BirthGhent, Belgium (1862)
DeathNice, France (1949)
Belgian author who wrote in French and whose dramatic works established Symbolist theatre. It was his work La Princesse Maleine (1889), created in verse then transferred into prose, which brought forth Symbolist theatre: “When I wrote La Princesse Maleine, I told myself that I would try to write a Shakespearean play for the puppet theatre.” In Ghent, Maeterlinck probably saw performances of the popular, chatty and vivacious spelleke (small play, game or amusement), but it was a different type of puppet that he dreamt of for his first works in which the actor would be “replaced by a shadow, a reflection, projections …or by a being who would have all the appearances of life without being so”.
In 1890, he wrote L’Intruse (The Intruder) and Les Aveugles (The Blind Ones), two plays performed at the Théâtre d’Art, directed by Paul Fort in 1891 and 1892. In 1891, he wrote Les sept Princesses (The Seven Princesses), staged with puppets according to his wishes by Paul Ranson in 1892. This was followed by Pelléas et Mélisande in 1892, Alladine et Palomides, Intérieur (Interior), and La Mort de Tintagiles (The Death of Tintagiles) in 1894, all subtitled as “Trois petits Drames pour Marionnettes” (“three little dramas for puppets”). Maeterlinck also thought of wax figures for his works in which “all that matters happens inside” in a worrisome and deep atmosphere, populated by chiaroscuro souls, where drama gives way to the tableau in which “dream castles are the only living”.
Maeterlinck’s works attracted musicians, Claude Debussy (Pelléas et Mélisande) and Paul Dukas (Ariane et Barbe-Bleue, Ariadne and Bluebeard), and stage innovators such as Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vsevolod Meyerhold (Soeur Béatrice Sister Beatrice and L’Oiseau Bleu The Blue Bird). According to Antonin Artaud, Maeterlinck’s “marionnettes agitées par le destin” (“puppets are moved agitated by destiny”). Among our contemporaries working in puppetry and who create new forms, Émilie Valantin staged at her Théâtre du Fust in 1978 a remarkable production of Ariane et Barbe-Bleue. And there is Denis Marleau who, in 2002, had made of Les Aveugles a “fantasmagorie technologique” (“technological phantasmagoria”), with masks and overhead (back or rear screen) projections. In the words of Alfred Jarry, “Dans un théâtre qui soit un théâtre et où on joue des œuvres, etc., nous ne croyons après M. Maeterlinck, qu’à l’applaudissement du silence” (roughly translated: “In a theatre which is a theatre in which plays are performed …After Monsieur Maeterlinck, we can only believe in the applause of silence.”)