Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Martha Clarke’s use of the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch has been anticipated in various ways in the work of a number of modern artists; she shares, for example, the grotesque physical quality that distinguishes the Rabelaisian pantomimes of Jacques le Coq. The Garden of Earthly Delights is most distinctly similar to the works of Michel de Ghelderode, a twentieth century Flemish playwright who frequently reworked painted images and specialized in the use of a grotesque landscape he called Brueghelland. In plays such as Le Massacre des innocents (pb. 1929; the slaughter of the innocents), Ghelderode dramatized Brueghel’s historical translation of biblical events to the Low Country, duplicating their detailed violence in the context of his Pauline conviction that sin deforms the body. These sacred events, simultaneously being revived by surrealist painters such as Salvador Dalí and Yves Tanguy, were treated by Ghelderode in a meditative but intense symbolist style, not formally complex but self-consciously spiritual. Clarke’s theatrical work is clearly a new step in this ongoing reception of the religious imagination in pre-Renaissance northern Europe.

The theatrical genre closest to Clarke’s work is the theater of images, a genre which includes the contemporary work of directors Robert Wilson, Peter Brook, Ping Chong, and Meredith Monk. These artists synthesize music, text, gesture, and visual environment to achieve richly...

(The entire section is 424 words.)