Ghelderode, Michel de
Michel de Ghelderode 1898-1962
(Born Adolphe-Adhémar-Louis-Michel Martens) Belgian dramatist, poet, and fiction writer.
Ghelderode's plays have often been described as precursors to the New French theater of the 1950s and the theater of the absurd, but for the most part, his work defies easy categorization. Combining farce, tragedy, medieval morality plays, and imagery from Renaissance art, as well as such modern elements as film and expressionist set design, Ghelderode's plays—which were sometimes intended to be performed by marionettes—are often frenetic displays criticizing and lamenting the grotesqueries of the human condition.
Born in Ixelles, Belgium, in 1898, Ghelderode suffered from ill health as a child. He attended the Institut St-Louis from 1910 to 1914, but a serious illness that left him partially paralyzed forced him to abandon school and most of his favorite activities. Instead, he turned to literature as a source of amusement and creative inspiration. In 1916 he began to write his own works in French. La mort regarde à la fenêtre (Death Looks In at the Window) was produced in 1918, followed by Le repas des fauves in 1919. Ghelderode, however, became discouraged by the public's lukewarm response to his works; he left the theater scene for several years but continued to write. In 1921 and 1922 he was a professor at the Institut Dupuich but resigned because of ill health. The following year he worked as a bookseller. In 1923 Ghelderode earned the post of archives editor in the Communale de Schaerbeek, where he worked in a variety of capacities until 1945. In 1924 Ghelderode married Jeanne-Françoise Gérard. That year he also began contributing to such publications as La Flandre littéraire and La Renaissance d'Occident and wrote plays for the puppet theater Les Marionnettes de la Renaissance d'Occident. Ghelderode began staging plays again in 1925, working with the Dutch producer Johan de Meester; their collaboration lasted until 1930. Although published volumes of his plays made him well known in parts of Western Europe, Ghelderode completely gave up writing plays in 1939. Between 1946 and 1953 he wrote for Le Journal de Bruges. Despite his abandonment of the theater and a life in seclusion with his wife, Ghelderode was highly successful as a playwright. A 1949 production of Fastes d'enfer (Chronicles of Hell), originally written in 1929, caused a huge scandal on its opening night, an event that ensured his popularity. Until his death in 1962, Ghelderode received many honors and awards, and his plays were successfully produced on both the stage and the radio.
Ghelderode's plays have been described as visual interpretations of the tension between nightmare and reality. Strongly influenced by the art of the Renaissance in Europe, Ghelderode based many of his themes and much of his imagery on paintings by Hieronymous Bosch, El Greco, Goya, and Pieter Brueghel the elder, evoking the universal monstrosities of humankind as well as violence and alienation in the modern world. Ghelderode's plays are also known for being noisy and colorful spectacles, using various sound effects to punctuate the grotesque and cacophonous nature of nightmare and the vulgarity of waking life. Throughout his canon, Ghelderode held to several overriding themes: that the little virtue that exists in the world is almost always overcome by vice; that people are repeatedly and tragically seduced by illusions; and that cruelty directs most human actions. Ghelderode's first important play, La mort du Docteur Faust (The Death of Doctor Faust; 1928) is a twentieth-century interpretation of the Faust myth. Its subtitle, “A Music-Hall Tragedy,” indicates Ghelderode's notion of life as an absurd carnival. In this version of the story, Faust leaves his sixteenth-century intellectual world to seek existential answers in a twentieth-century café. There his personality splits into two parts—actor and character—and the Devil, who has been watching the events as they unfold, declares in the end that neither is the true Faust; meanwhile, both Fausts are killed, and a servant dressed in Faust's clothing advances toward Faust's love Marguerite. Christophe Colomb (Christopher Columbus; 1929) is a farce satirizing the title character's search for a new and better world. Escurial (1929) is set in the early Renaissance. A king and his jester play a game that becomes increasingly bitter and sinister as it is revealed that the jester has been the queen's lover and that the king has poisoned her. In Pantagleize (1930), which has a modern setting, Ghelderode bitterly criticized capitalism. The title character, described as a “little man,” becomes swept up in violent events when he inadvertently utters the password signaling the start of a revolution. Fastes d'enfer is a vehement attack on hypocrisy in religion and the barbarism in its followers. In Magie rouge (Red Magic; 1934), set in medieval Flanders, the avaricious main character withholds sex from his virgin wife because he doesn't want to waste his strength, while she plots against him with three thieves. The play ends in a violent and bloody betrayal. La Balade du grand macabre (The Grand Macabre's Stroll; 1953), a play that strongly resembles the paintings of Bosch, is a farce that features a character who claims to be Death incarnate. Announcing that the end of the world has come, he locks a pair of lovers in a tomb, insisting that they will have to repopulate the earth, and then goes on a drinking binge with friends. By the end of the day it becomes clear that the world will not end; the lovers are released, and everyone goes on as before, suggesting that even the threat of death is ultimately impotent and absurd.
