Beyond the veil

Sensing death in symbolist theatre

in Death in modern theatre
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This chapter explores the role death played in the cultural imaginary of the fin de siècle, when spiritualism and other death-related pursuits were in vogue, particularly in bohemian Paris. Spiritualists claimed to be able to contact the dead, thus proving that death did not mean the end of life but simply marked a transformation from a corporeal to a non-corporeal state of being. This chapter connects spiritualism to representations of death in symbolist drama and theatre, outlining how symbolist dramaturgy and mise-en-scène made it possible to ‘admit’ death as paradoxical presence in theatre – as something that could be sensed but not readily defined or contained. Short plays discussed include Rachilde’s Madame La Mort (1891), Charles van Lerberghe’s The Night-Comers (1889), Maurice Maeterlinck’s The Intruder (1890) and Leonid Andreyev’s Requiem (1916). The chapter ends with an analysis of W.B. Yeats’s symbolist-inspired play Purgatory (1938).

Death in modern theatre

Stages of mortality

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