Joseph Cotten in The Third Man (1949, dir. Carol Reed)
Goodbye at Pennsylvania Station, 1940s.
“The wind shrieked, as though a flock of witches sailed overhead, racing the moon, which spun through the torn clouds like a silver cannonball, shot into space. Down in the basement, a flickering candle in her hand, she groped amid the mice, the spiders, and the shadows.
These shadows shifted before her, sliding along the pale-washed wall, as though to lead the way. Whenever she entered an office, they crouched on the other side of the door, waiting for her. She was nerved up to meet an attack which did not come, but which lurked just around the corner.
It was perpetual postponement, which drew her on, deeper and deeper, into the labyrinth.”
-Ethel Lina White, The Spiral Staircase (1933)
Water can represent a number of things, including
- Rebirth (as in a baptism)
- Life (we came from the sea, and we need water to live)
- Purity (think especially of the connotations of clean vs. dirty water)
Water is also cyclical (keep in mind our discussions of the cyclical nature of the Orpheus myth, as well as instances of repetition within the play itself)
The stages of the water cycle
- Condensation (clouds)
- Precipitation (rain)
These are the basic stages we all learned back in elementary school. Others include
- Runoff—the movement of water on land
- Transpiration—the release of water vapor into the air
- Infiltration—flow of water into the ground
So I know Wikipedia is pretty verboten in many academic circles, but I find they do a good job on providing basic definitions/descriptions of the five rivers of the underworld. I’ve linked the articles to each below:
Lethe—the river of forgetfulness (this is, presumably, the river Eurydice is dipped in upon arrival in the underworld)
Acheron—the river of pain/sorrow (this one also features in Dante’s Inferno)
Styx—the river of hate (also the one souls are ferried across by Charon)
Cocytus—the river of lamentation (possibly most famous for its appearance in Inferno as a giant frozen lake
Phlegethon—the river of fire
Happy reading everyone!
I just wanted to take a moment to tell you where I’m at in regards to research into some of the expressions in the text—the father’s words of advice on page 15, for example. I’m noticing in my research that a lot of searches just lead me to online editions/portions of the text itself, which leads me to believe that she may have just made a lot of these expressions up. This is why there has been a delay in me posting anything about them.
That being said, I would highly encourage anyone who is interested to look into surrealism and DADAism for an explanation of sorts into the somewhat strange nature of these expressions (actually, I would argue that DADAist characteristics show up on page 41 when Eurydice’s father is teaching her words).
Again, this could be mere speculation at this point. I only post this as a sort of explanation into the delay. That being said, if I do find more information, I’ll be sure to report it.
I think the point here is to just remember that sometimes nonsensical things have no other meaning other than being nonsensical.
“I WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER YOUR MELODY! It will be imprinted on my heart like wax.” (12)
My heart like wax—taken from Psalm 22 (22:14). The King James (2000) version of the entire text is copied below. It’s rather long, so I’ve bolded the specific text.
Wax: malleable, unstable, liquid, able to be imprinted upon; note references to disjointedness (looseness)
2 O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not;
and in the night season, and am not silent.
3 But thou art holy,
O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.
4 Our fathers trusted in thee:
they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.
5 They cried unto thee, and were delivered:
they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.
6 But I am a worm, and no man;
a reproach of men, and despised of the people.
9 But thou art he that took me out of the womb:
thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts.
10 I was cast upon thee from the womb:
thou art my God from my mother’s belly.
11 Be not far from me; for trouble is near;
for there is none to help.
12 Many bulls have compassed me:
strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.
13 They gaped upon me with their mouths,
as a ravening and a roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint:my heart is like wax;it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd;
and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws;and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
16 For dogs have compassed me:
the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me:they pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I may tell all my bones:
they look and stare upon me.
19 But be not thou far from me, O LORD:
O my strength, haste thee to help me.
20 Deliver my soul from the sword;
my darling from the power of the dog.
21 Save me from the lion’s mouth:
for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.
23 Ye that fear the LORD, praise him;
all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him;and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel.
24 For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted;
neither hath he hid his face from him;but when he cried unto him, he heard.
25 My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation:
I will pay my vows before them that fear him.
26 The meek shall eat and be satisfied:
they shall praise the LORD that seek him:your heart shall live for ever.
27 All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD:
and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.
28 For the kingdom is the LORD’s:
and he is the governor among the nations.
29 All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship:
all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him:and none can keep alive his own soul.
30 A seed shall serve him;
it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.
31 They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness
unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.
http://bible.cc/psalms/22-14.htm for a list of various translations of the line, as well as various commentary below
http://blog.shanetrammel.com/2007/08/25/301/ one more interpretation
This number shows up a lot in the text (12 instruments in Orpheus’s orchestra, for example), so I figured, why not look it up.
Here’s some information on symbolism of the number 12.
From HubPages (http://mmdelrosario.hubpages.com/hub/numbers):
In Christian symbolism, twelve is a number of universal fulfilment,being the number of Christ ‘s disciples, as well as the 12 Tribes of Israel, 12 knight of the round table and 12 days of Christmas.
In many traditions, it relates to the space-time continuum (with the zodiac and the 12 months of the year) and represents a completed cycle.
The Wikipedia page on the number 12:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/12_(number) Be sure to copy/paste this link, so you can go directly to the number page.
Here is a much more extensive list from ridingthebeast.com:
In all three of these, note the emphasis/importance of the number 12 as a cyclical number (the zodiac cycle—both western and Chinese—the 12 months of the year, etc). The Orpheus myth also deals with cycles—descending then ascending from the Underworld—and Sarah Ruhl also includes a sort of cycle in the structure of the play, what with the repetition, albeit with slight variations, of certain stage directions. Just something to keep in mind.