Welcome back to chasing dramas!
This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history and Culture through historical historical chinese dramas. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy. Today we are discussing episode 61 of 后宫甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace.
Rather unbelievable that we’re already at Episode 61 of discussing this wonderful drama. We are most certainly in the home stretch and it’s time for our players to show us what they have left.
This episode I would say is another episode that focuses on the set up. There’s a lot going on with many characters having short dialogue that is useful for the rest of the series. We’ll discuss these interesting pieces and, of course, the historical components mentioned in this episode.
Let’s get started.
This episode kicks off right where we left off in the last episode with the evil Empress leaving the main character, 甄嬛’s palace, after having wished 甄嬛 well for giving birth to twins. On her way out, she sees a maid whose face is bright red from slap marks. If you recall, this is the maid, 斐雯，that was punished to slapping herself on the face for opening windows after 甄嬛’s birth and causing 甄嬛 to cough. The Emperor was very angry at this and punished this maid. The Empress gives a slight nod to her head maid, 剪秋. She gets the hint and stays behind to talk to this 斐雯。 What can happen here? It’s fascinating to see how the Empress just knows when there might be a crack the take advantage of from 甄嬛’s camp.
After a few days, 甄嬛 now has an updated hairstyle, one that is very composed but in my opinion not as beautiful as her last style. She is viewing her two children with the Emperor. The prince has a name already but the princess does not. 甄嬛 is thinking of a name to give her daughter. She comes up with the name 灵犀. Now there’s no good direct translation for this term, but essentially it means that your hearts are connected in your thoughts. The Emperor praises this name saying that he and 甄嬛 indeed have had both their thoughts and hearts connected these past few years. Little does he know, she named her daughter this specifically because of her love for her daughter’s real father. The term 灵犀 really works well between 甄嬛 and the 17th prince, not the Emperor but he is none the wiser. It’s funny because 浣碧 has a knowing look because she understands this is about 甄嬛’s connection with the 17th prince as well.
After the naming, the Emperor touches on a bit of a touchy subject, at least for 甄嬛。And it’s about 浣碧，甄嬛’s maid/sister, after she leaves the room. The emperor says that 浣碧 now looks and acts more and more like 甄嬛. The emperor had said this way back at the beginning of the drama and actually caused 浣碧 to try to think she should seduce the emperor but was corrected by 甄嬛. After all, it’s a hard life being a concubine. Now the emperor is once again bringing this up, there are probably warning signals going off again for 甄嬛。 She wants to protect her sister from the clutches of the Imperial Harem.
Well, with the twins born, 甄嬛 has another pressing matter to tend to – that is the care of her other daughter, 胧月。 She summons 敬妃, 胧月’s adoptive mother to chat. 敬妃 has always been very kind to both 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄 ever since the ladies entered the palace. Otherwise, why would 甄嬛 give her daughter to 敬妃 to raise?
Here, though, the two women have a rather frank conversation. 甄嬛, being as smart as she is, has deduced that 敬妃 was the one to raise the relationship between 槿汐，her head maid, and 苏培盛, the Emperor’s head eunuch, to the Empress, thereby causing both of them to be sentenced to hard labor in 慎刑司。 甄嬛 says 敬妃 and 沈眉庄 were the only 2 witnesses to have seen 苏培盛 drop a pouch that was embroidered by 槿汐 and was seen frequently visiting the Empress’s palace during that time. Essentially, this drama was caused by 敬妃 disclosing this nugget of information to the Empress.
敬妃 does not deny this and fortunately, 甄嬛, thought through 敬妃”s motives rather rationally. She understands that 敬妃 did this in order to keep 胧月 with her as her daughter. 敬妃 explains that she is incredibly lonely in the palace, with limited affection or attention from the emperor. She knew early on that she was just a chess piece used to counteract the powerful 华妃。If she didn’t have 胧月 as a daughter to help pass the time, the rest of her life in the palace would perhaps be lived with no joy at all.
敬妃 explains that she didn’t really want to hurt 甄嬛, but she just wanted to keep 胧月 with her for a few more years. Unfortunately, she knows that the Empress wants the two of them, her and 甄嬛, to attack each other and she’s now at the mercy of 甄嬛’s punishment.
