Death in modern theatre

Stages of mortality

Author: Adrian Curtin

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.

Abstract only
Log-in for full text


‘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).
January 2020

‘Death in Modern Theatre is a fascinating cultural history of death from the perspective of the performing arts and an engagingly written and duly meditative (though, remarkably, never morose) study. It will inspire any scholar or student concerned with the deathliness of modern theatre.’
New Theatre Quarterly
June 2020

    • Full book download (PDF with hyperlinks)
All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 1159 252 42
Full Text Views 678 66 6
PDF Downloads 1161 308 49