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Esmeralda from the Hunchback of Notre Dame


The Multi-faceted Esmeralda

Esmeralda from Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame is a central character to the plot and the titular character in the original title, Notre Dame de Paris.

Esmeralda's characterization in the movies has never portrayed her as Hugo described in the book. Let's look through the major films and one popular musical of the Hunchback of Notre Dame and look at the portrayals of Esmeralda and the actresses who have played her.

At some point, someday, there will be a new movie/tv version of Hunchback. Not sure when it will be but that means there will be a new Esmeralda. Who do you think should play her?



Esmeralda a la Victor Hugo


Let's start this page with some Esmeralda basics. Esmeralda is not actually 100% a Gypsy, she was born in Rheims to Paquette Guybertaut and she was named Agnes. Her father is completely unknown. Her birthday is January 26th, 1466, (on St Paula's day). She was taken by Gypsy when she was about 18-months old and this devastated her poor mother, who became a type of nun called a Sachette. A Sachette locks themselves in a room and continuously pray, they are also called Anchoress.

Esmeralda starts the story when she is 15-years (the book starts on January 6). She has lived in Paris for about a year and feels that everyone loves her except for two people, a Priest and a Sachette. She fears both of them and tries to avoid them as best she can. Esmeralda is always in company of her pet goat, Djail, who is her double and gets in her to trouble.

As far as her personality is concerned, Esmeralda is very naïve, innocent, shallow, and she often acts on whims. She doesn't care about social justice or helping people, she is really just a guile-less child who just loves to dance and sunshine. Esmeralda is also quite superstitious, she wears an amulet that she believes will guide her to her mother but only if she retains her virtue. The amulet is on a necklace of red seed beads and it's a pouch with a paste Emerald on it (her name-sake) and inside is a baby shoe. Her mother, Sister Gudule, the sachette, she fears, has the other shoe.

As far as her looks are concerned, Esmeralda is described by Hugo has having a golden skin tone akin to Roman or Adalusian women. She has black eyes and black hair. She's not tall but she gives an impression of it. She is also slender with small dainty feet. Esmeralda was once described as wearing blue with spangles and on another occasion wearing a golden bodice, many multi-colored skirts and bare shoulders.

Denise Becker as Esmeralda

Denise Becker as Esmeralda

Denise Becker

the 1905 Version

The first film adapatdation of Hugo's novel was called Esmeralda and it's from 1905. The film was directed by Alice Guy-Blache and her husband Victorin-Hippolyte Jasset. Alice Guy-Blache is the first female film director and it was her that helped make film's into a narrative media. The film is about 10 minutes in length and very little is known about the plot or the actors.

This film is considered lost.

Stacia Napierkowska

Stacia Napierkowska

Stacia Napierkowska

the 1911 Version

Stacia Napierkowska played Esmeralda in the 1911 Version called Notre Dame de Paris directed by Albert Capellani. The film is 36 minutes long, some of scenes that are in this movie are Esmeralda giving water to Quasimodo, Esmeralda being tortured, and the Port de Rouge scene, where Frollo seeks into Esmeralda's cell in Notre Dame.

Since the film is considered lost, I don't know how Esmeralda is portayled by Stacia Napierkowska but I can speculate. Stacia Napierkowsk had a provocative reputation, she was once arrested in New York in 1913 for a dance she performed. So based of her Mata Hari-like style and the strong look she gave in the Port de Rouge scene, she was probably a strong and sexy Esmeralda.

Theda Bara as Esmeralda

Theda Bara as Esmeralda

Theda Bara

the 1917 version "The Darling of Paris"

Theda Bara played Esmeralda in 1917 in "The Darling of Paris". It was directed by J. Gordon Edwards and it's considered to be loosely based off of Hugo's novel "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."

I can't say too much about Theda Bara's depiction as Esmeralda in "The Darling of Paris" because like most of Theda Bars' movies this film is lost. However Theda Bara was known as one of the first sex symbols of the 20th century and her Femme Fatal roles earned her the nickname of "The Vamp". My guess would be that her performance was akin to Stacia Napierkowska's in Notre Dame de Paris.