Surprisingly, 甄嬛 requests for 敬妃 to raise Princess 胧月 as her own until she is to be married. This stuns 敬妃 but 甄嬛 explains that she already has 2 other children that require care. Plus, 胧月 sees 敬妃 as her birth mother. Forcing the 2 to be separated would harm everyone’s relationship. Upon hearing this, 敬妃 is extraordinarily grateful. She did not expect such mercy from 甄嬛 but that is the difference between 甄嬛 and the Empress. 甄嬛 has empathy whereas the Empress does not. Now, the alliance between 敬妃 and 甄嬛 is forever solidified. That, is probably just as valuable to 甄嬛 is raising her daughter at home.
Though, I do think 甄嬛 would only do this because she is fortunate enough to have other children. If she came back childless, I don’t know if she would have been in such a sharing mood. For now, though at least, it seems like the Empress’s schemes for 甄嬛 and 敬妃 to hurt each other have backfired. These two are now stronger than ever.
Well next on the docket for 甄嬛 is her official promotion from Consort to Noble Consort. This is her “reward” for giving birth to the 6th prince. Her title is now 熹贵妃. There is currently only one noble consort in the palace. During the Qing Dynasty, there were only 2 noble consorts allowed. The next step is 皇贵妃 or Imperial Noble Consort and then Empress. 甄嬛 is at this point, the second highest ranking consort in the Imperial Harem. The irony of this is, 华妃 tried desperately to climb to this rank of 贵妃, only to fall shortly after this. 甄嬛 has now clawed her way up to this position with a son that isn’t even the Emperor’s.
Look at 甄嬛’s makeup and cloak! We rarely see her wear black but the cloak is absolutely exquisite!
甄嬛 is at her palace, kneeling while receiving her edict. There are formal steps to receiving Noble Consort rank including her official seal, she has to go through these steps. The Emperor surprises her by greeting her at her palace to head over to the Empress’s palace. The Emperor says some lovey-dovey things, which to anyone else would have been probably a tear jerker, but I think 甄嬛 just thinks – this is all your doing. I don’t care anymore. She plays her role as the loving concubine perfectly.
At the Empress’s palace, 甄嬛 receives her official blessing from the Empress. At this point, the Emperor inquires to the Empress her thoughts about giving 甄嬛 the reins to manage the Imperial Harem or 协力六宫。Of course the Empress is not going to give up her authority without a fight and it’s rather funny how she tries to prevent 甄嬛 from receiving this coveted power. She quickly points out that 甄嬛 will be busy with taking care of not only the twins but also princes 胧月。The Emperor quickly waves those away – the twins will be taken care of by the wet nurses and the princess will continue to be taken care of by 敬妃. This surprises the Empress because, as we know, she was hoping 敬妃 would fight with 甄嬛。 The Empress makes one final attempt to block this motion by mentioning 甄嬛’s lack of experience. 甄嬛 quickly chimes in to say that she’ll seek guidance from 端妃 and 敬妃, both of whom are more experienced than she is and would be helpful mentors. The Empress sees no other recourse and gives in. Man, her acting is amazing. She’s probably seething on the inside but she still has on a serene face, nodding, and smiling at everything before her.
Later that evening, there is a grand banquet for 甄嬛’s promotion and the twin’s first month celebration. The empress quotes a poem. We’ll dive into this for our analysis. The Emperor is in quite a good mood and openly states that he’ll spend the night with 甄嬛. 甄嬛 however, directs him to stay with 敬妃 on the premise of visiting their daughter 胧月. Look at that, 甄嬛 knows that giving up her daughter to 敬妃 wasn’t enough. To keep this alliance, she must also continue to push the Emperor towards the other ladies of the harem.
After the festivities, 甄嬛 is at her own palace. 槿汐 and 小允子, her main eunuch, are documenting all of the presents they received for the occasion. The list is quite extravagant, including a special pair of poison detecting chopsticks from the Meng family. The daughter of the Meng family, 孟静闲, was meant to wed the 17th prince but was rejected by him. She’s still in love with the fellow and has refused to marry anyone else. 浣碧 is all up in arms against this woman, like who does she think she is? Ouch.
