Gough reveals the political interest of these ballets, analyzing how the queen used them to legitimate Bourbon rule while promoting her own nascent political agenda. Marie, who arrived in France in December 1600 to marry Henri IV, has generally been considered to have become politically active only after the king's assassination in 1610. But Gough details how through the various elements of the ballet de cour genre—theatre, music, poetry, costumes, stage settings, and, most important, dance—Marie made subtle and complex political arguments. The formerly Protestant Henri IV had to cultivate the Catholic image that would reinforce Bourbon rule; Marie's immediate problem was assuring that she herself be recognized as the queen and her son as the heir in the face of an arguably convincing challenge by royal mistress Henriette d'Entragues de Balzac, who, in addition to claiming that the king was morally and legally bound to her, bore the king a son just weeks after the queen gave birth to the dauphin.

Marie addressed these issues in her first ballet de cour, the Ballet of the Sixteen Virtues, of 1602. In chapter one, "Magnificence, Mistresses, and Marie's Dance of Maternity," Gough lays out the elements of this ballet, including its poetic texts, long believed to be lost, focusing on the mythological, Neoplatonic, and religious imagery through which Marie promoted herself as queen and mother of the dauphin and argued, more generally, that "legitimate power, founded on virtue, brings another golden age of peace and prosperity and a flourishing of the courtly arts" (21). Chapter Two, "Royal Women's Ballet and/as Royal Ceremonial," examines Marie's second ballet of 1605, which, in the context of Henri IV's fears of what would happen to France should he be assassinated, promoted the queen and king's political partnership. Although none of the texts of this ballet remain, ambassadorial correspondence offers clues, as do the account of a spectator and a letter by the queen herself. Chapter Three "Alliances and Others," details different strategies of the genre, showing how performances incorporated conflicting claims and complaints about the royal family and gave the queen a forum to display her involvement in crusading culture. The fourth chapter, "Eros and Absolutism," explores how the Ballet of Diana and her Nymphs of 1609, along with its companion the Ballet de Madame in which royal princess Elisabeth performed, approached the issue of Bourbon legitimacy through ambivalent imagery related to reproduction and sexuality. The ballet integrated Henri IV's promiscuity with his religious image and the queen's spiritual virtue with the physical attractiveness necessary to keep the king's attention. The final chapter, "Dances of Diplomacy: London, Valladolid, Paris," places the ballets into the broader European diplomatic context.

The study contains three appendices: Verse Texts for the Ballet of the Sixteen Virtues (1602); Verse Texts for the Ballet of Diana and her Nymphs (1609); Verse Texts for the Ballet de Madame (1609).

Marie's political activity after the assassination of Henri IV has been well studied, and it is typically considered to have been unsuccessful. Gough's study of how the queen creatively supported the Bourbon monarchy and promoted her own role within it brings a new dimension to this queen, addressing a period during which her political activity typically has been understood to [End Page 160] have been non-existent, and, equally significant, highlighting Marie's subtle and creative interventions to challenge the old unflattering image of the queen as rather dull and frivolous.

Tracy Adams
University of Auckland


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