Although not widely embraced because of their pessimistic tone and absurdist plots, Ghelderode's plays have earned the admiration of many theater critics, professionals, and audiences around the world, who cite his poetic expression of esoteric themes as a major attraction to his work. Additionally, Ghelderode's use of influences ranging from paintings to folklore to Gothic literature lends a sense of romanticism to his otherwise grim subject matter. Despite the acclaim and awards he received in the last years of his life, Ghelderode himself insisted that his works were intended to attract popular, not critical, attention.
La mort regarde à la fenêtre [Death Looks in at the Window] 1918
Le repas des fauves 1919
La farce de la Mort qui faillit trepasser [published in 1952] 1925
Oude Piet [published in 1925] 1925
Images de la vie de St François d' Assise [Images of the Life of St. Francis of Assisi; published in 1928] 1927
Barabbas [published in 1932] 1928
*Don Juan, ou Les amants chimériques [Don Juan, or The Chimerical Lovers] 1928
La mort du Docteur Faust [The Death of Doctor Faust; published in 1925–26] 1928
Christophe Colomb [Christopher Columbus; published in 1927] 1929
Escurial [published in 1927–28] 1929
Pantagleize [published in 1929 and 1934] 1930
Trois acteurs, un drame [Three Actors and Their Drama] 1931
Le siège d'Ostende [The Siege of Ostend] 1933
*Les femmes au tombeau [The Women at the Tomb] 1934
Mademoiselle Jaïre [Miss Jairus; published in 1942] 1934
Magie rouge [Red Magic; published in 1935] 1934
Le mystère de la passion de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ [The Mystery of the...
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Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: “Tragedy, Poetry and the Burlesque in Ghelderode's Theatre,” in Yale French Studies, No. 29, 1962, pp. 92-101.
[In the following essay, Herz asserts that Ghelderode uses burlesque in his plays to emphasize the ambiguity of the human condition.]
At every level, including the level of appearance, Michel de Ghelderode's theatre abounds in burlesque elements. There is nothing glorious about his men, nor about his women either. However upsetting some people may find this, it is clear that Ghelderode himself, as manifested in his plays, reveled in such an atmosphere. Monsters and misshapen beings accost us at every turn. Women, apart from a few saints and other privileged creatures, tend to be fiftyish, ample as to breast and buttock, with a gash by way of a mouth and peroxide hair: typical residents of a low-grade brothel. Their names are evocative: Salivaine, Visquosine, Crême, Chose, Boule, Olympia, Aurora, Venuska, and so forth. The more or less normal creatures in this feminine galaxy (Armande in Sortie de l'acteur or Emmanuèle in La Farce des ténébreux) remind one nevertheless of Baudelaire's “Woman is the opposite of the dandy.” Even those very young girls, Purmelende d'Ostrelende in Sire Halewyn and the living corpse Mademoiselle Jaire, cannot entirely escape the grotesquerie of woman's condition. They are Woman, young or old as circumstances require, exemplars...
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SOURCE: “Michel de Ghelderode: A Personal Statement,” in Tulane Drama Review, Vol. 8, No. 1, Fall 1963, pp. 33-38.