Speaking of the 17th prince, he actually also sent a gift. An exquisite coral bracelet. 甄嬛, to 浣碧’s surprise, decides to wear it. 浣碧 is right to worry – this could be a dangerous signal if 甄嬛 openly wears a present from the 17th prince. 甄嬛 doesn’t think it’s a problem especially tonight since the Emperor is staying with 敬妃 and decides to visit the pregnant 沈眉庄。
In her carriage, 甄嬛 encounters a surprising visiter. 宁贵人 or her actual name, 叶澜依. She is a former horse tamer maid who fancies the 17th prince. The two ladies discuss some pleasantries about 叶澜依’s cat and 叶澜依 invites 甄嬛 over for a closer look. 甄嬛 dismisses everyone except for 浣碧 and follow 叶澜依 into the garden. No sooner than they reach the gardens does 叶澜依 turn around and pin 甄嬛 to the wall with a dagger.
Here, we get confirmation that it was indeed she that lured all the cats the other day and caused 甄嬛 to give birth. 甄嬛 already knew this of course. She openly tells 叶澜依 that it’s not worth it to kill her over the 17th prince. It’s 叶澜依 who is now shocked. You knew? Of course 甄嬛 knew, she does her homework. She knows all about how the 17th prince rescued 叶澜依 years ago.
The funny thing is, 浣碧 doesn’t make a peep until the topic of the 17th prince is brought up and then she immediately begins criticizing 叶澜依. 叶澜依 coldly points this out. Girl, you are way too obvious. Or actually everyone is way too obvious. Everyone likes the 17th prince. This is what like 4 ladies in one episode?
叶澜依 is furious with 甄嬛. She knows of what happened between 甄嬛 and the 17th prince during her exile. She doesn’t understand why 甄嬛 returned to the palace. She admits she was the only who overheard 甄嬛 and the 17th prince’s conversation in the previous episode. 叶澜依 wants to kill 甄嬛. She will kill anyone who harms the 17th prince and over the years, no one has done more harm to him than 甄嬛.
Bahaha – 叶澜依’s face is sooo close to 甄嬛’s face. I’m sorry – I’m gonna root for them as a couple for like 2 seconds. HAHAHAHA
甄嬛 gives some hints as to her predicament but of course no one was going to understand that hint. 叶澜依 spots the coral bracelet and immediately recognizes it as a gift from the 17th prince. She demands how 甄嬛 got it. 浣碧 rightfully responds…ask him.
叶澜依 pulls the dagger away. The coral bracelet on 甄嬛’s wrist is a testament of the 17th prince’s love for this woman. 叶澜依 doesn’t want to harm anyone precious to him. She haughtily walks away after giving 甄嬛 a dire warning to watch herself.
Well – we now absolutely know of 叶澜依’s affections and love towards the 17th prince. Man, I guess being a gentleman in those days was hard to come by? Literally every woman falls head over heels over this one guy? Should we count 甄嬛 as lucky or not to be the one who won his affection? The first time I watched this, I was screaming at the screen. Tell her the truth! It’ll save everyone a bunch of time.
The rest of the episode revolves around the Empress’s posse of terrible concubines as they try to fight back against the now much more powerful 甄嬛。 With 甄嬛”s new title as 熹贵妃 and her 3 children, she is going to be incredibly difficult to overthrow.
The Empress is in her palace with 安陵容 and 祺贵人。 Notice the seating arrangement now. 安陵容 has a higher rank than 祺贵人 so she sits higher up whereas previously, she would be seated lower than 祺贵人 when they were both imperial concubines or 嫔。 It;s because 祺贵人 got demoted.
Anyways, the Empress says they need to attack 甄嬛. The same old, same old. But guess what, 祺贵人, not being able to stand that 安陵容, who is of lower birth and education, would dare to have the same rank, decides to attack 安陵容 instead. Um Ok.
A drink was given to 安陵容 that caused her to lose her voice. She wakes up the next morning and she cannot speak well anymore. Her voice is completely gone. This is essentially a death sentence for her because her claim to fame in the palace is entirely based on her ability to sing. Now that she cannot, the emperor will have no interest in seeing her and her status in the imperial harem is threatened.
