Guillaume Apollinaire Critical Essays

Guillaume Apollinaire Drama Analysis

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Guillaume Apollinaire departed from classical features of drama such as the unities of time, place, and action and linear narrative. He insisted on the dramatist’s right to exercise “poetic license” by complementing the main action of the play with secondary episodes, varying the tone of the dialogue from the pathetic to the burlesque and including many incredible episodes.

In the prologue to The Breasts of Tiresias, Apollinaire declared that the dramatist’s universe is the stage, within which he or she is the creating god who can direct all things at will and not merely reproduce a so-called slice of life but bring forth life itself in all its truth. In the published preface, he elaborated on his conception of truth as being “true to nature” rather than being mere photographic imitation. As he defined his notion of naturalism, he also defined the avant-garde concept of Surrealism by declaring that when human beings wanted to imitate walking, they created the wheel, which does not resemble a leg. In the same way, human beings have unconsciously created Surrealism. He related this to drama by stating that the stage is no more the life it represents than the wheel is a leg. Apollinaire was proclaiming the end of illusionist theater, just as avant-garde painters and sculptors were demanding the end of illusionism in the visual arts. He made the point that illusionism had been stifling the imagination of writers and artists for a long time, and furthermore, “realistic theater” had become outdated with the introduction of the new medium of cinema, which could make realism far more palpable. Theater, then, must not be realistic, giving instead free rein to the writer’s imagination.

In proclaiming his theoretical ideas, Apollinaire was not attempting to create a new set of rules to legitimize avant-garde movements such as Surrealism, Orphism, and cubism. Rather, he insisted that all artists must liberate their imaginations from the restrictions of formulas. Only then would they be free to experiment and to become more open to new ways of seeing.


(The entire section is 863 words.)