Sybil Thorndike as Medea

Sybil Thorndike as Medea

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Sybil Thorndike

the 1922 Version

Dame Sybil Thorndike played Esmeralda in the 1922 version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame called Esmeralda directed by Edwin J. Collins.

This film is another one of the lost films, so again very little is known about it. Sybil Thorndike had a variety of roles that ranged from Joan of Arc, Medea, Lady Dedlock in Bleak House, Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, Portia in The Merchant of Venice and Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter. Given her diverse film history it's hard to speculated how Thorndike played Esmeralda.

Patsy Ruth Miller as Esmeralda

Patsy Ruth Miller as Esmeralda

Patsy Ruth Miller

1923 version

Patsy Ruth Miller played Esmeralda in the Lon Chaney version from 1923 directed by Wallace Worsley. Miller played Esmeralda as young and innocent but not overly naïve. She is kind and loves to dance. Miller strikes a good balance between how Esmeralda is depicted in the book and coming off a likable and sympathetic.

Miller's Esmeralda is the only Esmeralda that is not a Gyspy. Hugo's original backstory on Esmeralda is mention but it's a little different. Her mother was a noble and then become a Sachette. In the film her mother finds out about her but Esmeralda never knows about her mother.

Miller's looks very good in the part, she has a romantic yet natural look that translates well to Esmeralda. The costume reads gypsy and based on the poster the majority of it is red. Though there is a poster that makes it yellow. The costume consisted of a vest with a coin trim , white blouse and a skirt that show off her ankles. She gets a few other outfits in the film including a noble's outfit.

Miller was pronounced by French authorities of Victor Hugo to be the "ideal" Esmeralda.

Maureen O'Hara as Esmeralda

Maureen O'Hara as Esmeralda

Maureen O'Hara

1939 Version

Maureen O'Hara played Esmeralda in the Charles Laughton version in 1939 directed by William Dieterle. Given the political climate of the late 30's, Esmeralda has great concern for her people and helping them is her prime motivation. She is the first Esmeralda to pray in Notre Dame to Mary (a trend repeated in many other versions) and she seemed quite taken with the cathedral. She retains some traits to Hugo's Esmeralda, she is charming, and loves dancing. She is a bit more flirtatious in this version, she turns on her charms to get what she wants but she only does this with King Louis in regards to her people and not for selfishness.

O'Hara does make a beautiful Esmeralda and she was the youngest to play the role at the age of 19 but there no doubting her Irish roots. She wears a few costumes but given the poster her main outfit is red. Her second outfit she wears could be blue. I say this because of costumer design Walter's Plunkett costume design for Esmeralda. Both of her costumes seem to have based off of this design

Gina Lollobrigida as Esmeralda

Gina Lollobrigida as Esmeralda

Gina Lollobrigida

1956 Version

Gina Lollobrigida played Esmeralda in the 1956 version directed by Jean Delannoy. Lollobrigida's Esmeralda comes off a bit older and definitely more sexy than Miller's or O'Hara's Esmeralda. Because she comes off older she loses the girlish charm and the naivety. She seems to have experience dealing with men, though she claims in the film to have never been with a man. She does retain Esmeralda's love for life and enjoys dancing. She is first Esmeralda to sing in a film. She is defiantly beautiful and looks the part. She is the first Esmeralda to die at the end, though it's a bit different than in the book as she is shoot by an arrow.

She wears mainly red but also wears a yellow outfit in the middle of the movie. She also the first Esmeralda to be bare-foot.

Gina Lollobrigida's Dance

Michelle Newell as Esmeralda

Michelle Newell as Esmeralda

Michelle Newell

1976 Version

Michelle Newell played Esmeralda in the 1976 version of Hunchback of Notre Dame. This version is actually a British television series that has the rare distinction of being quite faithful to the book.