[In the following review, Draper presents a personal portrait of Ghelderode to gain greater understanding of his work.]
The masks Ghelderode wore for the world were in many ways unfortunate because they alienated him from his contemporaries. His weird poses frightened many admirers away, denying them the happiness of knowing Ghelderode personally. That Ghelderode's art has a secure place in modern dramatic literature is almost universally agreed. That he was an affectionate, exemplary friend, a lovable man, that he possessed a droll sense of humor, incarnated hard work and literary discipline à la Voltaire and Balzac without being spoiled by worldly success, and that he was a pauper most of his life—all this is known only to a small group of friends. They include several Belgians, a few Frenchmen, one or two Englishmen, and a couple of Americans. I, one of the Americans, had the privilege of knowing Ghelderode during 1959 and 1960 when I spent a year in Brussels expressly to study his life and drama. After six months there, twenty-five interviews at his home, and dozens of letters exchanged in regard to our work, Ghelderode confirmed our friendship with a long, strong hand-clasp, a startling and incongruous gesture sharply contrasted to his ghostly emaciation, ephemeral...
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SOURCE: “The Theatrical World of Michel de Ghelderode,” in Tulane Drama Review, Vol. 8, No. 1, Fall 1963, pp. 51-61.
[In the following essay, Weiss presents an overview of major themes in Ghelderode's plays.]
The recent death of Ghelderode has awakened renewed interest in his drama. One of the most astounding figures in the contemporary theatre (a theatre full of astounding figures), his work is characterized by such bizarre aspects as fetishism, living dead men, leaps through time, devils, sorcerers, ghosts, grinning buffoons, legendary heroes stubbornly destroying their legend, historical characters denying the facts of their history, philosophical drunkards, and death as a character in farce.
Obsessed by a universe of dark forces in endless ferment, he saw evil and damnation everywhere. Plagued by them, it did not occur to him to attack them with righteous wrath, as did Calderón and Tirso de Molina, the priest-playwrights of the Golden Age of Spanish drama. In Ghelderode's works the devil is alive and active. Moreover, if one probes beneath his anxiety, one finds a certain satisfaction, a feeling of tenderness and amusement. Ghelderode's gift of anthropomorphic animism enables him to see the many incarnations of the forces of evil that fling themselves against man. Even inanimate matter, even objects made by man or machine, are able to hide mysterious powers capable of...
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SOURCE: “Michel de Ghelderode: The Theater of the Grotesque,” in Theater of Protest and Paradox: Developments in the Avant-Garde Drama, New York University Press, 1964, pp. 98-113.
[In the following essay, Wellwarth examines typical aspects of Ghelderode's grotesquerie.]
Among modern dramatists Michel de Ghelderode stands by himself. If we must have a classification for him, then he can most nearly be compared to that group of novelists who have concentrated on the creation of a fictional world of their own, a microcosm in which to reflect their view of human behavior in the world as a whole. Like William Faulkner with his Yoknapatawpha County, Charles Dickens with his nineteenth century London, or James Joyce with his Dublin, Ghelderode has created an enclosed world that reflects and comments upon the larger world outside. Ghelderode's world is medieval Flanders, and his view of the world can best be described as savagely grotesque. His plays are sadistic caricatures shot through with a ribald scatological humor which reminds one of the pictures of his countrymen Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Breughel and of the anonymous woodcuts of the danse macabre. Indeed, Ghelderode has specifically set some of his plays in a fictitious “Breughellande” where the painter's grotesque and ribald creations come to life. In all of his plays, with the exception of those written on specifically Biblical themes and...
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SOURCE: “The Fool-Hero of Michel de Ghelderode,” in Drama Survey, Vol. 4, No. 3, Winter 1965, pp. 264-71.
[In the following essay, Hellman examines Ghelderode's use in his plays of the Renaissance buffoon character.]
