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SURREALIST DRAMA

From DRAMA ONLINE

French poet Guillaume Apollinaire coined the term as early as 1917 to characterize such works as hisBreasts of Tiresias and Cocteau’s Parade. In 1924, however, another French poet, André Breton, split from dada because of its nihilistic ‘merciless iconoclasm’ and proclaimed surrealism as the best hope for the human spirit. Based on experiments inspired by Freud in the transcription of subconscious imagery, Breton defined surrealism as the ‘transmutation of those two seemingly contradictory states, dream and reality, into a sort of absolute reality’, while others dismissed it as ‘dada’s sawed-off son’. The surrealist programme channelled dada’s anarchic method of chance into the syntax of dreams; surrealist drama shifted fluidly among planes of reality, transcending the logical with the ‘marvellous’. Such works as Louis Aragon’sThe Mirror-Wardrobe One Fine Evening (1924) or Artaud’s Jet of Blood (1927) suggest the range of surrealism’s hallucinatory possibilities. When Breton allied the ‘surrealist revolution’ with communism and renounced theatre as bourgeois, disagreement over surrealism’s role in society dissolved the founding group, alienating Artaud and other dramatists, such as Vitrac. The surrealist movement left more artefacts in visual art and cinema than in drama, but it cleared the way for postwar avant-garde writers as different as Ionesco, Genet and Arrabal. In addition, dramatists unaffiliated with the movement, e.g. Poland’s Witkiewicz and Spain’s Valleinclán, created work classifiable as surreal. Dream-structure also infiltrated conventional theatre (e.g. the dream-ballet in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!).

from Carolyn Talarr, The Continuum Companion to Twentieth-Century Theatre, ed. Colin Chambers (London, 2002).

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