Newell's Esmeralda has the free-spirit and she tries to capture Esmeralda's naivety but she like lot of Esmeraldas comes off too old for the role. To Newell's credit she doesn't not play her as overly sexy or sultry.

Unfortunately Esmeralda's costume reads more Juliet than Gypsy.

Lesley-Anne Down as Esmeralda

Lesley-Anne Down as Esmeralda

Lesley-Anne Down

1982 Version

Lesley-Anne Down played Esmeralda the1982 British-American TV movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Sir Derek Jacobi, as Quaismodo and Frollo respectively. It was directed Michael Tuchner and Alan Hume.

Down's Esmeralda is very different, she is timid and doesn't like to dance. She dances as a means to eat. She more or less has a self-confidence problem. Down tries to make her naïve but it doesn't work. She doesn't quite look the part, she quite pretty but she doesn't strike someone as a young girl or Gypsy. The film tries to get way with her looks by asking her if she is a Gypsy, a question that she doesn't know the answer. Her Angelo-saxon looks coupled with her timidness make her hard to believe as Esmeralda.

She wear two outfits a blue one and a pink one. The aesthetic of her look if very 80's as she has waif-like look with big curly hair.

Disney Version voiced by Demi Moore

Disney Version voiced by Demi Moore

Demi Moore

The 1996 Disney Version

Disney's version of Esmeralda is voiced by Demi Moore. Disney's version of Esmeralda has a strong sense of social justice, and stands up for her beliefs. She is kind, nonjudgmental, intelligent and is quick witted with a dry sense of humor. Like other Esmeraldas she doesn't come off as young and this isn't helped by Demi Moore whose voice isn't mellifluous but is mature and husky. She is seductive and uses it to charm the crowds. She dances as means to make income and not for the shear joy of it, if she could make tangiable objects she would rather do that, though she might have been feigning modesty and praising Quasimodo.

She has two outfits, her casual outfit and her performance outfit. The causal outfit is a off shoulder white blouse, blue corset, light purple skirt and a darker purple scarf trimmed with coin wore at her hip. She also wears some jewelry mainly a single hoop earring, a cuff bracelet, some bangles and an anklet. Her performance dress is red with purple sleeves and a purple scarf at the hip. She wears a crown, a bindi and normal jewelry. She has emerald green eyes. She has dark skin and black thick hair.

This depiction of Esmeralda is one of the most popular.

Esmeralda's Song God Help the Outcast

The Disney Version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame"

Salma Hayek as Esmeralda

Salma Hayek as Esmeralda

Salma Hayek

1997 Version

Salma Hayek played Esmeralda is the 1997 version called "The Hunchback". It was directed by Peter Medak and started Mandy Patinkin and Richard Harris as Quasimodo and Frollo respectively.

Salma Hayek gives a sexy not so naïve performance as Esmeralda. She plays Esmeralda as Salma Hayek; she is sexy, kind, playful and flirtatious, kind of the same as she is in every movie. She tries to get an appeal for Quasimodo when he as getting whip, so she has a sense of justice and mortality.

She looks the part if on the older side. She wears a white blouse, red corset and skirt that has been dyed. She wears some jewelry mainly bracelet, a slave bracelet and earrings.

Helene Segara as Esmeralda

Helene Segara as Esmeralda

Helene Segara

1998 Version (musical)

Helene Segara was the first person to play Esmeralda in the musical Notre Dame de Paris, written by Richard Cocciante and Luc Plamondon.

In the show Esmeralda recently came to Paris. She doesn't know where she was born but she grew up in Provence. She dreams of returning to Andalusia as her mother spoke highly of it. Esmeralda also dreams of a world without borders. Esmeralda falls in love with Phoebus but is very close with Clopin, who acts as her guardian and she develops a close bond with Quasimodo. This is one of the few versions where Esmeralda doesn't survive the end.

Segara plays Esmeralda as mysterious and sultry. Segara is an older Esmeralda but given that she's a singer this is forgivable. Another Actresses who have played Esmeralda in Notre Dame de Paris play her differently. Some play Esmeralda as playful and coquettish while other keep the mysterious persona.