Michel de Ghelderode frequently affirmed in his plays, prefaces, letters, notes and conversations that he was the heir of Brueghel, Bosch and Erasmus. He appeared to have inherited their vision of man's folly and wisdom which prevailed during the Renaissance. Like them he stressed the folly, rather than the sinfulness of human conduct, always recognizing, however, the dual aspect of man's nature. He was a cruel moralist and critic of human conduct, and he described himself in the preface to the first book-length study of his work as “resembling those preachers of the past who confounded Matter and Spirit, in the style of the good old days of Erasmus, that inventor of ideas, and of Bosch, that inventor of forms.”1 But it is primarily as a dramatist that we are here concerned with Ghelderode, who felt himself a magician of the theatre and who believed that farce form was ideal for his purpose: the exposure and penetration of a ridiculous surface which masks the great mysteries beyond and “the wretched, sublime, eternal quandary of the soul.”2 The very violence and explosiveness of his farce may, by a law of opposites, be construed as a measure of his...
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SOURCE: “Hallucination and Cruelty in Artaud and Ghelderode,” in French Review, Vol. 41, No. 1, October 1967, pp. 1-10.
[In the following essay, Hellman examines elements of the nightmarish and grotesque in the plays of Antonin Artaud and Ghelderode.]
C'est le Diable qui tient les fils qui nous remuent!
I have chosen the domain of sorrow and shadow as others have chosen that of the glow and the accumulation of things.
Cette création vôtre tournait sur son axe comme la terre et les saisons, et montrait la folie et la sagesse, la vie et la mort, la Passion de l'homme et celle de Dieu, sans omettre nos fins dernières, ni les sept vertus, ni les sept péchés, ni enfin tout et l'opposite du tout!
—Michel de Ghelderode
Antonin Artaud's first manifesto and letters on the theater of cruelty resume the principle ideas in The Theater and its Double, which from the point of view of form are realized in the dramaturgy of Michel de Ghelderode. The resemblance of ideas, vocabulary and vision of both men suggest what Robert Brustein naively wrote of Genet and Artaud, but which is even more particular to Ghelderode and Artaud: “One of the most...
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SOURCE: “Ghelderode's War of the Words,” in Southern Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 3, April 1974, pp. 273-83.
[In the following essay, Landrum examines modern language as a barrier to experiencing reality in Ghelderode's plays, arguing that the playwright has much in common with absurdist dramatists.]
“There would almost seem to be virtue in silence, if they could only be silent.”1 Thus John Killinger describes the confused state of characters in absurdist literature. The statement is equally applicable to the characters created by Michel de Ghelderode. Although this playwright is not ordinarily identified with the theatre of the absurd, Robert Brustein comments that he comes as close as any dramatist in this century to fulfilling Artaud's request for the realization of Breughel's grotesque paintings on the stage.2 This connection to Artaud, metaphysical spokesman for the modern theatre of the absurd, has been surprisingly glossed over by most critics of Ghelderode.
Killinger maintains that words, because of their abstractness and their loss of potency in the modern world, actually inhibit man from directly approaching reality.3 We shall see that this attitude is one of the chief traits of Ghelderode's plays. Killinger goes on to say that by using absurd speech, most absurdists are trying to point out the absurdity of the human situation. Our real...
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SOURCE: “Ghelderode and Puppet Theatre,” in French Review, Vol. 48, No. 6, May 1975, pp. 973-80.
[In the following essay, Levitt suggests philosophical and aesthetic reasons for Ghelderode's propensity for using puppets in his plays.]
It should now be obvious that Michel de Ghelderode (1898-1962) is among the masters of modern theatre. If it was not obvious to his own contemporaries and is still not so obvious as it should be today, it is partly for the reasons that he lived as a recluse, eschewed realism in drama, and ideologically, as well as in practice, propounded an unpopular genre: puppet theatre.
Throughout his life Michel de Ghelderode was fascinated by dolls and marionettes. The inquiring few who visited him in his isolated home near Brussels invariably remarked about the number of puppets, statues, and dolls scattered about the house.1 His visitors commented also on the frequency with which he introduced the idea of marionettes when talking about his problems as a playwright, and on his near veneration of puppets as important, exciting vehicles for dramatic expression.2
In fact, two of Ghelderode's plays—Les Femmes au tombeau and D'un diable qui prêcha merveilles are explicitly subtitled “Mystère pour marionnettes.” And for good reason. There is no doubt that a play is potentially—and radically—different if...
