Pelleas and Melisande by Maurice Maeterlinck 1892
I feel like a personal cultural landmark was passed by reading this play, and I have no idea why. I’m familiar with the title Pelleas and Melisande from the various operatic and classical music treatments it has received. Maeterlinck is a name that somehow was awe-producing without knowing much about him, other than the fact that he was Belgian and a Symbolist and won the Nobel Prize (1910). The play and the author, however, weren’t really connected in my mind.
So, my education was advanced.
The play is full of Symbolist portent. I’ve sometimes thought of myself as somehow consciously and unconsciously evolving from this movement, particularly in plays like “Monster Time”, "Radio pi" and “The Secret Warhol Rituals”.
I was re-reading Lajos Egri’s “The Art of Dramatic Writing” over the weekend and couldn’t help but think about this play in terms of his theory of premise being the underlying force that moves a drama forward. (I try and re-read Egri every year or two.) The premise in this case is right out of the book – “Great love defies death.”
Anyway, it was a very enjoyable read. It makes me want to read more of Maeterlinck. One reason for further reading would be to see how his style of storytelling and use of Symbolism vary from piece to piece. I’ve been wondering about this with other playwrights in this book: how good a picture of someone’s work can I get from reading just one play? The answer is: A better picture than I had before, since with most of these playwrights I’d not read anything they had written.
Plays read so far from "Chief Contemporary Dramtists" (Cambridge, Mass 1915):
"The Rising of the Moon" by Lady Gregory
"Lady Windemere's Fan" by Oscar Wilde
"The Hourglass" by William Butler Yeats
"Riders to the Sea" J. M. Synge
"The Scarecrow -- a tragedy of the ludicrous" by Percy Mackaye.
"The Witching Hour" by Augustus Thomas
"The Weavers" by Gerhart Hauptmann
"The Vale of Content" by Hermann Sudermann
"The Red Robe" by Eugene Brieux
"Beyond Human Power" by Bjornstjerne Bjornson
"Pelleas and Melisande" by Maurice Maeterlinck
-- Uke Jackson