She of course knows this reality. Originally, she was forbidden from leaving her palace because she was seen as a bad omen to the pregnant women in the palace. But now, after her voice is gone, she doesn’t care as much and going so far as to stop 甄嬛 while she is in her litter for a chat. And dear lord, the chat between these two is exhausting. 甄嬛 clearly hates 安陵容 because she has done terrible things to 甄嬛 but for appearance’s sake, they have to pretend they are dear sisters. They veiled messages are great to listen to. One line in particular I loved is how 甄嬛 says that for the help and care 安陵容 has given her, she will give back in greater magnitude. This is a play on the idiom that giving a drop of help behooves an entire stream in repayment. In this case though, 甄嬛 is threatening 安陵容 by saying that with all the “help” aka hurt 安陵容 has given to 甄嬛, she will give back in kind, if not worse. And indeed, after the conversation ends, 甄嬛 orders 浣碧, her sister/maid, to tell the other concubines and servants to “take care” of 安陵容。 By now, we know that ‘taking care’ means tormenting her. 甄嬛 decides to go this route instead of straight up killing 安陵容 because this is a fate worse than death.
Sure enough, 2 concubines come in to wreak havoc at 安陵容’s palace, treating her like dirt and making a mess of her palace. In the dead of winter, 安陵容 has also run out of coal. Sounds familiar? 甄嬛 herself experienced this pain previously. These 2 concubines show up with terrible coal that smokes up the entire room as another form of humiliation. Luckily for 安陵容，the Empress’s head maid comes to the rescue and provides her with coal to get through the winter. The aim here is to push 安陵容 to find another means of survival in the palace. How does she do so? We’ll find out in the next episode.
The last interesting piece to note in this episode is that 甄嬛’s younger sister, 玉娆 has now come to visit her in the palace. She is a beautiful young lady at this point. Before, 玉娆 was sentenced to exile with her parents in 宁古塔 but fortunately, by grace of the Emperor, they have been able to return home. 玉娆 came back first to see her sister sooner. As the sister’s meet, 苏培盛, the emperor’s head eunuch, also says that the 17th prince has gifted all of his 合欢花 to 甄嬛 as a gift for being promoted. She understands that this is his special gift to her and accepts it.
Alrighty, there’s quite a lot to discuss today!
Let’s get started!
First up is the princess’s title 灵犀.
甄嬛 quotes these two lines 身无彩凤双飞翼,心有灵犀一点通 and picks 灵犀 as the title for her daughter.
The poem was written by the Tang Dynasty poet 李商隐. The title of the poem is actually unnamed.
These two lines translate to the following
Even though we don’t have wings to fly to each other, our hearts and minds are as one, just like the magical horns.
So this is really cool. In Chinese legend, the rhinoceros has a mythical horn called 灵犀. This horn has a white pattern on it and the power to be in tuned with the heart and mind. The last line, 心有灵犀一点通, is often used between lovers to demonstrated their connection with each other.
The next poem to discuss today is the poem the Empress recites during 甄嬛’s banquet.
Surprisingly, this poem is an original from this show. How neat! Let’s translate this.
The man’s love is intense like wine, the woman’s affections are long like silk. The wine might get cold but the silk will never break.
This is an interesting poem for the Empress to state. The Emperor only loves you now but that’ll fade. The woman can only continue to love the Emperor. It’s quite misogynistic if I might say so myself. It’s also a wake up call directed at 甄嬛. Not a threat to 甄嬛 but the Empress’s attempt to “wake” 甄嬛 up. Perhaps, the Empress is trying to remind the 甄嬛 of the Emperor’s fickle and quite frankly cold nature. If we look back at the scene, 甄嬛 fully understands the Empress’s meaning because 甄嬛 smirks before drinking. She knows the Emperor’s fickleness. 甄嬛 is not here for love. She’s back at the palace for revenge. Who cares about feelings?
The next poem comes from when 甄嬛 sees the coral bracelet as a gift from the 17th prince. The full poem goes like this.
She only says the last two lines but it gets to the point. The poem was written by the Ming/Qing Dynasty poet 吴伟业. Born in 1609–1671, he was named as one of the three master of 江左。He was famous for his seven syllable long form poems. As part of a collection of poems called 古业, this poem actually refers to the love story between Emperor 顺治 and his beloved 董鄂妃。
The meaning of the last two lines roughly translates to this. Even the most beautiful coral flowers and trees, even if they are protected by your palms, will never truly be yours. They will just be placed in a more prominent palace as a flower that’s facing the sun.
This I think is quite apt for 甄嬛’s situation. She’s that coral flower that will never truly belong to the 17th prince. She is now just a flower in the palace.