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SOURCE: “Michel de Ghelderode: The Theatre of the Swerving Dream,” in University of Windsor Review, Vol. 13, No. 2, Spring 1978, pp. 5-23.
[In the following essay, Farish examines the states of dreaming and waking in Ghelderode's plays.]
The search for truth among the rubble of reality and the debris of dreams is not new to the theatre nor is the effort to reconstruct the past and forecast the future from totems that have survived intact among such ruins. The fascinating aspect of this search is that no matter how the artist conceives the rubble, debris and totems, the truths which emerge are original in that they are discovered again and again. Thus, although the truths that Michel de Ghelderode uncovers in his theatre are not necessarily new, the conditions of his discoveries are startling, harrowing even, and render the terms of his drama newly convincing.
As his search for the truth of reality and dream spans two decades, it is often difficult to apprehend the significance of single plays taken out of the context of his other works. Technically, his plays alter very little. He has a certain range of dramatic devices which he reuses with little variation. He relies heavily on dramatic monologue, the off-stage crowd, symbolic gestures, movements, properties and colours, and special lighting effects. He creates microdramas within his plays to intensify and expand the action. All...
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SOURCE: “‘Les Roses, Mademoiselle’: The Universe of Michel de Ghelderode,” in American Scholar, Vol. 63, No. 3, Summer 1994, pp. 403-19.
[In the following essay, Fox provides a personal reminiscence of Ghelderode's life and career.]
“Come preferably at five o'clock,” Michel de Ghelderode had written to me. “The light changes then.” And so it was late in the afternoon when I left the Brussels apartment where I was living in July 1961 to make my first visit to the renowned Belgian playwright, poet, storyteller, and writer of letters. My taxi moved swiftly down fashionable Avenue Louise, past the baroque Palace of Justice, and through the Place Royale of government ministries and the Société Générale, toward 71, rue Lefrancq, the house in Schaarbeek, a working-class district of Brussels, where Ghelderode and his wife Jeanne resided. As my cab proceeded along the Chaussée de Haecht, the domed basilica of the Eglise Sainte Marie loomed before me like a portal. Behind this church lay the address I was seeking.
The windows of their apartment were covered with green shutters when I arrived, and the big, green front door felt massively shut. But as soon as I pushed the brass bell marked “Michel de Ghelderode,” his wife opened the door and ushered me into—I can think of it no other way—“the Ghelderodean universe.”
Michel de Ghelderode was at his...
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SOURCE: “The Renaissance Revisited,” in Michel de Ghelderode, Twayne's World Authors on CD-ROM, 2000, pp. 1-33.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1997, Parsell discusses Ghelderode's Renaissance and late-medieval themes in his plays.]
Left to his own devices even as he remained nominally under contract to the declining VVT [Flemish Popular Theatre], Ghelderode returned in search of material to the time frame of his two previous “personal” efforts, Christopher Columbus and Escurial. Freed from any constraint of having to deliver a “message” the playwright's imagination actively sought, and readily found, in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance a fertile source of archetypal characters and situations to represent the human “truths”—most of them negative or at least disquieting—that lie just beneath the surface of Barabbas and Pantagleize. Still young (in his early thirties), Ghelderode embarked on what appears to have been a near frenzy of creative activity. By the time his health began to fail in 1936-37, he would have turned out no fewer than five plays later recognized among his finest and most memorable—Red Magic (1931), Lord Halewyn (1934), Miss Jairus (1935), Hop, Signor! (1936), and Chronicles of Hell (1937), all set in the distant past, as was the remarkable “puppet” drama Le Siège...
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Criticism: Author Commentary
SOURCE: “An Interview with Michel de Ghelderode,” in Tulane Drama Review, Vol. 8, No. 1, Fall 1963, pp. 39-50.
[In the following interview, Draper and Ghelderode discuss the latter's career, influences, and artistic vision.]