She wears two costumes a swirl pattern green dress with mismatch sleeves and a slit and a prison dress with a cowl neck, flutter sleeves, and ruffles on the skirt. These costumes vary from through the different productions of the show. Though Segara doesn't wear it there is a third dress, a red dress with fringe at the end of sleeves which are 3/4, rose details on the skirt, and a green fringed kerchief wore at the hip.

Segara was not actually the first choice for casting, originally Israeli singer Noa was to play Esmeralda but dropped out before the production began but did sing for Esmeralda on the concept C.D.

Notre Dame de Paris

Melanie Thierry as Esmeralda

Melanie Thierry as Esmeralda

Melanie Thierry

1999 Version (Parody)

Melanie Thierry played Esmeralda/Agnes in the 1999 parody film called "Quasimodo d'El Paris." It was directed by Patrick Timsit ( also starring as Quasimodo).

In this version she is a born a Cuban and her birth name is Esmeralda and traded with Quasimodo and renamed Agnes. Agnes starts off wanting to be treated as an adult and she is a bit nerdy. She is engaged to Phoebus, though he doesn't real care for her. Once she learns she is a Cuban she starts acting sexier and has fun messing with Phoebus who doesn't recognizes her when she dresses more sexy. She is one of the few Esmeralda that ends up with Quasimodo (There are cartoon versions where this happens in too).

Esmeralda get a few outfits but only one is worth mentioning, her red dress, which she is wearing in the picture. She wears this dress after she learns about her origins and wears it for the duration of the film following that point which is about mid-way through.

Ciara Renee as Esmeralda

Ciara Renee as Esmeralda

Ciara Renée

Ciara Renée played Esmeralda in English musical version of Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame that was performed at the La Jolla Playhouse and currently at the PaperMill Playhouse in New Jersey.

Ciara Renée has appeared on Broadway in Pippin and Big Fish. She has also been in Lizzie Boreden: The Musical, Dreamgirls, Passing Strange, Carousel, Harvey, Chess, Les Miserables, Rent and Ragtime.

An Esmeralda Poll

Disney Esmeralda plus Djali

Disney Esmeralda plus Djali

Which Hunchback Version is your Favorite?

Vanessa on February 20, 2015:

1. Blue eyeshadow on Esmeralda2. Pink poislh on statue's nails.3. Clown with bells in foreground4. Gold stud in Quasimodo's left ear.5. Gold hoop earring in Esmeralda's left ear.6. Quasimodo's right eyelash.7. Pink fold or crease in Esmeralda's skirt.8. Missing notch between Quasimodo's front teeth9. ?10. ?11. ?

Caroline on January 25, 2015:

I find that being sexually innocent and naïve isn't the same as not dance in a sexy way. If you teach a young girl to dance a sexy dance, but doesn't explain to her others will view it a a sexy thing, she will do it without knowing it is sexy, also she can be innocent in the way she acts but this has nothing to do with appearance. Naivy as she was she probably had sex appeal, or she wouldn't have so many men lusting after her. I have a friend who is voluptuous in body and has a very sexy face, I mean, high cheekbones, cat like eyes, she kind of reminds me of Angelina Jolie, but she is really innocent (as innocent as you can be nowadays with sex all over the media) she has had only one boyfriend since she was sixteen, now she is twenty years old and remains with the same guy, but there are a lit of guys who look at her and because she is hot think she is a bitch, and she is totally romantic and sweet and doesn't really like this kind of attention. You have no control if you will grow up to look sexy or not, Esmeralda was probably sexy looking, and perhaps even looked a bit older and was so naïve she didn't noticed she was too hot to handle. I want a movie with a Esmeralda who is sexy looking but young and who acts innocent and dreamy.

anonymous on October 27, 2012:


jlshernandez on September 11, 2011:

I have only read the book so I would say Victor Hugo version.

anonymous on July 13, 2011:

Lovely lens! Nicely done. :)

elyria on June 06, 2011:

What a fun lens!

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