In the seventh scene of Mesdames de la Halle, we have two of the ladies—Madou and Beurrefondu—arguing over Ciboulette as to who’s child she is. Prior, Beurre discovered Ciboulette as an orphan who’s circumstances match her own, but Madou also had those same circumstances occur. They were both abandoned by their husbands eighteen years ago and their daughters were taken with them. In fits of rage, they argue that Ciboulette is the child of their own flesh and blood, but then they say something strange.
Comme le grand pelican blanc!
Like the great white pelican!
And you wonder what in the world does a pelican have to do with arguing over a child?
The whole imagery used in this scene is pretty violent and passionate compared to how “bright” we sense these women are, but imagine after eighteen years believing you found your own flesh and blood.
L’enfant que j’ai dans mon flanc!
The child that I had in my flesh!
Nourri de mon propre sang!
Nourished of my own blood!
The pelican line which follows these is quite harmonious with the context. Ancient legends declare that when a mother pelican could not provide food for her own children, she would take her sharp beak and pierce her own breast, spilling her own blood to feed her children, in turn, giving her own life so that her children would live.
The two women also state later—
Mon âme se déchire!
My soul is torn in two
Ah quel cruel martyre!
An what cruel martyrdom!
…Je re non c’rais a la vie plutôt qu’a mon enfant!
I’d give up my life rather than my child.
On m’arracherait la vie plutôt que mon enfant!
They can take my life rather than my child.
This legend of the pelican was adopted by early Christians as depictions of Jesus Christ, the ultimate martyr, shedding his own flesh and blood to provide nourishment to his people in the form of the Eucharist beginning at the Lord’s Supper. There have been many depictions of pelicans throughout Christian artwork on the altars, in mosaics, paintings, and stained glass.
An early Christian work, known as the Physiologus, by an anonymous author describes legends of animals and their allegories to the Christian faith. The description of the pelican as follows—
"The little pelicans strike their parents, and the parents, striking back, kill them. But on the third day the mother pelican strikes and opens her side and pours blood over her dead young. In this way they are revivified and made well. So Our Lord Jesus Christ says also through the prophet Isaiah: I have brought up children and exalted them, but they have despised me (Is 1:2). We struck God by serving the creature rather than the Creator. Therefore He deigned to ascend the cross, and when His side was pierced, blood and water gushed forth unto our salvation and eternal life.” Source
The two women, like Christ the Pelican, would sacrifice their own lives for the life of their daughter and at the end of the scene, instead of being disheartened in the confusion, they with the rest of the townspeople praise nature (rather than the Creator) for it’s provisions to every living creature like that of a mother caring for their children.
j’admire tes travaux!
I admire your works!
tu donn’s la nourriture
You give the nourishment
aux plus petits oiseaux!
to the smallest birds!
j’admire tes travaux!
Une mère et la pâture
A mother and the pasture
a tous les animaux!
to all the animals!
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