Fantastical representations of death in First World War drama

in Death in modern theatre
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This chapter addresses the reality – and ‘unreality’ – of death in the years surrounding the ‘Great War’ of 1914–18. The devastation wrought by the war, the scale of the conflict and the types of death it caused challenged conceptions of ‘the real’, inflecting it with perceptions of the ‘unreal’. This chapter analyses plays written during and immediately after the First World War that represent death in a ‘fantastical’ manner and on a grand scale, abstracting it. Three plays are discussed at length: Vernon Lee’s allegorical satire Satan the Waster (1920), Ernst Toller’s expressionist drama The Transfiguration (1919) and a section of Karl Kraus’s monumental documentary drama The Last Days of Mankind (1922). The chapter shows how these dramatists strove to capture something of the ‘shock’ of the war – its disruption of the status quo and conventional understanding of mortality – through their depictions of death.

Death in modern theatre

Stages of mortality

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