[Samuel Draper]: Where can we begin? Anywhere you like. I am ready to listen.
[Michel de Ghelderode]: Yes, yes. When I have a sensitive listener, I will talk well. Very well, indeed, in a French which most people find too elegant, too explicit, too regal if you will, in a French that has become superannuated. I went to high school at the Institut Saint Louis in Brussels. My education was extraordinary. Those priests, against whom I hold nothing, further inculcated in me a taste for funereal rites which I had difficulty in exorcising. Earlier my fascination with death had been a beautiful rather than morbid experience.
Before you go on, would you tell me how death came to be associated with beauty in your mind?
Yes. My preoccupation with death—my fascination and even my love of it—was nurtured by my mother, an intelligent and sensitive woman who was in tune with natural mysteries. She was a shy person who remained all her life close to nature—perhaps primitive is a better word. She understood supernatural events, even extra-sensory phenomena. She used to tell me many horror stories and magnificent...
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Criticism: The Death Of Doctor Faust
SOURCE: “Faust and Anti-Faust in Modern Drama,” in Drama Survey, Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring, 1966, pp. 39-52.
[In the following essay, Cole discusses The Death of Doctor Faust as a modernist interpretation of the Faust myth.]
Damned or redeemed, tragical or travestied, noble, foolish, or darkly sinister, Faust has been a recurrent figure in European drama for nearly four centuries. Marlowe's tragic hero of the Elizabethan age, though transformed into a vehicle for burlesque and pantomime farce in the eighteenth century, was reincarnated with new grandeur by the life-long work of Goethe, who more than any other artist is responsible for endowing Faust with mythic proportions. Goethe's Faust has become the paradigm for the Faustian legend: it has managed to overshadow the dozens of imitations, continuations, and alterations that accompany it in the history of dramatic literature. But a mythic figure so closely tied to the intellectual history of Western man cannot rest in any one embodiment, no matter how impressive. Twentieth-century dramatists, whose recreations of the Greek myths are familiar enough, have also turned to Faust, forming him perhaps in their own image, but certainly in the image of our time. Three of them—Michel de Ghelderode, Paul Valéry, and Lawrence Durrell—have given us plays about Faust that are totally different in plot and atmosphere; but their conceptions of the...
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SOURCE: “Michel de Ghelderode's Escurial: The Alchemist's Nigredo,” in Stanford French Review, Vol. 2, No. 3, Winter 1978, pp. 405-17.
[In the following essay, Knapp discusses the alchemical principle of nigredo as Ghelderode used it in Escurial.]
Alchemy, frequently referred to as the “black art,” requires a condition of nigredo before illumination or rebirth can ensue. In Escurial (1927), only the first stage of the alchemical process is experienced: nigredo with its accompanying phase of mortificatio. No renewal follows. No purification comes into being. There is no cleansing operation. Darkness hovers over the stage proceedings. Escurial's finale is as sinister and fetid as the outset of this dramatic ceremony.
Alchemists have made analogies between the nigredo phase of their operation and the seed implanted in the darkness of the earth. Each paves the way for creativity: the seed roots in the soil and the idea in the brain. Each feeds on surrounding nutritive agents; developing and enacting a specific role or function. Each battles its way into the light of day or consciousness—the manifest world. Rather than burgeoning and offering positive alchemical blends, however, Ghelderode's phantasms in Escurial remain in embryonic state. Like the seed which rots in the earth, so Ghelderode's creatures...
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Criticism: Red Magic
SOURCE: “Ghelderode's Red Magic: Gold and the Use of the Christian Myth,” in Modern Drama, Vol. 11, No. 4, February 1969, pp. 376-81.
[In the following essay, Fraidstern analyzes the ways in which Red Magic differs from Ghelderode's other plays, which draw heavily on ancient themes and legends.]
