Time for an elegant sideshuffle – expect more Brecht in time, but I have three dusty old hardbacks I need to return to the library, so I’m going to write about the Nobel Laureate who wrote them before my fines hit double figures (again). We’re talking Maurice Materlinck, and you can find a wikibio behind that link (includes: roller skates, proto-surrealism, socialism, plagiarism, actors considered inferior to marionettes, ‘static drama’ and a script which induced Samuel Goldwyn to ‘burst out of his office, exclaiming: “My God! The hero is a bee!”‘)
Considered a Symbolist (click-through to Jean Moreas’ Symbolist Manifesto), his works were extravagant, cryptic (if often childlike) fantasies popular among the Parisians of the fin-de-siecle – myths minted against naturalism. A sympathetic attitude would see Debussy build an opera around Pelléas et Mélisande (this adaptation-by-composer rather than the standard commissioning of a libretto would ensure it was formally innovative). In the words of Maya Slater, via her introduction to Oxford’s ‘Three Pre-Surrealist Plays’ (lining Maeterlinck’s ‘The Blind’ up with Jarry and Apollinaire):
“He discards the historical dramas and drawing-room comedies alike. Equally, he rejects naturalism with its adoption of the crude details of ordinary life… Instead, he focuses on a different tradition: poetry… His predilection is for mysticism and metaphysics. He is drawn to myth and legend. He makes no attempt to situate his characters – to give them roots… If they seem mysterious and even incomprehensible, so much the better. Similarly, the problems that provide the intrigue of the plays are visibly human dilemmas, but stripped of their contemporary trappings.”
Most of the contemporary ‘re-imaginings’ watchable online made me cringe so hard my ribcage clenched like fists but there is a clip culled from a 1918 film of what’s considered his masterpiece ‘The Blue Bird’ which features veiled children and heavenly lovers literally separated at birth… (and here’s Shirley Temple reading it on radio..!)
Detached tangent: you need to see the cover of Aleksandr Blok’s book ‘Theatre’.