Death in modern theatre

Stages of mortality

This book provides an ambitious overview of how topics related to death and dying are explored in modern Western theatre, covering a time-span of over a hundred years and engaging multiple cultural contexts. In a series of micronarratives beginning in the late nineteenth century, this book considers how and why death and dying are represented at certain historical moments using dramaturgy and aesthetics that challenge audiences’ conceptions, sensibilities and sense-making faculties. Chapters focus on the ambiguous evocation of death in symbolist theatre; fantastical representations of death in plays about the First World War; satires of death denial in absurdist drama; ‘theatres of catastrophe’ after Auschwitz and Hiroshima; and drama about dying in the early twenty-first century. The book includes a mix of well-known and lesser-known plays and performance pieces from an international range of dramatists and theatre-makers. It offers original interpretations through close reading and performance analysis, informed by scholarship from diverse fields, including history, sociology and philosophy.It investigates the opportunities theatre affords to reflect on the end of life in a compelling and socially meaningful fashion. Written in a lively, accessible style, this book will be of interest to scholars of modern Western theatre and those interested in death studies.

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‘I would nominate this as the best monograph on drama and theatre studies I have read in at least five years. In its careful navigations of how notes of hope and fear may alternate in both theatre and life, Curtin’s study encourages fundamental personal and social reflections in terms that are graceful and vivifying. Its alluring journey sounds resonances and provokes reconsiderations of how we might best play out our brief scenes with others: with serious attentive care of properly long-term priorities, with artful wit, and with style.
Modern Drama
December 2019

‘Death in modern theatre is a compelling and insightful study that will be useful to students and scholars of theatre studies and death studies as well as a general readership. Written in an accessible style, the study persuasively and pragmatically sets out a case for theatre’s capacity to ‘help us to better understand what it means to be mortal, what it means to be human’ (241).
Mortality
January 2020

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