Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

The Blue Bird, a fantasy in six acts, is intentionally cast in fairy-tale form. The play opens in the cottage of Tyl, the woodcutter. While their parents sleep, the children, Mytyl and Tyltyl, see through their window the house of their rich overlords, where an extravagant party is taking place. The children are saddened because they have been told that there is no money for Christmas at their house. Suddenly, a thin, hunchbacked woman appears. The children think that it is their poor neighbor, Berlingot, but the woman claims to be a fairy named Berylune. As proof, the fairy produces a magic diamond that allows the children to see the internal selves of objects and animals. With one magic turn, the dog and the cat assume human shape, although they each retain the facial features of their species. With another turn, the cottage begins to transform: Bread, Fire, Water, Sugar, and Light begin to speak and take on human characteristics. Each creature and object has its own inherent personality. Tylo, the dog, is filled with exuberant love and kind words for the children; Tylette, the cat, begins immediately to seek allies in a revolt against human dominance. Sugar tries to settle this conflict with sweet words. As the children are astounded by the transformations, Berylune advances her request: that Mytyl and Tyltyl undertake to find the Blue Bird of Happiness, which will aid her in making Neighbor Berlingot’s little daughter well. The children and their...

(The entire section is 473 words.)

The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

As The Blue Bird opens, Tyltyl and Mytyl are asleep on Christmas Eve. They appear to waken, but their activities are meant to represent their dreaming. The cottage door opens to admit an old and unattractive fairy, Bérylune, who resembles their neighbor, Berlingot. The fairy tells the children to find the blue bird for her little daughter, who is ill and cannot walk. She gives Tyltyl a green hat with a magic diamond on it. Turning the diamond will allow Tyltyl to see things as they really are and also to see the past and the future. When Tyltyl turns the diamond, the inside of the simple cottage gleams like the interior of a palace, and the children see magical things: Bérylune becomes beautiful; the Hours dance out from the grandfather clock; and the souls of Tylo the dog, Tylette the cat, Water, Fire, Bread, Sugar, and Milk appear, as does a beautiful lady, the soul of Light. The souls will accompany the children on their search for the blue bird; all leave through the window, which expands to become like a door, and proceed to the castle of Bérylune.

After all have donned beautiful new garments at the fairy’s castle, the treacherous cat tries to persuade the other souls to work against the children, because if they find the blue bird they will learn all there is to know and keep everything else in the world subordinate. The faithful Tylo, for whom Tyltyl is a “god,” threatens Tylette but is warned by the unsuspecting boy to leave the cat alone. The children are now very hungry, so Bread, dressed as a Turk, uses his scimitar to cut off a couple of slices of his huge stomach for them, and Sugar breaks off the delicious barley-sugar fingers of her left hand (they grow back immediately) for the children.

Before they leave to seek the blue bird, Bérylune tells the children to go to the Land of Memory to visit their grandparents. The children wonder how they can do this since Granny and Gaffer Tyl are dead. Bérylune explains that they are still alive in their grandchildren’s memories. Tyltyl and Mytyl have a joyous reunion with their grandparents and their seven dead brothers and sisters, learning that the dead always awaken and see their loved ones again anytime the living simply think of them.

After this happy experience, a series of misadventures begins as all start on the quest for the blue bird. In the Palace of Night, Tylette betrays the children, advising Night to frighten them so badly that they will not dare continue. Behind locked...

(The entire section is 1020 words.)

Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Almost all of The Blue Bird except the final scene is meant to be part of the dream shared by Tyltyl and Mytyl. Much of the interest in their dream world is created by the costuming, the varied stage effects, and the appearance of such speaking characters as Fire, Night, Oak, Sheep, Time, Maternal Love, and various children in the Land of the Future.

Because the play is a fantasy for children in which miraculous things are supposed to occur right before the eyes of Tyltyl and Mytyl, Maurice Maeterlinck thought of The Blue Bird as a play to be read rather than performed. He changed his mind when the greatest of Russian stage directors, Konstantin Stanislavsky, traveled all the way to southern France to discuss with Maeterlinck his ideas for staging the play. The playwright, delighted with Stanislavsky’s plans, gave him permission to stage the play.

Maeterlinck’s stage directions are elaborate and lengthy, frequently running for more than a full page. The extraordinary demands of the playwright and the extraordinary abilities of the original director are clear in the opening scene. As soon as Tyltyl first turns the diamond in his green hat, miracles begin. The aged fairy changes into a youthful fairy princess of astounding beauty; the walls of the house begin to shine like jewels; the face on the grandfather clock smiles and winks; and the clock door opens to allow the entrance of the Hours, a chorus of lovely ladies, who...

(The entire section is 506 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Bailly, Auguste. Maeterlinck. Translated by Fred Bothwell. New York: Haskell House, 1974.

Halls, W. D. Maurice Maeterlinck: A Study of His Life and Thought. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1960.

Knapp, Bettina L. Maurice Maeterlinck. Boston: Twayne, 1975.

McGuinnes, Patrick. Maurice Maeterlinck and the Making of Modern Theater. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Mahoney, Patrick. The Magic of Maeterlinck. Hollywood, Calif.: House-Warven, 1951.

Rose, Henry. Maeterlinck’s Symbolism: The Blue Bird and Other Essays. 1911. Reprint. Folcroft, Pa.: Folcroft Library Editions, 1974.

Thomas, Edward. Maurice Maeterlinck. 1911. 2d ed. New York: Haskell House, 1974.