The vision of Michel de Ghelderode derives its theatrical vitality from the playwright's absorption in the anhistorical memories of the folk or the popular imagination, “about what the world was like before the appearance of homo sapiens. Through the primitive legends, poetry, and dream are revealed to us the existence of former human kinds, come from the stars and gone away again, leaving evidences in stone, astronomical, or esoteric symbols.”1 His dramatic preoccupation with the public manifestations of these archaic, frequently unconscious relics reveals an awareness of continuous human need for sacred objects, the ritual annulments of time, and the ceremonial repetition of certain exemplary gestures that demand participation in a reality greater than the limits enforced by the individual personality. Because he was haunted by physical mortality, Ghelderode became obsessed by the mortality of civilizations:
The present is a fugitive which constantly escapes me. The past is more alive to me than this very day. I can feel the presence of the...
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Criticism: The Splendors Of Hell
SOURCE: “Splendors of Hell: A Tragic Farce,” in Renascence, Vol. 20, No. 1, Autumn 1967, pp. 30-38.
[In the following essay, Hellman discusses elements of The Splendors of Hell that outraged audiences at the time of its first performances, arguing that Ghelderode uses the play's profane aspects to emphasize a sense of faith.]
The play Splendors of Hell is interesting from a biographical point of view because its success in Paris in 1949 brought wide public attention to the Belgian playwright, Michel de Ghelderode, who until then had lived in relative obscurity. Although he had chosen the life of a recluse, this somewhat belated success, and the recognition and acclaim by an admiring group of young actors and directors in Paris amazed and delighted him. In the five or six years following the success of Splendors of Hell, which had won first prize in a theatrical competition, “Concours des Jeunes Compagnies,” eight of his plays were produced in Paris and elsewhere in Europe.
Splendors of Hell opened in Paris at the fashionable Marigny Theater of Jean-Louis Barrault. The audience, scandalized by the scatological clowning and the apparent profanation of sacred rites, forced Jean-Louis Barrault to ring down the curtain and close the play after three nights. It then played with great success for nine months at the Théâtre des Noctambules....
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Criticism: La Balade Du Grand Macabre
SOURCE: “ Michel de Ghelderode's La Balade du Grand Macabre: The Triumph of Life,” in Before His Eyes: Essays in Honor of Stanley Kauffmann, edited by Bert Cardullo, University Press of America, 1986, pp. 51-55.
[In the following essay, Piette argues that Ghelderode achieves his greatest thematic unity in La Balade du Grand Macabre.]
Death is omnipresent in Michel de Ghelderode's theater, a recurrent theme that often betrays his inclination toward the gloomy and the gruesome. American audiences are probably more familiar with the dark and biting irony of Pantagleize, set, in 1929, “on the morrow of one war and the eve of another” and intended by the dramatist as “a farce to make you sad.”1Mademoiselle Jaïre, written in 1934, presents an even darker embodiment of that theme: the sexual frenzy of the protagonist Blandine after she rises from the dead at times verges on necrophilia and is the epitome of natural horror. In the same year, Ghelderode wrote La Balade du Grand Macabre. Although this play also centers on the theme of death, it has little in common with Mademoiselle Jaïre or Pantagleize. As its subtitle, “Farce for Rhetoricians,”2 suggests, the author's purpose is to present us with a surprisingly merry view of death.
The “Grand Macabre,” the Grim Reaper of the title, is Nekrozotar. He...
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Ghelderode, Michel de. “To Directors and Actors: Letters, 1948-1959.” Tulane Drama Review 9, No. 4 (Summer 1965): 41-62.
Collection of letters written by Ghelderode to various people in the theater community, most discussing interpretation of his plays.
Gilman, Richard. “Official Mediocrity.” In Common and Uncommon Masks: Writings on Theatre 1961-1970, pp. 295-98. New York: Random House, 1971.
Offers a negative assessment of an American Repertory Theater's production of Pantagleize.
Merivale, P. “Endgame and the Dialogue of King and Fool in the Monarchical Metadrama.” Modern Drama 21, No. 2 (June 1978): 121-36.
Includes Escurial in a discussion of the opposing characters of king and fool in the modern metadrama, exemplified by Samuel Beckett's Endgame.
Additional coverage of Ghelderode's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vols. 85-88; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 40, 77; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 6, 11; and DISCovering Authors Modules: Dramatists.
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